Hypothyroidism and the Sun

I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I’m not sure exactly how long I’ve had it for, but I’m pretty sure it was at some point in my teens when it first set in. I’ve been managing my symptoms and helping others to do so using my immunology background and nutrition training.

Recently though, I’ve been marvelling at how well I felt while I was away on holiday in Costa Rica.

I’ve been feeling well overall for a long time now, but usually it is something that I have to constantly manage. If I slip up with my diet or get too little sleep, then I really pay the price – there isn’t much of a buffer.

But apparently this is not the case in the tropics!  I was able to manage jet lag (with two jet lagged children) and big dietary changes (from very high veg and low carb to high carb and low veg…) with no problem at all. I was even waking up refreshed after a very little sleep!

Amazing.

So what was going on?  I’ve always loved the tropics and I am convinced it’s the temperature, humidity and the sunshine that help my body work better. Even though I didn’t sun bathe – I was either in the shade with the kids, in my rash vest attempting to surf or walking around with suncream and a hat – I got a light tan and felt the difference.

Vitamin D plays a huge role in moderating our immune systems, and that it is really important (but usually deficient) in people with autoimmune conditions (like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis).

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Getting that extra bit of sunshine (carefully of course) definitely helps me.  I also acknowledge that getting away from it all and being on holiday undoubtably makes things better!

So what does this mean for those of us in temperate regions?  Interestingly autoimmune conditions are more prevalent in temperate zones.  I’d suggest getting out in that sunshine, or even daylight, as much as possible and in a safe way and keeping warm by layering up, especially when it’s breezy!

Have you been on holiday this summer? How did you feel?

Caroline xx

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Blood tests, hypothyroidism and vitamin D

I’ve recently got back from a fabulous holiday in Costa Rica, Central America. I am super lucky to be able to go there; I have amazing family and friends there, it’s beautiful, very biodiverse, the people are delightful and you can walk into a lab like a highstreet shop and order any blood test you like.

I know that this is quite a privileged thing to be able to do, and I wouldn’t advise that you do it unless you know how to interpret the results or have a doctor who can help you with it (I also saw an endocrinologist while I was there).

In the UK getting your own blood tests done isn’t possible. Here your GP has to order the blood tests, which means they first have to think that the tests are worth ordering and that the NHS should spend money on them. Even then, the lab tech running the tests can decide not to bother if they don’t think it’s relevant (I’m not kidding, this has happened twice with my Husband’s tumour markers!). It’s therefore quite uncommon for vitamin deficiency tests to be run, for example.  We also don’t get the full thyroid panel, or levels of antibodies. This lack of monitoring can make it hard to determine whether the changes you are making to your lifestyle and diet are having a positive effect on your hypothyroidism.

I can walk you through the diet and lifestyle changes you need to help your thyroid in a safe and systematic way, that’s unique for you! Click HERE

So I went with a plan. I wanted to know whether the vitamin supplements I have been taking are A) having an effect on my vitamin levels (i.e. being assimilated properly) and B) whether I should continue to take them.

I try not to take vitamins unless I really need to. In a lot of cases it’s unclear what a high dose of some vitamins can do, and there has been a fair amount of bad press out there. On the other hand, we know our bodies need certain vitamins, and for hypothyroid people, vitamin deficiencies are common and often undermine the health changes you’re making. For me Vitamin D is an important one – many hypothyroid people assimilate vitamin D poorly, yet it has such a huge role in moderation our immune systems. We don’t really get it from our food, and in the UK, getting it through sun exposure can be challenging.  Personally, I take a high dose Vitamin D3 supplement. In doing so, I need to watch my calcium levels as these can drop. SO I was curious to see what my test results showed.

Interestingly, despite this high dose supplement, my vitamin D levels were right on the boundary of being deficient. This means one of two things 1) that my VitD levels without the high dose supplements are ridiculously low or 2) that the supplement isn’t being assimilated. I don’t know which is the answer, though I do know that I start to feel tired, lethargic and brain-foggy when I skip my Vit D for a few days.

Luckily my blood work showed perfect Calcium levels, so no worries there.

Of course I had anti-thyroid antibodies, as you’d expect with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and my white blood cells were slightly low – again common with my thyroid condition.

So, I’m sticking with the Vitamin D supplements and continuing to eat right and be well!  I’ll be back on the calcium-rich bone broth ASAP!

Caroline x

Living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome CFS/ME

I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 2010 after I had been virtually housebound for nearly a year. At the time of diagnosis, and to this day, I felt like it was an unnecessary  and useless label. The diagnosis didn’t come with any kind of treatment plan, medication or even advice. It simply came with a “we don’t know much about it, but you’ll probably have this for life”. I was sent on my way believing that that was my lot. Thanks Doctor.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome does more then it says on the tin – and that’s why many CFS suffers are fed up with this vague and dismissible name. CFS/ME is a complex chronic illness that manifests differently among it’s victims and involves not only debilitating fatigue, but also chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), brain fog, weight loss, fibromyalgia, headaches, nausea, insomnia, muscle weakness and more.  woman-506120_1920

The causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are still debated, despite it being reported for more than 200 years. It’s likely that there are several triggers, and that a unique mix of factors trigger each individual’s illness.

In addition to viruses as the cause e.g. Epstein Barr, a recent review proposes a disruption of gut microbiota as a possible cause (Navaneetharaja et al. 2016). Our gut microbiome is so important for our long-term health this proposal doesn’t surprise me at all, and it fits with my experience. Because our gut microbes are so important, whether they are disrupted by a pathogenic virus, poor diet, stress or something else, the knock-on effects can be far reaching.  CFS has also been proposed as an autoimmune disease triggered by gut dysbiosis and disruption of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract (Navaneetharaja et al. 2016).

It’s easy to think that the virus that I caught in Costa Rica in 2009 was the culprit, as many studies show connections between CFS and various viruses, but in reality the virus I caught was the straw that broke the camel’s back. My CFS had been simmering away for a long time – I believe since my mid teens.

For me, I believe my immune system has been operating sub-optimally for a long time. I believe that my CFS is a result of gut dysbiosis and autoimmunity.  I know that when I look after my gut and acknowledge my diagnosed autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) my symptoms improve. It’s common to collect autoimmune diseases if you don’t catch them early and work at reducing inflammation.

For years I’d had periods of inexplicable exhaustion. As a child I’d happily curl up anywhere and go to sleep. In the summer holidays I remember systematically sleeping in until 11:30am and being shocked by how tired I was, but I simply couldn’t wake up earlier. I’ve never been sporty or energetic and I know I should be in bed at 9pm. I have been constantly cajoled, pestered and teased into doing things – going for walks, staying up late, going to the pub – when my body is crying out for sleep. At university, during my undergraduate, I had one day of SCUBA diving each week in the winter. I’d suffer severe headaches afterwards and I’d be exhausted the next day, barely able to walk to my lectures. In my early 20s I’d wonder if I’d be able to walk to and from town – just a 20 minute walk – but I was unsure of my strength. I remember catching a cold and being in bed for days, and then unable to walk faster than an 80yr old with a Zimmer frame. It was ridiculous and I remember marvelling at my lack of strength.  Each of these episodes passed and, once they had, I continued on with normal life – after all, all the doctors I saw told me I was normal.

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The final straw

I got seriously ill in 2009, at the end of my PhD. I’d had several quite stressful years during my PhD, but I’d loved my work and was passionate about producing high quality science. I’d worked hard in a very toxic system with no support. I had my ideas and data stolen, suffered abuse of power, manipulation and sexual harassment – things that are rife in academia. No-one had my back. I didn’t have an academic champion or mentor until it was far too late. This stress during my PhD was definitely a huge contributor to my poor health – and a big factor in distancing myself from academia. But it wasn’t the sole cause of my CFS. Many people unhelpfully told me I’d made myself ill by working too hard. While several studies link perfectionism and CFS (as reviewed by Kempke et al. 2015) this isn’t the full story.

What it CFS feels like

The fatigue is like no other. A total exhaustion that stops you from being able to lift your head off of the pillow, from moving your legs to get out of bed, from standing while the kettle boils or from being able to speak. It prevents you from functioning and makes you pause and question the necessity of every action. The brain fog that goes along with it is nothing short of terrifying. I could no longer rely on my brain. I couldn’t recall dates, times, facts or even names of close friends. I couldn’t problem solve. I couldn’t hold a conversation because I couldn’t follow it or remember what had been said or what I had already asked. It was humiliating and scary. I had terrible IBS and, despite eating three or more main meals in a day, I kept loosing weight. I ate and napped. That was it.

I went from being a competent, independent and reasonably intelligent woman to someone who couldn’t communicate with her friends, didn’t have the energy to read and couldn’t walk to the end of the road. I was by myself all day while my husband was at work. I was lonely and down. I needed to be cared for. I needed someone to shop, cook and clean for me, and my husband became my carer.

broccoli-952532__180Slowly I made myself better by focussing on me and allowing myself to put my health first. I took advice, I listened to my body and I learned to let go of anger. I changed my diet, even though my diet was healthy, and my approach to life. I radically reduced carbohydrates and I cut out gluten. I prioritised my sleep and I stopped using chemicals in my home and on my body.

It took time, but I returned to “normal” – at least I was no longer chronically fatigued and ill. I was different though, but in a good way.

I have to keep on top of it, especially since I also have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which shares many of the same symptoms as CFS. When I let my diet slip or if I pack too much in (which is a constant tendency),  I know I’ll pay the price.  It’s all about balance.

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Do you suffer from CFS or another debilitating illness? I’d love to hear your story.

I’ll be posting soon about the changes I made that helped me get my energy back, so FOLLOW my blog to make sure you don’t miss out.

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All the best,

Caroline

 

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.

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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!

The truth about Gluten

We have all now heard of Gluten. But do we all know what it is and why we ‘should’ be avoiding it?

Cutting gluten from my diet was a huge factor in my recovery from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (though I didn’t know it at the time), in shrinking my goitre and significantly reducing many of my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis symptoms.

But, many people think that going “gluten-free” is a fad and that it’s just the latest dieting craze, and for some that is true. For others it is the difference between health and disease – and sometimes that disease is Cancer, sometimes it’s Crohn’s, which could mean losing your intestine, and sometimes it is an autoimmune disease that could continue to attack your body.

Many people don’t know if they should be avoiding gluten or not. These people tend to dabble in gluten-free living. They perhaps buy some items from the “free-from” ranges that now adorn supermarket aisles and feel somewhat virtuous when they manage to consume a gluten-free sandwich (if, of course, it holds together long enough it eat it). But does eating mostly gluten-free count? And what exactly is gluten anyway?

What is Gluten?

  • Gluten is a complex of proteins found naturally in the seeds of cereal grains.
  • The gluten protein types that can cause adverse reactions are glutelins (glutenin) and prolamins (gliadin).
  • These proteins are also responsible for the unique properties of gluten, which make it so appealing for baking – trapping air to enable dough to rise, giving elasticity to bread and dough as well as a chewy texture.
  • Gluten-containing seeds include: bulgar wheat, durum wheat, barley, rye, kamut, faro, graham, semolina, triticale, einkorn and spelt.
  • Gluten is used as a protein supplement (particularly in Asian cultures e.g. seitan), as a thickener in sauces, flavourings, medications, stock cubes and sweets.
  • Gluten is much more widespread in the Western diet, where processed food is more common and widely available.

Check out some of my gluten-free recipes HERE and HERE

What is Gluten Intolerance?

The term “Gluten intolerance” is often used to describe three conditions:

  1. Celiac (coeliac) Disease: Autoimmune disease, where the body responds with an overreactive adaptive immune response, triggered by gliadin and primarily concerning the small intestine. It may manifest several hours or days after consuming gluten. This response harms the delicate villi structures and lining of the intestine responsible for nutrient absorption. An inflammation response may also occur leading to leaky gut syndrome – where large proteins pass through the gut lining, and often leading to chronic poor health and the development of other intolerances. Celiac disease can be confirmed by a blood test for the relevant antibodies and biopsy, though negative results do not mean that you don’t have it.
  1. Wheat Allergy: Strictly speaking is and allergy and not an intolerance. This is an immediate and often severe histamine reaction to the presence of wheat (not specifically gluten). People may develop hives, shortness of breath and swelling – this is known as Type 1 hypersensitivity and is a different type of immune response to that of Celiac disease. 
  1. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS): This is the least well defined of the gluten intolerances. Currently, people who test negative for Celiac disease and who do not present with wheat allergy, but still feel unwell upon eating gluten are labeled with NCGS. They likely also have a “leaky gut” and a host of symptoms associated with a malfunctioning digestive system. People particularly susceptible include those with an autoimmune disease.

Should I quit Gluten?

Cutting gluten from your diet if you aren’t gluten intolerant is unnecessary, but many people are unsure. If you suffer from digestive issues –irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, bloating, cramps, discomfort, weight problems, if you have dry skin and rashes or if you feel very tired after eating gluten and have difficulty concentrating – it’s likely you have a problem with gluten. In which case, going gluten-free will:

  1. Help you achieve good long-term health
  2. Alleviate symptoms
  3. Increase your energy and improve your mood

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Going gluten-free can be overwhelming as it’s in so many things and many of us include it in every meal and snack. You may wonder what on Earth you can eat on a gluten-free diet!

On June 24th I am launching my Go Gluten-free online coaching package. This is a 4-week package that will guide you safely through the tricky transition to gluten-free living. I provide you with information and tools so you can make informed decisions about your health and then implement lasting change. I also enable you to conclusively determine whether you are gluten intolerant and I’ll be on hand to answer your questions. Read more HERE or send me an email: caroline@flourishwellness.co.uk

25% Early Bird Discount if you register by June 17th! Just £30 to transform your health!

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Look after your health and be well!

Caroline x

P.S. Did you read my post “Is your immune system attacking you?”, you might find it useful in reaching your health goals!