Be healthy for the exams


exams black girlGCSEs, A-levels and finals students – it’s the most important time of the year.  After months of hard work it’s important to stay focused, healthy and alert.

On top of doing lots of work it’s important to:

  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Eat healthy foods, not sugary snacks.
  • Take breaks and relax.
  • Calm down – try Rescue Remedy!

Many students reach for the fizzy drinks, chocolate bars, and caffeinated drinks to keep themselves going, but they often have the opposite effect.  Too much sugar or caffeine in the body can bring about mood swings and poor concentration, while healthy eating and drinking plenty of water help much more.

There are plenty of tips about diet, relaxation, sleep and mental attitude below.  Rescue Remedy drops, spray, or pastilles are a great boon and you can be confident that Confidence Essence and Concentration Essence really can help – see below.  Many of these products are on special offer this May/June.

REMEMBER:

  • Take a bottle of water into the exam with you – your brain needs fluid.
  • Conversely go to the loo before the exam so you’re not thinking abou thow you need to go all the way through.

Life coach, Carole Gaskell, advises:

· ‘Focus on the big picture on what you want to achieve – not just the test or the exam, as they are a means to an end. This helps to lift the pressure slightly and make the brain clearer;

  • Believe that as long as you give it your best shot you’ll be fine;
  • Visualise feeling good during the exam instead of nervous and stressed, and imagine a positive outcome and how you will feel when you get good results.’

‘We all carry our own reality in our heads with words buzzing around so make them positive. Say positive things to yourself such as “I owe it to myself to do my best”.’

Getting zzzzzs

Stephen Palmer, director of the Centre for Stress Management, has a few tips:

  • ‘It’s helpful to get into a routine before going to bed so that you calm down and can sleep well;
  • Don’t do anything too exciting, like watching a horror film;
  • Maybe read a book, drink a glass of milk – avoid Coke or anything with caffeine in it – and unwind.’

He also suggests:

  • Playing some relaxing music before bedtime;
  • Making sure the bedroom isn’t cluttered.
‘If there are school bags around it reminds them of exams, or if the room is messy they may think about their parents nagging them to tidy up. ‘It’s really helpful to lie down and imagine they are on the beach, walking the dog or anything else they really enjoy.’
Some other ways of getting a good night’s sleep:
  • Put a few drops of lavender or geranium essential oils into a night time bath to relax you;
  • Put a couple of drops of Lavender oil on a tissue under the pillow;
  • Take the herb Valerian half an hour before bedtime to promote normal sleep: a trial on students at the University of Surrey found that after a seven day course of Valerian the volunteers were more relaxed and found tests less stressful without feeling dopey – if on medication consult your GP before taking herbal medicines.
  • Drink a glass of milk at night, rather than coffee or fizzy drinks which contain stimulating caffeine.
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Rescue Night Spray Bach Flower Remedies 20ml £9.45
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Concentration

Weeks of revising and exams can take their toll and it becomes harder to concentrate and focus, but natural remedies can help.

  • Peppermint, rosemary and basil essential oils clear the head and help concentration – put in an oil burner when studying or put on a tissue and carry into the exam to keep focused – do not use strong oils if taking homeopathic remedies.
  • All schoolchildren used to be given a spoonful of cod liver oil every morning with good reason – Fish oils contain essential fatty acids which are required for healthy brain function, improving focus, and the ability to deal with stress.
  • Concentration Essence combines Larch, Blackberry, Yarrow, Hornbeam, White Chestnut, Nasturtium, Mullein, Wild Oat, Cerato and Peppermint flower essences, especially useful for exam time.
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Eating for energy

It’s really important to eat well during the exams and not snack on crisps or chocolate all the time, which may appear tempting.  Snacking means that you won’t feel hungry at meal times when you need fuel for your brain.  Sugary snacks and drinks (especially fizzy drinks) prompt a surge in blood sugar levels followed by a slump, which could arrive during the exam and make you feel tired and unable to concentrate.  Also you could feel sick, have an upset stomach or bloating because of your nerves.

The best way to ensure that you feel good is to eat plenty of fibre and an energy-boosting diet:

  • Fish – particularly oily types like mackerel and tuna – because it builds healthy brain cells;
  • Fruit and vegetables which are rich in nutrients to keep the system in top gear;
  • Plenty of fibre – brown rice and wholegrains such as lentils and beans, wholemeal bread and pastas.
  • Healthy snacks – fruit and vegetables, nuts or seeds, or even healthy snack bars.

Vitamin C and Vitamin B are excellent for helping the body to cope with stress. A good multivitamin every day will help.

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Breakfast is essential

The worst thing to do is rush out of the door on an empty stomach – that’s a sure way to find it hard to concentrate in the exams. Even if you don’t normally have breakfast, make sure you do on exam days.  Scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast or eggs with bacon provide plenty of protein. Try to avoid sugary cereals or pasties.

Confidence boosting

Lack of confidence can make a capable person under-perform, but natural flower essences encourage self-assurance.

  • Seven drops of Australian Bush Flower Confidence Essence morning and night under the tongue at night brings out positive qualities and confidence, and prevents subconscious negative beliefs!
  • For anyone who doesn’t expect to do well the Bach Flower Remedy, Larch builds up confidence;
  • Gentian Bach Flower Remedy helps someone who hasn’t got much faith in themselves, particularly if they didn’t do well in the mocks.
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  • Calming nerves

    When we panic we shallow breathe prompting headaches, muscle tension, dizziness and a general feeling of tiredness.

    Stephen Palmer of the Centre for Stress Management recommends, ‘Don’t take deep breaths. Breathe slowly and let your stomach go up and down as you do. To really switch off from panicky thoughts pick a number at random and say it in your head as you switch off.’

    Some of Sue Leach’s homeopathic tips:

    • Gelsemium for paralysing fear: ‘If someone feels dizzy, faint, apathetic, heavy, weak, unable to focus and feel like that they’re going to have diarrhoea, it’s ideal. Take one on the morning of the exam and one just before starting.’
    • Argentum nitricum for people getting in such a state that they can’t think straight and their memory has gone to pot. ‘Time seems to stand still yet they operate at double speed and keep wanting sugary things.’ Follow the same directions as for the three As.
    • Rescue Remedy for quick calming. ‘Put a few drops in a bottle of water on the desk to calm down during the exam. Staying hydrated is essential for keeping the brain ticking – studies show dehydration lowers concentration and scores in exams.’
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Why dark chocolate is good for you

Dark chocolate is good for you as flavonols, natural compounds in the cocoa bean, have neuro-protective effects.  Therefore, they  improve blood flow to the brain, especially the hippocampus that controls memory and becomes less efficient as we age*. Apparently flavonols also help to maintain heart health.

Apparently the effect is more pronounced in women and can help those who have had a bad night’s sleep.

A 50g bar of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) contains the same concentration of flavonols as two glasses of red wine, six apples or seven onions.  Future You, supplements manufacturer, has developed what has been dubbed a ‘chocolate pill’, Blood Flow+  which contains CocoActiv, a highly potent cocoa flavanol extract.  This is equivalent to a giant bar of chocolate but only has  five calories. CocoActiv, the active ingredient in Blood Flow+ has been officially recognised by the European Food Safety Authority following studies which show that the high-quality cocoa flavanols help to maintain the flexibility of blood vessels and contribute to normal blood flow and circulation.

Milk chocolate is not as high in cocoa but is much higher in sugar, so it does not have the same effect.  But the health warning is that chocolate contains fat so it will also help you to gain weight, if you don’t stick to the moderate amount of two or three squares a day.  And it contains caffeine so too much too late in the day can have the opposite effect and stop you sleeping.

In the past, research at Harvard Medical School showed that cocoa flavanols can lower blood pressure by producing nitric oxide in the body, with benefits equal to that of aspirin. Similarly flavanols can improve the cardiovascular system and prevent heart disease, and deep vein thrombosis, which can occur when you fly.

One of the other chemical compounds in chocolate is phenylethylamine, which is a stimulant similar to dopamine and adrenaline in the body. It is said to induce the feelings of falling in love, so maybe that’s why chocolate is so popular!

 

* (Source: Frontiers In Nutrition, 2017; 4: doi: 10.3389/fnut.2017.00019)

 

Eat berries for superhealth

Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, cranberries are full of healthy nutrients and are claimed by Patrick Holford to be the ‘superfood’.According to leading nutritionist, broadcaster and founder of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, Patrick Holford, ‘Berries are the superfood of the century. Packed with essential nutrients, berries are the best fruit to include in your diet.’

A survey by Medix found that only 27 per cent of doctors consider nutrition to be important so most are unlikely to give the kind of advice than can lead to optimum health.

Ten reasons to eat berries

1. Antioxidants for anti-ageing: Full of anti-ageing antioxidants berries improve circulation to the skin, resulting in a ‘youthful and attractive glow’.

2. Burn fat and lose weight: because berries have the slowest releasing natural sugars they help to cut down cravings for sugar that make blood sugar levels fluctuate.

3. Prevent cancer: they are full of powerful anti-cancer nutrients – particularly strawberries and raspberries for inhibiting cancer of the cervix, mouth, and oesophagus.

4. Reduce chances of heart attack or strokes: loaded with folic acid which is needed to keep homocysteine levels down (see and protect arteries from damage. High levels of Vitamin C help to keep cholesterol at safe levels.

5. Improve memory and prevent Alzheimers: because they contain high levels of folic acid which helps to reverse memory decline and sharpen concentration.

6. Boost the immune system: the folic acid and Vitamin C means plenty of antioxidants to keep your defences high.

7. Improves libido in men: raspberries and strawberries are high in zinc, a vital mineral which men need to maintain an erection for longer. Blueberries and blackberries contain an antioxidant that helps to ensure smooth blood flow to the genitals!

8. Avoid varicose veins: high quercitin levels in berries, particularly strawberries and cranberries, and other bioflavonoids improves the health of capillaries and connective tissues all over the body, including in the veins of the legs.

9. Increased vitality: red fruit sends energy boosting messages to the brain, and by helping to keep blood sugar levels balanced there are no dips in energy.

10. Relax and sleep: high in magnesium which helps to relax the muscles in the nervous system.

Just five strawberries (100g) gives 100 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C!

Coping with menopause without HRT

Valeriana
Valeriana courtesy of A. Vogel

It can start in  your early 40’s (or even before) or you may be 50 or even 60. Some people sail through the menopause, particularly those women in the far east who eat a lot of soya.

While HRT is very popular it has been found to increase the likelihood of both breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Symptoms include: hot flushes and night sweats/anxious and irritable/tiredness/vaginal dryness/bladder discomfort/muscle aches/low libido/weak pelvic floor muscles.  See also Menopause – the change, not the end

 Hot flushes          

Whether they last for a few seconds or induce sweating night and day, hot flushes are a common and debilitating symptom of menopause. If night sweats are happening regularly sleep is also interrupted.

  • Wear little or nothing at night and sleep under lightweight covers;
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, spicy food, hot drinks and red meat;
  • Choose foods rich in naturally occurring oestrogen: soya, golden linseeds and seeds, lentils and chick peas, as well as the supplement Red Clover.

Herbal helpers

A review of five trials found that Black Cohosh reduced hot flushes in 80 per cent of menopausal women, but it isn‘t good for women who get headaches and migraine. As an alternative you could try making a tea with a teaspoonful of chopped up fresh sage leaves and boiling water as an alternative.  It would be irresponsible not to point out that there is a question over the safety of black cohosh – that it may cause liver damage, but it has not been banned. Sometimes research leading these scares is somewhat flawed but make sure you read the label and if in doubt consult a herbalist.

Other tips

Michael Dooley suggests the yoga alternate nostril breath – breathe slowly through one nostril at a time while shutting off the other one with your thumb or finger, and retain the breath to a count of four. He claims, ‘This breathing exercise was shown in a study to enable the pituitary gland to work at its best, reducing body temperature and hot flushes.‘

Homeopathy

Homeopath and author, Beth Maceoin, recommends Pulsatilla for drenching, exhausting sweats particularly at night.

 

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Aches and pains

It‘s easy to think that there‘s something else wrong – like arthritis – when aches and pains in the joints and muscles set in. It seems like old age is creeping up far too quickly, but it‘s a normal menopausal symptom.

Maryon Stewart of The Natural Health Advisory Service suggests:

  • Magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins for muscle function;
  • Glucosamine sulphate which has been shown in several clinical studies to improve pain and joint tenderness – at a dose of 400mg three times a day;
  • Evening primrose and strong fish oils with calcium to help increase the uptake of vitamins and minerals, normalise hormone function, lubricate joints and keep the heart healthy.

There are special menopause formulas which contain many of the recommended supplements, such as Menopace and Fema 45+.

Other helpers:

  • Black Cohosh for aches and pains which feel like rheumatic pain – check the label as there has been some suggestion that too much of this herb can damage the liver
  • Nettle tea to clear out uric acid.

Instead of giving up exercise because of pain weight-bearing exercise can both ease aches and pains and build up bone mass to prevent osteoporosis – walking, tennis, jogging, and skipping are all good.

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Tiredness and insomnia

Passiflora courtesy of A.Vogel Bioforce

‘Not enough sleep, stress at home and at work, lack of exercise and a poor quality diet can all reduce energy levels,’ according to Maryon Stewart of the Women‘s Nutritional Advisory Service. ‘A healthy diet with a multi-vitamin supplement containing 20 to 30mg of zinc is helpful.‘

Expert tips:

  • Ginseng for women who are tired and run down, but choose Siberian Ginseng if anxiety is also a problem;
  • Sepia homeopathic remedy ‘for mental, emotional and physical exhaustion at times of hormonal upheaval and transition’ according to Beth Maceoin.
  • A relaxing night-time tea of Chamomile  can help induce sleep but for persistently bad nights passiflora or valerian tablets and tinctures need to be taken 30 minutes before bedtime.

 

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Anxious and irritable

It‘s not surprising that night sweats, insomnia and a host of hormonal changes leave some women frazzled, anxious and uptight!

Some recommended herbs:

  • Motherwort for anxiety accompanied by palpitations;
  • St John‘s Wort* when women are feeling low – check with doctor if taking medication as well;
  • Chamomile and lemon balm teas for calming.

Aromatherapy oils can also be relaxing – put a few drops in a bath or preferably in a massage!

  • Lavender, rose and geranium oils
  • Ylang ylang on a tissue to ease depression;
  • Lavender oil can be rubbed into the skin – test it first – on the throat either side of the thyroid where it gets absorbed by the carotid artery and carried to the brain.

Other calming tips:

  • Valerian or passiflora herbs for calming;
  • Nux vom homeopathic remedy which according to Beth Maceoin, ‘Is good for anyone who sleeps badly, has headaches and craves tea, coffee, alcohol or cigarettes to keep them going.‘
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Loss of libido

There‘s so many reasons for loss of libido at this stage of life – for men and women. Young children, relationship problems, depression, overuse of prescription drugs, plenty of stress at work and home, and hormonal changes all contribute.

Now we have so many herbs at our disposal you can find some to boost sex drive (forget the Viagra!):

  • Damiana used by the Maya of Central America
  • The Chinese Horny Goat Weed;
  • The Inca‘s Maca from Peru and Korean Ginseng, which should not be used by anyone with high blood pressure.
  • Bush Flower Remedies‘ Sexuality

Aromatherapy‘s great for sensual mood building with oil burners or massage. Some oils have an aphrodisiac quality:

  • Neroli
  • Sandalwood
  • Ylang ylang
  • Patchouli
  • Jasmine
  • Rose

The Romans used to scatter rose petals over the beds of newly weds and orange blossom was used to crown brides and calm and relax them before wedding nights.

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Pelvic floor muscles

 
Having children,  intercourse and just getting old all serve to make the pelvic floor muscles weaker. This can result in incontinence, dribbling or discomfort if the walls of the vagina are collapsing on to the bladder or bowel – prolapse.

There are conventional ways of dealing with weak pelvic floor muscles, but even doctors aren’t particularly keen on surgery and it’s such a delicate part of the body that the consequences aren’t always great and the problem isn’t necessarily solved. There are various gadgets that appear that you can put inside the vagina, but quite frankly the best solution is pelvic floor exercises.

They are so easy to do and so discreet that you can practise them while you’re driving, sitting on a train, in the bath, lying in bed or anywhere! Pilates and Yoga are both good for strengthening these muscles, and it is often worth asking the teacher for specific exercises.

Vaginal dryness

A dry vagina is due to the thinning of the mucous membrane and the fact that lubricating fluid is no longer produced. It can lead to painful intercourse and a general feeling of discomfort and the problem may be worse in very hot weather.

Doctors offer pessaries and creams that contain oestrogen, but they do ask if you have breast cancer in the family. If you prefer to avoid taking oestrogen a natural plant-based moisturiser can be just as effective.  A phytoestrogen diet as highlighted above definitely helps as well.

Author of Natural Medicine, a Practical Guide to Family Health, homeopath, Beth Maceoin recommends:

  • Avoid tight jeans and nylon underwear
  • Don‘t use scented soaps or bath foams
  • Do have regular sexual activity! ‘It maintains lubrication and suppleness of the genital area and orgasm with the associated rush of blood and muscular contraction plays an essential part in maintaining moisture and flexibility of the vagina!’

Helpful products

There are some very helpful products on the market at long last to help women with this problem. Some of them are lubricants to use when anticipating making love, while others are pessaries and vaginal gel which are inserted into the vagina overnight to make it more moist generally.  There are also some supplements taken as oral capsules which may prevent the area from drying up.

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Bladder discomfort

Vaginal dryness and prolapse or weak pelvic floor muscles can contribute to bladder discomfort and sometimes it’s really hard to know what is the cause. Another possibility is that the lack of oestrogen in the body can also cause cystitis – eating soya which contains phytoestrogens could help.If the bladder is being squashed by the walls of the vagina it may produce a dragging pain rather like period pain and can lead to considerable discomfort. Without having surgery there isn’t much that can be done except Pelvic Floor Muscle exercises (see above).Vaginal dryness needs to be addressed as well because it can mean that the vagina tissues tear during intercourse, causing infection which spreads to the bladder.If infection in the bladder is a regular problem there are many things that can be tried including:

Uva ursi, a herbal remedy which soothes bladder infections

Compounds in cranberries (proanthocyanidins – PACs) attach themselves to bacteria (which are mainly E-coli) preventing them from adhering to cells in the bladder – try supplements or Ocean Spray’s Cranberry Plus Grape, Apple and Cranberry Juice which contains no artificial sweeteners or sugar.

Avoid sugar and yeast – often the problem can be linked to Candida – see Candida in this section and eat plenty of fresh vegetables, wholegrains and pulses.

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Further information:

British Institute f

Painful, heavy, irregular periods?

woman very attractiveAnyone whose periods are extremely painful every month, who has stopped having periods or who is suffering from heavy periods should see a doctor. Complementary therapies and self-help tips can be a solution once serious problems, such as endometriosis, fibroids, or cancer, have been ruled out.  Complementary therapies can, however,  help for both endometriosis and fibroids (see Hysterectomies – are they really necessary?).

Painful periods

Many women experience pain at the start of their periods – back pain, low abdomen pain, feeling sick and sweaty, exhausted and feeling generally unwell.

Periods can be painful for a variety of reasons but if they are consistently causing you considerable pain it is essential to visit a doctor and be examined to ensure that nothing serious is wrong such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease. Once you are sure that there are no other problems some self-help can ease some of the symptoms.

Taking a painkiller may be the answer to relieving the pain but it isn’t removing the cause. Periods may be painful because of other factors such as deficiency in certain nutrients, being overweight, or a general unhealthy state. By improving diet and general health it is possible that periods will settle down and not cause any problems. However, from around 40 onwards in the peri-menopausal stage periods do change and may become heavier and more painful. Similarly at the start of having periods a young girl often experiences a lot of pain which goes away as she gets older.

Nutrition

It might seem a touch repetitive but healthy eating benefits the body in so many ways and can considerably improve periods for women. To find out more about eating healthily look in Nutrition/You Are What You Eat.

A healthy diet consists of:

  • organic fruit and vegetables
  • wholegrains like brown rice
  • pulses such as lentils
  • nuts and seeds
  • oily fish – herrings, mackerel, tuna, salmon and sardines
  • (organic) chicken and turkey
  • plenty of water – preferably filtered or spring water

Deficient in vitamins or minerals?

Few women have enough nutrients in their diet, however healthily they eat, and therefore the body is not in a fit state to cope with periods often causing pain and other symptoms at that time of the month.

A staggering 96 per cent of women aged 19 to 24 and 91 per cent 19 to 64 year old women have well below the recommended intake of iron, according to research by the Food Standards Agency and Dept of Health. The figures are also very low for magnesium, copper, calcium, zinc, iodine, folic acid, Vitamin A and other vitamins. Therefore it is well worth taking a multivitamin which is specifically for women of menstruating age.

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Aromatherapy oils

  • Clary sage is a very pungent aromatherapy oil that can do wonders for period discomfort – just a few drops in a bath with lavender oil can soothe period pain in the lower abdomen and back.
  • A few drops of lavender, clary sage and chamomile oil in an egg cup of carrier oil such as almond oil massaged into the lower belly can also ease pain.
  • In her book Aromatherapy for Women Maggie Tisserand suggests one drop of clary sage in a glass of water with honey to ease pain – we are wary about suggesting this because ingestion of aromatherapy oils is not advised, but having tried it and found it extremely soothing it’s worth passing on.
  • You can make up a mixture in 30ml of massage oil (olive oil, jojoba oil, or almond oil) of two drops of peppermint oil, 10 drops of clary sage oil, two of chamomile and five of geranium.
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Self-help

  • Warmth is great for soothing pain – so snuggle up with a hot water bottle.
  • Contrary to old-fashioned thinking doing some exercise actually improves pain rather than making it worse.
  • Drink chamomile tea to calm the system.
  • Relaxation is helpful for persistently uncomfortable periods – consider Yoga and/or Meditation – see Therapies and Mind Body Spirit/Mind/Live Long, Stay Young

Complementary therapies

These may help for all kinds of problems with periods and once you have been checked out medically to ensure that there is nothing serious wrong it is worth trying any of these:

  • Acupuncture
  • Cranial osteopathy
  • Reflexology
  • Homeopathy
  • Herbal medicine
  • Chinese Herbal Medicine
  • Naturopathy
  • Nutrition

For information about these and how to find practitioners look at Therapies

Heavy periods

Women are very aware when their periods have changed and they are having to use more sanitary wear than normal.

This can be due to the onset of menopause but it is always worth a visit to the doctor to rule out any serious problems. Until recently most women with heavy periods had their wombs removed – it is worth reading the article in the Women’s Health section on Hysterectomies as many have been performed unnecessarily and there are alternative ways of dealing with some problems such as fibroids.

An Aromatherapy Mix

Make up a mixture of 30 drops of cypress oil, three drops of rose oil, 25 of chamomile and 20 of geranium and mix together. Then put five or six drops of the mixture into your bath, making sure the oil has properly dispersed – some people mix it with milk to make it disperse better.

No periods

It’s important to ensure the obvious reasons why periods might stop – that you’re not pregnant!

Otherwise they can stop because of losing too much weight, high stress levels or illness. Therefore it is vital that you see a doctor to rule out serious health problems or pregnancy!

Irregular Periods

Again there may be many reasons for irregular periods but is worth a look at lifestyle.

Are you drinking too much, smoking and not eating regularly and healthily?

It is important to seek professional help for all of these problems – initially from a doctor and if the problem is not resolved or you do not wish to take prescription drugs, try seeing a qualified practitioner in any of the following (always check their qualifications):

  • Homeopathy
  • Herbal Medicine
  • Reflexology
  • Nutrition
  • Chinese Herbal Medicine

For information about the relevant associations and how to find practitioners look at Therapies

CONTACTS:

Natural Health Advisory Service Ltd,  01273 487366 ,  www.naturalhealthas.com.

Dr Marilyn Glenville has clinics in London and Tunbridge Wells: 08705 329244  www.marilynglenville.com. Postal consultations available.