FODMAPS diet, why and how

Moving away from the theme of viruses – hooray! –  and talking to you today about the FODMAPS diet, specifically the low FODMAPS diet.
If you’re wondering what this word even means, it’s an acronym for terms describing certain carbohydrates (and their fermentable effect on digestion):  Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides And Polyols.
Easy to understand why the acronym’s preferred.  Those carbs are quite a mouthful!

low FODMAPS

Fodmaps are found naturally in a wide range of foods.  They are different types of carbohydrates that are not easily absorbed in the gut, and which therefore can kick off IBS-type symptoms in some people.

Due to this diversity of potentially troublesome carbs it can be difficult to navigate the low FODMAPS diet, so here is a broad brush stroke of information to help you decide if you want to give it a go, either with a therapist, or on your own.

Let’s look a bit closer at this acronym.
Fermentables:  This is what happens when your gut bacteria ferments undigested carbohydrates.
Oligosaccharides: mainly found in wheat, rye, pulses but also garlic and onions..and more.
Disaccharides: mainly in dairy produce, including those yoghurts you might be eating daily because you believe they’re healthy (which they are for some, and perhaps for you, once you’ve been eating low FODMAP and introduced it later, in a small way; possibly only occasionally.  All very individual).
Monosaccharides:  these mainly cover fructose and include a variety of fruit plus honey – and corn syrups (do read labels when you go shopping!)
Polyols:  these are also found in different veg and fruit; also in articial sweeteners.

First thing to keep in mind when considering this diet is that you have to be dealing with IBS symptoms.  This isn’t a weight loss programme, nor is it a particularly healthy diet to keep in your life.  On the contrary.  As it excludes a lot of normally healthy prebiotic foods, this is an eating regime to do SHORT-TERM in order to reduce your IBS-ish symptoms.  Some prebiotic foods are included but not many, and you need these prebiotics for a healthy gut, for your diversely populated microbiome, hence this isn’t a diet for the long haul.

I normally suggest two to three weeks with clients, but if you’re feeling vastly better on it then an extra week or two is fine.  Monash university, which developed it in the first place years ago, and have an excellent app (more about that below), states you can follow it up to eight weeks.  Personally, I prefer clients to move back onto some of those ‘missed’ higher FODMAP foods earlier than that.

And this brings me to the next stage of the diet.  After your three or so weeks of ‘low’ eating, you then gradually introduce one higher FODMAP food, from one of the above groups, back into your menu to see how it feels, to check if you react and have symptoms.

This sort of challenge is what a lot of clients try out in order to identify ‘intolerance’ foods.  Exclude then reintroduce, one at a time, giving yourself days inbetween to allow some slower symptoms to emerge – or not.

With the FODMAPS approach – which is not about intolerance foods but about hard-to-digest carbs – once you’ve followed it for your two or three weeks, you then introduce a higher FODMAP food to your meal.  In a small way the first time, then building up slightly the following day.  On the third day you try a ‘normal’ (not huge!) amount of that food with your meal.

I recommend waiting a couple of days before you try another new higher FODMAPS food so that you’re not overloading your digestion, not challenging it too much.
Some people find their old gut symptoms return when they’re stepping up the amounts, so back off with that food, wait a couple of days and then try another higher FODMAP food.  Waiting those two days inbetween these trials gives pause for your digestion.

Always play it safe.  Stick to re-introducing one new food in one FODMAP group at a time.  Start small and gradually.
Everyone is different.  Some digestions are more sensitive or reactive than others, and this is one reason why it may help to work with a practitioner.
Another reason to work with someone:  You might be starting this diet because you feel you’ve “tried everything”.  Left out gluten then excluded that daily biscuit or sweet, reduced wine hugely, stopped the pizzas, left out some cheese.
This approach can often be too random, and if nothing else, there should be a logical and informed plan to how you go about changing your diet.  Some people may want the support of a nutritionist or naturopath with this plan.

Also important to be aware of is that a lot of gut distress can be due to overgrowths of yeasts or bacteria or parasites.  Stool tests would then be indicated, or other home test kits to rule out SIBO or gut permeability for instance.  Dietary changes alone won’t clear up an overgrowth of pathogenic gut bacteria, and eliminating sugars (& using a pessary) won’t resolve systemic candida.

Stress, too, can play a huge role.  In clinic, when talking about stress, often a client will say, ‘yes I’m stressed but isn’t everyone?’  Short-term stress, sure.  That’s part of life, and your body is wonderfully geared to coping with it.
Ongoing chronic stress, however, should never be considered the norm.  A low FODMAPS diet might relieve some gut symptoms but if underlying anxiety, stress, anger or insomnia are big in your life, the triggers to your digestive distress, then switching diets won’t be the magic bullet.  (Luckily there are lots of other magic bullets that can help you!)

All this low and high FODMAP food talk may sound like a pfaff but you can either work with a therapist or use something like the Monash University FODMAP app.  And if you don’t use apps there are some excellent online lists of food and recipes you can print off.

If working on your own, take your time to read about the FODMAP diet first.  Get your head around the aim of the diet, the foods and stages it involves so you are fully committed and have your kitchen stocked and those menu plans in place.  And don’t feel you have to eat a food just because it’s low FODMAP.  If you don’t normally want a banana, don’t eat it just because it’s ‘allowed’!

For those of you thinking life will be a vegetable misery for the weeks you’re on this diet you’ll be jumping for joy.  There are loads of fab veg which are low in FODMAPS.   Animal protein isn’t a problem, and there are good options for vegetarians like tempeh, eggs, quorn…

The above photo shows just a few vegetables I had at hand for some clients last month.  Instead of their regular follow-up, we had an extra hour of going through the foods together, then cooking a couple of dishes and eating the low FODMAP way.

Key points to remember:
First make sure this diet is right for you, that you’ve ruled out other players such as gut overgrowths, intolerance foods, stress….
Work with a therapist if you can, especially regarding the above issues you may not have considered.
If going it alone, I recommend downloading the above-mentioned Monash University app. There are other apps on the market – do take a look online – but this is the one I’m familiar with and which is specifically for tracking and working with FODMAPS and not overall diets.  Otherwise, google low FODMAPS diet and print off the food and menu lists.  Get your kitchen and your head ready for a couple of weeks of changed meals.

If you’d like any more information about the FODMAP diet I always offer 15 mins free calls.  And if you have any other worries about diet, health or well being do please contact me for a chat.

I’ve stopped 1:1 consultations during these times of social distancing, but skype, facetime and landline consultations work really well and have been part of my clinic for years.  Our voices and ears are in fine form and can side-step viruses to cross towns, counties and oceans via amazing technology.
How lucky we are for that!

High cholesterol, some facts and foods

It’s almost February, which seems so unlikely as the year only just began moments ago, surely?

In keeping with my new year’s resolution (which actually only dawned on me a week ago, well past new year, oops) I’m going to post more health info blogs on my website rather than just the short social media chat and occasional recipes.
This will keep me on my toes with some mindful research and deliberation, and will hopefully give you something to read and think about; a chance to make comments and suggestions as it’s all a learning game.  We are indeed unique, so our experiences will be very individual.

 
cholesterol lowering

On this last day of the first month (and almost the eleventh hour! Been a long day…) I’m kicking off with the somewhat prosaic topic of high cholesterol.
Oh I know, it feels like we’ve been here, done that, however, in the last two days I’ve seen four clients who came for very different health reasons but all have alarmingly high cholesterol.  Scarily high LDL in fact (more about that below).
I took it as a sign to blog about some cholesterol facts and foods.
Apart from this coincidence – these four clients sharing more than they will ever know – the topic of cholesterol has become quite a controversial one; well worth having a chat about.

Contrary to conventional medical thinking these past decades, many studies now show that high cholesterol is NOT the be-all and end-all of CV risk.
A big statement, some may think, however these studies are proving that the measure of cholesterol is not always relevant.
Some people have a high ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol but are living to a healthy heart-attack-free age because, in part at least, their equally rising ‘good’ cholesterol has been offering them protecton.  Studies are also showing that when high cholesterol IS relevant to a person’s heart health, it’s not the only ‘measure’ that plays a significant role.  As I said, it’s not the be-all and end-all of CV disease.
This is not to say we ignore it altogether.
There is a place on the heart health table for trying to keep high cholesterol in check; certainly if there are other contributing negative factors gathering around that table.  Factors such as eating the wrong foods, chronic stress, insufficient exercise, overall body inflammation, smoking, weight gain (obesity is inflammatory and, like stress, it worsens all conditions), familial history of strokes and heart attack, and age (we remove excess cholesterol less efficiently as we get older).

What is cholesterol anyway?
A waxy fat-like substance that’s surprisingly important to our health.  It helps make our hormones, converts sunshine (when it’s around!) to vitamin D, is necessary for digestion and brain function, and assists in the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients.  Vital in fact for all our cell membranes, so we really don’t want to have too little of it.

When we talk about cholesterol we’re actually talking about the lipoproteins that carry cholesterol around our bloodstream.  These are fat on the inside and protein on the out and come in various forms, the two most relevant being, LDL (low-density lipoprotein, the so-called ‘baddie’ of the two, but yes there’s more to it than that regarding particle size and actual ‘badness’; too involved to go through here but there are excellent sites to read about these).  And secondly, HDL, the high density lipoprotein which is the ‘good’ cholesterol as it’s protective in that it takes excess cholesterol back to the liver where it’s then used or excreted. (It’s the efficiency of this disposal which can slow down with age, as mentioned above).  By removing excess cholesterol the build-up of fatty plaque in your arteries is avoided;  a build-up which is associated with low density lipoprotein, LDL and which can then lead to narrowing of the arteries and atherosclerosis.

When you have your cholesterol measured it’s the ratio of these two – LDL and HDL – that’s important to be aware of, not just the total number.

A large proportion of cholesterol that’s circulating in your blood is produced by the liver and intestines; the rest is from diet.  This may explain why some people with high cholesterol haven’t had the huge improvement – reduction – in ‘numbers’ that they expected after radically changing their dietary habits.

Nonetheless, for many people the effectiveness of dietary change regarding high cholesterol is extraordinary.  I’ve seen it in clinic;  one reason I wanted to write this post.  It’s an easy and very successful first port of call.  Together with getting off your sofa!

So, what are the foods that will make a difference, which will help you avoid taking medications, those statins that can have side effects and which are so very controversial?

Take a look at the photo accompanying this blog.
Eat more of these foods, the likes of flax seeds containing plant sterols that are shown to significantly lower cholesterol.  And oats with their soluble fibre.  More leafy green fibre such as spinach, chard, kale, radicchio, romaine lettuce, fennel, dandelion, spring greens, rocket, chicory… the list is endless!  And more cruciferous veg like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage.
Also tocotrienols – found in the Vit E family and in the likes of walnuts and virgin olive oil which have shown improvement in arterial health.
And turmeric, always!  It’s not just a way of lowering inflammation but it improves vascular function in coronary artery disease and can suppress early atherosclerotic lesions (similar to lovastatin).

Eat far less meat, less overall saturated fats, less ‘whites’ (rice, potatoes, sugar, flour), less fried foods, far less sugars and salt.
Give up smoking, hooray!
And try to get stress levels down, down….

Last but by no means least, get moving.
Exercise will help rebalance your body, move your blood, shift stagnation, drop some kilos, soften the stress in your life, improve energy and alertness, increase happy hormones – and will most definitely help lower your high cholesterol.

 

When food is the enemy

Recently I saw two new clients who are having serious problems eating food.  People with allergies and intolerances are frequent clients, however both these people have quite extreme issues going on.
One has been on such a restrictive diet for the past year he’s now frightened to try anything new, or for that matter anything old.  He saw his doctor in January who said he had IBS and reflux; he was given antacids and told to watch what he eats.
All year this man has been watching his food, to the point that there isn’t much now left on his plate to watch.  After seeing his doctor back in January, he began searching online, trying out too many different hypo-allergenic diets, gradually eliminating so many foods that he’s now left with a sad and paltry selection; some quite bizarre.  He’s tired all the time, he tells me, and has lost too much weight.  “My joints hurt. I don’t know what to eat coz everything gives me heartburn”.  As he talks his leg jiggles the table between us.

food warning

Another new client the day after was a woman eating a reasonably healthy diet.  After hearing, however, about her regular reactions that are verging on anaphalaxis, I was surprised – in awe! –  at the variety of food she’s actually coping with.
Her allergy consultant has prescribed steroids which she takes when she has these severe reactions, worse and more frequent in recent times:  A tightening in her chest and throat, swollen lips, breathlessness, sometimes a sudden drop in blood pressure.  Scary stuff indeed.  She’s had to swap meds several times as she reacts to those as well (no surprise).
“What can I eat?” she asked.  Such an upbeat smiley woman, I would’ve loved to have given her an instant answer.

So, what to recommend when food becomes the enemy?

It may sound simplistic, or like some grandmother’s proverb but the logical start is, heal the gut.  These words are repeated around the globe every day by most nutritional therapists I’m sure!  And not just when food intolerances or bloating, flatulence, reflux and the like have become issues.  Given that 70% of our immune system is in our gastrointestinal system, we should all be wanting our digestion to be as happy as possible.

Healing the gut might mean different things for different people.  Removing certain gut microbes that shouldn’t be there, or are running rampant; increasing beneficial gut bacteria, strengthening the gut wall junctions, improving bile flow, increasing low levels of digestive enzymes or gastric acid a.o.  Some or all of the above; depends on the individual.
At the same time, too, expanding that digestive picture to include other important players linked to the health of our GI tract –  like the endocrine and nervous systems.

Food naturally will come into it, has to be part of the equation.  Not just because we have to eat to survive, or because that’s why people seek out a nutritional therapist, to find out which foods they should eat.
More due to that well-worn saying, we are what we eat – so true (just a shame it’s lost its impact with over-use). 

Food is a big part of healing the GI tract, of reducing chronic inflammation, of sustaining energy and improving well being.  Some foods have the potential to scupper digestive, or overall health – just think how sugar can spike everything into chaos in the body when it takes over every meal and isn’t treated with caution, kept to just an occasional treat.
Other foods have the nutrients, the astonishing ability to improve our immune health.  Those superpower foods, the likes of turmeric, green tea, fish oils, rainbow plant-based and fermented foods.  Or simply eating a balanced diet with healthy fats and quality protein (not to mention the humble green leafy veg, my fave… I’ll stop there, lol!)

After this posed question – what can I eat? – a dialogue begins. Discussing family history and other current health issues;  peeling back the layers and connecting as many dots as possible.  Trying not to overwhelm with too much information – that can be hard.  Working through food diaries and the results of lab tests. Seeing some of the puzzle pieces come together.
More often than not, the first step will focus on that healing of the gut as well as making careful changes to diet and invariably to lifestyle as well.  Suggesting people change habits they may rely on because they are part of their history, or convenient, needs to be considered.  The process has to be manageable and not too unfamiliar or threatening.

Removing, replacing, healing and restoring.  Adapting to the individual, to that person’s specific needs.  It’s a process, one step at a time.  A sharing of knowledge where it’s important to respect the difficulties in play.  Showing how food can be such a powerful medicine – as well as something delicious to eat!  And always with the aim of helping clients make food their friend and not the enemy. 

Appleaday’s Xmas gift this year, a 10% discount on first consultations – skype or 1:1 – during the month of Feburary 2020.  Email or message me on social media for available dates & times.

(Please note: the two clients above gave me permission to use some of their information.  I’ve kept it as general and vague as possible for privacy reasons).

 

Brain health: Focus on depression

Last week’s online docuseries, ‘The Broken Brain’, looked at so many different aspects of brain health that I thought it would be a great theme to address here in my blog over the coming months.

Today’s focus is on depression.  Not only do I see it a lot in clinic but also this is a condition that’s not gender or age specific.  It’s global; it’s on the rise.

depression

Some of the recommendations I’m sharing from ‘The Broken Brain’ may initially sound too difficult.  Exercise can be a hard one for some when motivation is missing.

Or it may sound trite hearing “don’t eat processed, reduce sugar”.  I agree, this isn’t new news, but the science behind it, which I’ll be sharing here, makes so much sense and can be empowering.

However deep you may be in your illness, here are some ideas and recommendations from the docuseries – gems of information to add to what you may or may not already be doing.

Depression can be such a complex, and sometimes seemingly impenetrable, health condition which is why the functional medicine approach works well.  It looks at the whole picture rather than just the symptoms plus it can give more time to the patient, which is often lacking in conventional medicine.

Antidepressants or SSRIs may be valid short-term conventional remedies to get you through a period of depression due to, say, grieving or trauma or stress.  They may end up being part of the prescriptive ‘whole’ treatment for someone, however, there can be side-effects to medications – an emotional blunting or a feeling of un-wellness as well as all the other mentioned side effects listed in the medication box!
(Saying that, if you are taking medication you must never stop cold turkey. Discuss any changes you’d like to make with your doctor or healthcare professional. Reductions should be made slowly, gradually, and with supervision).

Like most chronic health conditions, there are many different possible players with depression.

The first questions to answer may sound simplistic for a disorder that’s so multifaceted:
How did it all start? What else was going on at the time?  You may not know yourself – what did indeed kick start it all!?  It may feel like something you’ve lived with forever.

There are therapies that can help here – counselling or CBT or psychotherapy to name but a few.   Search online, read about what is available in your area and seek support.

An action plan, however, that you can try for yourself could be to mentally page through your life’s events, writing a journal, putting down memories that come into your head.  Doors can open up and let fresh air blow in, awakening thoughts which may help your process of understanding why you feel the way you do.
Possibly an ah-ha moment or two.

There are currently 3 epidemics that are affecting mental health – and overall health – in a big way.

1)    Too much cortisol.  This is an important stress hormone that works in tandem with adrenalin, another stress hormone; cortisol is supposed to ease off once the stressful situation – say, a tiger attack – is over.
I say tiger attack because this is how your body still functions.  Nothing has changed much since early man’s days, so your body can’t differentiate between that tiger attack, or being stuck in traffic or running very late for an appointment.  There’s no sliding scale, no ‘less’ pumping of stress hormones.
In our current society, cortisol levels often stay raised because the stress doesn’t stop, it just moves from one deadline to the next, from one traffic jam or ‘must do’ situation to the next.  Finances, relationships, children, partners, jobs, school pick-ups, cooking meals…you name it, they are all potential and willing stressors in today’s fast paced world.
Even ‘playtime’ can be stressful (& is often self-imposed) with less outdoor sport or walks and social interaction, and more ‘online’ time, computer screens, social media time, mobile texting.

Stress is a big driver of depression.  It cannot be underestimated.
Walking and even gentle movement if you find you can’t do more robust exercise, can relieve it by releasing endorphins, those happy neurotransmitters, especially if you combine it with scenery – the green outdoors, fresh air, parks, forests – and light.

Walking in sunshine ticks that other ‘outdoor’ box.  Vitamin D, which is often low with depression, is made in your body and requires good cholesterol levels (cholesterol is not always the enemy!), and exposure to sunshine, at least 15 minutes on bare legs, arms, face…the more the better.  Out of season, you could try using a lightbox.

Other de-stressors could be hobbies, movement classes (stretching, pilates, yoga) and mindfulness, a term we are hearing a lot at the moment – probably because it works!
There are currently so many mindfulness groups and sessions available around the country, around the world, so take a look at local noticeboards in your library, or ask in your local surgery or wellness centre.
For those who love ‘apps’, there is a plethora of relaxation apps – Insight Timer and Headspace to name just two.  These can also help with sleep which is so essential for brain health.  Even being deprived of sleep for only a couple of nights can heighten sensations of negativity and low mood!

2)    Too much insulin.
Every time you eat something sweet, the hormone insulin is released from the pancreas to get the blood sugar back in balance, to move that sugar/energy to the body’s cells where the brain is assuming it must be needed (why else would this body have eaten so much glucose – must need energy to run away from that tiger, assumes the brain).

Think how many times a day you may be eating something sweet – from that white toast, to the pure orange juice (no fibre to slow down the sugar spike) and the biscuit or chocolate and evening glass of beer….
Insulin is being summoned by the brain again and again throughout your day – used and abused until your body becomes insulin resistant, unresponsive to the very hormone that is trying to keep blood sugar balanced.
This is our current diabetes, aka insulin epidemic. Worldwide.

Another fact about sugar is that it causes inflammation in the body plus, if inflammation is already going on – being overweight, ill from viral, bacterial infections, allergies, joint pain, migraines  a.o. – it will just make things worse.

I’m referring to sugar in any form, not just the white stuff with your cuppa.  Sugar in honey, maple syrup, alcohol, white bread (chew long enough and note how sweet those simple sugars in the bread taste) and fruit – but yes, fruit has fibre to slow down the sugar hit in the blood plus vitamins, phytonutrients, antioxidants – so a little is good.
And, most important, hidden sugars added to processed foods, often in the form of ‘ose’ names on labels (maltose, fructose, dextrose, lactose… loads of ose!)
Google all forms of sugar and be astounded.
Too many canned, bottled, packaged foods contain these ‘-ose’ sugars because your taste buds love them, they’re addictive, and so they sell and make money for the manufacturers at your health’s expense.  Bluntly stated.

If you’re suffering from depression you may not like hearing that the very sweet food which feels like it’s lifting your mood is actually making your depression worse.  The fact is, the lift is temporary.  No sooner do you get that blood sugar spike, the brain will want to get it back to normal by calling in the insulin to drag it out of your blood – and you’ll experience a crash.  That in turn will make you reach for yet more sugar.
Up and down, this seesaw can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, weight gain and more depression.

Stopping sugar cold turkey is not the answer, but slowly reducing it might be.  And what a great step forward – to help not just your mind, but to reduce the inflammation in your body and keep diabetes at a distance.

What can you eat instead?  Fruit, as mentioned above, has many great nutrients, and will still help satisfy the sweet tooth to some extent.  Best eaten in moderation – a couple of fruit a day such as a handful of berries, stewed apples or pears, some banana.  Adding warm spices to stewed fruit such as cardamom or cinnamon will also help with blood sugar balancing.
And then an occasional sweet treat, a reward treat that you keep under control – as much as possible 🙂

Small steps are so effective – don’t beat yourself up if they don’t work all the time.  Early days, one step at a time.

3) The third epidemic is not having enough thyroid hormone.
The endocrine – hormone – system is interconnected which means that the aforementioned adrenal stress can have a knock-on effect on your thyroid hormone.
Burning the candle at both ends for too long can result in adrenal fatigue and possibly hypothyroidism (you can also become hypothyroid via an auto immune route, but that’s another story for another day).
Your thyroid gland is responsible for your metabolism, for how efficiently you function, how energetic you feel, how fast your body digests and eliminates food and so on.
A healthy thyroid is about feeling sparkly rather than sluggish; feeling upbeat rather than low.

Its health will affect other hormones and neurotransmitters and has a direct impact on your nervous system health.  Low thyroid – hypothyroidism – often has depression as one of its symptoms, so ask your doctor to check your thyroid levels because your depression may actually be a result of low thyroid function.

Drivers of inflammation that can lead to depression reel of the tongue easily:
Diet, stress, lack of exercise, toxins, infections….I’ve talked about some of these already.

Diet plays a huge role.  Are you eating the necessary nutrients that will help make your hormones and neurotransmitters in order to keep your nervous system healthy and buoyant?

Good levels of protein – for cellular repair and feeling satiated – such as oily fish – ideal also for their brain-supportive DHA/EPA healthy fat levels – but also organic chicken, some organic or free-range meats, local lamb….
And if you’re vegetarian and don’t have intolerances or problems digesting pulses and eggs (choline in eggs, yes, another great brain food), do include these daily.

Go for smart carbs with low glycaemic load – all those rainbow vegetables which smack of vitality.
The more colour, the more phytonutrients they contain! These colours, just like the strong tastes or smells in certain foods (think of garlic, onion, cruciferous veg etc), equate to the plant’s effective defence system and dense phytonutrient content that will improve your own defences, your immune system and general wellbeing – and subsequently your state of mind.

The brain is the fattiest organ in your body.  About 60% in fact.  Therefore essential fatty acids, specifically omega 3s, are crucial for good brain function.  Oily fish are the best source, but flaxseed, chia, all sorts of wild plants contain levels of omega 3s.  (If you were going to supplement anything, it would be omega 3 fish oils that I’d be recommending first of all).

Consider, too, the healthy fats found in nuts and seeds, in avocados, olives and olive oil…  And the saturated vegetable fat in coconut oil – how wonderful because saturated fats don’t oxidise in the brain the way unsaturated fats can be prone to free radical damage.

The next aspect to consider is, are you absorbing what you eat?  I’ve seen more lab tests this year showing hidden infections and intestinal permeability than ever before.  These will be compromising digestion & as a result will reduce absorption of the nutrients in your food.
If you have digestive symptoms – discomfort, reflux, flatulence, burping, pain – it would be invaluable to have a comprehensive stool test (sadly our NHS does not offer these tests) to ascertain if any hidden infections are in play.

Toxins!  A huge topic, but briefly a lot of people can react negatively, with mood disorders, to toxic exposure such as chemical cleaning agents, fumes from carpets and paints a.o.  Think about any toxic exposure you may have in the work place – chemicals? Mould in the building?  Smokers around you?
Heavy metals is another blog in itself, but needless to say, this will be pulling down your immune system, and that in turn will affect your mind health.  No myth that mercury caused the hatters of old to go mad.  It is indeed toxic to the brain and can still be found in some amalgams, and certainly in some fish esp. large, old fish such as tuna, swordfish…

Finally and so importantly, exercise… or movement.  Whatever you would like to call it!  Whether it’s kickboxing or running or cycling or fast walking, rowing…..
There are so many options, you just need to find the one that appeals.  Dancing may be your thing!  All will be great for circulation, for bone health, for improving motivation and increasing those ‘happy’ hormones.

A last word about supplements.
There are a lot of supplements which you can read about online, and which are advertised to relieve your depression.

It is something to consider however start with the food you’re eating, the thoughts you’re thinking.  Add a generous dash of daily movement, some kind and helpful support, tests from your doctor or private labs to rule out thyroid or gut issues….and take it from there.

You may find that swapping some foods, adding others, and going to a local zumba class gives you the uplifting start you need.
There are certainly wonderful herbs and complexes to suit all sorts of mood problems.  All very individual, so it’s best to speak to a functional medicine therapist about it.

Make a start and then see where you want to go from there.  Wishing you well on your journey!

Fig facts; musings from Greece

I’ve had an afternoon of discovering all sorts of facts about figs, from reading online sources and my tome of a herbal compendium.  Also after picking loads of them earlier today from a heavily-laden tree – a battle between me and the wasp population of Kefalonia!

fig blog

According to Dr Mercola’s site, the fig has been around so long that remnants of the fruit have been found in Neolithic excavation sites dating back to c 5000 BC.  It was thought to have first been cultivated in Egypt, then brought to Ancient Crete and then onto mainland Greece around 9th century BC.  Here the fig was held in such esteem that laws prohibited the export of the best quality ones – much the same as in Ancient Rome, where it was also considered sacred; in fact the wolf that nurtured the twin founders of Rome – Romulus and Remus – is pictured resting beneath a fig tree.  A random fact!

if you’re waiting to see a fig flower you’ll wait a long time and end up very frustrated. The tree doesn’t blossom as you’d expect since the flowers are on the inside, producing all those mini seeds you bite into when you eat them.

I’m not a fan of wasps, as many will know, but it’s a tiny wasp that pollinates the fig tree – hooray for some wasp benefits.  However, it’s also the larger wasp variety that’s currently beating me to the fruit – and happy to sting for them!

There’s such a wide variety of fig fruit, from the purple-skinned/pink flesh ‘Black Mission’, to the ‘Brown Turkey’ (purple skinned/red flesh), to ‘Kadota’, Calymyrna’ and ‘Adriatic’ (green-skinned/beige-pink flesh) – and many more.
I’ve used the green Adriatic fig for my jam recipe that I recently pictured on instagram (and is the ‘mush’ photo above); this is also the type which is most commonly used to make fig bars.

Before they’re perfectly ripe, the fruit are sticky with ‘latex’ which can really irritate the skin, so if you’re picking them early, wear gloves.

As for their health benefits, apart from being high in fibre – definitely their global claim to fame – figs are a great source of minerals such as magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper and calcium; a large fig provides as much calcium as 1/2 cup milk.

Figs are also high in Vitamins K and B6, and are a high anti oxidant source [antioxidants fight so -called free radicals which our bodies have to deal with on a daily basis, both from natural metabolic processes producing ‘rubbish’, to external environmental sources adding to that toxic load].

The riper the fig, the more antioxidants they provide – and interestingly, all the nutrients mentioned above are potentiated when the fruit is dried.

What else?  In some cultures, fig leaves are also on the menu; the leaves apparently have anti-diabetic properties and can reduce the amount of insulin needed by those requiring injections. Saying that, don’t randomly eat the leaves!  A liquid extract was made from these leaves in a monitored lab study, and added to the breakfast of insulin-dependent diabetic subjects, resulting in these surprisingly beneficial facts.  Perhaps a qualified herbalist will be able to tell us more – please do if you’re reading this!

Figs are used as poultices for wounds and warts, plus the fruit and leaves have been crushed and then gargled to relieve sore throats.  Dried figs supposedly are heart protective, have inhibitive effects regarding some cancers esp. post menopausal breast cancer (according to the Mercola site), lower blood pressure and seem to have benefits re macular degeneration – more studies needed, however, on that last one as I’ve found no research results other than the obvious antioxidant benefits.

So, overall, figs are a fab fruit.
Make the most of them whilst they’re in season 🙂
I add them to my no-grain granola – the recipe for that  can be found on a past recipe page here – and it was easy to make a compote or jam.  You can also roast them with a drizzle of honey or add to a rocket salad or make an Ottolenghi-type tart with fetta…or just buy one and enjoy it as is.  The possibilities are endless and delicious!

 

Inflammatory bowel disease and SCD

I was talking about the Special Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) with a client yesterday, and how there are similarities to the paleo diet in that the foods recommended are the ones that early man ate before agriculture began.
If we think what a positive impact agriculture has had, giving us a global food source which many cultures literally rely on, why is it that grains can have such a negative impact on some people?

blog SCD

According to Breakingtheviciouscycle.info, a SCD site which offers loads of information, testimonials and recipes, we evolved over millions of years, eating predominantly meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts and fruits.

Starches, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, borlotti beans and so on), and grains (bread, pasta, crispbreads, biscuits, cakes…. I’m being very explicit here for anyone in denial ;),  are considered the new foods on the block.

The complex carbohydrates, the disaccharides and polysaccharides in these ‘new’ foods are simply harder to digest, especially for people whose digestions are more sensitive, reactive or inflammed due to a number of other possible underlying causes apart from diet.

Keeping it simple, getting back-to-basics (ie. early man diet!) seems to work wonders in people who have digestive problems – in particular those with IBD such as Crohn’s disease of Ulcerative colitis (UC).

This morning a fascinating blog from Timeforwellness popped into my inbox and, again, the topic of SCD came up.  This time discussion of a study looking into the benefits of SCD regarding infectious bowel diseases.

A small study of 12 patients set out to assess the impact of  SCD in paediatric patients with mild to moderate Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis.

The results were so heartening!

After 12 weeks on the diet, disease activity had decreased considerably for both diseases, and the C-reactive protein (CRP is one of a few inflammatory markers used in practice to measure ‘inflammation’ in the body) had normalized in most patients.  Even the stool analyses showed significant changes in microbial composition.
For 10 of the 12 patients, dietary therapy proved to be extremely effective.

Remission and normalization in patients with IBD is what anyone with these diseases would hope for.

As the SCD is quite limiting, it’s best to work with a health professional or nutritional therapist who will help put a diet plan together and also help you rule out other triggers or mediators in the disease process.

Auto immune disease – what’s it all about?

A new client who was seeing me for hormone support told me yesterday that she wished she’d come to my autoimmune workshop the previous week.  I asked her if she had a relative or friend suffering from an autoimmune disease.  ‘No, but I seem to get one cold after another.’   Then she saw the puzzled look on my face and added,  ‘What IS an auto immune disease exactly?’

At last week’s workshop I realized there’s quite a bit of confusion when it comes to the term Autoimmunity.
People hear ‘immune’ and think it’s to do with winter colds and coughs and being run down.

Another perplexing aspect may be that there are now so many diseases being considered autoimmune in their aetiology.   From psoriasis to ulcerative colitis, Crohns, Hashimotos and another 100 + diseases.  And this number is on the rise as research uncovers possible autoimmune components to some known and familiar conditions.
Add to this the fact that some doctors don’t actually tell their patients that their disease is autoimmune in nature.  From a conventional medical perspective their treatment is the same, however, from a functional medicine point of view it makes a big difference.

Here’s some information on different aspects of autoimmunity which I’ve based on my own clinic experience, and IFM (Institute of Functional Medicine) teachings, as well as CAM – now IHCAN – conferences, seminars by Lamberts and NutriLink and various webinars.  There’s a wealth of literature out there on autoimmunity, from a functional medicine perspective, just google Dr Ballantyne’s AI Paleo approach, or Dr Kharrazian’s and Tom O’Bryan’s books, to mention just a few.

For a start, a smidgeon of basic science  🙂 Normally the immune system attacks a foreign body, such as bacteria, parasites or a virus (called ‘pathogens’) which tends to give you symptoms, make you feel unwell to varying degrees.  This takes place thanks to our antibodies, a type of protein whose job it is to recognize patterns in other proteins, find the ones that are foreign, like the aforementioned bacteria, viruses, fungi, and then bind and ‘deactivate’ them.

By binding to these foreign proteins the antibody is signalling to the immune system, ‘this is an invader, come and get it.’
A truly brilliant internal army of antibodies, proteins, chemicals a.o., all working together to then eliminate anything that shouldn’t be in our system.

With an autoimmune disease, however, the body accidentally creates antibodies that target our bodies’ proteins, instead of the foreign invading pathogens’ proteins.  This happens because some of the amino acid (protein) sequences of a body organ or tissue can look very similar to the sequencing of that pathogen invader!
This mistaken identity is called molecular mimicry or cross reactivity.  Dr Sarah Ballantyne quite accurately calls it a “betrayal of our immune system”.  Instead of attacking foreign organisms, our immune system mistakenly attacks itself, hence the word ‘auto,’ which is Greek for ‘self.’

Diagnosing an autoimmune condition can be tricky.   Treatment may not be helping (because the root problem is still not addressed).  Symptoms may be vague or sporadic, ticking over for years and not doing anything dramatic, just making you feel very unwell at times, or all the time, with no clear ‘name’ of what the illness might be.  Very frustrating for you, the patient, as well as your doctor.

On top of that, there isn’t a specialist for autoimmune disease in general.   Conventional medical treatment is organ, or system, dependent.
Hence if you google ‘doctors for autoimmune conditions’ you’ll find a very long list, from nephrologist, a specialist treating kidney problems, hence also auto immune [AI] diseases affecting the kidney such as lupus; or a rheumatologist, for arthritis, but also AI rheumatic diseases, such as scleroderma; an endocrinologist, treating gland and/or hormone problems, hence also AI diseases like Hashimotos or Graves thyroid disease; a neurologist for nerve problems and hence also AI diseases such as multiple sclerosis; a gastroenterologist, for digestive system disorders, and thus also the AI disease Crohns or ulcerative colitis; a dermatologist for skin issues and also AI diseases such as urticaria and psoriasis.  And so it goes on.

Autoimmune diseases have a tendency to gather in numbers over time.  If you start off with one you may then acquire another and another, and end up having to juggle multiple specialist appointments and multiple medications… with multiple side effects.
Once diagnosed with an autoimmune disease you have it for life.  There’s no cure – yet. However management of symptoms can make it feel like you don’t have the disease, which is a real positive.

Typical medical treatments may include immunosuppressive medication or stronger drugs like anti rheumatics, plus pain medication.  These calm down the immune response, but won’t be solving the underlying problem (hence no cure. Yet).

Currently, a lot of research is being carried out regarding AI diseases as they are on the rise; worryingly so.  They are, in fact, the 3rd leading cause of mortality in the industrialised world after cancer and heart disease.  Plus, as mentioned above, there are over 100 already confirmed AI diseases, with more being implicated in having their roots in autoimmunity (ie. more diseases where research is showing the body attacking ‘self’).

From a functional medicine point of view, what is understood through research and practice, is that a triad of factors is normally present in order to develop an auto immune disease.  Genetics.  Environmental triggers.  Diet/lifestyle.

Genes alone are not enough, so don’t panic if autoimmune conditions run in the family.  Having these genetic links will, however, make you more vulnerable to an AI condition than someone without this genetic component.

Environmental triggers, the second factor, cover such a vast potential range that I can only touch on them with a light stroke that doesn’t do justice to their impact.
Infections, past and present, such as viruses, bacterial overgrowths in the gut, infections in the lungs and sinuses to point out just a few.  Inhaled or ingested toxins (think of all the chemicals surrounding us, from cleaning products, cosmetics, pesticides, food additives, plastics…).  Hormones, where our chemical messengers trigger changes in the body.  Stress or trauma, grief, unhealthy relationships…and the list goes on.

Often there is more than one ‘trigger’ involved; a synergy of different factors coming together at a certain point in your life, rather than blame being laid on just one.
That being said, coeliac disease, a well-known autoimmune condition, has its roots in just one trigger/mediator, namely gluten.  This is a protein found in many grains.  This is the reason why grains and pseudo grains are considered by many practitioners in the functional medicine world to be triggers or mediators in ALL auto immune diseases (do read Tom O’Bryan’s books on gluten, or watch on Youtube).

Unlike genetics, you can take control to varying degrees, of the environmental triggers in your life.

Diet and lifestyle, the third factor in this triad, have such an impact on your health, on your immune system, that it can’t be emphasised enough.  It may may sound like a cliche that slides too easily off the tongue, but You Are indeed What You Eat.

The gut wall, your digestive lining, is a vital barrier between your inside and outside world.
You ingest food via your mouth, and it remains enclosed within the tube of your digestive tract – which is still ‘outside’ the bloodstream and the rest of your body – until it is absorbed through the gut wall. There it enters your ‘inside’ world.  Nutrients are then transported all over your body, carried in your blood to the rest of your organs and body tissue.

This gut wall has to be selectively permeable in order to allow nutrients in, but at the same time keep out toxins, those pathogens mentioned above.

Little wonder about 80% of the immune system is here, in these tissues of the gut.  An army of antibodies, proteins and chemicals a.o. are all on guard to ensure that whatever passes through that gut wall ‘barrier’ isn’t foreign and make you ill.

Loss of this protection seems to be a critical factor in autoimmune disease.  Either the cells in the gut wall can become damaged, or the junctions between these cells can lose their closely formed tight integrity, thus allowing some contents of the gut to ‘leak’ into the bloodstream or lymphatic system – hence the term ‘leaky gut’.  This may then result in the whole immune system going into overdrive if you consider that undigested food, with unrecognisable sequencing, is entering the body when it shouldn’t and is being mistaken for pathogens. (This is a very brief and simple mini tour of what can go wrong!)

Currently it’s thought that leaky gut or intestinal permeability is implicated in most auto immune disease  Saying that, I have seen AI clients whose lab tests showed no intestinal permeability.  Interestingly, however, they had sinus and lung issues.  There is research looking at how the epithelial linings/barriers of other hollow spaces, such as lungs, sinuses, urinary tract, may be the compromised barriers in the body which are setting up this autoimmune landscape.

How to improve intestinal permeability?  The good news is that the gut wall cells turn over and heal very quickly, but infections and a potentially imbalanced microbiome should be investigated.  At the same time, dietary changes need to be made according to the individual.  There are certain foods that are never going to be great.  Processed and pre-packaged meals or high sugar/low nutrient diets.  Alcohol and coffee can be problematic for many.  Gluten and possibly other grains. Dairy.  Some people struggle with digesting certain proteins – meat or pulses.  And of course, there may be foods, some even so-called healthy foods, to which you have an allergy or intolerance.  Often people will only have to stay off ‘their’ problem foods for a relatively short time, some months.  However, others feel so much better when they exclude certain foods they keep off them.  It’s very individual, which is why it helps to work with someone, a qualified nutritionist or functional medicine practitioner.

As for lifestyle, the benefit of regular and manageable exercise is now so well understood regarding all disease, I won’t harp on it.
Stress, as always, plays a key role.  It can be both a trigger as well as an insidious mediator, propelling your auto immune disease ever forward.  We all have stress in our lives; we all have to ensure we can tone it down and find the ‘off; switch.
Sleep is vital.  If you’re not getting good sleep this will scupper your immune health.  There are so many ways to improve sleep, and tests to investigate why your sleep is disturbed so do contact me if you want to discuss this.

Mindfulness, supportive relationships at home or in the community and having purpose in life.   All of these are significant lifestyle factors.  Consider each one with care – mindfully.  This will be key in helping you manage your autoimmune disease and improve symptoms.

And if all the above is too much to get your head around, find someone to work with, a functional therapist or nutritionist who can help you organise lab tests and discuss diet and look at the different layers to your health.

Making a start with Intention is a great first step.  Keeping a food diary to see if you can tease out patterns to your symptoms.  Gradually increasing a manageable amount of daily exercise.  Taking a close look at the stress in your life, at the love in your life.  Surrounding yourself with angels who are supportive.

There’s a lot you can do and think about right now!

Leaky Gut, what is it?

The medical world is still playing catch-up when it comes to intestinal permeability – more commonly known as leaky gut syndrome.  It may sound like something you’d call on a plumber to fix!  Then again ‘friendly’ bacteria didn’t sound very medical either when it first arrived on the health scene, but look at it now.  Recognised by most as an essential part of your healthy gut population.

leaky gut image

Speakers at January’s “Heal your Gut Summit” discussed leaky gut at length, explaining that people experiencing allergies, especially multiple sensitivites, or eczema, asthma, or psoriasis, unresolvable digestive problems, or suffering an IBD or an auto immune condition, should consider leaky gut as being part of the root cause of their symptoms.
Please note that I write this row of ‘or’ intentionally since you may only have one, or a couple, of the above-mentioned symptoms/conditions.  You don’t need the lot to have intestinal permeability.  And it’s not something to be scared of – just aware of, so that you can start an action plan either on your own or with the support of a therapist.

A healthy gastro-intestinal tract is like a tightly woven mesh of tissue, working as a barrier and keeping undigested food particules, or bacteria, from entering into your bloodstream.

When you experience chronic inflammation in the gut, brought on by a bacterial imbalance (not enough of the above-mentioned ‘friendlies’ or a hidden infection a.o.) or a poor diet, or toxic overload (environmental toxins a.o.), or chronic stress, this mesh loosens.  The junctures in the gut wall let undigested food and harmful substances ‘leak’ into the bloodstream, causing an immune reaction.

This, in turn, leads to inflammation throughout your system, and can lead to symptoms such as bloating, food sensitivities or fatigue or joint pain, headaches or skin problems and more.
And It also means you won’t be absorbing all the important minerals and vitamins from your food – or from the supplements you’re buying.

The interesting point to keep in mind is that leaky gut does not necessarily mean you will have obvious digestive or gut problems (and I speak from my own experience here).

Your leaky gut may be linked to your skin or bronchial reactions to something like dustmite or pollens.  Or it may be linked to joint pain or brain fog or to low immune health (because you’re not absorbing enough nutrients from your food, due to leaky gut).  Also, you may have no digestive symptoms because you intuitively – or through long-forgotten experiences – avoid foods which ‘don’t agree with you’, thus escaping any regular digestive challenge, and keeping your gut in a fairly stable state.  And if you do have an occasional glitsch, you might be putting it down to eating too much, or a very ‘heavy’ protein meal or a stressful day – all of which would certainly be implicated.  The presence of multiple sensitivities is a good benchmark for leaky gut – and of course any of the above-mentioned symptoms, or conditions.

There are numerous studies which have been done on intestinal permeability, and many link it to the onset of all disease – which aligns with the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, who said, ‘All disease begins in the Gut’.

Considering that about 70% of your immune system is in your gut, it makes a lot of sense to begin your body’s overall healing process by starting with your digestion.

And the best place to start is by REMOVING foods which are irritating or damaging your gut.  This is probably the hardest first step for anyone.  Often they are the very foods to which you are addicted, or ones which form part of your daily routine.  And routines are comforting.  They often define who you are, hence changing them may feel very difficult, or make you feel out of your comfort zone or just ‘not you’.

“I know bread makes me bloated but..”,  or, “I love cheese but it doesn’t agree with me”, are common statements I hear in clinic but there’s just so much abuse a digestive system can take.  In the end, it’s little wonder you feel unwell, or get some inexplicable symptoms – joint aches and pains, headaches, rashes, chest congestion, repeated infectioins –  after years, or decades, of eating that same ‘ole something which ‘doesn’t agree with you.’

If you keep in sight the reason you’re removing these foods  – to feel better and happier if your symptoms are making you miserable.  Or to stop current health ‘niggles’  from progressing to something more difficult to support, such as an auto immune condition, then the dietary changes will be easier to make.
And sometimes the removal of your culprit foods will be short-term (all depends on your health status.  Your own individual symptoms).  Over time, once gut health has improved, you may find you can eat small quantities with no adverse reactions at all.  Or you may just decide you’re better off without these troubling foods.
Having family support is wonderful but not essential.  In the end it’s your choice, your body and your health.

Alongside removing culprit foods, you should be REPLACING them with healthier options – supporting GI tract health with collagen and glutamine foods (think chicken soup or the currently trendy bone broth), fermented vegetables or coconut products such as coconut kefir or yoghurt (to replace dairy).
Then the focus is on
 REPAIRING and REINOCULATING your gut with specific supplements whilst REBALANCING with a few different probiotics.   This is bascially the same 5R approach which I’ve talked about in an earlier post.  A logical peeling back of the layers before repairing and replenishing.  Lots of ‘Rs’!

If you think any of the above is singing out to you – but you want more specific, individual advice do contact me.  And if you really want that written proof to help you make the necessary dietary changes, there are laboratory tests for intestinal permeability as well as tests to measure your nutrient levels  Email or call me for details.

A healthier Xmas: avoiding hangovers

The Christmas gatherings, lunches and parties are in full flow!  And what better time to talk about alcohol 🙂
Several factors are in play when you over-drink, especially if you’re over-drinking as a rule – with one factor, “dehydration,” sounding like a walk in the park compared to the rest:
Acetaldehyde accumulation (chemical poisoning), metabolic acidosis (inflammed stomach), alteration in glucose metabolism (blood sugar crash), increase in cardiac output (that heart attack feeling), inflammation of the immune system (feeling like you’re coming down with something, possibly a slow death), vasodilation (mega throbbing headaches), sleep deprivation (wide awake at 2am realizing death may be coming faster than you initially thought), and, finally, and quite majorly, malnutriton.
If you don’t normally over-drink, you can discount malnutrition, but basically the rest are happening, even if you only have ‘one drink too many’.

hangover

Here’s a Fact Sheet to help get you through the next few weeks so you can start the new year with a healthier spring to your step – and with a good chance of seeing in the year after.

  • Alcohol dehydrates.  The ethanol in that drink you’re holding increases urine production so you will not just be needing the loo far more, but you will also be getting very thirsty (hence you will then drink more alcohol).  Dehydration not only causes thirst, but it will give you that awful headache, a dry mouth and make you feel lightheaded or even dizzy.
    Top Tip:  have a glass of water next to your wine or spirit glass, and alternate.  One sip alcohol, next sip water.  That way your glass of alcohol will last longer, and you’ll be hydrating your body with water.  And did you know that fizzy drinks speed up the alcohol absorption into your system – you get drunk faster, with an additional whammy that you’r drinking a bucket-load of extra calories in those sweet carbonated drinks
  • Alcohol irritates your stomach lining – in fact it inflames the lining of your gut. Not good if you have a sensitive tummy at the best of times.  Alcohol will increase stomach acid and delay stomach emptying, both of which can lead to nausea, vomiting and pain.
    Top Tip:  never drink on an empty stomach.  Eat!  Preferably eat dinner, but if that’s not possible, eat some soup before you go out, or some of the healthier snack options on offer.  Nuts would be good…avocado or humus dips….something that will give your stomach lining a buffer before alcohol lands (and if only pizza and chips are on offer, eat those – just don’t go without food).  You could have a  thick winter soup in your fridge – something with lots of alcohol-absorbing starch, like parnsip or sweet potato –  and have a cuppa-soup before you head out.
  • And because alcohol irritates the gut lining, you are likely to wake up feeling nauseous or downright sick.  Hair of the dog does NOT work.  It will overload your system, esp your liver, plus it’s just a delay tactic – eventually you’ll have to face the music coz there’s just so much hair of the dog a person can take.
    Top Tip for the morning after:  keep it simple.  A fry-up is not the healthy option, but certainly eating foods like scrambled egg or your usual oat breakfast or a bubble and squeak creation from left-over veg will work.  Nothing fancy because your stomach may heave (and fried food for many may qualify as ‘fancy’).
  • Alcohol will have depleted you of those invaluable water-soluble vitamins, including the wondrous B complex vitamins which are so important for nervous system support a.o.
    Top Tip:  When you are hungover you will need all the nervous system support you can get, Keep a good multi, or a B complex, in your stockpile and give your body a dose for a few days after you’ve indulged – take with meals, or you may feel worse.
  • The ethanol in alcohol is metabolized into acetaldehyde which is far more toxic than alcohol itself.  If you’ve drunk excessive amounts of alcohol it’s going to take time to break down that acetaldehyde toxin into acetic acid – during which you’ll experience all the symptoms of acetaldehyde exposure, aka chemical poisoning (look it up – not nice).
    Top Tip
    : drink in moderation.  No way around it.
  • Alcohol can cause a blood sugar drop, and if it falls too low you might feel weak, shaky, irritable… and downright exhausted.  Some people may experience seizures!
    Top Tip:  make sure you’ve eaten something beforehand – that cuppa-soup?  Don’t arrive at the party and remember you forgot to eat breakfast and lunch that day.  Blood sugar needs to be balanced otherwise it can play havoc with your health long term.  Don’t skip meals…and healthy snacks are fine for a lot of people (no matter what your mother told you about eating inbetween meals…a few nuts and some apple may save you from one heck of a hangover too).
  • Alcohol makes you sleepy…but not for long.  You will either wake up at 3am feeling terrible but unable to go back to sleep.  Or you will have poor quality sleep and wake up feeling tired and washed out in the morning.
    Top Tip:  what can I say?  Moderation…..
  • Alcohol will cause blood vessels to expand – which leads a.o. to headaches.
    Top Tip: rather than taking a paracetemol, drink water (not just a sip) before you crash into bed after your debauched drinking.  When you wake at 2am it’ll be too late
  • If you have to choose between the greater and lesser evils, research shows that dark liquors such as rum or brandy, contain higher amounts of congeners (which are impurities produced during fermentation and which contribute to hangovers).
    Top Tip:  so, logically, clear liquors like vodka and gin will have less congeners (and also less calories), but research states they should be drunk neat (or with some ice) not with sweet juices  – and, most importantly, sipped, not slung back in a gulp.
  • Moderation is the bottom-line.  Enjoy the occasion but drink consciously so you not only relish the taste, but you also have a vague idea of how much you’re drinking.  Have some plain water in between drinks, and why not have a quick bite to eat before you head off.  These simple steps will make all the difference to how you feel the morning after – your body and head will love you for it.

    I’ll be posting more healthy Christmas tips next week!

 

Food intolerances in toddlers: Where to start?

Can a baby be allergic to her mother’s breast milk?  This question came up in an online practitioner discussion recently, and seemed an apt starting point for some health chat about intolerances in babies and toddlers.

 

allergies

Regarding the above question, it’s more likely to be an allergy to an antigen in the mother’s diet than to the breast milk (a case in point why nursing mothers should be careful with their own diets, especially if allergies and intolerances run in families).

However, it’s often difficult to determine the specific antigen in question.

The easiest and most affordable way is to try an elimination diet.  Removing a food that’s in your (or your toddler’s) daily diet and observing if any symptoms improve.  Then moving onto another daily food after that, and seeing if you get results.

All very straightforward.  It requires keeping a food diary and being vigilant, especially if you’re excluding something like gluten, which is in so many of today’s meals – from cereals to pasta to most grains.  In fact, it’s as difficult as trying to eliminate sugar, which is added to endless processed foods, although often under an alias such as glucose, fructose, corn syrup, maple syrup, brown rice, barley malt…and another 50 odd names.  All of these do the same thing to your health, namely increase inflammation, add calories and no nutrients, plus worsen any chronic condition.
As regards allergies or intolerances, eating less sugars can only improve things!

You can take the elimination diet a step further and do a ‘challenge’ test.  This is to be absolutely certain if there is an intolerance going on.
Exclude the food for 4 or 5 days, then ‘challenge’ your (or your child’s) system by reintroducing that food in a big way over a day (eg. In the case of gluten you could eat cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and pasta for dinner).  Watch for symptoms and then wait 3 days before trying the exclusion of another food (as there may be an overlap in symptoms due to the previous challenged food).

So what foods would you start with?

The following are the most common allergens: gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, shellfish, citrus and soy.  However, we are all individuals and you or your child may be reacting to apples or stone fruit or fish or anything….
So look at food with a critical eye.  Exclude one at a time esp those being eaten on a regular basis, and see if symptoms reduce.  Often the very foods which are problematic are the ones you don’t want to let go.

Excluding these short term, and following an anti inflammatory diet, will give your gastro intestinal tract a rest & time to heal, especially if you also supplement with immune- and gut-supportive nutrients.

Whether you then want to completely avoid a culprit food long term is another question, a hotly debated one, and very dependent upon your – and your child’s – individual reactivity.  It will also be dependent on the food in question.
If there is a large number of foods to which your youngster seems to be reacting, then seek nutritional advice.  You should not be restricting too many foods for any length of time otherwise your toddler will be deprived of nutrients that are vital to growth and repair.

Functional tests are very useful as they can reveal possible underlying causes such as a gut infection or parasites or insufficient commensal (‘friendly’) bacteria, or something called permeable intestine (leaky gut), which is often in play when there are multiple allergies.  All these can cause gut discomfort, pain, loose bowels, rashes, headaches…..

There are low allergenic diets which you can also try out with your toddler, such as the GAPS diet  – healing the gut with a short term restrictive diet (short term being a key word).  Here is a link about it:
http://www.gapsdiet.com/gaps-introduction-diet.html

In addition, there are some really effective nutrients and  supplements which focus on healing the gut microbiome and mucosal lining as well as giving that overall immune function support a hypersensitive system can benefit from.  The choice of what to use will be determined by the root cause, symptoms and individual health status.

It’s rarely going to be a quick fix, so consider other factors apart from nutrition.  Your environment and the home in which your toddler is living.  The chemicals in your cleaning products & washing powders or perfumed sprays and candles or treatments on the furnishings…or consider if mould is a problem in the house, or dust mites, or if animal dander may be exacerbating symptoms.  And what about the toys your baby or toddler is playing with?

So there’s a lot you can do: the elimination or challenge diet, reducing sugars and simple carb foods (those high glycaemic, low nutrient ‘white’ flour foods), increasing fresh foods, reducing processed foods, plus removing chemicals from your environment.
And if you’d like more specific advice or information on functional testing you can email or call me.