7 Tips to Support Your Recovery from Colds this Winter

It’s that time of year again isn’t it? Everyone around us is sneezing, coughing and coming down with something or other. We can turn to the cupboard above the sink in the bathroom, but first let’s look at the natural remedies we can use to help aid the symptoms of a cough and a cold. 

I was looking forward to some well earned down time over Christmas and New Year. Well, I got some down time, but not in the way that I wanted it, but instead I got two weeks of mostly being in bed with a streaming nose, cough, sore throat and debilitating fatigue. This got me thinking about natural remedies of a cold and a cough.  

So how can we ensure that we support the body during this time? Here is seven natural methods for you to consider if you’re suffering with the sniffles. 

1. REST! 

 When I was doing my naturopathic training, this was the one that surprised me the most, being one of those A type personalities, who wanted to “do” something to get rid of an infection or just ignore it and try to carry on! In today’s society it is no mean feat to take time off from our multiple commitments, whether it be work, family or other pressures. 

But rest and relaxation are absolutely crucial. Your body cannot be in repair mode at the same time as defence mode i.e. being active and being under stressSo take this time out to sleep if your body is telling you to and do whatever you can to relax. It will speed up the healing process! Ignoring this advice back in the 90s was the start of decades of ill health for me.  

2. PMA! (Positive mental attitude) 

Our bodies cannot be in the state of fight or flight at the same time as rest and repair. If we are in fear mode this will put our body into fight or flight, meaning the immune system is not be able to work as effectively. So consider this a time to have a bit of down time, look after yourself and when all that mucus is coming up just visualise it getting those toxins out of your body and your body seizing the opportunity to have a good cleanse! According to Antoine Bechamps, infections take hold when the right toxic environment in the body exists for that to happen. 

3. Hydration 

My regular readers will not be surprised to see this in here, but possibly surprised to see this at number three. Our lymph and circulation need to be flowing beautifully for our immune system to effectively get those toxins out. We need to be hydrated with pure, clean & still water to do that. Read my blog about hydration here to find out more. We also eliminate toxins via sweating, urination and bowel movements so we need to be adequately hydrated to do so. 

4. Fasting 

The saying “feed a cold, starve a fever” was actually originally “starve a cold lest you feed a fever”. Digestion can take a huge amount of energy, particularly when eating the wrong sorts of foods. The issue of whether to eat or not is debated, but my opinion is that the body knows what it wants. If you feel hungry, eat things that are easy to digest and warming to your system such as soups or broths, but if you have lost your appetite and don’t feel like eating, don’t force yourself.   

5. Fresh air and light 

The 19th century naturopath Sebastian Kneipp was renowned for his success in using fresh air and sunlight to support the body’s healing abilities. When you are feeling ill it’s tempting to just shut all the windows, whack the heating up and lie in a darkened room. But the body needs fresh air to supply oxygen to support the healing process and daylight provides energy to our cells. So wrap up super warm, put the heating on and open the window to get a flow of fresh air into the room and, if you can, pop your head out of the back door to get some daylight directly into your retinas.   

6. Detoxification techniques 

There are several naturopathic techniques that can be used to support the body’s detoxification pathways. Techniques such as enemas, lymph brushing, castor oil packing, etc should only be used with the guidance of a qualified naturopath. However, one simple technique is sweating! I have a far infrared sauna – its a bit like a tent that you can pop up in your living room and allows you to sweat out toxins. I find it extremely helpful to accelerate my recovery when I’m experiencing the sniffles, sore throat, mucus, etc.  

7. Supplements 

When your body is under attack, another instinctive reaction for us natural types is to load it full of supplements. Less is more when dealing with an acute. I have 2 core supplements that I use – a short course of zinc citrate and liposomal vitamin C. That said, I never recommend supplements without seeing a person first as supplements can interact with medications and certain supplements are ill advised with certain conditions.   

If you’re suffering from a sore throat or cold at the moment, why not give these natural methods above a try and see how you feel? And most importantly … get some rest!  

Disclaimer: Please note this blog is not intended to provide medical advice or replace the advice of a qualified medical practitioner. These are just natural methods to support the body. If you are experiencing symptoms please consult a qualified medical practitioner.  

IBS Symptoms and Treatment – Could You Have SIBO?

Picture of woman holding her stomach with red area of inflammation radiating from underneath her hands

Could I have undiagnosed IBS?

Prevalence and Symptoms of IBS

Statistics show that approximately 2 in 10 people in the UK have IBS. Many more people are thought to have IBS who have either not been diagnosed correctly or haven’t consulted a GP for a diagnosis. Many people think that IBS symptoms such as constipation, loose stools, going to the toilet less than once a day, wind or bloating is normal.

In terms of a healthy bowel movement, the gold standard is 2 to 3 times a day and doesn’t leave any marks on the toilet bowel or even on the toilet paper! Can you honestly say your stools are like that?

Common Treatments for IBS

IBS is commonly “treated” with medications such as Moviprol to relieve constipation or Immodium to stop diarrhoea. Proton Pump Inhibitors such as Omeprazole and Lansoprazole are prescribed to relieve symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn. All of which have side effects.

So, we are going to take a look at the side effects of using such medications. However, please consult a qualified health professional before making any decisions about medications.

Effects of Moviprol: 

If you are taking Moviprol, have a look at the sodium content in it. Moviprol can be very high in sodium which can affect our health.

Effects of Immodium:

When we have loose stools, there is a reason the body is trying to eliminate so rapidly. We need to find out the reason to be able to look at why the symptoms are arising and explore whether we can eliminate this.

Effects of Omeprazole / Lanzoprazole and the Question of Stomach Acid Production:

There are concerns in studies that these medications can have long term effects on health and also potentially stop a vital function of the body – they decrease the production of acid in the stomach. “But I’ve got acid heartburn”, I hear you say, “so why would I not want to decrease the production of stomach acid?”

Stomach acid purposes

Well to answer that question, let’s look at the main purposes of stomach acid production:

  • The production of stomach acid actually triggers the tightening of the lower oesophageal sphincter, which prevents stomach acid from rising up into the oesophagus. So causes of acid reflux can actually include too little stomach acid.
  • Secondly, it is produced to break down proteins so that we can use them to regenerate our bodies. So when people don’t produce enough stomach acid, they can have impaired protein digestion and are not able to use the protein they take in to maintain optimum physical function.
  • Thirdly, stomach acid has the effect of killing any unwanted bacteria and prevents it from accumulating in the small intestines, a major cause of 60% plus of IBS cases!

Whilst some people do produce too much stomach acid, the majority of people actually produce too little.

I can hear you saying, well that’s all well and good Bee, but the symptoms of IBS are horrendous so what do I do?  Let’s take a look at some possible root causes of IBS and the natural ways you can alleviate the symptoms. Our main focus is on the biggest known cause of IBS, SIBO.

Causes of IBS

SIBO

Research suggests that one of the biggest causes of IBS could be something you have never even heard of! SIBO – small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.  Studies have shown that 60-84% of people with IBS actually have something called SIBO which is causing their IBS symptoms?

But what is it? And is it curable? Well, we are supposed to have an abundance of certain bacteria in our large intestine, but not in our small intestine. SIBO is where bacteria have overgrown backwards into the small intestine.

Causes of SIBO

Poor gut motility

Poor gut motility is when food and bacteria aren’t being swept down through your digestive tract effectively. Gut motility is controlled by something called the migrating motor complex (MMC for short).

The functioning of the MMC can be impaired by illnesses such as gastroenteritis (gastric flu) or a severe bout of food poisoning (24 hrs or more). It can also be impaired by infections such as Lyme Disease or mould toxicity, and even an impact that has knocked or shaken the head.

Poor digestion

Other causes include low stomach acid, impaired production of digestive enzymes, impaired production of bile and low secretory IgA which acts as an immune defence in the gut.

Causes can even be as simple as drinking with or close to meals (which dilutes your digestive juices). Or not chewing your food properly and eating whilst distracted (by our phones or the TV). Eating on the go or eating under stress or whilst upset or angry can also cause poor digestion.

Stress shuts down our digestive system. With so many people under constant chronic stress, it is affecting their digestion all the time. Taking time to do some deep breathing or anything that calms you before every meal, helps switch your body into rest and digest mode.

Obstructions and abdominal adhesions

Adhesions are scar tissue that form after surgery, a perforated appendix or a haemorrhage. Obstructions can be caused by conditions such as endometriosis, diverticulitis and superior mesenteric artery syndrome.

Medications and stimulants

Other medications such as opiates, narcotics, antispasmodics and even trycyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline can all cause poor gut motility, as can cigarette and cannabis use.

How Do I Know If I have SIBO

Lab tests such as a 3 hour lactulose breath test, possibly followed by a glucose test as well if necessary, can be carried out by a SIBO practitioner such as myself. It is important that the test is a 3 hour test and that it tests for both methane and hydrogen.

Methane & hydrogen are emitted by bacteria in the small intestine, before you have had chance to absorb your food. Causing the symptoms of wind, bloating, stomach cramps, iron deficiency, B vitamin deficiency, fatigue, etc! But a word of warning… There is a third gas, called hydrogen sulphide, that doesn’t show up on a standard test.

Hydrogen Sulphide

Leading expert in the field, Dr Mark Pimental, has recently developed a test for Hydrogen Sulphide SIBO. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this article, it is not yet available in the UK.

However, if you have a flat line across the whole of your 3 hour breath test, it is possible that this is not a negative breath test for SIBO, but in fact a positive indicator that you have hydrogen sulphide SIBO. So, if you have previously been tested, as I was, and told that the test is negative because you had a flat line but you are still symptomatic, you may in fact need treating for Hydrogen Sulphide SIBO. A trained SIBO practitioner should be able to help you interpret the test and give you some indication of how long treatment might take.

I also order a stool test for my clients to see what possible causes of SIBO may exist. Lab tests I use include GI Effects from Genova Diagnostics and GI Map, depending on someone’s signs and symptoms.

Natural treatments for SIBO

The natural treatment for SIBO that I prescribe to my clients is herbal antimicrobials to kill off the excess bacteria, of a particular type and dosage. These should always be taken under supervision.

I also prescribe a 2 phase diet which for some people has virtually eliminated symptoms within a couple of weeks. However, this diet is not meant as a long-term strategy. We need to look at the cause, as opposed to just managing the symptoms with diet.

Phase 2 diet

The diet works by eliminating/ reducing a group of fermentable carbohydrates called FODMAPs. Designed by one of the leading experts in the field, Nirala Jacobi, adapted from Alison Siebecker’s SIBO Specific Diet, the diet is specifically targeted at starving the bacteria to help with their elimination. It has also been designed to be as varied as possible, because restricting any food groups can cause disruption to the gut microbiome, the community of “normal” bacteria that are supposed to live in our large intestine and modulate our immune system, produce vitamins and in short keep us healthy.

If someone has Hydrogen Sulphide SIBO I tailor the diet, as hydrogen sulphide producing bacteria will thrive on different foods to hydrogen and methane producers.

Meal spacing

Other strategies I employ include meal spacing, i.e. eating with four to five hour gaps in between. This can help the MMC to sweep excess bacteria out, so regular grazing can also be problematic.

I also, depending on someone’s stool test results, address any digestive issues with specific enzymes, address any leaky gut, inflammation or lowered gut immunity and assess whether someone needs to take hydrochloric acid in the form of Betaine HCl. I would also prescribe a prokinetic to ensure that motility is working as well as possible and possibly also a biofilm disruptor, as bacteria are known to create a biofilm around themselves to protect themselves.

There are also many natural treatments for symptoms such as bloating, reflux, constipation and diarrhoea.  Take a look at www.siboinfo.com  for more info.

Microbiome restoration

I end my treatment with microbiome restoration, as the antimicrobials, although natural, and the restricted diet, do to some extent alter the gut microbiome.

Probiotics, fermented foods, yoghurts such as Yakult, etc will not on their own be enough to recolonize our gut bacteria. Those bacteria need to keep being fed prebiotic foods in order to grow, thrive and survive.

Other Causes of IBS

Other causes of IBS can include;

  • parasitic infections (almost impossible to pick up unless you use PCR testing to test for DNA and standard tests throw up a lot of false negatives)
  • Coeliac disease (which your GP can test you for as long as you are still eating gluten)
  • Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (don’t think if you are not coeliac that gluten is fine as this could be you!)
  • Disease causing bacteria such as Klebsiella Pneumoniae that produce endotoxins (linked with endometriosis in some cases), any of the individual causes of SIBO on their own
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis)
  • Removal of gallbladder or part of the bowel
  • Diverticulitis
  • Candida or other fungal overgrowth
  • Food intolerances
  • Salicylate or oxalate sensitivity
  • Histamine intolerance
  • Disrupted gut flora
  • Or simply a poor diet.

I shall be diving deeper into some of these other causes in future articles.

Often removing highly inflammatory foods such as dairy, gluten and sugar can have a huge impact on someone’s digestion. Again, testing as part of my six step programme instead of guessing, can often get to the route cause of any of these.

If you would like help with any issues mentioned above, contact me for a free 15 minute chat to find out how I can help you.

References

Bharucha, A. E., Seide, B. M., Zinsmeister, A. R., & Melton, L. J. (2007). Insights into normal and disordered bowel habits from bowel diaries. The American journal of gastroenterology103(3), 692-8.
Bures, J., Cyrany, J., Kohoutova, D., Förstl, M., Rejchrt, S., Kvetina, J., Vorisek, V., … Kopacova, M. (2010). Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth syndrome. World journal of gastroenterology16(24), 2978-90.
Ghoshal, U. C., Shukla, R., & Ghoshal, U. (2017). Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Bridge between Functional Organic Dichotomy. Gut and liver11(2), 196-208.
Thomson, A. B., Sauve, M. D., Kassam, N., & Kamitakahara, H. (2010). Safety of the long-term use of proton pump inhibitors. World journal of gastroenterology16(19), 2323-30.

Treating IBS Course

We can run a course for you covering IBS, the causes and how to relieve the symptoms.

Contact me to get some more information on the courses/ workshops that I can run for you.

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

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