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Sunday 5 July 2015

How natural is natural?

The longer I worked in retail, the more picky I got about which products and brands I would recommend to my customers. The reason for this is quite straight forward: I was gaining a deeper understanding of what happens once supplements are inside the body (pharmacokinetics), at the same time that I was gaining a deeper understanding of how the natural health industry works (What to call this? Ethos?).

What happens once supplements are inside the body? Any number of things! Some may pass from one end of the gut to the other, relatively unchanged. Some may pass through the gut wall and into the bloodstream. From there they will enter the liver. The liver is like a huge processing plant. Some components will be broken down into their composite parts, some components will be joined with other parts to form new compounds, some components will be modified, and some will simply pass through.

Once they've been through this, these chemicals join the rest of the blood, and begin circulating through organs and tissues. Will they reach their target? That Calcium tablet you took, for example... How much of it made it into your bones, where you actually need it? If it was calcium in the form of Calcium Carbonate (think chalk or sea shells), it's likely that around 4% of it made it into your bloodstream. So even though you thought you were taking 1000mg, what you actually got was 40mg. Other forms of calcium, such as Calcium citrate, or natural extracts like the calcium-rich sea algae, Lithothamnium calcareum, offer better results.

You don't need to study natural medicine for 3 years to figure out that eating chalk is not really "natural", and that there are bound to be better sources of calcium... like food! But what you may not have realised is that "Calcium supplement" sometimes means chalk.

And this brings us to the next piece of the puzzle - ethos. Why would a company sell us chalk for calcium, without telling us that we will only get 4% efficiency from it? Good question!

Number one - Nutritional science is a fairly new science, and a very complex one. Sometimes we just don't know the answers yet. It's exciting for all the scientists who get to make discoveries, but it would be much better for consumers if we already knew everything!

Number two - Some companies don't keep up with the latest advances in supplemental medicine, and will carry on using the same old formula, even when it has been proven that there are much better options.

Number three - Companies are not legally required to include details about digestibility, bioavailability, or any other -abilities of the product. I hate to say this, but I do believe a very small number of companies, even in the natural health industry, are simply too focused on profit to give much thought to the effectiveness of their products, or the ethical pitfalls of selling low quality formulas.

What happened at the end of my retail career was that I began to recommend 100% natural supplements. This may sound strange, given that I worked in natural health anyway. but what I mean by natural supplements is whole foods, super foods, and their natural extracts. This narrows down the options hugely. The reality is, most companies synthesise their vitamin and mineral supplements in a laboratory.

Some of my personal favourite products and brands are - the Lifestream range: all natural, vegan-friendly, highly ethical and effective. Vital Greens: an all-in-one super-food and multi that tastes pretty good. The same company also makes Vital Protein and some other variations. And for herbal extracts, both Artemis and Kiwiherb are made in New Zealand and offer top-quality products. Superfoods are a whole category of health-giving supplements that I rate highly. As long as they are high quality products, they really are powerful in promoting health and vitality.

Lab-made products are not all bad, and many are effective. But as a consumer, or even as a practitioner, the key is always ask questions! Find out everything you can about products before you trust your health to them. Ask your sales assistant, ask a practitioner, ask the company themselves. Most natural health companies have their own practitioners as part of their customer service team, and they have heaps of good knowledge and experience to share.

Green Blessings Everyone, Aurora.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Paleo Promises

The Paleo Diet has been getting a lot of press lately. If you haven't heard of it, it's basically the diet that our ancestors survived on before the advent of modern agricultural cultivation. Essentially, it consists of vegetables, fish and meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, cold-pressed oils, and fruit. Excluded from the diet are grains, legumes, potatoes, sugar, and processed foods.

It may sound limiting, but with so many delicious Paleo recipes available, you wouldn't even miss your old eating habits. All you need is a bit of inspiration, a restock of your pantry, and some good recipes to start with.

So what are the benefits of Paleo? Firstly, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets have been long understood to help with weight loss. Also, Paleo foods are nutrient dense relative to their low-calorie count. This adds up to lean, fit and healthy lives for longer.

Of course there are critics of the Paleo diet, especially amongst the scientific community. Experts disagree over such issues as why our ancestors didn't develop the types of diseases we have today. Did they not get chronic disease because they simply didn't have a long enough life span, or did their diet actually protect them against such illnesses?

Either way, most health enthusiasts would agree that this is a sensible way to eat. Lots of vegetables. Quality protein. No sugar or processed foods. It sounds very similar to what dieticians and naturopaths have been saying for decades. I would not say this diet is essential for everyone, but as noted above, it's especially suited to people trying to lose weight, or maintain their healthy weight. Also, people who have, or are at risk of developing, chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and vascular diseases.

My only resistance to the Paleo diet is the same I have for other diet trends: it runs a risk of obsession. While it has some clear health benefits, I genuinely believe food is meant to be a joy. A nourishing, healthy, guilt-free kind of joy! If we are always worrying about what we eat, we don't have a chance to truly taste our food. So as much as I love my vegetable dishes and salads, currently I refuse to berate myself over my adoration of cheese. For more information on the Paleo Diet, start here:

Green Blessings,


NZ Registered Medical Herbalist

Friday 11 April 2014

The Slippery Slope of Symptom and Side Effect

Have you ever taken a pharmacy medicine and experienced side effects?

Have you ever been prescribed further pharmacy medicines to alleviate your side effects?

This can be a troublesome slope to travel down. Let me give a common example. Aspirin is prescribed long term at low dose to reduce the risk of stroke. It is effective for this. However, aspirin is also known to increase the risk of a stomach ulcer forming. Especially when used long term. So, do doctors look for alternatives with fewer side effects? Not usually. Most often patients are given an additional prescription for an antacid to neutralise their stomach acid. It sounds reasonable. Until you learn that stomach acid is essential for proper absorption of nutrients.

So now we have a body that is highly likely to be deficient in certain key nutrients to begin with, now receiving even less nourishment from the food we are eating. And a liver that is busy processing medicines instead of foods. This sounds like the beginning of a nasty cycle to me, where nutritional lack is perpetuated, the body becomes more and more stressed, and less able to function correctly. I get upset when I see people in these sorts of situations, when the underlying cause of their illness has been overlooked and they have not been told clearly what the risks and complications of their treatment could be. And there are too many examples of this.

Side effects happen with natural medicines too, of course, but generally less often and with less severity. Most natural medicines work by nourishing the body, in a similar way to food. In fact, the best medicines are foods! Those remedies that are more pharmacologically active, such as potent herbal extracts, are usually made from the whole plant. Using the plant as it occurs in nature allows all of the elements in the extract to work together, complementing each other. In naturopathic terms this quality is called synergy. Synergistic remedies are likely to be safer and cause less side effects than isolated compounds. Our bodies recognise and know how to process whole plants, as we have evolved with them for millenia. As an example, Chickweed herb, which contains iron, also contains vitamin C, which is needed for the iron to be utilised. If we took our Chickweed and extracted only the iron from it, we might find that it is not as effective. We also might find that the non-absorbable form of iron sits in our gut and gives us digestive symptoms.

Today’s wisdom in a nutshell: Always talk to your doctor about potential side effects of medicines, don't be afraid to ask questions. Attempt natural cures for your ailments before reaching for the pharmacy; you might find that your overall health improves, as well as symptom reduction. Consider the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Be sensible and ask for professional help when you need it, especially if you fear serious illness. I hope you are all keeping warm as the New Zealand winter approaches!

Green Blessings,

Aurora August NZ Registered Medical Herbalist

Wednesday 30 October 2013

The War on Fats

Fats and oils are one of the most confusing topics in nutrition. Are they good for us? Are they bad for us? Should we eat them or avoid them? And which ones should we use for which purposes? For the sake of clarity, please note I am using the terms fat and oil interchangeably here; they are the same thing.

How many people now are excluding dietary fat to the extent that they are turning themselves into a cellular desert? I would almost say it is a war on fats! Think about what happens to mechanical components if they are not lubricated... They squeak, they grind, they rust. We are not so different. So, hopefully you can begin to value these important nutrients. The first thing to understand is that we DO need fat in our bodies.

Now for the technical part, which I will attempt to explain non-technically. Different fat particles have different shapes. You can see this when you look at fats in your kitchen. Some are solid, like butter, and some are fluid, like sunflower oil. The different shapes of fats lend them to different purposes in the body. As you might imagine, solid fats (saturated fats) are good at maintaining structure, but are not very flexible. Fluid fats (unsaturated fats) are good at allowing flexibility, but not as important for structural purpose.

Solid fat is found in large amounts in animal products, such as meat, poultry and dairy. These oils are strong. And stable when exposed to heat, light, and oxygen. This makes them good for cooking. Cook with solid or semi-solid fats, such as butter, ghee, coconut or olive oil. But try to avoid over-consumption of these oils. Too much solid fat makes our cells hard, brittle, and unable to allow the passage of nutrients and information in and out of the cell.

Fluid fats are found in vegetable oils, such as sunflower, almond, sesame, and other nuts/seeds. They are also found in fish. These oils are delicate, and easily destroyed by heat, light, and oxygen. If you look at a label on a bottle of oil, and see that it contains a high proportion of unsaturated fats (fluid fats), then make sure it has been cold-pressed and is stored in a dark bottle. Consume it raw in salad dressings or straight off the spoon. Cooking with these oils will not benefit your health.

What most of us have is a diet too high in solid fats. Or, sometimes, a diet deficient in all fats! To correct the situation, we need to eat relatively more fluid oils. There has been a lot of research now that shows fluid fats (such as fish oils) can actually reduce the health issues associated with this fatty imbalance. Health benefits of the good oils include improved skin health, improved fertility, reduced allergies, reduction of inflammatory conditions, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and better mood, sleep, and brain function. So... my advice for today: don't be scared of the fat!*

(* Note this is general advice, if you are at risk of heart disease or other serious illness, please see a health professional before changing your fat intake.)

Monday 30 September 2013

The Nutrition Maze

Apart from herbs (which are my enduring passion!), my next favourite subject is nutrition. I admit that this is mostly because I love food, especially the taste. But I also love the way food looks, smells, and, if you get it right, the fact that it is health-giving. So, what is health-giving food, and what is not, and how do we tell the difference?

It is theoretically quite simple to eat for health. Unfortunately, the practice of eating well can get obscured by a large number of factors, such as habit, taste, financial restrictions, lack of knowledge, lack of skills, and the barrage of food product advertising we are subjected to every day.

As basically as it can be said: Fill your kitchen and your stomach with fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes (beans and lentils).

For variety and enjoyment, you may add moderate amounts of dairy and meat products, including eggs. Add flavour to your cooking with a good selection of herbs, spices, and natural condiments. Eat organically produced food where possible, especially when it comes to high-fat foods such as meat, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, and oils. Oils and fats are the main storage area for toxins in plants, animals, and humans. Include some good quality, cold-pressed vegetable oils such as Olive oil and Sunflower oil, eaten raw.

By making the above statement, I am ruling out fast food, cakes, biscuits, snack foods, basically anything you would buy at a corner shop. Also any foods that have artificial additives, preservatives, and colourings. Bored yet? Have I taken away your favourite foods?

I read somewhere, "don't buy food that has a t.v. advertisement". How true. Try to remember the last time you saw a t.v. ad for raw, organic, homegrown carrots!This, as I see it, is the true crux of the matter. Our food industry is at odds with our health industry. Let's be frank. The food industry (generally speaking) is a highly competitive, commercial and corporate entity. It's concerns are with making money, not nourishing people. It achieves its purpose through advertising (the projection of an image), and taste (salt, sugar, and grease). The state of the food industry is another topic altogether, which I am trying not to get into here! But in short, your keys to health are to decide for yourself which foods you consume, and to educate yourself about which foods they should be.

Back to the actual foods!There is a huge amount of information available on which foods we should be eating, or not eating, for health. A lot of it is conflicting, and can begin to feel like a maze through which we need a compass to navigate. I suggest that the compass we use is common sense, with a dash of logic, and a sprinkling of personal responsibility.

Take, for example, the debate over full-fat and skim dairy products. There was some evidence to suggest that diets high in saturated fat (as found in animal products) contribute to artery and heart disease. This became a huge public campaign against full-fat products, which big food companies were quick to take advantage of. Doctors also began to recommend low-fat diets. Now we see skim and lite products everywhere, and people believe they are doing themselves a great favour by consuming them. I'm sure sometimes they are. However, the development of arterial and heart disease is a very complex biological process. And fats are essential to our health. Now we are getting into an intellectual labyrinth concerning the true cause of heart disease and we need to consider all currrent scientific research before we can decide which milk to buy!

This is just one small element of the nutrition maze. To simplify it, I ask you to refer back to the third sentence. Whole foods, unprocessed, good quality, organic where possible. Yes, milk contains fat. Nature made it so, because fat nourishes us. It gives us energy, it is necessary for proper cell function. The body knows what to do with fat, we have been processing and using it since the dawn of time. What is important is balance. We need fats from nuts and seeds to balance animal fats. You don't need to understand chemistry to understand what balance is. It is variation, it is food in its natural state. It is food that has been grown in rich, clean environments.

Educate yourself. Simplify your diet. Make conscious decisions about the food you eat. Increase your health.

Green Blessings,


Wednesday 11 September 2013

Home Herbal Diary


I have been stuck home for the last two weeks with three sick children, with varying degrees of fever/tummy disorder/sore throat/coughs and general exhaustion... I'm not the most Homespun of mums and am wonderfully attentive on day one, day two often I get a little cabin fever but by week two I'm climbing the walls. ok yeah they ARE sick, but the long term recovery whine certainly got me reaching for some herbal help for my own protection...Green Tea is so calming, even though it contains caffeine it also contains Theanine, which help reduce anxiety and supports the bodies production of all four calming and happy neurotransmitters. Combine that with plenty of spring greens from the garden-alkalysing- and some Magnesium, and I am one peaceful nurse!

Not so the ratbags, sorry little darlings, apart from arguing over who is reading which book and whether we watch a vampire series or a dolphin series to pass the time. Getting herbs into them is always fun!! My kids are 12 and 9yrs(twin girls) and they have been sucking up fish oil and echinacea and vitamin c for their whole lives, but they are still infuriatingly suspicious when I approach with spoon and bottle. Oh yeah, when they are all sweet and soft and loving, it's "mum, it's so awesome I can trust you to give me medicine that is good for me". But when illness descends and I say no to sugar, then it's a different story. Did you know that each time you eat a spoon of sugar, your immune system is suppressed?...

So, the sore throat was lucky, she got propolis and manuka honey (NO FAIR say the rest) The cough got a rich elixir with Thyme, Grindelia, Mullein, Aniseed and warm water and a chest rub to loosen the phlegm...well after the first spoon, she was unconvinced by my "it's delicious isn't it" positive reinfocement. A simple method of bribery with spoons of manuka honey and that hurdle was heroically negotiated. Ok I hear you saying, doesn't honey have the same effect as sugar? Well limited amounts of raw Manuka Honey have health benefits over and about the fructose content - about 53%, so in my opinion, it's a beneficial treat for sick kids and is a wholefood, not a processed empty calorie.

The tummy disorder was way more complex. My son had been dry retching for two weeks with no obvious illness. His tummy muscles were sore and his head pounded. We tried a wonderful Slippery Elm, Withania and Cinnamon powder drink, mixed into milk, to soothe his stomach lining. It helped, he liked it (bonus), but the retching continued. We tried anti-acid tablets fromEethical Nutrients with Calcium Carbonate and Meadowsweet, the best herb for balancing the acid production of the stomach...symptoms eased but did not decline. I was this close to cutting his emo pre teen hair, convinced he was eating it...but in the end I went to the doctor. (yes doctors are very useful and helpful in certain contexts and I nurture a supportive relationship with our local medical centres) Well, we had a breakthrough, was post nasal drip from a slight cold irritating his gag reflex We tried a mucous reducing blend, and from dose 1, all symptoms declined and vanished!! Yay, he was up and annoying his sisters within 24 hours. Result.

So they are all back to school and the emotional swings and roundabouts of playground culture... I am back to my working life, well working with herbs, not so hard work really lol. And helping people acheive wellness? That is a blessing.

In conclusion I think my daughter is right, it is awesome to be a herbal mum, if I can't always play imaginary games with pet puppies, at least I can feed them wholesome foods and heal them naturally. What a gift..

Blessed Be Helen

Saturday 7 September 2013

Fukushima Freakout

Am I the only one with my finger on the panic button? The reports about what's happening at Fukushima vary hugely, but what is clear is that thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste are still leaking into the Pacific ocean more than two years after the initial explosions. Radioactive particles are damaging to body cells in more ways than one. Acute radiation poisoning occurs after short-term exposure to high levels of radiation. You might expect this if you'd been near a nuclear reactor meltdown.

Chronic radiation poisoning is the result of long-term exposure to lower levels of radiation. The Fukushima disaster will chronically expose large amounts of people, over a large geographic area, for a long period of time. The nature of some radioactive elements is that they take many, many years to break down. During this time, they disperse and then concentrate through the food chain. The chance is high that they will eventually make it into our food or water, and so into our bodies.

Radioactive elements can damage our cells significantly, causing nasty things such as cancer and birth defects. Perhaps the worst part about radiation in our environment is that we can't see it, feel it, or taste it. Usually we don't know when we're being exposed to contaminants. Nor can we directly relate a health issue back to radiation. But experts predict, and I agree, that we will see increased rates of diseases that are associated with excessive environmental radiation.

We should all be paying attention to this situation. Luckily, my research has revealed more than just some good reasons to panic! There are some powerful protective measures we can all take, so here's a start...

Potassium iodide protects the thyroid by preventing uptake of the radioactive version of iodine. Potassium iodide is recommended at a standard adult dosage of 130mcg daily when there is known radiation exposure. The dosage for long-term environmental protection would be somewhere between 65mcg-130mcg, depending on the situation. As the leakage continues, I'm starting to think the higher dose may be more appropriate. Dosage changes for children, pregnant and lactating women, and the elderly. For more information about appropriate dosage, contact us directly, or post on our community health forum.

Ginkgo biloba is also at the top of the list of protective measures, due to it's unique constituents. Special chemicals in Ginkgo can protect cells against the damaging effects of radiation exposure. Drink 3 cups of strong, good quality Ginkgo tea every day, or take 1.5mLs (30 drops) 3x daily of the fluid extract (tincture). Again, this is standard adult dosage only.

I am in the process of creating a workshop about "Environmental Radiation Protection", so watch this space. Details will be posted on the website and facebook page once the date is set. It's particularly important for pre-conception, pregnancy, children, and the elderly to be utilising this knowledge. These are the life stages most vulnerable to biological disruptions from radiation. Keep up to date with the latest Fukushima developments, and keep sharing information.

Green Blessings,


Tuesday 13 August 2013

In The Detox Boat

This is for all those who have the courage, strength, and determination to make positive changes in their lives. Especially those who have come to realise the benefits of a good detox programme and are giving it a go. It's not easy, so well done you!

Before I go on, allow me to put simply the benefits of a regular detox... More energy, better mood, a clearer mind, reduced stress, removal of toxins, improvement in chronic conditions, a shift in stubborn or recurring illnesses, and prevention of serious diseases. All things considered, it could be worth the hassle...

Now let me share with you the highs and lows of my recent detoxification experience, so you know you are not the only person in the world going without your morning coffee (or whatever "treat" it is that you personally rely on for feeling good).

Coffee is the thing I miss most, and the smell of freshly roasted beans my biggest temptation. The first few days of a detox are usually the most challenging. I consistently experience headaches and fatigue. The change in routine bothers me, the diet is just plain boring, and the mixture of supplements I am taking is complicated and time consuming. I am also a difficult guest, with "special dietary requirements" and a no-alcohol attitude.

There is a broad range of symptoms people experience in the early stages. Consider it normal to have headaches, nausea, changes in bowel motion, aches, pains, and flu-like symptoms, sinus or nasal congestion, and outbreaks of acne or eczema. If any of these become severe, or if you simply want to reduce them, ease back on your detox protocol*, support the liver and kidneys more intensively, and keep drinking that water! *more about detox protocols later

So, you may well ask, after torturing myself this way, do I have the desired result? Well, yes, actually. On day 7 of my 14-day commitment, the headache and fatigue are gone, and I feel squeaky clean from the inside out. My sleep is better, and I'm not needing as much of it, stress level is reduced, energy level is up, and my mind is clearer. I almost don't want to stop. Almost...

Green Blessings,


Wednesday 7 August 2013

Planet Of The Herbs

Who would've thought that coming up with a blog name could take so long or be so difficult???

This cold winter night I cosied up by the fire with my mum, and we came up with a long list of possibilities. Tiredness turned to delirium, and still we had nothing worthy, so we moved onto the ridiculous.

"Dances With Herbs" got us giggling, and was followed closely by "Herbs Of The Caribbean", bringing more laughter. "Even Cowgirls Get The Herbs" was my personal favourite, and got my vote for most silly.

The biggest challenge is having to get focused on what it is I want to write about. I love natural medicine, especially herbs. But I also have a passion for food, and pretty much all things life-giving!

There will certainly be much admiration of herbs, but there will also be exploration of the wider world of healthy living.

Green Blessings,