slowing macular degeneration

Macular Degeneration is one of the most common causes of registered blindness. It is generally considered to be age related, but it has links to high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. In essence it is a progressive loss of vision due to the development of abnormalities in the macula – which is the centre of the light-sensing cells in the retina.

In fact there are two types of macular degeneration; dry and wet. 90% of people affected have a type known as dry – this is where small, yellow spots called drusen, accumulate underneath the macula and distort central vision. The dry type has a very slow progression and if caught early there are plenty of conventional treatment options to limit the severity of sight loss. 10% present with the wet type which is a result of leaky blood vessels – it is much more pernicious – and can lead to rapid and severe vision loss. Dry can also develop or progress into a wet type.

Both types can first manifest as intermittent blurry vision, graduating to looking through a mist and then into distorted perception and eventually blind spots. If you have any of these symptoms see your ophthalmologist or GP. If you have recently gotten a diagnosis then the items mentioned below will help slow progression and if you are in the risk fact group – high bp, high fat diet, diabetic etc – these will also help lessen the impact of your risks and supply nutrients to the macula and the retina’s own repair mechanisms.

Eye nutrients: A healthy eye is dependent on a few key nutrients; omega 3 fatty acids to keep those smallest blood vessels healthy and flexible, vitamins C and other antioxidants to mop up free radical and other environmental damages and also on a diversity of replenishing plant pigments; notably lutein and zeaxanthin found in orange, yellow and red foods. Add the following to your diet on a regular basis – carrots, squash, sweet corn, sweet potato, pumpkin and also the colorful fruits; mango, papaya, melon, watermelon, oranges etc. Lutein and zeaxanthin are also found in leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli and peas.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are the most prominent carotenoids found in the eye. They act to strengthen and help regenerate the functions of the macula and retina. Supplements containing commercially extracted lutein and zeaxanthin often come from orange-pigmented marigolds . The French type (tagetes spp) are not so easy to use at home but pot marigolds (calendula officinalis) are so easy in a salad or added to a smoothie or infused in some olive oil for a nice dressing. So you can grow your own eye nutrients in your garden.

To get the dietary changes started – it is often easiest to start by improving your lunch. Breakfast routines are routine and often people find it takes time to adjust to dinner changes but a lunch time salad or smoothie is so do-able. So here are three beverages to introduce over the span of your week as an induction to incorporating brighter colours and to get a tasty top up of what your eye will benefit from.

A Bilberry blitz – which supplies anthocyanins to helps improve blood flow and plenty of healthy flavonoids that further help support eye function, circulation and balanced blood pressure. 1 cup of berries to a ¼ cup of pomegranate juice (also potently antioxidant and vitamin C rich). Purple plant pigments improve night vision and ease eyestrain. If you can’t get bilberries then blueberries will also do the trick.

A carotene chaas – an Indian yoghurt drink similar to a lassi- you can avail of mango, carrot, calendula and even a pinch of saffron – all are orange carotenes which the body turns into vitamin A to support vision and cellular repair. Vitamin A is very effective at protecting against photo-oxidation of the lens which can be the start of both wet and dry complaints. 1 cup yogurt to 1/4 cup spice water (saffron and herb allowed to infuse overnight) to a heaped tablespoon each of chopped carrot and chopped mango.

An iced green tea, infused with goji berries – goji is tradition Chinese medicine for eye complaints and a potent antioxidant, the green tea is also a potently antioxidant to help heal any small leaky vessels and address those risk factors.

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The three good reasons of mindfulness

Trí saghas incheann: inchinn reatha, inchinn cloiche, inchinn chéarach – The three kinds of brain: a running brain, a rock brain, a wax brain.

In Ireland we have a long tradition of triads – poetic, insights clustered in threes; like the one quoted above. Three is quite a sacred number and it resonates throughout Irish folklore and our mystical participations. We had many tripartite goddesses firing the imagination and gracing the natural wonders of the place until St Patrick found a little plant with three leaves to replace all that.

The lesson is, if you can rewrite a whole nation’s spiritual identity with a good story, what can you do for your own brain with a little creative thinking and some mindful tools?

The running brain is the thinking brain – it can of course run faster than you want and so anxiety and stress ensues. The rock brain is the stubborn brain, the inflexible self, refusing to acknowledge the true reality and make changes – it’s the rigid mind-set that holds you back. And finally the wax brain is the receptive brain – open and consciously aware; this is a more mindful mind.

Just like in those old movies were the prisoner makes a key mold from a wax candle and forges an escape, so here the wax brain is your key to freedom. Mindfulness works on the receptive nature of the brain – which in its ‘wax’ mode we might call it neuroplasticity. It is the brains innate capacity to learn new skills. It is a way to reshape how we think and in so doing how we feel and live.

So In the spirit of the triads – here are the three good reasons of mindfulness.

Mindfulness and wellbeing

In recent years mindfulness techniques have become validated and utilized as tools for mental and physical health by health professionals and support groups globally.

Mindfulness improves mental health by giving us control over our mind, by allowing us to choose to calmly respond or simply let go of thoughts arising before they become deep seated feelings. The acceptance and letting go processes in mindfulness cuts out the aversion and avoidance cycles that add to psychological disturbance; stop the thought from becoming a feeling and forming an emotional hook into your brain and how you experience the world. The breathe techniques are grounding and the embracement of forgiveness, loving kindness and gratitude can reframe self-worth and also perception of the world.

Councillors and psychotherapists often recommend mindfulness meditation to treat depression, anxiety disorders, addiction / substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm and other obsessive-compulsive behaviour. It is deeply helpful to heal past trauma and address post traumatic experience.

Mindfulness practices improve physical health by relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, releasing endorphins, improving sleep, providing a sense of wellbeing and happiness. Apart from the physical benefits of summoning a sense of wellbeing , mindfulness lets you know yourself and be yourself, rather than be defined by your illness – mental or physical. Mindfulness takes away a mind full of adversity and emotional clutter and allows a purer you to find peace, clarity and resilience – to have the capacity for life – there is nothing more healing than that.

Mindfulness and spirituality

On a spiritual level, what is now known as mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and Hinduism and echoes of it are found in many religions and mystical traditions; from the practices and vocations centred on the cultivation of an enlightened awareness.

In the Buddhist tradition it is sati – part of the noble eightfold path and central to the teachings of the Buddha. It features in the Upanishads and other Hindu scripture. It is the backbone of the Christian contemplative tradition. To name but three.

Awareness/sati/mindfulness is both the means and the end to the enlightenment that the spiritual selves of all faiths seek – it is the thread of loving compassion that unifies us all in God – it is, to use a western term, the grace of God. You may have previously encountered it for yourself in moments of prayer, chanting, meditation, contemplation, yoga, stillness. It is the ‘at-one-ness’. It is the being awake to and aware of your living self presently engaged with the divine, of your own divine self. Mindfulness is as relevant a way to pray as it is a way to cope with a busy life.

Mindfulness and full potential

To live to your full potential is to live – to really live. We often confuse living with doing and not being. We may think ‘having a life’ is all about parties, adventures, achievements, action and by all means pack your life full of wonderful experiences but remember to experience each one. Mindfulness brings life to sitting on your front door step, to washing your hands, to taking the dog for a walk – imagine what it will do for traversing the steppes, showering beneath a waterfall or watching the wolves watching you. Mindfulness is an adventure because it brings you fully alive.

Mindfulness hones your grasp on reality and so deepens each experience. You don’t have to circumnavigate the world to feel you have lived a life – being in the world is an adventure in itself. Being there as the seasons change in your back yard is as amazing as seeing a leaf unfurl, or change colour anywhere in the world because with mindfulness it is you and the leaf experiencing reality in the moment – it does need a location to bring awe into the equation.

Full potential is really being there, present, alert awake to the life happening. Be there for your child’s birth, be there for your parents death, be there for all of your life – that is living – joy, pain, experience – that is life. That is living up to your full potential.

So whatever your intent – spiritual mindfulness, stress relief mindfulness, addiction control mindfulness, productive-self mindfulness – it doesn’t matter – it is the being aware of what you are doing now in the moment of doing/being that delivers it.

So be spiritual, be calmer, be free of desires or in other words be actively engaged with living. Be your true and full potential self. Be more mindful.

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Banishing snakes

When Saint Patrick came to Ireland and banished the snakes, no one said what are you on about. No one pointed out that snakes were not native to or even known in Ireland. Because we got the concept – it is good to banish what it is not real.

Fears and doubts feel real, but they are only manifestations of your mind. Mindful practices are a way to take back control over your thoughts, and to see those snakes off.

If you want to learn some techniques from modern psychology and from the wisdom of the ancient Irish mind-set then there are plenty in my book by time is everything revealed.

Available in all good bookstores but here is a link to a St Patrick’s weekend discount –

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make war and love (your garden)

The month of March is named after Mars – the roman god of war. Apparently because the narrow passes of the Alps began to thaw at this time of the year, becoming passable again and so the Roman legions could go back out to conquer new territories or send reinforcements to older ones. There actually might be something more universal in that ‘March action’ mind-set , as the ancient Irish Fianna (the warrior class) would happily rest up all winter and then start back training and regular hunting come the green shoots of this time of year.

It is a timely reminder that March thaws also bring the beginning of pest season. So maybe its the right time to take a deep breath and go to war.

Vine weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus) is an enemy in two parts or more to the point two stages: the young aka the grubs will eat the roots of ornamental plants and many fruiting bushes and strawberry patches, while the adults are voracious pests – munching unsightly notches out of leaf margins. The adults will be emerging soon and will stay active eating and lying until summer. Some years the grubs continue to inflict unnoticed damage over the entirety of a mild winter – and those plants that appear dormant but you anticipate are ready to spring back to life are possibly rootless and dead and will not be burgeoning on schedule.

Sticky traps really work on the adults; you can get garden centre tap traps but those same one to keep flies out of the kitchen or greenhouse work a treat, simply mount on a stick and put it near infected plant. For the grubs, it’s to enlist the help of a biological control agent, not mustard gas or novichok but some simple pathogenic nematodes (Steinernema spp being the most popular). These grub-killing machines come in a sachet and are added to a watering can and delivered to areas of need in minutes. Best time to deploy is autumn. There are also adult-attacking nematodes available in local garden centres.

Slugs and snails (various species) – the old enemy, but the old tactic of slug pellets is not best practice if you like wildlife and want to be more organic. I know there are organic pellets available but beer traps do work and so does a sachet of mollusc-infecting nematodes (Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita) too. Harsh grit around prize plants is too rough for them to crawl over; the eggshells only get washed away. Personally I never had much success with copper wire or the other barrier methods. Slugs and snails are active all year, they mostly work at night but we often think they are hibernating for winter, they are not really, it’s just a diminished food supply. Now that you are back sowing and planting, they can sniff out the feast and will soon gate crash the party.

Aphids (various species) are another perennial pest and as good as year round enemies in mild years, if you have a polytunnel or green house. The garden variety is readying now. They don’t just suck all the sap from our seedlings and plants but they also potentially transmit virus disease as they go from plant to plant. Those yellow traps will lure many to a sticky end of slow starvation but I find you can’t beat a good drowning in garlic spray. The garlic is toxic to them. The old trick of sudsy water was effective because it formed bubbles over their breathing holes and they suffocated. The garlic is a bit more humane but also higher success rate. Plus who knows exactly what chemicals are in the washing up liquid, hand soap or horti-soap to be absorbed by your edible plants and later by you. You can also wipe/squish them off between finger and thumb or encourage ladybirds that individually eat around 5000 aphids per year.

Allium Leaf Miners (Phytomyza gymnostoma) are prepping for a first emerging generation right now and they will soon be laying into onions, garlic, shallots, chives and leeks. The maggot will burrow in deeper and feed off the insides of your crop, triggering rot. There currently is no commercial sprays, organic or otherwise on the market. And the normally reliable garlic won’t work on a pest that feeds off garlic. The best line of defence is to cover standing crops with horticultural fleece or a protective fine-mesh netting now. Crop rotation and planting out later is beneficial to stay ahead or out of reach of the soil wintering generation and the fly overs.

Top tip Expand your army: if your garden is more bio diverse then all of these pests are eaten in vast numbers. A few wild flowers and shaggy patches will entreat new recruits but also build some billets for the troops. Rove beetles and hedgehogs will appreciate an over wintering log pile, frogs and toads will be grateful for a wildlife pond or barrel and birds will take up the opportunity of a nest boxes or perchable cover – that’s as simple as a tree or hedge. A small but unkempt corner of nettles will do the ladybirds.

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a spring clean can also mean a mind detox

It is good to declutter the shed or the house on a regular basis, many wait until the brighter days of spring to find their motivation. And sure enough a bright blue sky provides a hit of serotonin and a spark of get up and go. But how do you decluter past trauma and emotional baggage? How do you pack up the negative people cluttering up your thoughts and in the way of personal growth and genuine progress?

here is one of the tips from my book – by time is everything revealed.

guilt free breaking away from negative people or from people with whom we have a hang-up or guilt bond.

For all sorts of reasons we can accumulate people that are not good for us but with whom it is hard to walk away from. Or have encounters that linger in our heads. It may be an Ex, an old friend who hasn’t moved along with your life changes, it may be the psychic ones – a dead relative or someone still living whom you have regret about.

I am talking about the people who populate our headspace and drain our emotional reserves. You need to break that connection. We can often take a short interlude from this situation when times are good and busy but then return all too soon to those old emotions and preoccupations. The success is in sending those preoccupying people on their journey, on a journey out of your life.

This exercise is the power of visualisation to flight simulate your mind in to thinking about those people as no longer around.

Picture an old steam train, like one from an old movie – with a brass band on the platform, balloons, buntings and flags everywhere; this is the maiden voyage of a once in a lifetime luxury trip – a trip away into happiness and resolution. All the people you need out of your head, are here. They are all smiles with a big golden ticket in their hands. They are going on this journey.

You feel no enmity towards them, or them towards you. They are smiling at you, joyous, laughing – there is no hard feeling, sorrow or pain here. They are winners of the golden ticket to someplace else. You show them onto their carriage, they wave at you out the window. You blow the whistle and the train departs – they are happy to go, waving back at you and you are happy to have sent them off. Let them go.

Now they are gone. Feel the relief. Trust that the connection is broken in a beautifully positive way. You wish them well on their journey, they are happily gone. Live your life now.

the trick is that sending them off with everyone happy removes guilt and unease, it doesn’t allow doubt to linger- they were happy to go. You are happy they went. All is good.

to find more methods European and American  editions  are available from usual online bookstores and in your local bookshop.

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help with haemochromatosis / iron overload

Known as the Irish curse and nicknamed the ‘Celtic gene’, Haemochromatosis is the most common genetic disorder in Ireland, where it estimated that one in five people carry the gene. It is also high amongst people with Irish heritage globally. Haemochromatosis is a condition that causes the body to absorb and store too much iron which can then harm normal healthy functions and if untreated trigger serious organ damage. Iron overload is also implicated in diabetes, dementia, chronic fatigue syndromes and many other complaints.

In fact there are two types of haemochromatosis:

Primary haemochromatosis – the inherited type; So while one in five are carriers of then flawed HFE gene, they won’t necessarily show any symptoms in their lifetime but may pass the condition on to their children if the second parent is also a carrier of the mutated HFE gene and the child receives the set. Not every child will inherit both genes, and not every child of a double set from carrier parents will develop the condition either. It is still not currently understood what factors contribute to full development.

gene inheritance odds – if both parents have the gene; currently it is estimated that there is a 1-in-2 chance that a conceived baby will receive one normal HFE gene and one mutated HFE gene and so be a carrier but not develop the condition. There is a 1-in-4 chance that a pair of mutated HFE genes will be received and then the potential exists to develop haemochromatosis at some stage

The second type known as secondary haemochromatosis is a triggered version, not related to genetics, often as a result of chronic liver disease, or from conditions involving blood transfusions. Approximately 1 in every 80 Irish people are at risk of developing one or the other. It’s roughly 1 in every 200 for other European gene pools. The treatment protocol for both is the same.

The conventional treatment is a phlebotomy – to give blood, this removes the iron rich blood and triggers the release of stored iron to make new blood cells and so resets the system for a while – there are outpatient appointments and often mobile clinics. The other treatment option is iron chelation – taking medicine that binds to excess iron and also decreases ferritin levels. The ‘how long for’ of either treatment depends on many factors including age and dietary factors. As we age we tend to store more iron. And if you eat a lot of meat and other iron rich foods then that will speed up the need to donate again.

But you have options too, there are dietary considerations and herbal support. First big tip – throw out your iron pots and pans. There is an ionic transfer when cooking in those that adds iron to the meal and helps pull more iron from the ingredients. Get ceramic or copper.

Dietary options – Consider a dietary lifestyle change; vegetarianism is a good option as the heme iron in animal based foods is quantitively larger and more readily absorbed than plant based iron. Plant based iron (non heme) is not only less than a steak, it is harder work to get from gut to blood stream. Even something like spinach and other leafy greens which are considered high in iron can also be packed with calcium, tannins, polyphenols and oxalic acid – all of which bind with iron and inhibit its absorption even further. So the vegetarian diet has built in limiters.

If you can’t quit the beef, then adding the iron chelators to the plate will definitely do some good. Foods to include: There is a whole range of foods that contain potent iron-chelating compounds. Adding them to a meal which contains iron rich foods, will decrease the levels of iron absorbed into the bloodstream or stored in the tissues.

Quercetin-rich foods have a potent iron-chelating capacity so the inclusion of fresh coriander leaf, dill, capers, red onions, buckwheat are really good choices.

Calcium binds to iron and prevents is absorption. Calcium rich foods include dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese and also whey protein), calcium fortified plant milks, calcium-fortified tofu and soya products, seeds (notably chia, sesame and poppy). High-calcium legumes include chickpeas, kidney beans, baked beans and navy beans.

Eggs contain a phosphoprotein called phosvitin which actively impairs the free absorption of iron. A single boiled egg can reduce the absorption of iron from the salad it is included in by more than 25%. Similarly egg mayonnaise will diminish iron bioavailability in a meal.

Turmeric is packed with a natural DNA repair and anti-inflammatory compound known as curcumin, which of itself would be good for some of the symptoms of iron overload but which it is also a powerful iron chelator – both in binding to excess iron and also by increasing the genetic expression of ferritin – our own natural iron-binding protein. A double sequester. Turmeric or a curcumin supplement can also support better control of age-related iron accumulations, particular with deposits in the brain, heart, and liver.

One thing that acerbates iron accumulations is a selenium deficiency. A poverty of dietary selenium can impact upon transferrin saturation and potentially boost serum iron concentration by 40-50% plus. Foods high in selenium include nuts and seed (in particular brazil nuts, sesame and sunflower seeds), dairy (in particular yoghurt and cottage cheese), mushrooms and oatmeal.

You can increase that effect by the beverage you chose to have the meal with. What to drink: The tannins in tea and coffee actively block iron absorption. Black tea can trigger inhibition of iron by more than 80%, fermented black teas by more again. Green teas also have high iron-chelating capacities but also are brilliant at limiting the oxidative stress that exacerbates iron overload symptoms. A cup of coffee at meal time can inhibit iron absorption by as much as 60%. Cow’s milk is rich in iron binding calcium. Soy and alternative milks are often high in phytic acid, which also binds iron and renders it absorbable to the blood stream.

Herbal help – Milk Thistle has two particularly potent polyphenols called silymarin and silybin known to bind iron and also affect a decrease in serum ferritin level. So on paper milk thistle would seem an idea therapy but with the caveat that milk thistle can affect enzymes involved in the processes of a range of prescription drugs including warfarin and other blood thinners, diazepam and other antianxiety meds, blood pressure medicines, birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy.

Again there is more than one option. Elderberry, goji berry, Japanese knotweed, lovage, St John’s wort and ginkgo biloba are all high in quercetin – a polyphenol that binds to free iron atoms and chelates them from the system. Quercetin is a potent antioxidant flavonoid known to prevent the DNA strand damage and effect tissue and cellular repair – it is particular useful in liver repair. Liver injury is a consequence of iron overload. Quercetin is readily available in supplement form.

Many herbal teas are rich in iron binding biochemicals, including tannins that make black tea so effective in treating iron overload. A simple cup of peppermint tea at meal time has the capacity to bind iron by 84%, vervain tea is active in the 60% range, while linden flower or chamomile tea can hold back around 50%. Other good teas include basil, buckwheat, hibiscus, and rosemary.

Coming soon – more on the myriad health benefits of herbal teas.

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Leave the bad luck to the last, in the hope that it may never come.

There is an old Irish saying Leig an donaschundeiridh, a n-duil s’ nach d-tiocaidh se choidche – Leave the bad luck to the last, in the hope that it may never come. We often say it jokingly but boy does it a pack a punch when thought of in terms of some ancient cognitive behavioural therapy.

This proverb yields pure optimism from the Irish psyche but also a way to deal with the negative. We Irish often forget, owing to our history, that we are essentially a positive people. People of all nationalities make that same mistake. Too often in life we as humans simply prioritise the negative, the squeaky gate is top of the to do list instead of going for a scenic walk. It’s as if we are programmed to attend to the bad stuff first – but if we left it to last it might not even arise as ‘mind noise’, as we fill the order of the day with positive stuff.

Part of it is how we are emotionally programmed – we dwell on the break up and sense of loss rather than the newfound freedom and the potential of a new/next relationship. That’s a shocking statement to some but it is not diminishing the love you had, it is acknowledging that the relationship is over and acknowledging that you deserve love again, in time when you are ready.

You lose your job, don’t dwell on being unemployed forever – get motivated now to find the ideal job or start your own business where you will get paid for your passion. The latest kitchen experiment was an epic fail, does that mean you can never cook again. Put the negative to the end of the list and get on with the good stuff in life.
Starting off positive, ranking it first, may occupy the space long enough to not notice the negative or more important not be weighed now by constant negativity.

Here are two easy ways to put the positive up front;

Exercise; count your hatched chickens.
It’s ok today to count your hatched chickens to recount the good times, see the joy and fortune in your life. This notion of not counting your chickens before they are hatched is wise enough – spares you disappointment – but you don’t have to be overly cautious with the ones already hatched – they are the success story chirping – maybe even laying more golden eggs.

Exercise; morning countdown – your top hits.
Think of the top five great achievements of your life, it may be climbing a tree when you were 10, it doesn’t have to be climbing the corporate ladder. Whatever makes you proud. Write them down from 5 to 1. Every now and then you can pull out this list before breakfast and give yourself a count down on the high points of your life. It reminds you of the successes, of the good luck. You can update the countdown as often as you like.

For more like this do check out my book on the topic. All good stores and online booksellers.

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