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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Top tips for healthy eating

Last week I attended the College of Medicine’s conference “Food. The Forgotten Medicine.” It was really interesting and uplifting to hear that some doctors are now acknowledging that food is a cornerstone of good health.  They also recognised that the 0 – 6 hours of nutrition training doctors get in Medical school is insufficient (and could explain why your doctor is reluctant to discuss any dietary interventions).

I’m hoping that the role of the health coach will soon be accepted and respected by the medical profession. As a health coach (PhD) , I have the time and expertise to talk through your diet and lifestyle. To hear your concerns and to understand your unique experience.  I can then work with you, as an individual, to find the right dietary and lifestyle changes so you feel better for the long-term.

It was a shame that only one patient had a voice at the conference and that she was the very last speaker. Carrie Grant gave an brilliant synopsis of her story with inflammatory bowel disease, and how hard it is to take control of your health in the current health system. It’s difficult to be a knowledgeable patient – as I know only too well.  As Carrie put it, the consultant hold the power, “and they kind of like it”.

It was highlighted again and again at the conference that the typical “healthy’ diet that many people have been following for decades (due to government guidelines) is wrong and even dangerous.  The NHS recommends you “Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates” – do NOT do this…

Top tips:

  1. Carbohydrates cause problems. Carbohydrates (e.g. flour, pasta, bread, rice etc) cause chronic low levels of inflammation that ultimately lead to disease e.g. Cancer, heart disease, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases (IBS, Crohn’s, thyroid disease, arthritis, ulcerative colitis etc). Carbohydrates therefore should NOT form the main component of a healthy diet (contrary to the NHS eat well guidelines).
  2. Fats are good. We need them – 60% of our brain is fat, what do you think happens to that on a low fat diet? But, we need the right kind of fats, ones that reduce inflammation rather than cause it. We need the omega 3 fatty acids found in nuts, seeds, olive oil and fish, and smaller amounts of  omega 6 fatty acids found in animal products. Processed food should be avoided at all costs as these are unhealthily high in omega 6 and trans fats, which are toxic.
  3. Fruit Juice is NOT healthy.  Fruit juice, fresh or otherwise, contains a lot of sugar. Without the fibre you get by eating fruit, this sugar goes straight into your blood and causes a stress response in the form of insulin production.
  4. Wholegrain is only wholegrain when it is the whole grain. You might want to read that again. Basically it means that a wholegrain ceases to be whole once you mill it. Milled grains are easy to digest so the sugar that it digests down into rapidly goes into your blood.  Wholegrain is more difficult to digest and so releases sugars slowly.
  5. Refined sugar alternatives are often no better. Sugar, in any form, will cause a stress response in your body. Many alternatives, like agave syrup, contain up to 75% fructose, which can alter the insulin pathway. It’s unclear exactly what sugar substitutes, artificial or otherwise, do to the body. You should avoid eating anything artificial. Natural sweetness that trick the brain are likely to cause problems with signalling.

If you’re suffering from a chronic inflammatory or autoimmune condition, making these few adjustments to your diet could have a big impact on your symptoms. There are lots of positive dietary and lifestyle changes you could make so that you can live symptom free, or even reverse your condition (as with type 2 diabetes).

Seek the information, make healthy choices, live well and feel better!

Caroline x

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Sleep has always been an important part of my life, and I’ve been able to sleep in some pretty spectacular situations – from a sun-warmed stone on a mountain top to the bouncing bow of a boat in the cold, driving rain. In hindsight, my ability  – or need- to nod off was probably a symptom of my thyroid disease.

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Recently I have met a lot of people with hypothyroidism, or suspect they have it despite their blood work being normal. Many of these people have a long list of symptoms that they have never associated with their thyroid condition and have lived with them for years. They are are used to feeling less than optimal and easily put these, often non-specific, symptoms down to age or lack of sleep.

But what if you could feel better? What if you could get rid of those aches and pains?  Today I want to give you a more comprehensive list (but by no means exhaustive) of the symptoms you may experience with hypothyroidism – there may be more than you may realise.

Chronic symptoms of hypothyroidism can be reduced or eliminated through changes in eating habits and lifestyle.

I’m walking proof of this. I have gone from being bedridden, aching all over and barely able to move to, on the whole, being fully functional!  I still get the odd flare-up, but there is usually a clear cause, such as over working, catching a horrible bug or letting my sugar consumption creep up. When this happens I know I have to go back to basics and “Reboot“, to get back on track. And it works.

If you have hypothyroidism, particularly Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and suffer from chronic symptoms it’s important you know that they are an indication that your body is not functioning at it’s best. You have those symptoms for a reason.

Masking symptoms with pain killers and supplements without addressing the cause can compromise your long-term health.

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If you have these symptoms please know that you can feel better. It may take time. It may take effort, but it is possible! With no help or guidance from medical doctors as to how to manage my diagnoses (first CFS and then Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), just a prescription for Thyroxine, for a long time I thought I was going to be virtually house-bound for the rest of my life. Thank goodness I took control of my health and made the necessary changes to feel better.

I read and researched. I used my background in Immunology to understand the science behind my disease, then I listened to my body and used my knowledge of nutrition to heal and get as healthy as possible.

Here is a list of some of the symptoms you may have, even if you’re taking thyroxine. How many of these do you have?

  • Palpitations
  • Fatigue
  • Slow speech
  • Slow movements
  • Brain fog/confusion/forgetfulness
  • Liver tenderness
  • Insomnia (yes, even with hypothyroidism)
  • Hypoglycaemia
  • Muscle and joint stiffness
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Pins and needles
  • Puffy, itchy, scratchy eyes
  • Puffy hands and feet
  • Cold extremities/ low basal body temperature
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Tinnitus/hearing problems
  • Restless legs
  • Hair loss
  • Eczema/ dry skin
  • Migraines
  • Blurred vision
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to cope with stress

I had more than 75% of these symptoms and I was misdiagnosed for 5 years. Now I live largely symptom free!

Get in touch to hear how we can work together to improve your health and get rid of your symptoms.

One to one coaching not for you? Feel better by Signing up for the Reboot!

If you have some of these symptoms and haven’t got a hypothyroidism diagnosis, then it’s advisable to talk to your doctor. These symptoms don’t mean you DO have hypothyroidism and are not meant for diagnostic purposes. If you are at all concerned about your health, then make an appointment to see your doctor.

I am happy to help you make positive dietary and lifestyle changes alongside your medical doctor.

Take control of your health and feel better!

With warmth,

Caroline x

P.S. Have you signed up to my mailing list? Click here for information and offers straight to your inbox, including FREE Pukka Tea when you register for The Reboot!

P.P.S. Interested in health coaching but not sure what to expect? Have  read of THIS page or send me an email HERE.  You can have a FREE Discovery Session with no obligation to sign-up for coaching. Remember, I can coach you no matter where in the world you are!

10 things I learned from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / ME

I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) in 2010.  I had been struggling to function for nearly a year and been told repeatedly that nothing was wrong with me – all tests were normal. I got CFS as I was writing my doctorate thesis and after having a really bad stomach virus that my body simply couldn’t recover from.

I was bedridden and/or housebound on and off for about 18months. I had extreme fatigue, brain fog, headaches, fibromyalgia – muscle aches and pains. I was uncontrollably losing weight, despite a voracious appetite, and my digestive system was playing up. At one point I also lost my vision.

It was a really hard time, though in amongst it all I completed my doctorate (yep, with brain fog…) and got married (albeit in slow motion)!  Despite those achievements, I faced the terrifying possibility that I wouldn’t ever be able to work or to have a family – how could I have kids if my arms were too weak to hold them?

It was time to take control of my health. I slowly managed to get myself functioning again by making significant changes to my diet and lifestyle. I have to keep a close eye on my health, particularly in light of a new diagnosis, but I am now able to have a busy, full life and I have two kids (who I can hold, cuddle and run around with!).

Here are 10 things I learned from CFS

  1. We don’t have an infinite supply of energy – diagnosed as a twenty-something this was news to me! It shouldn’t have been – I had spent a lot of my life feeling exhausted, but I had never really acknowledged or accepted it. It wasn’t good enough to be tired all the time – “I shouldn’t need to rest”, “I should keep going”, “naps were a waste of time” etc. I inevitably would pour another coffee or eat something sugary to see me through, then crawl into bed at 9pm.
  2. Energy should be spent wisely – Once you realise you only have a certain amount of energy to spend in a day, and that that amount is somewhat limited, you have no time for people and things that waste it – and that’s ok.
  3. Who gives energy and who takes it away – I realised that I invested a lot of energy into people. When I had CFS those who contributed to my life in some positive way and those who drained my energy became strikingly apparent. This was a really important life lesson. I stopped following-up with the “takers” and I felt immediately better. This was a clear lesson in self preservation.
  4. I am an introvert – and proud! – Despite having a keen interest in psychology, I hadn’t previously dwelt on, or investigated, which area of the various personality continuums I fall into. A very good friend of mine recommended I read “The Introvert Advantage”, by Marti Olsen Laney. For me it was life changing! I strongly related to this description: “Introverts draw energy from their internal world of ideas, emotions and impressions – they are energy conservers”. I realised that I had been living under the guise of an extrovert – perhaps to “fit in” to the extrovert world of science (which is bizarre as many scientists are introverts!).
  5. Physical activity doesn’t have to be high energy – many people with CFS are told that exercise is good – and for some a staged exercise regime works well. For a many years before CFS I would push myself into going to the gym, to swim or go to aerobics classes. In all honesty I hate the gym. I find nothing pleasurable in going at all, and now that makes sense. I much prefer being physically active outside, surrounded by nature or by positive non-judgemental people – its energising. I also realised that I don’t need to keep up with other people’s expectations of what a healthy exercise regime should be – its unique to me.
  6. My biggest energy drains – small talk, rubbish television, sugar, caffeine, anxiety, anger and stress.
  7. My biggest energy sources – one to one conversations with interesting people, time alone being creative and thinking, taking the time to enjoy and savour a really good cup of tea (caffeine-free), yoga, warm and nourishing food.
  8. My body knows what it needs – I just have to listen. For a long time my body had been giving me signs that things were not going well, but I did not acknowledged them. Had I been more connected with they way my body felt, and had a higher respect for it, my dip into the world of CFS may not have been so dramatic.
  9. Epsom salt baths are amazing – I believe everyone can benefit from bathing in Epsom salts! It rebalances magnesium deficiencies, soothes aching muscles, helps with sleep and is thought to encourage the elimination of waste and toxins (sip water while you bathe).
  10. What matters in life – who and what deserves my precious energy. I decided that I deserved my energy – my health was worth fighting for, that I wanted kids and opportunities to live a full life. My kids and family are worth my energy and so are the unique and beautiful people that I am lucky enough to call friends.

This is my experience with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and I believe it was directly related to my recent Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis diagnosis. Everyone’s is unique – from the triggers to the symptoms and the factors that help or hinder recovery.

Want to regain your energy and take control of your health? Get in touch for a FREE Discovery Session to find out how!

Do you have experience with CFS? Do you know someone with it or who has had it? What did your experience with CFS teach you?

Comment below and don’t forget to Like and Share this if you enjoyed reading it 🙂

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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