Love your microbes

I heard Tim Spector’s talk at the College of Medicine’s “Food. Food the forgotten medicine pictureThe forgotten medicine” conference earlier this month. He is mad about gut microbes and health, and has written a book about it The Diet Myth.

We are covered in microbes – single-celled organisms that are invisible to the human eye and the oldest form of life on Earth. These micro-organisms live on us and in us – with a wealth residing in our digestive tracts. Each of us has a unique gut microbial blueprint – passed, in part, onto us by our mother during a natural birth, but dependent upon our genetic make-up (Goodrich et al. 2014). When we are healthy our microbes are diverse and abundant, and responsible for immune system development and long-term health (Romero et al. 2014).

99% of our microbes are beneficial. 

These “friendly gut microbes”, if you will, enable us to breathe, to digest our food, manage our weight, regulate our immune system and resist disease (Stearns at el. 2011).

Altered gut microbial diversity, or dysbiosis, plays a role in chronic and systemic disease, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, IBS, Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (Kinross et al. 2014), autoimmune disease e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, MS, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Grave’s diseases (Amy et al. 2013) and cancer (Schwabe and Jobin 2013).

It’s therefore worrying that we have grown-up being afraid of “germs” and systematically kill-off these life-giving, protective microbes with hand sanitiser, bleach, antibiotics. We can also cause dysbiosis through infection, lifestyle and diet.

Killing-off or not looking after our microbiome has long-term health consequences. In children, for example, taking antibiotics between 0 and 2years old is linked to increased chance of childhood obesity, growth impairment and allergies (Cox and Blaser 2014). We’ve likely all had antibiotics, and kids are given them routinely because of the plethora of infections they tend to get. If you must have antibiotics, you can buffer the effects by using a good probiotic and ensuring a diet and lifestyle that promotes the re-establishment of a healthy microbiome.

coral 3Our gut microbiome can be thought of as an ecosystem – a biological community of organisms that interact with one another and respond to the physical environment.. A high biodiversity of organisms, relative to climate, is characteristic of a healthy ecosystem – be it a coral reef, tropical rainforest, lake, field, desert or our guts. A high diversity of organisms ensures that each niche, or need, is fulfilled and gives back to the system. As such, an ecosystem is more resilient to short term environmental change and stresses, and therefore less susceptible to disease. Optimal climate is necessary for maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

 

The same is true for our guts.  To ensure optimal health, we need to nurture our gut microbiome by providing a favourable environment for the long-term (Xu and Knight 2015). In general, this means a whole foods diet including a diverse range of vegetables – including the pre-biotic containing ones such as Jerusalem Artichoke which help to provide the food for our microbes. The phytonutrients found in plants are irreplaceable and essential for good health – make sure you eat a high diversity of vegetables. Include some nuts and seeds, fish (for your omega 3 essential fatty acids) and whole grains and dairy. Limit red meat.

burger-1140824_1920A diet high in processed food is high in sugar, trans fats, saturated fat, additives and refined carbohydrates and is undeniably bad for your health, and your microbiome.  A bad diet can can drop your gut microbial diversity by 40%, which of course compromises your health and sets you up for disease.

Want to know what your gut is doing? It can be really useful if you have a chronic illness. I had mine done by a naturopathic doctor when I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  It certainly helped me understand my health and take control of my health.  Though it seems like you need a referral by a doctor, which can be very difficult to get, visit www.mapmygut.com to find out what’s going on with you’re microbiome.

In the mean time, look after your microbiome!

Email caroline@flourishwellness.co.uk to book a FREE discovery session to talk about your health how diet and lifestyle changes can help.

Did you see my post about inflammation and your health? Have a read HERE.

Read how our cancer story began HERE

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Ignoring your gluten intolerance

I believe that every one is unique, and has a unique set of foods that promote health and equally has foods which encourage disease. I don’t believe that gluten is the root of all evil and that everyone should stop eating it, but ignoring a gluten intolerance could have long-term consequences.

I have spoken with a lot of people who know that gluten doesn’t agree with them. They get bloated after they eat it, they have aches and pains and sometimes get cramps, yet they don’t want to stop eating “like a normal person”. I hear this time and time again, and I can completely relate to it. Change is difficult. It takes energy and effort, and when we are ill or fatigued – or suffering from the symptoms of gluten intolerance – it’s difficult to muster the will power.

I get it. I’ve been there. I have also been desperately ill. I was virtually housebound  at 27 years old for nearly 18 months. I ached all over, I had no energy and simply talking was draining. All the doctors I went to said that I was a healthy 27 year old. I needed to make a big change and to take matters into my own hands. I drastically changed my diet, my lifestyle and grew as a person.  Going entirely gluten free was a significant part of getting my health – and my life – back.

You may not be as ill as I was and you may find your symptoms manageable. But what is it doing to your body? If you have symptoms of dis-ease, your body is telling you something.

If you ignore your gluten intolerance, you may be setting yourself up for future health problems. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Increased risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes

Our digestive system is responsible for absorbing food as well as detecting and mounting an immune response to things that may harm us – usually bacteria or other mircoorganisms.

70% of our immune system is located in our gastrointestinal tract (Faria and Weiner 2005).

If you are gluten intolerant, immune mechanisms in your gut recognize gluten as an invader that needs eliminating and so your body activates an immune response designed to kill-off the invader. It’s a misdirected response as gluten is not an infectious agent. Mounting such an immune response is not only exhausting, but also dangerous – these first immune responses are designed to be temporary toxic storms to efficiently protect us from infection. Constantly or repeatedly activating this system leads to chronic inflammation – something that is directly related to increased risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes.

  1. Nutrient deficiencies – malnourishment

Continuing to eat gluten when you are intolerant to it can cause the lining of your digestive tract to become inflamed, damaged and stripped of the protective mucous coating (villous atrophy). This damage stops nutrients from being absorbed properly and can lead to malnutrition, usually in the form of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Symptoms can include fatigue, dry skin, brittle hair, poor concentration, frequent illness and failure to thrive in children – the list extensive. It’s worth bearing in mind that you can be nutrient deficient and over weight.

  1. Increased risk of autoimmune disease

In addition to being inflamed an unable to absorb nutrients effectively, zonulin (derived from gluten) can cause gaps to form in your gut lining. This is known as intestinal hyperpermeability or leaky gut. It means that food particles and bacteria can pass through your gut wall straight into your blood stream. If this happens, your immune system will go into overdrive to get rid of the invaders – and it stays on high alert for weeks, which is exhausting, depleting and potentially harmful. Leaky gut can lead to chronic poor health and the development of more intolerances, such as to the milk protein casein, and autoimmune diseases – where the immune system attacks the body. Most people with an autoimmune condition feel better on a gluten-free diet. Interestingly, components of gluten have a similar structure to protein structures in our bodies – particularly those within the thyroid. If you have an autoimmune disease, consuming gluten will cause your immune system to attack your body – there is a well-studied link between Celiac disease and thyroid conditions.

Autoimmune diseases include: 

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

Grave’s disease

Celiac disease

Addison’s disease

Psoriasis

Rheumatoid arthritis

And many, many more!

I hope you’ve found this informative! If you’re considering going gluten-free, check out my Go Gluten-Free online coaching package. For just £10 (US$14.50) a week, this 4-week package provides you with the tools and guidance so you can make informed choices about your health and instigate positive and lasting change.

Launching June 24th 2016! Early Birds get a 25% Discount, so register today by emailing me now: caroline@flourishwellness.co.uk!

Look after yourself!

Caroline x

P.S. Don’t forget coach One2One – helping you to reach your health goals and to feel better.  I offer a FREE Discovery Session wherever you are in the world! Drop me a line HERE!

Chronic Fatigue- diagnosis to remission

Sometimes I can’t quite believe that I was pretty much housebound for 18 months in my twenties. Other times it seems all too close for comfort. The lack of recognition and respect Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients receive still astounds me.

For me, like many, it was a long road to a very unsatisfactory diagnosis. For over a decade I told GPs that I was exhausted and not able to keep up with my peers. I told them I felt unwell and that I was worried. I told them I was not depressed. I told them that I was sleeping 12hours a day and was still exhausted. I told them I had to rest for days after exerting myself and that I lacked concentration and motivation. At each and every appointment I was told that my symptoms were vague and non-specific and therefore there was nothing to be done. I was told I needed to socialise less (at a point during my degree that I was a hermit), to get more sleep (more than 12hrs a day?) and that I was probably depressed (maybe, but chicken or egg?).

And so I lived in this state of exhaustion. I resigned myself to it. I thought it was just  the way I am. But I could never fathom how people could just get up and do things, how they could achieve so much. Where did they get the energy? Why couldn’t I do everything? Why wasn’t I “normal”?

Things came to a head when I was writing up my PhD thesis. I’d moved to Costa Rica to write up (well, why not!?) and, within a week of being there, I contracted a really bad stomach virus. I didn’t eat anything apart from watery rice for two weeks. I lost a lot of weight and I simply never recovered my energy.

I was extremely ill. I couldn’t shuffle across the apartment without stopping to rest. I couldn’t stand in the kitchen long enough to boil the kettle. I couldn’t hold my arms above my head for long enough to wash my hair. I had to have a nap after a conversation. I had irritable bowel syndrome. I ached all over – in both muscles and joints. I couldn’t concentrate for more than a nano-second and my memory was atrocious. I was constantly hungry and loosing weight rapidly. One day the world went black and I temporarily lost my vision.

I went from doctor to doctor and had test after test. I gave countless vials of blood and saw a seemingly infinite array of “specialists”, but none could offer me any viable explanation. All told me I was “normal”.

I soon learned that being “normal” in the medical world simply means that the test needed to detect what is wrong hasn’t been discovered yet.  Unfortunately, it seems that most doctors tend to listen more to the lab data than to their patients. Either that or they are unwilling to collaborate and problem-solve with the patient.

I wrote my PhD thesis and planned my wedding – I’m not sure whether this was tenacity or stubbornness, maybe a bit of both. I knew that, like most, my PhD was a huge stressor, and had been for sometime. I knew that I wouldn’t start to get better until I could put it behind me. My decision to persevere and finish my thesis was met with a lot of eyebrow raises and head shaking, but I knew having it hanging over me would be worse in the long run. That was my decision.

Back in Australia, newly married and with my doctorate (cum laude) secured, I was unable to leave the house. My GP finally stuck a label on what I had: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She told me there was no cure and that I would likely have it for the rest of my life – that there was nothing I could do.

For me, that meant no career, no kids, virtually no social life and that my new husband would be my carer. Clearly something had to change.

I read and researched CFS, and a friend recommended a local naturopathic doctor. Finally someone who listened to me, who didn’t tell me I was imagining my symptoms or that I was depressed. He is ordered tests and diagnosed me with dysbiosis and intestinal permeability – things that many doctors still deny the existence of despite a wealth of evidence. Together we looked at my diet and lifestyle and I began to make changes. It was slow, and it was hard, but I stuck at it. I designed my own diet, one that suited my needs and took my various nutrient deficiencies into account.

Slowly, I began to get better.

I also took a long hard look at my life, and where, and to whom, I was loosing energy. I realised I wasn’t good at looking after myself and I usually put myself last.

What’s most interesting is that my pre-CFS diet wasn’t “bad”. I’ve always eaten vegetables, nuts and pulses. I hardly ever ate fast or processed foods. I always cooked from scratch and kept myself hydrated. Clearly, a “normal” diet was not ideal for my body and was not going to promote healing and health.

I learned that doctors don’t always know best. That you are the expert of your experience and no-one should try to diminish it. Once you have found someone who will work with you, instead of dictating to you, you’re onto a good thing.

Had I not been told I was “normal” 10 years earlier, maybe the autoimmune storm that seems to be my body’s default status now wouldn’t be raging quite so hard.

After a post-doc in the USA, having a couple of kids and caring for my husband through cancer, I am now help others take control of their health as a Health and Nutrition Coach. I help people with chronic inflammation reduce and eliminate symptoms associated with thyroid disease, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and CFS, and weight management through cancer. I always encourage people to discuss our work with their doctor. But it’s amazing how many doctors refuse to listen and instead belittle the huge steps these people are making in taking control of their health.C_14

How much sugar?

Sugar has been in the news a lot recently, and maybe you are sick of people talking about it. Maybe you don’t want to feel guilty for that glass of coke or that extra slice of cake, and fair enough – it’s your choice. But what if it is seriously affecting your, and your family’s, longterm health?

It’s easy to listen to the news and think that sugar is a “fat” person problem, or that you don’t drink sugary, carbonated drinks, so you’re ok. But unfortunately that’s not the case.  Sugar, in any form (fruit sugars, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup..), is potentially harmful – yep, you read that right, but hear me out.

Sugar types

The negative effects of sugar are numerous and far reaching – to the point that it was recommended by scientists years ago that it be regulated like tobacco and alcohol. The effects are that serious. It is that toxic.

I know that when I’m having an autoimmune flare-up – fatigued, headachy, joint ache, big puffy eyes (all because of my thyroid disease), the first thing I need to do is check the amount of sugar in my diet. And I generally don’t eat much sugar at all.

Sugar causes:

  • Metabolic Syndrome: diabetes, hypertension, liver problems, cardiovascular disease and non-alcohol fatty liver (Read more HERE).
  • Fat stores – when consumed in high doses, fructose overwhelms your liver’s ability to process it, so it gets stored as fat to stop it harming your body.
  • Hormonal mayhem – For a start, fructose suppresses gut hormones that tell you you are full (leading to over eating). Secondly, glucose causes your body to flood with insulin (a growth hormone), which is good and normal, but over stimulus can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. If you have a condition that involves the endocrine system e.g. thyroid disease, then you need to have a think about sugar.
  • “Bad” gut micro flora bloom, leaving you bloated, sluggish and unable to digest food properly.
  • Tooth decay
  • Cancer risk and poor prognosis (read HERE).
  • Chronic Inflammation – all those underlying, background symptoms -aches and pains, arthritis, headaches – may relate back to sugar.

So, am I suggesting you never eat anything sweet again, including fruit? No.

I am suggesting that you take a look at how much of each sugar type you currently eat and whether the risks are worth it. Learn how much your body can tolerate and chose the types you consume wisely.

Of course I’m not telling you to stop eating fruit, just don’t under estimate it’s sugar content – always go for the whole fruit, which includes fibre and water to help your body deal with the sugar, rather than juices or dried fruit.

What should you do? Here are some absolute basics:

  1. Stop drinking soft drinks, fruit juices and squash/cordial – swap for tea, vegetable juice or water with lemon or lime.
  2. Start checking labels. Anything with more than 5% sugar is not a good option.
  3. Get in the kitchen – Clear out your cupboards and start cooking.  Get rid of your packaged, processed food. Buy fruit, vegetables, nuts, pulses and lean meat. You don’t need to be a master chef to put together a quick and healthy meal.
  4. Stop buying low fat foods – fat is not bad. Sugar is bad, and sugar gets turned into fat. Low fat foods are full of sugar.

Confused or don’t know where to start? Send me an EMAIL.

Or start The Reboot and start feeling better fast!

Flyer for webWe have made big changes as a family. I want to reduce the chances of more Cancer in my family and to keep my Hashimoto’s disease under control.

Sugar is at a minimum. We eat some fruit each day and have dark chocolate or homemade granola or muffins as a treat every now and then. It is difficult and sometimes we have to Reboot.

It is hard to live a low-sugar life, because it’s become the norm to consume a lot of sugar on a daily basis. It’s normal for kids to have sugary snacks throughout the day, and to top-up on sugar-fill fruit juices or squash. In fact, if you “deprive” your child of these tasty, toxic, treats you are considered slightly strange and probably a bit mean. I try to make it as easy for my kids as possible, and am usually ready with a healthier alternative, but it takes planning and motivation.

I think it’s worth it – I’m sticking at it for our long term health.

Are you on a low-sugar eating plan? How has it benefited you?

4 signs your immune system is attacking you (and what you can do about it)

Autoimmune and inflammatory diseases  are becoming more prevalent and include Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Grave’s disease, Celiac’s disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, eczema, asthma, irritable bowl syndrome and Crohn’s Disease.

Most of us know someone with one of these, and some of us are unlucky enough to have one ourselves.

These diseases occur when our immune system goes wrong and attacks parts of our body, like the thyroid in my case, and/or when our immune system is constantly triggered into activation – Chronic Inflammation.

If having one of those diseases wasn’t bad enough, chronic inflammation also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke (Kristensen et al. 2013) and is linked with 25% of cancers (Eiró and Vizoso 2012). Click here to read my about experience as a carer for Cancer.

It’s really important to be aware of inflammation and to keep it as low as possible.

4 signs of chronic inflammation:

  1. You’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune or inflammatory disease
  2. Tiredness and fatigue
  3. Muscle and joint aches and pains
  4. Strange things are happening with your digestion – e.g. you feel you have developed food intolerances, you have lost or gained weight or you are bloated.

(the last 3 points are general signs that something might be wrong and may need further exploration in collaboration with your doctor).

How to reduce inflammation

The best way to ensure we don’t put our body through any unnecessary inflammation is to avoid situations that tend to provoke it. Unfortunately, usually the foods we eat and the lifestyles we lead tend to promote chronic inflammation.

Here are 5 things to cut out today:

  1. Refined sugar and starches – These trigger the release of inflammatory messengers (cytokines) and are linked with increased intestinal permeability. Want to quit sugar? Contact me HERE.
  2. Alcohol (see my post “Why I’m going Dry for January”)
  3. Red meat – the NHS guidelines suggest a daily intake of 70g/day. See what Cancer Research UK has to say about it HERE.
  4. Stress – does what it says on the tin. Our bodies weren’t designed to be in constant fight or flight mode. Take time to relax, be mindful and look after your body.
  5. Chemical irritants – Get rid of unnecessary chemicals in and around your home! Help your family and the environment at the same time. Hints and tips for going eco-friendly coming soon!

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Your body and lifestyle are unique and so your inflammation triggers will be.  

Get in touch to work out what yours are and start feeling well again! 

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