Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Insane Drain on the Membrane: Alcohol and Adolescents

Flick the memory switch and try cast your mind back to the precise moment you were introduced to alcohol. Remember roughly how old you were? Chances are you weren’t quite the legal drinking age and you probably weren’t aware of the threats early introduction to alcohol posed to your mental and social health, just like the many children and teenagers across Australia developing problematic drinking habits.

A special DrinkWise Australia forum at Parliament House, Canberra, where high profile attendants ranging from Federal MPs, community leaders and sporting heroes gathered to affirm their support in the mission to delay Australian teenagers’ introduction to alcohol, was held this morning to promote its newest campaign KIDS AND ALCOHOL DON’T MIX. Among the speakers, Professor Ian Hickie of the Brain and Mind Research Institute spelled out the dangers of exposing teenagers to alcohol, warning that “The earlier you expose the brain to alcohol, the more likely you are to damage the developing brain.” The problem however, is not so much a lack of awareness with figures collected by Quantum Australia for DrinkWise in September 2009 revealing that 87 per cent of parents agree that alcohol affects the development of a young person’s brain, but rather that despite this awareness, 41 per cent of parents still believe it appropriate to introduce their children to alcohol before the legal drinking age of eighteen.

Unlike choosing to dismiss all nutritional wisdom when scoffing down a greasy burger or block of chocolate, the potential health damage caused by ignoring the warnings of premature alcohol consumption cannot be undone with a simple visit to the gym. The teenage years constitute prime time for mental growth and development and positive socialisation; the mind is constantly seeking to expand and learn new things. It is no secret that early alcohol initiation can encourage terrible drinking habits and alcohol abuse. I’ve witnessed first hand what happens when teenagers, who are taught drinking to be a casual and acceptable practice within the home, are unleashed to roam the urban jungle, away from parental supervision and adult control – I can recall off the top of my head witnessing numerous bingefests, trips to the hospital to get stomachs pumped and wounds stitched, and the ruining of lifelong friendships/relationships (among a list of many other regrets.) I can also conjure a list of a few friends (now distanced) who grew up with drinking as a casual family practice from a young age, who subsequently struggled academically, became socially awkward/removed, and now tackle terrible drinking habits or alcoholism. As DrinkWise chair Trish Worth explains “Teenagers are still heavily influenced by the role modelling of parents. So, if you drink heavily then expect your teenager to drink at risky levels too.”

Beyond the hormone-fuelled tempests and rebellion of adolescence lies a delicate mind, constantly being moulded and prepared for the future. So parents, as you offer your child or teenager a sip of your Merlot at dinner, thinking that it’s better you teach your child safe and proper drinking habits within the safety of the home, try to remember that age limits are legally imposed for a reason, and drinking habits of any sort are a major drain on the young membrane.

Interested? Try clicking these: - the effects of alcohol on the teenage brain – Doctors discuss the facts while a teenage girl recounts her negative experience with underage drinking.

Grace Balev is a 19 year-old media student with some freelance experience under her belt who has recently begun work at WellBeing alongside Co-editor Chelsea Hunter as editorial intern helping out with administration, writing, editing, and keeping tabs on the website. Each day at WellBeing offers new lessons on work, health, happiness and life on a unique journey of exploration and discovery. Although relatively young, a past (and future, no doubt) filled with adventures and tales of ups, downs, lefts and rights continue to inspire and enrich her life on a daily basis. It is this diverse expanse of experience and excitement that Grace hopes to share with the world as a growing intern, and aspiring journalist, at WellBeing.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Scar-healing foods

I have a brand new scar just above my right brow that needs to be treated with a lot of loving care - especially if I want it to heal nicely and eventually fade away. The most obvious course of action is topical skin treatments, of course, which I plan on thoroughly researching over the coming weeks, but another angle I thought wise to pursue was treating my scar internally.

My doctor has told me that folate and the vitamin B group are both handy when it comes to healing scars, so I've started looking around for recipes that will give me good doses of both these nutrients.

One of the foods I came across that is particularly high in B vitamins is millet. It is a staple food in African diets that is also high in protein (good for vegetarian), gluten-free (for coeliac disease sufferers) and contains iron and magnesium.

I've found a few recipes that I thought I might try over the coming weeks. I had the following recipe while I was at the Hilton Health Retreat for our first meal, and it was love at first bite.

Lamb backstrap with African millet salad
¾ of cup millet
3 cups cold water
1 small onion chopped
2 garlic cloves crushed
1½ teaspoons fresh ginger
1½ teaspoons cumin
1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
½ cup raw pistachio nuts
½ cup currants
½ cup coriander
2 lamb backstraps
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tbsp of lemon juice
Herbamare salt, to taste

In a small saucepan, combine millet and water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to low and cover with lid, cook (20-30 minutes) until tender.
Millet should not become gluggy or porridge like, but rather have the consistency of couscous.
In a large frypan, sauté onion, garlic and ginger until soft and translucent.
Add the cumin, paprika, cooked millet, pistachio nuts, currants and coriander. Stir well to combine and warm through.
Marinate lamb in olive oil, lemon juice and season with Herbamare salt. Cook on barbeque, char-grill or grill pan as desired. Rest lamb in a warm place (3-4 minutes) before carving and serving.
Carve each lamb backstrap into three, serve with warm African millet salad and a drizzle of olive oil.
From Zoe Bingley-Pullin's Eat, Taste, Nourish

I love the spices used in this recipe.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, julienned (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1 cup millet
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
8 ounces can extra crunchy corn, drained
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
1 whole roma tomato, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
In a 2-quart saucepan, with a tight-fitting lid, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then sauté the onion over medium heat until very golden and soft. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a minute, then add the paprika, black pepper, allspice, and cayenne and cook for a minute more. Wash the millet quickly and drain. Add the millet to the pan and stir, coating the grains and cooking until hot to the touch. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover. Simmer on low for 20 minutes before checking for doneness. When all the liquid is absorbed and the grain is tender, cover and take the pan off the heat for 10 minutes to steam. Scrape the cooked millet into a bowl and cover, then let cool.
Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil with the lemon juice and brown sugar in a small bowl. Stir the corn, bell pepper, tomato, and parsley into the cooled millet mixture, then drizzle the dressing over it and stir to coat. Serve topped with the peanuts.

This looks like it'll be great for winter:
Spicy Millet Vegetable Soup
1 cup of uncooked millet
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 medium sized carrots, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
1 inch piece of ginger, minced

7 cups of water or vegetable stock
2 - 3 teaspoons of celery seed

small handful of hot chilies, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups of broccoli, stems and flowerettes, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 large tomato, chopped
6 - 8 button mushrooms, chopped into pieces
1 tablespoon of curry powder
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
1 teaspoon of turmeric
2 teaspoons of dried basil
1 teaspoon of dried thyme

frozen or fresh peas
5 tablespoons of tamari
2 teaspoons of sea salt (less if you are using vegetable stock)
freshly cracked black pepper
juice from two limes
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Soak the millet overnight in about 1 cup of water. Drain, and set aside.
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic and ginger and stir and fry for about 5 minutes. Next, add the water or vegetable stock and the celery seed. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for about 15 minutes.
Add the broccoli stems to the pot, along with the tomato, mushrooms, millet, spices and herbs, and fresh peas if you are using them. Bring to a boil, immediately reduce the heat to low and cover and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until the millet is cooked.
Now add the broccoli flowerettes, tamari, salt, black pepper, frozen peas if you are using them and lime juice. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, and garnish each bowl with parsley.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


When I potted my tomato plants - the first I've ever grown - I wasn't sure how they'd go on our balcony. We get quite a bit of morning sun but once it hits about 1.30pm/2pm all of our plants are in the shade, so I figured it was going to be a bit hit or miss with the tomatoes, which need full sun. I imagine that making the transition from flower to fruit requires quite a bit of energy and I thought perhaps 4-5 hours of full sun would be enough. Or perhaps it wouldn't. Like I said, I wasn't sure, but I was really keen to start growing some of my favourite foods, so I thought I'd jump right in and start the experiment.

Turns out - judging by the photo I took on Sunday - half a day of sun seems to be enough so far. Behold, my first little truss of tomatoes!

I had planned to eat my first serving of home-grown "marties" with a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of salt and some homegrown basil - which I thought would be a cinch to grow - but alas, I'm not sure the basil is going to make it. It appears to be suffering from blight and wilt, (I have yet to further explore this self-assessed diagnosis) and thus I'm not sure it's going to make it onto the plate. I figure, though, that this is what gardening is about; having a dream (enjoying a meal picked from the balcony garden), taking a risk, celebrating the successes and learning from the challenges.

I'll be researching the care and nurture of basil in my spare moments, but if you have any advice on bringing the little fellas back from the brink, I'm all ears.

Yellow-ish, caterpillar-ravaged and sorry looking. What to do?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn

Elizabeth Blackburn has become Australia's first female recipient of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, along with her fellow researchers Carol W Greider and Jack W Szostak. The trio won the prestigious scientific prize, awarded in Stockhom earlier today, for their discovery of telomeres. Likened to plastic tips that keep the end of shoelaces from unravelling, telomeres are said to be responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of chromosomes, even when they divide, so that no genetic information slips into the void during cell division.

This newfound knowledge has also opened up new avenues to explore with regards to cancer and how it spreads throughout the body. Research has suggested that cancer uses the telomeres to promote and sustain its growth. It is thought that blocking telomeres may help to halt the spread of the disesase.

“The discoveries by Blackburn, Greider and Szostak have added a new dimension to our understanding of the cell, shed light on disease mechanisms, and stimulated the development of potential new therapies,” the prize committee said in its citation.

Exciting news not just for medicine but for the Australian medical community too. For more information on Ms Blackburn, check out the lovely profile written by Time in 2007.

Image courtesy

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Love

You know you’re in for a ride when the book you’re reading opens the second chapter with this quote: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you really think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt.

Wow. I’m equal parts inspired and intimidated. I can imagine using the above quote in one of the latter chapters when, as a reader, I’m totally fired up, believing I can do anything and ready to change the world. But, nope. This introduces us to the second chapter, which makes me wonder just where the author is going to take me. Good lord, woman, I’m already challenged by your intelligence, your vision and your confidence! Where to from here?

It’s taken from the book, The Blue Sweater, which I bought after wanting to find out more about how microfinancing businesses in developing countries appears to be more effective than charity in relieving poverty. It makes sense in the “give a woman a fish/teach a woman to fish” kind of way.

The book details the various experiences that lead the author, Jacqueline Novogratz, to form Acumen Fund, a nonprofit that identifies micro-businesses that not only help pull the entrepreneur from poverty but assists their community in a long term, sustainable way.

Currently she has just landed in Nairobi, where she will be working for a bank as an ambassador to African women, helping to create structures so that women with business ideas can get access to loans. Unfortunately, many of the African women she will be working alongside are annoyed that the position has been taken by a white woman, not an African woman, which is understandable. In conjunction, Novogratz has been given little idea as to what her job will actually involve, so she is mentally preparing to roll up her sleeves, work hard and, in doing so, hopefully win favour within the community.

I’m only at the start of her journey and Novogratz has already eclipsed anything far beyond what I’ve done or could imagine doing. Good thing I’m reading this while sipping tea and nibbling chocolate in between naps on a Sunday afternoon. I wouldn’t want to be taken completely out of my comfort zone after all!


This is what a balcony garden looks like in Bondi; small, cramped, barely enough sun but full of potential deliciousness.

My plants really only get about 4-5 hours of direct sunlight, so it will be interesting to see if the strawberries and tomatoes actually fruit. So far I have a few flowers.

It looks like the strawberries may fruit, but I’m not sure about the tomatoes. It’s a bit of an experiment.

Nonetheless, if it doesn’t work out, I’ve always got my pansies (I think) and Rampagin’ Roy Slavin kangaroo paw to keep things looking purty.

Battling the post-holidays blues

Lucky me was sent to Rotorua for work and for four days I woke up to this stunning view, but now I think a bit of post-holidays blues have set in. I’m considering using this as my computer wallpaper, but in doing so I may run the risk of making myself even more blue!

I really do wish I was back in Rotorua, looking out to Mokoia Island, sipping tea and kicking back with a great book.

Incidentally, this book just arrived from Amazon. I’ve only read the first chapter but I’m hooked. I was inspired to buy it after reading this article in the NYTimes and wanting to know more about alternatives to charity work. I want to find out what really works. Once this book arrives, I should be a little more educated.

Mum always said, if you’re feeling depressed, do something for someone else and you’ll feel a little better. This is my slightly ammended version: reading about better ways to help others will help me get over my post-holiday come down. :)