Amy profile & blogs

Amy Johnson BHSc Naturopathy, Cert IV Massage
Naturopath at Coburg Natural Therapy Clinic

Profile

Amy completed her Bachelor’s degree in Health Science-Naturopathy at the Southern School of Natural Therapies. Over the past three years, Amy has practiced concurrently at two clinics in Melbourne, offering naturopathic consultations which include many women who are pregnant, trying to conceive or new to motherhood. Amy’s areas of interest lie within women’s and children’s health. She is passionate about providing patients with the tools and knowledge to take control of their own health, rather than simply relieving symptoms. Other passions of hers include writing, providing health information to people who may not otherwise visit a naturopath and raising awareness of naturopathic approaches to health.


 

Posts by Amy
Written by Amy Johnson. Posted on July 23, 2013.

Everything you need to know about Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI’s) are a common ailment I see in women that most often results in a visit to their doctor or other health care practitioner. UTI’s often occur in pregnant women who may be experiencing them for the first time and might think the symptoms are related to their pregnancy. This is why I feel it is essential to receive a proper diagnosis.  I most often deal with women who are experiencing recurring UTI’s and use a combination of herbal medicine and dietary and lifestyle changes to treat the problem. The types of treatments I recommend can be combined with practical steps the patient can implement themselves to prevent the development of a UTI. These changes can all occur in combination with treatment received by their doctor to ensure that the recurrence of infection in minimal.

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

A UTI is an infection that occurs when bacteria invade the urinary tract system (kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra). Although UTI’s are never normally a serious issue if treated promptly, they can cause extreme pain and discomfort. UTI’s affect more women than men, the main reason being that a female urinary tract is shorter than a males. This means that bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to get from the outside to the inside of the bladder.

Main symptoms of UTI’s

Women who present to me in clinic with UTI’s most often complain of the following:

  • Burning pain when urinating
  • Wanting to urinate often and urgently with only a few drops
  • Feeling as though the bladder is full even after urinating
  • Back pain
  • Milky, cloudy or red coloured urine

It is important to remember that back pain and excessive urination are very common during pregnancy.  If you are experiencing these two symptoms along with others such as burning when urinating, cloudy or bloody urine, it is very important to seek medical attention.

If an infection reaches the kidneys, there may be additional symptoms to the ones listed above, including:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Extreme back (kidney) pain.

Causes of UTI’s:

  • Microorganisms – usually enter through the urethra. The most common bacteria involved in causing UTI’s is Escherichia coli (E. coli). This bacteria is usually spread into the urethra from the anus. This occurs when wiping from back to front after having a bowel movement.
  • Sexual Intercourse – introduces bacteria into the bladder. There is only a short distance for bacteria to travel from the outside to the inside of the bladder in women.
  • Waiting too long to pass urine – failure to respond to the urge to urinate can allow bacteria to build up in the bladder.

People who are at increased risk of developing UTI’s

  • Pregnant women –Hormonal changes and changes in the position of the urinary tract during pregnancy can result in increased risk of developing a UTI. Often pregnant women tell me that they resist the urge to urinate as it becomes quite a time consuming exercise. It is important for pregnant women to remember to respond to the urge to urinate, no matter how often.
  • People with suppressed immune systems – E.g. People who have diabetes or AIDS, or those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
  • People with kidney stones – Kidney stones can block or obstruct the urinary tract and cause bacterial growth.
  • Men with enlarged prostates – Enlarged prostates can partially block the release of urine from the bladder and cause bacteria growth.

Treatment of UTI’s

It is very important to seek medical advice as early as possible if you suspect you have a UTI. If you visit your doctor you can expect to have a urine sample taken and tested for infection. Antibiotics are used to treat infections and it is important to take the full course of the tablets even if you begin to feel better within a few days.

During pregnancy it is particularly important to treat UTI’s promptly.  Infections during pregnancy can pose risks to both mother and baby, and some antibiotics are not safe to take during pregnancy. Your doctor is the best person to ask about the most appropriate medications to take.

Urinary alkalinisers can also be used to treat the symptoms of stinging and burning. Always check with your doctor if it is safe to use them with any other medications you may be taking.

Diet and Lifestyle Advice for Prevention of UTI’s

I often give the following advice to patients who experience recurring UTI’s, and this advice is also useful for those looking to take extra measures to avoid UTI’s

  • Increase water – Try to consume 6-8 glasses of water daily to ensure regular urination.
  • Practice good hygiene – After a bowel movement, wipe from front to back to ensure bacteria is not spread from the anus to the opening of the bladder.
  • Urination habits – Go to the toilet as soon as you feel the need to urinate. Bacteria can grow in the bladder when urine is left in there too long.
  • Clothing – Cotton underwear and loose fitting clothing are a good idea as they reduce the chance of bacteria growth. Tight fitting clothing and nylon underwear should be avoided as they encourage bacteria growth.
  • Avoid Irritants – Avoid using perfumes or soap that may irritate the genital area.
  • After Sex – always empty your bladder, as this helps to remove bacteria from the opening of the bladder.
  • Cranberry juice or capsules – Cranberry can help to prevent recurrent infections by reducing bacteria sticking to the bladder wall. It is always important to discuss taking cranberry with your GP as it can interfere with certain antibiotics.
  • Other herbal and nutritional remedies – I often prescribe herbal remedies to my patients and encourage them to take probiotics to reduce bad bacteria. It is important to speak to a qualified practitioner to ensure that you are taking the right type of herbs for your condition and in the right amounts. It is especially important during pregnancy as many herbal remedies are not to be taken at this time.

Important points to remember

  • The bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the main cause of most UTI’s
  • The main symptoms of a UTI include:
    • Burning pain when urinating
    • Wanting to urinate often and urgently with only a few drops
    • Feeling as though the bladder is full even after urinating
    • Urine colour changes
  • If you suspect that you have a UTI, particularly if you are pregnant, always see your doctor promptly as untreated infections pose a risk to both mother and baby.
  • UTI’s are easily treated by antibiotics if an early diagnosis is made.

Written by Amy Johnson. Posted on August 2, 2012.

Overcoming the breastfeeding blues

I consult with a lot of women in my clinic who are first-time mothers that are struggling to breastfeed.Often, their child is very unsettled and not sleeping, and the mother comes to me feeling rundown, weepy and generally struggling to cope. This is not an uncommon picture for many new mothers. There is much pressure placed on mothers by family, friends and society in general to be the ‘perfect’ mother who is able to breastfeed successfully without complication and manage all other aspects of her life with ease.

Whilst there are many benefits to breast milk including its optimal mix of nutrition and antibodies, its ability to reduce incidence of allergies, and enhance bonding between mother and baby, it does not suit everyone. The worst thing a mother can do is berate herself for not being able to breastfeed. The important thing to remember is that there are other options, including using a breast pump, or formula feeding.

There are many reasons why breastfeeding can become difficult for a new mother, and I would like to discuss one case that I have treated in clinic.

A patient who had recently become a mother for the first time presented to me very rundown due to lack of sleep and struggling to breastfeed. Her baby was up most nights with colic, crying, with foamy stools.

  • One of the patients’ main concerns was that she felt she was failing as a mother because she couldn’t settle her baby and she herself was beginning to become rundown, irritable and very weepy. I reassured the mother, advising her that this was a very common concern, and that being a new mother was a very tough job. I let her know that she was doing the best thing by seeking help, particularly as the problem was just surfacing. Had she left the issue for a longer period of time, it may have gotten worse and taken longer to resolve.
  • The patient also mentioned that she was concerned about what people would think if she stopped breastfeeding. She thought that people would think she was a bad mother. I told her that it was common for new mothers to worry about what people thought, when in reality other mothers were probably struggling just as much. In fact, many women are simply unable to breastfeed, the most common reason being an inability to produce sufficient milk. I advised her, as I advise all new mothers that we could try and work through the problem together to try and find a solution. If this was not possible, we could try other options for feeding.
  • The next step in the discussion focused on the mothers’ diet. We wrote down what she would eat in a typical week to see if there were any foods that could be causing the problem. From this we ascertained that she was eating a lot of cheese on white bread with butter, as it was quick and simple to prepare. She was so tired that she did not have the energy to prepare nutritious meals and was relying on this food for energy during the day. She was also drinking a lot of tea with cow’s milk. I started to think that the child had in intolerance or allergy to cow’s milk.
  • I then began to advise the patient on ways in which she could alter her diet to see if it made a difference to the baby’s symptoms. I asked her to immediately stop eating any dairy products which included milk, cheese and yoghurt. I advised her to use rice milk as an alternative to dairy. As calcium and vitamin D are so important for both mother and baby’s health I recommended that she increase her intake of the following:
    • Calcium: Fish with bones, especially sardines, tofu, broccoli, mustard greens and bok choy.
    • Vitamin D: Fatty fish e.g. herring, salmon, tuna and sardines. Also beef, liver butter and eggs.
    • I advised that taking a supplement was another option as it was a quick and easy way to ensure adequate calcium and vitamin D levels.
  • I also advised the mother on the importance of eating a well balanced diet. I recommended the following simple changes:
    • Eat 6-7 serves of fruit and vegetables daily
    • Include protein in every meal (e.g. eggs, lean meat, fish, legumes, tofu, nuts)
    • Drink adequate water (1.5-2 litres daily)
    • Avoid high sugar foods, and focus on carbohydrates that provide longer lasting energy e.g. whole meal breads as opposed to white breads.
    • I explained that by making a little bit of effort in pre-preparing foods, she would start to feel a lot more energetic and able to cope with the stresses of being a new mother. I also advised that by making these changes her baby would also benefit, and that the quality of her breast milk would also be enhanced.
  • I also had a discussion with the mother on how it is important to get support from family or other mothers when she attends her mother’s group. I let her know that it was important to discuss the issues that she was having, as I was sure that she would find there were other mothers in similar situations.

Update

After two weeks on the altered diet, the mother came to see me and reported that her energy levels were slowly improving, as she had begun to make changes to her diet that we had discussed. Her baby’s colic had ceased, and was much more easily settled and sleeping for longer periods of time. It seemed that the baby was having a reaction to all the cheese, butter and milk the mother was consuming. This is a common issue in infants, one which they normally grow out of.

There are many factors that can lead to problems with breastfeeding. The case discussed was remedied by changes to the mothers diet, however this may not be the solution for everyone. When having difficulty breastfeeding, it is important to seek help early so that the cause can be identified and changes made so as to ensure a successful outcome for both mother and baby.

It is also important to note that there are many different types of allergy or intolerances that baby’s can have. Dairy is very common, however soy and egg are other common allergens. It is important to find out which food in particular is causing the problem, and this can be done by eliminating the food for a two week period to see if symptoms decrease. With this kind of issue, it is always advisable to speak to a health care practitioner who can diagnose the issue and identify the best treatment.


Written by Amy Johnson. Posted on July 4, 2012.

Dealing with nausea and vomiting during pregnancy

As a practicing naturopath, common questions I receive from pregnant patients are; 1) what causes vomiting and nausea in pregnancy? 2) How can I prevent it? 3) Do you have any self-help suggestions?

1) What causes vomiting and nausea in pregnancy?

Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, commonly known as “morning sickness,” affects approximately 80 percent of pregnant women. There are many theories as to why this occurs, some possible causes include;

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This hormone is released in high amounts during early pregnancy and although no one knows for sure how it contributes to nausea, HcG levels seem to peak at the same time as nausea does.

Oestrogen. This hormone rises very rapidly in pregnancy along with other hormones. A woman’s sense of smell and sensitivity to odours is enhanced during pregnancy. Some research has suggested that it may be due to increasing levels of oestrogen.

A Sensitive stomach. Some women are just more sensitive to the different hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. There is a theory that women with the stomach bacteria Helicobacter pylori are more prone to more severe nausea and vomiting.

2) How can I prevent it?

It is very difficult to completely prevent this symptom; however you can reduce the impact nausea and vomiting have on day-to-day life.Some of my recommendations include;

Eating small meals often. This reduces the amount of food in your stomach and gives your body a chance to digest without getting an overly ‘full’ feeling, which can lead to increased nausea.

Choose foods that you feel suit you and that are preferably not fried, fatty or highly spiced. An important point to remember is that you should not worry too much about eating a completely balanced diet, at this stage, it is more important to obtain some energy from your food than none at all.

Keep simple food such as plain crackers by your bed. When you first wake up, nibble on a few crackers and then wait for 15 minutes or so before getting up. Snacking on crackers during the night may also help night nausea.

It is also really important to maintain hydration, so drinking iced water or lemon juice are always great ideas. Drinking 1.5 – 2 litres a day of water is more than adequate.

Watch out for non-food triggers too. Simple things like avoiding heavily scented perfumes, a warm stuffy room, or even visual stimuli such as flickering lights may set you off. Avoidance of triggers may become an important part of your treatmen.t.

3) Self Help Suggestions

Ginger

Many clinical studies have investigated the effects of ginger in the treatment of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. A common way to consume ginger is through tea made from grated ginger root. Steep the root in boiled water for a few minutes then leave it to cool and sip throughout the day. In regards to the use of ginger supplements during pregnancy, no study has investigated their extended use beyond 3 weeks. Thus the long-term safety of ginger supplements for mother and baby is unknown.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy can help, although it can sometimes make symptoms worse in women who are extremely sensitive to odours. If odours are no too much of a problem, essential oils that help to relieve nausea are lime, lemon or ginger. You can burn these oils in an oil burner throughout the day.

Reflexology

A qualified practitioner should always implement reflexology. It has a balancing and harmonizing effect on the body and is often used by women to find relief from debilitating nausea and vomiting.

It is important to remember that there are many different causes of vomiting and nausea during pregnancy. By following simple dietary and lifestyle changes symptoms may be reduced, however if symptoms become chronic it is always wise to speak to your healthcare provider.