Too much alcohol, and eating the wrong types of food (and too much of it!) over Christmas can lead to bloating, tiredness, poor skin and weight gain. This is why January is the perfect time to take a look at the health of your digestive system and liver, to ‘detox’ your system and start the year as you mean to go on!
Eliminating just a few foods from your diet can help to give your liver and digestive system a welcome break. For many, the most important change to make is to eliminate alcohol. Alcohol is taxing for both the digestive tract and the liver. It also destroys B Vitamins, magnesium, zinc and Vitamin C, it irritates the digestive tract and it dehydrates the body.
Giving your body a break from wheat is recommended. This gluten-containing grain is commonly associated with allergies and intolerances and can be irritating for many. Gluten-free grain alternatives include quinoa and brown rice.
The second most common allergen is dairy. The protein in dairy, casein, can trigger immune responses in sensitive individuals. Others experience digestive problems in response to lactose, the sugar in milk. Good alternative sources of calcium include nuts (almonds, brazils), seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin), beans, lentils and vegetables (spinach, cabbage, kale, carrots).
Caffeine is an addictive stimulant and can rob your body of energy in the long run. It also impedes digestion by diverting blood away from the digestive system. Giving your body a break from caffeine can restore healthy digestions and improve sleep quality, helping you feel more rested and refreshed each morning. For those who can’t manage without, try reducing your consumption to one cup in the morning, switching to other drinks in the afternoon and evening. Switching from caffeinated drinks to more hydrating beverages such as Rooibos tea, herbals teas and fruit smoothies is recommended.
Supplements designed to support your body’s detoxification pathways are often used alongside ‘detox’ diets. The liver performs a special process called ‘conjugation’ which chemically transforms toxins so that they can be removed from the body. My top three supplements for supporting the health of the liver are N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC), Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) and Milk Thistle Extract.
N-Acetyl Cysteine is a powerful antioxidant that boosts levels of glutathione in the body. Glutathione is primarily used in the liver, where it is needed for the liver’s conjugation processes. When toxic load become too great, this process can be overwhelmed, and so NAC supplements can provide welcome support.
Milk thistle, also known as silymarin, is another supplement that boosts glutathione levels. This plant extract also inhibits the production of leukotrienes (inflammatory substances that can harm the liver), and stimulates the production of new, healthy liver cells.
As it is both fat and water-soluble, alpha-lipoic-acid is a ‘universal antioxidant’. It has the ability to enter all parts of the cell, gaining access to toxins stored in fat cells. It also helps to support blood sugar regulation and energy production.
A detoxifying diet should contain an abundance of fibre and nutrient-rich plant foods. Foods that are especially good for supporting the liver include cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower which boost levels of detoxifying liver enzymes. Glutathione-boosting avocado, walnuts and oily fish are also great additions. Finally, foods particularly high in protective antioxidants include tenderstem broccoli, berries, tomatoes, plums and watercress.
Breakfast: Warm water with fresh lemon juice. Scrambled omega-3 eggs with cherry tomatoes, spinach and watercress.
Lunch: Marinated artichoke and chickpea salad with steamed asparagus, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil.
Snack: Raw veggies with homemade guacamole
Dinner: Grilled salmon fillet with dairy-free pesto, puy lentils and a large green salad.
A new double-blind controlled study suggests that alpha lipoic acid supplementation may benefit patients with type 2 diabetes (1). Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of the condition, accounting for around 90% of diabetes sufferers.
Researchers investigated the effect of alpha lipoic acid supplements on glycemic control and oxidative status of 38 diabetic patients over a period of 6 months.
Alpha-lipoic acid is a naturally occurring antioxidant that is present in every cell in the body. Its function is to help turn glucose into energy. It can help to increase insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake. In fact, previous clinical studies in humans have demonstrated improvement in insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes after supplementation with alpha lipoic acid (2).
Another benefit of alpha lipoic acid is that it can help to increase or maintain levels of other antioxidants including COQ 10, vitamin C, vitamin E and glutathione. This may be of benefit to diabetic patients because this condition leads to increased need for antioxidant protection. Even when diabetes sufferers are able to control their blood sugar well, they are still at risk of other complications as a result of raised levels of free radicals. Complications can include peripheral neuropathy, scar tissue formation and inflammation.
For these reasons, the researchers believe that the antioxidant properties of alpha lipoic acid may offer an additional benefit to diabetes patients.
The thirty-eight volunteers were randomly assigned to receive an alpha lipoic acid supplement (in doses of 300, 600, 900 or 1200 mg/day) or a placebo for 6 months. Each patient was instructed to take their supplement 30 minutes before meals.
All of the patients were receiving standard medical care for their condition, and were either taking prescribed drugs for diabetes, or following a prescribed diet.
After the 6-month period, all patients underwent blood tests to assess glucose levels and signs of oxidation.
The results showed that fasting blood glucose levels were lower in patients who had received alpha lipoic acid. Levels of substances called PGF2α-Isoprostanes, a product of oxidative stress, were also measured. These levels were lower in the alpha lipoic acid group, suggesting that this group also had lower levels of oxidative damage.
The supplements were monitored for safety, and were found to be well tolerated. The researchers state however that a larger test group may be needed to clarify the study’s results.
In the UK, numbers of people diagnosed with diabetes have doubled in the last ten years, and these figures continue to rise (3). Hopefully this study will pave the way for further research into natural adjuncts to standard treatment, to help improve quality of life for those affected.
Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC.
1.Porasuphatana S, Suddee S, Nartnampong A, Konsil J, Harnwong B, Santaweesuk A. Glycemic and oxidative status of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus following oral administration of alpha-lipoic acid: a randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled study. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2012;21(1):12-21.
2.Kamenova P. Improvement of insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus after oral administration of alpha-lipoic acid. Hormones (Athens). 2006;5:251-8.
Are you the type of person that jumps out of bed every morning with a smile on your face as soon as your alarm goes off, ready and waiting to face the day? Do you remain full of energy and on full pelt for the rest of the day before having a great night’s sleep every night? Or are you more likely to hit snooze on your alarm as much as possible before you absolutely have to get up? Then day-dream about your bed as your energy levels drop through the floor throughout the day?! If you are more likely to be the latter, you are most certainly not alone.
A persistent lack of energy is one of the most common complaints in both men and women across the nation. Daylight, and more importantly sunlight, has a great effect on our overall energy levels. Historically we are used to being outside all day benefiting from the effects of sunlight. Modern living, however, results in the majority of us spending large amounts of time indoors, deprived of sunlight and this causes problems with our body’s natural rhythm and well being.
Officially summer comes to an end this weekend with clocks going back an hour. This signals the start of dull days with very limited and less intense sunlight and even less opportunity to benefit from the sun. This can bring about a reduction in energy levels for much of the population and reduced daylight can, in some cases, cause Season Affective Disorder (SAD) – sometimes known as Winter Depression. As a result many people begin to dread the winter months. There are, however, many natural ways to combat low energy and SAD. Balancing your circadian rhythm is a great way to do this.
Below we have drawn up a brief guide on how you can boost your energy levels and prevent the frequent desire for those 3pm snoozes!
Early Morning (approx 6.30am – 9am)
Your Internal Bodyclock is in its “awakening” mode at this stage. Your metabolism is slow and rising. Your body temperature, blood pressure and cortisol levels are all also increasing, signalling to your body to wake up. You may feel ‘groggy’ first thing and crave that morning cup of coffee or a bowl of sweet, sugary breakfast cereal. This may give you a rapid increase in energy, but it will also leave you with an energy slump once the initial effects have worn off. This is where people can fall into the habit of regular caffeine or sugary snacks in an attempt to maintain this feeling.
There are better ways to boost your energy and replenish the low blood glucose levels that have developed during sleep. Try adding a slice of lemon to hot water – this has natural sugars and also helps cleanse the digestive system (having the effect of a bit of a mini detox) ready for the day ahead. Also opt for high fibre breakfasts such as 100% pure rolled porridge oats with a handful of fruit and seeds or a boiled egg with wholemeal toast. These kinds of foods will provide you with a slow and sustained release of energy throughout the morning, keeping you full for longer and reducing those energy slumps.
Try to get out in the daylight as much as possible in the morning as this will wake your body up for the day. The winter days will prevent many people from being able to do this, therefore you may wish to try using a sunrise alarm clock, like the Lumie Bodyclock Starter in the mornings. This will stimulate your brain into waking gradually, balancing your circadian rhythm and your cortisol levels, which has the added bonus of being able to also support your immune system and stress levels.
Morning until Lunch (approx 9am – 2pm)
As your cortisol levels are still increasing you are more alert and efficient and your mental capability has reached its peak of the day. This means your concentration, memory and focus are all waiting to be utilised. So use this time to get all your lingering tasks done!
You could also try using a SAD light for 30 minutes every day for energy stimulation. The effectiveness of SAD Lights is measured in lux, which is the level of light intensity that you would normally get from the sun. A SAD light with 10,000 lux is recommended for those who want to see the most benefits.
Also avoid drinking coffee at this time as this can cause the swift rises and falls in energy levels. Instead you could try green tea, which is packed with antioxidants and contains much less caffeine per cup. Other teas are also great options such as ginger tea, which is good for digestion. Peppermint, fennel and camomile are also good options.
Females should take extra care too. A lack of energy can be due to low iron levels and coffee has been shown to reduce iron stores in the body. Make sure your levels are topped up by eating foods rich in iron such as meats, some fish and leafy greens such as spinach. Consider taking an iron supplement and remember to take this with vitamin C to help its absorption. B vitamins are also great for energy – You could try adding a multivitamin with extra B Complex, such as Viridian High 5 Multi Vitamin to your daily routine.
Another helpful tip is to try to get outside during your lunch break – the fresh air and daylight can do wonders to prevent that mid-afternoon slump. When choosing your lunch, choose slow-release carbohydrates such as brown rice or wholemeal bread rather than refined carbs such as white bread or crisps. Also ensure you have some protein in your meal too – such as lean chicken, fish, beans or pulses.
Afternoon (approx 2pm – 5pm)
Your cortisol levels start to drop which can often lead to drowsiness or that mid-afternoon slump. It’s best to avoid the temptation for biscuits or chocolate for a sugar boost at this time. If you must have a snack, try a small piece of minimum 70% quality dark chocolate or some dried fruit, nuts or seeds. Make sure you prioritise your tasks for the afternoon so you know exactly what you need to achieve before home time. That way you can go home happy and content with the day. ‘A well spent day brings happy sleep’ after all. Also taking in deep breaths is great for energy levels and can help reduce stress and aid concentration.
Evening (approx 5pm – 10pm)
As the evening progresses your melatonin levels start to increase (the hormone that prepares your body for sleep) and your digestion slows. Try to avoid snacking in the evening and heavy meals before bed time. This will require a lot of digestion as insulin is less effective at night. Also your digestive system will struggle to cope with excess amounts of food before bed and this can lead to weight gain as well as disruptive sleep – contributing to an imbalanced circadian rhythm. It is best to avoid all stimulants such as coffee, tea and alcohol as much as possible at this time as these can also disrupt your sleep.
A bad night’s sleep can cause low energy the following day and contribute to reduced mental performance. This can cause stress and lead to a spiral of stress and disrupted sleep which is hard to get out of. If you have trouble drifting off at night, try a sunrise alarm clock with a sunset feature like the Lumie Bodyclock Active. The light gradually dims helping your brain to naturally switch off. If a sunset feature is not for you, then try spraying lavender on your pillow or rubbing some lavender sleep therapy balm on your body to help you switch off.
In addition to these helpful tips, specific nutrients that can support energy levels are:
Magnesium – found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale
Vitamin B Complex – found in brown rice and wholemeal bread. If you supplement this, it is best taken as a “complex” of B Vitamins
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) & Acetyl-l-Carnitine (ALC) – Found in green foods such as broccoli, spinach and some red meats
Co-Enzyme Q10 – found in fish, organ meats such as liver and whole grains
Iron – found in a multitude of food sources, such as red meat, beans and pulses, leafy green vegetables, tofu and fortified breads and cereals