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.

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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.

Want to start feeling better right now? Check out my Reboot  I’ve packed all my best tips on how to get your health back on track in just 4 short weeks. This online package allows you to find your foundation of good health. It guides you through changes that will have long-lasting effects on your symptoms and overall health in a safe and manageable way.  It’s a great start towards taking control of your health and reaching goals!

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All the best,

Caroline

 

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

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

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance

Everyone’s talking about gluten at the moment, so much so that if you mention you may have a problem with gluten you are normal met with rolling eyes or a comment like “you and everyone else…”

For those of us who genuinely react badly to gluten, this can be really tiresome and hurtful. Gluten is the root cause of many horrible symptoms in a lot of people and can cause and exasperate disease. I for one do not want to be unwell again (read my health stories here and here) and I know that eating gluten will set my health a long way back.

For those of you who brush gluten-free diets off as a fad, have a close look at the list of symptoms of gluten intolerance below and consider whether you’d like to suffer with them daily.

Symptoms of gluten intolerance:

Bloating
Abdominal pain/cramping
Diarrhea and/or constipation
Anemia
Arthritis
ADHD
Back pain
Stomach rumbling
Brittle nails
Mouth ulcers
Depression/anxiety
Dry hair
Fatigue
Flatulence
Unusually smelly stools
Hair loss
Infertility
Joint pain
Lactose/milk protein intolerance
Nausea
Numbness/tingling in hands and feet
Weight loss/poor weight management
Urticaria
Gum problems

Look out for my next post “The Truth about Gluten” – I’ll give you a run down of what gluten is and what happens when you have an intolerance to it.

Do you know you have an intolerance but are struggling to get gluten out of your C_14life?  Don’t worry! I’m launching my Go gluten-free online coaching package on June 24th 2016!  This package provides you with information, tools and strategies to go gluten-free safely and easily and to make it stick – for just £40 (US$58) and in just 4-weeks!

Not sure if you have a gluten intolerance? This package is perfect – I will guide you through the process of determining whether gluten is the cause of your discomfort.

Just think, in a few weeks you could shake all those symptoms you recognised above and finally feel better.

Get in touch now to reserve your package and receive the

Early Bird 25% discount!

Be well!

Caroline x

Dr Caroline Puschendorf

caroline@flourishwellness.co.uk

P.S. Don’t forget that I offer FREE Discovery Sessions so if you have a health concern that you want to address, get in touch and let’s see how we can work together to achieve your health goals!

P.P.S. Concerned about your diet? Have a read of my post about Sugar HERE and Fat HERE

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.

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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!