Recipe: Green Power Immune Gummies

Immune Gummies
Saskia has been hit with the cold that’s been going around all her little friends, and is a sniffly, cuddly little babe!  To help her immune system stay strong and fight off the bug, I made her a special batch of supercharged gummies to snack on.

These gummies are packed full of immune enhancing ingredients:

Good quality, grass-fed gelatin is a potent immune tonic – full of amino acids that strengthen the gut wall (one of your first immune defences) and fuel your white blood cells to seek and destroy pathogens.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Elder (Sambucus nigra) and Peppermint (Mentha piperita) are herbs used together to support a healthy fever.  They are often sold as a blend called ‘YEP tea’.
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) is a winning herb for immune support.
Spirulina is antiviral, and increases energy and stamina.

Recipe: Green Power Immune Gummies!

Infuse 1 teaspoon of each of the four herbal teas (yarrow, elder, peppermint and echinacea) in 1.5 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes, then strain.

I followed Sarah Wilson’s basic gummie recipe, such as the one used here, and simply replaced the raspberries with the 1.5 cups of herbal tea.

Once the mixture cools, stir through 1-2 teaspoons of spirulina powder before pouring into your mould and popping in the fridge.

So easy, surprisingly tasty, and oh so gloriously green!

Health Store Help! Volume 2: Magnesium

Health Store Help!
Volume 2: Magnesium

Ever wandered into your local health store, done a few dazed laps of the shelves, then staggered out again, completely overwhelmed by the possibilities?

How can one little store have so very many different bottles of pills and powders and potions?  What do they all do?  And what do I even need?

This blog series aims to demystify the health store, equip you with the knowledge to make smart choices, and highlight some of the products available that will give you the most bang for your buck.

Remember – naturopathic health care is all about what is right for you as an individual.  This is general advice, and all supplements should be checked with your naturopath or primary health care provider prior to starting use.

Magnesium

Pumpkin seeds

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, with roughly a 50:50 distribution between bone and muscle/soft tissue [1].  There is not currently any simple and accurate laboratory test that can measure magnesium status in the body.  This is because less than 1% of magnesium is found in the blood, meaning that blood tests are only indicative of severe depletion [2].

What does magnesium do?
It sometimes seems like magnesium is the answer to every health concern around!  That is because magnesium is hugely important for maintaining many healthy bodily functions.  It is involved in over 300 metabolic reactions in the body including cellular energy production, cell growth and reproduction, and DNA synthesis [1].  It is also involved in many important biological processes such as:
•    Nerve conduction
•    Muscular contraction
•    Formation of bone and teeth
•    Immune function
•    Maintains normal heart rhythm
•    Production of hormones and neurotransmitters
•    Glucose and insulin metabolism
•    Relaxes muscles lining the lungs
•    Activation and metabolism of other vitamins and minerals such as vitamins D, B1, B6, as well as calcium, potassium and zinc
[1] [2] [3].

Here is a great infographic summarizing some of the main roles of magnesium in the body:

MagnesiumBenefitsv2Infographic sourced here

Signs you may be low in magnesium
Signs of magnesium deficiency include:
•    Muscle weakness, twitches, cramps and spasm (including a twitchy eyelid)
•    Vertigo
•    Lethargy, poor memory, apathy and melancholy
•    Disordered sleep and insomnia
•    Personality changes
•    Hyper-irritability and excitability (including over-reacting to sudden loud sounds such as a slamming door)
[1] [2] [3].

Why might I be low in magnesium?
The kidneys are the organ responsible for managing magnesium levels in the body.  Diuretics such as caffeine and alcohol, therefore, increase magnesium loss through the urine [2].  Untreated diabetics are at risk of magnesium deficiency for the same reason [1].  Gastrointestinal disorders such as coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel diseases, malabsorption conditions, infections, vomiting and diarrhea increase the risk of magnesium deficiency due to reduced absorption of the mineral [2].  The elevated cortisol levels of chronic stress deplete magnesium, as does high frequency exercise [2].  People with increased needs for the mineral are also at risk of being magnesium deficient, including pregnant and lactating women, asthmatics, migraine sufferers, the elderly, and athletes [3].

A UK study found that between 1940 and 1991 the amount of minerals present in our food had been steadily declining.  Magnesium had dropped by 24% in vegetables, 16% in fruit and 10% in meat [4].  That data is now over 20 years old, so it is possible that soil (and therefore food) concentrations of magnesium have since declined even further.  This provides an additional challenge when trying to ensure adequate dietary intake of the mineral.

How much do I need?
The recommended daily intake (RDI) of magnesium is 300-400mg/day [3].  Therapeutic doses of magnesium generally range between 200-600mg/day, depending on the condition being treated [2].

Where can I find magnesium in my diet?
There is no upper limit on the amount of magnesium that can be consumed in food [3], and maximizing dietary intake of magnesium is an important first step in the treatment of any condition in which magnesium deficiency or increased utilization of magnesium has been identified.

Food Sources of Magnesium

Food Sources of Magnesium
Pumpkin seeds, 2 tbsp (30g) 160mg
Good wholemeal bread, 2 slices 140mg
Chia seeds, 2 tbsp (30g) 120mg
Tempeh, 100g 115mg
Sunflower seeds, 2 tbsp (30g) 111mg
Spinach/Chard/Kale (cooked), 0.5 cup 80mg
Almonds with skin, 15 nuts (30g) 78mg
Tofu (firm), 100g 78mg
Cashews, 15 nuts (30g) 75mg
Rolled oats, 0.5 cup 59mg
Brazil nuts, 3 nuts (15g) 52mg
Tahini, 1 tbsp (15g) 48mg
Quinoa (cooked), 0.5 cup 45mg
Brown rice (cooked), 0.5 cup 43mg
Rice bran, 1 tbsp (6g) 41mg
Avocado, 0.5 medium 40mg
Banana, 1 medium 40mg
Lentils (cooked), 0.5 cup 35mg
Unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tbsp (6g) 30mg

[3] [5]

Which supplement should I choose?
Not all magnesium supplements are equal, with some forms of magnesium far more easily utilized in the body than others.

Look for: magnesium chelate, magnesium citrate, or magnesium glycinate.

Avoid: magnesium oxide (the most common, and cheapest, form).

You also need to look carefully at the label, as it will list ‘total magnesium’ and ‘elemental magnesium’ – it’s the elemental dose that is important.  For example: ‘each tablet contains 750mg of magnesium (150mg elemental)’, means that each tablet has 150mg of available magnesium NOT 750mg. Speak to the staff in the store if you are unsure of how to read a product’s label.

What else do I need to consider?
Magnesium oxide, the most common form of magnesium in inexpensive supplements, is the primary ingredient in many laxatives.  It should be avoided as a magnesium supplement due to its poor absorption, but be especially aware of avoiding it if you already have a tendency to loose bowels!

Like all minerals, magnesium does not work alone in the body.  It requires adequate cofactors such as vitamin B6 and potassium in order to function optimally.  If considering magnesium supplementation, be aware that all nutrients exist in the body in a state of balance and supplementing one nutrient alone is rarely enough.

Remember – this is general advice and should not be used without consultation with your naturopath or primary health care provider (such as your doctor), particularly if you suffer from chronic illness or severe nutritional deficiencies.

If you would like to know more about how magnesium and other natural supplements can benefit your health, Rebecca is a consulting naturopath practicing from Randwick in Sydney.

References

[1] Guerrera, M.P., Volpe, S.L., & Mao, J.J. (2009). Therapeutic uses of magnesium. American Family Physician, 80(2), 157-162. Retrieved from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/0715/p157.pdf

[2] Braun, L., & Cohen, M. (2010). Herbs and natural supplements: an evidence-based guide. (3rd ed). Australia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

[3] Kotsirilos, V., Vitetta, L., & Sali, A. (2011). A guide to evidence-based integrative and complementary medicine. Australia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

[4] Thomas, D. (2003). A study on the mineral depletion of foods available to us as a nation over the period 1940 to 1991. Nutrition and Health, 17(2), 85-115. Retrieved from PubMed 29 April, 2014.

[5] NUTTAB (2013). Foods that contain magnesium. Retrieved from http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/nutrientables/nuttab/Pages/default.aspx

You’re Awake Again?? 9 tips for coping with interrupted sleep as a new parent

sleep deprivation

My seven-month-old has started crawling!  Very exciting for her, and it is certainly keeping us on our toes (how on earth did you get under there?!?!), but along with her newfound freedom has come a period of truly shocking sleep.  Shocking both because she’s waking for feeds/cuddles/general crawling practice all night long, and also because I thought once you were past the newborn days it only got better! (lol)

With this in mind, I thought I would share some simple strategies for minimising the impact of broken sleep on your mental and physical wellbeing.

1.    Understand that night-waking in babies is normal
Babies don’t sleep like adults, and they aren’t meant to.  Baby sleep cycles are about half as long as adults, and this frequent waking has been found to be protective against SIDS.  Baby sleep can be impacted by the acquisition of new skills, developmental leaps, teething, you name it!

While it won’t make you any less tired, sometimes simply understanding that your baby’s waking is normal and that you are most certainly not alone out there, is enough to dry the 2am tears of frustration and sheer exhaustion.

An interesting article on managing our expectations around infant and toddler sleep can be found here.

(Note: occasionally, a baby’s broken sleep actually isn’t normal due to physical, environmental or psychological reasons.  If you suspect an underlying problem please speak to your primary health care provider).

2.    Support your body with a good quality multi B vitamin
The B vitamins are critical components of many important processes in the body.

Crucially, they are needed to turn the food we eat into the energy we need to get through the day – carbohydrates, protein and fats are all metabolized into ATP (energy) in the B-vitamin powered citric acid cycle.

The B vitamins are also essential for the production of serotonin and melatonin – your ‘feel good’ and sleep hormones.  This means that adequate levels of these vitamins are required to help you get back to sleep as quickly as possible, and be even a little bit pleasant in the morning.

During times of stress the body really burns through the B vitamins, leaving you struggling to catch up.  A B vitamin complex is a simple and cost-effective way to give your body the support it needs while you’re being pushed to the max.

3.    Brew some passionflower tea
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a herb specifically indicated for disturbed sleep patterns, and can make the effects of disrupted sleep less debilitating.

Try mixing it with chamomile or licorice for a relaxing, stress busting blend, or any other herbal teas that you enjoy.  Drink a cup before heading to bed each evening.

4.    Avoid the sugar and/or caffeine rollercoaster
When you’re exhausted, it’s so easy to reach for a quick fix of a sweet muffin, a biscuit, or a chocolate bar.  But that hit of energy is only temporary, and sugar highs are followed by crashing lows, leaving you feeling wrecked and looking for the next fix, starting the rollercoaster all over again.  All that sugar also wreaks havoc throughout your body, causing inflammation, messing with your immune system, and interfering with the balance of hormones.

Relying on coffee is not the answer either.  Excessive caffeine puts strain on your adrenal glands, and can ultimately lead to burn out.  Breastfeeding mothers should also consider that a small amount of the caffeine consumed will make its way to baby through your milk, which may impact their sleep quality (and therefore yours!).  Everyone has a different threshold for tolerating caffeine – some people may be fine on two cups of coffee per day, while others may be better off moving to a lower-caffeine option such as green tea, or ditching the caffeine altogether with herbal tea (passionflower, anyone?).

5.    Eat a diet rich in good quality protein
While sugar sends your energy bouncing out of control, protein provides the steady, slow burning fuel we need to stay energized.

Dietary protein is also used to build the white blood cells used by your immune system to fight pathogens and stop you getting sick, as well as being one of the fundamental building blocks of the feel good serotonin and sleepy melatonin mentioned earlier.

You don’t need to be a gourmet chef to include some protein in every meal, and it’s definitely doable one-handed in the kitchen with your little one on your hip.

Here are a couple of ideas:
Breakfast: bircher muesli with yoghurt and nuts; scrambled eggs; beans on toast
Lunch: leftovers from dinner; have some tins of tuna/bean mix/chickpeas in the pantry or cooked quinoa in the fridge to top up your salad
Snacks: veggies/crackers with hommus; fruit with yoghurt; handful of nuts and seeds with a piece of dark chocolate
Dinner: a good rule of thumb is to visualize your dinner plate as ½ veggies, ¼ protein such as chicken, fish, meat, tofu, or legumes, and ¼ complex carbohydrates like brown rice, sweet potato, or polenta

6.    Supercharge with spirulina
I’ve previously written about how much I love spirulina, and why – you can read up on it here.  Of particular relevance to sleep deprivation is its positive effect on energy, stamina and the immune system.

7.    Build resilience with adaptogens
Adaptogens are plant-based medicines that help the body deal with chronic stress.

Withania (Withania somnifera) is a tonic and adaptogenic herb that is indicated in the treatment of mental or physical stress and anxiety.  Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is also tonic and adaptogenic, able to increase performance under stress.  Medicinal mushrooms such as chaga and reishi are also powerful adaptogens.

Adaptogens can also improve immune function, helping to reduce your susceptibility to illness.  This is important, as we all know how easy it is to get sick when you are feeling run down.

Note: if you are breastfeeding, or pregnant, please consult your naturopath before taking any herbs.

8.    Use a red night light
I have already mentioned melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone produced and secreted by the pineal gland at night.  Research has found that exposure to light blocks the production of melatonin, with blue wavelengths the most disruptive.  Our exposure to screens and electronics, as well as the growing use of energy-saving lightbulbs, is increasing our exposure to blue light.

You can minimize the disturbance to your circadian rhythm when you wake at night by using only dim red light.  I have a red bulb in my bedside lamp, and it is the only light we use in the bedroom as we get ready for bed, and if needed throughout the night.  I recently read about using red light in the bathroom too, especially if baby’s night time routine consists of a bath before bed.

You can read more about the effects of red and blue light on sleep and melatonin production here.

9.    Sleep when the baby sleeps
Yes, I know you’ve heard it before, a thousand times even.  That’s because it’s true!  Don’t worry about anything else right now, just lie down with your sweet babe, breathe her in, and nap.  If you’ve got other children, call a friend or family member to come by and entertain them while you retire for a snooze – think about it, you’d do it for them, right? They’ll be happy to help you out!

Caring for a baby, and the associated sleep deprivation, can be overwhelming.  If you ever get to the point of feeling like you can’t cope, please seek help from your primary health care provider.

Flower Essences for Labour and Birth

Flower Essences for Labour and Birth

As the days get shorter and darker, and Baby Bell gets bigger and stronger, I am preparing to turn inward and rest before our girl decides she’s ready to join us out here!

Before I sign off for a while, I thought I would share with you the flower essence blend I will be using to help me in the lead up to, and throughout, labour and birth.

Australian Bush Flower Essences are beautiful, gentle remedies obtained by extracting the healing energy of a plant from its flowers.  Any of my clients can tell you that I prescribe flower essence blends a lot – they are safe, fast acting, and produce powerful results on both the physical and emotional levels.

My ‘Birthing Blend’ contains:
•    She Oak – for female hormonal balance
•    Crowea – to reduce muscle spasms and cramps
•    Bush Fuchsia – to stay in the intuitive, instinctual part of the brain
•    Dog Rose of the Wild Forces – for calmness and centring without fear of losing control
•    Macrocarpa – to enhance stamina and physical endurance
•    Bottlebrush – for mother-child bonding and support through major life changes
•    Boab – to release the baby from negative family patterns and behavioural traits (ie ‘baggage’!)

I will also be adding a few drops of Boab essence to the water of the birth pool.  The traditional practice of some indigenous communities has been to birth babies into a cradle of Boab flowers – what a beautiful way to welcome this new life, full of freedom and cleared of any limiting ancestral ties.

Over the next few months I will endeavour to post anything interesting I come across, and will return with a new volume of ‘Health Store Help’ later in the year.  Feel free to keep in touch!

Partus Preparator Herbs in Pregnancy

Partus preparator herbs

34 weeks pregnant today! – the birth plan is written, the positive visualisations are being practiced daily, and now it’s time to start on my partus preparator herbs.

Partus preparators are herbs traditionally used in the last weeks of pregnancy to help tone and prepare the uterine muscles for labour.

Tonifying the uterine muscles in the lead up to labour can lead to a smoother birth process and delivery by helping contractions be more co-ordinated and effective.  It also aids in an easier recovery by reducing bleeding and assisting the uterus to contract in size following birth.

Often included in a partus preparator blend are other herbs that reduce stress and anxiety, herbs high in iron and other nutrients, and herbs to support healthy milk production.

Raspberry leaf tea is the most well-known and frequently used partus preparator herb.  While it’s definitely the Queen Bee, there are many other herbs with a long history of safe use in late pregnancy.

It is important that you consult with a naturopath before taking any herbs in pregnancy – they can advise you on the best herbs for your individual case, the safety of herbs, and the dose required to get the best results.

‘Microbirth’ Documentary

I’ve just watched ‘Microbirth’ – a fascinating documentary on the role of birth in developing the foundations of a healthy microbiome.

More and more attention is being given to the human microbiome – the ecological community of bacteria that share our bodies.  In fact, there are 10 times more bacterial cells in our body than human cells – making us 90% microbial!

Childbirth is the critical time for priming our microbiome for the long-term development of a healthy immune system.  Passing through the vaginal canal coats the newborn baby in hundreds of different bacteria, which are then specifically fed by the sugars in breast milk so they can mature.  Some scientists are speculating that lack of exposure to vaginal bacteria during childbirth (ie caesarian births) may be associated with the increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, obesity, asthma and coeliac disease.

I have already discussed with my midwife that, in the case of needing to deliver via caesarian, we wish to follow the vaginal fluid swabbing and seeding protocol currently being investigated by Dr Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello (outlined in this doco).  Amazing stuff!

If you’re interested in finding out more, it’s certainly worth a look: http://muvi.es/w6565/343863

Chicken Sickie Soup

The wet and wild weather here in Sydney has certainly served as a reminder that Winter is coming!  (Or maybe it’s just the return of Game of Thrones to Monday nights?)

For many, this means the start of dreaded flu season and the threat of nasty coughs and colds.

Most people will have heard about the benefits of a big bowl of chicken soup on a cold and dreary night – and turns out there are a number of reasons it makes you feel so good.

Dietary protein is required to build white blood cells (your body’s bug-fighting warriors).  When your vitality is low and you’re feeling flat, easily digestible protein is the key – like soft poached chicken (or a miso and tofu variation for vegetarians).  Foods high in protein are often also a good source of zinc – an important mineral for optimal immune function.

Hot water, like broth, has a number of benefits for those of us taken down by a nasty cold.  Steamy water:
•    thins mucus so any congestion is easier to eliminate
•    improves circulation which increases the flow of blood and nutrients around the body, improving your energy levels
•    reduces headaches by allowing blood vessels to relax
•    combats dehydration brought on by sweating and fever

Spices like chilli, ginger, garlic, turmeric, fenugreek, mustard and cinnamon help to warm you up from the inside, as well as being packed with anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce the aches and pains of flu.  Garlic is also antimicrobial, going to work to fight off the nasties to get you better faster – but it works best freshly crushed, so stir through just before serving.

Bone broths are high in glutamine, which strengthens the immune defences of our digestive system (through increasing synthesis of sIgA) – remember, our gut is a hugely important, and often overlooked, component of our immune system.  Just think about how many bugs and pathogens we must ingest everyday!

Vitamin A and carotenoids found in colourful veggies (like carrots and sweet potatoes) help with antibody production, as do Asian mushrooms like shiitake.

A squeeze of lemon provides the classic vitamin C kick we all know is good to boost antibody and white blood cell production and activity.  Vitamin C also doubles as an antioxidant to help clean up the mess after the body has won it’s battle against the virus or bacteria.  Vitamin C does not survive heating though, so this is also something to add when serving.

This all sounds great, but when you’re feeling sick, shopping for ingredients and standing in the kitchen are usually the last things anyone wants to do.

The solution?  Get a big pot of soup on the go now!  Make a big batch and freeze in single serves so it’s right there whenever you need it.

Here’s a recipe to play around with – adjust volumes to taste and really make it your own.

Chicken Soup

Chicken Sickie Soup

This soup takes a while to cook (around 2 hours) – but the actual work involved is minimal so you can retreat to the couch with your tea and a blanket for the majority of the time.  Perfect.

Ingredients (play with the amounts to suit your taste):
•    1 whole chicken, organic if possible
•    Celery
•    Carrots
•    Onions x 2-3
•    1-2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
•    Bay leaves
•    Shiitake mushrooms – fresh or rehydrated
•    Lots of broccoli, spinach, sweet potato, or any veg you have – chopped
•    Garlic (fresh) – as much as you can handle!
•    Ginger (fresh)
•    A few chillis
•    Lemon

Steps
•    Place whole chicken into a large soup pot and cover with around 2.5L of cold water. If you don’t have a pot big enough you can chop the chicken into quarters.
•    While this comes to the boil chop the celery, carrots and onions into big chunks and add to the water along with the bay leaves and peppercorns.
•    Cover, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for around 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally.  You want a steady simmer, slow cooking the chicken over a low temperature makes for the best flavor.
•    Once this is done, lift out the chicken with tongs (carefully as it will be falling apart) and place in a big bowl.  Strain the broth, keeping the liquid and discarding the old veg (be sure to get all the delicious bits of chicken).
•    Return the broth to the stove and add the mushrooms and any other hard veggies (including more celery and carrots if you’d like).  Leave out any green leafies such as spinach or bok choy for now as you are going to simmer this for another 10-15 minutes until the veggies are cooked and you don’t want soggy greens.
•    While this is simmering, carefully (it’s hot!) shred the chicken, keeping all the meat and discarding the skin and bones.
•    Return the chicken to the soup along with the greens.  Grate a big knob of ginger, finely chop the chilis, and stir through.  Let simmer for a few more minutes.
•    We want the garlic to be super fresh, so crush a couple of cloves straight into each bowl and top up with the soup.
•    Top with a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice and any herbs you like.
•    Sit down, breathe in the steam, give thanks, and tuck in! YUM.

If freezing portions, stop before the last 4 steps – add the greens, ginger, chillis, garlic and lemon when you’re ready to eat your delicious bowl of kitchen medicine!

Health Store Help! Volume 1: Spirulina

Health Store Help!
Volume 1: Spirulina

Ever wandered into your local health store, done a few dazed laps of the shelves, then staggered out again, completely overwhelmed by the possibilities?

How can one little store have so very many different bottles of pills and powders and potions?  What do they all do?  And what do I even need?

This blog series aims to demystify the health store, equip you with the knowledge to make smart choices, and highlight some of the products available that will give you the most bang for your buck.

Remember – naturopathic health care is all about what is right for you as an individual.  This is general advice, and all supplements should be checked with your naturopath or primary health care provider prior to starting use.

Spirulina

Spirulina

What is spirulina?
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that has been used as a source of food and nutrition since the Aztecs, coming to modern fame after it was used by NASA as a dietary supplement for astronauts on space missions [1].

Protein and iron increase energy and stamina
Spirulina is an incredibly rich source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – including absorbable iron.  It is 60-70% protein, providing nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) and all of the essential amino acids [2].  This makes spirulina a complete protein, so is an excellent supplement to consider for increasing energy and stamina, particularly in active teens and adults.

Spirulina’s iron and protein content also make it ideal for vegetarians.

Antioxidants for anti-ageing, great skin, and eye health
Spirulina is packed with antioxidants like carotenoids, vitamin E, phycocyanin and chlorophyll [3].  The beta-carotene in spirulina is highly bioavailable for use in the body, and converts easily to vitamin A [4].  Vitamin A is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the skin, making spirulina a good option for acne treatment.

Spirulina is one of the highest natural sources of zeaxanthin at 74000 mcg/100g – cooked egg yolks are another good source of this antioxidant but contain only 587mcg/100g [4].  Along with lutein, which is abundant in green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, zeaxanthin is important for the development and maintenance of the retina.  Zeaxanthin is also the major component of the central macula.  This makes spirulina an obvious choice for keeping the eyes healthy and may reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration [4].

Anti-inflammatory actions that combat hayfever
Spirulina has been found to inhibit the release of histamine from mast-cells in the body, reducing the severity of symptoms in hayfever sufferers [1].  It also reduces pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-4, important for regulating IgE-mediated allergies, thereby demonstrating protective effects against hayfever [1].  In studies comparing spirulina to placebo, spirulina significantly improved the symptoms of hayfever including nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching [1].

Spirulina has also been found to enhance IgA production, suggesting it plays a pivotal role in strengthening the mucous membranes (such as those in the nose, mouth and throat) for increased mucosal immunity [4].

White blood cell support for anti-viral actions
As yet there are no human studies to investigate the anti-viral properties of spirulina.  However, in vitro studies suggest that the active components of spirulina may inhibit the replication of several enveloped viruses such as herpes simplex type 1 (cold sore virus), human cytomegalovirus, measles and mumps virus, influenza A virus, and HIV [1].

Cholesterol-lowering effects for reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes complications
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the most common cause of mortality in the western world, accounting for more than 50% of all deaths [5].  Spirulina has cholesterol-lowering effects, with studies showing that supplementation reduces total cholesterol and LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol), while increasing HDL (‘good’ cholesterol).  This demonstrates that spirulina can help protect against the development of atherosclerosis by lowering blood cholesterol levels [5].  The antioxidants of spirulina also protect the blood vessels from oxidative stress and subsequent damage, further protecting against CVD.

By protecting the blood vessels and cardiovascular system, spirulina also has an important role in reducing the vascular complications of diabetes, such as nephropathy (kidney disease) [6].

What form does it come in and how much do I need to take?
Spirulina is available in powder, tablet or capsule form.  Powder is great if you make daily juices or smoothies, otherwise tablets or capsules may be more convenient.

Most brands suggest 1-3 serves of spirulina per day to be an effective dose.
One serve equates to 1 teaspoon, or 6 small tablets.
Start at 1 serve per day, increasing to 2-3 serves during times of extra need (ie exams, sports training, illness, high stress etc).
The effects of spirulina are dose dependent – I personally noticed a big difference when I increased my dose from 1 to 3 serves per day (and yes – that’s 18 tablets!)

Not all spirulina is created equal, and can be influenced by production methods and storage techniques, so be sure to ask the staff at your local store for a brand recommendation.

Brands I like include:
Green Nutritionals: http://spirulina.greennutritionals.com.au/spirulina/about-spirulina/
Lifestream: http://www.lifestream.co.nz/products/spirulina/bioactive-spirulina

What else do I need to consider?
Although spirulina is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, keep in mind you are only going to be taking 3-9g per day.  Even though it is very high in protein, most people need to be consuming over 50g of protein per day!  So while spirulina is a wonderful food to supplement your diet, it will never replace healthy, balanced eating.

The jury is out on the bioavailability of the vitamin B12 in spirulina – though at this stage it looks like the B12 is unlikely to be readily available for use in the body.  So vegans or people with B12 deficiencies should not rely on spirulina as their sole dietary source of B12.

Remember – this is general advice and should not be used without consultation with your naturopath or primary health care provider (such as your doctor), particularly if you suffer from chronic illness or severe nutritional deficiencies.

If you would like to know more about how spirulina and other natural supplements can benefit your health, Rebecca is a consulting naturopath practicing from Randwick in Sydney.

References
[1]    P.D. Karkos, S.C. Leong, C.D. Karkos, N. Sivaji, and D.A. Assimakopoulos, “Spirulina in clinical practice: evidence-based human applications”, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 8, 2011.
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