Christine is an award winning Nutritional Therapist, Functional Nutrition Practitioner, Chef, Author and Broadcaster with over 18 years of experience. Discover her healthy allergy free, low sugar, paleo, vegan and raw recipes and gain nutritional insights to optimise your health and nutrition. Here you will find useful articles, cookery tips, news and more.
There is a lot of buzz around green superfoods particularly chlorella and spirulina. Some claims are probably overhyped but there is sufficient to support its use for a number of health benefits. Here’s an overview of chlorella supplements, use and potential health benefits.
What is Chlorella?
Chlorella is a green unicellular microalgae with biological and pharmacological properties known to be important for human health. While there are over 30 different species – Chlorella vulgaris and Chlorella pyrenoidosa are two species most frequently used and subject to most research.
Chlorella contains 50-60% protein with all the nine essential amino acids and around 13% fibre. It is a useful source of iron and vitamin C (which facilitates iron absorption). It also provides small amounts of other nutrients including B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, copper, potassium and calcium. While it does contain traces of B12 there is debate with regards to bioavailability.
Like other algae chlorella is a source of omega 3 fatty acids and provides a number of phytonutrients including lutein, zeaxanthin and related carotenoids and a phytonutrient called C.G.F. (Chlorella Growth Factor).
Chlorella appears to act as a functional detoxifier assisting the body’s natural ability to clear toxins. While mostly animal studies, chlorella does appear to support the elimination of certain heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium). Other studies indicate potential for protection against exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons originating from tobacco smoke, diesel fumes, smoked foods etc. In addition chlorella has been shown to reduce levels of compounds such as dioxins, a known hormone disrupter in breast milk. So chlorella does seems to be good at removing fat soluble or metal toxins.
A number of animal and human studies highlight chlorella’s ability to support immune health and in particular enhancing levels of Secretory IgA. Secretory IgA (SIgA) plays an important role in the protection and homeostatic regulation of intestinal, respiratory, and urogenital mucosal epithelia separating the outside environment from the inside of the body. This primary function of SIgA is referred to as immune exclusion, a process that limits the access of numerous microorganisms and mucosal antigens to these thin and vulnerable mucosal barriers. Chlorella supplementation has also been shown to improve immune response through an increase in NK Killer cell production. However studies are mixed. For example, one study demonstrated improved immune response to the influenza vaccination in those participants aged 50-55 but not those over 55 years.
Chlorella contains a number of antioxidants including chlorophyll, vitamin C and carotenoids. These may help reduce the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which have been associated with the complications of diabetes. In one human study chlorella supplements increased antioxidant levels in chronic cigarette smokers, who are typically at a higher risk of oxidative damage.
Another potential benefit of regular supplementation with chlorella is its effect on aerobic endurance. One study showed supplementation of 15 tablets twice daily for 4 weeks improved VO2max and aerobic endurance in young adults.
As with all supplements it is important to check for interactions with existing medications. Dosage will vary depending on its use. If you are new to chlorella then it is normally recommended you start with a low dose and gradually build up. Studies have demonstrated benefits from between 1g to 5-10g daily. Quality is important – reputable brands will state growing conditions and should be able to provide nutritional information.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is receiving plenty of attention in the press and is also subject to a notable amount of scientific research on its potential benefits. So should you try it?
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Essentially intermittent fasting is simply a style of eating that focuses more on when instead of what you eat, and the general goal is to spend more time every day and/or each week in a fasted stage. When you are in a fasted stage you will have lower insulin compared to a fed state where insulin will be high. There are numerous variations of this approach. Perhaps the most basic is what is called Time Restricted Eating where you fast overnight for at least 12-14 hours. Other people use a 16/8 approach – extending the overnight fast for at least 16 hours and then eating within an 8 hour window. Some people prefer whole day fasts that usually involve fasting for 24 or more hours. These longer fasts are typically undertaken 1-2 times a week or less frequently (e.g once a month). A lot of the research looks at these slightly longer fasts.
What are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
Studies have demonstrated a number of benefits in fasting:
Autophagy. Fasting induces a process called autophagy – this is the primary mechanism which relates to the disposal of waste and repair of our body cells. This is mainly why it is recommended in anti-aging diets. It can help with maintaining muscle mass and offset some of the degenerative processes linked to aging.
Weight Loss. For many people the reason they try fasting is to improve body composition. Several studies have shown that intermittent fasting is associated with weight loss. Interestingly rather than losing muscle mass research shows that intermittent fasting can cause a shift in metabolism that preserves muscle. So intermittent fasting is effective for reducing fat mass and improving body composition.
The shift in metabolism from glucose to fat appears to be more significant around 18 hours of fasting, suggesting particularly benefit from occasional whole-day fasts. However if you are a daily gym goer and looking to build muscle mass then I would recommend the 16/8 approach. While burning fat for energy is great you do not want the body converting amino acids into glucose. One study found breakdown of muscle tissue was particularly significant after 16 hours . In addition I would also suggest making your evening meal before the fast rich in slow releasing protein to help maintain muscle mass. Other research suggests it may also elevate human growth hormone – again useful if you are looking to improve body composition
Chronic neuroinflammation is increasingly associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and mood disorders such as depression. There also appears to be beneifits in improving insulin sensitivity which in turn may help improve body composition and facilitate weight loss as well as lower inflammation.
Should you try Intermittent Fasting?
Fasting may not be for everyone. If you already know you don’t do well going for long periods without food (hunger, irritability, low energy etc.), or if it actually makes you want to overeat later in the day, then it may not be for you. Fasting is also not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding. I would also not recommend it if you have adrenal fatigue.
However if you find you can easily skip breakfast then you may find fasting suits you. If you like to exercise and are looking to improve body composition then I would also recommend training in a fasted state (e.g first thing in the morning). Studies shows that exercising in a fasted state increases both lipolysis and fat oxidation rates.
For many people gluten is bad news – and you don’t have to be a coeliac to suffer. So before you label people avoiding gluten, as ‘faddy eaters’ understand the difference between coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.
I see many clients who have genuine problems with gluten. Many of them have suffered for years without any support or dietary advice. Yet through laboratory testing (e.g Cyrex) it is clear that gluten is provoking an immune reaction. While some of these clients are coeliac there are many others who fall into the category known as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.
The definition of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity actually goes back to 1986, and there are sporadic reports of this entity but not as strong as in the past few years. Interest has increased after recent advances enabling us to make a clear differentiation between coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity.
In fact it has been estimated that, for every person with coeliac disease, there may be at least six or seven people with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. Gluten sensitivity may therefore affect 6-10% of the general population. This means approximately 4-7 million people in the United Kingdom have this condition, and the vast majority are unaware of their sensitivity to gluten. There are in fact numerous studies that reveal a wide range of issues with gluten.
If you suffer with gluten sensitivity you may have negative immuno-allergy tests to wheat and negative coeliac disease serology as well as normal endoscopy and biopsy. However when you follow a gluten free diet your symptoms resolve. One of the problems is the symptoms of non–coeliac gluten sensitivity can be identical to those suffering with coeliac disease. So for example you may experience problems with your digestive system, your skin, nervous system, muscles and joints, sleep, and mood. Perhaps you always feel fatigued, have IBS, suffer with brain fog, headaches or joint pain.
There are no laboratory biomarkers specific for gluten sensitivity. The diagnosis is generally based on exclusion criteria – i.e when you eliminate gluten containing foods from your diet your health improves and worsens when you reintroduce gluten. However it is also worth considering Cyrex array 3 before you remove gluten. This is probably the most comprehensive laboratory gluten test available and can provide you with information about your reaction to gluten and the test of choice in our clinic.
If you do suffer with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity your symptoms may include not just digestive symptoms but a wide range of extra intestinal symptoms. What happens in the gut unfortunately does not stay in the gut. Inflammation arising from a reaction to gluten can affect any body system. Gluten sensitivity may also be the single biggest contributor to a leaky gut in people with autoimmune disease.
Unlike coeliac disease the development of tissue transglutaminase tTG autoantibodies is not present. The adverse reaction to gluten appears to involve the innate immune system, which is a different response than in coeliac disease. Only 50% of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity patients express the HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8 haplotype, indicating that these genes are not necessary to develop gluten sensitivity.
With gluten sensitivity antibodies can be created against gluten. Antibody response is typically measured by testing the blood for IgE (technically an allergy), IgA, IgG and IgM antibodies against the protein faction of gluten known as gliadin. However some people can be gluten sensitive in ways that do not result in antibody formation. Gluten may cause a leaky gut by interacting with the tight junctions between gut enterocytes and activate immune cells in other ways. This means that the easiest way to diagnose gluten sensitivity is to stop eating gluten to see if it makes a difference.
Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity does exist and can cause numerous life limiting symptoms. So if you have been told you are not coeliac but suspect gluten is a problem then consider cyrex array 3 and after testing eliminate all gluten from your diet to see if your health improves. Listen to your body. Once you have removed gluten, follow a gut healing programme to lower inflammation, restore digestive function and optimise your health. Contact our clinic for a consult
Are you fed up with sniffing and sneezing during the warmer months? This year take action to get your hay fever under control naturally.
Allergic rhinitis (also called Hay fever) affects around 20% of the UK population. It is an IgE-mediated inflammation of the nasal mucosa in response to outdoor and indoor allergens, the most common of which are pollens, dust mites, moulds and insects.
Allergic rhinitis is also a risk factor for asthma and can be associated with eczema. It can also lead to sinusitis and upper respiratory tract infections. If symptoms occur throughout the year it is termed perennial allergic rhinitis and it can be mistaken for a persistent cold.
Allergic rhinitis takes two different forms:
Seasonal: Symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis can occur in spring, summer and early fall. They are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to airborne mold spores or to pollens from grass, trees and weeds.
Perennial: People with perennial allergic rhinitis experience symptoms year-round. It is generally caused by dust mites, pet hair or dander, cockroaches or mold.
Some people may experience both types of rhinitis, with perennial symptoms getting worse during specific pollen seasons. There are also nonallergic causes for rhinitis including irritants such as cigarette or other smoke, perfumes, cleaning products and other strong odours.
Typical symptoms include:
watery, red, or itchy eyes
itchy throat or roof of the mouth
sinus pressure and pain
There are a number of risk factors involved including family history of atopy, birth by cesarean section, exposure to cigarette smoke in infancy and exposure to dust in the house or pollutants. I discuss these in my book My Kids Can’t Eat That!
If allergic rhinitis is ongoing removing as many of the potential triggers as possible may relieve symptoms. If it is seasonal hayfever the timing of when you get symptoms may depend on what you react to.
Tree pollen is more common in the early spring.
Grass pollen is more common in late spring and summer.
Ragweed pollen is more common in the autumn
Pollen allergies can be worse on hot, dry days when the wind carries the pollen.
There are also a few lifestyle changes you can try
keeping windows closed to prevent pollen from coming in
wearing sunglasses to cover your eyes when you’re outdoors
using a dehumidifier to control mold
washing hands after petting animals or interacting with them in an airy space
To relieve congestion, try using a neti pot or saline sprays. These options can also reduce postnasal drip, which contributes to sore throats.
If your symptoms are more associated with mould and dust then looking at your home environment may be helpful. For example dust mites can contribute to hay fever, so keeping the house and work environment dust free is important. Chronic sufferers often consider removing carpets, feather quilts and pillows. Air filters can also be helpful.
As it often occurs with asthma looking at some of the nutritional support for asthma may be helpful for some. Various studies have shown that using certain probiotics particularly Lactobabillus casei can decrease symptoms reducing the need for medications. Other studies have shown a mixed strain probiotic which includes Bifidobacterium longum may help suppress inflammation and help rebalance the immune response. In our clinic we often use a specific probiotic supplement known to help with immune modulation.
As nasal allergies are associated with high histamine levels including nutrients known to lower histamine can be beneficial. Histamine is a part of the immune system response that causes all of the symptoms you associate with allergies — such as sneezing, rashes and cold-like symptoms. Antihistamines block histamine activity, seeking to stop the allergic reaction. Many allergy medications on the shelves of your local drug store work as antihistamines. But there are also certain foods and plant extracts that can have similar effects on histamine production (e.g quercetin, vitamin C etc). This is discussed in detail in my book My Kids Can’t Eat That!
Spirulina in particular has been shown to blunt inflammation and help relieve symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Spirulina powder be added into smoothies or stirred into soups and stewed fruit. Traditionally, stinging nettle has been used to treat allergic rhinitis, normally as an extract but it is also available as a tea. You may wish to add in anti-inflammatories such as fish oil and antioxidant rich foods as well.
Cooking or seasoning foods or drinks with turmeric may also be effective. Turmeric contains anti-allergic and natural decongestant properties. Studies found that turmeric suppresses allergic reactions.
Honey is also thought to help lessen seasonal allergies particularly local unprocessed honey. Read more about tackling allergies in my book My Kids Can’t Eat That!
Looking to burn more fat during workouts? Try exercising in a fasted state.
We’ve all been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Yet at the same time the benefits of intermittent fasting for promoting health and protecting against aging are now well documented. In fact, there is now mounting evidence that eating three meals a day is not necessary for effective weight loss or health maintenance.
When it comes to exercise and fat loss there is also evidence to suggest that for quicker results you may want to train in a fasted state.
Here’s why fasted training may help. When you eat, the hormone insulin is released from your pancreas to the bloodstream and shuttles glucose (carbohydrate) into muscles and other tissues, where it is used for energy. Any excess glucose is converted to fat and stored in the adipose tissue. When you fast, the hormones glucagon and cortisol stimulate the release of these fatty acids from adipose tissue into the bloodstream. The fatty acids are taken up by the muscles and other tissues and broken down (oxidized) to produce energy. In this way the body switches from utilizing carbohydrates to fats as its primary fuel to keep you energised.
However, this is a downside. In one study in Korea those undertaking fasted exercise cause the men to burn more fat but it also increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol after exercise relative to the fed workout. A raised cortisol level can increase muscle breakdown – not ideal if you’re looking to maintain or gain muscle mass.
Even so the researchers in this study suggested that morning fasting is a great time for a fat-burning workout, as long as it’s not too stressful on your body.
There can be another downside to fasted exercise. Some people find they have less energy and focus to train as effectively. This may mean you train at a lower intensity will could affect performance and overall gains. So fasted training may not be for everyone but if you are looking to burn more fat you may wish to give it a go.
What type of Exercise?
Both resistance training and cardio can be effective in increasing fat burning. If you’re used to lifting heavy weights you may find that initially when you make the switch, the first few workouts feel harder. Typically after a week or so after switching from a fed to fasting training schedule this improves. Studies have shown your body can adapt to training in a more fasted state and becomes more efficient as a result.
If you like your cardio your best bet for fat loss is HIIT training. There is now a wealth of research to show that high-intensity interval training is more time effective for losing fat than traditional “low-intensity steady-state” cardio. So, this can actually mean shorter but more intense training will result in a greater fat burn than longer gym sessions.
This seems to be a number of reasons why HIIT Training is particularly effective. It can increase your metabolic rate for up to 24 hours, enhances insulin sensitivity meaning your body is better able to utilise food you eat for energy rather than store it as fat. It may also increase growth hormone levels, which aids in fat loss. HIIT sessions only need to 20 to 30 minutes long to have benefit.
When to Exercise
For most if you are considering fasted exercise it is best to do it first thing in the morning. This ensures that your insulin is really at a low level. Typically fat burn is greatest after 6 hours or so of fasting. One of the simplest ways to ensure you are exercising in a fasted state is simply to stop eating in the evening at a set time and fast for at least 12-14 hours. So if you finish your evening meal at 7pm and work out at 7am you will be in a true fasted state – this is often known as time restricted eating. If it is not possible to train first thing in the morning you will need to plan your meals carefully to ensure you are in a fasted state later in the day. Depending on what you eat the food may still be affecting insulin levels 5 hours after the meal.
Of course, if you are looking to loss fat you also need to consider your overall energy consumption through the day – yes calories do count. To avoid muscle loss, eat a high protein diet and combine resistance training with cardio through the week.
Our microbiome – particularly those of our gut, help regulate our overall health and wellbeing, and even influence the brain, neurological function, and behaviour. The latest research also indicates how important they are in supporting our immune system. So what does he have to do with colostrum?
Colostrum is the first milk from the mother cow 1-2 days after giving birth. This ‘first milk’ is mother nature’s wonder food for developing the microbiome in all mammals and can have a profound effect in shaping our gut and immune health. Colostrum provides an array of nutrients, immunoglobulins and signaling peptides that were uniquely designed to protect the newborn from infection, and to help train and shape the developing immune system. By consuming colostrum you can help establish an array of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.
Excitingly there is now much research to suggest that colostrum can restore a leaky gut lining to normal levels. This of course could be crucial for anyone suffering with allergies and / or autoimmune conditions but also athletes.
After hard training and exercise our immune system can be depressed and in addition our gut is more prone to intestinal permeability and damage. During training the combination of stress and an increase in the body core temperature appears to increase the permeability of the gut wall and that in turn allows toxins into the bloodstream that wouldn’t usually be there.
One of the worst things for an athlete is having to take time out of training due to ill health or gastro problems such as ‘runners trots’. Whether you are an endurance athlete or more focused on building strength or bodybuilding, supporting recovery is essential for performance and colostrum appears to help significantly. And it seems that colostrum could also be important for building strength, supporting muscle, bone and joint health too. Great news if you want to keep fit and healthy as you age.
Recent studies indicate that colostrum can help the immune system to withstand the extra training load, and that a daily intake of colostrum over some weeks can reduce the incidence of respiratory tract infections in athletes.
So what makes colostrum so effective? Firstly, its packed with beneficial nutrients: colostrum contains immunoglobulins such as IgG, IgA, IgM; the immune modulating molecule lactoferrin; fat-soluble vitamins including retinol, tocopherol, and beta-carotene; water soluble vitamins including many B vitamins and a range of minerals including calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper and manganese. But its also an excellent source of easy to digest protein too – rich in both essential and non-essential amino acids, growth factors and commensal bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium.
The immunoglobulins in colostrum are especially impressive at combatting gut infections, including H. pylori, E. coli and various parasites and amoeba. It may also protect the gut against damage from certain medications and reduce gut inflammation making it potentially beneficial for inflammatory bowel conditions. Other studies have shown its effectiveness in combating infectious diarrhoea. Lactoferrin is one of the main proteins in colostrum can penetrate the cell wall of bacteria, which allows an antimicrobial enzyme in gastric secretions calls lysozyme to then enter the cell and cause it to burst. Together, lactoferrin and lysozyme can destroy Candida albicans.
Colostrum also provides secretory IgA which may be one of the reasons it can help reduce the risk of respiratory infections. SIgA can be depressed due to chronic stress so for most of us taking colostrum on a regular basis may have benefits for our overall health and immune system. There is also research into colostrum’s proline-rich polypeptides which may have neuro protective properties making it potentially useful in reducing the progression of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.
Whether you are a keen exerciser or not the wealth of beneficial compounds in colostrum may make it one of the most popular new innovative healthy ageing functional foods to take on a regular basis. Of course if you are lactose intolerant you may not be able to tolerate some brands of colostrum although low lactose versions are available.
I personally am a big fan of colostrum – now readily available in powder form you can easily add it to a drink or simply mix with a little water. For supporting immune function, gut health and performance this natural wonder food has numerous research studies to support its use long term. Visit our shop for colostrum.
Creatine is one of the most popular fitness supplements particularly among men looking to improve muscle mass. It is also one of the most well researched. But most women even if they workout regularly shun creatine supplements.
So should women consider Creatine supplements?
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a molecule produced in the body and found in certain foods like meat, eggs, and fish. Creatine comprises the amino acids L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine. Cardiac and muscle tissue contain high levels of creatine.
Creatine is present in most cells and acts as an energy reserve. It does this by enhancing the process of creating ATP from adenosine disphosphate (ADP). Supplemental creatine helps improve levels of ATP making it useful if stores are limited. While our liver produces most of our creatine you can increase your levels through certain foods and supplementation. As the majority of creatine stores are in the muscle cells, supplementation can increase available energy in the muscles which can lead to gains when exercising regularly. Creatine supplementation also increases the water content in muscle cells – this also results in changes in the expression of certain genes linked to muscle growth.
Research has shown creatine supplementation may have the following benefits when it comes to exercise performance.
If you’re exercising regularly, you may benefit from taking creatine if you want see improvements faster. If you are following a vegan or vegetarian diet you are likely to be lower in creatine and therefore the benefits may be more significant.
Should Women take Creatine?
There is no reason why women shouldn’t take creatine. If you want to build muscle and stay lean it can help women just as much as men. Many women are concerned that taking creatine could lead to bloating. However this should not the case – good quality creatine should not cause any noticeable bloat. In addition if you are trying to lose fat and preserve muscle which typically means cutting back on calories you will find creatine even more beneficial.
Most of the research on creatine use creatine monohydrate. There are other products on the market such as buffered creatine, creatine citrate, and hydrochloride. However there is very little evidence that these forms are any more effective than creatine monohydrate.
You may have heard of creatine loading – this is when you take a higher dose for a week before dropping down to a lower maintenance dose. However you shouldn’t need to creatine load. Studies have shown you can get optimal benefits by simply taking 5g creatine daily
For some people if you take a large dose in one go you may experience stomach discomfort or loose stools – to avoid this keep the intake to 5g daily and drink plenty of fluids during the day
Another concern is whether it can adversely kidney health. If you have poor kidney health do check with your doctor before supplementing. However generally speaking if you are exercising regularly and have healthy kidneys there is no concern with creatine supplementation.
Does your sex drive need a boost? Simple tweaks to the diet together with specific nutritional support could help boost your libido.
Struggling between the sheets? There can be many factors influencing our sex drive emotionally and physically. As we get older it can be more noticeable thanks in part to changes in hormone balance. However with the right foods and nutrients you can enhance libido naturally.
Testosterone is the hormone responsible for sex drive in both men and women. For testosterone to promote youthful sexual interest, satisfaction, and performance, it must be freely available to brain cell receptor sites. However, as people age, testosterone becomes bound to serum globulin (sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG)) and is not available to the sex stimulating centres in the brain.
The amount of SHBG is also influenced by liver health which is turn can be affected by diet and medications. One way to naturally increase libido particularly in men is to reduce the amount of SHBG. This is where nettle can be helpful. Available as a tea, powder and supplement studies have shown that constituents of nettle root bind to SHBG in place of testosterone. This means an increase in the amount of available testosterone.
Oily fish rich in the essential omega fatty acids EPA and DHA have also been shown to decrease SHBG levels making them a natural way to increase available testosterone. Omega 3 fats are important for boosting mood and improving circulation which in turn may enhance libido making them ideal for both men and women. Aim for consume 3 portions of oily fish a week (salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel etc) or include flaxseed, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts daily.
Pump Up the Protein
We all know that adequate protein consumption is vital for healthy muscle mass, but it is equally important for maintaining healthy testosterone levels. A study examined the relationship between diet and SHBG and found that diets low in protein in men 40-70 years old may lead to elevated SHBG levels and consequently decreased testosterone bioactivity.
Don’t Stress it!
It’s not just men that need testosterone of course. Slightly increasing testosterone levels—which can decrease with age—restores libido and sexual arousal in women too. The ovaries and the adrenal glands produce testosterone. Therefore the more stress you’re under the more this could adversely affect hormone levels. The adrenal glands also produce DHEA—dehydroepiandrosterone— another hormone that may influence sex drive. Nutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin C play a key role in supporting healthy adrenal function. Good sources of magnesium include leafy greens, nuts and seeds, oats and brown rice.
For men the testes and prostate have particularly high concentrations of zinc. Zinc deficiency substantially reduces testosterone levels, sperm production and muscle endurance. Boost your intake with zinc rich foods including meat, shellfish, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds.
It’s not just the sex cells in the brain that need stimulation. Stimulation in the genital area is also important. Improving blood circulation to the area and relaxation in the genital area aids sexual arousal. Nitric oxide (NO) is a chemical messenger that dilates blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more quickly to various parts of the body, including the genital area. Nitric oxide is required for the ability to relax smooth muscles, for proper vaginal function, and for production of vaginal fluid. If antioxidant function is compromised, free radicals can destroy nitric oxide or limit its activity. So increasing antioxidant rich foods can be beneficial. Good options include berries, matcha green tea, pomegranate and goji berries. Foods that increase nitric oxide include beetroot, chocolate, leafy greens, citrus fruits, nuts and seeds and watermelon.
While protein generally is important for sex drive supplementing with two specific amino acids have been shown to be particularly helpful.
The amino acid arginine can help increase nitric oxide production. Arginine can therefore be helpful for both men and women. Good food sources include turkey, chicken, spirulina, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, peanuts. Many people find a supplement helpful. Studies suggest initially taking 1000mg capsules 3-4 times a day beneficial.
Another effective amino acid for men is L carnitine (found in meat, fish, poultry and dairy). Supplementing has been found to be positively associated with improved levels testosterone and may also improve sexual function through its function in protecting the body from free radical damage.
Various herbs have traditionally been used to boost sex drive.
Muira puama is reputed to enhance erectile function and orgasm in aging men. In one study of 262 men suffering from poor sexual desire, more than 60% reported improvements with muira puama. It is not clear the exact mechanism of action but it may influence levels of testosterone.
Maca has been shown to improve sexual function in both men and women. It appears to do this via a variety of mechanisms including hormone balance via the hypothalamus-pituitary and adrenal gland as well as optimising brain neurotransmitters. One study showed men and women receiving 3,000 mg maca per day experienced a significant improvement in a standardized score of sexual function compare to placebo.
Maca has been shown to support oestrogen levels in women and help alleviate vaginal dryness which can lead to pain during intercourse.
A combination of maca and cordyceps has also been shown to improve sexual function in women. Cordyceps sinensis is a natural botanical extract that targets female sexual dysfunction by promoting an increase in ATP and mitochondrial function. Since contractions of muscle depend on a sufficient supply of ATP, improving levels may aid sexual arousal.
Maca Root and Powder (Flour)
As women age a reduction in oestrogen can be responsible for not only a reduction in libido but also vaginal blood flow and vulvovaginal atrophy, which is a form of urogenital tissue reduced deterioration. Vulvovaginal atrophy often causes vaginal dryness, irritation, itching, dyspareunia (pain during intercourse), vaginal bleeding with sex, and urinary infections. As oestrogen levels fall so can serotonin which can further reduce sexual desire and low mood.
Studies have shown that phytoestrogens found in foods or herbs – can improve vaginal dryness and hormone balance. Foods rich in phytoestrogens include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, soybeans, soy milk, tofu and miso
Another nutrient that may help relieve vaginal dryness is vitamin E. Various studies suggest that taken as a suppository in particular can be helpful. If you want to up your vitamin E foods try sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts. Skin hydrating sea buckthorn oil supplements may also combat vaginal dryness. One study showed consuming 3g daily beneficial.
Want to improve muscle recovery, improve performance and build muscle faster? Recovery is one of the most important elements in any training programme
Training does not stop once you have left the gym. If you want to get the most out of any workout or training session you need to focus on your recovery post workout. Even if you are not experiencing muscle soreness what you do after a workout is still important. When you train– whether you are undertaking resistance training or cardio you put your body and muscles under a lot of stress. High intensity exercise impacts the whole body – joints, muscles, digestion, glycogen stores, nervous and endocrine systems, immune response and cellular health. Poor recovery over time can result in systemic inflammation that impact the whole body and performance.
What and when you eat together with lifestyle factors can all impact speed of recovery. Recover better and you will notice improvements in performance.
Getting The Macros & Calories Right
While your recovery meal is important many people just focus on this alone without understanding that what they eat throughout the day will impact recovery and performance. Eating insufficient calories will impact your body’s ability to recover and refuel ready for the next training session. Not eating enough will also affect muscle repair and muscle growth. This is important for both weight training and endurance sports.
The balance of your meals is just as important. When it comes to muscle recovery protein is of particular importance. Don’t assume this is only for those wishing to build muscle in the gym either. Endurance athletes equally need sufficient protein. Training stresses muscle tissue. Protein is required to support muscle repair enabling them to grow stronger. While there is much debate about how much protein athletes need: it will also vary depending on the amount and type of training undertaken. Typically for endurance training it is suggested that between 1.4-1.8g per kg of body weight is required. Bodybuilders may find a higher intake (2g per kg ) achieves better gains.
Glycogen is stored in the muscles and liver and is the primary source of fuel during intense exercise. Restrict your carbs too much and your glycogen stores will fall inhibiting post workout muscle recovery. Restrict your carbohydrate too much and cortisol will increase – this can have a catabolic effect which may adversely affect muscle recovery post exercise. The rate at which your glycogen stores are used depends on the activity. For example, endurance sports cause your body to use more glycogen than resistance training. This in turn will influence your overall carbohydrate requirements through the day.
Consuming sufficient carbohydrate immediately post training is important for faster recovery and improvements in muscle growth. Eating plenty of carbs to rebuild glycogen stores is most important for people who exercise often, such as twice in the same day or every day.
What About Fat?
Consuming too much fat can slow down the absorption of your post-workout meal. That doesn’t mean your meal has to contain zero fat – for example one study showed that whole milk was actually more effective at promoting muscle growth after a workout than skimmed milk. However it might be a good idea to limit the amount of fat you eat after exercise to enable you to hit your protein / carb target without consuming excess calories. Some people also find too much fat post workout can make them feel nauseous.
Sleep and Stress
If you’re stressed and not sleeping well your recovery is going to suffer. Much of the rebuilding happens when we sleep. Even one night of bad sleep can affect performance the following day. If you really want to get the most out of your training aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Training late in the evening can interfere with sleep patterns. This is because raised cortisol levels during exercise can block melatonin – our sleep hormone. Taking phosphatidylserine can be helpful post exercise to lower cortisol levels.
One area often neglected is the importance of hydration during and after training. During exercise you will lose both water and electrolytes through sweat. Replenishing them through an electrolyte formula or drinking coconut water can aid recovery and performance.
Post Workout Recovery Meal
When you’re working out, your muscles use up their glycogen stores for fuel. This results in your muscles being partially depleted of glycogen. Some of the proteins in your muscles also get broken down and damaged. Your body’s ability to rebuild glycogen and protein is enhanced after you exercise. Eating a recovery meal ideally within 45 minutes after you exercise will help the body get this done faster. A combination of protein and carbohydrates will decrease muscle protein breakdown, increase muscle protein growth, restore glycogen stores and improve overall recovery. Studies have shown that delaying consumption by 2 hours or more can reduce the amount of glycogen synthesis by as much as 50%.
Consuming adequate amount of protein after a workout gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair and build new muscle tissue. Studies have shown that ingesting 20–40 grams of protein in your recovery meal seems to maximize the body’s ability to recover after exercise. More than this does not appear to result in any additional gain.
Carbohydrates are equally important in your post workout meal. Consuming carbs will help replenish your glycogen stores quickly and aid muscle recovery. Ideally aim for 1.1-1.5g / kg body weight within 30-45 minutes of training. So a combination of protein and carbohydrates is ideal. Insulin secretion which enables glycogen resynthesis is better stimulated when protein and carbs are combined. Similarly consuming carbs and protein after exercise maximises protein synthesis.
Practically consuming carbs and protein in a ratio of 2-3:1 is recommended. For example, 40 grams of protein with 80-120 grams of carbs.
What to Eat
Many people struggle to consume food immediately post exercise. This may be for a variety of reasons. Practically it may be difficult to have the right foods to hand, some people don’t actually feel that hungry while others feel nauseous after a long training session. For this reason many people find a recovery protein shake one of the easiest and effective options.
If you prefer food – here are easy options to try:
Peanut butter and rice cakes
Cottage Cheese with pineapple
Greek yogurt with berries, nuts and seeds
Chicken salad pitta
Scrambled egg on toast
Tuna with oat cakes
Porridge with whey protein and banana
Sweet potato with baked beans
Can Supplements Help?
Food always comes first when it comes to sports performance and recovery but certain supplements may be helpful.
There has much debate about the use of certain supplements post exercise. While foods rich in antioxidants such as berries are a great option in a post recovery meal taking an antioxidant formula may not be so beneficial. Remember you need damage to occur to grow muscles. Using strong anti-inflammatories or antioxidant supplements will prevent or reduce this muscle damage thereby hindering muscle growth. Eating a handful of berries or including them in a smoothie on the other hand contain a wealth of nutrients including vitamin C which is needed for the production of collagen – an essential protein for connective tissue, bones, ligaments and joints.
One the reasons many people suffer with muscle soreness is a build of lactate and lactic acid that come from high intensity exercise. L-carnitine is a useful supplement to consider as it facilitates the excretion of these by-products. Creatine is another effective supplement shown to reduce muscle damage while promoting muscle growth.
Protein Powder. To get the most out of your training sessions you need to consume sufficient protein. Using high quality protein powders are a convenient way to hit your daily protein goals particularly as part of the post workout meal. Whey protein has been shown in research to be particularly effective for recovery.
Collagen Powder. As collagen is a major component of muscle tissue, collagen supplementation can improve muscle mass, strength and body composition. Collagen comprises a number of amino acids including glycine which is important for the production of creatine in the body. This can provide fuel to the muscles during a workout and support recovery. Studies also have shown collagen supplements can help aid recovery and help relieve joint and knee pain during exercise.
While high doses of anti-inflammatories post workout should be avoided there is benefit in taking fish oil. Fish oil has been researched extensively for numerous health benefits including its ability to reduce exercise induced muscle damage. As many people fail to get sufficient oily fish in their diet supplementation may be helpful.
Lying in bed, tossing and turning? What you eat and drink has a dramatic effect on your sleep patterns. A few simple tweaks to your diet may help you have a more restful night.
We all know that feeling when we’ve had a bad night’s sleep. It can leave you struggling to focus and concentrate the next day not to mention irritable, tearful and lacking in motivation. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, affecting one in four people. But even just a few nights of broken sleep can significantly affect your health. Poor sleep has been correlated with a number of health problems including cardiovascular disease, suppressed immune function, depression, anxiety, increased sensitivity of pain and weight gain.
Why Lack Of Sleep Can Make You Fat
Poor sleep can lead to elevated levels of cortisol, epinephrine and other “stress” hormones. This can disrupt blood sugar levels as well as changes to hormones that regulate hunger and appetite.
The hormone leptin suppresses appetite and sleep deprivation reduces its levels. The hormone ghrelin, on the other hand, triggers feelings of hunger and increases when you’re not sleeping well. This explains why the more tired you feel the more you are likely to crave fatty, sugar laden foods for a pick me up. One study found that just one week of poor sleep led to an average weight gain of 2lbs. The other problem is that cortisol is catabolic – this means if you are exercising hard and looking to build muscle you may find sleep can impact on your workout gains.
Many people will naturally reach for natural sleep aids to help improve sleep patterns. However before doing so it is important we first address any ongoing habits which are not helping us get proper sleep.
Watch out for Stimulants
Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine contribute to poor sleep by making it harder for the brain to wind down. Caffeine has a half-life of between three to seven hours in the body depending on your genetics so drinking coffee or energy drinks in the afternoon could impact your quality of sleep. As everyone is different you may need to experiment with the timing of your last cuppa. Remember that foods with dark chocolate are also high in caffeine so you may wish to avoid snacking on chocolate late at night.
Skip the Night Cap
While most people think of alcohol as a sedative, it actually increases levels of dopamine within the brain, which has a stimulating effect. Alcohol disrupts blood sugar which can cause frequent waking. Alcohol is known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnoea, snoring and disrupted sleep patterns. It also alters night-time melatonin production, which plays a key role in your body’s circadian rhythm.
Show Your Gut Some Love
Digestive symptoms and heartburn can sabotage your sleep patterns. For some people food sensitivities or intolerances may to be blame. Spicy foods are also notorious for causing heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux so skipping the curry in the evening may be helpful.
Foods high in fat in the evening have been linked to poor sleep. Fat can slow down digestion and causes a build-up of stomach acids, which while lying down can cause heartburn and discomfort. In the same way avoid heavy meals before bedtime. If you do need a bedtime snack make it light and easy to digest. Choose one that combines tryptophan foods (see below) with carbohydrate. Good examples include rice cakes with peanut butter or plain yogurt with kiwi fruit.
If you have to wake up regularly to visit the bathroom try and reduce how much you drink in the evening. Certain foods like celery and watermelon are natural diuretics so you may wish to avoid these in the evening.
Stick To Regular Meal Times
The first step toward better sleep is to eat nourishing meals regularly spaced through the day. Skipping meals, eating erratically or overeating late at night will disrupt blood sugar levels and contribute to indigestion at night.
Don’t Go Too Low Carb
Studies show that an evening meal or bedtime snack which combines carbohydrates with protein are best for a good night’s sleep. The carbohydrates enables insulin triggered by the meal to enable more sleep-inducing tryptophan in the brain, faster. This increases levels of serotonin and melatonin for a better night’s sleep.
Don’t Exercise Too Late at Night
While keeping active and exercising regularly has been shown to improve sleep quality, exercising too close to bedtime is not a good idea. Exercising late at night, increases adrenaline and cortisol making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Exercising early in the morning may provide better quality sleep at night.
Key Nutrients for a Restful Night
Melatonin, a hormone made in the pineal gland, is critical for our sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin responds to light. This means that when you are exposed to light the brain suppresses melatonin but of course when light levels decline, melatonin gets created from serotonin and helps promote sleep.
Low melatonin levels have been linked to insomnia with supplementation shown to improve sleep. It can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and can also be useful if you are struggling with jet lag.
In the UK melatonin is only available on prescription but certain foods can naturally improve our levels. Those with the highest levels of melatonin include nuts and seeds (walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseed), fish, egg, fruits and vegetables (e.g asparagus, corn, olives, tomatoes, grapes, strawberries) and certain grains like rice and oats.
Tart cherry juice is probably one of the most popular sources of melatonin. It has been widely studied for its role in relieving insomnia. Drinking a glass of tart cherry juice about 1 hour before bed may aid you in to the land of nod. In two studies, adults with insomnia who drank 8 ounces (237 ml) of tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks slept about an hour and a half longer and reported better sleep quality, compared to when they did not drink the juice.
L-tryptophan, an amino acid that acts as a precursor for serotonin and melatonin is more widely present in foods. Tryptophan can be converted into a molecule called 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which is used to make serotonin and melatonin. Supplements of 5HTP are a popular sleep aid but simply eat more tryptophan or serotonin rich foods through the day can also be helpful.
Foods Rich in Tryptophan / Serotonin
Try and include these foods through the day and particularly as part of your evening meal.
If you exercise regularly and sweat a lot you may be more prone to lower levels of magnesium in your body. You can increase magnesium in the body by soaking in a warm bath of Epsom salts or using magnesium oil spray on the skin. Try upping your intake of magnesium rich foods. Top sources include dark leafy greens (baby spinach, kale, collard greens), nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts, flaxseed, pecans), avocado, fish (salmon, halibut, tuna, mackerel), plain yogurt, bananas and soybeans.
Zinc and calcium are also important for quality sleep. Dairy products that contain both tryptophan and calcium are among the best sleep inducers (this may be why a warm milky drink at night helps). Other good sources of calcium include dark leafy greens, sardines, soybeans, tahini, okra and broccoli.
Boost Your B Vitamins
B vitamins particularly vitamin B6 found in food such as poultry, fish, chickpeas, and bananas helps your body process tryptophan and turn it into sleep-inducing melatonin. Niacin another B vitamin naturally found in beetroot, pork, poultry, and peanuts appears to improve your REM cycle and reduce waking in the night.
Using Natural Sleep Aids
Natural sleep aids often work by calming down the nervous system and supporting certain neurotransmitters or chemicals that can help to calm the mind making it easier to sleep. Others may also reduce levels of stimulating neurotransmitters such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Some of the calming neurotransmitters / amino acids include:
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
Try Calmative Teas
There are a number of herbal teas that help calm the mind enabling a more restful sleep. Valerian is a sedative herb that has been used since the 18th century for the treatment of insomnia. It works on the GABA system in the brain, helping reduce brain activity and allowing you to fall asleep more easily.
Chamomile is another popular tea shown to promote sleep and relaxation. It also has a history to reduce anxiety. The mechanism appears to be through suppressing glutamate release (which is stimulating) and improve GABA.
Other good options include passion flower, lemon balm and magnolia bark.
Sniff Lavender Oil
Lavender oils have been extensively studied for the treatment of insomnia and quality of sleep. Try adding a few drops onto your bed linen and night clothes before bedtime.
Tackle Stress with Ashwagandha
Withania somnifera, also known as Ashwagandha, is an Indian herb that may be beneficial for treating insomnia. One of the reasons this herb appears to be effective is through improving our ability to modulate stress hormones like cortisol.