health · mental health · tea

Tea For Mental Health And Wellbeing

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It’s no secret that I love tea. I have a regular tea review feature on my instagram page, and occasionally tea reviews make their way onto this blog as well. I probably drink too many cups of tea a day, and that only escalated while I was on maternity leave – probably partly due to a need for caffeine thanks to being up all night with Little Man, and partly as a reaction to being forced onto the decaff stuff while I was pregnant. I’ve always found tea drinking to be soothing, and I have a range of different teas at home. But can drinking tea actually be good for your mental health?

Tea For Mental Health

In the UK, at least, we tend to brew up a cuppa as an automatic response to any stressful situation. It’s a stereotype that’s also kind of true – we drink 50 billion cups of tea a year, and one in ten of us drinks six or more cups per day. That’s a lot of tea. So is all that tea working to help us deal with stress – or are we just drinking for the flavour?

What does the science say?

Before we look at the science around tea and mental health, we need to first consider: what is tea? Technically, “tea” is a beverage prepared using the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant – this includes teas such as black tea, green tea, and matcha. If your tea isn’t made from camellia sinensis leaves, then it’s really a herbal tea a.k.a. a tisane or infusion. Different types of tea will have different chemical properties, making that their effect on mental health will not be directly comparable. So in looking at research on tea and mental health, we first have to understand what “tea” the researchers were actually using for their work…

Studies on the effects of drinking tea on mental health

Researchers have found that drinking camellia sinensis tea lowers the stress hormone cortisol. And that’s not all: drinking half a cup of green tea a day also seems to lower the risk of depression and dementia – one study in Korea found that people who habitually drank green tea were 21% less likely to develop depression over their lifetime, compared to non-drinkers. That is a protective effect equivalent to undertaking 2.5 hours of exercise a week – not bad for a cuppa you can enjoy while sat on your sofa.

Similarly, studies in Japan and China also found green tea drinking to be associated with a lower risk of depression. And it’s not just green tea – other studies have shown that camomile tea (a herbal tea or tisane) may also have an antidepressent effect.

The small print

However, it should be noted that, while there is evidence that regularly drinking some teas can help improve mood in healthy populations, there’s not yet any evidence that it can help people who are already suffering from mental illness. And, of course, the studies discussed above only look at two types of tea – green tea and camomile – out of the huge variety of different teas and tisanes that you can buy. So it’s a little premature to reach a conclusion about the benefits of tea drinking…

Additionally, the studies that have been done don’t necessarily tell us where this protective effect is coming from. Is there a chemical (or chemicals) in tea which reduces our risk of depression – or could it actually be more complicated than that?

Tea Drinking and Mindfulness

Some researchers have suggested that some of the physical and mental health benefits from tea could actually be related to the act of preparing tea, rather than the ingredients within the drink itself.

Tea preparation as a form of mindfulness

The rituals of making and drinking tea can act as a form of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, to your body, your sensations and what’s happening around you. It is recommended by the NHS and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as a recognised way to treat depression. You can read more about mindfulness here. Preparing and drinking tea can act as a form of mindfulness, because it involves taking time out of your day, stopping whatever you’re doing to focus on preparing your tea, engaging your body in making the tea and enjoying the smells and flavours that go with it.

Tea preparation rituals around the world

In fact, all around the globe, many cultures have developed formal practices around the making and drinking of tea, which reflect this meditative and ritualistic aspect to tea preparation.

In parts of East Asia, the ritual of making tea has been elevated into the tea ceremony, a ceremonial way of preparing and presenting tea – perhaps the most famous form of tea preparation ritual. In Morocco, mint tea is traditionally prepared for visitors to the home and three glasses are served, each representing a different aspect of life (check out my recipe for fresh mint tea here). Russia has its zavarka tradition; Argentina its mate culture; and of course here in the UK we have the traditional afternoon tea, where the cakes and sandwiches are arguably as important (or even more important?) than the tea itself. It’s interesting that so many different cultures across the world have all developed these distinct rituals around preparing and serving tea.

How to create your own tea ritual for mindfulness

The simple process of taking time out of your day to prepare and enjoy a cup of tea is really a ritual in itself. But if you’re specifically looking to practice mindfulness for your mental health, you can consider creating your own tea ritual for mindfulness and wellbeing. It can be easier to bring elements of mindfulness to an every day activity like making tea, compared to finding the time to meditate or undertake other more formal mindfulness rituals.

The key element of any mindfulness practice is to really pay attention to what you’re doing and the physical experience you’re undergoing. So as you’re preparing your tea, consider:

  • What sounds are you hearing? For instance – a boiling kettle, the clink of a teaspoon, the gurgling as you pour hot water into a cup.
  • What do you see? How does the liquid change colour as the hot water and/or milk is added to the cup?
  • What else can you sense? The warmth of the cup in your hands, the smell of the tea as it’s brewing, the taste of the tea when you start to drink.
  • How do you feel? As you sip your tea, can you take a few moments to consciously relax your body, take some deep breaths, and enjoy this time?

Top tips on creating your own tea drinking mindfulness ritual

If you’re looking for some more detailed guidance on how to create a mindfulness practice based around tea drinking, there are lots of great resources out there. I like this guide about how to be mindful with a cup of tea, and this guide to creating a slightly longer tea ritual, for when you have more time to spare.

Tea for Mental Health: A Summary

So, in summary – yes, tea drinking can indeed be good for your mental health. And frankly, that’s enough of an excuse to justify my next cuppa! But it’s not a magic cure that will leave you feeling better overnight… Things are rarely that simple. By incorporating mindfulness practice into the simple enjoyment of making a cup of tea, you may be able to take best advantage of the mental health benefits of drinking tea.

Your thoughts on tea and mental health

Do you practice mindfulness when drinking your morning cuppa? Do you feel that tea drinking has had mental health benefits for you? Or have you enjoyed experiencing tea culture around the globe? Please share your experiences in the comments, below!

food · health · Just for fun · Seasonal

Brussels Sprouts: A Festive Safety Warning

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Now, there are apparently some people in this world who actually enjoy Brussels sprouts, and they will insist on saying things like “it’s not Christmas without sprouts!” and “they’re incredibly good for you, you know!” BUT ARE THEY? I have always believed that Brussels sprouts are the work of the devil, and now it turns out I may well be justified in that belief. So I’m sharing this festive Brussels sprouts safety warning with you: these little green vegetables are dangerous…

Brussels Sprouts: A Festive Safety Warning

Brussels Sprouts Overdose: The Facts

Back in 2011, a man was hospitalised at Christmas after overdosing on Brussels sprouts. Yes, really. You see, sprouts contain vitamin K, which the body uses to help with blood clotting. This can be a problem if you’re on medication to stop your blood clotting (a.k.a. blood thinners or ‘anticoagulants’ – like warfarin, which you may have heard of). All the vitamin K counteracts the effect of this medication.

The man in question suffered from chronic heart failure, and had been fitted with an artificial pump in his heart, while he was awaiting a heart transplant. It’s normal for patients in this situation to take blood thinners, and he was prescribed warfarin and his blood was monitored to check it wasn’t clotting too easily. All was well for four months, when the festive season approached. Suddenly, blood tests indicated that the man’s blood was clotting much too quickly. The doctors increased his warfarin, but it kept getting worse and worse. They told him not to eat too many leafy green vegetables due to the vitamin K content. But nothing seemed to help. Three days after Christmas, he was admitted to hospital.

While in hospital – eating hospital food – things started to improve. Eventually, under (presumably) intensive questioning from his doctors, he finally admitted that he’d been eating Brussels sprouts three or four times a week during the festive period. But not just that. Oh no. He’d been eating 15 – 20 Brussels sprouts at a time. That means he was munching down around 45 – 80 sprouts PER WEEK.

Now, I have some sprout fans in my immediate family, and they’ve long tried to convert me to eating this appalling vegetable. But I have never met anyone who loves them so much they’re guzzling down 20 sprouts a day (unless they’re so rightly ashamed of this sick behaviour that they’re hiding it from me, I guess). Anyway, the point is: not only are sprouts gross, they’re also potentially little green balls of death, so heed my festive Brussels sprouts safety warning and steer well clear.

Why do I hate sprouts so much?

Random side note: the the hatred of Brussels sprouts is, in fact, genetic (or at least, probably genetic). Those people who have this gene can taste the bitter and hideous taste of a chemical called phenylthiocarbamide, which is extremely similar to a chemical found in brassicas, like Brussels sprouts. And cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower… pretty much all the vegetables I and so many other sensible people hate. So if you’ve ever been sat around the Christmas dinner table, watching your family guzzling down sprouts and wondering: why do I hate Brussels sprouts so much? Now you know!

health · medication · top tips

How To Decide Whether To Have Surgery/Radiation/Take the Medication…

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I’m a member of lots of Facebook support groups for people with pituitary tumours and other chronic or long-term illnesses. One of the most common types of post is people saying they’re not sure whether or not to go through with whatever treatment has been recommended by their doctor. It’s a big decision, and not something that strangers on the internet can really answer for you! But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any process or technique you can use to make healthcare and treatment decisions… That’s why I’m writing this blog.

I want to share a process I learned doing National Childbirth Trust classes when I was pregnant, which I think is a great technique to follow to help you make these kinds of decisions. It doesn’t have to be restricted to use in healthcare settings, either.

The process is called “BRAIN” and it’s an acronym to help you to remember the questions you should ask about your recommended treatment. You should consider:

  • Benefits – what are the possible benefits of this treatment?
  • Risks – what are the risks of doing this?
  • Alternatives – what alternative options are there? Why are they not the recommended option?
  • Intuition – what does your gut feeling tell you?
  • Nothing – what would happen if you don’t do anything?

I think this provides a really great format to have a constructive conversation with your healthcare provider, and to ensure that you’re fully informed about your treatment. It can be helpful to take this list to your appointments so you can work through each question when you see your doctors (if you’re anything like me, you forget what you want to ask if it’s not written down!), to inform your treatment decisions.

I’ve also written previously about my experience of pituitary tumor surgery and making the decision to go ahead with surgery (twice) – you can read about that here.

asthma

My Experience of Asthma in Pregnancy and Birth

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Well, I’ve written about my experiences with hypermobility in pregnancy and birth, and again about how my pituitary tumour impacted my pregnancy and birth. So it seems logical to write about how my asthma impacted me as well, and complete the trilogy… How did pregnancy affect my asthma?

My Experience of Asthma in Pregnancy

But I’ve been in two minds about writing this post, because actually my asthma barely affected me at all! In fact I noticed a massive improvement in my asthma symptoms while I was pregnant. Normally they’re worst around June; my asthma seems to be particularly triggered by hayfever and then made worse by humid weather. Last year when I was pregnant, I spent the end of May in Japan at a family wedding, and when I got back I realised my asthma seemed much better than usual. Seems strange, huh?

Does pregnancy make asthma better or worse?

I spoke to my asthma nurse about this recently when I went for a review (she’s the best! Shout out to all the awesome asthma nurses out there). She said that roughly a third of people with asthma notice an improvement of their symptoms in pregnancy, a third notice a deterioration, and for the rest there’s no change. So I guess I was one of the lucky 33%. I felt so crap being pregnant anyway, I’m so glad I didn’t have to deal with my asthma playing up too.

Why does pregnancy affect my asthma?

Looking online, there are plenty of asthma sites which also advise that asthma may improve or worsen in pregnancy. But none of them seem to explain why. I assume it’s the usual “pregnancy hormones” explanation, which is so vague as to be no explanation at all. So I’m awarding a gold star to any health professional who can let me know in the comments below why specifically it is that asthma is so variable in pregnancy!

Does asthma affect you when giving birth?

I also didn’t find that my asthma affected the birthing process, fortunately. As I have exercise-induced asthma, I did wonder whether labour could trigger my asthma at all. I took my inhalers to the hospital with me (make sure you have spares in your hospital bag just in case!). But luckily, I didn’t need them during the birth.

In fact, apparently asthma attacks during labour are very rare, which is believed to be because of the natural steroids that your body produces during labour. The Asthma UK website has more information about asthma and birth, which may also reassure you.

What were your experiences of asthma during pregnancy and birth? Let me know in the comments!

birth · health · medication · pituitary · pregnancy

My Experience of Pituitary Tumour and Pregnancy

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I’ve already written about my experience of hypermobility and pregnancy (and birth!), so it feels like time to write about my experience with my pituitary tumour (pituitary adenoma).

My Experience of Pituitary Tumour And Pregnancy

Before trying for a baby

My husband and I went to talk to my endocrinologists about the possibility of trying for a baby over a year before we actually wanted to start trying (we had a wedding in between!). And it was just as well we did, because there was a lot of planning involved…

At the time, I was taking a medication called Somatuline Autogel (lanreotide) for my pituitary adenoma. There’s no data on its safeness (or otherwise) in pregnancy, and in fact it isn’t even technically licensed for my condition. I have a pituitary tumour which produces thyroid stimulating hormone (TSHoma), and they’re so rare that there actually isn’t any medication licensed for the condition. However, I’ve taken lanreotide on-and-off for nearly ten years, and fortunately it always worked well to control my symptoms.

But because it’s not known how safe lanreotide is in pregnancy, my doctors were keen to see whether I could manage without the medication during a pregnancy – or whether my thyroid levels would start going up again. So I agreed to do a trial period off the medication. All went well for a couple of months, and then I could feel my symptoms coming back, and blood tests confirmed that my thyroid levels had risen again. So, a new plan was needed.

My doctors then suggested trying cabergoline, a drug that’s used for a different kind of pituitary adenoma called a prolactinoma. They estimated to me that, based on their previous experience, there was about a one in five chance of it working for my tumour as well. And although cabergoline is not licensed for use in pregnancy, there have been more case studies etc. of women using it in pregnancy, so my endocrinologists thought it would be a better bet than lanreotide… If it worked for me.

So I have it a go… And it worked! To my surprise, it was just as good as lanreotide, if not better because it’s much more convenient. With cabergoline, I take two tablets per week (weird schedule, I know), whereas with the Somatuline Autogel it was an injection once a month which my husband had to do, and we had to keep the injections refrigerated beforehand. Plus, with Somatuline, because it messes with the function of your gallbladder, I had to eat an extremely low fat diet for 5 days out of each month, which could be a real pain when we were out and about. So not having to do that was a real bonus!

During Pregnancy

During the course of my pregnancy, I had to have blood tests once a month to check on my thyroid levels. Fortunately, they were well controlled throughout the whole time. I also had some bonus hospital visits so my endocrinologists could check up on other symptoms. Because the pituitary naturally enlarges during pregnancy, they like to check up on your visual fields to ensure that between that and the tumour, it’s not putting pressure on your optic nerve.

Planning for Breastfeeding

I really wanted to try breastfeeding, but being on cabergoline meant that could be tricky. Cabergoline inhibits the production of prolactin – the hormone that stimulates the production of breastmilk. My doctors recommended that I stop taking cabergoline six weeks before my due date, to give myself the best chance of breastfeeding, as the drug takes about four weeks to leave your system. Hopefully I would then be able to breastfeed for a couple of months before my symptoms returned and I had to go back on the medication.

So, I duly stopped taking cabergoline at 34 weeks… And then Little Man showed up at 37 weeks, rather earlier than expected! Breastfeeding didn’t work out for us. Although I made colostrum, my milk never came in, and it’s not clear whether it’s because the cabergoline wasn’t out of my system yet, or the stress and separation when Little Man ended up in intensive care for several days.

Planning for the Birth with a Pituitary Tumour

With regards to the birth, my endocrinologists were confident I could have a normal birth. Because the pituitary is involved in producing the hormones that kickstart childbirth, I did ask whether there was any reason to think that I might be less likely to go into labour naturally. But the doctors said that there was no evidence that women with pituitary tumours are more likely to need inductions.

The doctors did specifically write in my notes that I was allowed to have an epidural, as they said sometimes people can mistakenly think it’s not allowed after having transsphenoidal pituitary surgery. They also advised that there should be steroids on hand, to be administered if I experienced any unexplained low blood pressure, in which case an adrenal crisis should be suspected. Fortunately it wasn’t needed.

What advice do I have for other women with a pituitary tumour who are trying for children?

After two transsphenoidal pituitary surgeries, there was always a risk that the function of my pituitary gland had been damaged by the surgery and I might find it difficult to conceive. Fortunately we were very lucky and I was able to get pregnant. Because we knew it might take a while, we planned a long time ahead, and I’d definitely recommend talking to your endocrine team to work out a plan of action well in advance of when you want to start trying to conceive.

Trying me on/ off various treatments took over a year from when we first discussed it, due to delays from the hospital’s administration and us deciding to go back on my regular medication for the three month period of our wedding and honeymoon, to make sure I felt well for it. If we had been actively wanting to start trying for a baby, that would have felt incredibly frustrating and slow. It was frustrating enough even when we knew we didn’t want to start trying until after the wedding!

Do you have any experience of pregnancy and birth with a pituitary tumour which you can share? Let me know in the comments!

Uncategorised

Post-Partum Body Bullshit

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After having a baby, you expect to have a tummy and some weight to lose. That much is expected! But there’s so much weird body stuff that lingers after pregnancy that I didn’t really know about. I suppose that other than the weight, possible stretch marks, and any scars from c-sections or episiotomy etc., I assumed everything else would go back to normal. Oh, how wrong I was!

And even though some of it is minor in the grand scheme of things, I think it’s still okay to find it difficult that your body has changed in ways you weren’t expecting. So, I thought I’d write about it…

Post-Partum Body Bullshit: Weird Stuff Your Body Does After Pregnancy

Post-Partum Hairloss

This one is the worst! I have had issues with hair loss for over ten years, thanks to my pituitary issues. For the last four years or so, since my symptoms have mostly been under control with medication, my hair has been growing back slowly, although it’s still a bit patchy in places. But when I was pregnant, my hair improved so much! It got thick and shiny and generally great. In fact it was pretty much the only good thing about being pregnant (other than getting the baby at the end, obviously!)

Hair tends to get thicker during pregnancy, but not because you’re growing more hair – actually, it’s because it’s falling out less. Strange but true. Of course, what that means is that sooner or later, your scalp needs to catch up on all the hair it would normally have lost during those nine months of pregnancy. Enter post-partum hair loss, which normally kicks in about three months after giving birth.

Even though I know it’s totally normal, I’m still finding it a bit stressful to be pulling handfuls of hair out of my hairbrush on a regular basis. It just takes me back to when my own hair loss was really really bad before my tumor was diagnosed, which was a horrible, stressful time.

Annoyingly, my amazing pregnancy lips, which to be fair also looked great and incredibly plump during pregnancy, vanished almost as soon as Little Man was out! Now I’m back to relying on lipstick again…

Moles and Skin Tags

I’ve always had a lot of moles and freckles, but when I got pregnant they went into overdrive! New moles and skin tags appeared everywhere, often seemingly overnight, and they’re still here four months after having had the baby. They particularly seem to have arisen on my chest, back, and belly. Existing moles have also grown, and in some cases turned kind of scaly (ew, sorry).

The development of moles and skin tags in pregnancy is associated with all the oestrogen sloshing around your body. I’ve had my moles checked over by a doctor and she’s said that the changes appear normal and nothing to worry about. But I can’t help but be unimpressed with this new weird bobbly skin.

Weird Tan Lines

So there’s a thing that happens in pregnancy called the linea nigra, a dark line of hyperpigmented skin that runs down your belly. Typically it shows up around the second trimester, caused by pregnancy hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which stimulate the production of melanin in your skin. You may also notice skin darkening on your face and elsewhere as a result of the same process.

When you read about linea nigra online, most sites say it should disappear a few months after delivery. Well, I’m four months out and mine hasn’t faded a bit despite not getting any sunshine. And there doesn’t seem to be much consensus on what to expect, because some other sites say that the line may take a year to fade – or never go away at all.


As well as my linea nigra, I seem to have developed a patch of unpigmented skin on the right hand side of my belly. I’m quite pale so it’s not super noticeable, but it’s big enough that you can see it if you look for it. I haven’t found anything online that suggests that this is a thing which happens with pregnancy, but it definitely wasn’t there before!

What weird post-partum side effects have you had? Let me know in the comments!

medication

Cabergoline Side-Effects: My Medication May Cause Gambling Addiction

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So after much chasing of the hospital, finally they have agreed that I should go back on my medication for my pituitary tumor. The tumor is a very rare kind, which produces thyroid stimulating hormone, and in fact is so rare that there are no medications which are certified for treating it. Therefore, my endocrinologists use medication for other types of pituitary tumor, off-label. It’s called cabergoline, and it has some pretty niche side effects… As you may have guessed from the title of this post. I’m going to write about cabergoline side-effects, but first: why am I on this medication in the first place.

When I wanted to try to get pregnant, the doctors tried taking me off medication completely, but the symptoms of high thyroid levels came back after a couple of months. So they tried me on cabergoline (Dostinex for any Americans reading), a dopamine agonist which is usually used for treating a much more common type of pituitary tumor called a prolactinoma. And – surprisingly – it worked! I was delighted, because the doctors had suggested there was only a one-in-five-ish chance that it would actually work to treat my condition – thyrotropinoma, a.k.a. a pituitary tumour which secretes thyroid stimulating hormone.

The thing about cabergoline though, is that it has some particularly weird possible side effects…

Possible side-effects of cabergoline…

All dopamine receptor agonist drugs come with a risk of impulse control disorders. That means compulsive gambling, compulsive shopping, hypersexuality, binge eating and really any form of addictive or impulsive behaviour. As well as prolactinoma, cabergoline is prescribed for Parkinson’s Disease, often in much higher doses. Here’s an article about a Parkinson’s Disease sufferer who experienced extreme impulse control side effects from taking the drug. It’s from the Daily Mail but well, what can you do. Reputable newspapers don’t usually go for true life scandal about medication that turns you into a transvestite con artist.

Taking A Gamble

Some patients won lawsuits against the companies who manufactured these drugs, for failing to provide a warning about these side effects, because of the effect the medication had upon them and the impact on their lives. There have been other cases where people have escaped prison sentences after committing crimes, by successfully evidencing that their behaviour was caused by the medication – although that argument doesn’t work for everybody.

These side effects aren’t especially common in pituitary patients, but my endocrinologists warned me about them before I first started on the drug. Every time I go to the hospital with my husband, they check in with him that I haven’t started gambling or compulsively shopping. Obviously they check in with me too, but they like to get his more unbiased view!

Other Side-Effects (It’s Not Just Gambling Addiction)

More common side effects of cabergoline include possible cardiac effects, low blood pressure and dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and hallucinations. Other less common side effects include psychosis and delusions. It’s really a list of side effects that makes you think twice about taking the medication. I’m a member of several Facebook groups for pituitary patients, and there are often anxious posts from patients who have been prescribed cabergoline who are concerned about the possible side effects.

Ergot-ta Be Kidding Me

So why all the crazy side effects? Well, cabergoline is actually derived from ergot. Ergot is a kind of fungus which can grow on grains and, if ingested in large amounts, will make you crazy – hallucinations, delirium, psychosis and mania, among other things. It’s even been suggested that ergotism might have been the root cause of the Salem witch trials, with ergot poisoning causing symptoms of “bewitchment”. So perhaps it’s not surprising that cabergoline can have some pretty crazy side effects too.

My Experience Of Cabergoline Side-Effects

Last time I started the medication, I got on with it pretty well. I did experience some dizziness and low blood pressure – I tend to have somewhat low blood pressure anyway – but the longer that I took the drug, the more my body adapted to it, and the blood pressure issues resolved. So I’m hoping that I won’t have any major problems this time… Fingers crossed! But if you see me in Ladbrokes, maybe let my husband know.