Histamine Issues on the Up

Most of us have heard of antihistamine medication and think of it being used for histamine issues that manifest as hay fever and insect bites.

But did you know that one of the best-selling pharmacy medicines for sleep problems is an antihistamine? It’s sold to help sleep by reducing the histamine level in your brain.

Scientists have known for a long time that we have histamine-releasing cells throughout the body.  Your inner skin, the mucus membranes that line your gut, your lungs, your bladder, and your nasal passages are full of histamine-releasing mast cells.  Your outer skin, your dermis, is full of these mast cells too.

But it’s not just mast cells that release histamine.  We now understand that histamine plays an important role in our nervous system as an excitatory neurotransmitter.  In balance, it has an important role to play. It keeps us alert and awake.  But in excess can cause histamine issues and may exacerbate problems such as migraine, sleep disturbance, and even neurological complaints such as Parkinson’s disease.

Keeping histamine in check

As a stimulating and excitatory chemical, it is important that we keep histamine in check and working for us and not against us.

Mast cells are an important part of our immune system.  They help to protect our bodies by guarding the boundary between us and the outside world.  If you are exposed to a nasty irritant, your body releases histamine. You then produce secretions and literally wash the irritant out of your mucus membranes, or you will scratch the irritant from your skin.

This is exactly what histamine was designed for, to flush it out. Job done.

But life is not so simple anymore.  Histamine issues are on the increase as our inner and outer world has become much more complex.

Related problems

Synthetic chemicals, processed foods, chronic stress, and perpetual stimulation are wreaking havoc on immunity and digestion. As a result, we’re seeing an increase in allergy, inflammation, and histamine-mediated conditions.

In the UK we’re seeing a 5% increase year on year in the presentation of allergic conditions.  And emerging problems with new conditions such as Long Covid are showing histamine involvement as part of the clinical picture, too.

Instead of histamine being a protective friend, it has become an inflammatory foe and is turning against us.  So much so that histamine intolerance itself is now recognised as a condition in its own right.

Addressing issues

All is not lost, however. We can take steps to address histamine issues.  Your body may be able to produce and release histamine, but it can also break it down and eliminate it.

Measures such as reducing high histamine foods, improving your gut microbiome, correcting nutritional imbalances, and addressing chronic stress can all have a positive impact on reducing excess histamine release that leads to histamine issues.

There are also several interesting botanicals including schisandra, reishi mushroom, black seed oil and pine bark extract with proven positive effects that you can incorporate into an allergy and histamine treatment protocol.

Work with nature

Taking time to explore natural ways to manage histamine, allergies and intolerances may give you more insight into how to effectively manage your allergies and histamine issues.  Better still, consult a naturopathic-minded nutritional therapist or medical herbalist. That way you will benefit from working with someone who has the skillset to prescribe appropriate nutritional and natural remedies.

Moving away from nature in the first place has contributed significantly to increasing allergy levels and associated immune dysfunction in our modern world.  So, instead of simply popping an antihistamine tablet, perhaps it’s time to treat nature with nature instead.

Time for us to work with and not against.





School Fundraising the Healthy Way

We know it’s a tough time raising money for extras in education right now as school fundraising has been put on hold.

But we’ve come up with a way that you can engage in school fundraising and stay on the right side of social distancing rules into the bargain.

Our new scheme gives a nominated school cashback of 5 percent on all sales in our Health Food and More online shop.

Anniversary brainchild 

It’s the brainchild of our owner and medical herbalist Keren Brynes MacLean who is celebrating 30 years in the business.

Keren started her training as a medical herbalist in November 1990. She qualified in 1996 and has since grown her business into a health food store, clinic, and dispensary in St Clair Street, Kirkcaldy.

She says: “It seemed fitting to mark this anniversary by giving back to the community. We’re rolling this initiative out in Fife initially, but we have plans to go national if it takes off.”

Nominate a school

We have sent invitations to schools by email inviting them to register for the Healthy Fundraising and More initiative. Once they have signed up, parents and supporters can nominate which school they want to receive a donation when they pay online for mail delivery or the store’s click-and-collect service.

“I have spent years on parent councils at schools,” Keren says. “And have seen first-hand the challenges of fundraising when everybody has such busy lives.  All schools benefit from fundraising. And with all the Covid restrictions in place, now is the time to look at new ways to do it.

“The idea is to take some of the hard work out of school fundraising so that cash-strapped schools get a break.

“This is a simple and pretty effortless way for schools to raise money. They just register and let everyone know it’s available. We do the rest.”

Register here

You can register here to get your school fundraising efforts started. Fill in the online form – all the information is held securely. We’ll get your school set up to benefit from the scheme. All you have to do then is tell everyone about it.

If you know someone in charge of school fundraising, why not forward them this post and ask them to register now? It’s a free service that all schools can benefit from!

Food supplements

Sales of Food Supplements Rise

A new survey shows a sharp increase in people taking food supplements for their health since lockdown started.

The survey was carried out by the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA). It shows that more than 20 million people in the UK are now using supplements daily. That’s an increase of nearly 20% since 2019.

Over 70% of adults are now taking food supplements. One in three has introduced a supplement since the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic. In the 18-24 age group, the number taking supplements rises to 77%, with vitamin D showing as the most popular supplement.

The research also reveals why people are turning to supplements. Most people, 61%, said they were taking them for general health and wellbeing. Meanwhile, 24% are taking them for vitamin deficiency. 21% are taking them for joint health, while 20% to optimise their health and 20% to support their immune system.

The Health of the Nation: Lockdown Focus survey polled more than 10,000 adults in the UK and is one of the largest of its kind.

Numerous studies since lockdown have highlighted an increased consumer interest in health and wellness. This study was no exception.  Personal research was cited as the reason for 42% of people buying food supplements.

Of those people, 88% said that they find it easy to find and research the right information on supplements. Notably, 40% said that information about immunity had influenced their choice of food supplements.

The HFMA recently launched the HealthyDoesIt campaign to empower individuals to live healthier lives within their local community.

Read how herbal medicine can boost your immunity here. You can buy your supplements online in the Health Food and More online store.

food intolerance testing

Food Intolerance Testing

Did you know that Health Food and More offer food intolerance testing by appointment? It’s our Food Detective test.

Food intolerance testing is a way to identify what foods might be blighting your life. Right now, they’re on hold because of Covid restrictions, but we continue to receive lots of enquiries.

So, you might be wondering how this service could help you. First, let me explain the difference between food intolerance and food allergy.

Food intolerance arises when the body is unable to handle certain food groups, and this can happen for a variety of reasons. Reactions tend to be slower and less aggressive than true allergies but still debilitating. Typically, symptoms centre around the gut and other mucus membranes and are not life-threatening.

A true food allergy brings with it a potent immune response, which causes a faster and more serious reaction to foods. Allergies are more serious and more immediate than intolerance. They can be life-threatening if severe.

Intolerance symptoms

In general, people who have a food intolerance tend to experience the following symptoms:

Tummy pain, bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation, nasal congestion, migraine, fatigue, skin irritations and/or rashes.

These symptoms normally come on hours after eating, but in some cases, can be random and take much longer to appear. And it is not always obvious what the culprit may be.

Often a client will come to our clinic thinking that they may have an intolerance to wheat. But food detective testing might highlight that they are intolerant to something else.

They might say they always feel bad after eating their lunchtime sandwich, but we find that wheat isn’t the culprit after all! It might be yeast or dairy rather than the bread itself that is causing problems.

It’s easy to forget about the contents of the sandwich, the butter or cheese. In fact, we forget all too often about the ingredients in the foods we eat.

Intolerance can strike at any time. It’s often brought on by a change of lifestyle, stress or illness, and age is no barrier. Sometimes, there appears to be no reason at all. In any case, we can regain our health with good management, through dietary changes and some remedial digestive work.

How we do the test

For our Food Detective test, we take a sample of blood through a simple finger prick. This blood is then run through screening solutions and onto a dimple tray with 59 different foods.

We screen for several IgG antibodies, looking at both immediate and delayed response to foods. These antibodies are different from those associated with allergies and indicate that the immune system has responded to different food proteins.

When we look at these results within the context of your past and present symptoms, as well as your diet, we can advise you on the best way forward.

There is no upper age limit on food detective testing, but we don’t recommend it for children under two years old. Their developing immune systems are too reactive to test accurately. We suggest working with a nutritional therapist instead to address any food-related issues.

Immuno-suppressive therapies such as steroids or chemotherapy may also affect results. We would advise checking whether you are on any potent medicines that affect your immune system before you book.


Over the years, we have received so much positive feedback from our clients. For many, it’s been a life-changer. Clients who have struggled with debilitating symptoms for a long time have reported an almost immediate reduction or total elimination of their issues and are now enjoying life to the full.

Here are just a few of some of the more common comments we receive…

“I no longer need to worry about running to the toilet when I am out with my friends.”

“For the first time in ages, my skin is clear and free from itching.”

“My clothes fit me again, no more bloating and I feel full of energy.”

For now, we have opened a waiting list for clients keen to have food intolerance testing done once lockdown restrictions lift. As soon as we get the go-ahead we’ll be in touch to arrange an appointment.

In the meantime, if you think you may have food-related issues we can still offer you advice and make dietary recommendations that may help you.

Find out more here and please get in touch with us at Health Food and More on 01592 566446 for more help.

Liz Harris, Testing Technician


Woman sleeping

Getting A Good Sleep

Getting a good sleep, one that’s restful and restorative, is essential for our physical and mental well-being.  Yet many of us are not getting enough sleep to function well.

The UK seems to be a nation of insomniacs, with up to a third of adults reporting regular issues with sleep disturbance.

The consequences of not getting a good sleep are more serious than simply being under par the next day.

Not getting a good sleep regularly, one that’s restorative, can lead to a whole host of health problems. It can age us prematurely if left unchecked.  Chronic insomnia can also lead to weight gain, diabetes, inflammation and even heart disease.

So, what can you do if you seem to spend the night tossing and turning?

Positive steps

What positive steps can you take if you’re wired but tired and suffering from chronic sleep issues?

The answer lies not only in what you do in the evening but what you do in the rest of your day and in the rest of your life.

It is important to think about the usual suspects, such as avoiding screens or cutting down on caffeine as you head towards bedtime.  But the chances are that if you’re not getting a good sleep on a regular basis there is more going on and you’ll need to dig a little deeper to get back on track and restore good sleep patterns.

In most chronic health problems, there is often a perfect storm. Insomnia is no exception.

Types of insomnia

You’re unlikely to connect that skipped lunch with waking up at 3am or link your weight gain with not sleeping well.  It’s only by stepping back and looking at your overall health and well-being, your diet and lifestyle, that you can start to resolve chronic sleep issues.

And the chances are that if you have chronic insomnia you will need some help doing this.

There are different types of insomnia, too, all of which need to be managed very differently. Do you have trouble getting to sleep or are you waking frequently? Maybe you wake up too early or you may even experience all three.

If you have a problem with getting off to sleep in the first place, it might be enough to choose sedative herbs such as valerian, passionflower or hops and use them at bedtime.

Chronic insomnia

For chronic sleep issues, with wakeful episodes through the night, herbs are needed during the daytime, too, but you need to give a more detailed case history before we can join up the dots.

For chronic insomnia, restorative work with deep-acting adaptogen herbs such as withania (also called ashwagandha) or schisandra will help restore your circadian rhythm.

Boosting reproductive hormones like oestrogen or neurotransmitters like dopamine might settle hormonal flux which can be behind not getting a good sleep.

Toning the vagus nerve with digestive bitters will promote rest and digest, and increasing anti-oxidants will help with free radical damage and inflammation.

Signs of restorative sleep

There is no simple answer and no simple remedy, but that doesn’t make getting a good sleep impossible. We just have to put in some effort with some detective and restorative work. The results will be worth it.

If you seek good health and longevity, sleeping well should be equally as important to you as eating well and digesting well.  The three are intimately connected and all need to be considered if you are looking to function at your best.

Check out our herbal medicine clinic if you think you need help with insomnia.

Having a good sleep, waking at the same time every day without the need for an alarm clock and feeling refreshed when you wake up are all signs you are achieving truly restorative sleep.  The beauty of it is it’s totally achievable, too!


Mental health during lockdown e

GABA For Mental Health During Lockdown

What is GABA and how can you increase it to support your mental health during lockdown? GABA is short for gamma-aminobutyric acid.

It’s a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, that we produce naturally in the body. We find it in the nervous system, particularly in the brain. It inhibits excitability and slows function without having a sedative effect, so it helps to reduce anxiety, stress and feelings of fear. It may help to improve sleep, too.

There are natural ways that you can boost it to improve mental health during lockdown. Eating certain foods, taking specific supplements or medicinal herbs and exercising or practising meditation can all help to increase GABA.

Amino acids

Eating a balanced diet, rich in whole foods, healthy fats and clean proteins, is a cornerstone of good health and should provide all the nutrients you need to produce GABA.

Make sure you get plenty of these two amino acids – glutamine and taurine. Also check that you’re getting adequate levels of vitamin B6 and magnesium.  It may be beneficial to boost these two key nutrients with a supplement to support your mental health during lockdown. They’re particularly helpful if you’re under chronic stress, not eating well or if you are a woman who suffers from pre-menstrual exacerbation of anxiety and tension.

Healthy diet and lifestyle

My key treatment focus in my herbal clinic is not only to encourage a healthier diet and lifestyle but also to prescribe tailor-made herbal medicines, targeting individual needs.

I usually do this after unpacking a detailed case history. But sometimes there’s no need for depth in order to achieve fast and effective results. That’s especially true if you’re desperate to feel better.

I prescribe several herbs for anxiety that are known to boost GABA levels. These include valerian, ashwagandha and lemon balm. The great thing is that they’re available to buy over the counter. That’s great if you don’t have access to a medical herbalist to prescribe for you. Or you may want to start taking something until you get professional help for your mental health during lockdown.

L Theanine supplement

L Theanine is another great supplement that’s available over the counter in health food shops. This amino acid is extracted from green tea or black tea and has been shown to effectively reduce anxiety.

Studies suggest L Theanine increases serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, so it works on several pathways to support your mental health. It works quickly to boot. I have found personally that there’s a noticeable effect within about half an hour of taking it as a supplement.

If you’re suffering from anxiety, feeling fearful and in need of some mental calm, you might want to put the kettle on and have a cup of tea. Then look up other ways you can boost your GABA levels to support your mental health during lockdown.  Having a cuppa is a good starting point to get you feeling back in control.

Find out more about supporting your mental health by listening to this interview for UK Health Radio now on YouTube.

How to identify a good herbalist

For an in-depth approach, it’s always better to work with a medical herbalist. To make sure you find somebody suitably qualified, look for the letters MNIMH after their name. That signifies gold standard training.

If you don’t have a practitioner to support your mental health during lockdown, rest assured there is a whole natural products industry out there. Some great ethical producers are manufacturing some well-formulated products.

But please do shop with a reputable independent health food store. They have the training and the proven effective remedies you can trust. They also need your support in these challenging times.

Keren Brynes MacLean MNIMH, Medical Herbalist

Post Festive Feast Detox

Your Post Festive Feast Detox

Now we’re in another period of lockdown, many of us are thinking of cleaning up for a fresh start to 2021 and a post-festive feast detox.

Perhaps this year more than any other year, we need a it after over-indulging with festive foods, chocolates, crisps, fizzy drinks, mulled wine and other alcoholic beverages.

After the year we’ve all had we certainly deserved to let loose a little! When the first lockdown hit us in the spring of 2020 many people took on board the suggestion of daily walks and runs or streaming P.E. classes or yoga workouts. We started off well, didn’t we? More people and families than ever before were seen outside enjoying the fresh air. It was such a positive side to the reasons behind it.

This time around we are in mid-winter and a freezing one at that. Many people will be preparing to reinstate that daily run or in those family walks blast out the cobwebs and fill the lungs with clean, fresh air.

As we emerge from our warm and cosy homes, cast off the tinsel and fairy lights, and set off along the coastal path or down to the beach, let’s also have a think about having a post-festive feast detox to cleanse our body and mind.

In fact, what a perfect time to focus on starting the new year with a cleansed gut a shiny newly regenerated liver and a healthy outlook with an uplifted mind and an optimised immune system!

Why Detox?

Common symptoms that clients talk to me about in clinic that suggest a cleanse include brain fog, poor memory, fatigue, chemical sensitivities, skin breakouts and rashes, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, PMS and mood swings. As we look at health from a holistic perspective, naturopathic focused practitioners like me may read this as an indication that the body is overwhelmed with toxins. But what causes a toxic load?

Toxins are waste products, chemicals either produced in the body as by-products of metabolic processes or accumulated from our external environment. Some of the toxins nutritional therapists consider when offering a detox programme include excess hormones, histamine, cholesterol, plastic, plastic-derived toxins, pesticides, car exhaust, cigarette smoke, alcohol, PAHs from chargrilled meat and fish, agricultural chemicals, medications and mycotoxins.

Doing a cleanse needn’t be gruelling and can really help to kickstart energy levels and boost your mood. Just what we all need right now. Although I typically work one to one with clients to design a bespoke nutritional and detox programme, if you are motivated and not tackling a specific health problem or in poor health there is no reason why you can’t embark on your own post-festive reboot.

Here is my simple 4-step approach for a post-festive cleanse to get you on track for more energy, better skin and robust digestion.

Step 1 – Plan

As lists person, this is my favourite stage. Decide which foods and drinks you want to remove from your diet. You can begin by eliminating these. Either consume them (if this won’t be too
excessive), store them (if expiry dates allow), or gift them (e.g. birthday presents or food banks).

Perhaps try removing one a day and for each one you remove, introduce something your body will thank you for. Here are some suggestions.

Remove or Reduce Replace with
Alcohol, caffeine Water, herbal teas
Refined sugar, eg. chocolate, sweets, cakes Fruit, healthy treats (dried fruit, almond butter cups, nuts, coconut shavings)
Unhealthy fats and trans fats, eg. crisps, ready meals, fried foods, excess dairy Healthy fats, eg. avocado, nuts & seeds, fish, coconut
Refined carbs, eg. white rice, pasta, bread Unrefined carbs rich in fibre, eg. brown rice, vegetables (spiralised courgette/squash), whole grains, healthy savoury snacks.

Browse through recipe books and choose some simple favourites, then write your shopping list. Perhaps you might cook a lentil dahl, borscht, vegetable curry, winter stew, a favourite soup or homemade pasta sauce.

Also, select a couple of healthy treats. In our busy house, we love almond butter cups and chocolate and courgette brownies.  Both can be prepared and frozen in portions and to be eaten when you like.

If savoury snacks are your weakness, try making some oatcakes, flaxseed crackers or roasted root vegetable chips and storing them somewhere cool.  Print out a list of rainbow foods and put it on your fridge. I know it sounds like a lot, but, ideally, you’ll be aiming for 8-10 veg a day with two fruit with something from each colour daily.

If you have some at every meal you can soon up your intake. The great thing is you can feel the benefit really quickly when you eat well.

Here’s what to look for:

Orange/yellow Green Red Blue/purple White/beige


Butternut squash







Sweet potato




Brussel sprouts


Green beans





Kiwi fruit

Red apples




Red cabbage



Red peppers

Red grapes




Purple grapes



Purple broccoli

Red cabbage

dried raisins






Jerusalem artichokes




Step 2 – Detox

Now you have planned and prepared yourself mentally, it is time to focus on this every day for the next few days. Every time you remove something from your diet, be sure to focus on introducing something too.

This helps with the mindset as you are not depriving yourself. You are making way for foods that will cleanse, restore and nourish.  Detoxing also requires gentle exercise to aid the lymphatic system, elimination and oxygenation. Rest is also crucial for detoxification and repair, so remember to take time out for relaxation. Read a book, go outside for sunshine and fresh air, take relaxing baths, meditate or journal.

Hydrate well

The British Nutrition Foundation advises 6-8 glasses of water a day (1.5 – 2 litres). You can include herbal teas in this volume. Unfortunately, caffeinated drinks don’t count. They actually dehydrate the body. We lose approximately one pint of water daily due to normal bodily functions, so keeping hydrated is a cheap and simple essential thing to do to support health.

Eliminate refined sugars and alcohol. These will tax your whole body, impair sleep, lead to energy crashes and promote further intake of the same.

Swap less healthy fats for healthy fats. Providing your body with good fats will support your brain chemistry and will ultimately reduce cravings. Fat is what satiates us so healthy fats will help to reduce hunger.

Eat more nuts. They’re a great plant source of protein, rich in essential fatty acids. These support the brain and help our mood. Brazil nuts, especially, are high in selenium which is important for serotonin and dopamine levels. Selenium is also an essential nutrient for the thyroid.

Also, eat oily fresh fish such as sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring.

Include antioxidant-rich foods in your diet. Follow rainbow food suggestions to ensure you nourish yourself with foods rich in a broad range of essential phytonutrients and antioxidants. It can be tricky to remember which vitamins and minerals come from which foods, but this approach improves your chances of ticking all the boxes.

Some vegetables such as cruciferous plants like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, rocket and radish, and cysteine-rich vegetables – onions, garlic – help directly with detoxification pathways. You should include them daily.

Other beneficial fruit and vegetables include:

  • Apples (flavonoid quercetin)
  • Beetroot (betaine) assists in dopamine production.
  • Hemp seeds and chia seeds (omega 3 and 6)
Eat more fibre

Fibre will help tone the bowel and assist with stool formation. It supports healthy gut flora and helps eliminate toxins as well as excess hormones, medications and histamine from the gut. Increase your range of vegetables and include fibre in your food and you can positively impact your gut flora within just 24 hours.

  • Whole grains such as oats, quinoa, barley and rye
  • Fruit, especially pears, apples, oranges, bananas and berries.
  • Vegetables: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes and artichoke.
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Avocado
  • Beans and pulses especially lentils and chickpeas.
Step 3 – Restore

Having eliminated sugars and alcohol and introduced a wider variety of fruit and vegetables, you have already taken the first step to restoring healthy microflora populations in the body. Beneficial bacteria will feed off short-chain fatty acids that the plant foods provide.

The broad range of fruit and vegetables can also provide some natural antimicrobials. As the beneficial strains repopulate, they crowd out less desirable populations and support the mucus membranes in the process. Natural supplements can help to promote this new balance, as can a number of food options.  Try introducing fermented foods such as:

  • Live yoghurt (avoid ones sweetened with sugar) and kefir
  • Traditionally prepared sourdough
  • Sauerkraut and kimchi. Try making your own with water and a little salt.  You can add some rice vinegar or wine vinegar. It is the deprivation of oxygen that encourages the fermentation process thanks to naturally present lactobacillus on the veg
  • Tempeh (fermented soybeans)
  • Kombucha (fermented tea) – a good alternative to beer
  • Miso
How about suporting the mind?

A simple way to help stabilise your mood and your hormones is to eat plenty of dopamine-supportive foods.

Dopamine is our motivation hormone. When we are feeling a little low on dopamine, it is common to crave artificial stimulation such as sugar, high carbohydrate snacks, alcohol and tobacco.

It is important for sleep, mood, memory and pain management and it has a direct effect on the reward centres in the brain. So, it is easy to see why we might feel compelled to reach for the chocolate or wine. However, we can support this nutritionally by increasing the foods we eat that contain tyrosine. Tyrosine is the amino acid that makes dopamine and it is also important for thyroid health.

Tyrosine-rich foods include soybeans, sesame, spirulina, dairy products and good quality unprocessed meats – chicken, turkey, beef and pork. These foods are also high in protein and can support our energy levels and avoid energy crashes.

It is true that meat and dairy can have an inflammatory effect on the body, but it is also the case that grass-fed and organic meat has a more favourable omega 3 to 6 ratio and higher antioxidants than regular meat.

Buying local also means the produce is fresher and unlikely to have been intensely farmed, so the meat is less likely to have as many toxic chemicals, routine antibiotics and excess hormones.

Almonds are high in tyrosine. Leafy greens, broccoli, chickpeas and cauliflower are rich in folate and vitamin B6 which is also important for dopamine production.

Step 4 – Normalise 

This is about reflecting and incorporating your new positive habits into daily practice.  Take time to consider what new foods you have tried and enjoyed, and how your body and mind feel now you have removed some less desirable elements.

We don’t have to be 100% perfect in our choices. How about just 80% of the time? The focus isn’t on what you deprive yourself of but what you nourish yourself with.

There are lots of resources online. You might want to read more about dopamine, tyrosine, detox and nutrition.

If you are feeling stuck, tired, wanting to shift those extra pounds and needing additional support to get your health and your diet back on track I would recommend you work with a nutritional therapist.

By working one to one you not only get support to make positive changes but also the benefit of working with a practitioner who can create an achievable programme for you.

I am available either via Zoom during total lockdown and face-to-face once we emerge from restrictions. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions at all about nutritional therapy.

Rachel Bell, Nutritional Therapist rachelbellnutrition.com.

Take 5 Seasonal Herbs and Spices

We have merged many traditions when it comes to our Christmas celebrations. They range from decorating our homes with holly, ivy and mistletoe to using warming spices to mull our winter wine and give us cheer on a cold winter’s night. Here, we look at 5 seasonal herbs and their medicinal properties.

Christmas herbs and spices

It really is a cultural mishmash when it comes to Christmas. Central to it all are the plants that have been part of our culture for aeons, plants that are central to our whole existence on this planet. Plants provide shelter, clothing, food and medicine and have a worthy seat at the table for any feast or celebration.

As a practising medical herbalist, my particular interest is in the medicinal uses of many of the plants and herbs central to our Christmas celebrations.  Many of those we take for granted have remarkable properties. We cook with herbs and spices like sage, mint and cinnamon not only because they enhance flavours but because they have special health virtues.

As for frankincense and myrrh, integral to the Christmas story, these are two ancient remedies that we still use in modern herbal practice today. In fact, they’ve seen a dramatic revival in recent years. Both are gum resins extracted from trees.  You could think of resin as being sticky plant blood that the tree produces to prevent infection where it’s injured. The resin then hardens like a scab which can be harvested.  Tree resins tend to be incredibly antiseptic and anti-inflammatory and these two have been traded for their medicinal use for over 5,000 years.

Back in the day, in that stable in Bethlehem, the three wise men gifted Jesus these two remarkable remedies because they were literally worth their weight in gold, the third gift they gave.  Of particular interest today is that research now suggests that using both myrrh and frankincense together synergistically offers a more potent effect and alters the chemical structure further. So it looks as if they were very wise men indeed.

Frankincense uses

On its own, frankincense, known botanically as boswellia, can be used both internally as medicine and externally as an essential oil in massage balms and skincare creams.  Medical herbalists use alcohol tinctures to extract the medicinal compounds from the resin. The resin can also be steamed and distilled to produce a rather delightful essential oil that can be emotionally comforting and very cleansing to the lungs when heated with water in an oil diffuser. The essential oil is also very rejuvenating and makes a nourishing and healing ingredient in beauty balms and skin creams.

We use the tincture internally. It’s a key ingredient in bespoke blends for inflammation and congestion and is a remedy that I often prescribe in cases where we have active immune inflammation such as inflammatory bowel disease, endometriosis or arthritis.  There is a vast amount of research that demonstrates it brings about a significant reduction in inflammatory cytokines. This indicates the potential for treating malignancy, auto-immunity and allergy in a clinical setting.

We take frankincense in small doses over a long period of time. This is because big doses of resins can be heavy on the digestive system. The sort of conditions we are managing with this remedy tend to be of a more chronic nature. So the aim is to bring about slow and steady changes to health and the immune system.

Myrrh uses

In my herbal dispensary at Health Food and More, I have two types of myrrh tincture.  One is commiphora mol mol and the other is commiphora mukul or guggul.  They are interchangeable in that they are both antiseptic and help the body to fight infections But I do tend to use more guggul in my prescriptions as it also supports thyroid health.

Guggul for thyroid health

We can prescribe guggul for sluggish thyroid complaints as it aids the conversion of T4, an inactive form of the thyroid hormone thyroxine, into T3, the activated form the body needs at a cellular level.

Put simply, in its T4 state the thyroxine is sitting in the sorting office going nowhere. Guggul helps get it off the sorting shelf ready for delivery! So it’s one to consider when someone’s blood tests show they’re borderline hypothyroid, or if they’re taking thyroxine but still feeling underactive.

It’s also a remedy I consider for chronic or recurrent infections such as cysts, cellulitis, acne or even urinary tract infections.  As with boswellia, we’re looking at low doses over the long term and in a preventative capacity to avoid the need for antibiotics again and again.

Immune system support

Many of the herbs and spices we use in cooking are antiseptic. Those that we traditionally use to cook meats also have potent antiseptic and antibacterial effects.  We think their culinary use comes from the days when they helped to keep meat free from bacteria. Modern science has demonstrated that herbs such as thyme, rosemary and sage can kill salmonella. It’s no wonder we use them in stuffings, along with other delicious antiseptics such as onions. It’s a flavoursome combination that enhances the culinary experience and also helps keep bacteria under control.

Sage and poultry 

Sage, of course, is the most popular herb for stuffing poultry. As well as being a great cooking herb, it’s a great remedy to have in the herbal first aid cupboard. You can make a simple infusion to use as a gargle for sore throats at the onset of infections. If you drink it hot, it is diaphoretic. That means it helps create a therapeutic fever and helps your body fight infection.  The opposite is also true. If you drink it as a cold tea, it has a cooling and drying effect. This means it helps to dry and cool excess sweat. That’s great news for menopausal women who suffer from flushes and night sweats.

Personally, I prefer my sage in tablet or tincture form as cold sage tea is not the tastiest. But it is a really cost-effective way of using sage for the menopause if you’re strapped for cash.

Cinnamon benefits

Of course, at Christmas puddings abound and will include warming spices like nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon.  Our sweet spices have also been prized for taste as well as medicinal treatments. Notable among them all is cinnamon, which has some exciting medicinal properties to boot.

Cinnamon is a sweet and warming spice. Using it in recipes should mean you can use less sugar to sweeten.  But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to its potential health benefits.

Ceylon cinnamon is the one most commonly used in the UK. It also helps to activate insulin receptors on the cell membranes. That means it makes insulin work more effectively and can reduce the insulin resistance we associate with type II diabetes.  Of course, you need to do more than take cinnamon to improve blood sugar handling. However, using cinnamon as part of a protocol that includes positive dietary changes may net potential benefits. That’s especially as we now understand that it may also help to reduce cholesterol.

Studies show that improving blood sugar also can improve cholesterol. But if you’re taking your cinnamon in a rich Christmas pudding drowned in cream or brandy butter. you’re probably negating any real benefits.

Peppermint for digestion

If you’re feeling bloated after one too many helpings, you could always reach for an after-dinner mint. The humble mint has become the customary end to a filling meal. It aids digestion and helps the liver and gallbladder cope with digesting fats.

Peppermint is a great digestive aid and helps to freshen the palate, too. It is known to help with heartburn, bloating and irritable bowel symptoms.

But it’s worth remembering that gluttony is not a good thing. Enjoy a good dinner but don’t be Mr Creosote from Monty Python. Nothing will really help if you have overdone it and “just one waffer-thin mint” turns out to be just one mouthful too much!

Nature’s beauty and bounty

This year more than any we should take the time to be thankful for nature and what she has provided. Through the slower days of lockdown in 2020, many people reconnected with green spaces and discovered local places of peace and beauty. They reconnected with cooking and baking from scratch, so much so we had a national shortage of both flour and yeast! And some were also lucky to have the time to reconnect with themselves. That’s if they weren’t busy educating children or trying to adapt to working from home.

It is timely, then, to look forward now with hopes of rebirth and moving on into a healthier way to live and connect with the planet. We can also celebrate our old traditions that centre around the natural world as well as the plants that embellish and enrich our lives.


Meet Our New Nutritional Therapist

We’re delighted to announce that nutritional therapy appointments are now available in our clinic. Rachel Bell Nutrition offers a naturopathic and holistic approach to nutrition to help you achieve optimum health and wellbeing.

Rachel is a nutritional therapist registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). She is also a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT).

About Rachel 

Rachel says she feels blessed to live near the sea on the Scottish coast in Fife with her husband, young daughter and two spoiled cats.  “I have always felt drawn to nature and to natural medicines. That’s why, in my earlier career, I undertook a master’s in environmental studies. This introduced me to concepts of how our philosophies and belief systems influence our relationship with the natural world and the food that we eat.

“It was while volunteering in indigenous communities in the Andes and rainforest that I observed how intricately beliefs, health and the natural world are connected. I also saw how robust physical, emotional and spiritual health comes from wholism in our lives. It comes from the foods that we eat, the medicines that we use and the way we live day to day.

“I’ve now spent the past two decades working closely with natural products and dietary supplements. I’ve also delivered sales and training for some of the leading natural product manufacturers in the UK.

“It’s through this supportive role in independent health food shops and pharmacies that I readily saw the benefits that nutritional supplements deliver in an over-the-counter situation. But I could also see the potential limitations.  Sometimes people need more in-depth support to regain wellbeing.

“This insight inspired me to further my naturopathic studies. My aim was to offer a nutritional consultancy and return to the principles of wholism I embraced in my earlier career.  This holistic approach could help people embrace a positive relationship with their food, their environment and their lifestyle as well as working with targeted supplements.”

How Rachel Works  

Rachel works one-to-one with clients, considering presenting symptoms and assessing potential imbalances in the systems of the body.  After a detailed assessment, she then formulates an evidence-based, personalised nutritional plan. This includes realistic and enjoyable dietary changes and supplementation if indicated. She supports positive changes to achieve optimal health for the client and offers support with menu plans, sharing recipes and even helping to create a shopping list.

Addressing the food on the plate is only the beginning of this process. Together, Rachel and her clients look at how both body and mind respond to foods, habits and environmental influences.  She supports clients in adapting to challenges and changing circumstances through follow up appointments. She also encourages them to nurture themselves with awareness and compassion.

It’s not just about what you eat, it is also about how you eat.  The aim of treatment is to feel well, be well and stay well.

Nutritional Therapy

Nutritional therapists use a range of tools to assess a person’s health status.  Rachel says: “We consider the foods you eat, the lifestyle habits and practices you adopt and what your exposure and environment present individually in terms of challenges to your overall health.”

Therapists sometimes get additional information through functional testing, epigenetic screening or hair mineral analysis.  These additional tests can often provide greater insight into why certain problems have arisen and can pinpoint what protocols may benefit.

Nutritional therapy is recognised as a complementary medicine and is different from consulting a dietician.  Nutritional therapists work holistically. That means they take an interest in how you experience your health and how you feel and function, rather than simply giving you a diet for a specific condition.  Because it works dynamically and holistically, this therapy may be of benefit to people suffering from chronic conditions as well as those looking for support to enhance their health and wellbeing.

The consultation itself involves answering detailed questions about current health concerns, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, medical history, family history, lifestyle, levels of physical activity, use of medication and supplements and diet.

This allows the therapist to form a personalised nutritional programme that draws on an extensive evidence base for nutritional science.  What this means is that you have a safe and effective nutrition and lifestyle programme based on your own unique needs and targets.


Disclaimer: Nutritional therapy is not a replacement for medical advice and your therapist will refer any client with ‘red flag’ signs or symptoms to their medical practitioner. Naturopathic nutritional practitioners are not permitted to diagnose or claim to treat medical conditions, rather a nutritional therapy programme is intended to support optimal health.


Take 5 Berries for Winter Health

Even in Scotland in November, nature delivers up her bounty. Hawthorn berries offer a red hue in the hedgerows well after the leaves have fallen.

We see glimmers of yellow on trees as velvet shank mushrooms begin to show and in the leaf litter, if you have a keen eye, you might just spot vibrant purple blewit mushrooms ripe for the picking. Nature may slow down, but she never fully rests as she continues to offer up foods and medicines for us.

Winter in the north may be harsh and cruel, but she gives very generously in the autumn to set store for the leaner months ahead. And although autumn may feel like the season of decay and recycling, it’s actually the season of new life as nature sows her seeds for new growth.

Nature is a hard-working and creative lass. She knows that the apple needs to fall further from the tree in order to survive and thrive. So, she cleverly packages her seeds in tasty fruits and berries for birds, beasts and humans to eat and spread far and wide.

She rewards us for this service with nutrient-rich foods, densely packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and potent medicinal compounds. In short, berries contain life force.

High in Healing Nutrients

As a medical herbalist, I will often recommend adding extra berries to the diet as they are high in healing nutrients including bioflavonoids and vitamin C which are known to support immune health, reduce inflammation and protect collagen, the building block for our connective tissue, bones and skin.

Cultivated berries are a good source of nutrients, but wild berries contain more potent levels of antioxidants and medicinal compounds as they have had to protect themselves from the forces of nature to survive.  Research suggests they may contain up to twice the antioxidants of cultivated varieties.

Blueberries or Bilberries

Wild blueberries or bilberries are abundant in our local pine forests and are a refreshing, tart nibble when out for a walk in the woods.  They are a rich source of potent super nutrients that include vitamin C, resveratrol, anthocyanins and vitamin E.

These berries are great for the skin and considered to be antioxidant powerhouses.  They help to neutralise the enzymes that break down collagen and we consider them a tonic for blood vessels, helping to prevent bruising and damage to blood vessel walls.

Oxidative stress is thought to be a key driver in the aging process and notably so when it comes to eye health. So, if you want to keep your vision at its best bilberries are worth eating regularly.

Studies have shown that bilberry extracts can improve night vision, reduce eye strain and may also potentially prevent and even treat macular degeneration, which causes vision loss in the elderly.

Of course, we would all love to be living the “good life” but for many people foraging from the woods for your plate isn’t always a viable option.  Even if that’s the case you can still benefit from berries in your diet. Buy fresh organic berries if you can, frozen organic if you can’t, and regularly cultivated if there is no other option.  No matter which you choose there is benefit to be had from consuming them regularly.

Hawthorn Berries

In addition to the berries we find in the supermarket, there are countless medicinal berries available as capsules, tinctures and tablets in health food shops, some of which you might also be able to find growing in your local hedgerows and parks.

Two grow within a few hundred metres of my house and are firm favourites of mine in my herbal practice, too. The first is hawthorn, which I’ve already mentioned and which I’ve already turned ketchup. The second is elderberry, now gone over for the season, but turned into syrup and stored in my garage as a winter tonic for the immune system.

Hawthorn is a herb of the heart and has a long tradition of use in medicine throughout Europe.  Known as May blossom, the leaves and flowers are harvested in the spring and made into teas or tinctures to help lower high blood pressure.  They are gently relaxant on the peripheral blood vessels and open up the peripheral circulation, reducing the pressure in the system.

The berries are used more specifically for central heart health and are used in herbalist prescribed treatments for hardening of the arteries and high cholesterol, angina and even congestive heart failure.

These conditions are not the sort of problem you should attempt to remedy by yourself. But working with a trained, skilled medical herbalist to address cardiovascular health may benefit you.

The Root of Common Health Issues

Orthodox medicine focuses much attention on cholesterol when it comes to the heart and circulation, but the focus of the naturopathic minded practitioner delves a little deeper to consider inflammation, which is at the root of many chronic health issues.

Inflammatory changes in blood vessels allow cholesterol to clump and dump. Therefore, the aim of treatment is not only to improve cholesterol status but to modify the diet to reduce homocysteine and curb the damage within the blood vessels themselves.  It’s also aimed at increasing elasticity and reducing a tendency for fibrous hardening which leads to cramps, spasms and congestion.

Hawthorn is considered a specific for the circulation. In my many years of practice, I have observed significant benefits for clients using it for angina and intermittent claudication of the legs. Both are caused by restricted blood flow and lead to painful cramps.

With hawthorn, exercise endurance increases, legs ache less and the need for nitrate sprays is reduced. These are all positive signs that blood vessels are functioning better, and the heart is being nourished more.

Popular Elderberry

Berries really do have the potential to support lots of different systems in the body and our immune system can also gain a healthy edge from consuming berries regularly.

When I undertook my professional herbal studies back in the 1990s, we mainly focused on elderflowers as the medicine to gather from the elder tree. Now elderberries have overtaken the popularity of elderflower as an immune-supporting tonic. You can now find elderberry supplements in chemists, supermarkets and health food shops as well as traditional herbal dispensaries.

Like the flowers, they have a real affinity for mucus membranes. We often prescribed them for respiratory viruses, particularly those affecting the lungs and bronchial tubes.

They have gained popularity probably because scientific studies now back traditional folk use and the internet is littered with papers demonstrating their effectiveness not just in treating respiratory viruses but also in reducing the severity and longevity of flu-like illnesses.

Natural Immune Boosters

Elderberries contain immune-boosting anthocyanidins and flavonoids that help to prevent cell wall damage and which in turn helps to stop viruses from entering and infecting cells of the body.

These deep purple berries may have even more to offer us in our quest for wellness. It’s thought that they may also be good for the circulation, for reducing high blood sugar and may even be of potential benefit in cancer management.

In early 2020 rumours started to circulate that elderberries might exacerbate Covid19 by inducing a cytokine storm. That’s an inflammatory reaction which we now understand leads to a poorer outcome for people fighting the virus.

All research suggests that elderberry would have the opposite effect, that it should, if anything, dampen down rather than activate an inflammatory response. Researchers have found no evidence that it exacerbates it. So we can continue to use it in syrups and supplements through the winter, safe in the knowledge it’s safe to use no matter what the immune threat might be.

There is no scientific evidence to show that home-made syrups are as effective as commercially produced remedies, but I have faith that my local, freshly harvested, wild-grown organic elderberry syrup will be every bit as effective as a mass-produced product.  My whole family keeps fighting fit by taking a healthy swig every day as well as a good dose of vitamin D.

Sea Buckthorn Berries

Each colour on the fruit and veg spectrum relates to different health benefits, which is why we should aim for a rainbow on our plates every day.  The same could be said of berries and although these mainly come in purples and reds there are also some super health-promoting orange berries, too.

In Scotland, near the coastal margins of Fife and East Lothian as well as other maritime fringes, sea buckthorn grows wild in abundance. I understand it’s native to the south coast of England and has been planted around other coastal dune lands to stabilise the shoreline. Anyone lucky enough to have it growing locally has a great free food resource as the berries can be harvested and eaten raw in smoothies or made into jams, jellies and syrups.

Like the other berries mentioned here, there are indications that sea buckthorn berries are good for the heart and circulation and they might also help to lower cholesterol.

Beneficial Fatty Acids

Their tart flavour imparts tone to the digestion and in Asia they have traditionally been used to treat gastric problems and stomach ulcers.  In the UK most of the interest in sea buckthorn focuses on the oil extracted from the seeds which gives a spectrum of omega 3, omega 6, omega 9 and abundant omega 7 fatty acids.

Omega 7 helps to increase insulin sensitivity and at the same time helps to protect the insulin-releasing beta cells of the pancreas. That, coupled with cholesterol-lowering benefits, suggests it might benefit if there’s a risk of type II diabetes in the family.

Sea buckthorn seed extracts may also help another age-related problem. It may help with dry mucus membranes and dry and irritated eyes. A dry lipid layer in the eyes can cause them to feel tired and irritated and even stream as the body attempts to moisten them. Supplementation seems to dramatically improve symptoms over a period of just a few weeks.

Popular Post Menopause

Sea buckthorn can moisten other membranes, too. Its particular benefit for post-menopausal women or women on hormonal suppression medications is that it can markedly improve symptoms of vaginal dryness without HRT or oestrogen pessaries.

Nowadays many women prefer a non-hormonal approach to managing menopause issues and sea buckthorn omega 7 supplements are a go-to for vaginal atrophy in both our shop and clinic.

Of course, if you have them growing nearby you can eat the berries fresh or freeze them to see you through winter and spring. Eating both the seed and the flesh has additional benefits and may help keep your skin looking younger, too.

Exceptional Schisandra

The final berry is one of my all-time favourites and unusually for me, not one I have foraged. This one isn’t a native plant. It comes from Asia and Russia, where it has a long tradition of use as a medicine and a tonic.

It’s schisandra chinensis, also known as five-flavoured fruit because herbalists consider it to be a balance of sour, salty, sweet, acrid and bitter tastes and therefore balancing to all constitutions.

I’ve been exploring schisandra berry as a herbal remedy more in my practice over the past couple of years because of a significant uplift in inflammatory and histamine-driven conditions we are seeing in clinic.

Auto-immune inflammation is on the rise and stress has reached ferocious levels, particularly over the past few months.  In schisandra we have a remedy with almost miraculous indications in a wide range of conditions.

I would encourage you to read some of the papers available online. There’s a huge amount of research into herbal medicines in China and schisandra’s exceptional properties have been well validated.

Powerful Adaptogen

Like many berries, it is antioxidant and has indications for cardiovascular health and conditions such as diabetes.  But dig deeper and you discover a powerful adaptogen that helps to counter the effects of stress and dampen down the damage of excess cortisol.

It is a tonic for the liver, helps to reduce inflammation associated with autoimmune conditions and malignancy and even has neuroprotective potential for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. So you can understand why this berry has really grabbed my interest and is on my list of frequently prescribed herbs.

Typically, we’re all living longer nowadays, but it saddens me that this doesn’t necessarily mean we’re living healthier lives. If you take one thing away from this, consider berrying up your diet and your medicines. Boost those protective antioxidants and you can not only live longer but live younger too!

Finally, please remember that if you do suffer from a health problem it’s always better to have herbs prescribed by a qualified and experienced professional herbalist. And always check before taking a supplement or herb if you are on prescribed medications.

You also want to make sure you know your plant ID before harvesting anything for the table or the pot. There are poisonous berries, barks, leaves and mushrooms out there too!  She’s a clever lass, but nature can be quite wicked, too.


Keren Brynes Maclean is a consultant medical herbalist and has been a Member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists since 1996.  She owns and runs Health Food and More in Kirkcaldy, a shop, clinic and dispensary in the Kingdom of Fife. Visit www.healthfoodandmore.co.uk for more information.