Kefir, a fermented dairy drink that has contributed to health and vitality for hundreds of years, is about to hit the big time. Fans claim that regular consumption aids weight loss and results in clear skin, more energy and better sleep.
Want in? Read on...
"All disease begins in the gut" - some credit this oft quoted expression to Hippocrates, the father of medicine. What we do know for sure is that the gut is not only responsible for digestion, but is a big player in healthy immune function.
Chronic, inflammatory conditions such as cancer and heart disease are now linked to poor gut health. In light of recent findings about the human microbiome and it's role in immunity this is no surprise. Did you know, for example, that our intestines contain more immune cells than the rest of the body?
We share our body with a system of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. This system is known as the microbiome and contributes to good health and vitality. Ideally, it's considered that the ratio of 'good' to 'bad' bacteria should be around 85% to 15%. Illness occurs when the microbiome falls out of balance (dysbiosis) and this ratio is altered.
So how do we optimise our microbiome? One of the simplest ways is by adding fermented foods such as kefir.
What is kefir and where did it come from?
It's thought that kefir originates from the Caucasus Mountains, the area between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea where East meets West. Some say kefir translates as 'good feeling' - and who doesn't want to feel good?!
The grains are a combination of bacteria, yeast, sugar and protein and have a similar appearance to cauliflower. By adding these grains to milk, a fermenting process takes place and turns milk into a nutrient packed superfood!
It's certainly an acquired taste, slightly tart, with a consistency somewhere between milk and yoghurt. Make it more palatable by adding honey, or blended with fruit in a smoothie.
9 evidence based benefits of kefir
DIY Kefir - easy as 1, 2, 3!
Whilst you can now pick up a bottle of kefir from most supermarkets, the optimum benefits are obtained by homemade kefir. It's so incredibly simple, you can even delegate this task to your least clumsiest child!
Step 1 - Get your hands on some kefir grains - a quick online search will find some for sale, or do you have any kefir making friends who have some to give away? (healthy colonies multiply quickly!). Add one to two tablespoons to a small glass jar.
Step 2 - Top up with milk - organic dairy milk works best, however non-dairy alternatives such as coconut/oat milk can also be used, but won't match the nutritional profile of dairy kefir. Leave an inch or so at the top of the jar.
Step 3 - Leave at room temperature for around 24 hours. You'll know it's ready when the grains clump at the top of the jar. Strain with a non metallic strainer; you may need the help of a wooden spoon (kefir doesn't like metal) and consume immediately, or refrigerate for up to three weeks.
Now repeat step 1! It really is that easy!
Start the day the healthy way by enjoying kefir poured over a bowl of granola, or in a smoothie. It's also lovely as a bedtime drink as it's rich in the amino acid tryptophan, known as a natural tranquiliser.
Are you a kefir fan? How do you like to take it? Perhaps it's something you're interested in adding to your diet in 2017? Comments below please!
The information in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure. If you have a medical condition, it's wise to seek advice from your doctor before commencing any complementary therapy or food supplement.
It's National Curry Week (10th-16th October) and with the weather starting to get a bit chilli, I thought I'd rice to the challenge and show why we should all have the hots for Indian spices this season (sorry, I'll stop this silliness raita way ;-)).
Once hailed as Britain's favourite dish, curry has somewhat fallen out favour, especially with the clean eating crowd (a quick search on Instagram reveals #avocado beats #curry hands down).
However, an authentic Indian meal will be brimming with health enhancing spices rather than swimming in saturated fat. Read on as I reveal my must-have store cupboard spices and six simple ways you can use them at home...
Chilli - Want to lose weight and get rid of a stuffy nose? Meet your new best friend. Chillies contain capsaicin which can increase metabolism for up to three hours. It's also a potent painkiller and excellent for breaking down mucous and clearing airways.
Clove - Another spice that packs a punch as a painkiller, cloves contain the anaesthetic, antiseptic and analgesic compound eugenol. As well as being a traditional cure for toothache, cloves are also thought to rid the body of intestinal parasites.
Coriander - If you want a healthy digestive system, keep a pot of coriander to hand in the kitchen. It has been used for centuries as an appetite stimulant and digestive aid. Incredibly, it's also as effective at treating food poisoning as the leading salmonella antibiotic!
Cumin - The ancient Egyptians valued this spice so much, they used it in the mummification process! Cumin has been shown to improve digestion by increasing absorption of other nutrients. It is also thought to be an aphrodisiac.
Garlic - A real powerhouse of health benefits, organosulphur compounds give garlic its antibiotic, antifungal and possible antiviral properties. It also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol and strengthens the immune system.
Ginger - Got a dodgy stomach or stiff joints? Ginger is well known for its stomach settling abilities, making it the perfect remedy for morning sickness or a hangover. The anti-inflammatory compound gingerol is cold and flu fighting and warms muscles and joints. Try adding a few tablespoons of dried ginger powder to the bath to relieve aches and pains.
Turmeric - Last, but certainly not least, it's the spice 'du jour', turmeric is highly antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, boosting immune system function to fight colds and flu.
Six simple ways to spice up your life
What's the one spice you couldn't live without? Will you be celebrating National Curry week with a home cooked meal or takeaway? I'd love to hear from you!
Is the miserable UK weather making you dream of sunnier climes?
This fresh scented shower gel has a rich, luxurious texture and is perfect for giving the skin a good clean after a day at the beach.
As with all Weleda products, it's free from sulphates and parabens. If you've never used a non-lathering shower gel before, you'll be amazed at how well it performs, leaving the skin squeaky clean and silky soft.
If you have coloured or dry hair, this product is a holiday essential. Organic Shea butter, coconut oils and Jojoba work to intensively rehydrate the hair, leaving it smooth, soft and shiny.
Although Weleda do not claim that the treatment should be used in this way, I will be using it to protect my hair from sun damage, as the oils in this product possess natural SPF properties. The balm-like texture is non-greasy and hair can be stylishly slicked back into a bun (remember to tuck ends in to avoid damage).
If you taste good to mozzies and midgies, this spray wil be your new best friend this summer,
Just one spray will take away the urge to itch, whilst soothing redness and irritation.
The set comprises of five organic oils, Lavender, Rose, Arnica, Pomegranate and Sea Buckthorn.
If you struggle to sleep away from home, a few drops of Lavender oil is sure to gently lull you to a restful slumber. Arnica is the choice for any bumps and bruises (one too many sangrias?!), whilst Sea Buckthorn is excellent when applied to areas of sunburn.
Last, but certainly not least, it's everyone's favourite 90 year old (move over Your Majesty), Skin Food.
This multi-purpose balm is a true wonder product. It was formulated for use in areas of dry skin, but can be used as a hydrating face mask on flights (how models and actresses use it, don't ya know), as a nail and cuticle cream, split end smoothing cream, lip balm, primer under make-up and much much more.
Is it any wonder that so many well known celebrities, who could afford to pay much more than a tenner, swear by this product?!
What are your organic summer beauty must-haves? Do you have a Weleda product that you simply can't leave at home when you go on holiday? Please share!
If you're looking for a natural way to ease pregnancy-related health conditions, here's my list of all-important essential oils for mums-to-be:
Essential oils for pregnancy and childbirth
How to use aromatherapy oils for a healthy pregnancy
Here are some of the most common pregnancy-related ailments and how aromatherapy essential oils may help:
Backache/pelvic girdle pain - Many changes take place to the pelvic joints and ligaments during pregnancy and as a result, women may experience back and pelvic girdle pain. An anti-inflammatory and pain relieving blend of lavender and chamomile essential oils may ease the symptoms of pregnancy-related back pain and pelvic girdle pain/symphysis pubis dysfunction.
Constipation - Changes in bowel transit time can occur due to increased levels of the hormone progesterone, which has a relaxing effect on the smooth muscles of the intestines. Massaging the abdomen in a clockwise direction using ginger and chamomile essential oils diluted in a carrier oil may get things moving.
Haemorrhoids (piles) - Caused as a result of increased weight placing pressure on dilated veins and often linked to straining due to constipation, haemorrhoids, once formed, can be difficult to treat. A tried and tested natural remedy to shrink haemorrhoids is the astringent witch hazel. Combine one part in a bottle with three parts distilled water, geranium and lavender essential oils and apply using a cold compress or spray to soothe the area.
Heartburn - Pregnant women may experience heartburn, a burning pain in the chest caused by upwards pressure from the expanding bump. To ease this uncomfortable sensation, a blend of ginger and lavender essential oils diluted in a carrier oil can be applied to the abdomen and bra strap area of the back.
Morning sickness - Often one of the first signs of pregnancy, morning sickness is thought to be caused by hormonal changes that occur in early pregnancy. It can also affect women in the third trimester. Inhaling essential oils of either peppermint or ginger may alleviate nausea in mums-to-be.
Stretch marks - During pregnancy, stretch marks are formed on the abdomen and lower back as a result of skin stretching over the expanding bump. As always, prevention is better than cure, so keep skin supple by massaging your bump daily with skin-strengthening essential oils. A blend of geranium, frankincense and lavender in a sweet almond and wheatgerm carrier oil base works well.
Swollen hands and feet - Fluid retention, or oedema, is believed to occur in pregnancy as a result of rising levels of the hormone oestrogen. Arm and leg massage using essential oils of geranium, peppermint or ginger diluted in a carrier oil, using long strokes towards the heart is a fantastic way to reduce swelling.
How to use aromatherapy during labour
Calm - Create a peaceful atmosphere in the delivery room by vapourising essential oils or making a room spray. Geranium, frankincense, rose, jasmine and lavender are some of the best oils for this purpose.
Confidence - Essential oils of rose, jasmine and frankincense are thought to evoke feelings of inner strength and positivity during labour. Inhale a few drops from a tissue or apply a drop to your inner wrist as needed.
Insomnia/fatigue - Lavender can be used in early labour to help ease anxiety and to promote rest and relaxation. It is also beneficial for women experiencing a slow labour as it may calm contractions and give the exhausted mum-to-be a break.
Nausea/vomiting - Peppermint and ginger essential oils may relieve nausea in labour. Avoid peppermint oil if you are also using homeopathic remedies.
Pain relief - A blend of lavender, chamomile and jasmine diluted in carrier oil is wonderful to ease painful contractions and backache, which may be experienced if your baby is in a back-to-back position.
Weak contractions - Clary sage has been shown to have a similar effect as the Syntocinon drip and can be used to strengthen contractions during a slow labour. Inhale or apply diluted onto the abdomen and lower back.
How aromatherapy can help in the post natal period
Aromatherapy can aid in physical recovery from childbirth as well as help with the emotional rollercoaster that new mums find themselves on.
It goes without saying that new mums should seek advice from their GP, midwife or health visitor if there are any health concerns post labour, especially if infection is suspected.
If you feel that you may have post natal depression, your health visitor and GP can provide advice and support.
Aromatherapy and breast feeding - Essential oils can be very helpful if you choose to breastfeed. If you have problems with low milk production, geranium and clary sage (one or the other) diluted in carrier oil and massaged onto the breasts daily may increase breast milk. Always wipe off before feeding. Should you be unfortunate enough to experience mastitis, a warm compress of lavender and chamomile oils can ease pain and inflammation.
Aromatherapy for 'baby blues' - Low mood in the post natal period is very common, especially around day 3-5, thought to be due to fluctuating hormone levels. Mood enhancing aromatherapy oils for the post natal period include rose, jasmine, frankincense and geranium. Adding a combination of these oils to a warm bath (diluted in carrier oil or full fat milk) is a wonderful way to rebalance mind, body and soul. If you can't find the time, rub a diluted blend of oils onto your inner wrist and inhale throughout the day.
Perineum/haemorrhoid soothing oils - Use a combination of geranium and lavender essential oils, one part witch hazel and three parts distilled water in a spray bottle or cold compress to soothe and repair swollen and damaged perineal tissue. The antibacterial oils may also help prevent infection. This blend can also be used to provide relief when applied to haemorrhoids.
So there you have it; nine essential oils that will help you through the pre and post natal period. Which is your go to aromatherapy oil during pregnancy and why?
The advice in this article is generic; a full consultation with a qualified aromatherapist is recommended. To find a practitioner in your area, search the Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT) register - http://www.fht.org.uk/search-directory
Doesn't winter seem much more fun in December, when Christmas lights are sparkling, advent calendars give the perfect excuse to eat chocolate every morning and the excitement of spending time with loved ones is building?
Come January, it's cold, wet and dull and summer seems a lifetime away. It's a time of year when we make resolutions to better ourselves, but often get caught up in the trap of making unrealistic goals that we are unable to stick to. Rather than making lofty resolutions, try changing small things that may make a big difference.
Forget the detox and the expensive gym membership for now, and focus on the one area that is exposed all the time - your face. Whether young or not quite as young, male or female, we all want to look our best. Here are seven simple steps to achieving ravishingly radiant skin.
1 - Be religious about removing make-up
We've all bypassed the bathroom and thrown ourselves into bed after a late night, but just how bad is it to sleep with make-up on? Whilst the odd blip won't cost you, repeatedly committing this sin may aggravate skin conditions such as acne, eczema, rosacea and psoriasis as well as contributing to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. Why so? Make up forms a barrier that clogs pores and impedes the skin cell renewal process.
There's a simple solution - take it all off! Remember to double cleanse; first use a cleansing balm or oil along with a bamboo flannel soaked in warm water to remove make-up, then follow with a cleansing milk or facial wash.
2 - Switch to certified organic products
If you have never bothered taking notice of the ingredients list on the back of your beauty products, make 2016 the year you do so. Choosing organic is best for your skin, your health and the environment. Avoid known skin irritants such as sulphates, parabens, preservatives, mineral oils and artificial fragrances, as these weaken the skin barrier, causing worsening of many skin conditions, especially eczema. What we put on the skin is also absorbed by the body and some of these ingredients have been linked to infertility, neurological conditions and cancer, so why be a human guinea pig?
Which brands are best? There are many ethical brands with a long heritage of using natural plant extracts that work with the skin's natural processes. Founded in 1921, Weleda www.weleda.co.uk is perhaps the world's leading organic skin-care and natural beauty brand and carries the NATRUE seal of approval.
3 - Use the correct products for your skin type
Many of us over a certain age are guilty of using the same products, despite the fact that our skin changes constantly through the seasons and over the years. Faced with a bewildering array of products on the shelves, it certainly seems the safest option to stick to what you know. If you've been struggling with skin issues for a while, or if your skin often feels tight and uncomfortable, a professional assessment of your skin may be just what the (skin) doctor ordered.
For a free consultation, find a Weleda wellbeing advisor in your area (only available in the UK). They are trained to assess your skin and demonstrate products that will work with your skin to reinforce it's natural function. Three reasons why you should do it - 1) Wellbeing advisors are lovely, knowledgeable professionals 2) There's never any pressure or obligation to purchase products 3) If you do wish to buy, products are very reasonably priced, with over half of the entire range priced under £10.
4 - Schedule regular breaks from your laptop
Why is sitting at your laptop considered a skin sin? Long periods spent staring at a computer or laptop screen can result in frown lines as well as saggy jowls from looking downwards. It's easy to get engrossed in what we're doing and forget to move the muscles of the face, neck and shoulders, causing impaired blood flow to the skin and muscles.
The solution? Take regular breaks away from your screen to have a good stretch of your fingers and wrists; rotate the neck and shoulders. Pulling faces at nearby colleagues, children or pets is also recommended; as well as getting blood pumping to the facial skin and muscles for glowing skin, it also has a de-stressing effect!
5 - Keep hydrated
Dehydration can make your skin appear dull, dry and lined, so make sure you are getting enough fluids by carrying a bottle of water in your bag or keeping one on your desk at work.
Need some inspiration? Check out this ingenious product by Hydratem8 that is part BPA free water bottle, part health coach. It reminds you to sip throughout the day and even gives you praise for doing so! www.hydratem8.co.uk
6 - Wear sunscreen
As well as being constantly exposed to the environment, facial skin is thinner and therefore more susceptible to ultra-violet damage. Many dermatologists will tell you that the single most important thing to look after your skin is to wear sunscreen every day, year round. It's easy to avoid chemically laden creams by opting for natural mineral blocks containing titanium or zinc to deflect the sun's rays.
Green People offer a good selection of natural and effective sunscreens and tinted moisturisers www.greenpeople.co.uk. Also worth a mention is Bare Minerals natural sunscreen powder; perfect if you need coverage but want to let your skin breathe www.bareminerals.co.uk
7 - Get a good night’s sleep
There's a good reason it's called beauty sleep. Sleep is the body's rest and repair mode when cell renewal and tissue repair occur. Aim for 7-9 hours a night. Lack of sleep, either quality or quantity, may result in higher levels of stress hormone cortisol, which has been shown to aggravate skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, acne and rosacea. It is also known to reduce production of collagen, leading to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.
If you have trouble dropping off, aromatherapy may help. Add a drop of Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Neroli or Ylang Ylang essential oil to your pillow or add a few drops to a capful of full fat milk to use in a warm bath before bed. Remember to switch off all electrical devices in your bedroom and turn your mobile phone onto flight mode at least an hour before lights out.
Stick with these solutions for one month to look and feel better than ever! Happy New Year!
Complementary therapist and natural health expert. On a mission to sprinkle health and wellness wherever I go...