How to reduce inflammation with The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet

Photo by Image Source/DigitalVision / Getty Images
Photo by Image Source/DigitalVision / Getty Images

Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, Greece and some countries of North Africa are part of the Mediterranean Region, a geographical reference to countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. It is these countries that are the primary producers of olives and olive oil, and the people of these countries that follow a pattern of eating referred to as the Mediterranean diet (MD).

The MD is one of the few patterns of eating that has been clinically proven to lower the risk of cancer; heart attack and stroke; reduce inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, arthritis, and auto immune disease; and increase quality of life and longevity (Urpi-Sarda et al. 2012).

Whilst research has shown that good health is related to lifestyle just as much as diet (people of the Mediterranean Region are socially well connected to family and friend, and lead a slower pace of life than their western counterparts), the high use of olive oil in the MD is one of the primary reasons that this pattern of eating works so well. Olives are a rich source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols, a compound that has strong anti- inflammatory properties. So much so that recent research is looking to isolate specific polyphenols from the olive fruit to patent as over the counter anti-inflammatory medication, without the side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Bitler et al. 2007).

You can get the anti-inflammatory and cardio-protective actions of the MD by eating:

  • Bountiful amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds

  • Olives and olive oil as the primary source of fat

  • Small amounts of red meat (traditionally once a week – replace with fish and


  • Moderate amounts of fish and poultry

  • Fewer dairy products (Choose full fat natural yoghurt, cheese, and milk sourced from

    cow, sheep or goat)

  • 0-4 eggs per week

  • Low to moderate amounts of red wine

    Simple ways to make your dietary choices more Mediterranean:

  • Use extra virgin olive oil as your primary fat source for cooking, baking, and for salad dressing

  • Eliminate refined carbohydrates from your diet, including refined sugar

  • Include organic tinned beans in your cooking and salads

  • Use crushed garlic and fresh herbs to season your cooking

  • Enjoy fresh fruit and a small amount of quality cheese after a main meal, rather than sweets or chocolate

Urpi-Sarda. M., Casas. R., Chiva-Blanch. G., Romero-Mamani. E. S., Valderas-Martinez. P., Arranz. S., Andres-Lacuevea. C., Llorach. R., Medina-Remon. A., Lamuela- Raventos. R. M., & Estruch. R. (2012). Virgin olive oil and nuts as key foods of the Mediterranean diet effects on inflammatory biomarkers related to atherosclerosis. Pharmacological Research, (65:6), 577-583. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2012.03.006

Bitler, C., Matt, K., Irving, M., Hook, G., Yusen, J., Eager, F., Kirschner, K., Walker, B. & Crea, R. (2007). Olive extract supplement decreases pain and improves daily activities in adults with osteoarthritis and decreases plasma homecystine in those with rheumatoid arthritis. Nutrition Research, 27(8), 470-477. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2007.06.00


Using food as medicine - Phytoestrogen foods can reduce menopause symptoms

Photo by Marek Uliasz/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Marek Uliasz/iStock / Getty Images

Phyto-oestrogen rich food will naturally and safely increase the amount of oestrogen like compounds in your system, bind to oestrogen receptors, and alleviate the symptoms of oestrogen imbalance and the symptoms of menopause.

Foods to include:

Phyto-oestrogen rich foods – Soybeans (please so not consider soymilk as a ‘health’ food as it tends to be high in sugar, hydrogenated fats and stabilizers.  If you are to consume soy in the diet please choose from miso, tempeh, tofu, tamari, and natto), chickpeas, kidney beans, alfalfa, olives, oats, rye, barley, wheat, peas, corn and rice, buckwheat, millet, flaxseed, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, carrot, beetroot, plums, rhubarb

Ways you can do this - Order carrot juice in a café; sprinkle LSA (linseed, Sunflower and Almond) meal on porridge, salads, muesli, mix with honey and spread on toast; buy different types of bread (whole wheat, rye); consume tofu and tempeh in salads, stir-fries and homemade salad wraps; sprinkle sesame seeds on everything; put alfalfa sprouts on everything; stew rhubarb with plums and eat with yoghurt and porridge; cook with beans

Bircher recipe:

This is a tasty and quick recipe that prepares well in advance of when you need it.  I will often make enough for 2 days at a time, and find it a great way to get rolled oats into the family in summer.  Besides being a great way to increase phyto-oestrogens in the diet rolled oats are a valuable source of beta glucan, a form of soluble fibre helps increase bowel transit time aiding the evacuation of cholesterol out of the body. 

 Coconut Bircher

  • ¼ cup organic or biodynamic rolled oats
  •  Purified water to cover oats
  • 6 almonds, roughly chopped
  •  2 tbsp Coconut cream
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ grated green apple

Overnight soak oats + water + almonds.  In the morning stir through coconut cream, cinnamon, and grated apple.   Sweeten with a small amount of raw honey if needed.   Serve as breakfast or take as snack

Health food is real food - Nutrition to increase iron and calcium in the diet

Iron Containing Foods

Haem compound iron is found in food sourced from animals and is more readily absorbed by the body, whereas vegetarian sources of iron tend to exist in unabsorbable complexes as inorganic iron salts. Cooking improves iron bioavailability, and consuming vitamin C rich foods in the same meal can increase iron absorption by up to 50% (Wahlqvist, 2002, p. 276).

Photo by Bet_Noire/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Bet_Noire/iStock / Getty Images

Iron and calcium compete at the same receptor sites for absorption.  If taking an iron supplement try to avoid having large amounts of dairy foods at the same time.

Haem iron foods

  • Red meat

  • Liver

  • Eggs

  • Tuna

  • Salmon

  • Oysters

Non­haem iron foods

  • Seaweed (dulse, kelp)

  • Lima beans

  • Soya beans

  • Spinach

  • Dates

  • Wheat germ

  • Walnuts

  • Figs

  • Sesame seeds

  • Millet

  • Prunes

  • Rice bran

  • Mung beans

  • Wheat bran

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Lentils

  • Pistachio nut

Vitamin C foods

Kale leaves
Brussell sprouts Cauliflower

Calcium‐rich foods (non‐dairy):

  • Sesame seeds (tahini)

  • Leafy green vegetables

  • Almonds

  • Soya beans

  • Hazelnuts

  • Parsley

  • Brazil nuts

  • Chickpeas

  • Pistachio nuts

  • Dried figs

  • Sunflower seeds

  • Broccoli

  • Olives

  • Rhubarb

  • Dried prunes

Wahlqvist. M. (2002). Australia and New Zealand: Food and Nutrition. (2nd edn.). Allen & Unwin: Crows Nest. 

herbal medicine supplements for cold and flu

Herbal medicine to combat the cold and flu blues

 Supplements and herbs to support immune response-

Photo by Annedore Liebs-Schuchardt/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Annedore Liebs-Schuchardt/iStock / Getty Images

Vitamin C and Zinc – A 2006 systematic review reported that Vitamin C and zinc supplementation ameliorates symptoms and shortens the duration of upper respiratory infections including the common cold.  Vitamin C improves components of the immune system including lymphocytes (those T and B cells) and zinc increases the activity of phagocytic cells (think PACMAN!)[5]

Vitamin D – Vitamin D receptors are expressed on T and B cells and these cells help create the usable form of Vitamin D for the body.  Vitamin D deficiency has been directly linked to an increased susceptibility to autoimmune disease and an increased risk of infection[6]

Echinacea – Increases macrophage function and has an antioxidant effect and anti-inflammatory action[7].  Quality COUNTS.  Only buy a high-grade Echinacea product (such as Mediherb) as a number of researchers have reached the same conclusion – the root has an positive action on the immune response more so than the whole herb, and that there can be a huge variation in efficacy due to quality.  Best used daily to PREVENT infection rather than used at onset of symptoms.

Andrographis – Has an antibacterial action against E. coli, Salmonella typhi, Staphylococcus sp. and Pseudomonas sp.[8].  Used traditionally in the initial stages of infection for common cold and upper respiratory tract infections.  Also supports liver function due to bitter taste. 

Astragalis – A 2011 research article showed that astragalis was effective in increasing the stimulation of white blood cell activity when exposed the viral infection swine flu in vivo[9].  Traditionally astragalis has been used after the initial stages of infection to help improve energy and vitality.  Commonly used after viral infections such as glandular fever.

Olive leaf – Antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal action.  Traditionally used to lower blood pressure acts as an antibiotic[10].

To support gut function

Probiotics – ‘Good’ bacteria crowd out the bad, provide a protective layer that is a first line of defence at a skin and gut level, support the lymphatic immune response and reduce the inflammatory response = good quality water in the cup!

Glutamine – Has been shown to enhance gut function, prevent loss of gut integrity, and improve patient outcomes[11].  This helps improve gut integrity, improve localised immune response and reduce inflammation = a cup with no holes in it!

To reduce inflammation 

Turmeric – Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action.  Shown to be particularly effective at inhibiting the biochemical pathways that are initiated in chronic inflammation.  Shown to inhibit inflammageing – improve outcomes with osteoarthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia[12]. Traditionally also used to improve digestive function and liver disorders.

Fish oil – Compared to NSAIDs (ibuprofen – Neurofen) omega-3 EFA fish oil demonstrate an equivalent effect in reducing pain (when taking 2400mg EPA daily)[13]. 

To reduce stress response 

KSM 66 (Withania extract) – Reduces cortisol production and promotes feelings of calm 


[5]    Wintergerst, E. s., Maggini, S., Hornig, D.H. 2006.  Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann Nutr Metab.  2006;50(2):85-94.

[6]    Aranow, C.  2011.  Vitamin d and the immune system.  J of Investig Med.  59(6): 881-886. doi: 10.231/JIM.0b013e31821b8755

[7]     Rininger, J. A. et al. 2000.  Immunopharmacological activity of Echinacea preparations following simulated digestion on murine macrophages and human peripheral blood mononuclear cells.  Journal of Lymphocyte Biology. 68(4) 503-510.

[8]    Shalini, V.B, & Narayanan, J. S. 2015. Antibacterial activity of Andrographis paniculata Nees against selective human pathogens.  African Journal of Microbiology Research.  9(16) 1122-1127. doi: 10.5897/AJMR2015.7515.

[9]    Zeng-Yu, Z. et al. 2011.  Effects of Astragalis polysaccharide on immune response s of porcine PBMC stimulated with PRRSV or CSFV. PLoS ONE. 7(1): e29320. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029320

[10]  Aliabadi, M. A., et al. 2012.  Antimicrobial activity of olive leaf aqueous extract.  Annals of Biological Research. 3(8):4189-4191. 

[11]  Stchmiller, J. K.,  Treloar, D. &, Allen N.  1997.  Am J Crit Care. 6(3) 204-209. 

[12]  Sikora, E., et al. 2010.  Curcumin, inflammation, ageing and age-related diseases. Immunity and Ageing.  7(1). doi: 10.1186/1742-4933-7-1

[13]  Maroon, J. C. et al. 2006. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain.  Surg Neurol. 65(4):326-31.

Australian bush flowers - a herbalist's and ecologist's perspective

Eriostemon australiasius 

Eriostemon australiasius 

Spring has sprung (a little early) and nothing is more beautiful than a virtuous bush walk on a Sunday morning to check out the wildflowers.  

I love walking with my husband as he is an environmental scientist with a passion for native plants, and he is good at finding (and naming) all the spring blossoms. The walks along the edge of Ku-rin-gai Chase National Park are easy to access and showcase the most beautiful spring-time blooms.

I love finding native flowers on our walks that I use regularly in clinical practice.  Australian native plants tend to be sold as essential oils (eucalyptus, tea tree, lemon myrtle), teas, ingredients for cooking, and less often as therapeutic herbs in tinctures and capsules.  Australian natives tend to have excellent antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties. Aboriginal medicinal knowledge is staggering, and much of this knowledge is sadly unused by western herbalists in practice today, as we practice an imported European-style of herbal medicine. 

The Australian Bush Flower (ABF) remedies reference native flowers as a therapeutic extract to support the emotions and the energy body.  Boronia ledifoloa was out in bloom this day, and the ABF remedies list the boronia flower to be important in helping create a serine mind open to intuition and clarity.  

Sitting on a rock face in the sunshine, surrounded by boronia flowers and looking out onto vast bushland, it was hard not to feel serine and clear of mind.  A fine reminder to connect with grass roots every now and then... 


Herbal medicine history - Culpepper circa 1820

this herbalist is giddy with excitement...

The British Herbal & Family Physician.  Culpepper, 1820.

My husband's grandfather was the resident doctor in a north-western NSW town for most of his adult life.  He passed away about five years ago and I was left some of his library - books on homeopathy, herbal medicine and acupuncture.  A world war two veteran, he doctored before the likes of antibiotics and was known to use anything that would make his patient feel better, including herbs.

This rare treasure, Culpepper's great work, is the foundation of traditional English herbal medicine from the turn of the century.  The above picture is one of  the line work, hand-painted illustrations from the back, included to help the reader identify the plant for picking. 

The bottom left daisy-like flower is yarrow.  Culpepper called this herb "drying and binding." Modern day herbalists class this herb as a styptic and use it to stop bleeding.  Our herbal history is still relevant, even if we would no longer choose to name the astrological sign the herb is aligned to (Venus for yarrow, just FYI).  It has allowed our modern science to understand why it works and to give us a new language to describe what traditional herbal doctors worked out through trial and error.

The herb-nerd in me just loves the history of it all...