Yip, its that time of year ALREADY! I know you are probably all rushing around like mad, so instead of writing a long blog, I thought I would share one of my favourite quotes ever. To me, this is what life and health are really all about:
In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions:
“When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?”
May you have a festive season of dancing, singing, being enchanted by stories and …..may you have a few moments of blissful silence every day!
I’m sure by now you have heard a lot about the gut microbiome and its role in health and disease. But have you ever wondered why it is so important and what exactly is its role?
Unfortunately, I can’t answer all those questions as research into the gut microbiome is relatively new and there is still so much we don’t know about it. However, here is a basic introduction to the wonderful world of your microbiome. If you have time and really want to delve deeply into the microbiome, then I suggest you read the work of Emeran Mayer.
What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome is the community of microorganisms that inhabits your gut as well as their combined genetic material. These microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa and are also called the ‘microbiota’ or ‘gut flora’.
The gut microbiome is often referred to as the ‘second brain’ because it is so influential on your body, mind and emotions.
“Your gut has capabilities that surpass all your other organs and even rival your brain. It has its own nervous system, known in scientific literature as the enteric nervous system, or ENS, and often referred to in the media as the “second brain.” This second brain is made up of 50-100 million nerve cells, as many as are contained in your spinal cord. “
Emeran Mayer, The Mind-Gut Connection
Functions of the gut microbiome
The microorganisms in your gut have many functions that are integral to your health and wellbeing. So let’s take a quick look at some of these functions.
Chemicals released by your microbiome influence the vagus nerve. This is the main nerve that runs between your brain and abdomen. In other words – it is very important!
Your microbiome produces many compounds vital to your health. These include:
Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is necessary for higher brain functions such as thinking and learning as well as for the development of new neural connections
Gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) which helps you cope with stress and anxiety
Serotonin which, in addition to being central to your happiness and wellbeing, also plays a role in cognition, learning and memory
Glutamate which is another compound vital for cognition, memory and learning.
Vitamin B12 which has numerous roles in keeping your nerve and blood cells healthy.
Your microbiome plays a central role in helping to control your blood sugar levels as well as the hormones that control your appetite.
Your gut microbes are the “gate keepers” to the tight junctions located between your intestinal cells. It is these tiny microorganisms that play a central role in increased gut permeability (leaky gut) and inflammation.
Your gut microbes process and detoxify dangerous chemicals that you may have ingested with your food and also constantly interact with millions of immune cells lining your gut, protecting you from infections and regulating inflammation.
The immune cells residing in your gut make up the largest component of your body’s immune system; in other words, there are more immune cells living in the wall of your gut than circulating in the blood or residing in your bone marrow.
Emeran Mayer, The Mind-Gut Connection
Your gut microbes digest and ferment compounds that your digestive system can’t handle itself. They break these compounds down into smaller molecules so that they can be absorbed into the blood stream. One such compound that they ferment is polyphenols which are highly anti-inflammatory. Luckily they are found in delicious things such as coffee, red wine and dark chocolate 🙂 .
Your gut bacteria are also great ‘regulators’, regulating:
the absorption of nutrients
Listed above are only a few examples of how the microorganisms inhabiting our gut keep us healthy and well. What we need to remember is that if we want our microbiome to look after us, we need to look after it….a topic for another blog!
“It’s okay to ask what your microbiome can do for you, but much better to ask what you can do for your microbiome.”
Prescott & Logan, The Secret Life of Your Microbiome
When I first started thinking about this blog, I was going to entitle it “Five Reasons to Sleep” and then discuss five benefits of a good night’s sleep. However, when I started to think about it, I realised that there is really only one reason to sleep: to keep alive!
Every single creature on earth sleeps. Even your goldfish sleeps. Even the worm in your garden sleeps! And without sleep, life dies. In the 1980s a study was conducted on the effects of sleep-deprivation on rats. Ten of these rats were totally sleep-deprived. All of them died within 11-32 days. In addition, these rats lost weight despite an increase in food, developed sores on their tails and paws and became progressively debilitated.
Sleep deprivation and chronic disease
According to sleep specialist Matthew Walker, human studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation is associated with higher risks of developing cancer, diabetes mellitus type II, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety and suicide. He also points out that more people die in car accidents caused by fatigue than accidents caused by alcohol and drugs combined.
“Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer”.
The mystery of sleep
Interestingly, although people have been studying the concept of sleep for thousands of years, it was only in the 20th century, with the invention of the EEG machine that we were able to start answering the question of why we sleep. Before this, the reason for sleep was a mystery – a mystery with many different ‘explanations’.
Aristotle, for example, believed that when sleeping we were actually being ‘gassed’ by the vapours from food while it decomposed in our stomachs. Eighteenth century scientists, on the other hand, proposed that every night blood would rise up into our heads, causing our brains to temporarily shut down and induce sleep.
In terms of evolution and survival of the fittest, the concept of sleep was almost non-sensical before we began to unravel the physiological value of sleep. Think about it: for nearly a third of our day we are in a completely vulnerable state – lying down, our eyes closed, many of our muscles ‘paralysed’, many of our senses that usually keep us safe from danger ‘dampened’ – we are like sitting ducks to all sorts of predators!
Why do we sleep?
So, you may be asking, “why do we sleep?”. Believe it or not, this question still cannot be fully answered but research is progressing in this area and we are learning that sleep is not simply a means to conserve energy as we once thought.
In fact, we now know that we actually save very little energy during sleep. According to sleep expert Chris Idzikowski, “a person weighing 200 pounds (approximately 91kg) burns off calories during sleep at a rate of 80 per hour. The same person sitting quietly uses up calories at a rate of 95 per hour”. That’s only a difference of 15 calories – not much!
“The energy saving during eight hours sleep (compared with eight hours waking rest) is roughly equivalent to a glass of low fat milk”.
Although our bodies might be at rest during sleep, our brains are extremely active. Sleep is the time in which:
The brain ‘cleans’ and restores itself.
The hormone (human growth hormone) that stimulates muscle and bone growth as well as fat metabolism is secreted.
Our immune system actively seeks out and destroys foreign cells.
So I guess instead of focusing on five different reasons to get a good night’s sleep, we really only need to focus on one: if you don’t prioritise your sleep you may not only end up looking like Frankenstein – you might end up becoming him too!
Carol A. Everson, Bernard M. Bergmann, Allan Rechtschaffen, Sleep Deprivation in the Rat: III. Total Sleep Deprivation, Sleep, Volume 12, Issue 1, January 1989, Pages 13–21, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/12.1.13
Chris Idzikowski, Learn to Sleep Well (2000), Duncan Baird Publishers: London
Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams (2017), Scribner: New York
Did you know that queen bees and worker bees are genetically identical? They have identical DNA. So what makes them so different? What makes the queen have a larger body, live a longer life and be able to lay thousands of eggs while worker bees are smaller and sterile? It’s all in what they eat!
The queen bee eats nothing but royal jelly her entire life while worker bees only eat royal jelly for the first few days of their life before switching to honey and pollen. So, you might be thinking – what on earth does this have to do with epigenetics? Actually, everything.
Royal jelly contains a compound that stops the action of specific enzymes that normally remove epigenetic tags from DNA. This results in a build-up of these tags and it is this build-up of tags that switches on key genes required for the development of a queen. Without this specific chemical compound in their diet, larvae develop into workers. For the actual science behind this why don’t you read the article that inspired this blog: Epigenetics – It’s not just genes that make us.
What is epigenetics?
What do I mean by ‘epigenetic tags’? In fact, some of you might be asking yourselves ‘what on earth is epigenetics’? So let’s start with that.
For many years scientists believed that the genes you are born with determine who you will be and what diseases you will develop. Then, in the year 2000, Randy Jirtle and Robert Waterland produced a groundbreaking genetic experiment showing that it is not your genes alone that define you – it is the way in which they are expressed that is important.
Before we go any further, let’s get to grips with some terminology:
What is gene expression ?
Gene expression is the process by which the information from a gene is used to produce a new product, usually a protein. Genes are the blueprints for proteins and although they cannot be changed, the expression of them can be changed.
What is epigenetics?
Epigenetics is the process by which genetic expression is modified without the underlying gene itself being changed. Epigenetics is the process in which molecular tags attached to genes control the expression of those genes – these tags are like switches that can turn genes on and off and so control the end product. Epigenetics is influenced by many things, especially diet, environmental toxins, exercise, sleep and stress – all things you can choose to control.
Now let’s get back to the year 2000 and Jirtle and Waterland. They took two fat, yellow mice who carried a particular gene that made them continually hungry, yellow in colour and prone to cancer and diabetes. These mice are commonly referred to as agouti mice and the gene they carried was the agouti gene.
Jirtle and Waterland did something a bit different with the mother mouse. Starting before conception, they fed her a diet of foods known to be rich in methyl-donors which affect epigenetic tags. And guess what happened – her offspring were born slim, brown and lived to old age without developing diabetes or cancer!
What is the point of epigenetics? What can it do for me?
I hope you can see where I am going with this blog? What you eat and do on a day-to-day basis really does matter!
We may not choose what genes we are born with – but we can choose which genes we want expressed! Think about that…….seriously.
“Epigenetics is proving we have some responsibility for the integrity of our genome. Before, genes predetermined outcomes. Now everything we do—everything we eat or smoke—can affect our gene expression and that of future generations. Epigenetics introduces the concept of free will into our idea of genetics.”
The wonderful thing about epigenetics is that even if you are born with a specific gene variant, there is still a lot you can do to lead a good, healthy life. Start by taking a look at what you are eating – which agouti mouse are you turning yourself into?
If you want to learn more about healthy (and unhealthy) eating then join our workshop – Kick the foods that make you feel sad, sick, fat or tired. Learn more >
One of the original aims of this study was to identify what predicts healthy ageing and so for the last 81 years its participants have had regular medical checks as well as interviews and assessments. The most interesting conclusion has been drawn – at midlife it is not a person’s cholesterol levels or other biomarkers that predict longevity, it is in fact whether or not they are satisfied in their relationships.
People who have good relationships have an increased chance of a longer and healthier life!
This study is still continuing and now includes the offspring of the initial participants. I originally came across this study when I heard the following 2015 TED talk given by Robert Waldinger, the director of this study.
If you are feeling lonely, you are not alone
Waldinger’s talk embedded itself in my mind many years ago and I have always focused on the importance of relationships and their impact on our health. However, now that I am an immigrant in a new country, I am suddenly so much more aware of what it means to be alone and of how difficult it can be to overcome this feeling.
Ironically, I am not alone. According to recent research, loneliness is fast becoming a major public health issue.
Loneliness in Australia
An article published in The Guardian last year highlights how “more than one-fifth of Australians rarely or never feel they have someone to talk to or turn to for help, and more than one quarter feel lonely for at least three days every week.”
Loneliness in America
A 2018 Cigna survey of more than 20,000 adults in the U.S. concluded that nearly half of adult Americans report ‘sometimes or always feeling alone or left out’.
Loneliness in the UK
Also in 2018, a BBC British survey of 55,000 people, aptly entitled The Loneliness Experiment, draws our attention to the fact that we need to take loneliness seriously. Pamela Qualter who led the experiment and is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Manchester concluded:
“Findings suggest that we need to be kinder to ourselves when we feel disconnected from others, but also that there is a whole toolkit of potential solutions that we can try.”
How to overcome loneliness
I like those last words – “there is a whole toolkit of potential solutions” to loneliness. In The Loneliness Experiment the BBC asked the 55,000 participants for their suggestions as to how to overcome loneliness. Here are their ideas (with my comments) – you might like them or you might not but they are definitely worth a thought:
Invite people to do things without fearing rejection. Don’t be afraid to ask people to join you for a meal, a walk or a movie. If they are busy they will say no, but you never know – maybe they are feeling lonely too.
Carry on and wait for the feeling to pass. A little mantra that gets me through a lot in life is the common phrase “and this too shall pass”.
Take time to think why you feel lonely. It’s ok to feel lonely – it’s something we all feel – but if you feel lonely a lot, then take a step back and consider your life from an ‘outsider’s point of view’. Are you perhaps making yourself lonely by spending too much time at home, at work, on the internet or your phone? Do you think maybe you need to push yourself more and make a bit of an effort to socialise or spend time with people you already know? Most importantly, how much time and effort are you putting into the relationships you already have?
Look for the good in every person you meet.
Talk to friends or family about how you feel.
Start a conversation with someone.
Change your thinking to make it more positive. Here’s a two minute exercise you can do the next time you are feeling lonely. Think of one person who means a lot to you – someone you really like and trust. Now think of 5 reasons why you like them and for each of those reasons picture an experience you have shared with them. Maybe some fun you have had together or a deep conversation you have shared. Close your eyes and enjoy those memories. I bet you don’t feel so alone anymore do you 🙂 You can take this exercise one step further and reach out to that person – give them a call or send them a message.
Join a social club or take up a social activity. Seek out people with similar interests to you. Have you always wanted to learn to paint? Maybe now is the time to join a painting class. Do you play tennis? Then join the local tennis club. Love reading? Find a book club. Love running? Join your local Saturday morning park run.
Find a distracting activity. Occupy yourself with a new hobby or challenge yourself by learning something new.
The following two ‘tools’ didn’t come up in The Loneliness Experiment, but I think they are invaluable:
Join a support group. Loneliness is common amongst people struggling with chronic illness or pain. Poor health can isolate you because you do not have the ability or energy to take part in social or community-based interactions. So try joining a support-group for your condition. It always helps to know you are not alone in your condition and to talk to someone who ‘knows what it feels like’.
Volunteer work. There are so many people and causes out there in need of a helping hand. Giving a bit of your time and energy to other people can really help you connect with like-minded people and also give you a sense of belonging and a purpose.
If you are alone, feeling isolated or left out, then start with whichever ‘tool’ you can find. The important thing is to have a ‘sense of purpose’ or a strategy to overcome your loneliness.
“Loneliness is not lack of company, loneliness is lack of purpose.”
Can loneliness be a positive experience?
The British Loneliness Experiment also included in their results the following point that I think is really important to consider: 41% of people think loneliness can sometimes be a positive experience.
You may be wondering how on earth loneliness can be a positive experience but, as my yoga teacher says when I feel I am stretched to my limits, “find peace in the space”.
I drive my kids mad with a similar phrase when they tell me they are bored: “it’s good for you to be bored because it wakes up your imagination” (and yes, they do roll their eyes when I say that). So maybe a bit of loneliness is good for us because it gives us time to get to know ourselves.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
I’ve always avoided this topic because it is so emotive and controversial and if you are looking for answers as to whether or not you should vaccinate your child, I’m afraid this is the wrong place to look.
In my personal view, it is not a question of whether or not it is best to vaccinate as both sides have equally good arguments. It is really just a question of doing what is best for your child, remembering that every child is unique.
I know that for some parents whether to vaccinate your child or not is a huge decision that is often accompanied by a lot of guilt and confusion. I suggest that before you make the decision you find a Functional Medicine doctor who can spend some time with you and your child and help guide you to making the safest decision for your child’s particular situation.
I’ve just read a great article that I would like to share with you because it is about how to prepare your child for vaccinations. It is written by Dr Fitzgerald, a Functional Medicine doctor based in Connecticut. You can read the full article here.
Can your child be at risk of developing a vaccine-related condition?
When considering the topic of vaccinations, it is important to think of your child’s health and genetic susceptibilities. According to Fitzgerald, there are specific factors that researchers have found increase a child’s risk of developing adverse effects from vaccinations.
These factors include:
a medical or family history of autoimmunity or allergy
a negative reaction to a previous vaccine
being an asymptomatic carrier of autoantibodies
having genetic variations in the HLA gene family.
If your child falls into one of these categories, then chat to your doctor about what extra precautions you can take before vaccinating and how you can adjust the vaccination schedule to decrease the risks of adverse side effects.
How can you prepare your child before a vaccination?
The table below outlines Fitzgerald’s recommendations but please note, as she says herself: “these recommendations are of course no guarantee of outcome”.
Do not vaccinate when your child is sick or around people who are sick.
If your child is at daycare, try to vaccinate on a Friday to avoid your child being exposed to other sick children at daycare.
Think about the food your child eats as well as their environment – pro-inflammatory foods such as sugar or junk food; pollutants such as cigarette smoke; and other toxins found in baby care and home care products put unnecessary stress on the body.
Step 1: Begin 3 weeks before vaccinating and continue for 1 week after.
IMPORTANT: Please talk to your healthcare provider before beginning these recommendations and please ensure you choose only paediatric-specific products.
For ages 5-12 months, per day:
For ages 1-5 years, per day:
Vitamin D (800 IU) Vitamin A (1,500 IU) Omega 3 (500 mg/d EPA + DHA) Probiotics (1/4-1/2 tsp)
Vitamin D (1,200 IU) Vitamin A (2,000 IU) Omega 3 (1,000 mg/d EPA + DHA) Probiotics (1/2 tsp)
Step 2: For the ‘critical three days’ (the day before, the day of, and the day after vaccination).
Keep your child hydrated and also let them enjoy the following bath.
Chamomile, elder flowers &/or lemon balm:- – steep 1 cup of dried herbs in 8 cups water – keep covered and boil for 30 minutes – strain and pour into a warm bath – add Epsom salts to the water.
I would like to end this blog with these very wise words from Dr Michael Stone:
“I have had family members crippled with polio in Pullman, Washington; a cousin who died at age 10, 8 hours after the initial symptoms of pneumococcal meningitis in Corvallis, Oregon; I have held babies dying of diphtheria in Thailand and have watched young children in our under vaccinated community develop ventilator dependent pertussis in north Idaho. On the other hand, I have also watched more than one child following an MMR at 18 months (Medford, Oregon) develop severe fever and started tumbling down the autism spectrum disorder abyss.
It is exactly because these two extremes have been lived through by me that I feel this is where the balance of this conversation needs to be had. Right smack dab in the middle of these opposing realities: to have vaccines or not tohave vaccines in our clinic practice is not the answer.” Michael Stone, MD.
My 10-year old daughter and her cat, Cleo, have made another cookery video for you. This is a regular breakfast in our house but equally delicious as a dessert. It is loaded with antioxidant rich berries as well as all your ‘good fats’ in your seeds & nuts. It is also really quick and easy….always helpful early in the morning! Hope you enjoy it 🙂
Are you one of those people who thinks a lot about health? Who is always trying to read more and learn more about healthy living and how best to help yourself? Are you always following the latest research, currently ‘eating keto’, drinking bullet-proof coffee or ‘drowning in green juice’? Yet somehow you still don’t feel that great? Are still tired or sick or just can’t sleep?
Can I make a suggestion? Step out of the ‘health-race’ for a while. Take a break from trying to make yourself well, from paying someone else to heal you, from taking supplements or shakes to make you whole. Instead, take some time to just be yourself.
Healing starts when you let yourself be yourself.
Every time I have seen a genuine, life-changing shift in a person’s health, it has always started with them accepting themselves for who they are, accepting their illness, accepting their injuries and accepting their scars. As Brené Brown says:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.”
The word heal is derived from the Old English word hāl, meaning whole. If you feel you are not whole, that you are broken in some way; or if you deny, suppress or ignore a part of you then how can you expect to be well?
I know that sometimes it is incredibly painful to acknowledge what has happened in life (be it a great loss, trauma or difficult upbringing), but everything that happens to us makes us who we are.
Do you think that maybe, instead of taking another pill or following a new diet, it is time for you to stop, look at where you have come from and congratulate yourself for getting through it? Stop and say well done to yourself.
Acknowledge that above all you are a survivor.
What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? …. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”
If you are struggling to fall asleep at night then try a warm, soothing, milky drink after dinner. Although cold milk is known to thicken mucous secretions and so is best avoided if you are prone to post-nasal drip or sinus problems, according to ayurvedic medicine heated milk does not do this.
Our cardamon milk recipe below is adapted from the ayurvedic recipe for “golden milk” which has been used for centuries to help induce a good night’s sleep. Golden milk usually contains turmeric but as my 10-year old daughter dislikes turmeric (and she made the attached video), we left it out of the recipe.
Enjoy this delicious, calming, warm drink as the perfect addition to your bedtime routine. It only takes a few minutes to make and really helps induce sleep and relaxation. Best of all, kids love it !
When discussing hormones it’s difficult to know where to begin. We could start by looking at different disorders related to hormonal problems: for example premenstrual syndrome, menopausal problems, infertility, thyroid disorders, weight problems, depression, chronic fatigue….the list is endless.
Or we could start by looking at different treatment options and how they work. For example, medication or supplements.
Yet personally, I think the best place to start is by looking at your day-to-day life and working out why your hormones aren’t behaving as best they should. Often it is because you are simply ignoring (or avoiding) at least one of the basic rules of good health:
manage your stress
So simple to say yet actually so difficult to follow!
Over the next few blogs I’m going to cover what really damages your hormonal cycles. Today we start with something that most of us struggle with on a day-to-day basis – stress.
Manage your stress.
I know it is easier said than done, but chronic stress wreaks havoc on your hormones and if you have a hormonal problem you really need to assess your stress levels and ability to cope with stress.
Eating well, exercising regularly, giving yourself “time-out” and also facing what is causing stress in your life are absolutely vital to the health of your hormones.
Stress, cortisol and the “pregnenolone steal”
The primary hormone your body releases in times of chronic stress is cortisol. The building block for cortisol is pregnenolone, which happens to be the same building block for your sex hormones (oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone).
If you have chronically high cortisol levels from stress you will not produce sufficient quantities of sex hormones and so can suffer from imbalances such as infertility, menstrual disorders, mood swings and low libido.
Stress, cortisol and your blood sugar levels
One of the functions of cortisol is to raise your blood glucose levels. However, constantly high levels of glucose in your blood stream lead to insulin resistance and the effects of insulin resistance include fatigue, increased appetite, abdominal weight gain, and eventually Type II Diabetes Mellitus.
Stress, cortisol and insomnia
In addition, chronically high levels of cortisol will upset your sleeping patterns. Cortisol is released in a cyclical rhythm, peaking in the mornings at approximately 8am and then waning in the afternoons, between 3-4pm.
This rhythm enables you to get up and function in the mornings and then relax and ‘switch off’ at the end of the day. If, however, cortisol is constantly being released into your bloodstream due to ongoing stress, then this natural rhythm and hence your sleeping rhythms become displaced.
High levels of cortisol circulating in your blood stream in the middle of the night means you will be wide awake in the middle of the night. And when these levels crash early in the morning you will too.
So dealing with stress is of paramount importance to the general functioning of your hormones.
What is important to be aware of is that chronic stress comes in many forms, not just the obvious emotional, financial, relationship, work stress that we are all so aware of – long term illness, injury, pain or inflammation are also stressors to the body, raising cortisol levels and disrupting our hormonal balance.