Thursday, 15 August 2019

Does our Summer diet boost our immunity more than Winter foods?

In modern Ireland our summer weather is getting wetter and more unpredictable. Not so good for the farmers and anyone else working outside. My painter is waiting 6 weeks for a break in the showers to paint ours! Does that affect our immunity? Vitamin D's main function is bones strength but it is the body's co-ordinator for gut health, blood sugar balance and cardiovascular health. We know the main source of vitamin D is from the sun but what else is boosted by summer heat and shedding a few layers of clothes?
In summer we tend to eat more raw vegetables and fruit. Lots of salads and cool drinks. One plate of your average salad can have 3 times more fibre (9g) than a bowl of warm vegetable soup (3g). Not that I'm saying a hearty bowl of soup is bad, far from it but it is not a coincidence that colds, flu's respiratory conditions all peak in the winter months.
The average fiber needs can be seen in this chart-
Another thing that happens when we cook food is the nutrient content is reduced. Heat is the enemy of vitamin C. Once you cook your food above 63 degrees this water soluble vitamin is destroyed. Vitamin C is the number 1 nutrient for our immunity. It is an antioxidant which means it goes around 'cleaning up' the body of free radical 'dirt' which causes oxidative stress (1). There was a big trend towards raw food diets a few years back here in Ireland. Raw foodies eat at least 85% raw foods. I suspect a few Irish winters took the wind out of the sails of that particular trend. They were on to something though.If you could have a quarter of your plate raw vegetables throughout the year it would keep your vitamin c levels on a more even keel. We do not have the capacity to store it so a steady supply in your diet or in supplement form is key to a stronger immunity.
Foods highest in vitamin C may not be what you thought-
Foods with the highest sources of vitamin C include:
  • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.
  • Green and red peppers.
  • Spinach, cabbage, turnip greens, and other leafy greens.
  • Sweet and white potatoes.
  • Tomatoes and tomato juice.
  • Winter squash.
  • Thyme, parsley
  • Strawberries
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Lychees
  • Papaya or paw paw
Gram for gram thyme contains more vitamin C than 3 oranges! Thyme is used in herbal medicine to speed up recovery from bacterial and viral infections. Parsley also packs a punch of vitamin C so don't leave it as a momento on your plate when you go out, eat it!
Iodine and zinc rich foods play a major part is boosting our immunity too. Shellfish like oysters and prawns have high levels of both and the season peaks in August/September. All fish contain both volumes consumed don't tend to vary by season just the accompaniments for example salad nicoise, sushi, ceviche.
In 2007 a study showed that influenza virus thrived in the cold and low humidity(2). Now that we know the virus likes to hang around in air particles and low temperatures the best immune boost is diet. Increase those immune boosting foods in Winter too and wrap up well.
By Tara Canning

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Three Herbs to Support Your Summer Fitness Goals

TUE. MAY 21, 2019
By Michael Tims, Ph.D.

With the arrival of warmer weather and longer evenings comes more opportunities to enjoy your inner animal. When it comes to fitness, the idea is to be fit without getting hurt. But can herbs improve your performance? Three herbs have been proven to do this! All have a long history in traditional medicine systems. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) derive from the Ayurvedic system of medicine, while Cordyceps (Cordyceps Sinensis) is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Research from laboratory and clinical science is only now catching up with this empirical science of traditional knowledge. Here’s a quick run-down of how they can be used to improve your workout routine.


Muscle soreness can be a barrier to getting as far as a regular fitness program. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory acting herb that can help avoid this initial discomfort as well as improve physical function (Chin, 2016) during and after both aerobic activities and anaerobic activities such as sprinting or weight lifting. A dose of 150 mg 12 hours before exercise has helped reduce the loss of maximal voluntary contraction and enzyme activity associated with muscle damage during muscle strengthening exercise (Tanabe, et al., 2015). Dosing can range from 160-320 mg, three times per day. No side effects have been noted.

While you are worrying that your six-pack and biceps are not what they once were, consider a more holistic approach to your summer of fun and fitness. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), another Ayurvedic

Ashwagandha herb is traditionally considered an adaptogen, promoting vitality and reducing stress and fatigue. Withaferin A is a major, active chemical in the plant root. Science has shown it reduces the stress hormone cortisol and the experience of anxiety within 60 days of use (Chandrasekhar et al., 2012). chronic psychological stress can be the source of inflammation and physical dysfunction (Cohen, et al., 2012). More specific benefits are noted below: Over eight weeks of regular use combined with resistance exercise, ashwagandha improved absolute strength (Singh, et al., 2010), upper and lower body strength, recovery and serum testosterone levels (Wankhede, et al., 2015).

For endurance-based exercise, eight weeks of supplementation led to better blood hemoglobin, time of exhaustion, and improved oxygen intake (Malik et al., 2013; Shenoy et al., 2012).


A general dose of 500 mg, three times per day is suggested. No side effects have been noted.

Believe it or not, the last herbal supplement, Cordyceps (Cordyceps Sinensis), is a fungus that invades and kills a specific species of caterpillar in China. Herbal medicine has long been used in TCM. It is not found locally the United

States and wild-sourced material from China are extremely expensive. So it is grown as fungal strains in the laboratory. When you are looking for the product, C-4 strain, is the most consistent lab supplied material to date.

The supplement is helpful for energy and recovery. In the 1993 Chinese National Games, nine women athletes who were taking cordyceps shattered nine world records. This was not based on the use of performance-enhancing substances that occurred later during the Olympics held in Beijing. The effect of cordyceps seems to be based on enhanced fat mobilization, sparing glycogen usage during prolonged exercise (Nicodemus et al., 2001). Studies have also found increased aerobic capacity over a two-week training period at an altitude of 2200 meters, specifically the time to exhaustion (Chen et al., 2014). A dosing regimen of 500 mg, three times per day is recommended.


Chin, KY. (2016) The spice for joint inflammation: anti-inflammatory role of curcumin in treating osteoarthritis. Drug Design, Development and Therapy.10:3029–3042.

Tanabe, Y et al. (2015). Attenuation of indirect markers of eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage by curcumin. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 115(9), 1949– 1957.

Chandrasekhar et al. (2012) A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. 34(3):255-262.

Cohen, S. et al. (2012) Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. PNAS.109(16): 5995–5999.

Singh, SJ, et al. (2010) Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) and Terminalia arjuna (Arjuna) on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy young adults. Int. J. Ayurvedic Res. 1(3): 144-149.

Wankhede, S. et al. (2015) Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. Nov 25;12:43. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9.

Malik et al. (2013) Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root powder supplementation on the VO2max and hemoglobin in hockey players. International Journal of Behavioural Social and Movement Sciences. 2(3): 91-99.

Shenoy et al. (2012) Effects of eight-week supplementation of Ashwagandha on cardiorespiratory endurance in elite Indian cyclists. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 3(4): 209– 214.

Nicodemus et al. (2001) Supplementation With Cordyceps Cs‐4 Fermentation Product Promotes Fat Metabolism During Prolonged Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. (33)5 - p S164.

Chen et al., (2014) Rhodiola crenulata and Cordyceps Sinensis based supplement boost aerobic exercise performance after short-term high altitude training. High Alt Med Biol. 15(3):371-9.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Vitamin D

As winter is upon us in Ireland and similar countries above 33 degrees the prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency is common. The lack of sunshine, sedentary lifestyle and staying indoors have reduced our chances of exposing our skin receptors to the UV light that triggers the Vitamin D receptors to synthesise the active form.
Our dietary sources are much lower too. Unless you eat at least one of these foods (see FSAI chart below) every day you will find it hard to have sufficient levels.

Dietary source


Vitamin D (ยตg)


1 egg


Liver* (lamb)



Kidney* (Lamb)



Salmon (canned in brine)



Mackerel (grilled)



Sardines (canned in oil)



Tuna (canned in brine)



Avonmore Supermilk

200ml (glass)


Kellog's Cornflakes *



Kellogg's Special K *



Kellogg's All-Bran *



Kellogg's Rice Krispies * 



Infant formula

500 ml

5.5 – 7.5

Brennan's Vitamin D wholemeal*

2 slices


Please note: This is a reflection of Vitamin D content of the listed products at time of writing. Products are continually reformulated and are not required to be notified to the FSAI

(*Increased Vitamin D content since last reviewed/New Product).

Source:FSAI website November 2018

Having said that I would not be recommending the milk, bread or cereals mentioned above to my clients.

Why is Vitamin D so important?

  • It is the gate keeper for Calcium levels in the blood and risk of developing osteoarthritis, Rickets(yes! over 20 cases of rickets in infants and toddlers have been reported at two Dublin hospitals in the last four to five years), post menopausal bone fractures.
  • Low exposure to the sun and low mood are corrulated for alot of people.More recently research is suggesting a link between serotonin uptake and vitamin D levels.
  • Weakened immunity, auto-immunity and chronic inflammation and low vitamin D levels. Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, MS and Diabetes Melitotus all show low levels of serum vitamin D. 
  • A recent study of patients with type 2 diabetes risk were supplemented with 500iu vitamin D daily and their risk reduced by 13%.
  • In cardiovascular health vitamin D reduces atheroschlerotic stickiness of the arteries to 'keep them clean' and reduce heart disease risks.
The 2 subgroups are-

Vitamin D2- sourced from plants for vegans.

Vitamin D3- sourced from lanolin

Both forms have a good research indication for effectiveness.

The main risk groups are-

  • Above 33degrees latitude
  • Darker skin tones
  • Obese individuals
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Some medications
  • IBD and other digestive impairments
  • Pregnant women
  • Babies
  • The elderly
Here in Galway there are so many people deficient in vitamin D the hospital only tests in certain circumstances.
So what are the recommended dosages?
Most people who fall into one or more of the main risk groups outlined are recommended to take a supplement form.
In Ireland the recommended daily amount is 5ug/200iu for infants and 10ug/400iu for adults.
In practice in clinic I see people taking up to 5000iu daily in some cases. They feel it works for them. The average dose is  generally 2000-3000iu.
Some research even suggests taking your weekly dose in one go eg. a person taking 3000iu per day will pick a day and take 21000iu on that day.
Can you overdose on vitamin D?Too much of anything is a bad thing but it is rare to see it in practice, in my own experience.

Main signs and swmptoms-
  • Elevated Blood Calcium Levels. ...
  • Nausea, Vomiting and Poor Appetite. ...
  • Stomach Pain, Constipation or Diarrhea. ...
  • Bone Loss. ...
  • Kidney Failure.
So if you are in doubt- test.
There is a simple pin prick test to see exactly what your levels are if you cannot  persuade your GP to get it done in the local lab.
Inform yourself, act on your knowledge and feel all the better for it.
Happy health,

Tara Canning Nutritionist

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Dr Clare GP and Medical Herbalist Talks about IBS

Dr Dilis Clare MBBCh, DRCOG, BSc (Herbal Medicine), Hon Clinical Fellow NUIG Medical School.

What is IBS?

This is a common disorder causing a wide range of uncomfortable digestive symptoms. According to Prof Eamonn Quigley (Professor of Medicine University College Cork, president of the World Gastroenterology Assoc.) more than 10% of people could be suffering from this disorder.

The common symptoms are bloating, wind, crampy tummy pain and either constipation or diarrhoea. Some people alternate between constipation and diarrhoea. It can come and go often depending on dietary factors or stress levels. It is diagnosed by excluding other more serious digestive conditions.

If you have regular or ongoing digestive disturbance it is important to have a medical check up.
What is Diverticulitis?

This is a common problem of the large bowel which is very common in the over 50 age group. Like most conditions it can present with mild problems from time to time or regular disturbance of the digestion.

There are ‘diverticula’s’ or pouches, little pockets in the bowel wall that can hold onto stale material. This material lodges in the pockets and can become hardened and act to irritate the healthy bowel wall, they can also become infected and inflamed. When this happens people describe it as a ‘flare up’.

Symptoms include pain and discomfort usually in the lower belly particularly on the left hand side. People experience loose stools, crampy pain, change in normal bowel habit and sometimes even bleeding.

If there is infection there may be fever and chills, pain and again change in normal bowel habit. There is often a feeling of being generally unwell with generalised aches and pains.

The problem is associated with not enough fibre in the diet over the years. There is too much tension in the wall of the large bowel leading to pouches being made in the wall of the gut. Rather like an overblown bicycle inner tube pushing through the weakest point in the tyre forming a pouch through the tyre wall.
Do you have bloating, wind, belching, tiredness and a fuzzy brain with a feeling of wilting especially after food?

Herbs are particularly helpful for digestive discomfort because when you swallow them they are delivered directly to the site of action. Also as the key to good digestion improved digestion makes a big impact as a feelgood factor.

Herbs have a range of restorative effects including:
Relieving spasm by restoring normal gut motility
Promoting a helpful balance gut bacteria
Moisturising an irritated gut wall
Relieving discomfort with anti-inflammatory effects.
Improving bile flow.
How do the herbs work?

I have listed the HERBAL ACTIONS according to four effects.
Antispasmodic Herbs


Chamomile is the most familiar of the helpful herbs for stress, and it is hardly surprising that it is relaxing for the digestion. The actions on the digestion are well documented and well researched. It is a wound healing herb with antimicrobial actions. So these combined actions help in a variety of ways to heal an irritated or inflamed bowel wall. Chamomile also has a gentle stimulation action on Bile flow.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).

This herb is traditionally used for ‘wind’ as it relaxes the stomach and eases crampy pains. It also has anti-inflammatory effects.

Peppermint (Mentha pip.).

In addition to its’ antispasmodic effect (which is due to its volatile oil content), it relaxes the stomach allowing the release of trapped wind upwards ‘burping’. Peppermint also has a gentle effect on increasing bile flow which aids the normal breaking down of foods.
Soothing Herbs.

Mallow leaf or root (Althea rad/fol).

Mallow is the original plant source for marshmallow (before it was hijacked by sugar). It is amazingly soft and soothing; exactly what is need by an overworking gut. The irritation is lulled into a sense of security, allowing the wall to relax in response to the antispasmodics.
Pain relief

Meadowsweet (Filipendula spirea) contains natural aspirin. The word aspirin comes from this plant. However the anti-inflammatory aspirin from Meadowsweet is not irritating to the stomach. In fact the overall effect is relaxing to the stomach in particular.
How do Herbs work for me?

When herbs are swallowed they come directly in contact with the walls of the gut, allowing the gentle healing and soothing effects to work immediately. Soothing the nervous system of the gut also calms the brain.
Digestive Tea

Ingredients: Chamomile Flowers (25%), Fennel Seeds (25%), Marshmallow Roots (25%), Peppermint Leaves (25%).


Use 1 tea bag per day. With ongoing symptoms use regularly for 6 weeks, then take a break for one week. Continue use as necessary. If you need more than 3 courses of tea I recommend you see a well qualified herbalist locally.

Digestive Blend

Ingredients:Chamomile, Fennel, Marshmallow Leaf, Peppermint, Meadowsweet.


Use 5ml (1 tsp) 3 times a day as needed. With ongoing symptoms use regularly for 6 weeks, then take a break for one week. Continue use as necessary.

If you do not have access to a well qualified herbalist consults on-line consultations can be arranged with the herbal team at Dr Clare’s Apothecary Clinic consultation page.
When do I use the tea and when do I use the Tonic?

You can use either the tea or the tonic. The tonic is more convenient if you have no regular schedule or if you will not contemplate loose herb teas.

This is a personal decision depending on factors including cost, convenience and personal taste. You can also combine the two, using the tea regularly but taking the tonic for convenience if away from home or out of routine.

If the discomfort is flaring up you can use both the Digestion Tea and the Digestion Tonic together for a couple of weeks, however if the discomfort persists seek medical advice.
Why have you chosen these particular herbs?

These are a few of the many herbs used for digestive problems, but they address some of the commonest problems. If you have mild to moderate disturbance they may be all you need. If you have prolonged or serious discomfort or you have tried these simple remedies for at least six weeks it is best to seek expert advice.

How do I know that herbal preparations are good quality?

My apothecary supply the best quality herbal preparations made to approved and licensed Manufacturing Standards of Excellence (GMP). They are specially blended by me in accordance with the highest academic qualifications and extensive clinical experience.

If you do not have access to a well qualified herbalist consults on-line consultations can be arranged with the herbal team at Dr Clare’s Apothecary Clinic consultation page.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Reflections about my Indian journey

I would not have travelled to India were it not for my youngest son who has been travelling in India for almost 6 months, realising great personal growth and having a great time.It was a wonderful time of connection and openness to new experiences.

Gratitudes for the landscape that surrounds me on the west of Ireland is the coming home feeling I am enjoying following my recent visit to Rishikesh in Northern India. Rishikesh is a small town on the Mother Ganges river which flows with fierce energy and currents through the ‘alternative yoga and meditation’ centre outside the main town. This has grown up around the initial inspiration and following of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi immortalized by the Beatles who came here at the height of their fame and celebrity, and I can understand why.

I would not have travelled to India were it not for my youngest son who has been travelling in India for almost 6 months, realizing great personal growth and having a great time.

I enjoyed daily meditation sessions with singing, dancing and blissfulness that challenged all my preconceptions about meditation. This experience shook out a lot of old energy and spring-cleaned the cupboards of my soul to let in new light and energy.

The white water rafting on the River Ganges was another highlight of my two week glimpse of a slice of India.

As I say I have returned home with a renewed energy to appreciate each moment, embrace my home landscape and connect with each person on the planet, be they in India, Africa or my next-door neighbours. We all breathe the same air and see the same stars. Sometimes we need to travel to see our own land with new eyes.

Thank you to all the kindnesses offered to strangers and wanderers, I encountered only warmth and friendliness throughout my trip.

If you would like to see an inspiring photo-gallery of Connemara landscapes see

I have followed the progress of Charlie and Dervla with their wonderful cultural centre since my return to Ireland in 1999 and they are ‘the real deal’. Connemara's landscape connects us to native medicinal herbs and plants that support our physical and spiritual healing.

Dr Dilis Clare

I had not done yoga since an introductory course ten years ago, and had only recently dipped a toe in the meditation phenomenon that is now so prevalent.

It was a wonderful time of connection and openness to new experiences.

I was very lucky to find a yoga class that was challenging but very supportive and welcoming. The practice of Satya Yoga with Rajeev was energizing, balancing and meditative as well as physically challenging.