Here’s the honest truth: it may be human nature to focus attention to the parts of ourselves most on show to the world, but as the wise old adage goes, it’s what’s inside that really counts. Dietician Belinda Reynolds, who’s a specialist in integrated medicine and has lectured in sports nutrition at the Australasian College of Natural Therapies, explains why we’ll all look and feel so much better if we just focused a little more attention on these six often-neglected body parts…
Not surprisingly, the health of this organ is important for our mental state. Depression and anxiety is incredibly common in Australia with an estimated three million people currently suffering some form of depression and/or anxiety, says Belinda, and suicide is the biggest killer of Australians under the age of 45.
“A bad diet high in sugar, unhealthy fats, too many processed foods and lacking in vegetables and fruit [has been linked] with a greater risk of depression due to it altering the levels of important chemicals in the brain essential for maintaining its health, and [our] mood,” says Belinda. “Chronic stress and a lack of exercise has similar effects (yes, stress actually damages your brain!) and so it is important to look for measures that [help you] manage stress, like meditation, yoga and other forms of exercise.”
Belinda also points out that deficiency in certain nutrients, such as folates (which you’ll find in dark green leafy greens), vitamin B12, magnesium and zinc (which is in whole grains, nuts and seeds), vitamin D3, long chain omega-3 fatty acids (from oily fish) and iron, have all been linked to reduced mental health.
It doesn’t sound too glamorous, but our gastro tracts (or gut) harbours 80-90 per cent of our whole body’s immune system. That means if your gut’s not great, then your immune system’s shot to pieces too. Keeping your GIT healthy boosts your ability to fight off infection, Belinda points out, which is always important, but especially so as winter cold and flu season kicks in.
“Many of our neurotransmitters [the chemicals that transfer messages between nerve or muscle fibres, or other parts of the body] are synthesised in the gut, and what happens there impacts the health of the brain,” says Belinda. “On top of this, about one quarter of the body’s detoxifying processes occur within the cells of the intestines, protecting the body from exposure to potentially harmful toxins.”
That’s why it’s so important to make sure the GIT barrier isn’t damaged and that our intestinal cells are inflammation-free and functioning properly, she says. “This can be achieved with good nutrition, probiotics (good bacteria) and lots of healthy fibre.”
Experts estimate that up to one third of all Aussies suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), where damage is caused by eating too much sugar and an unhealthy diet. Most people who are obese or overweight suffer to a degree, but NAFLD can develop into much more serious liver diseases too, warns Belinda.
“Our liver is responsible for many functions that keep up our health including the breakdown and removal of unwanted products from the body and maintenance of blood sugar and digestion. You must therefore ‘love your liver”; eat a healthy diet that’s low in sugar, but high in fibre, protein and nutrients (such as those in plant foods).” These nutrients help our livers to work properly. The good news is this condition can be prevented and reversed, as long as it’s in its early stages, if you lose some weight and start following a healthy diet.
We’ve all heard the health department messages, but you can never be reminded too often about something this important: heart disease is the leading killer of senior women in Australia. And what you eat (or don’t eat) makes all the difference. “The heart relies on good nutrition, and just like the brain can be damaged by an inflammatory diet and a lack of antioxidant-rich foods,” says Belinda.
Following the advice doctors have long been telling us certainly helps: eat well (that means less sugar, fried foods and bad fats, and more nutritionally dense whole foods), exercise regularly, don’t smoke, reduce stress.
“Certain nutrients have been shown in supplemental form to support the health of the heart and vascular system, like Ubiquinol and fish oil,” adds Belinda.
“Although many people are aware of fish oil, most are not aware of the powerful antioxidant, Ubiquinol, which is found naturally in our bodies and helps power the body’s cells, including the heart, liver function and supporting overall energy,” she advises.
“A recent study also found that Ubiquinol (the active and more bioavailable form of Coenzyme Q10) is highest in healthy hearts and lower in failing hearts. Science has shown us that as we age or put our bodies under a significant amount of stress, our Ubiquinol levels decline often leaving us feeling fatigued and lacking in energy. You may want to consult your healthcare professional to find out more on keeping your heart healthy and to see if Ubiquinol would be right for you.”
These glands respond to both acute and chronic stress in our bodies. Over time, chronic stress can take its toll on the ability of the adrenals to function optimally and this can compromise our health, says Belinda.
“The adrenals are responsible not only for the acute “fight or flight” response we experience when a stressful event has just happened, but they also respond to systemic physiological stress in the form of inflammation, and they also work to maintain mood, blood sugar, immune balance, energy balance, sex hormone balance and healthy blood pressure.”
“As a result, unhealthy, overworked adrenals can lead to depressive symptoms or an inability to cope with stressful situations, dizziness, blood sugar imbalances and sugar cravings, fatigue and difficulty sleeping, low libido, worsened PMS or even infertility, suppressed ability to fight infection, and worsened allergies and/or intolerances to foods and other chemicals in the environment.”
Just like other organs the adrenals require good nutrition to function properly. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet that’s rich in antioxidants will help, as will getting plenty of essential fats, vitamin C, B vitamins, rest and sleep, and finding ways to ease those stress levels.
“It is very important to stay in touch with your body and how it feels, then if anything feels out of the ordinary it is essential that you speak to your doctor or other healthcare professional,” says Belinda. It is far better to check, and there be nothing wrong, than it is to not check and ignore a symptom that may suggest something more serious is going on, she adds.
Once again, and not surprisingly, food and exercise play a huge roll in balancing hormone levels, which helps ease unpleasant changes in the breasts each month. “Keeping inflammation in the body under control in the ways mentioned already, and managing stress also supports healthy hormone levels.”