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Be Your Kind of Beautiful

Happy World Vegan Day!

Are you ready to go meat-free this world vegan month?

November 1 is World Vegan Day – and November is World Vegan Month. So if you’re one of the millions considering becoming vegan – whether it’s because you’re concerned about your health, the environment, or animal welfare – here are ten fascinating facts about why swapping to a meat-free diet could be the best thing you’ve ever done for your body – and the planet in general.

  1. A well-balanced vegan diet contains all the protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals you need. Low in saturated fat and free from animal protein, cholesterol and hormones – all of which are linked to disease – a vegan diet can provide all the nutrients required for all stages of life.
  1. Compared to meat-eaters, vegans weigh less, have lower cholesterol, blood pressure and rates of type 2 diabetes. They have a 30 per cent lower risk of heart disease and lower cancer rates.
  1. If the world went vegan, it could save 8 million human lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoided climate damages of $1.5 trillion. 
  1. The World Health Organisation report in November 2015 ranked processed meat as a group 1 carcinogen (the same category as cigarettes, alcohol and asbestos). Eating just 50g per day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. It also classified red meat as a group 2A carcinogen.
  1. John Hopkins University found that, on average, a vegan diet is the most environmentally friendly of all diets and would cut emissions by 70%, while a Western style diet adds +135% to the emissions
  1. Those who eat meat spend a whopping Dhs6,000 extra a year on food, compared to those on a meat-free diet.
  1. A 2018 Oxford University study – which is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet – found that ‘avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth’ as animal farming provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of our farmland.
  1. A study published in Environmental Research Letters found that eating a plant-based diet has three times more positive environmental impact than washing your clothes in cold water; four times more than hang-drying clothes or recycling; and eight times more than upgrading light bulbs.
  1. Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon rainforest destruction. 
  1. Those who eat seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day have a 33% reduced risk of premature death, compared with people who eat less than one portion.

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Exercise Can Help Reduce Postpartum Depression

Let’s Talk Fitness and Postnatal Depression

Learn how exercise can help beat the blues.

Your baby was up all night, and all that crying and screaming made sure that you were, too. Tired and exhausted, you drag yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn and wonder if you’ll ever find a semblance of who you were before you had children.  

For some postnatal women, getting up and out of bed is actually a good start to their day. For others, it may be one of the most difficult things to do, especially when those baby blues haven’t gone away and you are left feeling overwhelmed, resentful, sad, or depressed.  It is common to have the baby blues up to a few weeks after the birth of your baby – after all, having a baby can take a lot from your body and a lot happens in the healing process post-birth. However, when that feeling continues past about a month or if you begin having darker thoughts, it may be a good time to consult your doctor. 

Baby Blues versus Postnatal Depression

Baby blues are common, and most mothers will have this from a couple of weeks up to a month post-birth – whether it’s their first, third, or fifth child. Your hormone levels drop, you are sleep-deprived, and you are now responsible for a tiny human who cannot communicate in any way other than cry, scream, poop, and puke. There is an abundance of new challenges and, with every baby, the challenges will be different. Know that this is normal and okay.

If, however, you find yourself not feeling any better, and your mood continues to be low or your thoughts darken, it’s possible that you have postnatal depression (PND). PND is likely if you have had depression before having a child or if it runs in your family. If you find yourself swinging wildly from happy to sad, struggling to get simple tasks like showering and getting dressed done, feeling anxious for most of the day, or experiencing a loss of appetite, then I highly recommend you reach out and speak to a healthcare professional.

Exercise and Postnatal Depression

I’ve always been ‘sporty’, so I continued to train through both my pregnancies. However, it wasn’t until after having my boys that I realised how important exercise was for me mentally. Until then, I always saw exercise as ‘keeping fit’ and helping my body look and feel good. Now, having completed Personal Training certifications and specialising in pre- and post-natal fitness, combined with my degree in psychology and background in coaching, I cannot begin to stress how important it is for new mums. 

There have been numerous studies illustrating that making time for exercise can help improve depressive symptoms in new mums. Exercise can help you in the following ways:

  • Increase the feel-good hormones in your brain. By bringing in more oxygen, it helps stimulate endorphins that help increase your sense of well-being.  
  • Aid in your postnatal recovery by helping strengthen your body.
  • Reduce some of the baby weight.
  • Help you focus. When exercising – be it for 30 minutes or an hour – you are concentrating on yourself and not the other hundreds of other things you would normally have going on. 

Increasing endorphins and giving yourself a sense of well-being sets you up for the day, so if you can, exercise in the morning. When you feel good about yourself, it will cascade – like a ripple in a pond – to others around you, including your baby, partner, and friends. The tasks that were once challenging may not seem as challenging, and you will likely feel more upbeat and positive.

Don’t get me wrong, with postnatal depression, it can be really difficult to get up out of bed – let alone exercise. This is not to negate how you feel, rather simply encourage you to try. Try to get up and do something for yourself – even for just 10 to 20 minutes – as you are worth the effort. 

Exercise with Your Baby

If you want to include your baby, that’s completely doable! Here are a few small exercises you can do with your baby to help both of you feel good. 

  • Lay your baby on the floor. Get yourself in a push-up position and, with each push-up, come down and kiss your baby. Babies absolutely love this – you will get the giggles galore!  
  • Squat with your baby facing outwards and, if you have a mirror, do it in front of the mirror. Babies love to see themselves! As you squat, try to make some funny noises or sounds. 
  • Squat to press while holding your baby under their arms and facing you. Squat then as you come up from the squat, press them above your head with a “woosh” sound. They usually love the rush and you will get a few giggles from them. Plus, it will help you get some strength and toning in your arms and shoulders – win-win!

Find a Postnatal Class or Trainer

There are several amazing companies and personal trainers who can assist you with your journey, especially here in Dubai. Check out UrbanEnergy – I trained with them pre- and post-natal. The trainers I had actually inspired me to become the trainer and coach I am today. There is also LeFitmom, which has bespoke programmes for all stages of motherhood.

There are trainers who can come to you so that you can keep within the comforts of your own home. On the other hand, if you feel like you want to get out and really embrace time for yourself, there are many postnatal training groups that you can join. Not only will you get to work out, but you’ll also connect with other mums. What better way than to do it with other mums who are all experiencing similar things? Some of my best friendships today, 12 years on, were formed with my trainer and the other mums who I trained with! 

If you’re a mum in Muscat and looking for fitness advice, feel free to reach out to Sharee Hendry by clicking here.  


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Hypothyroidism symptoms and causes

Hypothyroidism 101: The Causes, the Symptoms, and More

All the basics, covered.

Hypothyroidism is a condition that’s characterised by abnormally low thyroid hormone production. There are several disorders that can result in hypothyroidism, and these disorders may directly or indirectly involve the thyroid gland. As the thyroid hormone affects growth, development, and many cellular processes, inadequate thyroid hormone has widespread consequences for the body.

The easiest way to understand hypothyroidism is to consider its root meaning. ‘Hypo’ means too little, while ‘thyroidism’ is a disease of the thyroid. Hypothyroidism, therefore, is a disease of too little thyroid activity.

What Are Thyroid Hormones?

Thyroid hormones are produced by the thyroid gland. This gland is located in the lower part of the neck, below the Adam’s apple. The gland wraps around the windpipe (trachea) and has a shape that is similar to a butterfly, formed by two wings (lobes) and attached by a middle part (isthmus). 

The thyroid gland uses iodine (mostly available from the diet in foods such as seafood, bread, and salt) to produce thyroid hormones. The two most important thyroid hormones are thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which account for 99% and 1% of thyroid hormones present in the blood respectively. However, the hormone with the most biological activity is T3. Once released from the thyroid gland into the blood, a large amount of T4 is converted into T3, the active hormone that affects the metabolism of cells.

What Causes Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a very common condition. It is more common in women than in men, and its incidence increases with age. Here are some of the common causes of hypothyroidism in adults.

Inflammation of the Thyroid Gland (Thyroiditis)

Hypothyroidism often results from previous or currently ongoing inflammation of the thyroid gland, which leaves a large percentage of the cells of the thyroid damaged (or dead) and incapable of producing sufficient hormone. The most common cause of thyroid gland failure is called autoimmune thyroiditis (also called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) or, in other words, thyroid inflammation caused by a person’s own immune system.

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder that’s caused by the immune system attacking healthy tissues. In Hashimoto’s disease, immune-system cells lead to the death of the thyroid’s hormone-producing cells.

Medical Treatment

This fairly broad category includes procedures or medications that affect the thyroid’s ability to produce enough hormones to meet the body’s demands. Some of these hypothyroidism-causing treatments are done to address another thyroid disorder, but can have the side effect of inducing hypothyroidism. For example, the treatment of many thyroid conditions – including thyroid cancer – requires surgical removal of a portion or all of the thyroid gland. If the thyroid-producing cells left in the body are not enough to meet the needs of the body, the patient will develop hypothyroidism.

What Are the Risk Factors for Hypothyroidism?

Anyone can develop hypothyroidism, but you are at increased risk if you:

  • are a woman
  • are over the age of 50
  • were pregnant or had a baby within the past six months
  • have a family history of thyroid disease or any autoimmune disorder
  • have an autoimmune disorder, such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis
  • have taken antithyroid medications (a treatment for hyperthyroidism) or have been treated with radioactive iodine
  • have had thyroid surgery (partial or total thyroidectomy)
  • have been exposed to radiation to your neck or upper chest area

What Are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?

The symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary with the severity of the deficiency in thyroid hormone production and the length of time that the body has been deprived of the proper amount of hormone. Symptoms also vary between individuals – what may be one person’s main complaint might not affect another person. Most people will have a combination of symptoms. Occasionally, some patients with hypothyroidism may have no symptoms at all, or they are so subtle that they go unnoticed. These symptoms are: 

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight
  • Coarse, dry hair
  • Dry, rough pale skin
  • Hair loss
  • Cold intolerance (you can’t tolerate cold temperatures like those around you)
  • Muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles
  • Decreased libido

If you have one or more of the symptoms listed, contact your doctor. Additionally, you may need to seek the skills of an endocrinologist. If you have already been diagnosed and treated for hypothyroidism and continue to have any or all of these symptoms, it’s important to discuss it with your physician(s).

How Is Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of hypothyroidism can take into account the following:

Medical and Family History 

You should take care to tell your doctor if any of the following points are a part of your medical and family history.

  • Changes in your health that suggest that your body is slowing down
  • If you’ve ever had thyroid surgery
  • If you’ve ever had radiation to your neck to treat cancer
  • If you’re taking any of the medicines that can cause hypothyroidism (such as amiodarone, lithium, interferon alpha, interleukin-2, and maybe thalidomide)
  • Whether any of your family members have thyroid disease

Physical Exam

The doctor will check your thyroid gland and look for changes such as dry skin, swelling, slower reflexes, and a slower heart rate.

Blood Tests

Two blood tests are used in the diagnosis of hypothyroidism.

TSH (Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone) Test

This is the most important and sensitive test for hypothyroidism. It measures how much of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) the thyroid gland is being asked to make. An abnormally high TSH means hypothyroidism – the thyroid gland is being asked to make more T4 because there isn’t enough T4 in the blood.

T4 Tests

Most of the T4 in the blood is attached to a protein called thyroxine-binding globulin. The “bound” T4 can’t get into body cells. Only about 1% – 2% of T4 in the blood is unattached (“free”) and can get into cells. The free T4 and the free T4 index are both simple blood tests that measure how much unattached T4 is in the blood and available to get into cells.

How Is Hypothyroidism Treated?

Hypothyroidism can’t be cured, but in almost every patient, can be completely controlled. It is treated by replacing the amount of hormone that your own thyroid can no longer make in order to bring your T4 and TSH levels back to normal levels. So, even if your thyroid gland can’t work right, T4 replacement can restore your body’s thyroid hormone levels and your body’s function. Synthetic thyroxine pills contain a hormone exactly like the T4 that the thyroid gland itself makes. All hypothyroid patients except those with severe myxedema (life-threatening hypothyroidism) can be treated as outpatients, not having to be admitted to the hospital. 

Are There Any Side Effects of Treatment? 

The only dangers of thyroxine are caused by taking too little or too much. If you take too little, your hypothyroidism will continue. If you take too much, you’ll develop the symptoms of hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid gland. 

The most common symptoms of too much thyroid hormone are fatigue, an inability to sleep, greater appetite, nervousness, shakiness, feeling hot when other people are cold, and trouble exercising because of weak muscles, shortness of breath, and a racing skipping heart. Patients who have hyperthyroid symptoms at any time during thyroxine replacement therapy should have their TSH tested. If it is low, indicating too much thyroid hormone, their dose needs to be lowered.


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Commonly Asked Questions about Autism

5 Commonly Asked Questions about Autism, Answered

In honour of Autistic Pride Day, tomorrow.

While there are no statistics available on the number of people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the UAE, it has been reported that most autism centres are not only operating at full capacity, but also have long waiting lists. It’s no wonder, then, that 2021 brought with it the launch of the National Autism Policy that aims at both supporting caregivers and improving the health and well-being of people with ASD. It also focuses on upgrading the skills of personnel working at ASD centres and raising the efficiency of services offered.

Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that one in 100 children has autism, with reported prevalence varying substantially across studies. For the uninitiated, ASD is a complex developmental condition involving persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviour. Autistic people are also frequently misunderstood because of their differences, making Autistic Pride Day – marked annually on June 18 – so vital. First celebrated in 2005, the event is rooted in instilling such individuals with pride over their neurodiversity. The Gaggler set out to support the cause, tapping Dr. Ateeq Qureshi, Senior Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre, to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about autism. Listen in.

1. What causes autism?

There is no single known cause for autism. Both genetic and environmental factors may play a role. Genetic mutations may be inherited and the probability of having autism is higher if one has an immediate family member who is autistic. Parental age (older), premature birth, low birth weight, and complications during birth are all correlated with a higher risk of having autism. There is evidence for correlations of autism with certain environmental factors such as air pollution, heavy metal exposure, and some medicines – all of which are not very well understood and being researched. Sometimes, autism can be associated with genetic disorders such as Rett syndrome or Fragile X syndrome.

2. Where do you stand on the vaccines and autism debate?

The vaccine and autism debate was settled in the mainstream scientific community many years ago, with the consensus opinion that there was no clear evidence linking the two. In fact, the original study that proposed this link had to be retracted with the author judged to have acted dishonourably. There have been several well-designed studies and analyses over the last two decades that have shown no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. Despite the wealth of evidence, this idea persists, and it is important that it is debunked as the harm it is causing is very real and significant.

Frequently Asked Questions About Autism – Answered

3. Autism is still so misunderstood – why do you think that is?

Autism is generally misunderstood as there is such a wide variety of presentations, with significant differences between those who have major needs – including 24/7 care in some cases – and those with high-functioning autism and many others in between. Media representations are not always correct. There is often a stigma attached to the term, and many people view it through the lens of that stigma. It is sometimes helpful to conceptualise it as a heterogeneous condition, and not as a disorder.

4. What exactly does the expression ‘on the spectrum’ mean?

Autism is known as a ‘spectrum’ disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms that people experience. The formal diagnosis in the DSM-5 is called autism spectrum disorder, and there is no difference between autism and autism spectrum disorder. Some people prefer to be known as being on the spectrum rather than having autism or being autistic.

5. How is autism diagnosed in young children, especially in terms of the diagnostic tools and techniques used?

Autism diagnosis entails a detailed clinical history, especially history of early development and observation of the child. There are structured assessment tools for both history and for observation, i.e. the Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI) and Autism Observation Diagnostic Schedule (ADOS). In addition, collateral information from teachers and other supplementary assessment tools to rule out associated or related disorders are also used.


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Have You Lost All Motivation to Move?

Meet fitness snacking.

Raise your hand if, lately, you’ve lost all motivation to move. Guess what? You’re not alone. A 2021 study out of McMaster University found that while mental health issues like anxiety and depression prompted some exercise in a quest for stress relief, they proved to be a barrier to physical activity for others. And fitness snacking may just be the solution if you’re ready to repair your relationship with exercise.

Dubbed one of the year’s biggest fitness trends (much to the relief of working mothers and others who are pressed for time), the concept of fitness snacking is hardly new. While bite-sized exercise echoes the patterns of high-intensity interval training, it came into prominence as a result of global lockdowns, increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and the subsequent boom in digital fitness. 

For the uninitiated, fitness snacking is defined as short bursts of movement interspersed throughout the day (20 seconds of bodyweight squats, 60 seconds of jumping jacks, climbing a few flights of stairs, or even dancing to Charlie Puth’s “Light Switch”) as opposed to working out for 45 or 60 minutes at a stretch. If it elevates your heart rate, it counts. Bonus: activewear is optional. Admittedly, this approach feels more timely than ever, especially as working from home has become the norm for so many of us.

“One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is thinking that they need to exercise in a certain way to be fit,” says sport and exercise psychology consultant Hannah Winter, emphasising that there are countless ways in which people can bring movement into their day-to-day lives. “I often hear people say that they ‘should go to the gym’ or ‘should run’ – only to find out they hate the gym or running. One of the most important things is to find the type of exercise you enjoy. If an individual found that short bursts of exercise were something they enjoyed and could stick to, I would be supportive.” 

What’s more, the pandemic has made such short bursts more accessible than ever. “There are numerous fitness professionals providing short, equipment-free workouts through social media and apps that people can do in the comfort of their own home, thereby lowering the barrier to entry for people to get into fitness.” Part of Hannah’s role involves assisting individuals with their mindset in order to achieve their goals, so she’s also on the ‘start small’ bandwagon. 

“I would encourage anyone getting started on their health journey or returning to exercise after a long time to start with realistic goals. The objective should be to build some simple keystone habits that, over time, become routine and form a solid foundation from which to build upon. The mind can become an obstacle at first. Thoughts like ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I am not an exerciser’ can be overwhelming, but breaking fitness down into manageable objectives can make it more achievable. And once you start seeing that you can do it, you realise that your mental narrative isn’t true. The reality is that achieving any goal comes from small daily actions that, over time, yield results.”

Incidentally, Hannah’s clients include not only elite athletes, coaches, and personal trainers, but also recreational exercisers of all abilities. Explaining who would benefit most from this approach, she says, “If someone was to have work, family, or caring responsibilities that prevented them from fitting longer forms of exercise into their day, fitness snacking could be a great fit. It also could be a good option for someone who is lacking motivation or has struggled to maintain consistent exercise habits.” 

People often take on too much, she says, only to discover it’s impossible to sustain. “If someone is looking to start engaging in regular exercise, I would encourage them to start with some small, easy-to-do steps to build in the habit and then gradually increase over time. Lastly, it could be a great option for someone who is just getting started on their health journey or slowly returning to exercise after a long time.” As for those days that call for more snacking than fitness snacking? Forgive yourself – and reach for the Cheetos instead.


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Myths About Veganism

 4 Myths About Veganism That Don’t Hold Up

Don’t believe everything you hear.

Veganism is everywhere these days, and its supporters are quick to highlight its many benefits – as well as the drawbacks of non-vegan diets. But how much of it is fiction versus fact? Here, we address the top four myths about this increasingly popular lifestyle.

MYTH 1: Meat causes cancer.

Cancer is a complex disease that doesn’t have one single cause and can be influenced by many different factors. Vegans are not immune to cancer – and still get cancer. It’s also likely, from a dietary perspective, that your risk of cancer depends on your diet as a whole, rather than the inclusion or exclusion of meat. This was reflected in the EPIC-Oxford study of cancer rates in vegetarians and non-vegetarians (all of whom were quite healthy).

They found a small reduction in the risk of all cancers in vegetarians, but a higher risk of colorectal cancer. The overall risk of cancer in both groups was very low, thus supporting the idea that there is more than one factor at play, and that your modifiable risk of cancer is as much about other lifestyle factors like cigarettes, alcohol, sedentary behaviour, and limited vegetable intake. 

MYTH 2: Eating dairy leaches calcium from your bones.

A common criticism of dairy products is that they contribute to the development of osteoporosis, a type of bone disease. People who promote this myth say that this occurs due to milk being ‘acidic’ and causing calcium to leak out of your bones to neutralise the threat, thus making them weaker. This theory doesn’t hold up for a number of reasons. Firstly, it ignores the bone-friendly profile of dairy foods, such as how rich they are in calcium, protein, and minerals – all of which are essential for good bone health. Controlled trials also show beneficial effects, whereby eating dairy leads to improved bone health. 

Secondly, this theory does not acknowledge the role that your kidneys play in maintaining blood pH. Your kidneys filter out any acidic compounds and you pass them out in your urine – your bones aren’t involved in the process at all. Overall, there are many factors at play in bone health, including physical activity, diet, age, and hormones. The onus is on you to make an informed decision, and if you choose to avoid dairy, please do get in touch with a practitioner who can ensure your diet is balanced to make up for the omission.

Common Misconceptions About Veganism

MYTH 3: Eating eggs is as harmful as smoking.

If you watched the recent Netflix documentary What the Health, then you would have heard the following statement: “Eating a single egg could decrease your lifespan as much as five cigarettes would.” This is most definitely a myth! Eggs always had a bad reputation thanks to the high cholesterol content in its yolks. However, we now know that dietary cholesterol has very little impact on our blood cholesterol levels.

The Netflix statement is a case of people cherry-picking research studies. It seems to be drawn from an observational study stating that eating egg yolks was associated with an increased build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries. A few things to note with regards to this particular study: 

  • The researchers never reported an exact amount with regards to eggs and cigarettes, but said that both followed a similar linear pattern. 
  • The subjects in the study did not have heart disease and, apart from smoking, other aspects of their diet and lifestyle were not measured – meaning the link could’ve been caused by any of the other factors. 
  • We already know from other observational studies and intervention studies that eggs are a healthy choice for many, so don’t be afraid to include eggs in your diet. 

MYTH 4: A vegan diet is the healthiest diet. 

One study that included 11,000 people over a 17-year period showed that the likelihood of dying in a set time frame was halved if you were health-seeking – choosing more whole foods, engaging in daily movement, avoiding vices like smoking, etc. Interestingly, whether you ate meat or not made no difference. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be vegan. You should, however, make an informed choice.

Vegan food isn’t the only way to improve health markers like cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose control. In fact, dietary patterns that emphasise plants, such as the Mediterranean diet, provide similar benefits. Do remember that we humans are able to thrive on a multitude of different foods and styles of eating. It’s not the label that makes your diet healthy, but rather your dietary habits over weeks, months, and years that will make a difference. So, yes, a vegan diet can be healthy, but so can other diets that stress plant-based foods.                           


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Birthing Hacks For Pregnant Woman

7 Birthing Hacks Every Pregnant Woman Should Know

According to a beloved birth influencer.

In a world where influencer fatigue is all too real, one woman by the name of Emma Armstrong – a.k.a. The Naked Doula – is using her platform to revolutionise birth and help pregnant women worldwide. The award-winning birth influencer has dedicated her life to educating women on how to have an empowered birth, turning tragedy into triumph.

“For me, being a birth influencer is helping women to find their power and influence their birth experience,” she explains. “I’ve always been a cheerleader for women, but when my mum passed away during my pregnancy, I was inspired. I took the grief and powered it into something truly special – and with that came my mission to inspire others globally!” Today, Emma not only conducts the Visual HypnoBirth Course that’s rooted in visual information to change the way women perceive childbirth, but she’s also the creator of fun yet informative flash cards designed to guide women from pregnancy to the early days of motherhood.

As for what she believes an empowered birth entails? Well, it starts with you. “Only you can empower yourself,” she asserts. “I don’t empower women – I give them the tools and motivation they need to find the power inside of them and relight a fire to feel confident and in control of their birth experience by making informed decisions.” As the realm of childbirth remains riddled with myths and misconceptions, Emma says she wishes that women would stop believing that they have to do what they’re told. “We often have no clue that we have the right to full body autonomy and can decline anything – we can make all the decisions about our bodies and birth!” Here, she shares seven of her top birthing hacks.

Birthing Hacks For Woman


“Drinking from a straw whilst in labour instantly relaxes the masseter muscles, which you find on each side of your face. Once we are able to relax these muscles, its connection to our pelvic floor means this relaxes, too. In turn, you have a relaxed vagina and more elasticated perineum. It also means that, during contractions, our uterus has the space and room to do its job without restriction as our pelvic floor muscles are relaxed!”


“Extra-virgin olive oil is extremely beneficial in pregnancy and birth. I recommend women use this on their perineum whilst doing perineal massage as it doesn’t affect your vaginal microbiota – so basically, it won’t affect your pH levels or that wonder bacteria we need! Doing this regularly from 34 weeks decreases the chances of tearing in childbirth.”


“Dates, as mentioned in the Quran, were used at the birth of Jesus! Mary ate them to help ease the ‘pain of childbirth’ and there is definitely truth in this. If eaten from 34 weeks daily (x6 medjool), dates are linked to an easier labour. This is because they strengthen the uterus muscles, have a positive effect on the cervix, and have been shown to help women dilate quicker and with less discomfort, so they’re an all-round winner.”


“Singing is such a beautiful tool to use whilst in labour. There are a few benefits to this. The first is that as soon as we start singing, we activate the vagus nerve, allowing our brain to switch into a state of calm. Feel-good hormones are released and, generally, we feel amazing. It’s also been theorised that, as we sing and our voice box vibrates, the cervix/vagina has these same vibrations. The term ‘cervix’ comes from the Latin word for the neck. Also, the vagina and the throat are almost identical to each other in structure, so the more we sing, the more we dilate – in theory!”


“The phrase ‘Floppy Face Floppy Fanny’ was originally coined by American midwife Ina May Gaskin many years ago, when she shared how the face and bottom are connected. As I studied this, I found that it’s actually everything to do with the vagina – the face is connected to this area in so many ways, starting from when we’re embryos. With the word ‘fanny’ used for vagina in the UK, it made sense to create this mantra that women could chant during birth. Not only does it have an extremely powerful impact, but it’s literally changing the way we birth worldwide. In turn, it’s become a solid favourite in my community and something that I’m recognised for.”


“While the position at birth should always be instinctive, laying on your back goes against gravity. It also increases the chance of intervention tearing and overall loss of control. Instead, being upright or even laying on your side can bring your baby into the world a lot easier and with less need for intervention. KICO – a term I coined that means Knees In, Calves Out – is a technique where you’d bring your knees inwards and feet and calves out. If you can’t do this, then just bringing your knees parallel makes the difference. This way, the biomechanics of the pelvis means that the outlet space opens, giving the baby optimal room to turn and be born.”


“The environment is one of the most important things when it comes to birth, and we can influence this wherever we are! Start by thinking about the environmental factors of the womb that your baby is in warmth, trust, safe, familiar sounds, darkness with shades of red, hydration. Now think about how you can alter your environment to match this. Turn down the lights, wear an eye mask, listen to music that’s familiar to you, and take items that are of sentimental value or hold wonderful memories.”


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Benefits of Vitamin C

Here’s the (Complete) Lowdown on Vitamin C

Curious what all the fuss is about?

Vitamin C seems to be everywhere these days, from multivitamin supplements and cosmetics to skincare routines – but what’s all the fuss about? Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is not made by the body, making it is an essential dietary component as well as a helpful skincare staple.

The Benefits of Vitamin C

Oral vitamin C is needed to make collagen, which is necessary for healthy connective tissue, cellular growth, repair, and wound healing to produce nerve-transmitting chemicals, neutralise cell-damaging free radicals, and support our immune system. It’s also needed for the absorption of minerals, such as iron from plant foods.

Severe vitamin C deficiency – now rare in the developed world – leads to a condition called scurvy, which is characterised by severe fatigue, connective tissue weakness, and bleeding. Smokers and those with suboptimal diets are at risk of this deficiency. There is also data to support vitamin C’s role in cancer prevention and treatment, cataract formation, eye degeneration, and heart disease prevention.

How to Get Vitamin C

Great sources of vitamin C include fresh fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruits, capsicum, and broccoli. Note that the cooking and prolonged storage of such foods can reduce their vitamin C content. Eating raw fruits and vegetables, and steaming rather than boiling vegetables, is also better for preserving their vitamin C content.

Dosing of oral vitamin C is personalised by age, gender, medical history, and current symptoms. What we do know is that the best way to get adequate vitamin C is through a healthy diet. The Institute of Functional Medicine advises more than nine portions daily for optimal health and well-being. Prolonged excessive oral vitamin C doses of 1 gram or more can contribute to kidney stone formation.

Health Benefits of Vitamin C

Vitamin C and Skincare

Skincare products feature vitamin C for a multitude of reasons. It offers some protection against UV light and pollution, supports skin brightening, evens out skin tone, and aids collagen formation (which in turn helps with wrinkles, fine lines, and creating firmer skin). Topical vitamin C is tolerated well by most people. However, minor skin irritation can occur with high potencies or those who have sensitive skin.

When choosing a vitamin C skincare product, always aim for potent subtypes that include L-ascorbic acid, ascorbyl palmitate, and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. Ideally, the product should be in a slightly acidic water-free formulation – which makes serums a great choice. Starting with concentrations of 10% should be well tolerated by most individuals.

Meanwhile, combining vitamin C with other antioxidants can be a great way to see results. The formulation bottle should be opaque and airtight as vitamin C easily loses its antioxidant properties when exposed to heat, light, or air. Vitamin C undoubtedly possesses a powerhouse of supportive ingredients. For personalised medical advice, though, always speak to your family doctor.

Follow Dr. Preya Patel, a UK-trained Family Medicine Consultant and Functional Medicine Doctor, on Instagram.


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Myths About Drinking Water

5 Myths about Drinking Water, Debunked

Hint: it’s not rocket science.

Water is an essential element for optimal health, comprising 75% of body weight in infants and 55% in the elderly. According to Harvard Health, it assists in a variety of bodily functions. While there are countless health and wellness benefits of drinking water, several myths about water and how to drink it also persist. 

Before we continue, it’s important to understand that the human body is a complex unit. It will also comfort and empower you to know you are well protected by the complexity of your body. It’s not as fragile as it’s made out to be by people who want to sell their services or products using fear-mongering as a marketing strategy, so here, we address five myths about drinking water.

MYTH 1: Water can dilute stomach acids.

An often-asked question is if drinking water can dilute stomach acids. To explain this a little more, let’s look at two scenarios. The first is drinking water on an empty stomach. Water is absorbed in about approximately five minutes, and there is no release of stomach acid when water alone passes through the stomach to the small intestine. So, in this case, there is no dilution of stomach acid happening simply because none was released in the first place.

The second scenario is when water is consumed with a meal. Water helps lubricate the food we swallow, especially when we are eating way too quickly with minimal chewing. The mix of food and water adds volume, which leads to the expanding of stomach walls and releasing of digestive juices simultaneously. The stomach releases stomach acid (also called hydrochloric acid or HCl for short), which creates a highly acidic environment in the stomach with an average pH level of 2. There are hardly any studies that seem to indicate that the presence of water leads to the dilution of such acids.

Drinking Water Myths

One study on 12 healthy subjects showed that drinking water (which has a neutral pH of 7) increased the stomach pH to ≥4 in less than one minute, and this alkalising effect of water disappeared in three minutes. Perhaps, this is how people got the idea that water dilutes stomach acid, but even though water can minimally and temporarily change the pH of our stomach acid, it is insignificant in the grand scheme of things as the contents of our stomach are constantly monitored to adjust to different components of our meals. 

A related misconception is that water will ‘flush’ our meal out of our stomach. Yes, liquids do go through our stomach faster than solid food, but this doesn’t impact the solid parts of our meal. It just stays in our stomach until it’s digested enough to move along to the next part of our digestive tract.

MYTH 2: Drinking lots of water with meals helps with mindfulness.

When it comes to mindful eating, it’s best to avoid taking water with your meals as it can be a cue for us to ‘cheat’ on chewing our food, which helps to physically break down food and gives enough time for the mouth to mix food with saliva, thereby starting the digestion process. Drinking water with your meals may lead to a reduction in chewing as the water can aid in pushing the food down. While sipping on water (as needed) when eating your meal is fine, taking large gulps may not be a good practice for mindfulness. 

MYTH 3: Drinking water with a meal can cause weight gain. 

It’s standard for nutritionists to advise clients trying to gain weight to avoid water with meals to help them take in more calories, but that doesn’t mean having water with food directly causes weight gain. In fact, for those who are trying to lose weight, water with meals could be a positive habit that will help some to slow down the rate at which they eat as well as reduce their food portions, thereby helping them achieve a calorie deficit.

MYTH 4: Drinking water while eating can make you sick.

In most cases, drinking water with meals shouldn’t make people sick, but it may trigger reflux symptoms in those with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). This can happen as the extra water can add volume to your stomach, and more volume leads to more pressure. This pressure can then allow acid to move back up the wrong way in some people.

Those who have gone through bariatric surgery are also asked to avoid having water and food at the same time because of the surgical changes to their digestive system. They often have to work on the timing and quantity of water they consume to avoid difficulties.

MYTH 5: Children’s stomachs are too small to drink water with their meals.

I still remember my mom telling me not to drink water with my meals. Years later, when I asked her why, she said it was to make sure I didn’t fill up my stomach with water, which could lead to food being wasted. Admittedly, children do have small stomachs that tend to get filled quickly, but again, this need not apply to all the children. If your child is able to eat enough whilst having water with their meals, then that’s absolutely fine. 


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A woman looking at a slice of cake and smiling.

Calling All Mums Who Want to Crush the Cravings!

Say no to sugar binges.

Have you ever found yourself holding open the fridge door, peering in, and blankly looking at its meagre contents in the middle of the night? Your baby might have been up for what feels like a gazillion hours and you can actually count the minutes you’ve slept with both hands. Looking into the fridge, you might be starving or bored if your baby is finally sleeping – or even both! You might feel like you can’t be bothered to whip up anything healthy and nutritious.

Instead, you’re wishing and hoping that a giant tub of ice cream or a mouthwatering bar of chocolate would fall into your hands. And then you remember all those food delivery apps on your phone! At the click of a button, you can now satisfy all your cravings. Hello sugar high, and hello sugar crash! Ah, motherhood – where poor sleep leaves the nights long and the days even longer. Sleep deprivation is part and parcel of this journey, but what we often don’t realise is that with sleep deprivation can come strong food cravings. Thought you were over the cravings from when you were pregnant? Think again. Here are some ways that you can crush them.

Get Some Sleep!

When sleep deprived, our body creates a hormonal imbalance of Leptin and Ghrelin, which can affect the regulation of hunger cues and cause us to overeat or reach for foods that are a lot higher on the calorie count. And in some instances, it can even make us not want to eat much at all!  

When we are tired – okay, exhausted – from being up all night, rocking and shh-ing the baby, reaching for that sugary ‘quick fix’ is generally what most mums find themselves doing when we have a minute to ourselves. Then, 12 months postpartum, we wonder why we look almost the same as we did the day we gave birth! I was on the same boat, too. So what can you do to stop yourself from reaching for the sugar rush? 

The Sleep Foundation in Australia recommends that the average adult get eight hours and 15 minutes of sleep per night. Now, with a newborn, it is highly unlikely you’re going to be getting that, so if your baby is on a schedule, take a nap when they take their longest nap. If you aren’t quite there with a schedule yet and are a bit more relaxed about sleep times, observe your baby’s cues and choose one or two of those nap times to get some rest yourself.

Drink Water

The standard recommendation of the amount of water we should drink is between six to eight glasses per day. Active mums, those of us living in the Middle East or hotter climates, and those who are breastfeeding may need to up their intake of water by one or two glasses. Sometimes, our bodies will think we are hungry when we’re actually thirsty.  

If water is not a regular go-to drink for you, then try some alternatives like super smoothies. Smoothies are a great way to keep hydrated, boost energy, and curb sugar cravings. To make it quick and easy, I usually add frozen fruit and baby spinach. I also freeze some bananas when they are looking a little too old. This is my go-to energy boost smoothie:

Serving Size:
5 Mins


  • 1 cup almond milk (or any milk of your preference)
  • 1 cup of water 
  • ½ frozen banana
  • 1 cup of berries (I often use blueberries, but you can also get a mixed bag)
  • 1 tablespoon of honey 
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter 
  • ¼ cup oats
  • 1 cup frozen baby spinach (optional)


  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Blend until it’s smooth.
  3. Enjoy!

A word of warning: the spinach can make the smoothie look more like a blended frog, but the honey helps cut through some of the bitterness and makes it taste better than it looks. 


I know the last thing you probably want to think about when you are already using toothpicks to keep your eyes open is exercise, but doing a few minutes of gentle exercise can not only help perk you up, but also distract you from reaching for those sweets! Training was always very important for me, so I did this on a daily basis anyway, but when the sugar monsters called, I’d sometimes put on music and dance to distract myself. And once I was done, I’d be smiling, my cravings have subsided, or I’d have distracted myself enough that I didn’t feel like it anymore. All I’d have was simply drink water to quench my thirst. 

Be Careful of What You Add to Your Cart

Always leave the treats for someone else to buy. Steer clear of the aisles stocked with chocolate, ice lollies, and ice cream, filling your trolley with wholesome fruits and vegetables instead. However, if you do fancy a sweet quick-fix for an energy boost, then I highly recommend the Slim Secrets Bare Bar Double Choc protein bar. They’re keto-friendly, packed with almond protein, and covered in mouthwatering chocolate. 

Don’t Feel Guilty

Okay, so you haven’t done the food shopping yet and the only thing in the fridge is ice cream and chocolate, and your mouth is watering, so you grab the ‘not so healthy’ option. If that happens, that’s okay! Own it! We all need a little pleasure in our lives from time to time. This new mum business is tough stuff.

Just try not to eat the entire pack or tub, and remember that moderation is key. The more sugary food you eat, the higher the calorie content and the harder it is to get those extra kilos off later. Being a mother is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding things you will ever do. Love yourself and love your body. Fill it with good stuff and you will feel so much better.  


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Fish oil tablets

Demystifying Vitamins with the Help of a Dietician

Edel Warke sets the record straight.

With vitamins promising everything from stress relief to smoother skin, improved immunity, and illness prevention, we’re collectively turning to supplements more than ever before. Heck, those brightly coloured Flintstones gummies have been approved for children as young as two years old. But do vitamins work? Do we all need to complement our everyday diets with them? And how is one supposed to choose? Enter: Edel Warke, Lead Dietitian at King’s College Hospital London in Dubai. Here, she separates fact from fiction across vitamins C, D, and B12 before delving into the subject of multivitamins. Take note!

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is effective for preventing and/or fighting off colds.

“Vitamin C is an antioxidant, and has an important role in the immune system. Studies have shown that supplementing with vitamin C does not reduce the incidence of common colds in the general population. It has, however, been shown to reduce the severity and duration of colds.”

The best source of vitamin C is citrus fruits.

“Citrus fruits are an excellent source of vitamin C. It can also be found in kiwi, blackcurrant, mango, papaya, and sweet potato.”

75mg of vitamin C is recommended, but more will further develop immunity.

“The recommended amount differs across countries and is dependent on age and gender. Generally, 40-75mg per day is recommended, although people who smoke need slightly more. Having said that, taking high-dose supplements can lead to diarrhoea and kidney stones.”

Vitamin D

Living in Dubai, most of us have a vitamin D deficiency.

“Many people in Dubai have a vitamin D deficiency despite the ample sunshine! Most likely, this is because we often cover up when we’re in the sun, wear sun protection to avoid burning our skin, or even stay indoors because it is so hot outside.”

Vitamin D cannot be absorbed through food.

“Vitamin D is present in some foods and can be absorbed, but it is very difficult to get enough from food. Some food sources include oily fish like salmon and egg yolks. It’s also added to breakfast cereals sometimes.”

Taking 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily eliminates the need for exposure to sunlight.

“The best way to check if you need a supplement is through a vitamin D blood test. Your doctor will then advise what dose of vitamin D supplement you need. This is important as some people will need more than others to ensure a good level of vitamin D, which is important for strong bones and a healthy immune system.”

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 helps boost energy levels.

“Vitamin B12 helps to release energy from food and is also involved in making red blood cells. If you have vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia, you are likely to have extreme tiredness and lethargy.”

Vegans and vegetarians tend to have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

“Vitamin B12 is only present in animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, so people who limit animal foods are more likely to be deficient and therefore may require a supplement.”

Because it’s a water-soluble vitamin, getting too much can’t be dangerous.

“We don’t know what type of side effects could happen from taking too much vitamin B12. However, it may be dangerous. If you take a supplement, you should take 2mg or less per day as this is unlikely to cause any harm.”


A multivitamin can cover all your vitamin needs.

“Nutrients function better when they are consumed from whole foods rather than from supplements. By eating a healthy varied diet, it’s likely that you will get all the nutrients you need – unless you have dietary restrictions – with the exception being vitamin D. A multivitamin can be useful if micronutrient intake is low. However, my advice would be to focus on getting what you need from a balanced diet.”

Multivitamins are enough to prevent illness.

“It is unlikely that multivitamins will prevent illness. To support your immune function, focus on a healthy and balanced diet, drinking sufficient water, exercising regularly, sleeping well, and managing stress.”

Multivitamins are unnecessary if one’s diet is balanced.

“Correct. Any vitamin supplementation should be decided on an individual basis. For example, if you have a specific deficiency, are excluding major components from your diet (e.g. vegetarian/vegan), or fall into certain groups of the population (such as pregnant women and young children).”

Multivitamins are a must for picky eaters and/or those on restricted diets.

“This is when a multivitamin might be useful. However, make sure you stick to the dosage on the label, and check that the nutrients in the multivitamin do not overlap with any other supplements you’re taking. Those taking medications should check with their doctor before starting any new supplement, while a dietitian can check whether you’re getting enough of the essential nutrients in the diet and give individual advice of which supplements to take.”

Countless brands make multivitamins – but they’re all essentially the same.

“Many supplements contain similar amounts of vitamins and minerals. Although requirements vary with age and gender, some brands create more specific multivitamins depending on these factors, making it more specific to the individual.”


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