Delving further into magnesium, the next step is to look at absorption and how it gets itself into and through our bodies. Absorption comes from magnesium rich foods and/or supplements. It is primarily absorbed into the small intestine, anything not absorbed here travels on to the large intestine, and here a smaller amount can be absorbed. Now here things get interesting - 40% goes to the small intestine, 5% to the large intestine and a whopping 55% leaves the body through waste. What's really important to understand here is that these figures are average and the amount absorbed will vary from one individual to the next depending on how magnesium (forms etc) is taken into the body. If we look at magnesium oxide for example, very little of this is absorbed into the body and a laxative effect is more commonly associated with this form.
How your body absorbs this essential mineral
Now without losing you to too much detail - it is known that magnesium can travel via two routes in the body. One of these routes is more effective and works better in an acidic environment - this reinforces the effect of magnesium absorption. This is the key route and is responsible for 80-90% of the intestine magnesium absorption. As this main route works more effectively in an acidic environment it is best to take magnesium on an empty stomach and away from other vitamins, minerals, medication.
How can you achieve higher magnesium levels in your body ?
Increase you intake, combine your approach so you target your intake on several levels - through foods, magnesium baths, body oils, or supplements.
How do you know if you need magnesium?
As there is only 1-2% in the blood this is not always an accurate reflection so for me the symptoms are the signposts here - you can look at your symptoms yourself or discuss with your medical practitioner. You can also send off to have more specific blood tests done to the US (the Magnesium RBC Test) and Germany.
Best food sources for magnesium
Maximising your magnesium intake and levels in your body has to be started by looking at your daily food habits. We know as per Part I that soil etc has reduced amounts but there are still many good foods which contain high levels of magnesium.
My personal favourites are as follows:
Pumpkin Seeds - the heavy hitters, a 1/4 cup gives a whopping 317mg of magnesium!
Sunflower seeds and/or butter
Dark green leafy vegetables
Note: The magnesium content of food will vary depending on the quality and mineral content of the soil in which the foods are grown.
Now to the vast world of magnesium supplements
This is where many are a world apart from each other in terms of what they contain, how they can help you and the quality. Marketing has a lot to answer for here!
You will see many forms of magnesium when you start looking at your labels - one important point to understand is that magnesium cannot be taken on it own. It has to be joined with another molecule to form an absorbable compound - so for example you will see magnesium oxide, magnesium carbonate etc. When magnesium is compounded like this to another molecule you will get different absorption levels and therefore different levels of aid/help to the body.
The most common forms you might see:
Magnesium Hydroxide - I have the most vivid and yes horrific memories of my mum chasing us around the house to take this on a regular basis...remember it tasted like chalk! Yes this is the one that commonly comes in the form of milk of magnesia and is used as a laxative. This is considered one of the least favourable if you are looking to enhance magnesium levels in the body - it is good as a laxative!
Magnesium Oxide - one of the most common ones I see on the labels of magnesium supplements. It is attractive to buyers due to its price, it is a cheaper form as it is cheaper to make this combination than most of the other compounds. It is considered one of the less desirable forms of magnesium with an absorption rate of around 5% and a strong laxative effect.
Magnesium Citrate - More commonly seen now and has a very good absorption rate into the body. Initially it may cause loose bowels and this is why it is good to build up your intake slowly. My preference here is for the powder form where the chemical reaction occurs before your eyes! These are referred to as Ionic Magnesium Citrate and enters the cells throughout your body very quickly and effectively. As with many supplements my personal preference is liquid where possible - liquids are more easily absorbed by the gut.
Magnesium Asparate - This is magnesium and potassium aspartates and is good for fatigue, it is used for low energy and chronic fatigue syndrome. A more common supplement in the US than in Europe.
Magnesium Glycinate - the creme de la creme ! You might see this marketed under the name Magnesium Bis glycerinate - it is magnesium compounded with glycinate which is an amino acid, best known for it’s calming effect. It has another benefit too with this coupling in that the glycine molecule helps absorption by reducing the impact of substances that might hinder absorption for example medication.It is often used for pain, anxiety, insomnia, and tight muscles. It is very good to balance moods, calm the body and also help the detoxification process. Minimal laxative effects.
Excellent for restless legs syndrome.
Magnesium Malate - this I mentioned earlier in relation to Fibromyalgia, this is the one best suited for those experiencing Fibromyalgia. As Malate (malic acid) is an amino acid this form is very well absorbed into the body with minimal digestive side effects. The energizing properties of this form make it ideal to take in the morning but not last thing at night.
Magnesium Orotate - not a very common form, it is used for heart health. It is used for high blood pressure, angina, overall heart health and athletic performance.
Magnesium Taurate - Taurine is an amino acid which is good for the heart, eyes, muscles and brain function. It has been shown to reduce heart attacks and to help balance blood sugar levels. It is hard to find a supplement that offers pure Mag Taurate without being mixed with other forms of magnesium.
Magnesium Threonate - when you hear of magnesium that cross the blood brain barrier this is the one you will often hear about. It is the best form of magnesium for it's impact on long and short term memory. There are no laxative effects but it does have a stimulating effect so best to take in the morning.
In the US currently there is alot of focus on this form of magnesium but from the research I have undertaken my personal view is that it is hard to get a supplement that gives the desired amount without taking several capsules and also I believe a good form of magnesium benefits the nervous system as much as Mag Threonate and often where you need a smaller intake in terms of capsules/powder.
I was informed of a study on humans in relation to this form of magnesium and dementia but I have been unable to source the clinical findings - there have been studies on animals in relation to this but my personal view is this is early days in terms of research.
Topical - Magnesium Chloride, Sulfate
You can incorporate magnesium flake baths, epsom salts bath and the use of body oil into your habits. I use the body oil after a long run if I have a part of my body that's feeling tight and sore - little oil goes along way. Best to use at night-time before bed but you can use whenever works for you.
Personally I see these as good but I would also combine with another form of magnesium to suit your individual needs. Epsom salt have absorbability through the skin. This would not have the same levels of absorption as some of those mentioned above even giving the great absorption rate of the skin.
It is very important to read you epsom salt labels…you can get man made versions of sulphuric acid which might be higher in heavy metals compared to the natural form. This is something people seem to be missing and is very important to bear in mind when shopping for your salts for your bath.
Please note experts would say the benefits of magnesium would outweigh any other heavy metals present and the potential negative side effects they may present.
In my opinion I would prefer to have the better source of epsom salts and know how it is derived. As you have heard me say many times Knowledge is power - know your labels.
Next Up - Where to shops, what sources to buy and the questions so often raised with magnesium.
Last May in a room full of warm hearted, funny and gregarious women Lesley let a roar from the back of the room about her jump into the world of Jazz....as I was talking about Passion & Purpose. Only the week before I had read a great article on how music is one of the most powerful tools to keep the brain healthy and thriving.
I was intrigued and hooked by her story. As we read earlier on My Second Spring this week, Menopause despite some pesky symptoms at times can be the most creative time in your life. Read all about Lesley's nudge into Jazz below and the 'catch in the voice that tears your heart in two'...listen to Leonard Cohen or Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah and you will know what I mean! That song never fails to move me. Not too sure my dog shares my love of singing this song out loud! She's just hidden under the desk :-)
Catherine is probably more familiar to me as a Mum at the school gates than in her professional guise as Perimenopause expert extraordinaire but I’m very glad I jumped out of my comfort Zone and opened my big mouth in the Radisson at ‘Perimenopause Unplugged’ back in May, which led me to connect with her and share my story of the JAZZ GALS conception.
As an actor I’m comfortable with performance, mainly drama, the odd bit of comedy and tragedy mixed in for good measure. I would have sung songs in plays along the way, but deep inside I’ve always held a torch for the smoky, bluesy heroines of the New York and Chicago Jazz scenes.
I can blame a boyfriend from my college days for that. On my 18th birthday I was presented with a stack of tapes – yes tapes, remember them, cassettes - of Billie Holiday, holding court over various troupes and orchestras – and I never looked back.
Now THIS was music! THAT was a voice unlike any other, a voice that weaved a spell with its casual phrasing and the unmistakable catch in the voice that tears your heart in two.
One dry stretch between acting jobs I happened upon a sign on a shop window advertising a 12-week Jazz Singing course with Edel Meade. It stopped me in my tracks.
And there it was, there was my niggle.
Because don’t we all have that?
The voice in our head speaking from our inner passions that we so frequently ignore?
‘You’ve always wanted to do this’ an excited voice screamed in my head, and I thought, ‘Why not?’
And so, I took a deep breath and signed up.
Jazz haven, JJ Smyth’s (now sadly gone) was the venue. I remember locking my bike outside, wondering what it would be like, a bit like the first day of school. And on that windy Tuesday evening I entered a room of 11 strangers and we all embarked on our 12-week singing adventure. Each week we’d learn a new song. Our homework was to listen to as many versions of the song as we could - which opened my eyes to the freedom of the form. Clicking on the off-beat and teasing each phrasing within the limit of the music bars suited my rebellious heart. And nothing feeds the soul as much as finding your very own version of a standard. I had landed, I found home.
On the cycle back, the people I passed from Aungier street to my front door would be treated to my jazz improvs of the song of the week. God help them!
Some songs I loved, some I hated. If ‘The Look of Love’ comes on the radio now, I leave the room! ‘Good morning heartache’ has a grove worn in my heart – check out Jamie Cullum and Laura Mvula’s version for sheer perfection.
And on the last night we sang for each other and we clapped and bowed and said goodbye. For like all good things, it had come to an end. And just like that it was over.
And now what?
What was going to fill my time between acting jobs? How could I make the dinner without practicing my songs for the week?
So, when the next term swung around I signed up for the higher level. A new group, a new batch of songs - a different venue - the beautiful Unitarian church on Stephen’s Green. If previously I had found my home, now I had found my religion.
You see, this gang of women were different, they were special.
There was a shine off them – I was inexplicably drawn to them and each week filled me with a need. More than the need to sing and be heard but a need to spend time with them and to share our singing journey.
As semi stalwarts of the game, the bar was raised and we were united in our desire to improve as singers. There were highs and lows. When we nailed a song, we celebrated. And on rare occasions we’d miss the mark, the sounds in our head not quite translating, and frustration would raise its head. But when the class was over, in the shelter of the church doorway, we’d be there for each other.
An arm on the shoulder, a silent nod, bolstering each other.
Each week the bonds growing stronger.
And so, it went. Another 12 weeks around the sun. Songs, support, satisfaction - and a surprise announcement from the pulpit (as such) that Edel was leaving Dublin and the classes would be suspended for a year – silence. So off we went to the pub to ‘wake’ the course. We downed wine and swigged gin and promises of ‘ah we’ll have to keep in touch’ were made – yeah, I’ve heard that one before. But this time, it was genuine. For hadn’t we carved our names in each others hearts, wouldn’t it be a sin not to follow through with this?
Once again feeding the niggle, I made a suggestion to keep on going ourselves and to commit to a concert as a deadline.
And thus, the Dublin Jazz Gals were born, all from a tipsy promise to organise a charity Christmas concert for the Because I am a girl campaign (how fitting).
And we did it! Booked the rehearsal room, the venue, the musicians.
And I’d be lying if it was just about the music and the songs. For me it’s about the connection, the patchwork make-up of this new tribe I’ve found.
One particular evening after rehearsal perfectly encapsulates it for me.
Over pizza we talked about our week, how our lives were going and how our dreams were panning out and as each bit became more personal and from the hip, I looked around the table and realised there were ‘delegates’ in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. What a breadth of experience and knowledge we were for each other. I wish we had podcast it!
And there you have it. But word of warning. Be careful what you wish for! As I write I’m in the midst of preparation for a cabaret night.
And it’s all down to the path I’ve set before myself, starting with that ad in the shop window. The niggle that became the nudge… and I couldn't be happier.
Lesley Conroy is an actor, and communication coach. Check her out on linkedin
I started researching magnesium in more detail a month or two ago and I’ll be honest it’s never ending! There is so much to take into account when you enter the world of magnesium and it’s fascinating in its own right. I know one blog won’t do this justice so I am going to split it out - otherwise you wouldn’t get the important information we all need to know and take into account when it comes to Magnesium.
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral – and one of the most important minerals on earth. To give you some background into its importance, it is one of the 19 minerals considered essential for life and the 4th most common mineral in the body. It is involved in over 300 enzyme reactions within the body - your body's spark plug! The word Magnesium comes from a region in Greece which happens to have a high concentration of magnesium ore in the surrounding area. Like other minerals it occurs in nature with other elements – for example, you have magnesium & sulphur which give you Magnesium Sulfate otherwise known as Epsom salts. Most of the magnesium in our bodies is in our bones and teeth roughly 60-65%, the balance in the rest of the body and finally our blood – our blood however only houses 1-2% of magnesium. Hence blood tests are not an accurate level of the magnesium count in your body at any given time. Magnesium is mostly utilized in the heart and brain, which in my opinion, explains some of the reasons why it is so important for the nervous system and sleep. You will see too when you look at the symptoms of low magnesium it is often affecting the heart and the brain. Now the interesting part is that many of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency tick the box of menopausal symptoms – this is one of the reason I see this as being essential to your toolkit at this stage. Dr Carolyn Dean author of the Magnesium Miracle calls magnesium ‘the spark of life’. This is a great name for this essential mineral as is so vital for so many processes that the body needs to complete on an hourly/daily basis.
How does Magnesium help you?
This is one food that I believe has to be incorporated into your diet at all stages in life, from children, growing teenagers, active sportspeople to perimenopause and beyond. It plays a vital role in heart health (blood pressure and steady heart beat), bone health, immune function, muscle function, brain health and energy transmission throughout the body. As you can see it is involved in several body functions, this vital role it plays can be seen in the vast number of symptoms that can be linked to sub optimal magnesium levels. The main conditions helped by magnesium are as follows:
Asthma – It’s powerful anti-inflammatory impact can be very beneficial to people suffering from asthma.
Fibromyalgia – I have written about this before and how important magnesium is if you have this condition. There is a link between Fibromyalgia and low magnesium. Magnesium Malate is the form of magnesium best used to help here.
Migraines & Headaches – the best relief for migraines is Magnesium & COQ10. Magnesium has been shown to alleviate the frequency and duration of migraines.
Heart Palpitations – our hearts contain the highest level of magnesium in our bodies. Optimum magnesium intake has been shown to have a positive impact on cholesterol and blood pressure.
Osteoporosis – as most magnesium is stored in our bones any shortage can result in reduced absorption of Vitamin D (essential also for bone health) .
PMT – Cramps along with your period can be very common and often create havoc for those few days of the month. The muscle relaxing effect of magnesium can be a great help here, it can also help the mood swings that come with PMT at any stage and during Perimenopause.
Depression – I will talk in more details about the brain and magnesium but magnesium is involved in the production of neurotransmitters and plays an important role in blood flow & reducing inflammation. All of this helps our brains function optimally. It has also been studied and continues to be, in relation to brain injury – when a brain injury or concussion occurs it can cause tissue magnesium levels to fall by up to 60% - magnesium can help restore this balance.
Diabetes – many people with Type 2 Diabetes can be deficient in magnesium due to an increased loss of this mineral through urine and also lower intake of magnesium through foods.
Aches, Pains & Inflammation – you will have often heard about the great benefit of an Epsom salt bath after rigorous exercise – I had many of these in my marathon training in 2018! Inflammation and pain go hand in hand – inflammation in the body causes pain. In addition tight muscles can lead to sensitive nerve endings and they are the messengers that send the message back to the brain to indicate pain is being felt. Magnesium helps here by relaxing the muscles and the nerves.
Why are we no longer getting as much magnesium as we need?
This is a vast subject and there are many factors influencing how much magnesium we absorb into our bodies – alcohol and caffeine can impact absorption due to their diuretic effect. If you’re doing a lot of exercise excess sweat will led to loss of magnesium. How food is processed and cooked can decrease magnesium levels – for example take white flour, magnesium is stored in the bran and the germ, and this is lost in the milling process of the whole grains. Sugar also drains magnesium - for every molecule of sugar you eat, it takes 54 molecules of magnesium for your body to process it!.
Possibly the single biggest impact is modern farming methods. Acid rain where it occurs takes calcium and magnesium from the soil, the infamous Roundup binds with magnesium which means plants can’t absorb it like they used to. Pesticides kill the good guys we need in the soil and they are no longer there to do the job of breaking down minerals so the plants can absorb them. Our water too has less magnesium due to filtering processes that now occur. Certain medication like acid blockers, antibiotics and diuretics can reduce absorption. If you experience a bout of vomiting, diarrhea, urinary infection etc this increased loss of urine will result in a loss in magnesium. For those who are coeliac or have low stomach acid you will not absorb magnesium as effectively from your food as others. Finally chronic stress impacts our gut health which will inhibit the absorption and action of magnesium. This is by no means a conclusive list but these are some of the key reasons why we are lower in this essential mineral in today’s world.
How do I know I am deficient?
As I said earlier many of the symptoms of low magnesium are similar to perimenopause symptoms - the most common tell take signs are as follows - you will see they can mirror many menopausal symptoms:
Magnesium Part II - How we absorb magnesium, the various forms and food sources
Magnesium Part III - Navigate the supplement world, a story & FAQ
If you can't wait for the next two parts....and are already eager to start incorporating please remember I am really picky about what to use if you are supplementing and a magnesium supplement in particular is one where HUGE amounts of money are being wasted on sub standard products. That's my personal view but it's based on extensive research and experience.
I am working to get the next two parts completed but if you are truly eager then please for now don't buy anything other than MAG365. I have used this for years, it's one of the best on the market and I have had great success with it. I am not affiliated with MAG365 and the girls there have kindly given me a great discount of 25% (type WWEVENT when buying - you need to register to to use the code) on any of their range so please use that if you are ordering BUT if you can please wait for the next two parts as you will then order in an informed way. As you know 'Knowledge is Power'.
You will remember I recently did some videos on Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) with Karen Cryan - there was great interest in the information Karen provided and this continues with great details below. Again it's knowing your labels, know what your eating and empower yourself with knowledge. Olive Oil is an amazing world and it's not just olive oil as we know from daily use but it extends even further to Olive Leaf Extract (that will be another story!). Read on to learn more about EVOO, the FBI of Food and Lamp Oil!
So what is Extra Virgin Olive Oil ?
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest category of olive oil. It is often described as the juice of a freshly squeezed (olive) fruit. Extra virgin oils don’t undergo any type of heat treatment or chemical processing.
In terms of the categorisation and quality of olive oil this is determined through both chemical analysis and sensory analysis (a panel of expert tasters). The tasters check the oil firstly for defects and then for fruitiness, bitterness and pepperiness. If any defect is found in the olive oil, it can’t be labelled as extra virgin.
The official definition of an extra virgin is ‘the median of defects is 0 and the median of the fruity attribute is above 0’ as opposed to the definition of ordinary olive oil is ‘the median of the defects is above 3.5 but not more than 6’.
Oils that are high in bitterness and pepperiness are high in polyphenols - the good stuff, the health giving properties of EVOO. Even so, there are plenty of olive oils out there labelled extra virgin which are, in reality, olive oil or even lampante, which is categorised as ‘unfit for human consumption’ and was used for lighting lamps years ago. When Bill Whittaker of CBS Television sent samples of the three top selling brands of extra virgin olive oil in the United States to the Italian food fraud section (they have 60 specially trained tasters and are known as the FBI of food), they found that none were extra virgin and the top selling brand was lampante. The only real way to know if an oil is extra virgin is to taste it (explained below).
The tips I’ll give you for choosing olive oil and storing it will also enhance your chances of buying and maintaining a quality extra virgin.
And the many health benefits
The health benefits of EVOO are numerous.
Particularly relevant to the modern day is that it has been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. As Judy Ridgway outlined in her book “The Olive Oil Diet’, “it has been estimated that 50ml of extra virgin olive oil rich in oleocanthal polyphenols may provide an equivalent anti-inflammatory effect to 200mg of ibuprofen. Similarly, the presence of this and other natural anti-inflammatories in extra virgin olive oil may contribute to lower rates of arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases and other chronic diseases.”
Cholesterol : It also lowers your bad cholesterol (LDL) and brings up your good cholesterol (HDL). The 10 year EPIC study of 40,000 Spaniards found that those who consumed as little as two spoons of extra virgin olive oil per day were 50% less likely to die from heart disease and those who used the most olive oil were 26% less likely to die from any health problem.
Other studies have shown that EVOO can help protect against different types of cancer (including breast cancer), high blood pressure, strokes, Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, osteoporosis, heart disease and diabetes.
Top Tips to select the right EVOO
Storing your EVOO at home
Heat, light and air are the enemies of EVOO. Storage is very important to your oil, how you store it will determine how stable it remains.
How to taste your olive oil
Darina Allen once said that if you don’t spend money on your food you’ll end up spending it at the doctors. Besides being a fantastic condiment, extra virgin olive oil is excellent for your health. It is worth taking the time to carefully choose your extra virgin olive oil, spend money on it (after all we will spend money on a good wine which will be gone in a night!) and store it correctly.
Karen Cryan is a qualified Olive Oil Taster who has trained in London, Italy and Spain. She is the only Irish member of the Savantes International Olive Oil Organisation and has been a judge at an International Olive Oil competition in Italy. Karen teaches excellent hands on classes on olive oil tasting and can be contacted at email@example.com.
You can follow Karen on Instagram: karen_cryan_olive_oil
I met Martha on a sunny day in Dublin, and I’ll be honest given her background I was somewhat daunted by her great experience and totally excited on the other hand. I often tell my boys that anxiety and excitement are two ends of the same scale and my preference is for excitement! We chatted warmly and openly about all things menopause and I was thrilled to discover we shared many similar views.
I often talk about developing your own strategy and your own personal toolkit to navigate this chapter, I was thrilled to learn Professor Hickey shared my views and reaffirmed my thought about ‘needing your own strategy’ and knowing ‘what do you need for your life’. Simple yet very powerful statements - we underestimate the power of knowing we have choices, the power of knowledge, the empowerment a woman can get from finding out about her body. What a symptom is telling you and what tools you can use to help your body through. As you often hear me say Knowledge is power.
We talked at length about aging and Prof Hickey is part of a fantastic campaign in Australia called Flesh After Fifty - now here is a campaign that could turn the advertising world on its head. Why do we always have to see the glamorous woman…Yes we all like to look at nice things and nice photos but more reality please! Martha’s opinion is ‘that fear of becoming an old woman and the imagery in society is not helpful……it should not be a battleground. Women are dis-empowered in this space’. Prof Hickey is on a mission to change this. I would like to think we share the same mission - that of empowering women with choices.
Yes, symptoms exist and medication may be required in some cases (findings indicate just 10% of women need medical treatment), and as Martha states ‘HRT is good treatment for severe symptoms, but like any medication it has potential risks’.
Her experience of working with women in Australia is that women working shift hours suffer more than the average woman and where there is no flexibility in the workplace this creates further stress. Her clinics in Australia bring together several practitioners to offer a centric service to women - a one-stop shop in all respects but with a difference. I think the key difference is the utter passion and dedication Martha brings to her work - she has empathy, she fully understands the challenges faced by women and she sits side by side them. The ‘benefits of empowerment’ she states are normal physiology. Her goal is to establish communities where patient’s needs are the driving force behind the direction her clinics will take - the women will lead the way. How empowering is this!
On discussing the most common symptoms Martha works with, these are Sleep disturbance, Mood disturbances & Sexual dysfunction. Again we talked about women doing shift work especially nurses whose working patterns can create havoc with symptoms due to irregular sleep patterns.
Prof Hickey is currently working on the No Sweat Study with the well-known Dr. Myra Hunter in the UK - this is looking at menopause in the workplace and ensuring it is viewed in a positive light as part of diversity and not disability. In order to support women working through the menopause she has worked with colleagues at Monash University to develop this new website: Menopause in the Workplace (MIPO).
Martha also highlighted the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program (WWACP) which was developed in Australia. This is a really interesting study based on a digitized multi-modal lifestyle intervention to enhance health-related quality of life in women who had been treated for blood, breast & gynecological cancer. The program was ‘structured around four chronological steps: changing lifestyle; establishing healthy habits; maintaining health for illness prevention; and becoming independent.’ Click here to assess the full review
Martha is also working on COMMA - Core Outcomes in Menopause. This international project is consulting with women, clinicians, and researchers to determine the most important outcomes that should be measured in clinical studies of treatments for menopause. When consensus has been reached (2020) all researchers will be encouraged to include these outcomes in their studies. This will allow patients and clinicians to compare treatments across studies and ensure that trials are measuring outcomes that are important to women.
Finally Professor Hickey also wrote an excellent article for the British Medical Journal the ‘Non-hormonal treatment of menopause’ – I would encourage every woman to read this to get more information and guidance in building your own personal toolkit.
So you see why I think she is a Legend and an Oracle - how much is one woman doing for all us women when it comes to Menopause!
I have been extremely lucky to have met so many truly amazing people on my own perimenopause journey and every one has touched me in their own unique way, enhancing my knowledge in some shape or form – Martha was one of these women, she was so giving of her knowledge and her time, both of which I am truly grateful for – it's so exciting to see what she is doing not just in Australia but in Europe too and I will be watching with anticipation her continued work and sharing with you all as it progresses.
Migraines are those headaches that leave you in pieces, that leave you shattered and exhausted beyond belief. A person’s experience of migraines can differ from one person to the next and while not hormone related they can certainly become heightened in Perimenopause and taper off in the postmenopausal period. Women are 3 times more likely to get migraines compared to men.
So what are migraines ?
Migraines are a type of headache with a neurological basis and can be extremely debilitating when one strikes. Often people will describe the ‘aura’ that precedes or comes with a migraine. A migraine headache is much more than a really bad headache - it is generally characterized by severe, one sided pain in addition to nausea and/or vomiting, and vision changes. Generally there is a great sensitivity to light and sound and sometimes the sensory aspect can extend to smell and touch also. They can be described as ‘episodic’, that is that they come on without warning and the frequency is total random and variable - they can last anywhere from a few hours to 3 days or longer in some cases. Chronic migraines is where you get more than 15 headaches in any given month and 8 of these would be classic migraines. There are different types of migraines - those without aura, those with, those with an aura but no headache, Basilar, Hemiplego, Ophthalmus and Vestibular. The most common forms are the first two - migraines with or without aura.
What can you do ?
Dr Rangan Chatterjee recommends a combination of Magnesium & CoQ10 as a preventative for migraines and I have found this to be a good combination. In addition the following tips might help you develop your own toolkit to manage migraines.
So when you look at developing your personal strategy/toolkit for dealing with migraines it is important to look through your lifestyle to identify stressors and other triggers that may affect migraine occurrence. Take the time to keep a diary and track those triggers, this is the best way to get to know what you can do to help yourself and empower yourself with self help techniques that work or you.
If you experience severe pain, paralysis down one side of the body or face, speech difficulties, double vision, or a rash – make sure you contact your doctor to rule out a more serious underlying condition.
When I was 13 my Dad told me, I was a Warrior. At the time I can tell you I didn’t feel like one. We were on holidays and my Dad had a daily habit of going for a bottle of coke after a stroll on the beach. Each day one of us would be invited along for the stroll and the reward at the end. On this day my day hadn’t started so great….I was as you are by the beach in my swimsuit (no it’s not a story about periods…not really), when I noticed two girls pointing at my leg. It didn’t often upset me but on this occasion it did.
Now I need to bring you back to my birth - I was lucky. I survived.
I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped 4 times around my neck and my Mum had a very tough labour. I think back then labour was a lot tougher than it is now but for my Mum it was her fifth child at the age of 44 so not easy. After my mum lost a kidney and I got a ‘dodgy’ leg. The consequence of the cord being around my neck was I somehow ended up with a huge miss match of veins on my leg, it covered most of my upper thigh. As a young child I gave it no notice, as I hit puberty it changed, and I changed. It bulged more, it got bigger, it wasn’t a pretty sight but to me it was me, it was who I was. Then my first period came along and to this day I can still remember the pain - it wasn’t the period it was my leg. My birthmark was like a bunch of grapes except its intertwined with veins and blood vessels and as luck would have it, it is on the upper part of my leg so everything to my knees looks fine.
With the onset of my periods my veins came under more pressure and my Mum used to wrap bandages on my leg when the pressure got too much. Later I moved to wearing what I can only describe as a horrendous brown compress on my leg - I hated it. I dreaded my periods - and my history here was very chequered, my close friends in school would laugh with me that I only got them on important occasions like my birthday, Christmas etc. I was in no way regular. Maybe I convinced my body not to have a period because of the pain in my leg …who knows. My first operation could only happen at the age of 16 and two more followed after that - now it looks like an old bruise and had given me no issues for many years (only in pregnancy). When I trained for the marathon last year I did have a time when it give an ache and I was really scared ( no I have to be truthful I was utterly petrified !) it was going to develop into something more BUT I was utterly determined no way was my leg getting in the way of that goal - so I dutifully pushed through the pain.
Returning to that beach in Italy at the age of 13, when people often stared at my leg or you knew they were looking I guess it was sometimes hard to take in especially as a self-conscious teenager…that day with my Dad I can remember crying hard and yes I felt very sorry for myself. My Dad however being truly unique for his age, saw this very differently. He told me it wasn’t my first challenge in life, that many more would come, and this would make me strong and resilient to what the future might bring. He told me I was a Warrior, that I fought my way into life and that was my badge of honour to carry with me. So I guess without knowing I was born resilient, like all of us, I learnt to handle challenges as they came along. No one gets a clear run in life - we all have hurdles to overcome throughout our lives. At 20 when I lost the hearing in my right ear again my Dad’s wise words came out. Life throws us challenges constantly, some easier than others and some are steep mountains that take great strength to overcome.
I think we are all Warriors, I think we all have a story or chapter (or chapters) in our lives that make us stronger. Women and Men alike. The journey of menopause is not always for the faint hearted and it’s not always plain sailing, but I strongly believe it can be the most empowering time of your life. Our main challenge is getting society to agree with this view and embrace it with us as opposed to the taboo that still exists on this subject. We should all be able to Like a Facebook Menopause page without worrying what others think, we should all be able to talk openly about the symptoms we experience, we should be able to buy tampons our ST’s without hiding them in our shopping trolley or going red when they hit the conveyor belt. If not for ourselves we need to do this for the next generation - for our daughters, daughter in laws, nieces, friends, all women.
Yesterday I tackled a task I had been putting on the long finger - the mundane household task of sorting not one but two baskets of mismatched socks. It's funny I really wasn't too excited about this task at all :-). However I spent over an hour in the process and I have to say it was one of the calmest hours ever ! I totally lost myself to the job at hand and became fully absorbed in it - it was a very effective one hour of total mindfulness where my brain wasn't thinking of anything other than matching socks. For me mindfulness needs to work for you - we do not always need to be sitting cross legged on a mountain top, it is more effective if we can bring it into our everyday habits.
Mindfulness and/or meditation = superfood for your brain.
Mindfulness is well researched for its benefits to our wellbeing and can be used as a way to train your brain to patiently observe your anxiety. Think of it as you would a parent observing a toddler’s temper tantrum - you can observe and watch the behavior but need to remain calm and passive until the tantrum is over.
Daily routines can be used as opportunities to practice mindfulness, to focus on the present, on what is happening right now. For mindfulness to become part of your life it must work for you, it must be something you get benefit from and not something you dread. In that respect, start small, let it find ways into your life and it will work for you. When sitting in traffic, just be - for a few moments, right where you are – not on the way to somewhere, or the way from somewhere, not late, not early. Just there, in that moment.
When we stop and sit in “the now” we can slow down what we are experiencing and take time to savour and enjoy what life has to offer. Being mindful lets our minds be present, and become clearer. The realization that this very moment is all there is – everything else is merely a thought, projected into the future or excavated from the past – is the start of letting go of worry. Thich Nhat Hanh sums this up nicely when he reminded us ‘anxiety comes primarily from our inability to dwell in the present moment’.
Stress fades away and our minds become calmer. It’s all about taking life in smaller bites, not hour-by-hour but minute-by-minute. Just focus on the next 60 seconds, minute by minute.
Stop constantly doing and simply STOP.
Begin with simple ways to be present:
§ Concentrate on the process of making tea – slow down and pay attention to the movement of your hands, the smell of the tea, the steam from the kettle, the sound of the water pouring, and finally, the taste of the tea.
§ Washing your hands – pay attention to the water, the smell of the soap, the slipperiness of the lather, the movement and sensation of your fingers and palms. Pay attention to only these things for a few moments – this is a meditation of sorts.
§ Eating: notice the textures, the colours, and the aroma of your food as well as the taste, slow down the action of eating and focus on the sensation of the food on your palate.
§ Do a Digital Detox for 1 hour during the day .
§ Remember to breathe.
Finally as Ruby Wax states in Frazzled:
‘My definition of mindfulness is noticing your thoughts and feelings without kicking your own ass while you’re doing it…If you treat yourself with compassion and resist obeying your demanding thoughts, they become quiet.’
I had the pleasure of spending a morning with Fiona Hedigan recently of FLORA+FIONA. When I think of Fiona, I simply think flowers, divine smells and the most beautiful smile ever. Fiona’s home wafted of freshly baked scones and bergamot infused tea, her work space looks onto her garden and as I sat there I questioned her as to how she ever gets any work done !
I sat dreamily staring at pink infused tulips and golden orange daffodils. I would get no work done with such a view. I would be lost forever in gazing at the beauty of her garden and listening to the busy chatter of the many birds that visit.
The morning flew, the scones were divine, every smell sensation in my nose and head were fully awaken by the many smells Fiona got me to try…bliss comes in her small bottles.
Years ago in London a colleague I worked with used to joke with me that I was ‘mad into smelling to get well’ . I was indeed and I still am. I love essential oils, I love what they can do for your mind & body. When you spend a morning with someone who is more passionate than you about something…well all I can say is your left smiling, rewarded with increased knowledge and if possible greater passion. Did you know the power of high altitude lavender - I never even know there was a difference….the purest form of lavender when it is grown on high mountain plateaus - imagine the sleep that would give you.
‘The Lavender and Rose farm is up in the Alpes- Maritime above Grasse in France. Visiting it was a sublime experience….one of life’s great gifts. We drove up narrow winding roads, along steep ravines high into the mountains to Jacky and Evelyne’s farm. It was Rose harvest time and the air was perfumed with roses. We walked through the fields surrounded by roses...It was intoxicating! Rose is a very powerful oil. It gives you courage and comfort all at the same time. It is known as the” Mother” oil… as we know… it is all about the Mother!!’ Fiona
What Fiona & I intended to talk about I am sure got well mislaid as we jumped from one oil to another and one subject to another. What we both agree on is how effective essential oils are for anxiety, and with oils less is more - they pack a bunch. I often burn bergamot at home and it only takes about 4 drops for the smell to waft nicely around the house.
Some Practical Home Tips from Fiona
Lavender - add 2 drops on tissue and then wipe over your pillow, this will aid a good nights sleep.
Bergamot - when you travel or stay in a new place this is a lovely oil to bring with you, add 4 drops in a hand basin in your room/ensuite and let the smell familarise you to your surroundings. It will uplift you at the same time. This is a really great oil for anxiety and lifting mood.
Rosemary & Lemon - wake up oils, add a drop of each in the corner of the shower and the steam will send the smell wafting into the air.
Epsom salts - I always thought I couldn’t add oil to epsom salts but Fiona has shown me how you can add a drop of your favourite essential oil into the epsom salts before you add them to your bath.
This is only the tip of the iceberg of the many uses of essential oils we discussed so my next plan is to get a video with Fiona so we can all benefit from her amazing knowledge and love of essential oils.
If you have any specific questions on the use of oils please drop me a message.
When we think of alcohol we often think about feeling more confident, nights out, sore heads...what we totally forget to think about is our body's best friends. The Liver.
I can't talk about alcohol without impressing the importance of the liver - at least once a week I have a conversation with women who forget about the liver and it's importance to our daily functioning. Personally, I see the liver as the body's ultimate protector to illness and disease. The liver works constantly and performs the most efficient job ever...we simply don't stop to think how amazing this organ is. So before I talk more about alcohol read my prior blog on the liver.
Alcohol, I'm Irish..I really wish we didn't have the negative relationship with alcohol that exists in this country, that is a whole other story. However for me I grew up with alcohol - My Parents own a wine shop and at the age of 12 I was thought how to taste wine in France with my Dad...did I often try to swish it longer in my mouth as opposed to spitting it into the tasting bucket...Yes I did :-). That I guess was a natural teenage instinct as I got older. To this day I still love and appreciate a good red wine.
However, this love affair is now totally one sided - it does not love me. When I was younger I could have a few glasses but today one glass is often enough to make me feel the ill effects the next day. As I have gotten older I have become more sensitive to alcohol - this is very common and happens to most people.
So what does alcohol do to your liver and your hormones ?
If you do have a big night some tips to minimise the side effects
So for me it's the 80:20 rule. It's ok to have lapses - it's making nutrition choices that you can support 80% of the time. This is a good rule to follow - we can't spend our lives good every minute so if you can adopt this rule it's a great start. Also like I said above I know my sensitivity to alcohol and we are all different - in Perimenopause no one size fits all. We are all unique in this journey, we will all experience different symptoms and challenges along the way. Listen to your own body and what it is telling you and make your choices based on these internal insignals...our bodies send us symptoms to tell us what needs attention and to help us on the journey.
Bringing you the latest research and health tips to help you navigate perimenopause and beyond