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

Fat is not the problem

For years heart surgeons, doctors, the government – anyone you can think of – have advised us against eating fat. It has been drummed into us that saturated fat is particularly bad, and that if we eat a lot of it we will get fat and also develop heart disease. Eating too much fat was considered the primary cause of heart disease, the theory being that high fat results in high blood cholesterol, which clogs arteries.  The advice was to switch to a low-fat diet, and take statins.

Now doctors, even heart surgeons, are admitting they were wrong.

There is NO link between saturated fat intake and heart disease, even in patients who already have coronary artery disease (Puaschitz et al. 2015)!

Heart disease is not about fat, its about inflammation.

With the advice to cut dietary fats came a boom in obesity, diabetes and other metabolic syndromes. Low-fat products flooded the market and we all felt virtuous when we consumed them. But what were, and are, we consuming? In an attempt to make these products appealing in the absence of flavoursome fat, low-fat foods are usually laden with sugar and additives. And this is a big part of the problem – these substances cause inflammation and don’t fill us up like fats do (so we often go back for more).

Inflammation is the underlying cause of chronic disease. It is a normal, natural and vital part of our immune system – we need inflammation to protect us from harmful bacteria, viruses, toxins and to seal our wounds. It needs to be activated quickly, contained locally and suppressed effectively – otherwise it becomes harmful. It is designed to be short-lived so that it doesn’t go on to harm our own body. When it is not short lived, and becomes chronic, we become diseased.

Our Western diets are largely based on refined carbohydrates e.g. white flour and sugar, and too much of the wrong fatty acids, plus we are surrounded by new and synthetic chemicals, that can also trigger the inflammation response.

Reduce Chronic Inflammation and feel better

Cutting fats from our diet robs us of vital nutrition and usually leads to an increase of foods and substances that are detrimental to our health, like processed low-fat foods.  We need fat for vital body processes. Here are some examples:

  • Blood cell formation
  • Hormone production
  • Vitamin transport (some are only soluble in fat)
  • Protection of nerves and conduction of nerve impulses
  • Cholesterol (yep, we need cholesterol – it carries vital fats and vitamins around our body and helps produce hormones)

Some fats, such as Omega-3 (an essential fatty acid) are vital to our health and need to be taken in through our diet. Omega-3 essential fatty acids are extremely beneficial for optimal brain function and in preventing disease like cancer, heart disease and arthritis. You’ll therefore be compromising your health if you avoid this form of fat!

Omega-6 is another essential fatty acid, but unlike omega-3, we tend to over consume it because it is present in high quantities in many processed foods. Over consuming this fatty acid causes inflammation – which is what we want to avoid!

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What fats should you eat? 

Of course, what your body needs is entirely unique, and so, therefore, are the types and amounts of fats you need (read more about my health philosophy HERE), but in general it is all about balance – or regain balance if you are currently unwell. Yes, have some saturated fat in your diet, but ensure it is from a good healthy source – butter and coconut oil are good options – and don’t go mad with it. Ensure you only cook to a high heat with oils that are stable at high temperatures (i.e. saturated fats; coconut oil, butter, lard). My preference is coconut oil as I can’t tolerate dairy due to my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Use olive and nut oils on salads and generally where you are not using a high heat.

Ensure you are getting your Omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish (well sourced)  as well as from nuts and seeds (Chia is particularly good – I always include this in my Omega-3 Super seed mix and sprinkle on breakfasts, soups, casseroles etc). You will not get fat from eating nuts and seeds as part of a whole foods, balanced diet (i.e. not based on processed foods). The additional minerals and fibre you will gain from adding nuts and seeds will help you feel even better.

Avoid packaged, processed foods, which are often high in trans-fats (usually artificially created to promote shelf life), refined flour and sugar.

Consult a doctor before making major changes to your diet, particularly if you have a chronic conditions. Remember you are the expert of your body.  You can read some scientific articles about fats and heart disease HERE and HERE.

Want to decrease your chronic inflammation in a safe and sustainable way?  Make a great start by completing The Reboot!  The Reboot is an online health coaching package designed to help you get your energy back, take control of your health and embrace your life in just 4 weeks. Click HERE  and HERE for more information.

Think you might want something more personal? Get in touch HERE for a FREE no obligation Discovery Session to learn how I could help you.

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Be well,

Caroline x

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The Reboot

It’s officially Springtime! Hooray!

I love Spring – it is so full of colour and hope, especially after a long, grey winter (which they usually are here!). I find this change of season inspiring and optimistic.  After being in hibernation mode for winter,  I’m ready for the gorgeous sunshine we have had in recent days here in Devon – long may it last! It makes me want to grab life with both hands and go out and live it!

If only I had the energy and time (right?)

As you may know, I’ve had my health problems in recent years, and I know what it is like for your brain to want you to do something, but your body to outright refuse. I have been there, held captive by exhaustion and fatigue – willing my eyes to stay open long enough to read a book, or to stay focussed enough to make a serious phone call. Getting myself out of that state required a major Reboot. A focus on myself and my health. Read more about it HERE.

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Even now I know when I have been overdoing it. When I haven’t been getting my 7-9hours of sleep (I have two young kids, so this is pretty much a given), when I have been rushing from A to B and sorting everyone else out.  I notice that I am less focused, tired all the time and readily feel overwhelmed – I’m not functioning my best. I know that I am putting my health second, which is not sustainable and is not a good thing!

To battle tiredness I get tempted by sugary foods and caffeinated drinks to get me through the day. We all know that this is a temporary fix, and it usually leaves me feeling worse, not to mention the longer term consequences. But how many of us get stuck in this cycle?  I know I’m not alone in this!

It is time to break the cycle! Reboot NOW

There is no better time for change than Spring – shake off that winter lethargy and refocus on your health. Feel Better!

Give yourself the best chance at making positive changes and making them stick.

Check out my new health coaching package: The Reboot

Are you ready to have:

  • More energy
  • Better sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Less chronic inflammation
  • More control of your health

And more!

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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?

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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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