How To Make A Ginger Kidney Pack

What are Kidney Packs Useful for?

  • Pain when urinating
  • The need to urinate frequently
  • Pain in the back, stomach or side

How do Ginger Kidney Packs Work?

  • Ginger kidney packs assist kidney and adrenal function by strongly increasing blood circulation and movement of body fluids, they can assist with stagnation in these areas.
  • The strong continuous heat from the ginger and hot water penetrates deep into the body by dilating blood vessels to, help break up accumulated mucous, fatty and mineral deposits. Ginger also penetrates easily into the body.

When Shouldn’t you use a Ginger Kidney Pack?

  • Babies or very old people
  • Pregnancy
  • Appendicitis
  • Pneumonia
  • High fever
  • If the bowels aren’t moving at least once a day

 How do I Make a Ginger Kidney Pack?

  • Finely chop in a blender or grate about 4-5 ozs of fresh root ginger (or a good tbsp. of ginger powder)
  • Place the grated / chopped up ginger into an old white cotton sock tied at the top (no die on it). If you don’t have one you can just sieve the ginger off at the end or use a nut mylk bag.
  • Put the ginger (still in the sock / nut mylk bag) into a pan with 1 litre of clean water. Bring it almost to the boil but don’t allow it to reach boiling point as this will decrease the properties of the ginger.  Then turn it down to a simmer for 15 minutes on the lowest heat.
  • Drain the hot ginger liquid into a pan and soak some castor oil packing cloth in the water.
  • Apply it as hot as you can bear to the kidney area without burning yourself.
  • Wrap yourself in a folded towel and pin it round you to keep the kidney pack in place and maintain its heat.
  • Refresh the pack in the hot ginger water approx. every 5 minutes until the flesh slows a lasting deep red colour (usually takes 20-30 minutes).
  • Use freshly prepared ginger water each time you do a kidney pack.

How Often Should I Use A Ginger Kidney Pack?

  • The simple answer is, whenever you feel like!  Any time the body or mind is under stress, or you have symptoms relating to urinary problems, ginger packs can be very helpful, as long as the bowels are working well.
  • If you want a bit more of a structure, you could use it 3-5 times a week for a month or you could do a course for a week every day.

References

Hamed, M. A., Ali, S. A., & El-Rigal, N. S. (2012). Therapeutic potential of ginger against renal injury induced by carbon tetrachloride in rats. TheScientificWorldJournal2012, 840421.

Mashhadi, N. S., Ghiasvand, R., Askari, G., Hariri, M., Darvishi, L., & Mofid, M. R. (2013). Anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of ginger in health and physical activity: review of current evidence. International journal of preventive medicine4(Suppl 1), S36-42.

The Ketogenic Diet – What is it and How Does it Work?

The Ketogenic Diet – Not Just About Weight Loss

Picture of good fats and meatYou may have heard about the ketogenic diet and the success that many people have had using it to safely lose weight.

But what is it and does it have other benefits other than weight loss?

Let’s explore….

History

The ketogenic diet has actually been around since the 1920s. It was originally used in treating epileptic seizures, very effectively in fact.  It is known for improving mitochondrial function and cognitive function.

How it Works

The aim of the ketogenic diet is to get the cells of the body to start burning fat for fuel in the form of ketones instead of glucose.  The diet is based on keeping carbohydrate intake at 10% or under of your diet, which amounts to 30 grams max of carbs a day.  And, contrary to popular belief, protein is not a huge part of the diet, at only 20% of your daily food intake.

Things to Note

Good Fats

It is fat, and when I say fat I mean “good” fat, that makes up the majority of the diet, at around 70% of your daily Picture of avocado, nuts, oils and olivesintake of food.  Healthy fats include coconut oil, cold pressed organic oils (in dark glass bottles as the light can turn them rancid), nuts, seeds, coconut, olives, avocado, organic butter and ghee, to name just a few options.

There are a number of things to watch out for, however.  Firstly, if someone’s liver is struggling to process the amount of toxins they are ingesting on a daily basis or if there is stored toxicity in the body, as is the case with many health conditions, then a good detoxification programme to open up the bowels and liver and see that waste out is essential and would include things such as castor oil packing, psyllium husks, lecithin, soaked seeds or even enemas to ensure that the liver is able to break down the fat that is being consumed.

Hydration

Another important factor is that the person needs to ensure they are getting adequate hydration on a daily basis A picture of flowing water(read my article on water for further info) and also that they are taking in electrolytes (which can be helped by taking a pinch of Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt before each glass of water).  Coconut water and energy drinks are not a great way to take in electrolytes as the sugar in them will almost certainly take you out of ketosis.

Another thing to be aware of is that long-term ketosis can affect your hormones so it is wise, especially for women in the run up to menstruation, to employ “carb cycling”, which involves increasing the amount of carbs around a period and then taking them back down again for the rest of your cycle.

Fasting

Intermittent fasting is also an important part of the ketogenic diet, which can mean fasting for 12 hours at first.  However, if someone is struggling with adrenal fatigue or low energy then this should be done more incrementally. Preferably this would be done with some guidance and a programme tailored at supporting mitochondrial function at the same time. Mitochondrial function is essential for those with conditions such as M.E. (aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and Fibromyalgia.

Exogenous ketones can help someone get into ketosis more easily and avoid what is known as the “keto flu” when used in conjunction with the other advice above, the keto flu being flu-like symptoms that can occur as part of the adaptation process of switching from using glucose to burning fat for energy.

A diet as low in carbohydrates as the ketogenic diet is not advised for pregnant or breastfeeding women, nor children. This is because they need a higher intake of carbohydrates.

Other Health Benefits

Nutritional ketosis is very different to keto acidosis, which is a dangerous condition, and so should not be confused. Picture of a brain encased in a lightbulbNutritional ketosis is highly anti-inflammatory and there is research out there to show that it improves cognitive ability which gives it the potential to help neurological conditions such as Parkinsons or Alzheimers, helps balance blood sugar in both type I (with guidance) and type II diabetes and can even protect against cancers.  So it is so much more than just a weight loss diet.

If you want to know more about the ketogenic diet and whether you can use it to improve physical or mental performance, reduce inflammation, lose weight or you want to find out how it can help your particular health condition, please contact me to arrange a free and informal 15 minute chat.

References

Barañano, K. W., & Hartman, A. L. (2008). The ketogenic diet: uses in epilepsy and other neurologic illnesses. Current treatment options in neurology10(6), 410-9.

Hallböök, T., Ji, S., Maudsley, S., & Martin, B. (2011). The effects of the ketogenic diet on behavior and cognition. Epilepsy research100(3), 304-9.

Miller et al. (2018). Nutritional Ketosis and Mitohormesis: Potential Implications for Mitochondrial Function and Human Health.

Rogovik, A. L., & Goldman, R. D. (2010). Ketogenic diet for treatment of epilepsy. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien56(6), 540-2.

strawberries and cream

Cashew Nut Cream

Are you dairy free or vegan and missing your strawberries and cream this summer?  Well you don’t have to miss out!  Check out my recipe for cashew nut cream.

Linseed Tea – How To Make It & Health Benefits

Picture of linseeds and linseed tea on a saucerIn last month’s “Foundations of Health” blog series, I wrote about the importance of water for hydration.  This month, I’m taking a look at linseed tea.  Linseeds (also known as flaxseeds) are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids.  They are also rich in fibre.  But, most importantly, they have an amazing mucilaginous quality that, when made into linseed tea, allows the body to hold onto water.  In fact, linseed tea is one of the most hydrating drinks you can have, coming a close second to water itself!

Importance of hydration

Your body is made up of approximately 75 trillion cells, which need the best possible internal environment to live in to maintain optimal health.  Two things crucial to cell health are oil and water.  We need them both to run our body systems, just like a car!  So linseed tea is an excellent way to re-introduce oil and water to our cells.

Once our cells know that they are getting enough good quality hydration, they can start to release toxins, as long as our routes of elimination are working properly (lovely fluid lymph drainage, fluid blood flow, good liver detoxification processes, good bile production and good elimination via our bowels twice a day).

This is incredibly important for reducing inflammation, which is implicated in pretty much every health condition, including chronic pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, cysts, fibroids, endometriosis, neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, etc.

How to drink linseeds

picture of a string mopYou can also drink the seeds whole, which will introduce fibre to bulk out your stools so that you can eliminate more waste as the linseeds gently cleanse the intestinal wall like a mop!  They will pass through whole, so don’t be alarmed if you see them reappear in the toilet!

Because they are so good at hydrating, they really offer a soothing message to our cells, to such an extent that drinking 1 litre of linseed tea a day can actually have a profound effect on anxiety and panic attacks!  I call it liquid Valium because of its calming, soothing effects.

How to make linseed tea

So that’s the benefits, but how do you make it?  Well there are two ways, the traditional way and the cheat method.  The traditional way is even more effective at soothing and calming as it creates a more mucilaginous consistency, but the cheat method is good for those who would find the traditional method another stress – remember, stress = dehydration!

You can increase the amount of linseeds to make a thicker tea (I find the thicker tea more soothing) or reduce them to make a thinner liquid which some people find more palatable.  If making it the traditional way, you can make a batch and store it in glass bottles / jars for up to 3 days in the fridge.

Cheat spelt out with scrabble lettersCheat method

So, for the cheat method, when you wake up get yourself a litre stainless steel flask (not plastic due to its toxicity), pop 2 tbsp linseeds in, fill the flask to the top with boiling filtered water, pop the lid on and leave for 6-8 hours.  When you’ve let it “brew” for a few hours, sip throughout the day, drinking the seeds whole for their cleansing effect.

Traditional Method

The traditional method involves a large stainless steel pan, filled with about 2 or 3 litres of cold filtered water.  I use 6 tbsp linseeds for a thick tea, you might want to start off with 3 or 4 and see how you like the consistency.  Better to start low and build up as many people find the thinner it is, the more palatable.  Bring the seeds and water almost to the boil but as soon as you see it starting to boil, switch the hob off as it can overflow very quickly, leaving a gloopy mess all over your cooker!  Leave it to sit for 6-8 hours later (or overnight).  Then simmer it on a low heat for an hour.  After an hour, it’s ready to drain the seeds away and drink.  It’s easier to drain the seeds once it is still hot as it gets more mucilaginous when it cools.  Once cooled, it can be stored in glass containers in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Happy hydrating!

References

Goyal, A., Sharma, V., Upadhyay, N., Gill, S., & Sihag, M. (2014). Flax and flaxseed oil: an ancient medicine & modern functional food. Journal of food science and technology51(9), 1633-53.

Kajla, P., Sharma, A., & Sood, D. R. (2014). Flaxseed-a potential functional food source. Journal of food science and technology52(4), 1857-71.

Su, K. P., Matsuoka, Y., & Pae, C. U. (2015). Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Prevention of Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Clinical psychopharmacology and neuroscience : the official scientific journal of the Korean College of Neuropsychopharmacology13(2), 129-37.

Vitamin B12 – Why You Need It & Sources

Between 1-6% of people in the UK are deficient in B12. According to NHS GP Dr Ayan Panja, who explains that Vitamin B12 deficiency can occur even when someone’s blood results come back in “normal” range. The problem is that the tests do not look at the functioning level of B12 in the cells, only in the blood serum.  Also, what may be “normal” for one person may be low for another.  There are other tests that can indicate someone’s levels of B12, such as the Organic Acids Test that I use for my clients. Or, by measuring homocysteine levels which are inextricably linked, high levels of homocysteine raising concerns around both B12 and folate.  But why is B12 so important?

picture of man asleep on desk at his computerWhat do we need B12 for?

B12 is an important nutrient for making our DNA, regulating the building blocks that make us and is crucial for the functioning of the cells of the central nervous system.  Deficiency can lead to significantly reduced energy levels, difficulty with detoxification and neurological symptoms.

Source of B12

So where does B12 come from?  Well, B12 is made via bacterial fermentation.  The bacteria that B12 is produced from exist in abundance in the gastrointestinal tracts of animals, which originates from the soil they ingest.  This is why animal sources of B12 are the most bioavailable form, particularly meat, poultry, eggs and fish.  But even animals nowadays are supplemented with B12.  Dairy produce is much lower in B12.

picture of sauerkraut in a mason jarVegan and vegetarian diets

So, where can vegetarians and vegans get reliable sources of B12 from?  Well, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, vegan kefir, miso and tempeh are also good sources. Also, sea vegetables (from a clean source) are a great source.  But essentially, in order to ensure you are taking in enough B12 as a vegan or vegetarian, you should be supplementing.  B12 can be stored in the body for long periods, so deficiency symptoms may not become apparent for at least 3 years after someone becomes vegetarian or vegan.

For those of you who aren’t vegan or vegetarian, particularly if you are suffering from fatigue, cognitive problems, diabetic neuropathy, viral hepatitis, anaemia or a neurological disorder, B12 is a must to get tested for. Because, whilst you may be getting sufficient amounts in your diet, you might not be able to absorb it. Particularly if you have low stomach acid (one sign of which can actually be heartburn) or pancreatic insufficiency (signs of which may be difficulty digesting fats).  In fact, so many people nowadays are placed on Proton Pump Inhibitors such as Omeprazole (almost all of my clients who come to see me with health conditions are on Omeprazole!) that this is certainly a consideration, as these drugs reduce the amount of stomach acid.

Picture of digestive systemMedication and B12

Those on metformin or potassium supplements are also a risk group and those of us over 60 are at even greater risk.  Anyone with a history of alcohol abuse, gastric or bowel surgery or Coeliac disease should also ensure they get their levels checked.  Also, doses of 500mg or more of Vitamin C taken with meals can limit our uptake of Vitamin B12, so if you are on high dose Vitamin C supplements, take them at least 2 hours away from your B12 supplement.

B12 supplementation

But how reliable is supplementation?  Well most problems with B12 arise from an impaired ability to absorb nutrients from food, such as with pancreatic insufficiency, low stomach acid or conditions such as Coeliac and Crohns Disease.  So supplementation is not always very effective.  But taking a sublingual form (ie it is absorbed under the tongue) can be much more efficient, and a good daily supplemental dose would be 1000µg.  It certainly isn’t sufficient to rely on the amounts in multivitamins, so I suggest all my vegan and vegetarian clients take a supplemental dose as multivitamin tablets do not provide B12 in sufficient amounts.

The most readily utilised forms of B12 are methylcobalamin and hydroxycobalamin and sublingual supplements that contain both are a good choice.  However, some people may be more suited to methylcobalamin and others more to hydroxycobalamin. It depends on their own individual biochemistry. So, it’s always worth working with a practitioner who can look at the whole picture. This is where lab testing and genetic testing can be particularly useful to tailor someone’s health and wellbeing programme.

References

Ahmed, M. A., Muntingh, G., & Rheeder, P. (2016). Vitamin B12 deficiency in metformin-treated type-2 diabetes patients, prevalence and association with peripheral neuropathy. BMC pharmacology & toxicology, 17(1), 44.
Gilfix, B. (2005). Vitamin B12 and homocysteine. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal. 173(11), 1360.
Heidelbaugh (2013). Proton pump inhibitors and risk of vitamin and mineral deficiency: evidence and clinical implications. Therapeutic advances in drug safety, 4(3), 125-33.
Linder et al. (2017). Drug-Induced Vitamin B12 Deficiency: A Focus on Proton Pump Inhibitors and Histamine-2 Antagonists.
McMullin et al. (2003). Homocysteine and methylmalonic acid as indicators of folate and vitamin B12 deficiency in pregnancy.
O’Leary, F., & Samman, S. (2010). Vitamin B12 in health and disease. Nutrients, 2(3), 299-316.
Panja, A. The prevalence of Vitamin B12 deficiency – An interview with Dr Ayan Panja. https://blog.cytoplan.co.uk/prevalence-vitamin-b12-deficiency-interview-dr-ayan-panja/
Schilling, R. (1955). The Absorption and Utilization of Vitamin B12. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

 

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 Ribbon

Millions 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 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, 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.

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.

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 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 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.

Recovery

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.. Finally, it is important to deal with any parasitic infections, bacterial or fungal overgrowth.

Detoxification

Many of my clients have found detoxification to be 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 stressed

This article will be looking at different types of stress, their effects on our physical body and how we can help 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 to 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. In stressful 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. The 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

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. There are however, two nutrients of particular mention; 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.

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 calming. 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 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.

Positive 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

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Dimsdale, J. (2008). ‘Psychological stress and cardiovascular disease.’ Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 51(13), 1237-46.
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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.
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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