Is your house making you sick?

How would you know if your house is making you ill ? Symptoms can be really diverse and include allergies, fatigue, sleep disturbances and less common symptoms like multiple chemical sensitivity and infertility. To really determine whether its related to the environment you need to look at a detailed history.

The acronmyn for the history taking is PHOLD which stands for place, hobbies, occupation, lifestyle, dental, diet and drugs. So lets look at how the first issue ,place, can contribute to making you ill.

Place – your geography and your home. From everyday exposures such as living on a major road and being exposed to high levels of petroleum by products to living near an airport or a coal mine, your geography increases your risks. Both of those locations create a toxic environment in the house and are associated with a higher incidence of asthma for example.

Another common issue is mould particularly in Sydney with its high ambient humidity in Summer. Often you can smell that a house is damp or musty as you walk in. The cause of the mould is often moisture or leaks that have not been treated quickly. Other examples can include old bathrooms where the waterproof membrane has decayed and mould has built up behind the tiles and fittings. In Sydney roof leaks and rising damp often contribute to problems particularly in older houses. Mould spores whether dead or alive can contribute to chronic respiratory problems, like allergies or asthma.

Another increasingly common challenge for people is EMF fields particularly from smart meters for monitoring electrical use. People who are sensitive to these fields may find that they need to move away from the smart meter to improve their sleep. For people who are very sensitive to electro magnetic radiation it is also a good idea to switch off the wi-fi overnight. It will become increasingly more difficult to remove these sources as we switch to 5G so it is a good idea to reduce your exposures wherever possible. This could mean using headphones for the phone or the speaker where possible.

Within the context of the home its also important to consider hobbies which can involve exposure to toxins or chemicals on a regular basis. Artists for example are constantly exposed to a plethora of chemical solvents, photochemicals, and chemical additives. If you are planning to become pregnant it is important to be aware of the dangers that exist when working with various arts & crafts. Hobbies that involve the handling of dyes, pigments, metals, ceramics, glass, and chemical solvents create the potential for toxic exposure.

If you are not sure whether the home environment is contributing to ill health you can get a building biologist to do a review and advise you of concerns. This is a good starting spot and the Australian College of Environmental Studies has a list on its site if you need a referral. If you are unsure as to whether the house is the problem make sure that the next time you holiday away from home you really observe how you are feeling and it may shed some light on the issue. Certainly I know people who have told me they are always better when they are on holidays, however it may be that they are away from their mouldy house !

Constructing a timeline can often help you determine if it is related to the location or if something in the environment triggered the issue originally.

If you need a bit of assistance determining the causes Christine Pope is based at St Ives and available for appointments on 8084 0081.

Microbiome or genome – what tells you more?

shutterstock_609019046What tells us more about your risk of developing a disease, DNA or your microbiome? The explosion of DNA testing has meant that we have developed much more knowledge about an individual’s DNA. It’s also clear that simply having a particular gene or a snip does not mean you will necessarily develop the relevant condition. Our DNA is the terrain but the environment is the trigger.

The microbiome on the other hand can tell us more about whether the environment is triggering a condition. Microbial diversity is more critical to health. Loss of diversity seems to have a more negative impact on health and an overgrowth of particular strains of bacteria can also contribute to a higher risk of developing chronic diseases.

Cholesterol is a good example. Looking at the risk factors for cholesterol levels close to 50% is derived from your underlying genetics and 50% from your microbiome. A good diet which increases microbial diversity can make all the difference to your cardiovascular risks. In fact the microbiome strongly influences many of our metabolic risks including factors such as fasting glucose, lactose intolerance and waist circumference.

The bacteria in our gut enable exert their effects by the production of key metabolites. Certain gut bacteria can control the production of these metabolites and therefore significantly influence our function. An example of this is Bifidobacterium lactis. It increases the production of short chain fatty acids in the bowels. These activate the vagal nerve and signal that we feel full. So a deficiency of Bifidobacterium lactic can mean that we don’t have that signal working quickly and therefore we are prone to overeating.

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In conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis and Ankolysing Spondylitis the gut bacteria is often low in strains that produce a metabolite called butyrate. It is often the case that the microbiome has an elevated level of Prevotella Copri or another problematic strain. That is why treatment needs to be focused as much on rebalancing the microbiome to support the strains that are healthy and to crowd out the problematic strains. Prebiotic fibres such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Boulaardi) can be a useful part of treatment. The other critical factor is to ensure that you are feeding the microbiome and my blog on 6 Tips for feeding your gut bacteria right! is a useful guide.

There is still a lot of emerging research in this area so please follow my blog to see the latest updates.

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives in Sydney. If you think your microbiome needs some attention you can make an appointment online at http://www.elementalhealth.net.au or phone on 8084 0081.

 

 

Climate Change – what can you do?

During the recent election there was a lot of debate about climate change and the need to take action. It is an overwhelming issue for any one person to deal with on their own. What I thought might help is to break it down into smaller tasks and see what you can do to reduce your carbon consumption. In the last 18 months Australians have reduced consumption of plastic bags by 1.5 billion bags so I am sure collectively we can make some reasonable changes.

First up where are the big contributors to greenhouse emissions – well it depends a little bit on your source but according to Austalian government data

transport is a major contributor to emissions.

How do we reduce reliance on gas guzzling cars ? My top four suggestions are as follows:

  1. Use public transport where possible. Ever since they dug up George St for the light rail I have found driving into town a nightmare. Roads are blocked off and its really hard to find places to cross over. Consequently my entire family now uses the train consistently and its really reduced the mileage in our cars significantly. Look at bus routes too it is so easy now with the Opal card to jump on a bus for short distances.
  2. Consider whether you really need a second car (which is an expensive cost in terms of depreciation, insurance and registration etc) and whether you could use taxis or Ubershutterstock_1216160155 particularly if you live close to where you work. If you really only use a car intermittently have a look at services like Go-Get for short term use or hire a car for bigger trips.
  3. Walk more! On Sundays we walk to a local coffee bar with the dog and pop in and buy a few things at Harris Farm. More steps for us and lower use of the car.
  4. Invest in the latest energy efficient vehicle , whether its an electric car or a hybrid like the Honda Civic.
  5. Put the kids on the bus to school. Traffic on the North Shore is chaotic in the mornings and part of that is due to the number of children who are driven to school. Due to the fact that many parents are unaware of bus services to school they don’t use them and then it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the service. 40 kids on a bus is much less problematic than 40 parents individually driving children to school.

What’s next? If you have already adopted as many of those options that are affordable probably the next area to look at in reducing your carbon footprint is food. Agriculture is responsible for around 16% of carbon emissions and the biggest part of that is methane from livestock accounting for in excess of 50%.

  1. Reduce your consumption of meat and other animal products. I am not recommending that you adopt veganism however it may well be worthwhile looking at making vegetables the star of your dinner table and meat more of a condiment.
  2. Look at more than just a Meat Free Monday – ideally look at vegetarian proteins like chickpeas, tofu and other legumes as well as cheese or eggs to make up your protein requirements. This also makes a much more affordable diet than relying heavily on meat.shutterstock_158785211
  3. What can you grow at home ? Whether its simply some herbs or fruit, most people can grow things they use regularly like lemons or mint or rosemary. It all helps reduce the amount of transport used for shipping food as well as food miles.
  4. See if you can buy produce locally as there are now lots of farmers markets or organic markets on offer.

Another way to reduce your carbon footprint is to look at reducing plastic use in your home. My recent blog on Quitting Plastic has some straightforward ideas.

How are you planning on reducing your footprint ?  Post in the comments section to share your ideas.

Christine Pope is an experienced natural medicine practitioner based at Elemental Health, St Ives. You can make appointments on 8084 0081 or online at http://www.elementalhealth.net.au .