The Benefits of Quitting Drinking Alcohol

Quitting alcohol can have many benefits. Did you know that regularly drinking more than 14 units per week risks damaging your health?

Here are my top reasons for cutting down on, or totally quitting drinking alcohol.

Quitting Alcohol

Quitting Alcohol for Better Digestion

Alcohol slows down peristalsis, the movements that shunt things through your digestive system – this can result in numerous digestive issues. Many alcoholic drinks can also cause food intolerances, and flare up imbalances in the microbes in your gut, worsening IBS type symptoms.  

Calories in Alcohol

Most alcoholic drinks are high in calories, if you are trying to manage your weight, cutting out alcohol might be a great way to reduce your calorie intake in a healthy way. 

Does Alcohol Affect Mental Health?

Drinking alcohol regularly for a prolonged period of time can affect your mental health. Alcohol is a known depressant. If you suffer from anxiety or depression quitting alcohol may reduce the feelings you have in association with these conditions. Alcohol crosses the blood brain barrier which is what gives you the feelings of being drunk. This may seem like a good thing but it isn’t – it’s toxic to your brain cells and can lead to memory problems, balance and coordination.

Energy Levels and Alcohol

Alcohol can lower your blood sugar as it actually inhibits the body’s ability to produce glucose which is why you may feel fatigued and weak! Blood sugar imbalance can then cause further cravings for alcohol, sugar, caffeine and other substances that are addictive and give you a temporary lift, and send you off on a blood sugar rollercoaster, needing more and more to help you feel ok.  

If you are quitting drinking alcohol the good news is you will be hangover free. Did you know a hangover is caused by dehydration and electrolyte imbalance as a direct result of the alcohol drank? Alcohol can also cause low blood sugar.

Quitting Alcohol

Cutting out alcohol will improve your sleep. After drinking alcohol, it may feel like you have had a good sleep – in fact, some people tell me they use it to get to sleep, but the sleep state it puts you into is not a restorative one. Kick the booze and you’ll have more energy!

Caffeine Dependence: Do You Rely on Coffee for Energy

Do you rely on a cup of coffee to get you going in the morning? Perhaps you crash in the afternoon or are constantly craving something sweet.

Many people are dependant on coffee but unfortunately caffeine dependence isn’t normal. Relying on coffee for energy isn’t good for your health and here are some reasons why.

Coffee and Blood Sugar

Coffee can cause imbalances in blood sugar as it releases cortisol into your bloodstream. This results in physiological changes, like heart palpitations, a raise in blood pressure, reduced digestion, concentration and immune activity as your body thinks that caffeine is a sabre tooth tiger and switches into fight or flight mode.

The cortisol release also means that your insulin spikes but then your blood sugar comes crashing down and you keep needing more and more coffee, sugar, carbs or other stimulants to keep you going throughout the day. Balancing out your blood sugar can be supported by changing your food choices.

Why am I Low on Energy?

There are many other reasons why you may be low on energy.

  • Too much or too little exercise, too much and you don’t give your body time to recover, too little and your adrenaline and energy levels can decrease which over time can cause basic activities to cause you fatigue.
  • Drinking too much alcohol – you might think that drinking helps you get off to sleep but excessive alcohol actually disrupts your sleep cycle.
  • Chronic stress can be a culprit in constant fatigue. Don’t let stress get the better of you, there are ways you can manage it including implementing the use of positive affirmations and ensuring your hydration need is taken care of.
  • A poor diet that is deficient in certain vitamins and minerals.
  • Tiredness can also be caused by a range of physical reasons. If you think your lack of energy may be due to a physical cause then please speak to your GP.

It can become such a habit to reach for a coffee to perk us up that we start to think it’s normal. I know, because when I first started with post-viral fatigue I was on 8 cups a day! If you are needing coffee to give you energy then now might be a good time to book a consultation to see why you are actually low in energy.

Low GL Chocolate & Fruit Clusters

Over Christmas it is nice to have something to snack on that feels a little bit special. These chocolate fruit & nut clusters are super tasty, yet low in added sugar.

5 Tips For Dining Out When on a Low FODMAP Diet

5 Tips For Dining Out When on a Low FODMAP Diet

Eating out on a low FODMAP diet can seem like a struggle. I’ve got news for you, this isn’t true! We all deserve to enjoy a stress free evening out. I’ve got 5 tips to share with you to leave you feeling ready to head out for a fuss free low FODMAP dinner.

1. Plan Ahead For Stress Free Dining

Almost all restaurants and pubs will be able to accommodate your needs if you call ahead. Fortunately most menus can be found online ahead of time, so checking what your options are doesn’t need to be stressful. It is fair to say that many people won’t have heard of FODMAPS or a low FODMAP diet so be prepared to explain what you can and can’t eat and I’m sure they will help.

low fodmap diet

2. Avoid Soup on a Low FODMAP Diet

Think about most of the recipes you’ve ever come across for soup, they almost always contain onion. At home it is easy for us to leave out the onion but in a restaurant soups are batch cooked ahead of time so best to stay safe and avoid it when following a low FODMAP diet.

3. Are Sauces Suitable for a Low FODMAP Diet?

Most sauces and dips contain onion and garlic (they’re just hidden) and therefore aren’t very friendly when you’re following a low FODMAP diet. If you absolutely must have some of the sauce, ask for it on the side and use it very, very sparingly. 

low fodmap diet

4. Eating Fish on a Low FODMAP Diet 

Fresh fish is a great option with some veggies on the side dressed with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice, with some herbs or spices added for more interest. Avoid tuna steak, king mackerel or swordfish though as the larger fish are high in mercury, which is neurotoxic in large amounts. If a restaurant has fresh fish on the menu even if it states it is served with a sauce, it is worth asking if you can have it served in this way.

5. Vegetarian and Seafood Options

Sadly not every vegetarian and seafood option will be FODMAP friendly, but more often than not they are quicker to prepare. Seek advice from whoever is serving you about the ingredients and then ask for the dish to be freshly prepared avoiding high FODMAP options.

Remember: You aren’t a fussy eater, you eat this way for your health. Stress can be a trigger of digestive issues, so plan ahead, relax and most importantly enjoy the experience! 

Aubergine Dip

A small serving of this aubergine dip with plenty of Crudités is a welcome addition to any picnic.

M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Fibromyalgia

May 12th is ME and Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. The aim is to highlight the devastation that this condition causes to 17-20 million people worldwide. As for Fibromyalgia, it affects between 1.2-2.8 million people in the UK and 3-6% internationally.

Unanswered questions

It’s clear Fibromyalgia and ME can cause so much devastation to so many people’s lives. People with these conditions also have to deal with disbelief from people around them including their friends and families.

Invisible symptoms

Part of the problem is that in many cases, the symptoms are invisible. Chronic pain, cognitive difficulties, post-exertional flu like malaise after minimal physical or cognitive activity. At my worst, something as small as holding a conversation for 10 minutes or eating a meal would leave me exhausted! Other symptoms include gastro-intestinal problems, dizziness, coordination difficulties, poor balance, poor body temperature regulation. Suffers also experience increased heart rate on sitting to standing. This means the heart is working much harder to keep the person upright due to a lack of energy being produced.

These are just some of the symptoms of these conditions and are a far cry from the common perception that ME/CFS is about being tired! Another part of the problem is that they fluctuate. Therefore, people see you doing things that they’d expect you not to be able to do. However, they then don’t witness the exacerbation of all your symptoms afterwards and the debilitating effect that this can have.

Diagnostic tests

I think the biggest problem is the apparent lack of a diagnostic test.  There are lab tests (I run many of these for my clients) that can show up biochemical dysregulation. This shows abnormalities with mitochondrial energy production, parasitic infections, gastrointestinal imbalances and cortisol levels. This gives us a lot of information about how to work with the adrenals. We also get full thyroid panels, mycotoxin exposure etc. that can all be part of the picture.

But none of these tests are available through conventional medicine. So is it that there is no test, or is it that when someone’s blood panel comes back as “normal” they simply aren’t looking for the right markers that would indicate biochemical dysregulation?

Physiology of ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia

So what do we know about what’s going on inside the body in these conditions? Well, we know that there is dysfunction in the mitochondria in the cells that are responsible for producing energy. We also know that there is dysregulation of the HPA axis, and immune dysregulation. Nearly everyone I have encountered with these conditions has gastro- intestinal issues.

Is it physical or psychological?

Despite all of this evidence from researchers, there is still much controversy about whether it is a physical condition. The aim of this blog is not to get into the politics of why this controversy exists. Unfortunately publicising flawed research upon which treatments are based perpetuates the myth that this is a psychological illness, leading to discrimination and prejudice towards people with these conditions, which they have to cope with on top of their symptoms and functional limitations. Suffice to say that, unfortunately there is still much misunderstanding about the symptoms, complexity and physical nature of the condition. 

SIBO

For me, looking back at my medical records there were actually signs of something physical going on. I had delayed gut motility (delayed emptying from the stomach into the duodenum). I also had duodenitis (inflammation in my small intestine). This discovered over 20 years ago but never mentioned to me. We now know that delayed gut motility is a major contributory factor to SIBO, the cause of 60% of IBS! A recent study showed that 90% of people with Fibromyalgia have SIBO. SIBO is where bacteria have overgrown in the small intestines, producing endotoxins and nutritional deficiencies. I also had numerous blood tests showing raised levels of eosinophils and decreased white blood cell count, indicating some kind of immune dysregulation, again left unaddressed.

Iron deficiency

It wasn’t until another practitioner suggested I get a full iron panel rather than the standard iron tests that I found I had iron deficiency. The bacteria overgrowing in SIBO can actually eat your nutrients as they start to eat your food before you can absorb it.

The type of SIBO I had wasn’t even showing up on private lab tests as I had something called hydrogen sulphide SIBO. This has no definitive test at the moment, just signs from existing lab tests. And that particular type of bacteria can…. guess what? Damage the mitochondria in your cells that are crucial for energy production!

SIBO can also cause visceral hypersensitivity. This could explain why, if 90% of people with Fibromyalgia in one study were shown to have SIBO, they also had increased hypersensitivity to pain. Even after I trained and qualified as a naturopath, it took me a lot of continuing training to work out all of these pieces of the jigsaw. It was only last year that I found Lyme, candida and mould toxicity were also parts of my jigsaw.  

Naturopathy with chronic illness

Naturopathy, looks at disease quite differently to conventional medicine. Disease is a process which establishes itself over a period of time. When I first had my case history taken by a naturopath, I was surprised to see that I hadn’t suddenly been struck down by the virus that appeared to have started my ME/CFS. In reality, there had been signs of dysregulation, albeit minor, from an early age that had all depleted my immune system, coupled with my poor nutrition, poor sleep, my Type A personality causing me to always try and be superwoman at work and outside of work, despite my body screaming at me that something was very wrong.

Naturopathy also looks at the body as a whole entity, not separating the body and the mind. ME/CFS has been cited to have numerous causes. A virus was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me – my immune system was depleted and I couldn’t fight it off. I suppressed my symptoms by trying to carry on being superwoman and by continuing to do all the things that had already depleted my immune system. For other people, it might be a traumatic event, an injury, an infection, childhood trauma, over-exercising or ongoing stress. This has led to much debate within the ME community as to whether someone is correctly diagnosed with ME if their ME does not start with a virus.

But to me this is missing the point. Heart attacks can be caused by several different causes – stress, physical blockages, the food we eat, lifestyle, etc. But despite the fact that there can be numerous causes of heart attacks, nobody disputes that they are a physical condition. Nor that the end result is the same or that any stress or lifestyle factors that led to its onset need addressing. The job of a naturopath is to work out the case history to assess how the body got to that position in the first place and start to unravel it. Then you can start giving the body what it needs to kickstart its own innate healing ability.

My story

I developed M.E. back in 1996, followed by Fibromyalgia a few years later.  In my case, adverse childhood events led to an overproduction of stress hormones on an ongoing basis. Continual production of cortisol led to my immune system and my digestive system shutting down.

Dry skin

The first signs of something wrong were extreme dry skin. Unbeknown to me, this was a sign that my body was dehydrated. I had no clue until I became ill that I even needed to drink 4 pints of water a day to keep myself hydrated and that drinking tea and coffee was not the same thing.

My Diet

My diet was poor, which would certainly have been affecting my microbiome. We now know that this complex community of microbes that lives inside us are so important for the health of our bodies and minds. Couple this with a digestive system that was not working effectively and I began to develop numerous food allergies and intolerances. Which, you cannot have without gut permeability where the lining of the gut becomes permeable, allowing partially undigested food into the blood stream that shouldn’t be in there! So, I wasn’t absorbing the nutrients from my food. At the same time my body was launching an attack on what I was eating, giving rise to inflammation.

Stress

This contributed to further internal physical stress, which elevated my cortisol levels further. This gave rise to an overproduction of histamine. This resulted in histamine intolerance, which meant that I could no longer eat foods containing high levels of histamine without reacting. It was only after my training as a naturopath and further continuing professional development that I worked out that I had histamine intolerance.

Digestion

I was put on antacids due to gastrointestinal issues, which I later found out gave rise to further problems. Acid reflux can be caused by not enough stomach acid being produced as well as too much. When not enough acid is produced, this impairs the signal to the lower oesophageal sphincter to close and when this happens the acid can rise up into the oesophagus from the stomach.

SIBO

We need a certain amount of acid in our stomach to break down proteins and to kill any unbeneficial microbes that we might take in through what we eat and drink.  So the antacids contributed to the onset of my SIBO, together with more nutritional deficiencies.

At the time of the onset of my ME/CFS I was working long hours, partying hard and not getting much sleep. A virus came along and tipped everything over. For others overtraining can be a contributory factor. The point is that we all have different reasons as to why we become ill, regardless of the illness and regardless of the causes. Either shortly before or shortly afterwards I also contracted Lyme, but my immune system couldn’t fight it.

Assisting Recovery

The job of a good naturopath is to find the clues and provide education as to how to best support your body through diet, lifestyle, supplements and naturopathic techniques. 

Using naturopathic techniques starting with ensuring the bowels are working correctly. Then the liver, working backwards to the lymph and then the cell. 

So it’s about doing the right things at the right time in the right order. Before I started seeing a naturopath I thought I had tried everything.

Stress

For me, changing my stress response which has been hardwired since a child has been another big factor. Together with structural work through a chiropractor as my ribs were not expanding and allowing me to breathe in enough oxygen, in addition to the shallow breathing caused by stress. So, whilst I am not saying that naturopathy is a cure or a substitute for medical advice, for me it has been an invaluable piece of my health and wellbeing journey alongside the medical advice I have been given. If you do think you might be suffering with any of the symptoms, always speak to your GP.

What is becoming evident is that stress is a major factor in every chronic physical health condition and stress can come from a range of places, the foods we eat, the exercise we do, what we put on our skin, it isn’t just about being “stressed out” due to current or past events as we understand the term.  

There’s no magic pill for recovery

So, for all of you reading this who have ME/CFS or Fibromyalgia, I completely understand what you are going through. I have been virtually bedridden for 8 years with both conditions, with a battle over 2 decades to find the answers. Culminating in my own training as a naturopath and being able to get back to work. This is a world away from where I was. Being too ill to have a conversation for more than 10 minutes, losing the ability to read or having to crawl on my hands and knees to get from my bed to the toilet! So please don’t give up hope. I know what it’s like to feel like you have tried everything.

Taking responsibility for aiding my own healing instead of waiting for the magic answer was so empowering. Had I not done so, and learnt everything I have shared with you in this blog, I may still be bedridden with these conditions today. 

Point to remember

It took me many years to get as ill as I did, so expecting a miracle cure just wasn’t realistic. And, there was a lot of trying things out to see what worked and what didn’t. But, the main premise with naturopathy is to first do no harm. And all of the changes I made, whilst not a cure, were all part of supporting my health.