Do you have the right bugs in your gut?

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Does everyone you know seem to have a food intolerance, allergy or asthma?  Why is this so much more common than  20 years ago? I remember at school only one child having an asthma puffer but now it seems that schools need to keep a spare in the first aid kit as so many children have asthma.

One of the reasons there are so many allergies is that our “microbiome” or the bacteria in our intestine has changed a lot due to the food we are eating. Candida for example thrives on sugar and the highly refined diet that many people eat feeds it beautifully. Not only does it feed it but candida is smart and basically causes you to crave sugar as well making it harder to treat.

Some recent research on rats found that a common bacteria, E. coli , increased inflammation to gluten (the protein in wheat, barley and rye) , prompting what’s sometimes called a “leaky gut”. However a beneficial bacteria called bifidobacteria protected the intestinal barrier.  Your gut bacteria may influence the immune response to gluten.  How many other intolerances to food are being created by the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria ? Certainly significant research is being directed at understanding the roles of these bacteria and how they can support your health or undermine it.

An easy way to support good gut health is to include small amounts of fermented food or drinks in your diet. Ideally you need a range of good bacteria as they all seem to have different functions.

Traditional diets always included a form of fermented food to support good gut health as well as ensuring you could extract the maximum in nutrients from your food.  Have a look at keffir, kombucha and other forms of ferments with vegetables such as sauerkraut and kim chi.  Sites such as Pinkfarm and Kitsa’s kitchen on facebook have lots of information about how you can easily incorporate these foods into your diet.

Stress – its not all in your head!

Man touching his temples to calm a headache on white backgroundStress often adds a range of physical symptoms to its load, as it if wasn’t bad enough that you were on a tight deadline now its adding its own load of odd stomach problems, headaches, muscle aches and pains and insomnia! Or you get to sleep and you can’t stay asleep waking up at 2am thinking about everything you need to do tomorrow.

Where do all these physical symptoms come from? First up think about your breathing. Typically when you are stressed you breathe from the top of your chest and you really don’t get enough oxygen where it’s needed. Blood flow to some areas is reduced by up to 75%.  Muscles and joints tighten up and you start feeling cramps, plus aches and pains. Notice how when you are stressed your shoulders start to head up towards your ears. Sit up, let your shoulders soften and take a few deep breaths with your hand on your belly. Notice the difference. If you are feeling really overwhelmed try doing the breathing with one hand on your forehead it may help calm the brain as well.

Then there are all the stomach problems, you are either going to the bathroom too often or not at all. The same neurotransmitters that are in our head are also well represented in our stomachs (approx 70%). Not surprisingly when we are running on adrenaline or cortisol is staying high our stomachs start to act out.

If stomach problems are your dominant symptom and you weren’t feeling stressed before they started then there may well be other causes. Often Irritable Bowel type symptoms can be related to an earlier infection with a parasite, anything from giardia to blastocyst hominis. If you had a bad gastro type infection and have never really been the same since,  its well worth getting a 3 day parasitology done to check what it really happening. Try and do it during a period when symptoms are bad as frequently these bugs are cyclical.

Managing stressors will help you with all the physical symptoms as well. Make sure your diet is well balanced, favouring small amounts of good quality protein and lots of vegetables. In addition think about adding a good quality magnesium with between 400-800mg a day, particularly if you are getting cramps and having trouble sleeping or staying asleep. Consider getting some supportive physical therapy such as massage or osteopathy to help keep your shoulders where they belong.

Stressed? No I’m F I N E

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What does it really mean when someone says I’m fine through gritted teeth – well usually the complete opposite. My acronmyn for F I N E is F—–ed up Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. So how do we end up getting ourselves into that state?

Well if you are female you often blame your hormones and sometimes they can be the culprit, particularly when you are pre menstrual. Other times though its not so easy to find something external to blame so we need to think about how we keep ending up feeling like this.

One of the most common causes of feeling ‘FINE’ is forgetting to say No. Maybe its because we don’t want to say no – after all nice girls don’t do that. So if it is hard for you to say no try this ” I’d really love to (help you move house, mind your three horrible children, etc..) but that weekend is really busy and I just need to check my diary and get back to you”. Then give yourself a chance to decide honestly if this is something you want to do. If it is go ahead, if not text or email them that you are really sorry but you just can’t do it that weekend.

Once you get comfortable with delaying your answer then think about getting really brave and just saying NO. Start with baby steps – say no to canteen duty by email, then get brave and tell your kids to catch the bus home from school. Start carving out a little more time for you.

Once you carve out that time start spending it working on nourishing your health – regular exercise should be your first step. Even just walking 30 minutes a day can help reduce those feelings of being FINE!!

Is stress making you fat?

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Many of us gain weight when we are stressed simply because we grab a quick fix of carbs to keep us going. Over the course of days and weeks this often adds up quickly to quite a few kilos. We know what we should be eating, but often we are just too tired or too busy to prepare healthy meals and snacks.

But for some people stress adds another nasty surprise with elevated cortisol resulting in weight gain around the stomach. If you usually put it on around the hips something else may be contributing.

Cortisol levels should be highest in the morning and fall during the day, being lowest at midnight. Typically if your cortisol is high you may also have problems sleeping as well. Cortisol has a wide range of functions but for weight gain it stimulates the release of glucose to maintain blood sugar levels. So elevated cortisol through the day can result in increased appetite – stress is making you hungrier (and fatter).

Getting control of your cortisol levels isn’t as simple as just balancing blood sugar. You need to deal with triggers which are creating the stress for you. Sometimes it isn’t the situation itself but how you respond to it that makes you stressed. Often what is stressful for one person is not a problem for someone else.

So once you identify the trigger try and think about some other ways to handle the situation. Take five deep breaths before you even think about reacting. If you still aren’t feeling calmer then a thirty minute walk (before you scream at your boss) which will reduce your cortisol levels and help you stay calmer. A regular meditative practice, such as yoga or indeed meditation can also be a good way to get your cortisol levels under control.

Christine runs regular Stress Managment Workshop with Cheryl Alderman at Be Ultimate . Alternatively make an appointment with Christine on 8084 0081 , her practice is at Elemental Health at St Ives, Sydney

5 simple strategies for losing weight

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What is stopping you losing weight?

This month I am looking at the major “obstacles” as I believe until you deal with these issues it is really hard to successfully lose weight and keep it off.

Insulin Resistance is one of the most common problems blocking weight loss and unfortunately yo yo dieting usually makes it worse. So how do you deal with insulin resistance?

First up be clear this is the problem – usually insulin resistance presents with a craving for sweet and fatty foods as well as dips in energy if you haven’t eaten for a few hours. This then makes you crave sweet food to boost your blood glucose perpetuating a nasty cycle. Your body then releases insulin to store the elevated glucose (often as fat) and this frequent activation can cause the pancreas, which produces insulin, to become less effective.

Strategies for improving your insulin resistance;

1. A low carbohydrate diet with modest amounts of protein at every meal. Low carbs doesn’t mean no carbs it just means that you need to reduce carbohydrates (such as bread and pasta) to 2-3 serves a day and increase the nutrient density of your meals with 6 serves of vegetables a day.  In addition try and eat some protein containing food every 4 hours to avoid dips in blood glucose – a handful of nuts or half a tub of yoghurt could be some easy options.

2. Regular exercise has consistently been shown to improve insulin sensitivity – 30 minutes of walking five times a week is enough to produce consistent benefit. Ideally you could add some resistance exercise to build muscle however just the walking will produce significant benefits and you don’t need special gear!

3. Supplements – this area is a little tricky as it can depend on your specific symptoms. A good base is a multi vitamin and good quality fish oil (1000mg).  If sweet cravings are an issue then chromium is often indicated. Australian soils are old and depleted so it is hard to get it from your diet. The other key nutrient is magnesium and if you also get cramps or muscle aches and pains or sleep badly this is a good signal that you may require it – generally at least 400mg a day is a good level.

4. Stress less – find a way to start managing the stress in your life as this is a major trigger. It can lead to abdominal obesity and inflammation thereby aggravating your symptoms. Ideal ways to manage stress could include a regular yoga class, meditation tapes, journalling, walking on the beach or simply meeting with a friend.

5. Avoid CRAP foods – Carbonated , Refined, Additive laden and Processed foods. If you look on the back of the packet and you don’t know what things are, then basically its not food.  Trans fats in particular are very damaging to your arteries and these substances are often used to preserve foods so best to avoid them!

Christine Pope is a nutritionist and homeopath based at Elemental health at St Ives. If you need help with managing your weight you can make an appointment on 8084 0081.