My experience of having a friend with M.E., in honour of M.E. Awareness Day

My friend Bee

So the first thing to point out is that I am not Bee!  In fact you could say that I don’t really know Bee that well, she is more a friend of a friend, and I did bump into her from time to time at university.

However, our paths crossed at a university re-union.  I came to see my friend, but I found I was interested in Bee’s story, and I wanted to know some more.  Just before the reunion, she wrote an open email to us all, explaining that she had M.E. and excusing herself in advance for not joining in all the activities.  So, in the pub, I asked about the email and M.E..  I was fascinated with her story, how and when she got ill, the impact it had on her life, the fights she had to get the support she was entitled to, and her gradual success in beating the disease.

Bee’s impact on me

I won’t say anything more about her, Bee can do that much better than me!  Instead, I want to mention her impact on me.  I left our reunion and found myself continuing to process her story.  How could she get so ill?  Why did she feel she had to write an email excusing herself?  How did she improve her health?  While I could not find answers to these questions, it seemed there were many people like her, suffering in complete silence, not receiving the help they needed or deserved.

My fundraising

Now I’m not a great charity giver, but Bee mentioned a couple of M.E. charities and I felt I wanted to support them.  I was going to give some money, but thought more important than the money, was to get people like me to better understand M.E..  So raising awareness seemed to be a way I could help. Perhaps making a little money for an M.E. charity along the way, to support people with M.E. in Bee’s locality.

So I came to my decision, I would run for M.E. and get sponsored for it.  After just beginning to run for the first time after 10 years, a 10k run seemed a good target.  I made posters, designed a t-shirt to run in (with a little help!)  and promoted the run on my Facebook page.  I even told Bee eventually!

Other friends with M.E.

It was then that I got a great surprise.  Not one but two of my friends that I had known for years, admitted to me for the first time that they suffered from M.E.  It was only then I began to understand why Bee had written that email……M.E. sufferers seem to experience a very real lack of understanding, judgement and disbelief from those around them. So, not are they affected physically, but the judgement and misunderstanding of others causes them to suffer in silence. This is in addition to them having to deal with the illness itself.

I completed the run and have continued to run ever since, which has helped my health! My university friends all came up to support the event, and we had a lovely weekend together.  Coincidentally, the event occurred on May 12 2016, M.E. awareness day. As I finish this I am wearing my running T shirt from 2 years ago.

M.E. is a serious condition

M.E. is debilitating and people with the condition become disabled, there is no doubt about that.  Bee’s story really inspired me to take action to raise awareness of the devastating effects of the condition and also to give a message of hope to others that there are things out there might be able to help the condition, but I’ll leave it up to Bee to explain that one in her blog post on M.E. and Fibromyalgia!

All I can say now is thank you Bee. Also, if you have a moment, spend a time looking at one of the #missing millions campaign.  One of them just might inspire you to do something to raise awareness too!

Alex

M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Fibromyalgia

Picture of ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia Awareness Day RibbonMillions Missing

May 12th is ME and Fibromyalgia Awareness Day.  Across the world today a campaign called #millionsmissing will be taking place.  Events have been arranged in cities worldwide where people with ME’s empty pairs of shoes are laid out. The shoes are labelled with a message about how they are missing from their lives due to ME. 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. So, why is the medical profession still devoid of answers? And why do people with these conditions struggle to be understood by professionals that are supposed to support them? People with these conditions also deal with in disbelief from 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 Picture of lab technician testing samplesmy 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, heavy metal toxicity, mycotoxin exposure etc. that can all result in ME/CFS.

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. Also, that people experience extensive inflammation and the body’s drainage systems are not working effectively. Nearly everyone I have encountered with these conditions has gastro- intestinal issues.

Is it physical or psychological?

Despite all of this evidence from researchers, particularly with ME/CFS, 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 and is perpetuated. Suffice to say that, amidst clear research showing physical signs of biochemical dysregulation, it still exists. One can only postulate as to the secondary gain that could be had by the powers that be in continuing to perpetuate this.

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.

Picture of bacteriaIron 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.

Naturopathy with chronic illness

So how can naturopathy help ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia?  Well, firstly, 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.

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. For other people, it might be a traumatic event, an injury, an infection, childhood trauma, 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 ledWoman holding head in hands 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 is often caused by not enough stomach acid being produced. This causes the lower oesophageal sphincter to become weak 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.

picture of Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass searching for cluesRecovery

The job of a good naturopath is to find the clues. Help the client to rehydrate effectively, improve digestion, repair the gut lining, nerve damage. I also use food and supplements to repair any damage to the cells or mitochondria. Finally, it is important to deal with any parasitic infections, bacterial or fungal overgrowth.

Detoxification

Detoxification is a huge part of the process. Using naturopathic techniques to open up the body’s routes of elimination, starting with ensuring the bowels are working correctly. Then the liver, working backwards to the lymph and then the cell.  I know people who have had lymph drainage or massages and said it has made them worse.  Why?  Because if you release lymph before you improve drainage and detoxification pathways, the toxins released from lymph cannot exit the body effectively.

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 – homeopathy, reflexology, numerous nutritionists, osteopathy, the list was endless.  But this opening up of the detoxification pathways in the right order was a big part of the jigsaw.

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.  So, whilst I am not saying that naturopathy is the whole answer, it was and continues to be a major part of it.

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 lead me to a place where I could get back to work.  So please don’t give up hope. Please don’t wait for the magic pill to come along that will cure everything.  I know what it’s like to feel like you have tried everything.

Taking responsibility for 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 would still be bedridden with these conditions today.  I am not saying that implementing the naturopathic approach was easy or that it can produce miraculous results over night.

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 the nutritional changes, supplements, hydration and detoxification techniques I tried did enable my body to kickstart its own innate healing ability.

I am now at a point where I am working as a naturopath, with 2 other part-time jobs as well! 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!

If you want to find out more about how naturopathy can help ME/CFS or Fibromyalgia, please contact me to book a free 15 minute chat.

 

 

Stress – What is it and How to Manage it?

Picture of a man with his head in his hands looking stressedThe month of April has been Stress Awareness month. Today’s article will be looking at different types of stress, their effects on our physical body and how we can reduce our stress through simple dietary and lifestyle changes.

Our bodies are designed to deal with stress. We have an in-built response controlled by the sympathetic nervous system called “fight or flight” that enables us to deal with short-lived stress.  This could be anything from getting out of the way of an oncoming car quickly to having a row with a loved one.

Types of stress

What many people don’t realise is that stress can be physical as well as mental, such as an ongoing infection, gut dysbiosis or a physical accident putting stress on the body systems. Whether physical or psychological, this built-in response gives rise to a whole cascade of physiological effects:

Adrenaline

Is produced to kick start your reactions and then cortisol is secreted to keep you alert.

Sweat

We sweat more to cool down our muscles, which causes water loss.

Blood flow

The blood flow is directed to our extremities and away from the frontal cortex, the part of our brain that allows us to analyse. If you think about primitive man, he needed to be able to react quickly without analysing when approached, for example, by a tiger. Directing blood flow to the extremities allowed him to either run away or fight.  They do so by increasing heart rate, restricting blood vessels and increasing blood pressure.

Waste elimination

The urge to urinate and defecate increases so that the body can lose weight in order to be able to fight more efficiently.

Breathing

Shallow and rapid breathing enables oxygen to be diverted to the muscles to get them ready to run or fight. This will also cause further water loss.

Physiology

Our digestive, reproductive and immune systems shut down to conserve energy in order to fight or run from the impending threat.

Cortisol

Increased cortisol production elevates blood sugar, to give us more energy. It also modulates inflammation within the body. This is all great for short-lived acute stressors as after the stressor has gone our nervous system switches back toInfographic showing the effects of stress on the body, mind, emotions and behaviour parasympathetic, also known as rest and digest.  This is the system responsible for digestion and healing.

Never ending stress

In today’s modern world, stress is often ongoing and chronic. It can be caused by financial problems, problems at work or ongoing family situations. In these situations, our sympathetic nervous system is continually on.  We cannot be in “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” at the same time, so our immune system starts to struggle. Our digestion becomes affected, we lose the ability to think clearly, our memory gets worse, our sleep is affected, and so on.  Sound familiar?

Symptoms of stress

Clearly this cascade of physiological reactions is not desirable on an ongoing basis and can lead to a whole host of physical symptoms and conditions. This can include excessive weight gain from storage of excess cortisol produced under stress, heart attacks, strokes, M.E./CFS and diabetes, to name just a few.  But this isn’t something to get even more stressed out about!  Why? Because, as always, there are things we can do.

Whilst we may not be able to do anything about these external stressors, we can reduce the amount of internal stress. We can do this by making simple lifestyle and dietary changes to reduce the existing load on our bodies and switch back into our parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”).

So how can we begin to make these changes?

Hydration

Well the first thing we need to address is our hydration.  As we’ve seen, Picture of waterthe stress response causes us to lose water and as a result of this it’s really important that we replace that water in the right way daily (see my blog about water).

The other thing we can do is start to cut out those things that we ingest that cause us to lose more water, such as stimulants like sugar, caffeine and cigarettes.  Alcohol and stimulants are often the first thing we reach for when we feel bad. However, we need to give our body the right ingredients to make our own feel good hormones, which we do through food and supplementation.

Nutrition

Even certain foods such as gluten and dairy can cause us to lose water.  Because gluten and dairy are so difficult to digest, the body creates a lot of mucous to try and break them down, and guess what mucous is made from?  That’s right, water!

We can soak any dried foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes and grains for a good 8 hours before cooking or eating them and this well help to increase their ability to hold water.  Just throw away the soak water, give them a good rinse and they are good to go.

Congees, also known as Chinese rice porridge, are an excellent water rich way of using food to hydrate the body.  Moving away from processed foods to a whole food, organic diet full of water rich vegetables is also a good choice.

A healthy plate should be well over half full of water rich organic veggies, (both raw and cooked) and sea vegetables (although anyone with IBS or histamine intolerance may require much more tailored dietary advice, as certain vegetables and seaweeds can trigger a negative response in certain people).

B vitamins and magnesium

Whilst there are many nutrients that we need to ensure we are getting on a daily basis to help our bodies deal with the effects of stress. Two nutrients of particular mention are B vitamins and magnesium.  Any tension anywhere in the body can indicate inadequate levels of magnesium, as magnesium enables us to physiologically relax.  Symptoms such as migraines, cramps, even heartburn, can be caused by insufficient amounts of magnesium.

However, supplementing with magnesium should be done at the right time and at the right dosage as magnesium can cause cells to release toxicity.  If our detoxification pathways are not open enough, this can cause more issues.  This is why another important thing we need to address is improving our elimination of toxins, which will take further stress off our systems.  This can be done through a variety of naturopathic techniques, as well as using diet and fluids to cleanse.  As for B vitamins, they are literally gobbled up under stress, so we can often see a higher need for a good quality B complex in ongoing stress.

Herbs

Herbs are also very useful in helping us normalise the stress response.  They are called adaptogenic as they can allow the body to achieve equilibrium.  However, a word of caution, as some herbs are more stimulating and some more Picture of a variety of medicinal herbscalming.  I like to run a saliva cortisol panel, as cortisol levels vary throughout the course of the day. They start high in the morning to get us out of bed, and reducing at night to allow us to get restful sleep.

However, in the case of long-term stress, the cortisol pattern can take a variety of unhelpful forms, including day night reversal. This is where someone’s cortisol levels are low in the morning, making it difficult to get out of bed, and high at night, making it difficult to get to sleep.  In fatigue conditions such as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, often people can produce very little cortisol at all.  So, which herbs are used when depends on each individual’s pattern of cortisol and adrenaline production and the use of glandulars may even be required to rebuild the adrenal glands in some cases.

Exercise

We all know that exercise is good for us, but too much exercise, such as heavy training and running, can elicit the same stress response.  Of course, our bodies are designed to be able to deal with some stress, but when exercise becomes excessive, this too can affect us physically.  In cases of adrenal fatigue, such as with M.E./CFS and fibromyalgia, the wrong type of movement can actually have a detrimental effect on the body as the body is unable to regenerate cellular energy efficiently (more on this in my forthcoming blog on M.E./CFS and Fibromyalgia).

Behaviours

We can also change our behaviours.  For example, I always tried to fit so much into my routine that I would be continually late and find myself driving about stressed if I hit traffic.  Now, I try and leave extra time for traffic delays and I can drive about without putting additional stress on myself.  It seems obvious, doesn’t it, but I’m sure we all have habits or behaviours that don’t serve us well, but over which we we have some control.

Emotions

Did you know that unprocessed emotions can actually be stored as physical toxicity at cellular level?  How many of us bottle up our emotions, and stoically bury how we feel and “get on with things”.  There are so many techniques available nowadays to help us safely uncover and clear these emotions. There is EFT (emotional freedom techniques) and EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing), hypnotherapy and counselling, to name just a few.

For those of us who have had past trauma, particularly childhood trauma, our system actually becomes hard-wired to sympathetic dominance, i.e. “fight or flight”.  The trauma doesn’t even have to be an obvious trauma like abuse. It could be something like the divorce of parents, a difficult relationship with a parent as a child or bullying at school.  The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study found a clear correlation between adverse childhood events and chronic health conditions suffered in later life.  This makes total sense when we consider the physiological effects of ongoing stress that we’ve looked at above.

Picture of a woman writing in a journalPositive affirmations

Our thoughts have also been shown to alter how we respond to stress.  In Rhonda Byrne’s book, “The Magic”, we are encouraged to take up a month-long challenge of gratitude journaling.  Having tried this, it definitely changed the way I felt.  I practice Nichiren Buddhism (see here) which has a profound effect on a daily basis on whether I sink into negativity with my thoughts or have a positive outlook.

This was especially important for me when I was bedridden for several years with adrenal fatigue. Focusing on how bad I felt or on every single symptom would only increase guess what?  How bad I felt.  Anyone familiar with Louise Hay’s work will know how positive affirmations can change how we feel.  However, we still need to remember to feel and process our emotions!

Other things that can help us to manage stress include yoga, deep breathing exercises and how regularly we eat. Finally, a great way to release stress is to laugh, and could you think of a better way?!

References

Block, J. P., He, Y., Zaslavsky, A. M., Ding, L., & Ayanian, J. Z. (2009). ‘Psychosocial stress and change in weight among US adults.’ American journal of epidemiology, 170(2), 181-92.
Church, D., Stern, S., Boath, E., Stewart, A., Feinstein, D., & Clond, M. (2017). ‘Emotional Freedom Techniques to Treat Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans: Review of the Evidence, Survey of Practitioners, and Proposed Clinical Guidelines.’ The Permanente journal, 21, 16-100.
Dimsdale, J. (2008). ‘Psychological stress and cardiovascular disease.’ Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 51(13), 1237-46.
Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, Williamson DF, Spitz AM, Edwards V, Koss MP, et al. (1998). ‘The relationship of adult health status to childhood abuse and household dysfunction.’ American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 14:245-258
Goldstein, D. (2010). Adrenal responses to stress. Cellular and molecular neurobiology, 30(8), 1433-40.
Kennedy, D. O., Veasey, R., Watson, A., Dodd, F., Jones, E., Maggini, S., & Haskell, C. F. (2010). ‘Effects of high-dose B vitamin complex with vitamin C and minerals on subjective mood and performance in healthy males.’ Psychopharmacology, 211(1), 55-68.
Pakan, J (2015). ‘Counseling to Reduce Stress and Anxiety: A Mixed Methods Study’.
Panossian, A., & Wikman, G. (2010). ‘Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress-Protective Activity.’ Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland), 3(1), 188-224.
Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2010). ‘Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition reviews.’ 68(8), 439-58.
Rowe, P. C., Underhill, R. A., Friedman, K. J., Gurwitt, A., Medow, M. S., Schwartz, M. S.,
Speight, N., Stewart, J. M., Vallings, R. Rowe, K. S. (2017). ‘Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Diagnosis and Management in Young People: A Primer.’ Frontiers in pediatrics.
Yaribeygi, H., Panahi, Y., Sahraei, H., Johnston, T. P., & Sahebkar, A. (2017). ‘The impact of stress on body function: A review.’ EXCLI journal, 16, 1057-1072. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480

Infertility – The Causes

Male and female reproductive symbolsThis week is National Infertility Awareness Week.  The universally accepted definition of infertility is being unable to conceive after one year of unprotected sex with no birth control, regardless of cause. In the last 50 years sperm production has dropped by 50%.  Recent research has showed an increase from 1 in 6 to 1 in 8 women who meet this definition and 1 in 10 men.  So what has contributed to this increase in infertility and drop in sperm production?

Causes of infertility

From a naturopathic viewpoint, infertility is caused by a combination of toxicity and dehydration at cellular level. This leads to stagnation and hormonal imbalances.  A study led by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health showed that making five or more lifestyle changes, can reduce the chances of infertility due to ovulation disorders by up to 80%!

So, let’s take a look at some of the factors that can contribute to this increased toxicity, dehydration and stagnation at the cellular level and how we can overcome them.

Our toxic environment

In today’s world we are bombarded with hormones and chemicals on a daily basis.  They appear in our picture of 2 glasses of milkdairy produce, in our farmed meat and fish and in our water supply. Phytoestrogens such as unfermented and non-organic soy can mimic oestrogen.  There is a whole host of research now showing that plastic packaging leaches oestrogen mimicking chemicals into our foods and drinks.  Stimulants such as caffeine, cigarettes and sugar can also affect the balance of our hormones.  So these statistics come as no surprise.

Add in the pollution in the air that we breathe in every day. And then add in the toxicity from heavy metals, moulds and the use of chemical products we use. We can start to see how toxicity can build up in the body and dehydrate us.  It’s the liver’s job to break down both toxins and hormones and eliminate them. However, the world in which we live now is so far removed from nature that our poor livers are overworked!

Hydration

So first we need to tackle hydration through clean water, staying away from those oestrogen mimicking plastic bottles! (See my blog post on water).  We can add to this with fluids like linseed tea and soaked foods (such as nuts, seeds and grains).  It is key is to remove anything in our control that may cause us to lose water, such as diuretics like tea and coffee, alcohol, fizzy drinks, gluten and dairy.

Stress

Stress also causes us to lose water so this is where learning some good stress reduction techniques can help. Techniques include yoga, breathing, mindfulness or a spiritual practice such as chanting.

picture of some vegetablesNutrition

If what we eat and drink makes us, our hormones, our blood, sperm, eggs, and so on. Then, obviously nutrition plays a crucial factor in our reproductive ability. Therefore, nutrition of course must be addressed first.  We live in a world of fast food and processed foods which have little nutritional value and will not help us in our quest to conquer infertility.

So, a good pre-conceptual plan should look at moving someone away from processed and phytoestrogens towards a whole food diet. From there, you can gradually building up the amount of raw foods that someone can tolerate. Raw foods have a great cleansing ability for those who do not have digestive issues.  (For anyone with digestive issues, fixing the gut first is key, so that we can obtain maximum nutrition for us and baby.)  We can then start to use what we are eating, together with supplementation, to obtain the vital nutrients that are needed to be able to conceive.  Once someone has transitioned over to a whole foods diet, we can then start to use certain foods and fluids to allow the cells to release toxicity.

In the pre-conception phase key nutrients include:

Vitamin E

Which increases fertility in men and women by helping stabilise hormonal balance.  It is also an antioxidant, helping prevent against free radical damage which can affect sperm, egg and also foetus.  Other important antioxidants include vitamins A, E and C and selenium.

EPA and DHA

These are types of essential Fatty Acids critical for sperm production, hormonal balance and cell growth and repair. It should be noted that on a vegan diet EPA and DHA cannot be obtained from food.  Also, some people have difficulty converting the essential fatty acid ALA found in plant based sources to EPA and DHA. So, any factors that inhibit the conversion such as trans fats, alcohol consumption, sugar intake and stress should be avoided.  (See my blog about vegan sources of essential fatty acids.)

Zinc

Zinc is essential for building healthy sperm and eggs, cell division necessary for reproduction and for allowing the egg to implant in the womb.

Folic acid

No doubt everyone has heard of folic acid in pregnancy.  Folate is the natural, more bioavailable form and adequate levels of folate. It is important for the reduction of homocysteine, which has been shown to be high in women who have miscarried.  Sources include spinach, broccoli and liver.  A good supplemental dose would be 800mcg a day.

Magnesium

This is critical for healthy contractions and will help develop the foetus and can be started during the preconception phase, so as not to suddenly produce a cleansing effect on the cells during pregnancy.  It can be found in leafy greens and nuts and seeds such as cashews, brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds.  A good supplemental dose would be 2 x 100mg magnesium citrate capsules before bed.

B vitamins

These are vital for the production of healthy sex hormones and sprouting is an excellent way to introduce them into the diet naturally as sprouting exponentially increases the B vitamin content of what you are sprouting.  For example, soaking and then sprouting mung beans increases their B vitamin content by up to 285%!  Sprouts also provide us with live enzymes and that raw cleansing aspect.

Calcium and iron

Iron and calcium are also critical for the mother’s blood supply to the baby, so it’s a good idea to increase these naturally through foods.  Calcium in particular is better delivered through vegan sources such as sesame seeds, tahini, almonds, hazelnut, kale, hemp seeds, buckwheat and sea vegetables and when we eat a good balanced diet high in these types of food there is no need for supplementation of calcium.  Iron can be found in salmon, meat, seaweeds, soaked nuts and seeds, soaked whole grains, leafy green vegetables and avocados.  (See my vegan blog for more information about getting optimum calcium and iron levels on a vegan diet).

Selenium, arginine and acetyl l-carnitine

These also help in the quantity, quality and function of sperm.

So a good idea, along with increasing these nutrients in our diet, would be to take a good quality multivitamin and mineral (see “Purposeful Supplementation”), a good omega 3 formula such as krill oil, 200mg magnesium citrate before bed, an antioxidant combination and 30mg zinc.  However, everyone is individual, so it is best to work with a practitioner to decide exact requires for supplementation.  Also, the rate at which supplements are introduced will depend upon how well someone’s liver is cleansing, which is established through a full case history, as throwing supplements at a situation can put further work on a sometimes already overworked liver.

Lifestyle factors

Factors such as how much sleep we get per night is also crucial.  For us to maintain optimum health andPicture of a Tablet, mobile phone and laptop wellbeing we need to be getting rid of the toxicity we take in on a daily basis.  Our bodies are designed to cleanse when we sleep and we do the most cleansing between 10pm and 3am, which is all the more reason for us to get an early night!  Factors such as shift-working or the introduction of blue light into our retinas from TV screens, strip lighting, computers, ipads or phones, for example, can affect our ability to produce melatonin, our sleep hormone.  This too can disrupt our ability to cleanse.  Other lifestyle factors that can affect our ability to cleanse at night include how much natural daylight we get straight into our retinas (we need at least 20 minutes a day), exercise and fresh air.

Whilst exercise is of course essential to health and wellbeing, excessive exercise can be detrimental due to the fact that it can produce excessive endorphins which can interfere with the reproductive hormones.  Jogging during a pre-conceptual plan can be detrimental for this reason, as can cycling in tight fitting man-made fibres which creates excess heat in the gynae area leading to increased stagnation there.  Moderate to vigorous walking for half an hour 4 or 5 times a week is a great solution to exercise.

picture of a microwave with the door openElectromagnetic frequencies

There is growing research on the toxic effects of electromagnetic frequencies on our bodies, yet wi-fi, Bluetooth and other wireless technologies that emit these strong fields surrounds us every day.  People place their laptops or ipads on their laps and we keep our mobile phones next to our bodies, often near our reproductive area.  Even x-rays and body scanners such as those in airports can have an effect on our systems.  Microwaves are common place but the frequencies they emit denature the foods and fluids we place in them and render them toxic to the body, as opposed to nutrient giving.

Add in factors such as ongoing stress which disrupts our ability to absorb nutrients from our food, dehydrates us and inhibits the production of sex hormones and we have a perfect storm which then makes this increase in infertility unsurprising.

The pre-conception plan

So it is clear why building a great pre-conceptual plan is key and preparing the body to rehydrate and cleanse.  Where time is of the essence due to age, a pre-conception programme should last for a minimum of around 3-6 months.  However, the optimal time for this is two years.  It is absolutely key during this time that the potential mum-to-be does not try to get pregnant, as cleansing is not advised during pregnancy due to the danger of toxicity releasing into the foetus and endangering its survival.  It’s a good idea to keep things stable throughout pregnancy, so introducing cleansing foods and supplements should be done ahead of conception, not during.

So a good plan should look at reducing exposure to toxic substances and foods, improving our liver’s ability to detoxify by introducing naturopathic techniques such as liver packing and hydrotherapy techniques such as sitz baths to remove congestion in the reproductive system, improving lifestyle factors such as sleep, stress, fresh air, daylight and exercise and limiting exposure to electromagnetic frequencies as much as possible.  And it should focus on the potential dad to be, as well as mum, as the ability to reproduce will hinge on both of their nutrient profiles, levels of dehydration and toxicity.

References

Coletta, J. M., Bell, S. J., & Roman, A. S. (2010). Omega-3 Fatty acids and pregnancy. Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology3(4), 163-71.
Jeong, S. H., Kang, D., Lim, M. W., Kang, C. S., & Sung, H. J. (2010). Risk assessment of growth hormones and antimicrobial residues in meat. Toxicological research26(4), 301-13.
Jorge E. Chavarro, Janet W. Rich-Edwards, Bernard A. Rosner, and Walter C. Willett. (2007). “Diet and Lifestyle in the Prevention of Ovulatory Disorder Infertility.” J. Obstetrics & Gynecology. Vol. 110, No. 5.
Malekinejad, H., & Rezabakhsh, A. (2015). Hormones in Dairy Foods and Their Impact on Public Health – A Narrative Review Article. Iranian journal of public health44(6), 742-58.
McKenna, E., Hure, A., Perkins, A., & Gresham, E. (2017). Dietary Supplement Use during Preconception: The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. Nutrients9(10), 1119. doi:10.3390/nu9101119
Mohd Mutalip, S. S., Ab-Rahim, S., & Rajikin, M. H. (2018). Vitamin E as an Antioxidant in Female Reproductive Health. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland)7(2), 22. doi:10.3390/antiox7020022
Patisaul, H. B., & Jefferson, W. (2010). The pros and cons of phytoestrogens. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology31(4), 400-19.

Water – How Much Should we Drink and What’s the Best Way to Drink it?

Picture of flowing waterIf you think about it logically, we are made from water.  Did you know that our bones should be 40% water, our blood is between 85-90% water, as is our lymph that carries toxins out of our cells and which is a vital part of our immune system.

Our digestive juices, our gastrointestinal lining, the fluid that keeps our discs in our back from wearing away, even the enamel of our teeth contain water.  We have around 75 trillion cells in our body, that need to be around 70% water for optimal health, and the cells in our brain and spinal cord need even higher water content, at around 85%!  So it’s clear to see how lack of adequate water intake can affect our brain function, our backs, the elimination of waste from our bodies, our digestion, even the ability of our cells to make energy!  This alone can lead to conditions such as anxiety, back pain, digestive issues, migraines, the list is endless.

Fluid loss

Again, if you think about it, we lose water on a daily basis through our normal bodily functions such as breathing, sweating, urinating, defecating – 4 pints, in fact, every day!  We lose further water when we cry, when we cut ourselves, when we vomit or have diarrhoea and, for us ladies, when we menstruate.  And did you know that stress dehydrates us too?

The work of Dr Masaru Emoto  shows how thoughts can affect water molecules.  Given that we are made from water, it’s logical to conclude that even our thoughts can dehydrate us!  So it’s easy to see how we can quickly become dehydrated if we are not replacing those 4 pints of water every day.

Many people think that having a juice or a cup of coffee will help them hydrate, but that’s not the case. Water needs to be:

Still

Carbonated water can actually alter our blood chemistry because of the gases within it

Pure

Ideally water needs to either be filtered or glass bottled. Our tap water today contains numerous Picture of plastic-bottled watercontaminants, toxins, hormones, bleach in the form of chlorine and even the remnants of other people’s medications! In some locations it also contains fluoride, of which there is much research of its toxic effects on the brain. Plastic water bottles leach chemicals into the water that mimic oestrogen and play havoc with our hormone balance.  You may have seen a recent study make the news headlines, which found that drinking from a plastic water bottle likely means ingesting microplastic particles (1). When I tested myself some years ago I had traces of plastic in my own system, which is toxic and causes havoc with our health.

Empty

As soon as we put anything in water, it becomes something that our bodies have to work at to break down. Even when we put something as simple as a squeeze of lemon juice in the water or some apple cider vinegar, that water then becomes more like a food that our bodies have to break down, so it does not have such a powerful hydrating effect.  In addition, many fluids such as tea and coffee or sugary juices can actually cause us to lose water instead of helping us hydrate.  Did you know that it takes 128 molecules of our internal water supply to process the 4 molecules of caffeine in a cup of coffee?

Warm

If water is too hot, the body needs to do something with it to cool it down and it can be quite abrasive on our digestive tract, and if it is too cold, then it shocks our system and the body has to use energy to warm it up before it can utilise it. The ideal temperature at which to drink water is body temperature. Mix ¾ pint of cold and ¼ pint of boiling clean water, and our cells will suck it up and utilise straight away.

Timed

The best time to drink water is half an hour before each meal. This will help our digestion as water is essential for us to make our digestive juices. However, drinking too close to a meal or with a meal will dilute our digestive juices and make it harder for us to digest our food. For this reason, it’s a good idea to leave drinking any fluids for up to at least an hour after eating, optimal time being 2 hours, especially for people with digestive problems.

So if we are losing 4 pints of water a day it is crucial that we replace them on a daily basis. But if you are someone who doesn’t drink much water, in the way described above, then it’s a good idea to build up gradually, because as soon as you start to rehydrate your cells will start to let go of any excess toxicity they’ve been holding.  For the same reasons, it’s also a good idea not to drink more than 1 pint in an hour and to keep your maximum intake of water to 4 pints a day, unless advised otherwise by your nutritionist / naturopath.  If you have kidney problems it is recommended to increase your water intake under supervision and at a much slower pace.

Next month I’ll be looking at another drink, that we can introduce in addition to our 4 pints of water, to further increase hydration – linseed tea!

Happy hydrating!

References

El-Sharkawy et al. (2015). Acute and chronic effects of hydration status on health.

Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2010). Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition reviews68(8), 439-58.

Riebl, S. K., & Davy, B. M. (2013). The Hydration Equation: Update on Water Balance and Cognitive Performance. ACSM’s health & fitness journal17(6), 21-28.

S.A. Mason, V. Welch, and J. Neratko (2018). Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Bottled Water. State University of New York.

Creamy Raw Vegan Dairy Free Cashew Nut Cheese

Here’s another dairy free raw vegan recipe I whizzed up at the Northern Veganfest a week ago in my “Vegan Dairy Alternatives” workshop.  The end result if you put red pepper as I’ve suggested in my recipe will be a lovely smokey looking “cheesy” dip / spread.

picture of a raw vegan blueberry cheesecake

Raw Vegan Blueberry Cheesecake

I prepared this dairy free vegan “cheesecake” in only 20 minutes at my demo at this year’s Northern Veganfest.  Every single person who tried it loved it!  It’s so simple, so tasty and, best of all, guilt free!

Veganism – How to be Healthy on a Vegan Diet

picture of some vegetablesDue to the growing information on the internet about the cruelty that animals are subjected to when farmed for consumption, veganism is gaining popularity. More and more restaurants and cafes are offering vegan options now.  In fact, latest estimates show that 7% of the British population is now vegan.

Many people ask me whether a vegan diet is healthy.  To that question I would answer two things.  Firstly, no one diet fits all.  Everyone is different biochemically and for some people a vegan diet may be very difficult to maintain.   However, that said, ethically there may be no question in someone’s mind as to whether another diet is possible for them.   And secondly, there are healthy vegan diets and unhealthy vegan diets!

So in today’s blog I am going to be exploring what it means to have a healthy vegan diet.

There are many considerations when embarking on a vegan diet.  The most obvious but often overlooked one is to ensure that you are getting all the right nutrients.

The following are nutrients that might be harder to get from a vegan diet.

Protein

Picture of a marinated tempeh saladWhen people think of plant based sources of protein, they tend to think of pulses, nuts and seeds.  However, vegans need to ensure they are getting all their essential amino acids from their protein sources. The amino acid lysine is often difficult to consume on a vegan diet.  Protein sources containing all the essential amino acids are called “complete” proteins, excellent sources of which include quinoa, hemp and organic tempeh.

B12

The B12 in animal produce is produced in the gut by naturally occurring bacteria which the animals ingest when grazing.  However, there is now an increase in supplemental B12 in even animal feed due to the ways in which they are farmed.

When eating a vegan diet, the amounts of B12 in plant based foods are not high enough to supply the body with it’s daily needs.  Whilst B12 from animal produce can be stored in the body, stores tend to deplete after about three years of a plant-based vegan diet.

The only way then for vegans to get an adequate intake of B12 is through supplementation, which can be naturally synthesized through bacterial fermentation .  For further information, the Vegan Society have an evidence-based article on their website about the need for supplementation in Vegan diets:

B12 supplements are best absorbed sublingually, one of the most bioavailable being methylcobalamin. Although, again biochemical individuality of each person comes into play when deciding which source is the best for you.

Zinc

Picture of fresh mung bean sprouts

Plant based sources of zinc include nuts, seeds and pulses.  However, these contain a natural enzyme inhibitor called phytic acid which can make these sources less bioavailable in a vegan diet.  Soaking nuts, seeds and pulses for 8-12 hours, followed by rinsing, can reduce the amount of phytic acid, making the zinc more readily available.  Sprouting or fermenting can increase the bioavailability of the nutrients even further.

Iron

Whilst pulses, nuts (particularly cashews) and seeds (particularly sesame and hemp) contain iron, again, as with zinc, phytic acid found in plant-based foods can inhibit the absorption of the iron, so soaking, rinsing, fermenting and sprouting can be a good solution.

Vitamin A

Picture of carrots and their juiceWhen people think about vitamin A they think of carrots generally!  And yes, the precursor to vitamin A, beta carotene, is found in carrots and other yellow or orange vegetables, called carotenoids.  But people can have difficulty converting beta-carotene into vitamin A.  This is not true of everyone and is an area where it’s important to look at your own unique biochemistry, which can be assessed from taking a full case history as, whilst find in a multivitamin complex, supplementing with high dose vitamin A long term is not right for everyone.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is another supplement that it is hard to get from plant based sources. The only vegan sources are really fungi, moulds and lichens, not really things that we eat too much of and certainly not in enough quantities to provide an adequate vitamin D intake.  Of course, we can make vitamin D from exposure of sunlight on bare skin but in the UK that’s not a regular occurrence!  So again supplementation is key here, with vitamin D3 plus K2 providing an excellent source.

Calcium

When people think about calcium they think about dairy.  Giving up dairy can be a great concern in people’s minds when considering a vegan diet in relation to calcium intake.  To put your mind at rest here are some facts about dairy.

Picture of cows kept in inhumane conditionsIn his book “The China Study”, Dr Colin Campbell highlights multiple research studies showing that by increasing intake of dairy they could accelerate the growth of cancer cells, due to the difficult to digest protein molecule casein found in dairy.

Dairy is extremely acid-forming and can actually lead to loss of calcium through the urine due to the increased  acidity that dairy causes inside our cells.

We are the only species that considers drinking milk after weaning, and from another species!  In nature we aren’t supposed to have the enzymes after weaning to break down milk, which is why many people struggle with lactose intolerance and why dairy is mucous forming.  The large protein molecule in dairy exists to grow a small animal into a big animal in a very short space of time.  Us humans struggle to break down this protein molecule, which is much larger than our needs require.  All of this can then lead to digestive problems, sinus problems, skin problems, etc.

Calcium works synergistically with magnesium and plant based sources of calcium are much more balanced sources of these two electrolytes.  Excellent sources include hemp milk, which can provide almost half the recommended daily allowance of calcium, kale and sesame seeds and their produce, eg tahini.

Omega 3 fatty acids

These are “essential fatty acids”, implying that we cannot synthesise these ourselves and must have an adequate intake of them in our diet.  People often think of fish when they think of omega 3 fatty acids.  Vegan sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts contain ALA.  However, this then has to be converted to DHA and EPA to provide our body with the oils it needs to maintain healthy cells and this conversion is inefficient, less than 5 to 10 percent for EPA and 2 to 5 percent for DHA, and can be affected further by a whole host of factors including our genetics, our stress levels or an imbalance between our omega 3 intake and our omega 6 intake.  Supplementing with microalgae can provide an excellent source of DHA and EPA for vegans.

So in answer to the question at the outset, a healthy vegan diet is absolutely possible with careful consideration, planning and supplementation.

References

Clarys, P., Deliens, T., Huybrechts, I., Deriemaeker, P., Vanaelst, B., De Keyzer, W., Hebbelinck, M., … Mullie, P. (2014). Comparison of nutritional quality of the vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian and omnivorous diet. Nutrients6(3), 1318-32. doi:10.3390/nu6031318

Rizzo, G., Laganà, A. S., Rapisarda, A. M., La Ferrera, G. M., Buscema, M., Rossetti, P., Nigro, A., Muscia, V., Valenti, G., Sapia, F., Sarpietro, G., Zigarelli, M., … Vitale, S. G. (2016). Vitamin B12 among Vegetarians: Status, Assessment and Supplementation. Nutrients8(12), 767. doi:10.3390/nu8120767

Roggerson, D. (2017). Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition14, 36. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9