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”.
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?
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
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.
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!
With 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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?
Many 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.
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!
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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.
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)
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:
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.
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!
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 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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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 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!
Some Shocking Statistics on Heart Health
Back in the 1920s heart attacks and strokes were very rare. Since then, Public Health England has found that 78% of people have a heart age higher than their actual age. With 34% showing a heart age more than 5 years above their real age, and 14% showing a heart age of 10 years higher than their real age!
According to the British Heart Foundation, 7 million people live with heart and circulatory diseases in the UK, causing 1 death every 3 minutes! So we have to start asking what has happened over the last century to see this huge increase in incidences of heart problems.
Could the increasing prevalence of processed and microwaved food, with a lack of the nutrients we need, have anything to do with it? Firstly, let’s take a look at what is going on in the body, in the heart and blood pressure problems.
Causes of heart problems
We want our blood to be 90% water, flowing easily through our body. If our blood is anything less than 90% water, it becomes sludgy, like a swamp, and cannot flow as easily. This impairs our ability to get nutrients and oxygen around the body and eliminate waste from our cells.
A lack of adequate intake of water is a major factor in both high blood pressure and low blood pressure. This can be detrimental if someone is experiencing symptoms of dizziness or faintness with it. As without enough pressure to pump the blood around the body efficiently, oxygen and nutrients cannot get to where they need to be. Additionally, metabolic and other waste cannot be removed from the cells as efficiently.
Cholesterol – bad guy or good guy?
If you’ve read my blog on hydration, you’ll know that we lose 4 pints of water every day. If we are not replacing this water with clean, hydrating fluids, studies suggest that our body will recognise there is a drought going on.
The body then cleverly resorts to ‘drought management’ by making more cholesterol to coat our cells to stop them losing more water. This can lead to an electrolyte imbalance in the cells, as potassium and magnesium cannot get into the cells as easily and sodium and calcium cannot get out as easily. Our cells become sodiumised and calcified, which results in our blood vessels becoming more rigid. Furthermore, the lack of magnesium affects the pumping mechanism of the heart.
Cholesterol is also cleverly produced by the body and used, along with calcium, to form plaque. This patches up any damage to the lining of the arterial walls, also known as free radical damage or oxidative stress. This is very clever, as it means that blood can still flow through those arteries.
However, if the root causes of why cholesterol is being produced in such quantities is not addressed (i.e. the water shortage in the body and the free radical damage caused by our daily lives), then the build up of cholesterol can narrow the arteries.
The level of cholesterol in the body is measured by LDL, HDL and VLDL. These are simply carriers of cholesterol, which all have important roles in the body. LDL and VLDL carry the cholesterol from the liver to wherever it’s needed in the body. HDL collects up all the excess and takes it back to the liver where it’s broken down.
Common medications for heart health and their health implications
Statins are used to lower cholesterol, but in simply prescribing this, we haven’t addressed the route cause. It is a bit like blaming the firemen for the fire because they’ve come to put the fire out and been found at the scene.
We need cholesterol for a number of processes in the body, such as making our steroid hormones and making our cell membranes. So, you can begin to see why reducing production of cholesterol, without addressing the route cause, can have implications on hormonal and cell health.
In addition, research has indicated that statin medications could have a major impact on energy production in the body, as they deplete Co-enzyme Q10, which is essential for this process. Red rice yeast is a natural supplement that has been shown to lower cholesterol (Heber et al., 1999).
The same is also true of blood pressure medications. They lower the amount of blood volume by increasing urination, causing further water loss. It fixes the problem of the blood pressure, but doesn’t address the root causes, one of which is a shortage of adequate hydration in the body.
So, whilst I am not for a second suggesting that anyone stop taking their medications. I am suggesting you do your research around side effects and make informed choices with your prescribing physician. And, most importantly, address or, even better, prevent the root causes with hydration and good nutrition.
Good nutrition for heart health
Magnesium’s role in heart health
Magnesium is involved in hundreds of enzymatic processes throughout the body. It is an essential mineral for the heart to be able to relax as well as contract. It is also implicated in migraines, cramps, bladder issues, acid reflux, basically in any function of the body that involves contraction and relaxation. Magnesium is essential for making our tissue hormones, called “prostaglandins”, which are involved in the repair of arteries.
Another role of magnesium in heart health is to break down homocysteine which is a by-product of protein break down. Homocysteine levels in blood plasma have been found to be a far better indicator of heart health than cholesterol is. Blood plasma levels above 9 are considered a high risk of cardiovascular disease and ideally we want to see levels between 5 and 7. Some GPs will request this in a blood draw if you ask them, but if your GP won’t, the test can be obtained from York Test and done privately.
Sources of magnesium
It is hard to get an adequate intake of magnesium through our food without supplementation. This is because our soils are very much depleted in magnesium, due to modern agricultural methods.
Food sources of magnesium include apricots, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, sea vegetables / seaweeds (from a clean unpolluted source such as Atlantic seaweeds), legumes and avocados. Magnesium citrate is a bioavailable form of magnesium, meaning it is better absorbed. However, it can have a slight laxative effect if taken in high doses.
Magnesium glycinate is another bioavailable source. A great source of magnesium is transdermal magnesium, i.e liquid magnesium that can be absorbed through the skin. Magnesium malate tends to be used in those with energy issues and magnesium oxide is poorly absorbed, hence its use in a lot of natural laxative supplements.
It is best to seek advice when deciding on the right magnesium supplement for you and the right dosage. This is due to the fact that magnesium can be very cleansing to the cells. Additionally, if your detoxification pathways in the body aren’t working as efficiently as they should e.g. you’re not having a bowel movement twice a day or your stools are pale and floating. Then whatever waste is being eliminated from the cells will not be able to exit the body effectively.
Detoxification in the body requires the bowels, the small intestine, the liver, the kidneys, bile flow, sufficient blood flow, lymph drainage and the release of waste from the cells all to be working beautifully. Unfortunately this is often not the case, as so many people nowadays don’t even have healthy bowel movements.
This is where naturopathic techniques come into their own, but they should always be used as part of a holistic treatment programme to prevent them from causing problems. Contact me to find out more or come on my Health on A Plate course to learn about practical application and much more!
Best time to take magnesium
There seems to be some debate over the best time to take magnesium supplements. Taking magnesium before bed can be very relaxing and aid a restful night’s sleep. However, it is best absorbed in an acidic environment so taking after a meal can also be a good choice.
Phytates and oxalic acid found in certain foods (nuts, seeds, legumes, etc) can interfere with its absorption. So ensuring you don’t eat excessive amounts of oxalate foods and you soak & rinse phytate containing foods before consumption can alleviate this. High fat diets and a lack of vitamin D can also reduce the absorption of magnesium.
Zinc’s role in heart health
Just like magnesium, zinc is also involved in making prostaglandins, which can repair damage to the lining of the arterial wall. In addition, zinc is also involved in metabolising homocysteine.
Sources of zinc
Zinc comes predominantly from animal sources. Vegans can easily get zinc from soaked and rinsed nuts and seeds (especially sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds & pine nuts), sea vegetables and soaked and rinsed legumes.
Zinc citrate is a good form of supplemental zinc, but should be taken under advice, as zinc and copper work in balance with one another. A good nutritional therapist should be able to assess whether you need a zinc supplement alone, or one balanced with copper.
Other movers and shakers in the break down of homocysteine, aka “methyl movers” are B2, B6, B12, B9, TMG. Food sources of these B vitamins include dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, eggs, meat, organic tempeh and tofu, mushrooms, avocados, fish and wholegrains. Food sources of TMG include broccoli, quinoa, beets, spinach and sweet potato. In addition, there are many supplemental forms of methyl movers, usually found in methylation complexes.
The role of vitamin C in heart health
Vitamin C is incredibly important in repairing the arteries and we want to be looking at levels of around 500mg a day. It is water soluble, so what your body doesn’t need it urinates out.
Vitamin C, whilst an antioxidant in its own right, is also important in the production of glutathione. Glutathione is our master-antioxidant, which can assist in clearing up free radicals within the body that may damage the lining of the arterial wall.
Sources of Vitamin C
Whilst we can get vitamin C from our fruit and vegetables, they are often picked unripe. This means they don’t contain adequate levels of vitamin C anymore. However, we can still work on increasing our levels by eating dietary sources such as avocado, watermelon, strawberries, potatoes with their skins, asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes, grapefruit and oranges.
Supplemental vitamin C is most readily absorbed in its liposomal form. Those that struggle to digest fat then Ester C could also be a good choice. Buffered vitamin C is the most gentle on the stomach for those of you with any gastrointestinal issues.
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids
Omega 3’s role in heart health
Another essential nutrient in heart health is omega 3 essential fatty acids. These “good” oils stop the platelets in our blood sticking together. But our Western diets are filled with damaged fats, that prevent those “good” oils from doing their job. They do this by attaching to the cell receptors and blocking the uptake of the fats we actually need for good cell health.
Sources of “bad” fats
Bad fats include trans-fats, margarines, heated oils (with the exception of coconut oil, ghee and organic butter) oils that come in plastic or transparent bottles that let light in and oils that are not cold-pressed, organic and extra virgin. Common sources of foods cooked in bad fats include crisps, chips, deep-fried produce and take-away meals. So it’s important we consider fats in our food choices too.
Food sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
Ground chia seeds are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids and can be added to smoothies or sprinkled on salads. Remember that heating fats that are unstable such as omega 3 fats will turn them rancid and produce free radicals. Other great food sources of omega 3 fatty acids include wild Alaskan salmon (or other wild unfarmed oily fish), walnuts and pumpkin seeds.
Chlorella and spirulina are also good food sources, but very cleansing. They should be used in small amounts with caution, until someone is having 2 great bowel movements a day. A great bowel movement is a sausage that sinks, doesn’t leave marks on the toilet bowl and is easy to pass. Have a look at the Bristol Stool Chart for more information.
Supplementing with omega 3s
A couple of teaspoons of lecithin a day can be a great way to prepare the body for supplementation with omega 3. Many people find it difficult to break down fats, as their livers are working so hard trying to deal with the toxins we take in through our everyday lives. Signs of this include nausea or fatigue after eating fat and floating or pale coloured stools.
Supplemental sources include Krill oil, which is much more readily absorbed as it has been broken down by the fish already. An source which is suitable for vegans is cold-pressed organic flaxseed oil. However, converting vegan food sources of Omega 3s, to be able to provide our body with the fats it needs to maintain healthy cells, is less efficient than from oily fish. It can be further affected by genetics, stress levels and food choices. As such, a good solution for vegans is to supplement with microalgae as well as taking flax oil.
Vitamin D3 helps to regulate blood pressure, whilst vitamin K2 helps prevent calcification of arteries. It does this by enabling calcium to be deposited in bone and not the arteries.
It is difficult to get adequate amounts of Vitamin D from food, sources include oily fish, meat and eggs. Vitamin D is also synthesised by the body using – guess what? – cholesterol! Cholesterol is used to make a steroid hormone which is secreted into the skin’s surface and, when the sun’s ultraviolet rays touch bare skin, conversion to vitamin D3 begins to take place. But of course living in the UK we aren’t always blessed with copious amounts of sun. Optimal vitamin D levels need to be around 125nmol, which can easily be established through a blood draw at the GPs. Ask to see your actual test results with the figures.
Vitamin K2 is produced by certain microbes in our large intestine. Which in itself can be problematic, as many of us are deficient in certain types of bowel flora. Read the blog about bowel flora to find out more about why eating yoghurt or taking probiotics don’t cut it in restoring healthy populations of bowel flora in the large intestines.
Vitamin K2 producing microbes include Bacteroides fragilis, Eubacterium, Propionibacterium and Arachnia Escheria coli. If you have ever done a stool test that looks at your bacterial populations, you should be able to see whether you have healthy amounts of these bowel flora. To find out more about stool testing, have a look at my lab testing page or contact me. Because it’s synthesised by bacteria, it can also be found in fermented foods such as Natto and Sauerkraut.
Certain supplement companies sell Vitamin D3 with K2, so this can be a good choice for those of you with sub-optimal levels of vitamin D and poor populations of vitamin K2 producing bowel flora.
CoQ10 helps maintain the elasticity of blood vessels and acts as an antioxidant. This helps protect against free radical damage to the arteries by inhibiting lipid peroxidation in LDL and cell membranes and it is essential for ATP energy production.
Our energy “currency” if you like, ATP, plays a vital role in the function of our bodies. Our heart also requires a high rate of ATP to work efficiently. However, research suggests it is significantly depleted by the use of Statins. Whilst red meat, organ meat, fish and most fruit and vegetables contain it in small amounts, it is made mostly in the body from a number of vitamins and trace minerals.
It can be taken in liposomal supplement form but, as with anything, it can have contraindications especially if you are on certain medications. As always it’s best to seek advice from a nutritional therapist as opposed to reading blogs and self-medicating.
Phytonutrients are compounds found in plant-based foods that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Resveratrol is important in preventing platelet aggregation and studies have shown it can also lower blood pressure and prevent LDL oxidation. It can be found in food sources such as red grapes, raw cacao powder, strawberries, blueberries, jackfruit skin, bilberries, redcurrants, cranberries and mulberries. It is also available in supplement form.
Lycopene helps prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol and can be found in sources such as tomatoes, preferably cooked to increase their bioavailability. If someone is avoiding nightshades because of conditions such as arthritis, then other rich sources include pink grapefruit and watermelon.
Carotenoids is a phytonutrient that has high antioxidant potential which, as we’ve seen, can help repair free radical damage to arteries. They also help prevent the formation of plaque in the arteries and are especially good at quenching lipid peroxyl radicals. This helps to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, a high risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
The phytonutrient works synergistically with vitamins A and E, so ensure you have an adequate intake of all of these. Food sources include carrots, kale, apricots, mangos and sweet potatoes. Lightly steaming them will increase the bioavailability (absorption).
Flavonoids and Bioflavonoids
Bioflavonoids have also been associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease in studies. However, it’s unclear whether that is due to the bioflavonoid activity or the fact that the foods consumed also contained carotenoids. So eating food sources rich in both would be well advised. These include broccoli, kale and celery.
Quercetin has been shown in studies to help prevent lipid peroxidation, particularly of LDL, and is also a very powerful antioxidant. Quercetin is abundant in onions, leafy vegetables, peppers, broccoli and apples. It can also be taken in supplemental form for those of you who have IBS and struggle with high FODMAP foods such as onions and garlic.
Polyphenols found in green tea also have a potent antioxidant effect. Matcha is a particularly potent form and comes in powder form or you can buy matcha teabags from reputable companies who know about herbs such as Pukka teas.
Isoflavones, a subclass of bioflavonoids, have also been shown to reduce LDL oxidation and are also effective carcinogen blockers. This would be useful for smokers, who are at a high risk of cardiovascular disease. They are also thought to reduce serum cholesterol.
The best source would be organic fermented soya foods, such as miso and tempeh. There may be contraindications for women who are pregnant, however, due to their estrogenic effects. Alfalfa sprouts are another good source, also providing a rich source of Vitamin C. There is some evidence that red clover isoflavones may make arteries more flexible, but this tends to be sold as a supplement rather than a food.
Glutathione is a major antioxidant in the body. So whilst not specifically implicated for cardiovascular disease, again would be useful for clearing up free radical damage. A good source is avocados, which would also be useful for their essential fatty acid content for someone at high risk of cardiovascular disease.
As I mentioned earlier, which glutathione can be taken as a supplement, it is best to have an adequate intake of the methyl movers that enable it to be made from metabolising the protein we eat.
Garlic is a thiol, an organic sulphur compound. The alliin and allicin contained within it are thought to lower cholesterols, lipids and blood pressure, vascular resistance and blood coagulation, which would decrease the risk of blood clots. It is also thought to support heart function. Garlic is best added therapeutically to food later in cooking, ensuring that a lid is kept on, as the allicin produced on chopping or crushing garlic evaporates in cooking. Allicin is produced by cooking garlic whole in this way or pickling it. It is therefore best to vary cooking methods in order to get the most therapeutic value from garlic.
The role of lifestyle factors in heart health
Exercise is critical in order to increase circulation and exercise that heart muscle. This does not have to be strenuous, it has to be appropriate to whatever you can do and your physician can advise.
Rebounders are a great and gentle way to exercise. Just doing 5 mins rebounding 3 times a day will have a beneficial effect. Whatever you choose, whether it be a 20 minute walk in a park, yoga or cycling, choose things you love so that you can sustain it every single day.
Fresh air and daylight
20 minutes a day in full spectrum daylight, in fresh air without any glasses or contact lenses if possible, will be hugely beneficial both for oxygen production and for sleep, during which the body does its most repair work.
Emotional health and stress reduction
We can’t talk about heart health without talking about emotional health. The heart is all about love and connection with both ourselves and others, so whatever we can do to work on this can only help.
Practices such as gratitude journaling, mindfulness, chanting, meditation, apps such as Headspace switch you from a state of stress into a restful healing state in which the body can repair.
Whilst this may all sound very ethereal, there is actual science behind this. Oxytocin, that feel good chemical we produce when we get a hug or do something nice for ourselves or others, aids the production of nitric oxide, which is crucial for arterial flexibility. So working on increasing joy for both yourself and others will feed your heart!
To conclude, research indicates that the most important factors in improving your heart health are hydration, nutrition and avoiding as much toxic exposure as possible. Other important factors are getting enough exercise, daylight and improving your emotional health. I hope this blog has been useful! If you have any questions I will respond to comments left on this blog.
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This time of year there are sweet treats all around you and it is harder than ever to maintain a healthy lifestyle! So, why not make your halloween indulgences a little healthier by trying out this amazing healthy, vegan pumpkin fudge recipe?!