5 Common SIBO Testing Mistakes

SIBO is fast becoming recognised as one of the main causes of IBS in over 60% of people.  With that in mind, I wanted to write a quick blog to explain the importance of getting tested in the right way.  I can’t tell you how often I see clients who have come to me having done a SIBO test elsewhere that has been conducted with several mistakes.

So here are 5 common SIBO testing mistakes to check out when you are going for a SIBO test:

1. Is the SIBO test testing for both methane and hydrogen gas?

The herbal anti-microbial supplements used for methane are different from those used for hydrogen, so it is important that the test looks at both gases.

2. Is the SIBO test using lactulose or glucose to detect SIBO?

10g lactulose is my go to substrate to use in testing because it picks up the majority of the small intestine.  If a client does a SIBO test and it comes back negative, but I have a strong suspicion of SIBO I will then test glucose next, as glucose picks up SIBO in the upper part of the digestive tract.  A glucose test alone won’t necessarily tell us what is going on in that lower part of the small intestine.

3. Is the SIBO test a 3 hour test or a 2 hour test?

It is important to see what is going on in that third hour as in the third hour we expect to see a rise in gas as the substrate hits the large intestine and the bacteria there ferment it.  However, if someone has a flat line across the whole of the test with no rise in that third hour, it is possible that they actually have a third type of SIBO, hydrogen sulphide SIBO, which again requires different supplements and even a different diet.  I myself had a flatline SIBO test which I was told by the lab I used to use was negative.  It turned out that I had hydrogen sulphide SIBO which had gone undiagnosed.  I want to prevent you from having the same false test readings.

4. Is the machine calibrated regularly and is carbon dioxide gas measured in the breath samples to check whether they are valid samples or not?

This can be important in determining the accuracy of the test as many mistakes can be made when collecting your breath samples.

5. Have you followed the correct preparation ahead of the SIBO test?

I’ve seen clients be given foods in their prep diets that can skew the accuracy of the test.  I have even seen clients who haven’t been told about the importance of doing a prep diet before testing, what supplements to avoid, etc.  All of these factors can affect the accuracy of your test results.  It is important that whoever you are working with gives you clear and accurate prep guidelines.

If you suspect that SIBO might be behind your IBS, I hope that this blog will help prevent you from wasting your time and resources on sub-standard testing methods and coming away with false negative or false positive test results.

Or read my blog on IBS and SIBO here

Chocolate Fruit & Nut Clusters

These fruit and nut clusters are ideal as a sweet treat over the Christmas period, or even as a lighter alternative to Christmas pudding.

Kohlrabi Slaw

Kohlrabi is one of the ugliest vegetables I know. It looks like it should be a root vegetable but it is, in fact, a brassica – part of the same family as broccoli and kale. You can eat all parts – the bulb and the leaves – both raw and cooked. It is delicious steamed, sautéed, roasted, in soup or stew, or eaten raw. • To roast, steam the bulb for 5 minutes, then roast for 45 minutes. • Steam (up to 12 minutes). • Stir fry (up to 6 minutes). • The leaves can be cooked like cabbage.

5 Things You Need to Know About Castor Oil Packing to Detox Your Liver

Castor Oil

1. The History of the Castor Oil Pack

The therapeutic usage of castor oil packing was first discovered by Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) and is now regarded by naturopaths around the world as a very effective tool for liver detox. 

2. The Method of Action that the Castor Oil Pack Uses to Liver Detox

The essential fatty acids, in particular the ricinoleic acid that castor oil contains, encourages movement of chemical energy within the body, resulting in a detoxifying effect. 

Castor oil also contains all the colours of the spectrum and colour & light are crucial to energy production and movement within the body. 

3. Reported Benefits of the Castor Oil Pack for liver detox include

It has been reported that castor oil packing has many benefits to health. The health benefits include:

  • More effective elimination of waste
  • Reduction of nausea
  • Pain relief
  • Improved digestion
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Increased relaxation
  • Immune enhancing benefits

4. Who Shouldn’t Use A Castor Oil Pack for Liver Detox

Castor oil packs shouldn’t be used in pregnancy as you do not want to create a cleanse when someone is pregnant. They can be used in a pre-conception programme with the aim of cleansing before conception takes place. 

You should also make sure that you are moving your bowels well when doing castor oil packs to ensure that whatever you are shifting is actually exiting the body.  For that very reason it is advised to do them together with enemas (read my blog on coffee enemas for liver detox here).

They can also be used on other parts of the body but you must ensure you pack your liver at the same time and, as mentioned above, that you are using enemas to see that waste out of the body.

5. How to Do A Castor Oil Pack for Liver Detox

  • Take your castor oil packing material (cotton – I use the large one from Nutrigold and cut it in half) and fold in two.
  • Drizzle the castor oil over the cloth – it needs to be wet (but not dripping) – you can aid this process by rubbing the cloth together on itself to spread the castor oil around more thoroughly.
  • Place the castor oil pack over the liver (located on the right side, underneath the right side of the rib cage. 
  • Either use a castor oil pack holder to prevent leakage or place a big old sheet or towel over it and pin in place. Wear some old clothes over the top as it is very greasy and will probably stain your clothes / bed sheets and is very difficult to get out of fabric.
  • Place a hot water bottle or heated wheat bag over the top of that area to warm the oil – this assists its uptake by the liver via the skin.
  • Because it can create a lot of elimination it is wise to start by packing for just 15 minutes 3 consecutive days in a week.
  • The next week you can increase this to 30 minutes if you are reacting ok, 45 minutes the week after, and so on in 15 minute intervals until you are up to 1 ½ hours for 3 consecutive days a week.
  • Because they are very calming they should ideally be used in the evenings, but this is not essential – whatever fits your lifestyle.
  • Ideally a castor oil pack would be followed by a water enema the next morning if possible to ensure that whatever is being released is being fully exited from the body. 
  • The pack can be stored in a plastic sealed bag or a container in the fridge and reused for 30-40 times (i.e. around 2-3 months) before the cloth needs to be discarded and a new pack made – if you keep it longer the oil may start to go rancid. 

If you are interested in reading around the benefits of castor oil packing take a look at William A McGarey’s book, “The Oil that Heals”.

5 Tips on How to Detox This Spring Equinox

5 Tips on How to Detox This Spring Equinox

This month sees the arrival of the spring equinox on the 20th March. The spring equinox is the most powerful time of the year to detox our bodies.

The spring equinox is the point in the year at which the Earth’s axis begins to tilt towards the sun. It is the point where we move from the dark into the light and from the winter into the spring. We see signs of renewed life all around us as a result of the increased warmth and light, don’t we?

5 Things You Need to Know About Coffee Enemas

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), at the time of the spring equinox the alignment of the planets causes our energy to switch from hibernation state to a more open energy that allows us to cleanse.

At the spring equinox we are also moving into the wood element, according to Chinese medicine, which is all about the liver. It’s a great time to cleanse our liver that works so hard for us every day. This liver is also the planner of the body – it governs purpose and vision.

So how can we make the most of this forthcoming opportunity to set us up for our plans for health and wellbeing for the year ahead? Well here are five tips to get you on your way for your detox this Spring Equinox!

Let your body detox through symptoms

Around the time of the forthcoming equinox it is possible that our bodies will try to cleanse more. This could take the form of rashes, excess mucus production masquerading as a cold, vomiting or diarrhoea for example. If we let our bodies cleanse without suppressing the symptoms, we can often feel better than before we started!

What’s the best way to do so? Number one is rest! How many of us actually do this when we are ill? It’s not acceptable in our fast-paced modern society to rest when you have “just a cold” for example. But our bodies need to conserve energy to cleanse themselves of anything unwanted, so let’s give them a fighting chance.

Fresh air, daylight and hydration are also important when we are trying to cleanse. If you are resting in bed, open the window so that you have a flow of fresh air coming into the room. And for your daylight prescription, 20 minutes a day of daylight straight into the retinas can be invaluable.

We hear the phrase, “feed a cold, starve a fever” don’t we? But the phrase is actually, “If you feed a cold, you’ll have to starve a fever.” Digestion takes energy and if we are not feeling like eating at that time, we should listen to our bodies – they are trying to conserve energy for healing. Give the body that energy by resting, hydrating and either fasting or keeping our diet as simple and as liquid as possible. This will allow the body the energy it needs to heal more rapidly and effectively.

Hydration is the foundation for detoxification

Water for detoxification

We cannot cleanse effectively if we are dehydrated. Hydration is essential for detoxification. It allows waste to exit our cells. It’s also essential for the flow of lymph which helps to filter unwanted substances from the blood. It aids the circulation of the blood which takes waste away from our cells and brings nutrients and oxygen to them. It allows us to form urine for excretion of unwanted substances and to eliminate toxins via our bowels. It allows us to take in nutrients from our food.

Pure water is essential to every single cleansing process in our bodies. But I rarely meet people who are taking in 2 litres of plain, still, pure water on a consistent daily basis. If this resonates with you, use this month to start building up your hydration levels in line with the advice in my blog on hydration.

Using your diet to detox

Use this month to work on moving away from ready-made processed foods and towards fresh and whole foods. Maybe thinking about switching to organic fruit and vegetables that are free from toxic pesticides. Also have a think about moving to organic meat. Do we want those nasty toxic substances that go into non-organically produced meats’ feed inside us, such as antibiotic residues which we know can destroy our gut flora? The same applies for eggs – maybe use this month to switch to organic eggs too. Have a think about the source of your fish – is it Wild Alaskan, from the least polluted waters, or is it full of mercury residue?

If you are vegan or vegetarian think about consuming more wholefoods, such as freshly prepared shortgrain brown rice or pulses. It can be easy to have an unhealthy vegan or vegetarian diet that is full of processed or microwaveable foods.

All of us will do well to stop using the microwave. Microwaves change the structure of whatever we put in them to the point where our bodies don’t recognise it as food or drink, rather as a toxin that we need to get rid of.

Have a think about whether you have any foods in your diet that are stressful to the body such as gluten and dairy, or toxic to our bodies such as damaged fats, sugar or salt.

The change of the seasons is also a time to think about eating local and seasonal produce. Our bodies need different foods in the autumn and winter than they do in the spring and summer.

Fasting for detoxification

Fasting is not suitable in pregnancy or breast feeding, for people with eating disorders, for diabetics or people with kidney failure unless under supervision, for people on medication unless your prescribing physician states that you can stop your medication for the duration of the fast, nor for those people who are very weak, very depleted in energy or significantly underweight.

If you are not in any of these categories, you could fast for 1-3 days without supervision over the spring equinox. If you are a beginner to fasting and haven’t got a clean diet already, you might want to think about a simple fast like a mono fast, where you eat only one food for a day.

A shortgrain brown rice fast is a nice one for beginners. If you can’t bear the thought of just eating plain shortgrain brown rice for a day you could add some good quality cold-pressed, dark glass bottled, organic extra virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon for flavour (which technically isn’t a mono fast, but whatever gets you through the day!). Use a pound of dried organic shortgrain brown rice, soak it in some filtered water for around 8 hours and then cook it well in plenty of filtered water for an optimal hydrating effect. Refrigerate and eat hot throughout the day.

You could also choose a single vegetable or fruit (although if you have candida or blood sugar issues you might want to stay away from a fruit fast because of the amount of fructose it will introduce). You want about 3 pounds in weight of the one fruit or vegetable, spread throughout the day. Grapefruit is a great choice as it helps the liver to detoxify effectively. Other ideas include lightly steamed (3-4 minutes) broccoli, carrots, apples, pears or grapes.

Make sure whatever you choose is organic. Also eat in a state of calm with no distractions and chew your food well to maximise digestion so that more of your energy can go towards cleansing instead of trying to digest.

Other options include juice fasting and water fasting for those of you who already have a clean diet and are ready to really cleanse! I recommend that water fasts are done for 24 hours unless under the supervision of a qualified nutritionist. For a juice fast I recommend 1 or 3 days without supervision. When you give the body the chance to cleanse, you can get all sorts of reactions as it lets go of those toxins.

If you are doing a 1 day fast you will need to do 2 days beforehand to walk into the fast and 2 days afterwards to walk out of the fast. This means eating less protein rich foods, cutting out animal produce and processed foods, eating more wholefoods (so no refined carbohydrates like white rice or white pasta) and increasing your intake of raw fruit and vegetables during that time. If you are doing a 3 day fast you will need a three day walk in and out.

Ideally you want the day before and after your fast to be a day where you are eating only raw fruits and vegetables if you are doing a juice or water fast. Breaking a fast with heavy meals can shock the body, leading to a stress response, and stop the cleanse that you have worked so hard to produce!

Natural detox techniques and aids

Do some detoxification techniques to aid elimination whilst on a fast. If you start to allow your cells to cleanse but you are not excreting your waste efficiently, you can do more harm than good and feel dreadful. Enemas and castor oil packs are two naturopathic techniques that offer a great way to ensure that the waste gets out of the body.

man stretching on seashore
Yoga pose | Photographer: Artem Bali | Source: Unsplash

Having a gentle stroll in nature or some yoga can help to move your lymph, enabling those toxins from your cells to move and be processed by your liver. A pinch of cayenne pepper in some freshly squeezed lemon or lime can help to move circulation to ensure that your blood is getting those toxins from lymph into liver for elimination.

The other thing is to rest! If we aren’t resting we are thwarting the bodies attempt to use its energy to get those toxins out. Give yourself time off if possible whilst you cleanse over the equinox, perhaps even go away somewhere peaceful.

And remember that just the sight and smell of food can stimulate digestion even if we aren’t eating, so it’s not a great time to socialise around food or be cooking for family so bulk cook beforehand if you have to cook for the rest of the family so that you aren’t having to cook during your fast.

With under three weeks to go until the biggest cleanse of the year, preparation is key to making the most out of this opportunity to give our bodies a really good spring cleanse!

5 Things You Need to Know About Coffee Enemas

Picture of coffee beans on a white backgroundWith the spring equinox coming up on the 20th March 2019, there is no better time of the forthcoming year to cleanse the liver. Coffee enemas are a simple and effective way to do this.

How do coffee enemas work?

Coffee enemas have been around as early as the 1800s. Studies done in the 1920s showed various therapeutic effects from coffee enemas. Max Gerson, founder of the Gerson Therapy, further studied the effects of coffee enemas and used them as part of his treatment programmes.

When a litre of coffee solution is introduced into the colon it passes through the colon wall into the system of blood vessels that take blood from the intestines to the liver, the portal system, as opposed to passing through the whole digestive system. This is the reason why I personally do not recommend coffee colonics, but only enemas.

Various compounds in the coffee have specific effects. For example, the palmitic acid that coffee contains, increases glutathione S-transferase, an enzyme critical in quenching free radicals and the master-antioxidant used by our liver to detoxify toxins, by 700%! Free radicals can cause damage to our cells and our DNA.

The coffee also causes the bile ducts to dilate so that more toxins can be excreted through bile into the intestines for exit out of the body. At the same time the theophylline and theobromine in the coffee cause dilation of the blood vessels, allowing more blood to pass through the system for filtering by the liver.

How will I feel after a coffee enema?

Most people report increased mental clarity and energy after a coffee enema. They can also help to normalise bowel movements, particularly if you suffer from constipation, contrary to many people’s fears that using enemas will make the bowels weaker. The fluid actually increases peristalsis, the movement in the gastrointestinal system that aids the movement of substances through and, in the case of unwanted or indigestible substances, out of the body.

However, coffee enemas are not suitable for everyone (see below) and certainly if you feel wired or jittery afterwards with as little as a teaspoon of coffee then it would be wise to try the alternatives suggested below instead.

How to make your coffee enema solution

Organic Ground Coffee

Coffee enemas should be done with organic ground coffee and never instant coffee! I would suggest starting low with a teaspoon if you are sensitive to coffee or you have anxiety or adrenal fatigue and see how you get on. If you have no health issues and don’t fall into the category of people who shouldn’t do a coffee enema listed below, then you can start with a heaped dessertspoon of ground coffee. You can slowly increase up to as much as 3 tablespoons if there are no adverse reactions.

  • Place the coffee in a non-aluminium pan with two pints of filtered water. The filtered water is essential, as tap or plastic bottled water will introduce more toxins into the system.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil and allow it to boil for 3 minutes, then simmer for another 15 minutes.
  • Strain the solution through a stainless steel fine meshed sieve or through unbleached coffee filter paper and allow it to cool to body temperature.
  • Top up to 1 litre with some body temperature filtered water and place in your enema kit.

If you are pushed for time and don’t have time to let the mixture cool down, you can just use half a pint of liquid in your pan and top it up to make a litre of body temperature water with a mixture of cold and boiling filtered water.

Open the tap at the end of your enema kit over a sink or toilet and let the fluid run through the tube until you have fluid with no gaps all the way along the tube – the gaps are air bubbles, which should be got rid of as they make the enema difficult to administer. You can help the process by squeezing the top of the tube where it meets the bag. Close the tap as soon as you have released the air bubbles.

Picture of an enema kit and its components on a white background

It’s a good idea to add about 10 oral magnesium drops or a magnesium citrate capsule opened up into the solution, stirring well. Coffee enemas can cause a loss of electrolytes so this helps to re-balance things. Ideally a pint of freshly made green juice a day (unless you have digestive issues) can be a great way to re-balance those electrolytes, as it floods the body with potassium. It is also preferable to do a coffee enema in the morning as the caffeine can affect sleep.

How to administer a coffee enema

Grab a thick folded down to place underneath your bottom and lie down somewhere comfortable within quick and easy reach of a toilet. Some people like to do enemas in the bath as they find that the heat enables them to retain the solution. I find that slightly pulling apart with both hands on my lower abdomen helps me to retain the enema. Others find that lying on their right side with their legs pulled up slightly can help them to retain. Then hold the enema for 15 minutes and release it into the toilet. It will help you to retain it if you have had a bowel movement beforehand or flushed out your colon with a water flush enema beforehand, using one to two pints of body temperature filtered water and allowing it to be expelled as soon as the urge to defecate comes.

Coffee enemas are not suitable for everyone

Enemas of any description should not be used during pregnancy. Some people are very sensitive to caffeine.

Some people have a genetic variation which means they cannot detoxify caffeine efficiently. Other people, particularly people with adrenal fatigue / M.E., can find coffee enemas too stimulating.

Coffee enemas would also be contraindicated with diarrhoea; heart, kidney or respiratory failure; inflammatory bowel diseases; removal of part of the colon or intestines; high blood pressure and post-surgery unless under supervision from a qualified naturopathic nutritionist.

Whilst absorption of caffeine is minimal with a coffee enema in comparison to drinking caffeine, there is still some absorption taking place.

It’s also important to make sure you are well hydrated, i.e. you are drinking 4 pints a day of still, pure water – read my blog on hydration for more information on the best way to get yourself hydrated. Coffee enemas can be quite dehydrating on the body so are really not a good idea until you have your hydration levels up.

If you are unsure how you react to coffee, start very slowly with a teaspoon of coffee in your coffee solution. If you react ok to this, you can then start to slowly increase a teaspoon at a time.

If you find that you cannot tolerate the caffeine because it makes you feel wired, gives you palpitations or causes shallow breathing or a feeling of anxiety, then you can try an enema solution with 2 level teaspoons of choline bitartrate powder instead of caffeine. This is also good for cleansing the liver but does so in a much gentler way.

The other option, as long as you do not have Coeliac disease, is wheatgrass powder. Ensure the wheatgrass powder is pure and organic and start slowly with a ¼ tsp in your enema solution. Wheatgrass enemas are harder to hold onto because they are so detoxifying.

The microbiome

More and more studies are emerging about “the microbiome”.  This is the community of microbes that live inside us.  We have microbiomes on our skin, in our gut, vagina, mouth and nose. Practically any cavity inside us can have microbes inhabiting there.

We have about 10x as many microbes living inside us, or on us, than we have human cells (and we have approximately 75 trillion cells)!  This indicates the idea that we should be scared of microbes or bacteria is a little outdated.

Probiotics

The growing interest in particularly the gut microbiome has led to multiple probiotics coming onto the market.  The supermarkets are filled with “gut friendly” bacteria-laden yoghurt.

Is taking care of that ecosystem inside us as simple as swallowing a probiotic every day or eating some yoghurt?

Well, unfortunately, the answer is no!

Probiotics and fermented foods cannot repopulate your bowel flora – as they only stay in the system temporarily.  It’s the prebiotics that feed the microbes and can ensure the survival & flourishing of the ones we want in our systems.   

What are probiotics?

According to WHO, probiotics are “live organisms which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”  However, the cultures we get in supermarket yoghurts cannot survive the pasteurisation process that those yoghurts go through.

In order for a yoghurt to be considered a probiotic food it must contain live cultures.  Whilst it is true that raw yoghurt can contain live cultures, again these effects are only temporary.

Therefore, using probiotics and fermented foods has to be done alongside eating prebiotic, bacteria-feeding foods or supplements to really be effective.

The most well researched prebiotic supplements are lactulose, fos and gos. However, research around acacia gum and partially hydrolysed guar gum is also emerging.

What are prebiotics? Prebiotic foods include what we call “FODMAPs” which are highly fermentable carbohydrates. These include whole foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, onions, garlic and brightly coloured organic veggies.

However, these foods and supplements are often poorly tolerated with people with SIBO and IBS. Therefore, working on the IBS is essential so that someone can then work on building their gut microbiome. 

Probiotic quality

We are beginning to see that throwing multiple strain probiotic supplements, is not necessarily an effective strategy.

It’s about getting the right person for the job because different probiotic strains have different therapeutic qualities.  For example, Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG, has been shown to help cell growth in the intestines and enhance the protection of the gut wall.

Some probiotics act as anti-microbials against pathogenic (disease-causing) micro-organisms and positively affect our immunity. Furthermore, they produce beneficial compounds in the gut, have anti-inflammatory effects, speed up or slow down gut transit time, and even alter our brain chemistry and metabolism!

So, how do you know that you are getting the right probiotic for the job?

Do your research! We’ve all done it, myself included, purchased a supplement because we’ve read somewhere that “probiotics are good”.  But, this is not an effective approach.  

Probiotic dosing

Importantly, dosing is about getting the right amount of intake. Unless research shows lesser doses of a particular probiotic to be effective, the general rule of thumb is that a single strain should contain at least 10 billion CFU to be effective.

Consequently, each strain within multi-strain probiotics should contain at least 10 billion CFU.  Many people don’t think about particular strains or dosages of a probiotic, so it’s a good point to remember.   

Furthermore, we have many different species of bacteria living within us.  Stool testing can show which species we have and diversity is the key. We’ve all heard of lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, but research is showing that these aren’t the only two species that can have significant impacts upon someone’s health.

Akermansia muciniphila and faecalbacterium prausnitzii, the new kids on the block in terms of research, have been shown to be protective against leaky gut and inflammation and to be good indicators of increased microbial diversity in the gut.

In conclusion, certain prebiotics feed certain species of bacteria, so by knowing what exists within us we can target our food choices more specifically to increase certain populations.   

Fermented foods.

Fermented foods can also help feed the populations in the gut.  They cannot specifically colonise in the way that probiotics can, but they can certainly be used to increase the growth and diversity of beneficial bacteria in our microbiome.

Good choices include raw sauerkraut, raw kimchi, tempeh, miso and kefir.  Heat can destroy the bacteria, so add your choices to your food at the end of cooking instead of heating them up within the food, and ensure that your kimchi and sauerkraut are raw and unpasteurised! 

Finally, each microbiome, whether it be skin, gut, oral or vaginal, is drastically different so we can’t take a one size fits all approach.  Suffice to say that the vaginal microbiome is essential for urinary tract health and reducing fungal or bacterial infections.

The oral microbiome is a whole article in itself!  And our skin microbiome, which is there to provide us with protection, has taken a real bashing from the new age of antibacterial wipes and sprays that plague our supermarket shelves! 

Key takeaways

So, what are the key takeaways? Emerging research is showing how important certain microbes that live on and inside of us are for overall health.

But, eating supermarket yoghurt and taking probiotics with no actual goal in mind with no idea of what each particular strain does and whether it contains a therapeutic dose, is not going to make much of an impact on increasing your microbial diversity.

Stool testing, which can be ordered through a naturopathic nutritionist, will give you a much better idea of the health of your gut microbiome and your overall gut health.

Once armed with that information, your practitioner can help you choose the right probiotics and prebiotics for the job by looking at the research, mixed with some raw unpasteurised fermented foods and by adding onions, garlic and eating around 14 different coloured whole foods a day!     

References 

Aureli, P., A. Fiore, et al. (2010). “National survey outcomes on commercial probiotic food supplements in Italy.” Int. J Food   
Bao, Y., Y. Zhang, et al. (2010). “Screening of potential probiotic properties of Lactobacillus fermentum   
Cao, Y., Shen, J., & Ran, Z. H. (2014). Association between Faecalibacterium prausnitzii Reduction and Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review of the Literature. Gastroenterology research and practice, 2014, 872725.  
Carlson, J., Erickson, J., Lloyd, B., Slavin, J. (2018). ‘Health Effects and Sources of Prebiotic Dietary Fiber.’ Current Developments in Nutrition, Volume 2, Issue 3.    
Hawrelak, J. A. (2013). Probiotics. Textbook of Natural Medicine.  
Hill, C., Guarner, F., Reid, G., Gibson, G. R., Merenstein, D. J., Pot, B., … & Calder, P. C. (2014). Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 11(8), 506.   
Huebner, J., R. L. Wehling, et al. (2007). “Functional activity of commercial prebiotics.” International Dairy Journal.  
Kristensen, N. B., Bryrup, T., Allin, K. H., Nielsen, T., Hansen, T. H., & Pedersen, O. (2016). Alterations in fecal microbiota composition by probiotic supplementation in healthy adults: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Genome medicine, 8(1), 52.   
Miquel, S. et al. (2013). Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and human intestinal health. Current opinion in microbiology, 16(3), 255-261. 
Mohammedsaeed, W., McBain, A. J., Cruickshank, S. M., & O’Neill, C. A. (2014). Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG inhibits the toxic effects of Staphylococcus aureus on epidermal keratinocytes. Applied and environmental microbiology, 80(18), 5773-81.   
Naito, Y., Uchiyama, K., & Takagi, T. (2018). A next-generation beneficial microbe: Akkermansia muciniphila. Journal of clinical biochemistry and nutrition, 63(1), 33-35.   
Patel, S., & Goyal, A. (2012). The current trends and future perspectives of prebiotics research: a review. 3 Biotech, 2(2), 115–125.  
Rao, R. K., & Samak, G. (2013). Protection and Restitution of Gut Barrier by Probiotics: Nutritional and Clinical Implications. Current nutrition and food science, 9(2), 99-107. 
Reid, G. (2006). Probiotics to prevent the need for, and augment the use of, antibiotics. The Canadian journal of infectious diseases & medical microbiology. 17(5), 291-5.

Genetic Testing – What is Epigenetics and Why Should We Care?

What are genes? 

So back to classroom biology!  We inherit 23 chromosomes from our father and 23 from our mother.  These chromosomes act as storehouses for our DNA, which contain our 23,000 or so genes.  Each gene codes for the production of a particular protein within the body.  Those proteins have important functions.

An example of this is the gene that codes for the production of the enzyme that degrades our stress hormones when the stressor has passed.

Another example is the gene that codes to produce the enzyme that helps us make nitric oxide to keep our blood vessels pliable.  Or the gene that codes for the break down homocysteine, which research suggests is implicated in cardiovascular disease. 

The DNA that makes up our genes contains sequences but, as we are all different, so are our genes and we can have variations in those sequences.  These variations are called single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs (pronounced “snips”) for short! So when you hear people say they have this gene or that gene, they have a genetic variation.   

The new paradigm shift in the way science looks at genes 

Nutrigenomics looks at how a particular gene variant is behaving and how we can change that behaviour with certain nutrients.  This is an exciting and emerging field of science which is starting to show us that our genes are not our destiny.

Even more exciting is the field of epigenetics.  Research suggests that we can switch the expression (or behaviour) of our genes on or off through the environment we give them to live in, i.e. our internal environment.  In other words, our diet and our lifestyle can influence whether a particular gene variant is going to be damaging to us or not.   

I have a particular gene variant – what should I do? 

Those of you who know a little about this field may have already done some genetic testing and may have found out that you have certain SNPs.  But the trick is not to look at a particular SNP in isolation.  We need to consider the body as a whole, what other conditions someone might have, what medications they might be on and of course how these genes interact with each other.

Treating a particular SNP with a particular supplement is not a holistic approach and in some cases can actually do more harm than good.  For example, treating an MTFHR variant with methylfolate may be prudent in one individual but may have a completely different effect on someone else with the same variant.     

Is genetic testing for me or not? 

Picture of lab technician testing samplesMany people are terrified to find out whether they have a particular gene variant as certain gene variants can indicate a higher risk of certain diseases.

However, the scientific field of epigenetics is now showing that by upregulating or downregulating certain genes through diet and lifestyle, we can change the way they behave.

So knowing that certain foods or lifestyle factors such as sleep, exercise and stress reduction can influence whether or not that particular gene variant expresses itself can be incredibly empowering and motivate us to change the way we approach what we ingest or how we live our lives for the better.

Genetic testing puts you back in control

Epigenetics puts us in the driver’s seat as opposed to the outdated model of thinking that taught us that our genes are our destiny, something which we fall prey to and can do nothing about.   

Personally, I’d rather know if I had a gene that put me at a higher risk of heart disease if I ate a higher fat diet, for example, so that I could change my diet.

Example: The ketogenic diet

The ketogenic diet has been shown in research to have positive neurological effects, having been used as an effective treatment for epilepsy since the 1920s.  However, if I knew I had a gene that meant I was at higher risk of cholesterol, then I wouldn’t embark on a high fat ketogenic diet.   

But genetic testing really shouldn’t take the place of making diet and lifestyle changes, which lay the foundations for health and wellbeing.  The next step would be functional lab testing and genetic testing would really be the last stage, enabling some fine-tuning of a nutritional and lifestyle programme.   

Key message

So, the key message here is that we have more autonomy over our genes than we think. We have the ability to influence gene expression through our dietary and lifestyle choices.

And whilst it is well worth getting some testing done to establish what gene variants you have in order to prevent potentially chronic illness in the future, we still need to work on those lifestyle factors regardless of whether we have good genes or not, as our lifestyle factors can, as Dr Ben Lynch, N.D. says, “dirty” our genes! 

References  

Alegría-Torres, J. A., Baccarelli, A., & Bollati, V. (2011). ‘Epigenetics and lifestyle.’ Epigenomics, 3(3), 267-77. 
Barañano, K. W., & Hartman, A. L. (2008). The ketogenic diet: uses in epilepsy and other neurologic illnesses. Current treatment options in neurology, 10(6), 410-9. 
Bouchard-Mercier, A., Paradis, A. M., Rudkowska, I., Lemieux, S., Couture, P., & Vohl, M. C. (2013). ‘Associations between dietary patterns and gene expression profiles of healthy men and women: a cross-sectional study.’ Nutrition journal. 
Deans, C., & Maggert, K. A. (2015). ‘What do you mean, “epigenetic”?’ Genetics, 199(4), 887-96. 
Ganguly, P., & Alam, S. F. (2015). ‘Role of homocysteine in the development of cardiovascular disease.’ Nutrition journal, 14, 6.  
Hardy, T. M., & Tollefsbol, T. O. (2011). ‘Epigenetic diet: impact on the epigenome and cancer.’ Epigenomics, 3(4), 503-18. 
Imam, M. U., & Ismail, M. (2017). ‘The Impact of Traditional Food and Lifestyle Behavior on Epigenetic Burden of Chronic Disease.’ Global Challenges, 1(8), 1700043. 
Institut Pasteur .(2015). “Our epigenome is influenced by our habitat and lifestyle.” ScienceDaily.  

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How to Reduce Environmental Toxins in Your Home

When we think about living a healthy lifestyle, we often consider how to improve our diet, and get more exercise. What gets less attention though, are the products we use every day, which research has indicated could be detrimental to our health.

The good news is, there are plenty of ways to reduce these toxins. This blog will focus on those little things you can change to drastically reduce your daily exposure to toxins.   

My experience  

Before we get into talking about environmental toxicity and how to reduce it, I want to tell you a little about my story. When I was 24 I developed a neurological condition which led to my developing multiple chemical sensitivity. This sensitivity makes people very intolerant to any smells and chemicals, to the point it can make you feel physically sick and dizzy .

Studies have suggested that some individuals can’t detoxify these toxic substances very well and unfortunately I was one of them. Therefore, I had no choice but to clear my environment from chemicals and toxins.

As I did that, I noticed a variety of health benefits. The first thing I noticed was that my eczema completely cleared up! 

The rise of environmental toxicity  

The number of chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis is increasing every year. Since the industrial revolution, there have been around 80,000 chemicals introduced, but only around 1% have been tested for their impact on human health (Loki, 2015)  

Recent research has been produced showing the harmful effects of environmental toxins. Chemicals that have been linked to poor health include phthalates, parabens, triclosan, laureth sulphate and BPA. These chemicals are worryingly added to a lot of products we use on a day to day basis! (Sholl, 2011) 

Cleaning products  

It can be hard to imagine that cleaning products can have an effect on our bodies. But, it is believed that toxins in our environment can be absorbed into our bodies just as much as chemicals from food.

Unfortunately, lots of cleaning products have toxins in them that are suggested to be bad for our health. The reason companies are using these is because they are cheap and easy to mass produce.

However, it can actually be cheaper to use natural alternatives! 

Simple changes you can make to your cleaning cupboard:  

Clothes Washing:  

Washing Powder Alternatives  

Instead of using washing powder you can use something called an eco-egg. It’s an egg shaped container that has mineral containing balls, that help to clean your clothes. There are also soap nuts and brown little balls from a natural plant. All of which will  clean your clothes without chemicals.   

Softener Alternative  

We all love the feeling of soft clothes but there are much more natural and cheap ways to do the same thing. To soften your clothes, use ¼ cup of baking soda in the powder section of your washing machine.

To get the clothes softener smell you can use aromatherapy oils! You can either add it into the softener section of your washing machine or you can put 15-20 drops of essential oils on a tea towel in with your dryer. However, be careful if you have cats because many aromatherapy oils may be toxic to cats!  

NOTE – Check your choice of essential oil is all natural and doesn’t use perfumes! 

Floor, Toilet and Surface cleaners  

A simple mix of vinegar and tea tree oil can be used to clean lots of things in your home! Vinegar is a great natural cleaning product – if you don’t like the smell of vinegar you can also use lemons.

However, there are some great natural cleaning brands you can use, if you don’t want to make your own cleaning products. A great place to look for these is in health food stores. Just make sure you check the labels for parabens and other chemicals.

Another option is to invest in is a steam cleaner – this breaks down dirt without having to use any chemicals at all! 

Cleaning Mould 

Mould is unfortunately really common in the UK due to a lot of older houses and colder weather. Yet, studies suggest that mould is extremely toxic in our bodies.  The spores mould releases, contain toxic chemicals called mycotoxins which have detrimental effects on health. (Bush, 2006). Consequently, It is really important to minimise our exposure to mould due to its negative effect on health.  

You can breathe in mould spores when there is a build-up of mould in your home, which has been suggested to damage your immune system and potentially become carcinogenic (Edmonson, 2009). Mould can be removed using vinegar, or you can use baking soda mixed with essential oils to create a paste that will remove it.  

Household Dust  

Household dust can fall into the same category as mould because mould spores can get into dust which we then breathe in (Bush, 2006).  Therefore, it is important to regularly dust your surfaces. To do this you can use the solution of vinegar and tea tree oil mentioned earlier! 

Don’t be too clean  

This may sound like a strange tip but it is very important. Society has got more and more obsessed with removing germs and using anti-bacterial products constantly!

Recent studies have indicated it is important to allow your body to be exposed to some bacteria to build up the immune system.

Ironically, the over use of chemicals to try to remove germs could be making you feel poorly, as you breathe in more toxins which can damage your immune system.

Additionally, research suggests that antibacterial products can damage the skin by removing the natural layer of bacteria we have on our skin as an immune barrier. This allows toxins to pass through that skin barrier into our bloodstreams.  It can also age us by altering the natural state of our skin! 

Personal products 

Make up  

Make up is something many women wear daily so it is important to choose products that have natural and safe ingredients. Examples of harmful substances that have been scientifically tested to be present in makeup include lead, which is often used to give red lipstick its bright colour (Brown, 2013).  When you think about how often some women reapply lipstick and swallow it – it is scary to think there is lead in it!

Another example is mascara, containing chemicals such as aluminium and formaldehyde (Medical Daily, 2013). With these chemicals so close to your eyes there is a danger of it affecting your eyesight over time.  

A great makeup brand to look at is Jennifer Young who created all natural makeup for cancer patients. These pure products were created as patients who undergo chemotherapy become very sensitive to chemicals – however, anyone can buy these products and support a great brand!  

When choosing your makeup products always read the labels and do your own research on the ingredients. Some makeup brands may look healthier because they say they are vegan or vegetarian or even be marketed as natural but may still use a lot of harmful chemicals.  

Skin care  

Just as important as makeup is skin care. You are rubbing these creams into your skin, which can be absorbed into the body, so it is important to make sure you are not rubbing a load of toxins in!

There are some great all natural brands for skin care including Nourish and Weleda. Coconut oil is also a great alternative for skin care. It can be used as a moisturiser, or to take off your makeup at the end of the day by simply rubbing it into your face and then removing with a cloth.

Deodorants  

The next thing to consider is your use of deodorants. Many deodorants are full of harmful chemicals that we spray or roll directly onto our skin. If you do want to keep buying shop bought deodorants then make sure it is definitely a deodorant you are buying and not an antiperspirant.

Antiperspirants do exact what they say in the name – they stop you perspiring! This is so unhealthy because your body needs to sweat in order to release toxins and they contain aluminium, a toxic heavy metal that has been suggested to be implicated in Alzheimer’s (Exley, 2016).  

Hair Care 

It is important to make your shampoos, conditioners and hair dyes as chemical free as possible. Again, make sure you do your research and read labels. If you get your hair dyed professionally then ask your hairdresser about more natural alternatives. Henna is one option.  Yaoh make a great natural shampoo and conditioner made from hemp oil. 

Toothpaste  

You may have heard time and time again that you need to pick a toothpaste with fluoride in. However, research has suggested that fluoride can alter the activity of your pineal gland which affects your melatonin levels, which is the hormone responsible for aiding sleep.

Another effect of fluoride is that is competes in the body with thyroxin so it can disrupt the thyroid gland (if you have thyroid issues it is important to be aware of this!) (Kheradpisheh, 2018) 

It has also been suggested that fluoride can make teeth more brittle due to the way it reacts in the mouth.  (American Dental Association, 2007) Alternative toothpastes include brands like Jason’s and Kingfisher. You can also make your own. Many holistic dentists now recognise the importance of fluoride free dentistry so research around your area and think about making the switch! 

Next we are going to talk about other items within your household that may be toxic! 

Plastics  

Recently you may have heard a lot about BPA and their harmful effects. BPA is found in a lot of plastics and has been found to act as an endocrine disrupter that disrupts the hormones in our body. BPA has been found to mimic oestrogen in the body and cause oestrogen dominance. The dominance of oestrogen in the body has been implicated in a lot of conditions e.g. oestrogen dominant cancers. (Komen, 2017) 

Due to these findings there has been a lot of hype around BPA free products (plastic items that do not contain BPA).  However, in a lot of these products BPA has been replaced with another chemical called BPS. BPS has actually been shown to be more harmful than BPA! (Service, 2018) 

Examples of plastic items to be aware of:

Be careful not to be fooled by clever marketing in the BPA free movement. Plastic is toxic and absorbs into the food we eat (particularly soft plastic). This is also true for any personal care items we have that are kept into soft plastic – it can leech into the product which we then place on our skin. Therefore, try to make the switch to glass containers rather than plastic! Just make sure your glass containers don’t have a plastic lid – you can use mason jars for pretty much everything! 

Another thing to watch out for is hot drinks while we are out and about. The little cardboard looking cups you get hot drinks in actually have a plastic lid that is full of BPA. The lining of these cups is often also made out of plastic which has BPA in it. The steam from the hot drinks can release the BPA (the harmful chemicals) into your drink. Make a swap to a stainless steel cup and carry it with you when you want a hot drink. Some places even do a discount for those that bring their own cups so it is a win-win situation! 

Also, be aware of tinned foods which are lined with BPA. Of course, it may be difficult to cut tinned foods out completely especially if you are eating on a budget. The key message here is just to be aware of the dangers and do your best to avoid them – it isn’t about being perfect! 

Non-stick Cookware 

Some cookware has also been suggested to be extremely toxic, for example, non-stick cookware. The chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is used to make some non-stick cookware. When PFOA is heated up, these emit toxic gases that you inhale each time you use your non-stick pot or pan! These items are likely to scratch or chip at some point which can go into your food and increase your risk of poison.  (Reinagel, 2018) 

An alternative to non-stick cookware is to use stainless steel or cast iron pans. If you choose a stainless steel pan, make sure it doesn’t have other metals added into it.

It is important to watch that aluminium has not been added to your stainless steel pan as there is also a reported link to aluminium with dementia and Alzheimer’s. If you have a nickel allergy, you can get nickel free stainless steel pans too! Also, be aware of ceramic cookware as many ceramics contain lead in the glaze!  Again, do your research before you buy. 

Household scents  

A really simple thing to change is your household scents. If you like your home to smell amazing, then you can use essential oils which smell great and have lots of health benefits too! You can swap your air purifiers which have toxic chemicals in them for an essential oil diffuser.  

It is also important to use natural candles. Candle wax and scents added to them are synthetic and the wicks in them uses heavy metals. (Thomas, 2013) A healthier alternative to candles are pure beeswax candles that use a cotton wicks.  

Furniture 

The next thing to be aware of is the furniture we choose. I am not for one minute suggesting you go out and buy all new furniture – but it is important to be aware that these toxins are all around us! All furniture comes with a fire retardant as it is illegal to sell furniture without it. However, some research names fire retardants as immune and endocrine disrupters (Hood, 2006). It is difficult to say a solution for this as they are on all furniture but it may be worth researching some more natural brands for your furniture fabric! 

Bathroom 

It has been suggested that our bathroom is actually one of the most toxic places. Not only do we tend to use our strongest chemicals in the bathroom, but there are actually toxins in the water.

Shower water has chlorine in it – taking a shower in unfiltered water has been suggested to be the same as drinking 7 glasses of chlorinated water! (Smith, 2008). A simple solution for this is to get a shower filter. Some shower curtains can also be made of materials that have harmful toxins in them that are released by the steam of the shower. Again, do your research and find a more natural brand! 

Electromagnetic pollutions  

Electromagnetic fields have been found to disrupt the balance of our body (Duhaini, 2016), yet they are everywhere. They are in our phones and computers that we as a society have become so dependent on. We need our technology in this day and age for many things so I can’t suggest to cut it out of your life – but you can do some damage limitation.

Don’t spend more time on technology than you need to. Not only will this help to reduce your toxic exposure, it will also improve your mental health! You can also turn off your Wi-Fi at night, use an Ethernet cable to your computer, keep your phone off at night and avoid carrying your phone on your person or get an EMF protector for it!   

Anything “smart” is not so smart for our health.  If you are offered a smart meter, have a look at the research around health risks because of the frequencies they emit (Wycherley, 2017).  If you have had one installed, you can get covers to try and minimise the damage.    

Also, try to limit your use of microwaves which have been suggested to have carcinogenic effects. Instead, heat your food up in your stainless steel or cast iron pan! 

Where to start?!

So, after reading all of this you may be in complete panic. We have all been there when this information is revealed to us. Don’t worry about changing overnight, it is all about little changes that we can make over time that will mount up!

Choose one thing a month to sort out for example: 

Month one – sort out your personal care 

Month two – swap your chemical cleaning products for natural alternatives  

And so on! 

I hope you have found this post useful! Comment below the first thing you are going to sort out and detoxify!