The old saying ‘you are what you eat’ supports the idea that without the foundations of a good diet you are wasting your time and money trying to balance your health. Shannon Burford, a naturopath based in Claremont, firmly believes a correct diet, herbal medicine and nutritional balance can make an enormous impact on an individual’s health even for those dealing with allergies, asthma, Autism, ADHD, infertility or cancer.
Meeting Shannon at his clinic, aptly named Cura Integrative Medicine, you become instantly aware of the aroma from the herbs and tonics on his shelves with names and labels not found in any commercial advertisement or local pharmacy.
Over a pot of freshly brewed herbal tea, Shannon describes his own healing journey after contracting Dysentery and Typhoid while travelling through India and Cambodia in his early 20s. Already holding a degree in Science from Curtin University, Shannon realised the impact of nutrition on his health and while he appreciated the need for antibiotics, he knew working on prevention and building his strength from good food and herbs would see him on a better path for the future.
His impressive resume now covers a Bachelor of Multidisciplinary Science and a Bachelor in Health Science (Naturopathy), he is also a Master herbalist and nutritionist, a lecturer in nutritional medicine, naturopathic philosophy and author in a variety of health topics, including cancer and men’s health. He is also a father of two.
“The relationship between good food and behaviour now seems so clear,” he muses. “There is a need, a real urgency to understand the impact of what we put into our bodies. I want to educate as many people as I can and fuel the growing awareness that nutrition is a huge contributor to health.
“You have no doubt heard people say ‘wholefood, wholefood, eat more wholefood because it is healthier’, right? Why exactly? It is all about the full package. With processing comes removal of the valuable nutrients. That is why brown rice is a better choice than white rice.”
Another turning point in his life was the birth of his son, and realising the impact toxicity, allergies and ADHD behaviours have on children. Shannon said it was then that a passion in children’s health was awakened.
Naturopathy holds the core philosophy that the body can heal itself and everyone is an individual.
We live in a polluted world and eat processed food, with processing methods drastically reducing nutritional content.
Shannon describes his experiences as a parent of a child with terrible reactive eczema determined by allergy tests as fuelled by an exhaustive list of triggers such as egg, dairy, food colouring and sugar. His son was also diagnosed with asthma and prescribed ventolin.
He recalls the day his son, then aged two and a half, ate a brightly coloured iced donut as a special treat and the transformation that followed, which he describes as nothing short of the Incredible Hulk, as his young son began wild screaming and hurtling furniture across the floor, an episode that lasted about an hour. Once older, and able to communicate clearly, his son described the headaches and other symptoms he suffered once exposed to sugar and food colouring.
Today, his son has none of these issues.
” HMA (Hair Mineral Analysis) is an invaluable screening tool to assist with conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD and preventative health care”
Shannon says whilst his primary passion is in evidence-based nutrition, he combines this with the power of herbs lifestyle changes. He explores his patient’s health like an iceberg, depicted by the small visible peak being the symptoms, yet his work is to discover what lies beneath the surface, hidden in our diet, environment and toxicity within.
His diagnostic process is thorough, with calls for blood, saliva, stool, allergy and hair analysis as required, as well as diet, sleep, energy and behavioural discussions and observing the eye lids, tongue and fingernails among other things, to get the full picture on a patient’s health and tailor a precise treatment plan to suit.
“Naturopathy holds the core philosophy that the body can heal itself and everyone is an individual. One size does not fit everyone! A tailored diet and certain herbs can create an optimum environment for health,” he says.
He is a strong advocate for Hair Mineral Analysis (HMA), especially for children due to its comprehensive results without the invasiveness of a blood test. The test is simply cutting a collection of hair from the back of the head, yet it can detect an excess or deficiency of vital nutrient minerals such as calcium, selenium, zinc and iron. It can also identify over-exposure to heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic or aluminium.
“HMA is an invaluable screening tool to assist with conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD and preventative health care,” Shannon boasts.
The results of the test have become quicker of late with a diagnostic laboratory now based in Perth rather than overseas.
His HMA testing has confirmed Shannon’s belief that zinc deficiencies exists across the population of Western Australians, young, old, male and female, primarily attributed to our soils that fail to retain nutrients coupled with the growth of crops in the same soil over and over. So while foods like pumpkin and sunflower seeds, oysters, beef, wholegrains, egg yolks and seafood contain high levels of zinc, the very nature of the way those foods are grown may very well mean we still need something extra to keep our bodies balanced.
People with zinc deficiencies demonstrate poor wound healing, prolonged infections, low appetite and kids may experience recurrent ear infections, sleep disturbance and anxiety.
“In an ideal world, we shouldn’t need a nutritional supplement or a herbal medicine mix if we were eating all living and whole foods. The reality is though, we live in a polluted world and eat processed food, with processing methods drastically reducing nutritional content. The body is also burdened with chemical preservatives and additives.”
People with zinc deficiencies demonstrate poor wound healing, prolonged infections, low appetite and kids may experience recurrent ear infections, sleep disturbance and anxiety. Yet the physical signs may be as small as white marks on fingers nails.
“A balance of the vital nutrients is important for optimal health and zinc is tremendously important for people of all ages, it supports a healthy immune system and the growth and development of the body during adolescence, childhood and pregnancy and is essential for men’s prostate and productive health. Lack of zinc has also been shown to have a clear link to anorexia and bulimia too.“
Get your kids eating oats for breakfast and start their day on the right foot. Shannon’s tip is to try making a pot of chamomile tea and use the tea to cook your oats. It will reduce anxiety and is good for the gut!
Shannon explains that good nutrition can also impact the severity of disorders such as ADHD and Autism in children, however he said for some parents it is hard to make the dietary changes in a society so busy and so focused on instant gratification with medications so readily available that offer noticeable and immediate behavioural modifications. He describes some parents returning to his clinic, sometimes years later, deciding to try the slower but longer lasting naturopathic and nutrition path, after becoming frustrated with the cycle of medications and behavioural management which left their child ‘under a cloud’ or ‘void of themselves’.
Whilst it is unfortunate that the majority of people turn to Shannon after they have exhausted conventional medicine avenues, he still holds high hopes that one day preventative medicine will reach the forefront of his clientele.
When faced with resistance or uncertainty from his exhausted and time poor patients about what their kids will eat, what they can afford or what changes they are willing to make permanently to their pantries, Shannon says it’s all about tailoring a plan for the individual. People will only make changes when they are truly ready, a small change for better health is better than no change, so slow substitution and reducing the sugar load is key. Obviously some families have reached the end of the line when they arrive at the spiral staircase which leads to Shannon’s quaint office and are willing to forgo all bad habits in search of better health.
His best advice is to set your kids up for success by teaching them early on to make good food choices. Shannon explains eating healthy isn’t about restrictions, it’s about creating new habits.
“The small changes you make to your child’s diet will ripple through their entire life,” he says.
And yes, he does practice what he preaches, and so do his children.
“I aim to eat as pure as possible, organic where I can to obtain the best quality. If the food comes from a box, I would say don’t eat it,” he says.
“For breakfast my kids and I will eat oats with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, psyllium husk, a sprinkle of pro-biotic and maybe some frozen berries, with soy or rice milk.
“But I understand that kids go to birthday parties and they love cheesy pizza and pasta, my kids are like most kids, we don’t live in a cave, but we don’t eat gluten or sugar and we don’t have the bad choices available in our home. My kids have grown aware of the ingredients in products and how food makes them feel and as such they aren’t interested in the coloured cakes or the lolly bags, apart from the bubble blowers.”
For any food that does happen to come cloaked in cardboard, he is a big advocate for label reading.
“The most important thing on the box is the ingredients list,” he said. “Check out the details of what it contains more than the standard breakdown of fat, sugar, carbohydrates and look at the placement of the ingredients on the list. Where is the sugar? If it is listed first, it means the product contains mostly sugar.”
For more information contact Shannon at Cura Integrative Medicine 08 9284 4644, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.curamedicine.com.au