Thursday, September 22, 2016

NAPLAN results - declining for years - what would it take to reverse the decline?

I feel utter frustration when I read an article like this. It’s common knowledge that The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results have been declining for years, despite every effort to get them heading in the other direction. Now Reading Recovery, designed to keep poor readers from falling ever-further behind is getting the shove and something else will take it's place (at huge expense of course). All closing the door after the horse has bolted if you ask me.

While I’m not a fan of the national testing of students by methods that increasingly occupy schools and staff preparing for its implementation, it does provide a benchmark which confirms students are doing increasingly poorly in the literacy and numeracy stakes. Of course it’s easy to point the finger of blame at individual schools, at particular teaching methods (or non-methods) but no-one to my knowledge has connected some additional dots. I’d like to suggest that the trans-generational effects of modern diets, lifestyles and environments and the increasing numbers of unhealthy parents having children who fail to reach their full physical and mental potential is where we should look if we want better-performing students. Apart from the undisputed numbers lacking basic numeracy and literacy skills, there are additional markers of where the problem begins in the numbers of metabolic, immune, digestive and neurological disturbances that are affecting the younger generation.

But back to NAPLAN and what it means - the prognoses for the children falling behind - to successfully complete education and career training and then to enjoy gainful employment and relationships, not to mention true health and wellbeing are far from ideal. Reversing this situation will take generations, even if everyone who might ever become a Mum or a Dad were to get with my 5-POINT BETTER BABIES PROGRAM right now. But I firmly believe that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness! You can help by lighting your own candle. Starts here...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

YES, stress negatively affects your fertility

Today, a long article in Huffington Post Australia talks about the effects of stress on fertility and also the stress of IVF. They quote research showing how stress interferes with fertility by preventing the actions of gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) - a key reproductive hormone. At the same time, research from the University of California Berkeley shows that stress increases release of the Gonadotropin-Inhibitory Hormone (GnIH), which further impedes the actions of GnRH. 

Nature definitely trying to ensure that Mum doesn’t conceive in a less than ideal situation. It’s also worth noting that even if you were to conceive under very stressful conditions, your baby is going to pay the price of having a stressed Mum. In 2013 University of Pennsylvania elucidated exactly how an unborn baby’s brain is affected by maternal stress, which reduces levels of a particular protein that is important for the baby’s brain development. 

That paper was published in March 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and its authors stated "Maternal stress is a key risk factor for neuro-developmental disorders, including schizophrenia and autism." This is especially the case for male offspring and if the exposure to stress occurs in the first trimester. Which of course raises the importance or reducing your stress levels before you get pregnant! That first trimester can be over before you realise it and effective stress-reduction doesn’t happen overnight. 

Of course none of this research is exactly new, even though elucidation of specific mechanisms might be. I’ve been writing about the importance of reducing preconception and maternal stress for more than thirty years. The key is not to let stress drag you down because there’s one certainty - the more stressed you become, the less able you are to deal with it. This is especially true if you’ve been trying to conceive for a while and because most of the things that you turn to in stressful situations like alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes and high-sugar snacks and drinks not only exacerbate the problem, but should now be on the “must avoid” list. Reducing stress and worry is one of the the greatest gifts you can give your unborn baby. Becoming that Zen Mum will pay long-term dividends. Relax and chill out. Get cracking on whatever stress-reduction methods you can muster. Healthy Parents, Healthy Baby has lots of ideas and prospective Dads will benefit too. Many more tips in my brand new 5-Point Better Babies 10-Module Webinar Series.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Chatting last night with my beautiful daughter-in-law about new recommendations to introduce solids at 4 months - hence today’s blog. Interestingly, World Health Organisation still says: ‘Exclusive breastfeeding - defined as no other food or drink, not even water, except breast milk (including milk expressed or from a wet nurse) for 6 months of life.’ Yet Australian Society Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), no doubt in a genuine attempt to reduce the ever-increasing incidence of allergies in children, have taken some liberties with WHO’s guidelines. 

There is no doubt that allergies are on the rise, no doubt they may in some instances be life-threatening, in others debilitating, certainly always stressful for both the child and the family - but ASCIA has the wrong end of the stick. In suggesting ‘solids at about 6 months, but NOT before 4 months (which clearly like a game of Chinese Whispers is being translated by mums to mean ‘solids at 4 months’), they’ve overlooked some of the most exciting and relevant research that shifts the reasons for the allergy epidemic (and indeed for a great deal of chronic ill-health) to the ill-health of the human microbiome - that's the ninety percent of us that is bacterial!

YIKES, how much more evidence do we need? Have ASCIA seen the wonderful documentary Microbirth? Are they paying attention to the latest research? They need to take a long hard look at the evidence which is pouring from institutions (including those involved in immunotoxicology) around the world and review their Guidelines. Of course one of the primary recommendations - to reduce the incidence of Caesarean sections to no more than the modest 10-15 percent, which since 1985 the international healthcare community has considered the ideal rate in any region for any reason -  would strike at the heart of the industry that has grown up around birthing.

But back to the rise and rise of allergies. Rodney Dietert, Professor of Immunotoxicology, at Cornell University says that the bacteria with which we, as humans have a symbiotic relationship (also termed our “microbiome”), turns us into a “super organism”. Now, new research into the critical role of that microbiome indicates that the manner in which we birth a baby has a profound impact on the microbiome's proper establishment and subsequently on the long term health of the individual (including the potential for development of allergies and a great deal more). Dietert writes “The worldwide emergence of an epidemic of chronic diseases has caused increased healthcare costs, increased premature mortality and reduced quality of life for a majority of the world’s population. In addition, it has raised questions concerning the interactions between humans and their environment and potential imbalances. Mis-regulated inflammation, a host defense-homeostasis disorder, appears to be a key biomarker connecting a majority of chronic diseases. We consider the apparent contributors to this disorder that promote a web of interlinked co-morbid conditions. Three key events are suggested to play a role: (1) altered epigenetic programming (AEP) that may span multiple generations, (2) developmental immunotoxicity (DIT), and (3) failure to adequately incorporate commensal microbes as a newborn (i.e. the incomplete self)"

Sadly, all ASCIA has to say about pre and probiotic products (as a surrogate during pregnancy and breastfeeding) is years behind the most current research, their recommendations only likely to compound  (via solids introduced to an immature immune and digestive system) an already overwhelming problem. For more on restoring the health of the microbiome - before conception, during pregnancy and breastfeeding (and particularly in the case of a C-section or formula feeding) search my multiple previous blog posts. For recommendations on high potency probiotic supplement click here. Finally, my recommendations for infant feeding are simply to make things as easy as possible for the whole family. Unrestricted breastfeeding (food and drink) for at least six months, then to family food when your baby indicates an interest, which will probably be when he has some teeth, can feed himself with appropriate finger foods and may be well past the age of 6 months in some infants. But if you choose to follow these guidelines you may never have to mash, puree or spoon feed! Lots more in Healthy Parents Healthy Toddler.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


   Researchers looking at the lasting effects of early-life exercise on gut microbes, brain health and metabolism say that ‘the immature gut may be more sensitive to environmental influences and provide a "window of opportunity" for better health.’ While this research was undertaken on rats, many studies have established that the fundamental properties of the gut microbiota in rodents is applicable to humans.
    Research is also clear that mode of delivery, breast or bottle feeding and early antibiotic use are just some of the factors that determine the early health of the child’s gut microbiota, so this new study adds another dimension to the factors affecting the ninety percent microbial population that makes up our human ‘super organism.’ It confirms that fact that early life exercise is likely to have a much greater impact on the gut microbiota and consequently on long term health than exercise initiated later in life. The study also indicates that childhood exercise may be protective against depressive disorders such as depression and anxiety. Wow - what an opportunity for positive change!
    But we all know that kids are doing much less physical exercise than in the past. When once they walked or rode bikes to school - today they catch the bus or take a ride in mum’s SUV. When once they had chores that might include chopping or carting wood, chores now take a back seat to homework or extra-curricular (often indoor) activities. When kids were once told to go outside and play until til dinner time, these days they go to their rooms and play computer games … the story goes on.
    Getting your kids to embrace regular exercise begins with you … and that means the sooner you get started on your own exercise program the better. Maybe you’ve both decided to lose some weight and to get fit prior to getting pregnant? Either way you’re set to enjoy the benefits of exercise and of achieving a healthy weight before your pregnancy. Research proves that losing weight can improve fertility and that women who exercise before and during pregnancy experience a better pregnancy and birth, faster recovery and are less likely to suffer postnatal depression. 
    But there’s more - continuing to exercise after you become a mum or a dad is a wonderful example for your children to follow. Think of all the fun things you can do as a fit and active family! Make sure you do different forms of exercise - muscle-building confers even more benefits than aerobic, also include stretching for flexibility in your weekly schedule. Whatever the activities you choose, make sure you enjoy them otherwise your commitment won’t last long. Start out slowly, walk a few extra blocks to catch the bus, take the stairs instead of the lift, increase the intensity over weeks, not days. A pedometer that tracks “steps taken” can provide real incentive, especially if both you and your partner are on this mission to get fit together. Progress to more adventurous and more vigorous exercise as your muscles (and your mind) become accustomed to the extra activity. You’re on the right path to getting small children off the couch and into the surf or the pool or on the track or the field and towards a lifetime of better health.
More on exercising as a family in Healthy Parents, Healthy Toddler

Friday, September 2, 2016

The burning question - again - which supplements during pregnancy?

    Do we really need any more studies or public awareness campaigns like this one? The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) is seeking insights into general public opinion on supplementation in pregnancy.
    The evidence for robust, comprehensive, balanced nutritional supplementation during pregnancy could not be any clearer. From conception to the end of the first trimester, the mass of the embryo increases over 2 ½ million times. This is the period during which cells differentiate and organs are formed. This rapid phase of growth requires levels of nutrients that are many times higher than those required during the non-pregnant state. What’s more, the growth during this phase occurs to a very strict timetable. So the development of the embryo exactly according to plan, the health of the uterus and placenta and every other aspect of reproductive health, including the production of a plentiful supply of high quality breast milk, are dependent on an optimal supply of vitamins, trace minerals and essential amino and fatty acids.
    Put simply, a diet which is good enough to sustain a woman in adult life may fail to support her adequately during reproduction. Compromised nutrition is at the very foundation of compromised reproductive health. But, as well, many congenital defects, which were once considered to be due solely to genetic factors, can be manipulated at will by inducing a deficiency in one or more of the essential nutrients. Conversely, the effects of a defective gene can be suppressed when there is an optimal supply of a specific nutrient (or nutrients).

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Only one in four Australian pregnant women adhere to folic acid and iodine guidelines

Only one-in-four Australian pregnant women adhere to folic acid and iodine guidelines. This article goes on to state that “in Australia the recommended nutrients for supplementation are folic acid and iodine!”

But my questions are … what about the other trace elements? Are those other trace elements less important? What happens when you supplement with iodine alone? Does it compromise the status of other essential minerals? What about folic acid as a single supplement? Despite it’s proven ability to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects, folic acid is part of the B-complex group of vitamins. It never occurs alone in Nature and should always be given with its supporting fellows which all work together. But there’s more, in the general population, 34 variations of the MTHFR (methylene-tetrahydrofolate-reductase) gene have been identified - these individuals cannot metabolise synthetic folic acid! 

I raise these questions because the studies that take one nutrient and show how important it is during pregnancy are completely meaningless. The reality is ... all the trace elements, vitamins, essential fatty acids, amino acids and various co-factors are important! In addition, ensuring you and your partner enjoy optimal nutritional status (that’s nutrition obtained from whole foods grown on healthy soil, supported by robust, comprehensive supplements that take into account specific metabolic anomalies), before you conceive and maintaining that status during pregnancy and during breastfeeding will do more for your baby’s intelligence, birthweight and everything else, than supplementing with single nutrients in isolation!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

How much Vitamin D for babies?

While there’s no question that breastmilk is the perfect food and drink, it’s long been recognised that it provides insufficient Vitamin D for the baby. When you consider that a significant number of pregnant women are deficient in Vitamin D, it’s a completely logical finding. So if you’re a breastfeeding mum you’ll be interested in this study confirming the high doses of Vitamin D supplementation required to ensure your infant gets a minimum of 400IU/daily.  Unfortunately the recommendation of a short daily “sun bath” for babies has gone the way of a good deal of other grandmotherly wisdom. This recommendation, which I know my own mother heeded (probably beginning my life-long love affair with the sun) was firmly put to bed with the scare campaign about the damage of sun exposure and the risk of skin cancer. If you feel uncomfortable about exposing your baby’s delicate skin to the sun, here’s the recommendations for either your own regular sun exposure and/or supplementation while breastfeeding. If you’re planning a baby or already pregnant, I’ve included the recommendations for Vitamin D supplementation for you too. You might be surprised by the doses required - very significantly higher than many commonly available supplements! Here’s the word from researchers at GrassRootsHealth, whose work now spans more than three decades, on the required dosages and for a continuing appropriate relationship between your skin and the sun. These apply to Australian latitudes. In colder climates (higher latitudes) supplementation is the only way to achieve appropriate status.
Minimize UVA while allowing UVB
10-15 minutes exposure/day between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm (between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm during daylight saving)
Expose 40 percent of skin area
Ensure it’s a clear day without pollution
If this isn’t possible, use oral D3 supplements to achieve 40-60ng/ml (100-150nMols/L)

Vitamin D Recommendations Update for Preconception, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Dose for adults: 1 drop (I,000IU) 1 to 2 times daily. 
Dose for preconception: 2 drops (2,000 IU) daily.
Dose for pregnancy: 4 drops (4,000 IU) daily
Dose for breastfeeding: 6,400IU daily
The only way to get Vitamin D3 in breast milk is by dosing daily - either by sun, diet or supplementation. The latest research of Grassrootshealth and Dr. Bruce Hollis, Professor of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina indicates that 6,400 IU/day is necessary for breast feeding mothers to attain sufficient vitamin D (to the value of 400 IU/day for the infant) in their breast milk. Product soon available in store.
flurishh - Ensure Vitamin D - 30ml Drops
Provides 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 as cholecalciferol in one convenient drop.
900 drops per bottle 
1,800,000 IU per bottle.