A New Slant on Eating Disorders (And Other Conditions of the “Mind”)

I watched a TED talk yesterday about how specific bacteria within us, communicate with each other and different strains. This gives them information that they need to grow, reproduce and prosper. It is a fascinating subject. You may have heard me say, (because I say it frequently!) that in terms of cells, we are only 10% human. Bonnie Bassler says between 1 and 10%. It is so ridiculous for us to believe that we are “in charge”. We absolutely are not.

Think of it this way to get a handle on it. The world population is approximately 1.7 billion. The microbes on and in you amount to approximately 10 trillion! 1 trillion is 1 million times 1 billion in the UK – different in the US but still huge.  How is it possible that the 1-10% of human cells could possibly be ruling the roost? No, we live in a symbiotic relationship – we can’t do without them and they can’t do without us – but they call the shots! Our job is to keep our natural microbiome happy and healthy and then they will do the same for us.

This article from the newspaper a while ago talks of treating eating disorders with antibiotics in the future. For me as a natural nutritionist, I think that this maybe largely unnecessary. I have not as yet, treated anyone with an eating disorder, but I’m up for it, because the theory makes perfect sense. Our diets and lifestyles are responsible for the varieties and health of microbes that we are home to. Get these in order and our health should follow.

I have attended several conferences where Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride  has spoken. Her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) has become deservedly, very popular. She explains how the brain and gut (where most of the microbes hang out) are inextricably linked. Although it is not mentioned in the book, Dr. McBride has spoken of the connection between eating disorders and the disrupted microbiome – or dysbiosis. She firmly believes in this too. The connections made in the book are to ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, dyspraxia, dyslexia and depression.

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So, these critters might be in charge, but what can we do to make them work for us? My suggestions are here in Healthy Life, but if you have a specific health issue, why not get in touch?

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Micaela’s Story – Her Fight With IBS (IBS Part 6)

Mic2Micaela’s recovery from illness is one I want to share. She had a condition called “gut dysbiosis” which means that the normal microbes in the gut are having a hard time. Due to the unpleasant and varying effects of dysbiosis, the condition has been called “Irritable Bowel Syndrome”, “Food sensitivities”, “Spastic Colon”, “Chronic Constipation”  and more, but the fact is, that in 99% of cases, it is Gut Dysbiosis.

Micaela had most of these labels with a few more conditions thrown in, including depression. This is her story in her words and how we treated her and I am very grateful to her for allowing me to tell it.

Micaela – “Back in 1985 I had my appendix removed. The operation went OK and I was given antibiotics afterwards. I seemed to make a complete recovery, although when I look back it was around that time that I started to suffer from a lot of wind, bloating and constipation. I was a single mum trying to raise my boys alone and working in a fast food restaurant and didn’t have a very good diet. It was just one of those minor niggles you learn to live with.

“Over the next few years I took a considerable amount of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers.”

Ten years on I started to suffer a lot of back pain. I was born with a congenital deformity of the spine and age and hard work had taken their toll on my back.  Over the next few years I took a considerable dose of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers.  I started to suffer constipation and diarrhoea and a sort of empty rumbling in my gut.  I often used to crave toast and butter and it seemed to settle things for a while.
At this stage it had developed from a minor niggle to something that was becoming a bit irritating.

Early 1999 I had some gynae problems. I was prescribed hormonal treatment for about six months which did settle things down.  By the middle of 1999 I had my first ever migraine. That marked a major downturn in my life. I started to have migraines about every two weeks to begin with; they steadily got worse until at their worst point, I only had about 3 days in any one month where I didn’t have a terrible headache. I’d spend days in bed often battling the most terrible pain.  Doctors thought it was hormonal and want to do a hysterectomy, but I felt this was wrong I was sure it was something I was eating. I tried cutting different foods out for a while but never made much headway.

“I ..cut out fruit and sugars and thought I had beaten it”

In 2002 I had a food intolerance test, which came back positive for milk, eggs and yeast. I cut these foods out of my diet and although I felt a little better, I never made any real progress back to full health. The possibility of Candida was mentioned at this time, so I also cut out fruit and sugars and thought I had beaten it.  Some time after changing my diet I started to suffer from constant diarrhoea – 8-10 times a day.  It was so bad I didn’t want to go out anywhere.  I was trying to eat soda bread & homemade Cornish pasties, so as to avoid the yeast.
In 2005 I saw a gastroenterologist who put me on a gluten free diet and for a little while I seemed a little better.  It was short lived and things started to deteriorate rapidly.
I was put on an exclusion diet which started with lamb, carrots, rice and pears.  I never really made it much past 12 foods and once I brought in any kind of fats I had the most terrible headache.  At last I felt I had worked out a connection between food and the headaches.

Since this time I have lived mainly on rice, not fats at all and occasionally small pieces of rice(1)chicken and pineapple.  I gradually grew  sicker and sicker suffering from constant fatigue, brain fog, memory loss, got up tired and went to bed exhausted, stomach pain, cramping in my gut, constipation, diarrhoea, bladder problems, aching joints, depression, numbness in my fingers, earache, pain behind the eyes, nausea – need I go on? I could see life slipping away, everything I tried to eat apart from rice caused me problems of some kind. I’d seen numerous doctors and had many tests but no one could get to the bottom of the problems with my health.”

A desperate appeal for help went out in the Metro newspaper.


Treatment of illness this severe, often means that the sufferer has to suffer a bit more before healing can begin. Gut problems are almost exclusively due to gut-dysbiosis and this is regardless of the diagnosis. Because of this, treatment has to be similar in all cases.

With the emphasis being on “the absorption of the correct nutrients as quickly as treatment allows”, as priority, easily absorbed foods must be used. These foods have to be the ones that good bacteria and microbes thrive on – and it is no coincidence that these very foods are the very ones that nourish us too. They don’t nourish the microbes that have moved in, set up home and become pathogenic – the ones causing the illness.

All life forms eat, drink and excrete. Not in quite the same way perhaps but the microbes that are supposed to be in our gut, help us with their excretions or “metabolytes”. They produce vitamins and enzymes and help digest the food we eat. Those that have overtaken do far more damage than than just hinder this process! They have to be brought under control and largely be killed off.It is this that causes the worsening symptoms at the beginning of treatment. When pathogenic microbes die, their toxins can overwhelm the body and they have to be removed – whichever way.. Think – diarrhoea, foul breath, body odour and rashes accompanied with headaches and gut pain from intestinal spasm.

Once the bad boys under control then it is imperative to replace with the microbes that naturally live in our guts. Once they are established, more foods can be added gradually. Gut healing is a very long process of trial and error, but determination does pay.

When  Micaela reported back to the papers after only three weeks of treatment when she was eating around forty different foods, I was delighted that she felt well enough to do this. However, I was concerned that she felt she was almost “cured”. It had taken many years for her insides to make her as sick and malnourished as she was – and true recovery would take much, much longer. The first six months were extremely difficult, but it was a year before she felt she had the confidence to go it alone. She would have been fine without support after six months, but long-term illness saps confidence and so we still kept in touch frequently for this time.

I am very happy to report that right now (August 2014), Micaela has several part-time jobs, both at home and outside. When I met her she weighed 48 kilos and she is now 60 kilos. She is happy, healthy and living her life.

Here is a report of Micaela’s progress barely three weeks later.
..and 6 months later, looking forward to Christmas dinner

Here is a short audio on Micaela’s recovery:

 

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Walking Barefoot, Grounding or Earthing

This word “grounding” has meant many things to me over the years but recently (in the last few years) has come to mean a specific and deliberate action to improve health. It is also known as earthing – which makes sense as we are talking about electricity.

We lose sight of the fact that we don’t just live in the world; we are a part of the world. We are influenced by so many things – all our food comes from the earth one way or another, the sunshine (without which, life as we know it, would not exist) creates a valuable nutrient in our skin and determines our circadian rhythm. The menstrual cycle is also governed by the universe – the words month and moon having the same origin.

file7411336412042So, if we accept that we are here courtesy of the world and universe, it makes sense that these entities look after us too or what is the point of existence? This could get deep so I’ll move on!

We are electrical beings. Without electricity our hearts would not beat, our muscles would not contract and our senses would not work. In order to maintain these important functions, we are dependent upon certain minerals that have negative and positive charges – potassium, calcium, sodium and chloride. For various reasons, (radio waves, certain foods, body functions and more) we end up with more positive ions than negative therefore the equilibrium is upset. Excess positive ions can lead to many health problems – both   physical (resulting from inflammation) and mental, such as depression.

Earth – the planet – has a negative charge and if you walk barefoot on the ground, you can absorb huge amounts of negative ions. Think about it; how much better do you feel after a holiday? We are often barefoot much of the time, we also boost our vitamin D levels (possibly less so if you are skiing!) and we relax more. We return feeling revitalised. These ions also have a great anti-inflammatory effect – thus protecting us from many ills.

So – how to do this. Kick off your shoes and wander around in the garden. Damp grass is a good conductor as is sand. Concrete is OK as long as there isn’t a “skin” under it. Leather-soled shoes will keep you in touch even if you are out and about, but rubber soles will not. Wood will not allow the ions through and neither will roads and pavements. If you are wearing leather-soled shoes, cut across the park to work!

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The Return to Health – A Double-Edged Sword?

For many people who have suffered chronic health issues, a return to health brings its own problems and it is this that I want to discuss here.

The effects of chronic illness don’t just happen overnight. Health slowly spirals downward over years, almost unnoticed, until it has an impact on daily life. Some cannot even continue their normal occupation. At this point, it can have a devastating affect. Those activities that you deem vital to your existence are either severely hampered or become impossible.

Let us consider Micaela. Her illness, when she looks back at her life, started during her teens but it was an irritation, not a disability at this time. Around twelve years prior to consulting me, life had become very difficult and she had multiple food sensitivities. Three years before our meeting, her circumstances had become so severe, that all her body would accept was rice. And this is what Micaela lived on. No job, just existing.

Try to imagine this. You know that you can’t live on just rice but you have to, or suffer the consequences. Micaela’s thoughts were about her health every single day and the only thing that she could depend upon if she was not to suffer migraines and stomach cramps, was rice.

As with many others suffering similar illnesses, Micaela’s became her life. It was never allowed to be in the background – doctors, tests, drugs and feeling ill ensured that it remained current and the only force in life that was constant. The frequent round of consultations with medical people, invasive and unpleasant examinations and being told that it “was all in her head”, all served to make her feel utterly let down and isolated.

Her life had been stolen from her, but she made the best job she could of what was left of it. When I told her that the food she relied upon was perpetuating the problem and that the rice had to go, it scared her. She was as dependent upon rice as a drug addict is upon their fix. Although after just 3 weeks of treatment Micaela had progressed from just rice to eating 40 nutritious and healthy foods, it was a further 3 months before she was able to gather all the packs of rice together and finally dispose of them.

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I have seen this many times. Sufferers join self-help groups and adopt strategies and behaviours to accommodate their problem. Chronic illness will mess with the necessary nutrients for all body functions, so again there is a spiralling problem. One of the most debilitating effects of long term poor health is depression. This is due to the lack of nutrients to the brain as well as the tedium, frustration, the life altering distressing symptoms or more likely, all of these things put together.

A different consequence of an individual’s recovery involves the rest of the family. It is more often a spouse or partner that bears the brunt of these effects. Some years ago I treated a young man for obesity. He had been big for as long as he could remember and therefore he felt (as others do also) that it defined who he was as a person. His confidence and self-esteem were low, he dressed tidily but would never wear the trendy clothes that others of his age did. All this changed when he lost weight – for he had been redefined. I bumped into his wife a year or so later and sadly, they had split up. There is no blame to apportion here – this is human nature. This of course, is not an inevitable outcome but when you have been ill the whole of your formative life, it is common.

This last story has a warning – obesity (or rather the metabolic disease that it is) is just as much an illness as IBS and diabetes. When these problems are removed, there are adjustments to make and this can be extremely problematic.

When wellness becomes the norm instead of illness, the weight loss clubs, self-help groups, voluntary work – just everything that has previously filled the days, can become redundant. These may be replaced with a new job, meeting people, having a holiday and although this all sounds wonderful, they still have to be coped with.

To sum up, when someone has recovered from chronic ill health, it is often replacing one problem with another. It can of course be managed, but forewarned is forearmed.

July 2014 update on Micaela.
She is fit and well, eating lots of different foods but not grains for the most part. She has three jobs – two from home and one away. Life is good – her words! 

 I would like to thank Micaela Stafford for her permission to include some of her case history in this blog.

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Coeliac Disease

I meet people every week who have digestive problems. These conditions can vary from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), to bloating, flatulence, cramping and diarrhoea. Most sufferers believe that these are discomforts that they have to live with and manage in order to live their lives and many will learn by trial and error the foods that create or worsen these symptoms as this piece of research shows.

What is not generally realised is that these seemingly mild conditions are not only related to, but can be symptoms of more serious gut disorders. In addition, if allowed to continue, the mild conditions can become outright illnesses.

Coeliac disease is a condition whereby an individual cannot tolerate (it’s not a true allergy) gluten – a protein found in many grains including wheat. Symptoms can include all of the above, but these may not be apparent at all. Constipation, weight-loss, anaemia, mouth ulcers, muscle aches and depression can also be symptoms of this disease. Those who suffer gastrointestinal issues will often reduce their intake of bread and cereals voluntarily, as this will decrease the symptoms. However, whist it is very possible that they could be suffering from coeliac disease, there are other factors regarding grains that maybe causing the symptoms.

file1181249314967Modern grains (and therefore the flours produced from them), have been genetically tampered with over the years. Add to this the fact that bread and breakfast cereal manufacture has become a rapid process instead of a slow one, creating products that are hard to digest at best and make us ill at worst.

 

I would advise reducing grains in the diet for all. Many people have some degree of gluten intolerance, whether or not it is coeliac disease. Reducing grains will have many health advantages and not just to do with gut health. If you do include them occasionally here are a couple of tips; use organic, old varieties of flour for traditionally produced breads (or buy a good quality sourdough bread) and if you use porridge oats, make sure you soak them overnight in milk and/or water with a blob of natural yogurt, to help neutralise the toxins that interfere with digestion.

This interesting story also contains a recipe for home made sourdough bread.

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September Sun and Vitamin D

September is the UK’s last chance of obtaining the UVB rays from the sun. We need these rays in order to create vitamin D in our skin. If our stores are good, we can fight many of the viruses and bacteria that come with the cooler weather of autumn and winter.

After September, the sun doesn’t rise high enough in the sky for the UVB rays to hit Earth in this part of the world and these are the rays that are needed in order to create vitamin D in our skin. This very important vitamin is associated with the health of many of the body’s systems but immunity being so vital to our existence, is at the top of the list. It is also beneficial to our mood – some believe that it is the effect of the UVB rays that help the condition Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and depression.

So, when the sun’s out and at a time when your shadow is the same length or shorter than you are tall, strip off and soak it up. Don’t use sunscreen but don’t burn. Stay in the sun for just enough time to “pink” your skin. This may mean ten minutes a side for the fair-skinned or thirty minutes or more for the dark-skinned.

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Wellbeing for the Mind – part 3

Stress -  “when life changes from normal to something abnormal to us”

Coping with life seems to cause us many problems. At the end of the day, this is what often causes our moods to change – when life changes from the normal to something abnormal to us – the life experiences. Here are some examples; illness, moving house, separation and divorce, the death of someone close and then life without that person, redundancy, retirement and so on. On an even more serious level, there is abuse, violence, deprivation, disability (although the impact of this will vary between individuals), homelessness etc.

All of these situations fit into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (see part one) so in my view, the best way to tackle treatment is at this grass roots level. I am not a therapist with experience in this area and I believe that in some of these situations, help is going to be needed in one form or another and often from another person/people. Sadly, the usual sequence of events is that you feel out of control, you have time off work, you feel guilty about this so you see a doctor. You are given medication. This gives you hope and you return to work – who may be pressurising you to do so, but the very basic issues have not been addressed. It is highly likely that your problems will resurface at some time. The drugs have side effects which are at best unpleasant and at worst, detrimental to overall health. This report shows that drugs may not be necessary.

LotusWhen times are tough, be good to yourself. These measures do not have to be expensive. They don’t sound powerful in the way that drugs do, but their effects are far-reaching if you approach them in the right way. If you are given medication, you expect it to work don’t you? You must approach other measures in the same way – they will work and you will benefit but for the long-term, not just for the course of tablets. Time is a great healer and whether you are on a course of tablets or doing something less risky – putting space between you now and an adverse event holds the most benefit. You may as well do something positive for your overall health.

This is a passage taken from the link above, about the Key Factors to Overcoming Depression:
(“Me” and “my” refer to Dr. Joseph Mercola – not me personally)

 

Exercise – If you have depression, or even if you just feel down from time to time, exercise is a MUST. The research is overwhelmingly positive in this area, with studies confirming that physical exercise is at least as good as antidepressants for helping people who are depressed. One of the primary ways it does this is by increasing the level of endorphins, the “feel good” hormones, in your brain.

Address your stress — Constant stress can lead to depression which is a very serious condition. However it is not a “disease.” Rather, it’s a sign that your body and your life are out of balance.

This is so important to remember, because as soon as you start to view depression as a “mental illness,” you think you need to take a drug to fix it (and so do doctors). In reality, all you need to do is return balance to your life, and one of the key ways to doing this is addressing stress.

Meditation or yoga can help. Sometimes all you need to do is get outside for a walk. But in addition to that, I also recommend using a system that can help you address emotional issues that you may not even be consciously aware of. For this, my favorite is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). However, if you have depression or serious stress, I believe it would be best to consult with a mental health professional who is also an EFT practitioner to guide you.

Eat a healthy diet — Another factor that cannot be overlooked is your diet. Foods have an immense impact on your mood and ability to cope and be happy, and eating whole foods as described in my nutrition plan will best support your mental health. Avoiding sugar and grains will help normalize your insulin and leptin levels, which is another powerful tool in addressing depression. An important observation has been made regarding people suffering schizophrenia and their gut health. The same has been observed in people diagnosed with a condition on the autistic spectrum.

Support optimal brain functioning with essential fats — I also strongly recommend supplementing your diet with a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat, like krill oil. This may be a very important factor in helping depression.

Get plenty of sunshine – Making sure you’re getting enough sunlight exposure to have healthy vitamin D levels is also a crucial factor in treating depression or keeping it at bay. One previous study found that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels. Vitamin D deficiency is actually more the norm than the exception, and has previously been implicated in both psychiatric and neurological disorders.”

I couldn’t have put it better so I have just cut and pasted it. I would add a couple of things too. Use your friends and talk to them – just as you have done for them and will do in the future. Revisit hobbies or maybe even go to an evening class. Not only will you make friends, but you will learn all the time – this is positive. Use distractions.To the diet recommendations, I would add fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kefir. These can help normalise the gut microbes. Dysbiosis (“difficult life”) in the gut is associated with many health issues, including the health of the mind.

For exercise why not just walk? It’s free and always interesting – whether it’s country or town. Observe all the while – don’t just look around you, really see the birds, gardens, people and so on. These give you connection and belonging. Don’t forget to greet the people you meet – this connection can make an enormous difference, not just to you but to them as well. Walking barefoot has huge health benefits too – a physical as well as spiritual connection to the earth.

There will be times when professional help is needed. It is of course, your choice where this comes from but do consider this – here is a link to the Human Givens Institute. Their help is very much based on problem solving and does not usually require more than a couple of appointments.

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