Research has shown that around 4 in 10 cancers can be prevented. Healthista spoke to Dr Raj Arora on how we can reduce the risk and help prevent cancer
Cancer is when abnormal cells divide in an uncontrolled way and cancerous cells can often travel through the body and spread to other tissues.
There are more than 200 cancers and 1 in 2 people in the UK will get cancer in their lifetime. There are around 1000 new cancer cases in the UK every day. More than half of new cancer cases in females are breast, lung or bowel cancer.
Red flag symptoms of cancer for women include:
Change in bowel or bladder habit
Lumps or thickening in breasts/armpitd
Unusual bleeding from vagina or post menopausal bleeding/bleeding after sex
Blood in stools
Tired all the time
Unintentional weight loss
Change in a skin lesion
Coughing up blood
Shortness of breath
Persistent abdominal pain
It is important to seek help if you are at all worried about symptoms that you may have. I usually refer to red flag symptoms of cancer but often patients can see their GP with more general symptoms of not feeling well and this should be equally explored and not discounted.
Research has shown that around 4 in 10 cancers can be prevented. So how can we reduce our risk of developing cancer? Not all cancers can be prevented but there are things that you can do to reduce your risk.
In order to understand this, it is important to know the risk factors of cancer and ways in which we can reduce those risk factors. Age, genetics and family history are all risk factors that cannot be changed and can increase our risk of developing cancer.
However, the risk factors below CAN be changed and can help lower our risk.
#1 Stop smoking
Not smoking is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of cancer. Harmful chemicals (Carcinogens) from smoking not only impact our lungs but can also have a detrimental effect on the rest of the body.
After 12 years of not smoking, your chance of developing lung cancer falls to more than half that of someone who smokes. After 15 years, your chances of getting lung cancer are almost the same as someone who has never smoked.
Being overweight and obesity is the second largest cause of cancer in the UK. Keeping a healthy weight reduces the risk of 13 different types of cancer. Extra fat cells in the body can send out signals to other cells in our body telling them to divide more often and this process can lead to cancer.
Resources on British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK website can help with this – diet plans etc.
#3 Eat a healthy balanced diet
Aim to incorporate lots of fruit, vegetables, wholegrain foods – high in fibre and healthy proteins as these will help protect the body from oxidants that can lead to cancer.
Cut down on processed food, red meats, alcohol and high calorie food/drinks as these have been linked to a higher risk of cancer.
Skin cancers are on the rise and being safe in the sun reduces the risk of skin cancer. UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds can damage our skin cells and lead them to divide in an unnatural way – this can lead to skin cancers. Ensure you are using a broad spectrum sunscreen – SPF 50.
Keep out of the sun when the sun is at it’s highest (between 11am -3pm) and wear covered up clothing where possible.
#5 Cut down alcohol
Reducing alcohol can reduce your risk of 7 types of skin cancer. All types of alcohol can lead to cellular damage and damage to your organs. Alcohol has been linked to pancreatic, stomach and prostate cancers amongst others.
#6 Get the HPV vaccine
HPV = Human papilloma virus. This is a very common virus and usually doesn’t cause any problems and most people will not even know that they have the virus. Some high risk types of HPV can lead to cancer.
The vaccine protects against 4 types of high risk HPV. These HPV strains cause cervical cancer, cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis and anus.
A 2021 study found that cervical cancer rates were reduced by almost 90 per cent in women in their 20’s in those women who were offered the vaccine aged 12 to 13. The vaccine is also available to people up to the age of 25 who may have missed their vaccination at school.
To have an awareness of how to check your body and to look for signs of cancer is key. Know how to check your breasts for lumps/thickening and signs of breast cancer.
There are many online resources that can help with this, including the NHS website.
#8 Regular screening (women)
In women, and those with a cervix it is important to adhere to regular cervical and breast screening programmes so that any changes or detection of cancer can be picked up early.
If you are on HRT – it is important to know the small risk associated with taking hormones. Combined HRT and oestrogen only HRT only slightly increases the risk of breast cancer. This increased risk gets bigger the longer HRT is used.
Combined HRT affects breast cancer risk more than oestrogen only HRT. Combined and oestrogen only HRT only slightly increases risk of ovarian cancer and when HRT is stopped this risk starts to go back down.
Combined HRT does not affect womb cancer risk and oestrogen only HRT increases the risk of womb cancer. This increased risk gets bigger the longer HRT is used and may remain for some years after HRT is stopped.
Oestrogen only HRT is usually only prescribed to people who are not at risk of womb cancer (ie do not have a womb). Generally for most people the benefits of HRT will outweigh the risks but it is important to have a detailed consultation with your doctor and to discuss risk before commencing on hormone replacement therapy.
Dr Raj Arora is a GP, the founder of @thefacebible and one of the UK’s leading medical educators. Her passion lies in mental health awareness, women’s health and skin care.
As a female GP, Dr Raj Arora has always been passionate about educating other women with regarding to women’s health and using her Instagram platform @dr_rajarora to educate, inform, empower and inspire her followers.
Fed up with hot flushes, low mood & weight gain? Healthista’s well-being writer Charlotte Dormon finds six natural remedies to tackle menopause symptoms
For many of us, the journey through peri-menopause and, eventually, menopause can come with many mental and physical changes and challenges.
Whether you’re in your mid-forties and just starting to notice the first signs of peri-menopause or have reached the milestone of full menopause, understanding the natural shifts your body is undergoing can be of great help.
Noticing these changes is key, not only so you can be aware of what the hell is going on, but also so you can take extra care of yourself during the journey.
Understanding Peri-menopause and Menopause
Before exploring the benefits of our menopause supplement selection below, let’s look closely into the stages of peri-menopause and menopause.
Perimenopause is the transitional period that leads up to menopause. It can start in the mid/late thirties to early forties and can last for several years. Women in perimenopause may still have menstrual cycles but might start noticing changes like irregular periods or fluctuating hormone levels.
Menopause, on the other hand, is marked by the end of menstrual cycles, typically occurring around the age 50. It’s diagnosed after a woman has gone 12 months without a menstrual period.
Reishi, also known as the ‘mushroom of immortality’, is a revered adaptogen with a legacy in traditional medicine. Hifas da Terra captures the essence of this powerful mushroom in its Reishi supplement.
How does it work?
Immune System Boost: Reishi is known for its immune-modulating properties, ensuring the body is better equipped to handle illnesses and stressors.
Stress and Fatigue Reduction: As an adaptogen, Reishi helps the body adapt to stress, reducing its impact and alleviating fatigue.
Hormonal Balance: For women undergoing hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause, Reishi can offer support in restoring balance.
Antioxidant Powerhouse: Packed with antioxidants, Reishi fights off free radicals, promoting overall cellular health and combating premature ageing
Collagen, the protein responsible for skin elasticity and joint health, tends to decrease as we age.
How does it work?
Promoting Skin Health: By replenishing the body’s collagen supply, it aids in maintaining skin elasticity, reducing the appearance of wrinkles, and promoting a youthful glow.
Strengthening Hair and Nails: Collagen plays a role in strengthening hair and nails, preventing breakage and promoting growth.
Joint Health: Regular intake can relieve joint pain, a concern for many women during menopause.
Vaginal health: Vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy are common symptoms experienced during perimenopause and menopause due to decreased estrogen levels. Ostrogen helps maintain the tissue lining the vagina, ensuring it remains thick, elastic, and moist.
When oestrogen levels decline, these tissues can become thinner, less elastic, and drier, leading to the symptoms of vaginal dryness and atrophy. The vaginal wall is rich in collagen, which provides structure, elasticity, and strength.
Collagen is crucial for maintaining the thickness and resilience of vaginal tissues. As women age and undergo hormonal changes, collagen production decreases. This reduction, coupled with the drop in estrogen levels, can lead to the degradation of vaginal tissue, causing it to become thin and less elastic.
This unique oral spray is specifically formulated to help women balance hormones. Created by top flower remedies guru Ian White this easy to use spray combines the essence of various Australian wildflowers.
How does it work?
Emotional Balance: Supports emotional well-being, especially during the hormonal swings of perimenopause and menopause.
Reducing Fatigue: Helps revitalise energy levels, combating the fatigue associated with hormonal changes.
Enhanced Intuition and Self-Esteem: By grounding and harmonising energies, it encourages women to trust their intuition and reinforces self-worth.
The journey through perimenopause and menopause, while uniquely personal, doesn’t have to be navigated alone. Remember, while these natural allies offer significant benefits, consult a healthcare professional before introducing new supplements into your regimen. Here’s to empowered and healthy ageing!
English cricketer and highest scorer in the Hundred, Tammy Beaumont, shares her top tips when preparing for a cricket match
From a young age, Tammy Beaumont was introduced to the sport she now competes in, after watching various family members play in cricket clubs her whole life.
Despite struggling with food intolerances, the 32 year old attributes her foundation of strength to gymnastics training, as she says, ‘I couldn’t even walk around the shops with my mom at the age of four because I was so weak. So my mum put me in gymnastics to help me build my strength back.’
I couldn’t even walk around the shops with my mom at the age of four
Now the Welsh Fire batter has scored the first century by a woman in the Hundred and holds the highest individual score in the men’s and women’s matches.
Beaumont shares her tips with us on how she prepared for the now sold-out final and accomplished these incredible achievements this summer alongside her teammates…
Strength Training vs Cardio
Despite years of training for gymnastics and cricket, Beaumont shares that the cardio aspect of her fitness routine has not always come naturally to her.
‘I think most people think athletes are genetically good at it, but I think we’re pretty normal in the sense that some things come easier than others, just like anyone else.’
Beaumont describes that in and out of the cricket seasons, she mainly focuses on strength training, as this contributes to her endurance during a long match.
‘During our strength training we do lots of back squats, with focus on hamstrings, and also press ups, chin ups, bench presses and pull ups. We also really have to make sure our cores are strong, so there is a big focus on that as well.’
‘I think it has a bad rep for women that it may make you more bloated but I’ve found that it made a really big difference to being able to put in that extra rep in the gym.’
When working towards your own fitness goals, Beaumont suggests, ‘don’t worry about what someone else looks like or what they are doing on Instagram, I think that’s one of the worst things you can look at.’
In terms of Beaumont’s own personal fitness inspiration, she sweetly attributes that to her fiancée
and late-grandfather, who inspire her to lead a healthy life outside of playing sport.
Mind over Matter
Like any athlete, an adrenaline rush and nervous energy are ways Beaumont says help fuel her (Welsh Fire) when competing in a big match.
However the Welsh Fire captain admits that she has put more effort in making sure her headspace is right before a match like the Hundred, to help her push through and perform better.
‘Before this Test match I realised that making sure my mind is calm and clear and to be able to see a situation for what it is without getting stressed or caught in tunnel vision was a big one for me.’
This has quite clearly reflected into her many achievements this summer, as Beaumont became the first English woman to hit a Test double century during the Ashes.
‘The physical pressure can translate into the mental pressure, so it’s important for me to make more logical decisions over emotional ones.’
Beaumont also shares that her biggest piece of advice for staying healthy is to make sure you figure out what’s right for you, even if that means deleting social media and focusing on what makes yourself happy.
make sure you figure out what’s right for you, even if that means deleting social media
‘Just because someone else likes yoga or eats nothing but chicken and broccoli – that works for them – but do what is right for you and what makes you feel good. If it makes you feel good and it makes you feel healthy and it looks after your well-being, then it’s right for you.’
Outside of the cricket season, Beaumont shares that what keeps her mental state afloat is spending time with her fiancée and black Labrador Indiana, who she says spend all of their free time outdoors in the countryside of England during the off season.
Beaumont has since overcame her intolerances to certain foods from when she was young, yet admits that nutrition is still something that she struggles to nail down.
Her previous food intolerances have created a different type of relationship with food, Beaumont shares, as eating new foods brings her back to when she would become severely ill.
But for Beaumont, nutrition has become more about how the food she’s eating makes her body feel on the inside, rather than what fixating on what it looks like on the outside.
‘My nutrition focuses on fuelling my body for a game day. So the night before I focus on eating a lot of carbs to make sure I have enough energy throughout the day to make sure I’m putting in the performance I need to – it’s not so much about how we look in the kit.’
Beaumont jokes about how occasionally the cricket tea time meal are foods like apple crumble, which she says goes back to the importance of carb loading during a long match day.
A key component Beaumont says that has helped her with her nutrition overall has been adding protein into her diet.
‘Adding protein has been a great tool in helping my muscles recover and does not make me bulky at all. If you train like a body builder, you’ll look like a body builder. Protein has made my body able to do more and I usually try to get my protein from the foods I eat.’
as an athlete being mindful about what you are eating is key to making healthy choices
Outside of the cricket season or competition series, Beaumont says that she doesn’t stick to a certain diet, but as an athlete being mindful about what you are eating is key to making healthy choices when not needing to carb load before a match.
‘It’s all about finding balance. If I know I don’t have a match for three days then I will alter what I eat, such as eating more protein. But during competitions it’s all about performance so making sure my body is ready for that is the most important thing.’
Can breathing exercises improve your health? Healthista asks Tim Ives, a UK based breathing expert to share 5 simple breathing exercises that help to boost immunity in just 10 minutes
We have known for some time that the amount of air we breathe and the speed of inhalation affects our general health.
Slow, deep nasal breathing is a sign of health. Whereas, fast, shallow mouth breathing is a sign of disease.
Therefore, the more a person can slow down their breathing, the healthier they will be. In fact, new research is now starting to explain why and provide answers to these questions.
By understanding how the brain and breathing are connected, we are discovering why healthy breathing improves our immune system and reduces stress. We are also beginning to understand that our emotions and the way that we behave are determined by the way that we breathe.
an even more exciting way to delay or prevent different types of dementia
Periods of slow, calm nasal breathing have been demonstrated to improve memory function in older people suffering early signs of cognitive impairment. This latest research on breathing and cognitive decline presents an exciting potential treatment and an even more exciting way to delay or prevent different types of dementia.
My advice would be, don’t wait for the research. You can immediately start trying to improve your health and prevent cognitive decline by slowing down your breathing.
Eventually, you’ll easily fit breathing exercises into your current daily routine to improve all aspects of your health.
It’s as simple as spending 10 minutes a day with a focus on the following 5 breathing techniques to boost your immunity:
Step 1 – Physical Posture
Firstly, stop, clear your mind and focus on breathing – nothing else.
Begin by ensuring your basic breathing posture and technique is correct. Sit up with a straight back, not slumped. The straighter the posture, the more volume is available to your lungs.
The more volume – the slower you can breathe and the more relaxed and less anxious you will be.
Step 2 – Oral posture
Push your tongue up to the roof of your mouth, purse your lips together, making sure your teeth are apart. When your tongue goes up, so does your physical posture!
Try it – drop your tongue to the floor of your mouth and you will feel like slumping. The opposite happens when you bring your tongue up into your palate.
Step 3 – Inhale and exhale through your nose
Breathing through our nose prevents us removing carbon dioxide (CO2) too quickly, whereas mouth breathing removes CO2 too quickly. The more CO2 we have in our red blood cells, the speed of oxygen release into our brain and muscles is optimised, so we have more clarity of thought and more energy.
Depriving ourselves of nitric oxide can also cause other health concerns. In fact, it has been found to help memory, can assist the immune system in fighting off bacteria, regulate blood pressure, reduce inflammation, improve sleep quality, increase endurance and strength, and assist in gastric motility.
Our noses filter 98 percent of bacteria and allergens
Our nose is a very effective natural filter and does a great job at keeping many airborne viruses at bay. Our noses filter 98 percent of bacteria and allergens, so breathing through our noses is recommended if you’re looking for protection.
To enable easy nose breathing, I recommend using a natural daily nasal spray that will ensure that you have maximum efficiency and prevent allergic rhinitis and infections which can lead to inflammation and congestion.
I like to use Xlear Nasal Spray, £8.16 as it contains Xylitol which has antibacterial qualities, it’s completely natural and has no side effects.
Step 4 – Breathe in and out as slow as possible through your nose
The slower we breathe, the more efficient our respiratory system. Fast mouth breathing when stationary results in less oxygen reaching the lungs and slow nasal breathing results in more oxygen reaching our lungs.
When breathing rapidly through the mouth, there is a lot of ‘wasted air’ that doesn’t get used.
Step 5 – Focus on your diaphragm
Push your tummy out, inhale through the nose, then we you exhale, bring your tummy in. Don’t force air in and out through the nose, allow your diaphragm to do this for you.
Focusing on our diaphragm is another de-stressor technique and this will help bring calm, especially when feeling anxious.
Discover your Control Pause (CP)
Take a small, silent breath in and let a small breath out through your nose.
Hold your nose with your fingers to prevent air from entering your lungs.
Count the seconds until you feel an involuntary twitch in your diaphragm.
Release your nose and breathe in slowly.
Tip – If you feel like you are gasping for breath, you have held your breath for too long. Use a stopwatch on a mobile phone to time yourself.
The time is your baseline measurement. If in doubt, do it a few times to get a reliable result. Improving your CP is the goal, so take this regularly to monitor your improved breathing.
Do not attempt any other breathing exercises until your CP is above 10 seconds.
If your CP is between 10 and 20 seconds:
Carry out all the above 4 key points.
Practiced reduced breathing.
Reduced Breathing exercise.
Sit in the correct breathing posture.
Focus on breathing through your nose and bring your breathing down so that you are breathing as slow as possible in and out through your nose. You are looking to create a slight ‘air-hunger’ but not so that it is too uncomfortable that you need to gasp for air.
you will notice an improvement in your energy levels
If you do these quiet controlled reduced breathing exercises for 4 minutes at regular intervals throughout the day and regularly monitor your CP, it will improve and you will notice an improvement in your energy levels.
If your CP is above 20 seconds:
Carry out the exercises above for a CP below 10 and below 20.
Breath holds whilst walking.
Breath holds whilst walking (only do this if your CP is above 20)
While walking take a small breath in, breathe out and hold your breath.
Walk 5-10 paces while maintaining your breath hold.
Resume relaxed nasal breathing and continue to walk.
After 1 minute of walking with nasal breathing, repeat the breath hold.
Repeat this sequence six to eight times with a small breath hold every minute.
Keep regularly taking your CP. When it is over 30, you will start to feel great. This can be maintained by carrying out these simple breathing exercises. You may start to feel that you can extend your breath holds. Your target is 40 seconds.
Tim advises that you should check with your GP if have any of the following medical issues: asthma, COPD, diabetes, epilepsy, chest pains, sickle cell anaemia, arterial aneurysm, heart problems, uncontrolled hyperthyroidism, cancer, emphysema, high blood pressure, depression or pregnancy prior to embarking on any breathwork exercises.
Tim Ives is a UK based breathing expert and he specialises in Buteyko breathing.
Wondering why you’re experiencing painful sex? Our expert Samantha Evans, co-founder of Jo Divine reveals some of the reasons for painful penetration and what to do about them
Sexual intercourse should never hurt, but many women suffer sexual pain, chronic pelvic pain unrelated to sex or pain during sex.
Pain during sex should never be ignored unless it is consensual BDSM. Many medical professionals dismiss women as neurotic if they complain about this problem, but sex should never hurt.
It should be a pleasurable experience for both the woman and her partner. If you do experience pain during or after sexual intercourse, you should always seek medical advice as it is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Often your doctor can diagnose the problem and it can be easily resolved.
Many medical professionals dismiss women as neurotic if they complain about painful sex
Many women avoid sexual intercourse, which can lead to marriage and relationship breakdown. Discussing the problem with your partner is important and can help you both understand what is happening and make changes to the way in which you have sexual intercourse.
There are many reasons why sexual intercourse may be painful: some of which can be easily treated, others which may take more time to resolve.
#1 Lack of lubrication
This is a major reason as to why sex can be painful. Lack of arousal can mean less vaginal lubrication, but many women do not produce enough vaginal lubrication, including younger women.
Vaginal dryness is always linked to menopausal women, but younger women can be affected too due to the contraceptive pill, monthly hormonal changes, stress and anxiety and not being turned on by their partner.
Spending time enjoying foreplay can significantly improve your sexual pleasure
Vaginal dryness is a common condition during the menopause, but the use of lubrication can really help. Often GPs will prescribe a hormonal cream or pessary and many gynaecologists advocate using vaginal lubricants to help nourish the delicate tissues of the vagina.
#2 Lack of arousal
Most women need to be warmed up before penetrative sex, but some men rush into sex before their partner is ready. Spending time enjoying foreplay can significantly improve your sexual pleasure. There may be times when penetrative sex is not possible, but you can still have great sex without intercourse.
#3 Fast or deep penetration
Even if a woman is well lubricated and fully aroused, she may experience pain if a man inserts his penis too quickly or deeply. The vagina relaxes as a woman warms up to having sex and opens more comfortably if the penis enters slowly. Guiding your partner in at your own pace can really help avoid any pain.
Some vaginal lubricants can cause allergic reactions
Deep insertion can also be painful, especially if your partner has a large penis. Often, having sex doggy style can be painful, so try backing onto the penis at your own pace.
The same can be said when going on top. Do not allow your partner to pull you down onto their penis, but slowly lower yourself, controlling the speed and depth of insertion that is comfortable.
#4 Allergic conditions
Many women experience that familiar itching or burning sensation when they try new products, from changing their washing powder to using a new shampoo/shower gel.
Some vaginal lubricants can cause allergic reactions, so be aware of what you are putting on the delicate skin of your genitals. Latex products, such as condoms or sex toys, can produce an allergic reaction too – as well as some spermicidal creams.
#5 Vaginal Infections
Vaginal thrush, bacterial vaginosis or sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and genital herpes can all cause genital pain, so seek medical advice if you think you may have one of these conditions.
They can all be easily treated with medication. Your partner may have to be treated too to prevent them passing it back to you.
This is a condition whereby the muscles in or around the vagina tighten, making sex painful or impossible. It can be caused by a combination of physical and psychological issues.
Physical causes can include urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, vulvodynia, skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema, menopause, and birth trauma.
Psychological problems can be caused by disgust towards the act of sex related to a strong moral or religious upbringing or emotional or sexual trauma. With the appropriate medical intervention and counselling, this problem can be alleviated to enable penetrative sex.
caused by a combination of physical and psychological issues
Treatment usually involves pelvic floor exercises, biofeedback and use of medical dilators or a vibrator/dildo to slowly encourage the vagina to relax and open.
Pain felt inside the vagina may be caused by pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis (when the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus or is thicker than normal), fibroids (growths of muscle and tissue inside the uterus) growing close to your vagina or cervix, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.
#7 Dietary irritants
Foods containing high levels of oxalates can cause urethral irritation in women who are sensitive to them.
When too much oxalate is absorbed into the bloodstream via the gut, it combines with calcium to form sharp calcium-oxalate crystals which embed themselves into the delicate tissues anywhere in the body, causing damage and pain.
Women who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) absorb too much oxalate due to the poor condition of their bowel.
Sticking to a low oxalate diet for 3-6 months has been found to improve symptoms. A list of high oxalate food can be found on the Vulval Pain Society website and includes celery, coffee, rhubarb, spinach and strawberries.
#8 Vulvar Vestibulitis (VV)
This condition is characterised by burning pain felt on the vestibule or entrance of the vagina and is thought to affect 12-15 per cent of women of childbearing age.
Research has found that women who have this condition are 2-3 times more likely to have more than one chronic pain condition, including IBS, fibromyalgia (musculoskeletal pain) and interstitial cystitis (bladder pain).
Treatment for this condition includes pelvic floor exercises, biofeedback, low oxalate diet, counselling and sometimes surgery to remove the glands at the entrance of the vagina.
Many women experience hostility from their partner if they are unable to have sex which in turn increases their pain levels
Many women completely avoid any sexual interaction with their partner, but research in 2010 discovered that couples enjoyed greater sexual satisfaction when the partner had a more concerned attitude toward their partner’s condition.
By focusing on pleasurable sexual activities that do not involve penetration, couples can still enjoy the benefits of being intimate together.
#9 Conflict within a relationship
If a woman is experiencing emotional pain as a result of conflict within her relationship, pain may occur during sex. Many women experience hostility from their partner if they are unable to have sex which in turn increases their pain levels, thus creating a vicious circle. Consulting a couples’ counsellor or sex therapist may help.
If you experience pain during or after sex, seek medical advice. You can still enjoy pleasurable sexual activity without intercourse by incorporating the use of lubricant, such as YES, and slim vibrators, such as PicoBong Zizo and Slinky pinky.
At Jo Divine, we work with medical professionals who recommend the above products to patients who experience sexual pain. So do not suffer in silence, seek help and start to enjoy sex again.
More info and articles available at the Jo Divine website
Samantha Evans is co-founder and a features writer of Jo Divine, an online sex toy company. Having an extensive knowledge about sex toys, Samantha is a sexpert and enjoys creating informative articles about sexual health and pleasure.
Sam is a former nurse and also writes regular features for several leading websites including So Feminine, The Independent online,Female First and Net Doctor. Samantha is always looking at ways in which both genders can increase their sexual pleasure as well as benefiting their sexual health and well being.
Whatever your age, sex, medical condition or disability, she believes that it is always possible to find ways in which to continue enjoying sex, it just requires being more imaginative and adventurous. Follow Samantha on twitter @SamTalksSex
A healthy diet not only supports us physically, but mentally, evidence shows. Vanessa Chalmers talks to nutritionist May Simpkin about the healthy foods that fight depression
One in for people will experience a mental health problem every year in the UK, according to Mind. When we take into consideration the friends and family that have faced a mental health problem, 95 per cent of us are being effected by it all together, according to this survey.
This makes it a growing public health concern, especially as in 2016, 64.7 million anti-depressant prescriptions were written by the NHS, an increase from 31 million in 2006.
MPs are demanding more funding and charities are urging people to talk more, but how else can we tackle poor mental health? Evidence is showing that a nutritious diet is more influential on our mental health than we realise.
The Mental Health Foundation comments that ‘food plays an important contributing role in the development, management and prevention of specific mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease’.
Those who reported a mental health problem of any degree also reported a less healthy diet
Nutritional therapist May Simpkin agrees, seeing the alleviated symptoms of depression due to fundamental changes in the diet every day in her practice.
‘I believe depression is the symptom of an imbalance in the body and as such, it is important to get to the root cause of this imbalance and address this imbalance, rather than masking its symptoms’, May says.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, those who reported a mental health problem of any degree also reported a less healthy diet, in terms of fresh fruit and vegetables and cooking from scratch. Instead, crisps, chocolate, ready meals and takeaways were on the menu.
‘It’s no coincidence that the rise in mental health problems in the last 50 years also accompanies a rise in the consumption of processed foods and less fresh fruits and vegetables’, says May.
‘The brain works hard 24/7 and needs to be constantly fuelled from the foods we eat. Without this fuel, brain function will be affected and ultimately, so will your mood.’
To keep the body working in tip top condition to support mood, May Simpkin never lets her cupboards fall short of the following foods.
Nutritionists such as May are always on at us to, ‘eat 2 to 3 portions of oily fish, like salmon, a week’ and with such a huge scientific backing for its benefits, we’d be silly not to.
Oily fish is considered a ‘brain food’, high in omega-3s which influence the production of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals responsible for our moods), including dopamine and serotonin. By supporting the synapses in the brain, omega-3s also boost learning, memory, and can even prevent the excessive inflammation that causes dementia.
Enough scientific support exists that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, which is designed to help Americans eat a healthier diet, concluded that a diet rich in seafood, which is a major source of omega-3 fats, as well as vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes was generally associated with a lower risk of depression.
Healthy Food #2 Tinned sardines or tinned mackerel
Fish again, but this time it sounds a bit like something your grandad ate in his sandwiches for tea. But tinned tuna, or white fish such as cod, haddock or plaice won’t have the same benefits that tinned sardines and mackerel do.
‘Sardines and mackerel, which you can get tinned, are really high in omega 3s’, says May.
‘These are anti inflammatory oils which are key for mental health because they are important for nerve health. We have a layer of fat on the outside of each nerve so we need to eat fat to support them, as well as being able to transmit neurotransmitters such as serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter. If your nerve health isn’t good you won’t be able to do that efficiently.’
You can get the strong flavoured fish in any supermarket, often doused in a sauce such as Teriyaki. Use it as the protein in a salad or in a classic Arrabiata pasta – it’s distinct flavour will take you to Italy.
May recommends getting creative – ‘You can think differently about using these ingredients. Try making things like a pate to have instead of the usual houmous or cream cheese.’
Healthy Food #3 Walnuts
Now, we don’t like to discriminate, but May points out that ‘Walnuts are the most important in the nut group. They contain high omega 3s which is essential for good nerve and mental health.’
Those omega 3’s again, which aren’t so difficult to get into the diet when available as a snack form. Our bodies can’t function healthily without essential fatty acids, and studies continue to show that foods such as walnuts reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental disorders.
Walnuts are so versatile, with a smooth taste which some find bitter and others find sweet. They can be thrown in almost any meal, as a nut butter, eaten alone as a mid-afternoon snack in a trail mix or as a walnut oil in baking.
‘Flaxseed and chia seeds are your best vegan options for omega 3s. You can have flaxseeds as an oil or grounded, and chia seeds can be thrown into smoothies, yoghurts or sprinkled over meals’, says May.
You may have passed flaxseed on the supermarket shelves without much care, but this versatile food has been shown to have heart-healthy effects, as well as being high in ALA.
ALA is a mostly plant-based omega 3 fatty acid, and a tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of omega 3s. Our brain tissue is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are of vital importance within cell membranes and in connections between nerves, and evidence, such as this study in Budapest, shows that a lack of supporting omega 3s in the diet is linked to, amongst mental health issues, higher levels of impulsive behaviour, hostility, and cynical ideas.
‘You should eat 2-3 portions of oily fish a week but that’s why I supplement with clients so often as its hard to hit that’, says May.
The committee for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines reported that there is such sufficient evidence on EPA and DHA (the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid), that omega 3 supplements are now considered ‘complementary therapy’ for major depressive disorder, meaning using it alongside your conventional medical treatment may help you feel better.
An impressively large Norwegian study of nearly 22,000 participants demonstrated the benefits of taking an omega 3 supplement. It found that those who regularly took cod liver oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, were about 30% less likely to have symptoms of depression than those who did not. The longer the participants took cod liver oil, the less likely they were to have high levels of depression.
Healthy Food #5 Protein
Vegan or not, the body needs protein to fuel the feel-good mood. Many neurotransmitters in the brain are made from amino acids, which are built up with protein.
Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine and serotonin is made from tryptophan, and a lack of these two amino acids is associated with low mood and even aggression in some, according to this paper.
Up to 12 of the amino acids are made within the body itself, however the remaining eight must come from our plates. Foods rich in protein include meat, milk, eggs and plant proteins such as beans, peas and grains.
adults are advised to eat 0.75g of protein for each kilogram they weigh
Protein powder is in abundance to help people hit their daily needs. In the UK, adults are advised to eat 0.75g of protein for each kilogram they weigh, based on the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI). On average, men should eat 55g and women 45g of protein daily, which is about two palm-sized portions.
‘I try and have protein with every meal’, says May.
‘I tend to use protein powder in a shake but you can use it to supplement a cake mixture or even a brownie mixture.
‘You can sprinkle it on top of yoghurt with some fruits. With any nut milk you can make a milkshake’.
Healthy Food #6 Miso paste
Another influencer on those all important serotonin and dopamine transmitters is the balance of the sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone.
‘Balancing hormone levels with the diet should be considered in the first instance before beginning antidepressant medication’, says May.
Eating phytoestrogen foods (meaning literally, plant-based oestrogen foods) that mimic the body’s natural oestrogen will help to balance oestrogen levels in perimenopause (the decade before menopause) and menopause.
Phytoestrogens include all vegetables, beans and pulses, but also soya bean based products such as miso paste.
‘Foods that mimic oestrogen and trick the body into thinking it has more don’t get the same negative symptoms of menopause or PMS which can be debilitating’, says May.
‘You can use miso to make a clear broth soup with it and use it as a stock instead of a stock cube.’
We always said nut butter makes us happy. But May Simpkin says snacks such as these are far more mood friendly than we realise, in comparison to favourites such as biscuits, cakes and pasties.
In fact, May suggests to avoid refined sugars all together as they are quickly absorbed into the blood providing a short-lived surge of energy.
‘You’ll come crashing down not long after as insulin is quickly released to remove the sugars from your blood. This dip will leave you feeling tired, lethargic and jittery and can further contribute to anxiety and feeling low.
Nuts and seeds also have a high protein content
‘When your blood sugar is low and you need a boost, a fruit snack will give you that. But have some nuts too to balance the release of sugar in the blood. It won’t be such a surge’, advises May.
Nuts and seeds also have a high protein content, particularly pumpkin seeds, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and flax seeds, which help contribute to the building of amino acids – essential for a healthy and functioning mind.
Healthy Food #8 Pickles
With a huge shopping list at the ready for mood-boosting foods, you can’t go wrong. Except, May warns that unless the gut is in optimal health too, the absorption of nutrients won’t be as efficient.
‘Around 95 per cent of serotonin is produced in the gut and your gut flora plays an essential role in ensuring a healthy digestive tract’, she says.
To introduce good quantities of new good bacteria into the gut microbiome, May suggests looking towards fermented foods such as pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut, which are full of probiotics.
They contain a bacteria called Lactobacillus plantarum which is a powerful bacteria which dominates and competes for nutrients that the bad bacteria need to survive.
fermented foods such as pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut, which are full of probiotics
You can make pickles yourself (look at our beginners guide to fermenting foods), however it is easy enough to pick something up in a health food store or receive in a monthly subscription. Most fermented foods have a distinct taste, and a little goes a long way.
Introduce foods such as these slowly, just one teaspoon a day will do, as adding them to the diet can cause ‘detox’ symptoms such as constipation or diarrhoea, headaches, rashes and flu symptoms – stick with it and be patient to get great gut results.
By analysing stool samples, researchers compared the gut microbiome of 115 people with bipolar to a control group of 64 indidduals. They found that the gut bacteria of those with bipolar were significantly different and concluded looking at gut health was an effective path for treatment.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink with a tart, fizzy taste that some describe as similar to yoghurt. It is made with kefir grains (these are a live bacteria that work as a starter culture) that look a little like white frog spawn (see below) fermented in either water or any type of milk over 24-36 hours. It’s slowly becoming more available in the UK, with the traditional home-made stuff boasting the most strains of bacteria.
The healthier the gut, the healthier the brain
If fermented foods are too much of a faff, there are easier ways to introduce the good bacteria.
‘You may like to consider a good quality probiotic to re-innoculate your gut at the outset whilst you make changes to your diet’, says May.
Research between probiotics and mental health is slow, however there are some studies are linking the two.
After the trial, people who took the probiotic reported significantly less reactivity to sad mood than the control group—meaning that when they were put in a sad mood, they had fewer recurrent distressing or aggressive thoughts, although researchers didn’t record if they ate more probiotic foods.
‘Raw chocolate, as well as being lower in sugar, has higher cocoa solids, so you’re getting the real benefits of the antioxidants. Antioxidants are good because they mop up the free radicals that around your body that have been produced by your body being out of kilter’, says May.
Free radicals are sometimes created naturally in the body, however environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, herbicides and cigarette smoke can spur them on. In comes the hero, antioxidants, which neutralise the bad guys – free radicals.
When enough antioxidants aren’t available, serious damage to cells can occur, called oxidative stress, leading to diseases such as cancer.
they mop up the free radicals that around your body
‘By controlling the effects of oxidative stress and mopping up the free radicals, the body can concentrate on working more efficiently and effectively. As the systems in our body are all linked, it is essential to ensure this, otherwise the strain on one system can affect another and this will put stress on the body.
‘This can cause symptoms such as hormonal imbalances and headaches which will affect mood and energy levels’.
Healthy Food #11 Vegetables and fruits
After research by the Imperial College London, it’s now recommended we eat 10 fruit and vegetables a day to really reap the benefits. Each veggie has numerous nutrients and the power of plants show to reduce risk of diseases and prolong life.
For example, fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients which act as antioxidants in the body that help to reduce inflammation, which has been linked to autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, anxiety and high blood pressure. The antioxidants also fight excess free radicals that can build up because of a poor diet, environmental factors and stress.
Vegetables are also plant-based oestrogen foods, which means they help balance out the sex hormones
These compounds are what give plants their bright colours such as beta carotene (found in orange and green varieties), anthocyanins (found in blue and purple varieties) and lycopene (found in red varieties). Foods that are highest in antioxidants include berries, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli, which are all beneficial to concentration levels and feeling clear-headed.
Vegetables are also plant-based oestrogen foods, which means they help balance out the sex hormones by mimicking the body’s natural oestrogen. This can help with PMS, menopause and perimenopause symptoms.
All hail the superfood making its way into supplements, lattes and even face masks. The modern Healthista woman likes to throw it in their smoothie but the golden powder has been used for endless centuries as traditional medicine due to its heralded antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Curcumin, a compound, is what makes turmeric so effective. This comprehensive scientific report published in 2013 compiled the results of a collection of clinical trials of curcumin over the prior 50 years, claiming, to quote, ‘promising effects’ for a tremendously long list of ailments.
Inflammation in the body is often caused by stress hormones which is triggered by, you guessed it, stress.
‘Curcumin’s ability to manage inflammation is widespread within the body, inhibiting powerful enzymes that are linked with inflammation’, says May.
‘An excessive amount of inflammation is at the root of many diseases and being able to control inflammation is one of the ways which we can best support our health’.
The spicy plant has been found in research to reverse harmful brain changes induced by chronic stress and simulate the formation of new brain cells to prevent depression.
In fact, curcumin is so potent against stress-induced anxiety and depression that it ‘may prove to be a useful and potent natural antidepressant approach in the management of depression’, according to these researchers.
May Simpkin is a UK registered practitioner with a Masters Science degree in Personalised Nutrition.
She is an experienced clinician, practicing functional medicine from an evidence base, providing the latest research into nutrition.
She is bound by the code of ethics in clinical practice and has met the strict criteria required for BANT, the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy and the CNHC, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, which is the council recommended by the UK Department of Health for complementary and natural healthcare services. She is also Chair of the Continual Professional Committee at BANT.
In addition, she is registered with IFM, The Institute for Functional Medicine and a member of the RSM, The Royal Society of Medicine.