The search for a treatment for PCOS

190307-AcuPCOS image-three women brunette smilingAs some of you might know, as well as being a GP, I am a postdoctoral researcher trying desperately to balance work and life, and learn a little bit about this thing called “resilience”.

For the past two years I have been researching Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is incredibly common – around 1 in 10 women in Australia will have symptoms of it, and those symptoms range from difficulty falling pregnant and irregular periods, to hairiness where you don’t want hair to grow, and even anxiety and depression symptoms. As the women in one of my studies said, the “whole package deal” of PCOS is pretty confronting. But the thing that concerns a lot of women is the weight gain that can be more stubborn with PCOS.

I’ve been looking for a non-pharmacological treatment that may be able to help with some of the symptoms of PCOS, and naturally acupuncture comes to mind because it’s a treatment I’m familiar with (being a trained Chinese medicine acupuncturist as well as Western doctor) and it’s also a relatively safe treatment.

Some preliminary studies suggest that acupuncture may be helpful for weight loss, in conjunction with lifestyle changes, and so I went about looking for funding for a trial on acupuncture for weight loss in women with PCOS.

In a serendipitous turn of events, my encounter with Bearded Man, which I describe in my post Why I’m Done With Impostor Syndrome, led to a little pot of funding for my clinical trial.

I really really enjoy clinical trial research, because I get to talk to so many people about what it’s like to live with what they live with. I talked to hundreds of women about their hot flushes. Now I talk to dozens of women about PCOS. But I need more women.

This is therefore a shameless plug for my clinical trial, my pride and joy, on acupuncture for weight loss in PCOS. We have an amazing team of some of the best researchers in the world in PCOS behind us, and my research assistant Adele is also pretty fantastic herself.

This is for women in Sydney aged 18-45 who are not on the pill, Mirena/other hormonal treatments or Metformin, and who aren’t planning on getting pregnant in the next 3 months.

We desperately need to find more options for women with PCOS so they can lead healthy, happy lives. Please consider sharing with anyone you know who may be interested and who lives in Sydney. They can sign up for our trial here or email me at

Thanks for helping me find a way to help one in ten women. 





Love Yourself, Love Your Body

Happy New Year! I generally enjoy the opportunity to reflect as the years tick over. But one of my pet peeves are the messages that come screaming out in abundance on Jan 1. “New Year New You!” or even worse – “Get a new body for the new year”. 

A new body?! My body’s perfectly fine, thank you.

You see, our bodies are amazing. I don’t think people appreciate this enough. Got a virus? You feel like death and your GP tells you to drink fluids, rest, and maybe take some zinc (which actually works. Try it!) Is your GP useless? No! We know that generally healthy people have amazing immune systems that kick viruses in the viral butt and you will feel fabulous with time. Nicked yourself shaving? Your body immediately commands platelets to go to the cut to form a clot, then healing occurs from the bottom up of your wound. Your body, your amazing body, then builds a framework of collagen to start healing that wound. White cells zing about to get rid of any bacteria. In time, you would hardly know that you ever had a cut there. Good as new!

The thing is, most people don’t like their bodies much at all. We walk around thinking negative thoughts about our bodies, about how our bellies wobble, our knees ache, our back hurts, our cellulite is gross, etc. And another sign we don’t like our bodies is that we trash them. We don’t feed our bodies enough whole food (most Australian adults don’t eat the recommended serves of fruit and veg a day), we don’t move them enough (most adults don’t get the recommended minutes of physical activity per week) etc. And we don’t look after our mental health – we fall into bad habits of rumination, lashing out in anger, impulse eating/shopping/drinking/smoking/whatever to ease mental discomfort. This has a huge impact on our body.

What if we loved our bodies instead, for the amazing things it does, even without us knowing it? What if we acknowledged and honoured it for the things it could do if we just treat it right? Would you expect an expensive sports car to run well if you don’t give it the right fuel and never take it for a service? Even if you’re unwell right now, your have a chronic condition like chronic pain, or parts of your body won’t work, focus on what it can do. Chances are you’re reading this right now with your own two eyes (or maybe even one eye!) Right now, light and shadows are being picked up by tiny cells in your retina, which send electrical signals down your optic nerves into your brain. WOW! Plus, our bodies have amazing capacity to heal even if you do have a chronic condition. Do you know you can reverse early diabetes with healthy eating and exercise?


This new year, I am challenging myself, and all of you, to love our bodies. Be proud of your body. Acknowledge the ways you haven’t looked after it, and then move on. What can you change? Start small – you can’t expect to run a half marathon if you barely did any exercise last year. What can you change tomorrow with your diet? Physical activity? Mental health? You start with loving yourself (yes Whitney had a point here…) and accepting yourself in your glorious imperfect self. Then you start treating your body the way it should be treated. Here are some ideas:

  • Nourish your body with plant-based whole foods. Eat more veggies. (French fries don’t count, sorry!) You’ll reduce  your risk of heart disease, and even your moods will improve! Fiber feeds your gut bacteria which can then produce more happy hormones.
  • Cut down on alcohol. Moderate drinking isn’t 3 glasses of wine a day. It’s 1 standard drink (less than one standard pour of wine) for ladies, and 2 standard drinks for men. Learn to unwind in other ways instead. Your body and your bank balance will love you for it.
  • Get enough sleep. Did you know sleep deprivation dials up the fight or flight response and makes you crave carbs?
  • Eat less sugar.
  • Move your body. Walk, hike, do zumba, play footy, whatever floats your boat. As long as it moves your body and raises your heart rate and you do it regularly.
  • Breathe. Learn to notice your breath. In and out. in and out. Hey! You’re meditating!
  • Laugh. A lot. Every day.
  • Strengthen your body. Do some weight training twice a week. This will help dem bones keep strong.
  • Most of all learn to be kind to yourself. 

My colleague Dr Kevin Yong, a GP who lives and breathes what he preaches, has some handy free guides to get you started. Click here to download!

BONUS!! You might be thinking that Dr Carolyn is SUCH a buzzkill right now. Cut down on wine?! Well I have a bonus recommendation for you. Coffee can be good for you! Thank you science! Here’s a wee blog I wrote about the evidence for coffee’s benefits. 

Image result for coffee meme

So there you go. You don’t need a new body. Learn to love yourself, and love your body this year. Wishing you health and happiness!

Your Doctor Doesn’t Care How Your Body Looks (And Neither Should You)

tape-403591_1920It’s that time of year when we start to see the magazines and random “fitness gurus” telling us it’s time for a “New Year, New Body”, or to get a “bikini body”, whatever that is. After the celebrations of Christmas feasting, women (and men) are particularly vulnerable to this thinly-veiled attempt to make everyone feel inadequate and sign up to the latest fad diet or exercise regime.

If you’re struggling with your body image at this time of year, here’s some news for you that I’m not sure you know about. Your doctor doesn’t care about the way your body looks. We don’t care if you don’t have a six-pack, a flat tummy, and cellulite-free legs. We are aware of the dangers of body image problems – because most of us know the heart-sink feeling when someone walks in, hiding skin and bones under a baggy jumper, and we wonder how we are going to gently ask them if there is any possibility they have been restricting their food and/or exercising and have an abnormal appreciation of their body shape, i.e.. “Could you have Anorexia Nervosa?” We also see a lot of bulimics, both recovered and recovering.

So we don’t care about the way your body looks but we do care about how your body functions and what you are doing to help it work for as long as it should. Here are some of the things we do care about.

We do care about your weight, because excess weight can signal that you may develop high blood pressure, heart disease, and some cancers. If you’re overweight, we’ll help you with changing your diet and getting more active, and reducing other risk factors. We’ll measure your waist, because it’s an indication that you might get diabetes, and we don’t want you to develop blindness or kidney failure from this extremely common and devastating chronic illness. So we’ll put you on the scales and get the tape measure out. But not because you don’t measure up to looking like a fashion model. And we don’t need you to achieve perfection either. Losing just 5-10% of weight can have enormous positive changes to your health. 

We care about wrinkles because they can tell us you have sun-damaged skin, and we don’t want to be cutting out melanomas from your skin in the future, so we’ll remind you to slip, slop, slap.

We care if you come in looking sad, without that sparkle in your eye because it tells us you might be depressed, and we want to help you recover from this debilitating condition.

This New Year, how about making resolutions that don’t revolve around trying to look like a ridiculous teenage fashion model, especially with the revelations that the majority of photographs in glossy magazines are adulterated and don’t reflect what models really look like? Here are some resolutions that your doctor would be happy with.

I will eat five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit a day. 

I will aim to be active every day, for at least 30 minutes, and I will find enjoyable ways to lead a more active and less sedentary life. 

I will limit processed foods and refined carbohydrates. 

I will drink only in moderation (2 standard drinks for women, 4 for men a day) and have two alcohol free days a week. 

I will include legumes, nuts, olive oil, avocadoes, and other healthy fats in my diet. 

I will not eat excessive amounts of saturated fat (contained in some red meats, processed meats, full fat dairy products). 

I will limit or eliminate consumption of processed meats altogether. 

I will cultivate a healthy relationship with food. 

I will slip, slop, slap all the time, and will not sunbake (or should I say sunburn). 

I will not drink and drive. 

I will look after my mental health with enough sleep, practice of gratitude or mindfulness or similar, social connections, and regular exercise. 

I will make health a priority, and see my doctor for my preventive health checks

I will honour my body for what it is – an amazing creation, with arms that . can hug, hands that can make a meal and dress myself, and wipe my bottom, all functions that are taken for granted until they are gone. I’ll honour my legs that can take me from my bedroom to the world, on my own, without assistance. I’ll honour my brain, which helps me decide what is safe and what isn’t, remember who the members of my family are, and direct the rest of my body. I’ll honour my eyes, which allow me to gaze at sunsets and the beautiful faces of those I love. 

I’ll focus on what my body can do, not how it looks. And I’ll do everything to keep it ticking over just the way it should – without pain, without loss of function, with vitality. 

Happy New Year to all and feel free to add your health “resolutions” below. Wishing  you much health and happiness in 2017!


How To Get Fit At Home (For Free) – A Guide for Parents and Other Busy People


This guest post is written by Tara Heath, lifestyle and health journalist. Thanks Tara for providing a wonderful post that I think many people will find helpful!

There’s comes a time in every parent’s life when he or she realizes it’s time to start caring – and I mean really caring – for their health. For some, it’s a health scare in the family that puts the world on its head and moves things into perspective. For others, it’s feeling tired all the time, or perhaps feeling flat and unmotivated. And for others still, it’s a pair of jeans you once loved that just won’t zip.

Whatever the reason, nearly every parent who decides to kick start a fitness journey has the same question: HOW? After all, whether or not we are working at home or outside of the home, being a parent can feel like you barely have time to brush your teeth twice a day. Taking even thirty minutes to focus on our physical health seems nearly impossible. Plus, having childcare responsibilities mean it’s not as easy as it used to be to trot off to that after-work gym class. But it shouldn’t be impossible. You might need to get creative! I’ve got a few suggestions for you that will help you get back into a fitness routine. These tips work well for all parents (and childless people too!) but particularly for stay-at-home parents to take advantage of nap time.


Find Your Own Personal Gym


You certainly don’t need a gym to get fit. People all over the world have been keeping in shape for hundreds of years without enormous gymnasiums to guide them. So don’t let your lack of gym membership hold you back – you don’t need to pay to get fit any more!


Squeeze in some calisthenics while your baby naps (ha ha) or between meetings at the office. The dining room chair can be great equipment for tricep dips or squats after dinner. Hit the living floor for crunches and push ups during commercial breaks of your favorite show (or perhaps during Peppa Pig).


With a lot of determination and ingenuity, you can transform your home into an exercise haven that helps you reach your fitness goals.


Check out YouTube Fitness Gurus


There is no doubt that Internet changed life as we knew it. A wealth of knowledge rests at our fingertips, and it’s up to us to uncover it. So why not plumb the depths of cyberspace for some exercises you can do at home? This is a tried and tested method for all people to get fit without even leaving the house. Plus, it’s free!


YouTube is particularly good for at-home workouts. There are so many channels that focus on different types of fitness, like pilates, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and hip-hop cardio. These mini-classes are great ways to try out a new exercise. They’re typically quick (usually under 30 minutes) so it’s an efficient way to use your baby’s nap time for fitness, even if you have a catnapper.


Build Strength and Get Zen


If you’ve just had a baby, or even if it’s simply been a while since you’ve exercised, yoga is a wonderful way to ease back into a more active lifestyle. Yoga is low impact (great for people whose joints give them trouble with more high impact workouts) but it still builds strength in your core muscles (especially important for us mums). Plus, yoga encourages mindfulness and meditation, which can be very important when you’re a parent!


Yoga is also great for beginners – even a few seemingly simple poses can yield great results. This is a great gentle workout to try out while the baby naps. Who knows? By the time she wakes you might be in a calmer state of mind.


Get the Little One Involved


You might be thinking, “These are wonderful ideas for when my baby is sleeping. But what will happen when he just won’t nap?” Well, there are certainly ways to exercise even with your baby on your hip. Most of these exercises even give you precious bonding time with your baby. They may even end up becoming your favorites!


Lay on the floor with your baby on your belly (holding him securely, of course). Do a simple sit up, planting a kiss on his little cheek when you reach the top! Lift him over your head for a nice arm workout, or even hold him close while you walk around the room. While this may seem like normal “playtime” with the baby, the soreness in your arms the next day will tell you all you need to know.


The decision to focus on your health and fitness is an important one, and will benefit both you and your family. Your children will also learn that mum or dad prioritises being active and healthy. So don’t let being a busy parent hold you back! Give these tips a try, and tweak them until you find what works for you.


Written by Tara Heath



Finding a New Running Route and Spiritual Home

Leaving Melbourne for Sydney may seem like a small move, a mere 963km, but it was a enormous upheaval for me. I felt like a tree that had dug very deep and comfortable roots that were suddenly and painfully ripped out.

We are now putting down new roots, waiting for them to get deeper, take hold, and keep us stable when the storms hit, as they do from time to time.

The first few weeks were particularly difficult. One of my priorities, apart from settling everyone into their new routines, was to find a new running route to replace my beloved and well-worn track, the iconic “‘Tan” in Melbourne. Three or four times a week I escaped to this haven, to hear the crunch of gravel under my trainers, breathe the crisp fresh air, pass fellow runners and mums walking their prams, and just disappear into my spiritual home, the place where I felt strong, safe, relaxed, confident, renewed.

My last run around the Tan, or Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, day before we moved out
My last run around the Tan, or Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, day before we moved out

When we got to Sydney I explored different running routes. I was completely underwhelmed with running around my suburb, pleasant as it is, but pounding pavement next to family homes is not my thing. The Spit to Manly trail was interesting, but too isolated to warrant solo running as a vulnerable female. I ran to the surrounding suburbs and while I found the hills challenging enough, I just didn’t feel it in my heart. My heart and soul needed to soar, and I needed to return a stronger, happier woman, especially when it sometimes felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I returned sweaty, but something wasn’t right. Until I found this place.

The start of my run - the gorgeous Shelly Beach.
The start of my run – the gorgeous Shelly Beach.

It’s not like I didn’t know about Shelly – but I decided to jump in the car and drive there to start my runs, and then I ran along this place.

Iconic Manly beach.
Iconic Manly beach.

And then, ending up in this place, which means going up and down and impressive hill, and then back again to Shelly, for a nice heart-pumping 7 or 8K with hill training in between.

Freshwater Beach. Gotta love a multi-beach run.
Freshwater Beach. Gotta love a multi-beach run.

And as I ran along the beach(es), with the waves pounding (or sometimes just lapping), the salty air in my face, the kids riding their scooters and surfers racing towards the water with their boards, the ocean swimmers in their swim caps, the tourists taking it all in, I felt something familiar. I felt a lifting of my heart, a singing in my ears, a smile on my face, and a sense of flow, of everything being perfect in that moment. I had found my new spiritual running home.

I wish I could say that I have been here religiously every week. Actually, I have for most weeks, but it’s harder to get here now because it’s a car ride away. But I do know that my soul longs to be there, to drink in the sea air, that my ears need to hear the sounds of the surf, that my feet need to pound that pavement. So I go, as often as I can, even if it’s only for twenty minutes, just so that I can keep on going.

Because sometimes putting down new roots means finding new routes.

Post Script. Recently, an extraordinary storm hit Manly and the walkway between Manly and Shelly Beach was destroyed. I wish all of those who experienced storm damage the very best in their rebuilding and look forward to seeing this very special walkway rebuilt soon. 

Date, Oat and Seed Bliss Balls recipe

My daughter started school this year and so began the routine of scratching my head for a “morning tea” snack every day. If I ever had grandiose ideas about packing lovingly hand-baked goods accompanied with sweet hand-written notes every day in her school bag, they were dashed very early on into the school term. She’s lucky if she gets a packet of brown rice cakes (at least they are brown!!) thrown hastily in there.

One thing I can whip up easily are these date, oat and seed bliss balls which I have modified from Cooking From Busy Mums’ recipe.  I didn’t have sultanas so I substituted with half a cup of extra dates, and half a cup of sunflower seeds, and I also added chia seeds. Really, you could throw in any seeds you like which would add extra fibre and protein into the bliss balls. They are nut free and free from refined sugar although the dates are extremely high in “natural” sugars. However, there’s also plenty of fibre in there which will slow down the absorption of sugar. My kids helped me roll the balls so it was very quick work with no baking and minimal mess. Enjoy!

Date, Oat and Seed Bliss Balls

1 1/2 cups dates

1/2 cup desiccated coconut

1/2 cup oats

1/2 cup pumpkin, chia or sunflower seeds – anything you like, really

1/4 cup cocoa (or cacao, if you wish)

3 tbsp water or enough so that it isn’t dry and holds together well

Extra desiccated coconut for rolling in


Just throw everything into a blender or food processor and process until smooth. 

Kids love rolling these so enlist their help in rolling small amounts into balls (about 1 heaped teaspoon is good) and roll in desiccated coconut. 

They will freeze well for 3 months.

Enjoy in moderation!

How Being Overwhelmed Affects Your Health (And What To Do About It)

I-try-to-take-one-day-atBeing a GP isn’t easy, but there are some aspects of my job that are quite simple. Like asking a few well-placed questions about lifestyle with every patient that walks in the door. I am constantly surprised at how commonly lifestyle factors contribute to illness – and feeling overwhelmed is a major culprit when it comes to poor lifestyle habits. The way I see it, becoming overwhelmed is the result of expectations exceeding capacity -either the expectations have increased, or capacity to cope has decreased, or both.

I am not immune to becoming overwhelmed. When my son was a baby and my daughter a toddler, I would get the same comment whenever we were out and about (him in the baby carrier, her in the stroller) – “You’ve got your hands full!” You bet I still have my hands full even though they are older now. I juggle two careers (GP and academia) and a family and in between I must run (as in jogging, not running away!) or I will go bonkers. And yes, at times I do become terribly, desperately, crying-in-my-GP’s-office overwhelmed. It’s tough being an adult, no?I know only too well how this leads to a vicious cycle of poor habits that exacerbates the situation. Let’s have a close look at how being overwhelmed affects our health:

My really high-tech and fancy diagram of how being overwhelmed affects your health
My really high-tech and fancy diagram of how being overwhelmed affects your health

Is it sounding depressing? Don’t be discouraged! Life is dynamic, not static. It’s how we roll with the punches that defines  the outcome. When you’ve come off course, don’t beat yourself up about it. Realign yourself with your destination and get out of that vicious cycle. I’m not a counsellor, but I’ve counselled many patients about this, and I’ve learned a lot from them. Here are some of the lessons.

1. Ask yourself: Is this temporary?

Many situations are – a colleague is sick and you must pick up their shifts; a family member falls ill; you’re moving house. There are many “overwhelmed” periods in my life that were absolutely worth it, like passing final exams, having babies, or finishing a thesis. If it’s temporary, go into survival mode, and plan a recovery later. Try as much as you can to limit alcohol, take short breaks, and do some kind of exercise.

2. If it’s not temporary, is it worth it?

Diet and lifestyle are now considered the biggest threat to our health. Consider this: over time, and with genetic susceptibility, a poor diet and lack of exercise leads to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity – all risk factors for chronic illness and major causes of death such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. This might be a wakeup call, a time to re-prioritise. And leads me to number 3:

3. Talk to someone about it.

The most powerful thing you can do is to say, out loud to someone else, what YOU need to do to improve things. This is when my job as a GP becomes dead easy. I sit back and ask a question like “Have you been exercising?” and a long monologue ensues which ends with my patient saying “I think what I need to do is…” And all I need to do is listen, and be witness to that. Amazing!

4. If it’s not temporary, can you change something?

Can you increase your capacity (learn a new skill, ask for more help? Can you resign from the PTO?) What isn’t necessary in your life, and what are you doing only to please others, or what can you reasonably say No to even if it’s a one-off or for a short time?

5. Connect with your body first. 

Yoga can be a quick, powerful way to reconnect with your body and listen to what it needs. I have a few favourite yoga poses (that don’t require athleticism…) when I need to remind myself of this. Breathe. Exist in your body for just one or two moments and not just in your mind. Aerobic exercise, of course, is a brilliant way of kickstarting wellbeing and motivation.

6. Practise mindfulness.

I find this really difficult when I feel overwhelmed, but I try very hard to stick to it as much as I can. However, it’s even more challenging when I haven’t attended to Number 5 above – connecting with the body first.

7. Practise positive psychology.

The negative spiral often includes a good dose of negative self-talk which is of course counter-productive. Be vigilant and consciously practise positivity. Start a gratitude journal. Start the day with positive affirmations. Challenge your negativity. But also be kind to yourself.

8. Take a mini-break. 

This might only be a couple of hours, or even half an hour if things are really dire. But take a break from what’s on your plate and get a different perspective. My children force me to do this every day and it does help, most of the time, to keep me balanced.

So here I am putting my money where my mouth is. Over the past few months, I’ve been the definition of overwhelmed. I’ve exercised less, eaten more junk, stayed up late, drunk way too much coffee. My skinny jeans have gotten a lot skinnier. I went through the steps above. Yes, it was temporary. It was worth it. I talked to someone about it. I changed things (I am about to take a sabbatical from clinical work for 6 months to finish my PhD). And I’m now exercising religiously at least every second day again. Diet, hmm let’s say Easter got in the way, but I’m getting there.

In fact, this makes me feel positively encouraged. It reminds me how much health and wellbeing is determined by what we do, and is in many ways within our control. Just as the negative spiral of poor lifestyle habits leads to the consequences of low concentration and mood etc that promote the feelings of being overwhelmed, so can a positive spiral lead us back to optimal health. I’m also grateful, in many ways, because these experiences of feeling overwhelmed allow me to completely emphathise with my patients. It makes me a better doctor. I’m on my way back to better habits – just as soon as I finish the kids’ Easter eggs. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to bed early.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s imperative that you talk to a health professional and be screened for depression and anxiety, which require more management than what I have described above. Don’t be afraid to tell your GP. It’s very therapeutic.

To Change Your Health, Look To Lifestyle First

I know I bang on about this an awful lot, and the truth is that we all kind of know this but it’s hard to put into practice. There’s so much delicious food to eat, so much wine to drink, and so much time to sit and eat and drink and not enough time to go for a walk or ride a bike. Then there are jobs to do, kids to chauffeur, dishes that need to be done, bills to be paid, dentist appointments to meet. And to be honest, one of the reasons why doctors seem to rely on prescribing medication so much is that we talk to our patients about diet, exercise and quitting smoking and often nobody listens, so we’re forced to get out the prescription pad in an effort to reduce heart attack risk. It’s easier to prescribe a pill and patients are more likely to take a pill than to go to the gym. That’s not saying that there aren’t people out there that are very motivated to make changes; it’s just that the reality is that changing old habits is pretty hard to do.


I recently read about two very large studies that reminded me, though, of the powerful effect of lifestyle changes on health. When I say health, I often mean longevity, and that means freedom from some of the major causes of early death – heart disease and strokes, and cancer. These two studies are stark reminders of the impact of lifestyle changes on heart disease and stroke risk. Far more than the modest effect of cholesterol-lowering drugs, which can cause significant side effects. (I do prescribe these but only if heart disease risk is moderate-high, and if we have exhausted all possible lifestyle changes). One study, which followed 20,000 Swedish men over 11 years, suggests that 80% of heart attacks can be prevented by attending to all five of the following risk factors: a healthy diet, regular exercise (40 mins or more daily), light drinking (1 drink a day), not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight. I know, it really isn’t rocket science. Sadly, only one percent (that’s right, 1%!!!) of men kept all their risk factors low. But never fear. Even getting one thing right will reduce risk of heart attacks significantly.

Another study, which followed over 7000 patients for 5 years, found that supplementing a Mediterranean-style diet with olive oil or mixed nuts resulted in a 30% reduction of risk of having a heart attack or stroke after only 5 years, compared to a group that was told to follow a low-fat diet. It seems that the type of fat we eat is more important than whether our diet is low fat or not. Unsaturated fats like the ones in olive oil and nuts are heart-healthy whereas saturated fat is thought to be damaging. And it’s amazing, to me, that relatively simple diet changes can lead to such an impressive change, without the use of drugs.

Moroccan couscous with seven vegetables. Mmm.. Photo: By Beata Gorecka (Own work (own Photo)) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Moroccan couscous with seven vegetables. Mmm..
Photo: By Beata Gorecka (Own work (own Photo)) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
So what is a heart-healthy diet? It’s one that’s rich in fruits, nuts, legumes and vegetables, with some consumption of whole-grains and low-fat dairy. You can find a great introduction to the Mediterranean diet (no it doesn’t mean lots of pasta…) here. Exercise is something we all know we could do more of; there are also clever ways to avoid being too sedentary such as getting a standing desk, or making your everyday commute more active.

What about cancer, another common cause of early death? The WHO recently released a 12 -point code on how to reduce your risk of developing cancer. Not many surprises here (avoiding smoking and alcohol, keeping a healthy weight, healthy eating, cancer screening, sun avoidance being some of the measures recommended) except for testing your home for radon, a natural gas that is linked to cancer. I had never heard of radon and have found this guide to testing your home for elevated radon levels. I’d urge everyone to look at the 12-point code against cancer.

It’s exciting, in many ways, that good health is within our control – it minimises the feeling of being victimised, of feeling vulnerable because of Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, Big Food or whatever Bigs we often blame for our ills. Each one of us can carve out a healthier lifestyle which will reduce whatever genetic risk we inherited. Wishing you years of health and happiness!



My Personal Philosophy On Eating

My approach to healthy eating is much like my approach to housework. I aspire to a clean and tidy house. I have systems in place to contain the chaos. My house is never perfect, and I don’t expect it to be, but neither do I want to live in squalor. Actually, now I think about it, my approach to healthy eating is a lot better than my approach to housework, as I value health more than hygiene and tidiness! So forget about that metaphor but let us proceed…


I ask all my patients about their diet, for many reasons. One is that it’s a powerful predictor of outcomes – both immediate and long-term. Another is that it tells me a lot about their lifestyle, emotions, and beliefs. Many of my patients are nervous when asked about their diet. They might fear judgement. Some don’t know whether they have a healthy diet or not, and if they should eat this or that. Some ask me if they should be following a specific diet, should they try intermittent fasting, and what do I think about the Paleo diet, eating soy, eating chia seeds, should they avoid grains, or give up coffee or chocolate. (I rarely tell anyone to give up coffee or chocolate – just reduce it!) Most are relieved to find that I am fairly relaxed when it comes to healthy eating. I don’t subscribe to any particular eating pattern, though I vaguely head towards the Mediterranean diet, for my personal cholesterol issues. I am also a realist. I know that people are leading real lives, often chaotic lives, and lunches are grabbed in between driving all day for sales assistants, or there is barely time for toast in the morning if you are a mum of schoolchildren. I know that in the evenings it’s easy to reach for sweets after dinner, in the mornings for a muffin with your coffee. So here’s my personal philosophy on eating healthy, one that I subscribe to personally as well as try to impart to my patients, if they are interested.

1. Eat real food.

This means food closest to its original form as possible. This gives you the most nutrients and least additives. It’s also cheaper. Real food usually doesn’t come in a shiny packet, box or jar. (well, almonds come in packets I guess…) But you know what I mean. I hope. If not, PM me.

These are called carrots. They're delicious. They're real food. Try them. By Kander (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
These are called carrots. They’re delicious. They’re real food. Try them. By Kander (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
2. Eat a variety of food. Don’t eat the same thing every day. I have known patients to live on a diet of almonds, rice milk and kale. Apart from sounding like a terrible existence, it’s also nutritionally unbalanced. Eating too much of anything, even if it’s a “superfood”, is not healthy. Nutrition is very complex, and we still don’t understand it well. Eating the same thing every day means you might not absorb the variety of nutrients that  you need, or you might absorb too much of a toxin. For example, fish is heart-healthy but it is also contaminated with dioxin, which has been linked to cancers. So eating fish at every meal will not help you in the long run.

3. Eat what you enjoy. I know someone (ok, she’s my mum) who eats walnuts every day because they’re “good”. My  mum hates walnuts. But she eats walnuts every day. Ugh. I hate walnuts too (perhaps it’s genetic?) but I refuse to eat them at all. I will eat other nuts that I enjoy. Life is too short. Lose the gross superfood that you can’t bear to eat.

I actually really like kale. You might not. If so, please find an appropriate vegetable substitute for kale. By Evan-Amos (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
I actually really like kale. You might not. If so, please find an appropriate vegetable substitute for kale. By Evan-Amos (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
4. I get asked if avoiding dairy or wheat is a good or bad thing. It depends. If you have symptoms on dairy and wheat, don’t have those foods. If you have coeliac, of course you should avoid gluten. Additionally, if you have symptoms on wheat, it is likely to be due to a fructose intolerance. You should also avoid excessive wheat and dairy consumption (see 2). If you want to avoid these foods, go ahead, but ensure you are eating a variety of other foods as well (see 2). But if you enjoy bread and cheese, please don’t stop. You might need to cut down on cheese a bit, and I definitely don’t recommend eating lots of white flour; we also eat a variety of grain substitutes like quinoa and buckwheat (pseudo-cereals, apparently, but again see 2).

If you don't get symptoms from wheat and are not coeliac, please enjoy bread but in small amounts and hopefully with a bit of delicious butter. By Stacy from San Diego (anadama bread  Uploaded by Tim1357) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
If you don’t get symptoms from wheat and are not coeliac, please enjoy bread but in small amounts and hopefully with a bit of delicious butter. Stick to wholemeal. By Stacy from San Diego (anadama bread Uploaded by Tim1357) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

5. I also get asked about sugar. Is it “bad”? Is our epidemic of diabetes and obesity due to sugar? The truth is, we don’t really know yet. Sugar makes food palatable. We certainly need very little of it in our lives, but I don’t think we need to avoid it altogether. I like the idea of moving on a spectrum towards healthier eating. I personally allow myself one dessert a week. Some weeks I actually stick to this. Other weeks I might sneak in a biscuit or two. I bake with sugar substitutes but I try to remind myself that it’s just sugar in another form. In other words, I’m trying to have a healthy relationship with sugar. Not an addictive one.

I think there's a good reason why cane sugar looks like cocaine. Use wisely. By Fritzs (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
I think there’s a good reason why cane sugar looks like cocaine. Use wisely. By Fritzs (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

6. If you have a craving, it’s telling you something. It could be any of the following: You’re hungry. You’re bored. You’re tired. You’re sad/anxious/having another emotional issue. You’re not getting the nutrition that you need. This last one is an important one. I don’t think it’s proven in any scientific research, but I believe that if you’re undernourished, your body tells you to keep eating in the hope that you actually eat something that’s good for you. You know, with minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, protein, fibre etc. But if you keep reaching for a donut, you’re not getting any nutrition, and you’re still hungry. Anyway, I always ask my patients: what is this telling you?
7. And lastly – this is the most important thing of all. All the palaver about whether we should avoid grains, fat, sugar, or dairy is just a storm in a teacup. There are vigorous debates for and against. Saturated fat is bad. No it’s not, eat more meat. Everyone is missing one crucial point, the missing link. EAT MORE VEGETABLES!! If you make vegetables the focus of your plate, you will naturally reduce the proportion of fat, sugar, grains and dairy that you consume. So put those vegetables first. I don’t care if you eat them raw, juice them, soup them, stir fry or steam or bake. Just eat them! Lots of them. Five serves. Lots of colours. With every meal as much as you can. I think the reason the poor vegetables haven’t had their own campaign is that nobody is going to make a lot of money if people eat more vegetables. The cattle industry, poultry industry, packaged food industry, gluten-free industries aren’t going to profit from it.

Photo: Andy Wright,
Photo: Andy Wright,

Lastly, a word about developing a healthy relationship with food. Food nourishes but also brings pleasure. Enjoy it. Please don’t eat walnuts if you hate them. (Or kale). Please enjoy a little treat every weekend. If you like Timtams, eat them once in a while. Please partake of the wonderful culinary offerings from the many cultures that flourish all around the world. Please eat birthday cake when it’s your birthday. I am speaking as someone who once had an eating disorder, and who is thankfully well and truly recovered. Food is love, so eat real food most of the time, choose your treats carefully, and love yourself in the process.

Confessions of a Recovering Runaholic: Shooting for a 10K race


It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been running again. My hip didn’t cope with a 5km run early in the piece so I’ve been keeping to a maximum of 4km every second day. My plan to run a half marathon by October 12th, for the Melbourne Marathon, was officially dashed, and for a while it seemed like even the 10K was off the cards.

But this week, after cruising easily through my 2.5 min intervals, I did some calculations and decided that the 10K might actually be possible. 10K would be highly symbolic to me as this is the mileage I frequently ran prior to injuring my hip; being able to run a 10K easily would mean that I was back to where I started off, but with better biomechanics in my hip. (My physio seems to enjoy giving me new and harder exercises to do every time I see him; I am literally working my butt off!)

So yesterday I took off for a 5.5km run and it felt WONDERFUL. I sprinted like a little lamb while listening to a podcast of neuropsychologist Adele Diamond talking about how exercise benefits executive cognitive function. What a brilliant way to get me into flow – the state of complete engagement, when you lose all sense of time (in a good way). I woke up to a reasonably happy hip and am planning a 6km run tomorrow, then an 8km two days after that. If my hip holds out for the 8K, I’ll be at that 10K race start line on October 12th for sure.

Aiming for a concrete goal has boosted my mood significantly. I have to admit that I was finding the steady 4km plod boring. But with a goal in sight, I’m more energised, focussed and enthusiastic. I feel alive. But this time it’s tempered with a great deal of good sense. If my hip complains at the 7km mark, I won’t be pushing it on race day. I’m happy enough to be out there and running again. The eight-week quarantine I endured was enough to knock this sense into me.

But do me a favour. Don’t mention it to my physio until after race day, ok? 😉