The whys behind eating disorders

utumn moments.png

The 10th of October is World’s Mental Health Day, a perfect opportunity to bring up the complex subject of eating disorders. Many affected try various therapies or take psychotropics for long years, yet the disorder never truly leaves. It can be managed to some degree, often just to satisfy the close ones, but the person may continue to live in the shadow of its controlling demon forever. One of the possible reasons why eating disorders continue lies in an incomplete treatment, which can prevent one not only from improving but most importantly, WANTING to get better. What’s more, conventional dietary approach can even induce relapses. Below I will discuss some of the physiological (and often dismissed) aspects of eating disorders.

What are eating disorders?

They are defined as “mental disorders marked by an obsession with food or body shape” and include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, orthorexia, avoidant / restricting eating disorder, and other.

The important question is, what are the causes of eating disorders as mental? Not everyone who has suffered trauma or has low self esteem develops an eating disorder. Something else must come to the equation, and I believe it’s multiple physiological imbalances. Psychological aspects are often just a trigger and not the root cause.

Impaired digestion, gut toxicity, deficiencies and dysglycaemia

All of my clients with eating disorders have some sort of digestive issues that started before developing the disorder - it can be IBS (diarrhoea / constipation), indigestion, bloating, acid reflux, heartburn, no desire for meat. This is an indication that gut microbes are out of balance and food is not broken down properly, which can lead to uncontrollable sugar cravings, an increased production of toxins, ‘leaky gut’, and poor absorption of nutrients. As the eating disorder starts and continues, digestion is compromised further. Eating processed carbohydrates causes a blood sugar roller coaster which perpetuates binging, and damages gut microflora even more. It’s a vicious cycle.

The most common deficiencies include amino acids from protein breakdown, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc, all key for mental health. Strong zinc deficiency can lead to picky eating, where the smell, taste and texture of certain foods may become very unappealing. Plenty become vegetarians or vegans but because plant foods are mostly carbohydrates, they are prone to more deficiencies and constantly swinging blood glucose levels.

Neurotransmitter imbalance, ‘leaky brain’

‘Leaky gut’ can eventually lead to a ‘leaky brain’. Undigested proteins and microbial toxins can escape through the ‘leaks’ and affect mood, behaviour and perception.

Moreover, as a result of improper digestion of proteins and gut degeneration, one can become low in serotonin and dopamine. Low serotonin can contribute to depressive episodes, and low dopamine can trigger feelings of worthlessness and inability to handle stress or process trauma. Addictive and obsessive behaviour acts on dopamine which can numb anxiety – a common pattern in eating disorders.

Hormonal disruption

Proteins and fats are also required to build hormones which affect metabolism, sleep, emotions and stress response. Without the building blocks and with a concurrent frequent intake of processed carbohydrates, one can be anxious or put on weight quickly when not restricting food – a frequent cause why eating disorders keep relapsing.

Gluteomorphins and casomorphins (exorphins)

Inability to fully break down dairy protein ‘casein’ and grain protein ‘gluten’ can turn them into opiates which act like morphine. They are able to attach to serotonin and dopamine receptors, and induce obsessive behaviour. This is a possible reason why people with eating disorders often crave addictive foods like baked goods, starch, bananas and dairy. They are also called ‘exorphins’ (external endorphins, coming from the outside of the body) - substances which give a feeling of positive ‘hit’, inducing addictive behaviour.

eating_disorders_graph.png

What to do

Conventional dietary approach often focuses on sufficient calorific intake, portion control or generalised ‘healthy eating’ guidelines (what are these anyways?), and not necessarily on nutrient density or individual food triggers. Such a diet, often abundant in processed carbohydrates, can perpetuate feeding pathogenic microbes. This can result in further blood sugar swings, hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances - all of which are the driving force behind eating disorders.

I believe that the treatment should be multidisciplinary, with psychotherapy and other complementary disciplines applied at the same time. Dietary changes should be implemented in stages, taking into consideration individual physiological symptoms, and not just the eating disorder itself. It should be a truly restorative, therapeutic diet:

  • Enhancing digestion, microbial diversity and absorption should play a central role in nutritional therapy. Protein and fat digestion (not just their intake!) is key to a successful outcome

  • Individual deficiencies should be addressed

  • Focusing on foods that are nutrient dense but relatively low in calories - the fear of putting on weight is a major roadblock to success

  • Understanding that patience is key. Dietary changes can initially cause digestive upsets and bring about other unwanted changes but these calm down over time. Persistence is the only way to break the vicious cycle

  • Sugar addiction, like any addiction, may require a specialist support on top of neurotransmitter balancing. L-tyrosine can be administered for addictive behaviour – consult with a professional

  • Gymnema Sylvestre can help to combat sugar cravings – consult with a professional

Consultations from any location. To book, email contact@welcometoglow.com

 Shorter version of the article was published in The Islander, October’18 edition

Shorter version of the article was published in The Islander, October’18 edition


Functional approach to cognitive decline (brain neurodegeneration)

brain.png


The 21st of September was word’s Alzheimer’s day, a form of incurable neurodegeneration. But what happens before one develops a condition that cannot be reversed? The gray area between subtle mental decline and receiving a diagnosis is where prevention takes place.

We live in a toxic world, leading fast paced lives. As a result, all of us deal with neurodegeneration to some degree. Symptoms can be confused with natural ageing or blamed for having ‘too much on’ so it’s easy to ignore them, especially that the brain can send non-specific signals. We also live in a world of lifestyle diseases, and all chronic health conditions eventually result in neurodegeneration because disease is a matter of the whole body.

DEFINITION, SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Neurodegeneration is the progressive loss of structure or function of neurons (nerve cells), leading to their death. For most people, advanced stages of neurodegeneration like Alzheimer’s are irrelevant. Yet, the symptoms of diminished brain function are experienced by many on a daily basis and are often neglected. They include:

  • Failing memory (where have I put my keys / phone? what was I looking for?)

  • Inability to focus / concentrate

  • Brain fog

  • Difficulty retaining new information

  • Poor spacial orientation or sense of direction

  • Lack of motivation

  • Brain fatigue – falling asleep while watching TV, reading, engaging in conversations or any mental work

  • Depression, lack of enjoyment

  • Anxiety

  • Inability to relax, disorganised attention

  • Inability to fall asleep in the evening and get up in the morning

  • Constant need for stimulation: music, caffeine, company of other people

CAUSES

Neurodegeneration can be considered brain inflammation. Once initiated, the inflammatory cascade in the brain is difficult to control. Glial cells, the immune cells of the brain, should normally only gobble up debris but under certain conditions, they ‘digest’ healthy brain cells as part of the inflammatory process. Inflammation is body’s defense and repair mechanism, therefore it’s not the inflammation itself but its cause that requires addressing. Some of these include:

  • Brain injury: concussion, falls, bangs – even the ones you may have forgotten

  • Gut-brain axis dysfunction: poor digestion, detoxification, gut dysbiosis and the ‘leaky gut’ can lead to the ‘leaky brain’ where the toxic flow from the gut (e.g. undigested proteins or pathogenic toxins) affects brain function

  • Cross-reactivity of own tissues with harmful agents (i.e. autoimmunity): antigens tagged by the immune system as harmful, e.g. gluten, virus or gut pathogens, can trigger brain autoimmunity because they share a similar protein sequence with the brain. In other words, when the immune system attacks the invader, it can mistakenly attack the brain at the same time. People usually develop multiple autoimmune conditions at once and it’s very common to see advanced neurodegeneration in people with Hashimoto’s thyroditis

  • Poor oxygen flow to the brain: anaemia, injury, lack of physical activity (cold hands and feet or snoring are a signs of impaired brain oxygenation)

  • Heavy metal toxicity, e.g. mercury, aluminium, high copper and low zinc: chronic exposure to metals, impaired detoxification and the lack of beneficial microbes that support heavy metal detoxification may cause their accumulation in the brain

  • Stress and high cortisol levels: these damage temporal lobes of the brain, which decreases the ability to dampen stress and causes further damage to the area.

  • Lack of sleep: the body regenerates while we sleep, and the brain especially loves a break. Inability to sleep can be caused by blood sugar imbalances, high cortisol in the evening and lack of natural light exposure during the day – all of which affect melatonin production. Melatonin has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Also, lack of sleep due to social factors or lifestyle demands (e.g. long working hours) will eventually disrupt the circadian rhythm which will further negatively affect cortisol cycle

  • Diet rich in carbohydrates: the brain can become insulin resistant like any other tissue. Too much circulating glucose and insulin are damaging to neurons. Unstable blood glucose levels also negatively affect neurotransmitter production

  • Nutrient deficiencies: amino acids due to improper protein digestion and absorption, essential fats, fat soluble vitamins A and D, B vitamins, zinc, betaine, choline

  • Defective DNA methylation: the genetic code doesn’t define our destiny. Rather, it’s the environment that influences genetic expression which is called ‘epigenetics’. Methylation is one of such epigenetic factors. When impaired (which depends on nutrient status and absence of candida), it can impact the expression of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

  • Hormonal imbalance: oestradiol, which is an oestrogen steroid hormone, has brain protective properties. Women who are low in oestradiol are at a greater risk of neurodegeneration. Menopause is can certainly be a factor but hormonal imbalances are common with young women

WHAT TO DO

Neurodegeneration requires a holistic approach. Thorough health history gathering, symptom analysis, observation of physical reflexes and functional diagnostics are invaluable tools for personalising the therapy. Nevertheless, it’s often the basic dietary and lifestyle changes that can bring profound effects, before moving on to removing entire food groups and diving into the sea of isolated nutritional compounds, not to mention medication.

It’s always tricky to give recommendations for a wide audience because everyone is different. While someone may benefit from antioxidants, others may need to improve fat absorption or go on a proper elimination diet. Blood sugar imbalances and gut dysfunction are always central to brain supporting nutritional therapy and require an individual approach.

Nevertheless, the below are generally associated with improved brain function:

  • Fat, cholesterol: the brain is the hungriest organ, and its most efficient fuel source is fat which burns slowly, providing sustainable energy. Cholesterol is a powerful antioxidant and is an important component of the myelin sheath that protects nerves

  • Essential fatty acids:

    1. Omega 3 (specifically DHA): oily fish like sardines, salmon, herring, anchovies, mackerel, sprats, meats from grass fed animals, egg yolks from free range birds

    2. Arachidonic acid, especially in conjunction with vit A and D: animal fats in general, organ meats, butter, eggs

  • Choline: eggs from free range chickens, liver, full fat quality cheeses

  • Antioxidants: a rainbow of seasonal vegetables, fruit, organic dry red wine, cold pressed olive oil, vitamin D, turmeric

  • Fermented foods: olives, cured hams, fermented dairy (yoghurt, kefir, cheese), vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi, gherkins, natto, tempeh)

  • Prebiotics (food for gut microbes): best sources incude resistant starch (e.g. cooked and chilled potatoes or white rice, like in a potato salad or sushi), vegetable fibre

  • Sleep: while it can be challenging to sleep when you have other commitments, at least do your best when you’re able to. Sleep is such a given that it’s often underestimated, and yet one of the most powerful healing aids. Whenever you can, do your brain a favour and go to bed by 23:00. Inability to sleep is a separate matter altogether that needs addressing

  • Outdoor physical activity: hiking, walking, swimming in natural waters, cycling, walking barefoot, yoga outside

  • Mental stimulation: key for brain plasticity. One of the most effective strategies is practicing what you’re not good at, for example languages or reading maps

On the contrary, pro-inflammatory foods and lifestyle are a significant driver behind mental decline and are best to be avoided. They include:

  • Anything your body reacts to: it can even be anything from the above food list, and may not give you any digestive symptoms. Food reactions can be just as much ‘mental’ as physical. This is why the ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t work

  • Sugar and glucose syrup: present in most processed foods, even those where they’re least expected (e.g. pesto or pate). A diet rich in sugar or carbohydrates in general can cause reactive hypoglycaemia and / or insulin resistance – either state is undesirable for the brain

  • Industrial vegetable oils, e.g. sunflower or rapeseed oil that is not cold pressed and kept in the fridge

  • Commercial cow’s milk, cream, ice cream: ultra pasteurisation renders milk pro-inflammatory and allergenic. It is best to stick to fermented and aged cow’s dairy or get raw, unhomogenised milk

  • Wheat: gluten and glyphosate are common neurotoxins. For baked goods, it is best to shop in traditional and artisan bakeries, preferably for leavened bread

  • Working hard, playing hard: constant brain stimulation is a major stressor, especially with concomitant diet that is poor in the essential nutrients and fuel

There is also a wide range of brain supporting botanicals and supplements:

  • gingko biloba

  • huperzine

  • galantamine

  • vinpocetine

  • SAMe

  • TMG

  • B vitamins (esp. Folate, B12, B6 and B2)

  • phosphatidyl serine

  • fish oils (DHA)

  • cod liver oil (vit A and D plus DHA)

  • Udo’s oil (GLA)

  • zinc

  • antoixidants, e.g. curcumin, resveratrol, vit D

Always consult a professional for possible interactions, and get your individual needs assessed.





Why am I tired all the time?

tired_image1.jpg

The need for coffee to start the day, tea addiction, afternoon slumps, regular sugar injections in the form of baked goods, fizzy drinks or snack bars followed by more caffeine all indicate unstable energy. Such behaviours are common in various society groups like workplaces (including yachts) and families which falsely makes them ‘normal’. However, lack of energy that is not relieved without a 'booster' can be a sign of hidden dysfunctions. Due to the complexity of energy production and maintenance, chronic fatigue requires a truly personalised approach. Some of the causes include the following:

1. Inability to extract energy from food

Energetic properties of foods are an individual matter and depend on food quality, preparation method, digestive capacity and cellular function. In order to convert food into energy, various nutrients are required, and in order to extract and utilise these nutrients, food has to be digested well. These nutrients include B vitamins, magnesium ,manganese, l-carnitine and amino acids from protein breakdown. Interestingly, digestive issues are common in chronically fatigued people who always express symptoms of various deficiencies. The more digestive work a food requires, the less energy remains for other functions. Moreover, processed foods are devoid of nutrients which they still require to be metabolised so they are being ‘robbed’, leaving a person depleted and wrecked.

2. Blood sugar imbalance and adrenal over-engagement

Stimulants and processed carbohydrates cause a blood sugar roller coaster which is a stressor that stimulates the release the stress hormone cortisol each time blood glucose drops. For example, a breakfast consisting of a bun and coffee or cereal with milk will give an instant energy boost followed by a rapid drop, and this is when cortisol is secreted to raise blood glucose so that energy is maintained. When nutrient-poor dietary choices or skipped meals become a habit, the adrenals may not secrete enough cortisol any longer, and the person can hit the wall. Therefore, relying on caffeine and processed cabrs to keep going is like whipping a dead horse.

Moreover, chronic emotional stress, infections (e.g. lyme, parasites, candida, EBV), pain and even food intolerances are all stressors which over-engage the adrenals in the same way, leading to fatigue.

3. Hungry brain

As a result of poor digestion and absorption or a nutrient-poor diet, the brain is missing sustainable fuel to deal with everyday tasks, not to mention stress, emotions and lack of alignment with oneself (i.e. doing anything that’s mentally draining), which can deprive the entire body of energy. The brain doesn't like blood sugar roller-coaster, and thrives on fat. But again, in order to extract the essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins from the ingested fat, digestion has to be optimal. The main organs responsible for proper fat breakdown are the liver, gallbladder and pancreas.

4. Underactive thyroid

The thyroid controls the speed and intensity of all bodily processes. Depending on the signals coming from the external and internal environment, the brain and adrenals signal the thyroid if it should speed things up or slow them down. Although full thyroid assessment is key when establishing the cause of fatigue, it’s usually not just the thyroid that requires support but body’s whole biochemistry, ecosystem and lifestyle influences that affected the thyroid in the first place.

5. ‘Leaky gut’ and toxins

Compromised digestion, processed foods, drugs, environmental toxins, toxins released by pathogens (e.g. gut bacteria) and chronic stress contribute to an increased intestinal permeability commonly called ‘the leaky gut’. This allows for undigested proteins and these toxins to enter the blood stream, which signals the immune system to attack. The toxin together with an antibody create ‘immune complexes’ which can attach to various places in the body, one of them being mitochondria, power stations of cells. Therefore, gut toxicity can directly affect cellular energy production.

6. Anaemia – it’s not just about iron

Iron, vit B12 and folate are responsible for red blood cell oxygenation and maturation. Although deficiency can result in fatigue, people often don’t realise that they are deficient because serum levels of B12 and folate are not reflective of their cellular level, for which different tests are required. Anaemia is never the root cause. It is a symptom related to absorption issues resulting from impaired digestion, diet, gut dysbiosis, or poor methylation.

Why am I tired all the time_.jpg

What to do?

The priority is identifying the individual cause of fatigue, addressing digestion and gut ecology. In each case however, it’s as a sign to listen to your body as it’s trying to tell you that it needs to be looked after.

1. Chronically fatigued people should focus on warm whole foods that are easy to digest: soups, stews, curries and stir fries. Cultured dairy, fermented vegetables and sourdough bread will also be easier to digest than their unfermented counterparts. Salads and smoothies should be introduced when energy improves.

2. Vegetable juice doesn’t require much digestion and provides easily absorbable nutrients, which makes it an energising food-based supplement.

3. Hot water with fresh ginger, stock, broth, miso soup and digestive enzymes taken prior to meals can help to extract more energy from food.

4. Targetted probiotic therapy will help to rebalance the gut but it's counterproductive without dietary adjustments that suit a particular individual.

5. Best to start the day with a protein and fat based breakfast like eggs and quality bacon, which will prevent from blood sugar roller coaster.

6. Sipping on mineral water with a pinch of sea or rock salt and a sqeeze of lemon juice is a fabuous drink that supports the adrenals.

7. Last but not least is lifestyle: sleep, relationships, work, contact with nature and movement.

Sleep is especially important as it helps to lower inflammation and improve stress response. However, it's not just the length of sleep but also the hours of going to bed and getting up that really matter. The later one goes to bed and gets up, the bigger the chances of lower blood pressure and poor energy throughout the day.

Starting with small steps of lifestyle changes should certainly be the first call of action before looking deeper for physiological causes.

 Shorter version of the article was published in The Islander, September’18 edition

Shorter version of the article was published in The Islander, September’18 edition

Why can't I lose weight?

Photo_1.jpg

'I'm eating well and exercising but nothing seems to be working' – a common complaint I hear in my clinic. Losing weight is often associated with food restrictions and exercising but the popular belief of 'eating less than you burn' doesn’t always work. Sometimes even dietary plans put together by dieticians do not bring the desired results. If you dream about long lasting weight loss, this article will uncover some of the potential road blocks to achieving that success.

1. Nutrient deficit: metabolism is fuelled by nutrients. Diets can be restrictive in fat, which limits not only the fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids necessary for weight loss, but also disturbs hunger and satiety signalling. It's a syndrome of an overfed body and a starving brain. Nutrient-poor diets result in the storage of ingested energy as fat for future use because the body senses a potential famine - it's a protective mechanism. Nutrient deficit may also result in specific cravings, depending on deficiencies, e.g. neurotransmitter imbalance can cause emotional eating. Digestive problems also warrant a mention here because if digestion is malfunctioning, nutrients cannot be extracted from food and utilised.

2. Chronic stress: the body does not recognise the source of stress. Nutrient deficiency, skipping meals, inadequate sleep and poor regeneration, over exercising, chronic illness, unstable blood sugar, food intolerances, emotions, work and unhappy relationships can all stimulate the overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol not only increases appetite, but also breaks down muscle tissue. As a result, there may be a few pounds less on the scales (muscle is heavier than fat) but the body is lacking tone, often accompanied by a 'cortisol belly'. The foundation of true weight loss is burning fat - not losing water or muscle.

2. Inflammation and insulin resistance: insulin's main function is to transport glucose from blood to cell. Too much glucose is inflammatory to cells, so the body responds by employing a protective mechanism called insulin resistance, resulting in cells shutting down for fear of more glucose being brought in, and not responding to insulin any more. Insulin counteracts glucagon, a hormone that burns fat. As a result, the 'unused' insulin that's now present in the bloodstream blocks fat burning. Insulin also increases testosterone in women which is one of the culprits of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, often associated with weight gain. In men, insulin increases oestrogen, which results in male breasts and decreased body tone.

3. Underactive thyroid: although it is commonly known that an underactive thyroid can slow down metabolism, thyroid underactivity can be left undiagnosed. Often upon sole inspection of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), one may arrive at a wrong diagnosis. Not only does this not present a full picture, but also diagnostic ranges vary between countries, labs, conventional and functional medicine. Hashimoto's thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition, and autoimmunity often goes hand in hand with insulin resistance. Yet, thyroid antibodies are dismissed in routine health check-ups. I have clients with optimal TSH, and yet high anti-thyroid antibodies.

5. Gut microbes: certain strains of bacteria are associated with weight gain. One experiment showed how implanting gut bacteria from obese into sterile mice made them put on weight. Moreover, beneficial gut bacteria guard the small intestine from becoming 'leaky'. Leaky gut is associated with inflammatory processes, and inflammation results in insulin resistance. Also, some organisms (e.g. candida) drive cravings towards starch and sugar, which can also result in a blood sugar roller coaster and ultimately, insulin resistance.

6. Lifestyle and beliefs - diet is only a portion of the holistic approach to long term weight loss. Both, under and over exercising are associated with metabolic disorders, and so is the wrong type of physical activity or lack of variety. Spending too much time indoors, little contact with nature, exposure to blue light after 8pm, being a 'night owl', sleeping less than 7 hours, lack of hobbies, life goals or not being part of a community, misconceptions about what really is healthy may all slow down weight loss.

What do do?

A weight loss plan should be personalised, with thorough diagnostics and health evaluation. ‘Template’ plans taken from the internet or advice from a friend who’s had amazing results on a certain diet is not a successful strategy because they don't take any individual aspects into account. Food can be both medicine and poison, depending on who eats it. Lack of sufficient knowledge on bodily processes, physiology and metabolism can do more harm than good – and this is where a professional can step in. A food and symptom diary is a great place to start. By observing how your body reacts to foods in terms of energy, cravings, bowel movements, skin eruptions, etc. can be an invaluable tool to guide you down the right path.

 Article published in The Islander, August 2018 edition

Article published in The Islander, August 2018 edition

Conscious tanning, part III: tanning in pregnancy and skin discolouration

Tanning_in_pregnancy.jpg

This post wasn't planned but after my last two articles a couple of people asked me about tanning during pregnancy which is an important matter that deserves attention.

Some doctors recommend that women avoid sun exposure during pregnancy due to the potential skin discolouration called melasma, chloasma or 'pregnancy mask'. The most commonly affected areas are the forehead, cheeks and upper lip. Thus, for fear of  a blotchy face some pregnant women don't sunbathe.

Causes of melasma

While the sun gets all the blame, the cause of melasma lies in hormonal imbalances and nutrient deficiencies that start way before pregnancy. Oestrogen stimulates melanocyte stimulating hormones (MSH) which increase skin pigmentation. If a woman is oestrogen dominant (high oestrogen or low progesterone), the chances of developing melasma in pregnancy is higher not only due to the influx of hormones but also because women with oestrogen dominance tend to detoxify hormones at a slower rate, which causes a build-up. The more oestrogen, the greater the chance of skin discolouration.

Pre-pregnancy signs of oestrogen dominance include:

  • PMS
  • endometriosis
  • fibroids
  • anger
  • tender / painful breasts
  • migraines
  • irregular menstruation
  • heavy / long periods
  • moodiness
  • larger thighs and hips
  • low libido
  • fertility issues

Insufficient intake of animal fats may also increase the risk of developing melasma. It is interesting to see that omega 3 fatty acids (especially EPA) and fat soluble vitamins A and D derived from animal sources not only help to restore hormonal balance, but can also prevent and even reverse melasma.

Vitamin D in pregnancy

I have already described the importance of the sun in synthesising sulfated vitamin D. The growing baby uses maternal vitamin D to incorporate minerals into the skeleton and  build the immune system. One theory is that strong and healthy babies are born relatively small but are heavy due to dense bones. Vitamin D reserves are also needed to support mother's mental wellbeing during and after pregnancy, and to ward off infections. Women can obtain vitamin D and its precursors from food which I have also explained in the first article. However, given the modern aversion to animal fats and conflicting information on diet in pregnancy, I see many women deficient. Moreover, the minimum threshold for vitamin D is at around 30 ng/ml and is the same for pregnant women who obviously need more. Functional optimum ranges between 50-80 ng/ml which is rare to see.

What to do?

The  sun is key for expecting mums to build up sufficient reserves of vitamin D and enjoy the pregnancy. For all expecting mothers I suggest sensible sun exposure, a traditional, nutrient dense diet rich in animal fats, and doubling up on quality cod liver oil - quite the opposite to what is commonly advised. A nourishing diet will keep hormones in check and protect the skin from inside out. Using opaque mineral sunscreen on the face is a great option if still worried about discolouration. I certainly discourage avoiding the sun because sunbathing brings benefits to the mum and baby that no supplementation can replace.

Conscious tanning, part II: sensible sunbath

sensible_sunbath.jpg

In my last article I discussed the importance of certain nutrients in the prevention of sunburn, sun allergy and reactions to sunscreen. In the second part I will cover the importance of sun exposure without sunscreen and sunglasses, along with building natural immunity to the sun, choosing the right skin protection and sunburn remedies.

The importance of sun exposure without sunscreen

UVB rays catalyse the production of sulfated vitamin D, a type that cannot be obtained through supplementation. Sulfate makes vitamin D water soluble so that it can travel through blood and perform its vital functions. According to dr Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who is a sulfate specialist, it is the sulfated vitamin D that brings about the countless health benefits which include:

  • immune and inflammatory modulation
  • detoxification
  • insulin sensitivity
  • cancer prevention
  • skeletal health
  • mental health
  • heart health

Conventional sunscreen works by blocking UVB rays, which inhibits the production of vitamin D to a smaller or larger extent, which depends on sunscreen factor, frequency of application and sunscreen ingredients. The ones most commonly known for inhibiting vitamin D synthesis include:

  • dioxybenzone
  • oxybenzone
  • p-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)

Vast majority of people don't even understand these names which is a valid enough reason not to put them on the skin. They mimic our own hormones, contributing to hormonal imbalances. And this leads me on to another anti-sunscreen argument, namely substance penetration and absorption.

Skin is a semi-permeable membrane

The skin selectively allows for a two-way movement of substances, and this is why we can sweat or benefit from Epsom salts baths. This also means that some of the ingredients in conventional sunscreen may get into bloodstream. Eating cosmetics sounds crazy but ultimately, it may have a similar effect as putting it on the skin. Moreover, when substances are ingested, they get to the liver quickly where they are neutralised to some degree. When they are put on the skin, they reach the circulation before getting to the liver. This is why  skin patch medicines or ointments are so effective. Does it mean that putting sunscreen on the skin may affect the internal organs? Very possibly. Not all substances will reach the bloodstream though. Some of the particles are too big and can only penetrate the skin without being absorbed. These terms are often used interchangeably, which is incorrect.

Building immunity to the sun

Everyone loves a nice sunny day which is the most primitive instinct that the sun is life giving. One of the most effective ways to get its health benefits without side effects is sunbathing in small doses without any sunscreen until you rich a point when you don't burn any more. It may mean you start with 5 minutes but eventually will be able to work it up. Saying that, we are not supposed to spend a long time exposed to direct sun anyway, with or without sunscreen. 20-30 minutes is more than enough, after which it is best to sit in the shade, wear light clothing and a hat or  use natural sunscreen. This is especially important for those who know they're going to be exposed to the sun for long hours; e.g. on boats or construction sites. Those can benefit from natural surfing sunblocks.

Choosing the right sunscreen

Health stores offer a wide range of more natural alternatives. The most commonly used base ingredients are minerals:

  • titanium dioxide
  • zinc oxide

Both leave a white layer on the skin to reflect the sun. Some brands offer products with nano particles which makes them transparent but the smaller particles are associated with free radical damage. If you decide to go for natural sunscreen, use the opaque ones.

Other ingredients with approximate SPF values:

  • almond oil (SPF 5)
  • coconut oil (SPF 4-6)
  • raspberry seed oil (SPF 25-50)
  • carrot seed oil (SPF 35-40)
  • shea butter (SPF 4-6)
  • wheat germ oil (SPF 20)

You can use these individually or make your own sunscreen mix although you may have to build a good base to rely solely on the oils. Some of the most commonly available brands of ready made preparations around Europe include:

  • Badger
  • Dr Haushka
  • Green People
  • Lavera
  • Weleda

However, new products appear on the market all the time so it is best to read ranks on the internet each year. For the most reliable information on sunscreen, visit this website.

After sun care

Even if you do not burn, it's still recommended to eat well and moisturise the skin  to prevent ageing. Some of the best natural moisturisers include:

  • Cocoa butter (also deepens the tan)
  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Shea butter

For mild to moderate sunburn, the following can be very effective:

  • 100% aloe vera
  • Bach Flowers Remedies: Rescue Cream (cabinet essential for healing any external problems)
  • Cold natural yoghurt compressions
  • Coconut oil (even though most oils retain heat, coconut oil is cooling)

However, cosmetics are only a crutch that supports body's internal anti-aging and repair mechanisms, for which eating a nutrient dense diet is of utmost  importance:

  • Colourful vegetables and fruit for antioxidants
  • Nuts, seeds, their oils and butters for vitamin E
  • Collagenous pieces of meat, fish eaten with the skin and bone broth for collagen and elastin synthesis
  • Animal fats for retinol and arachidonic acid that helps to keep cells tightly packed

No sunglasses

The sun has one other medicinal property: it catalyses the production of melatonin sulfate, the type supplementation also won't replace, and it can happen only when looking at natural sunlight without protection. I know a number of people who are addicted to their sunglasses - they  always wear them when outside, all year round. Indeed, some can be sensitive to light but this is a sign of other internal imbalances, e.g. retinol deficiency. Often underestimated, melatonin performs vital functions for our wellbeing, and is often dismissed in hormone support therapies:

  • master antioxidant, possibly stronger than glutathione, vitamin C or E
  • immune modulation
  • regulation of sleep/wake cycle
  • regulation of all hormones
  • protection of the heart
  • protection of the nervous system from degeneration
  • regulation of metabolism

The best thing to do is slowly build immunity to sunlight and support nutrient deficiencies that are a common cause of photophobia. Eventually, you should be able not to squint as much, and a nutrient dense diet will help you prevent facial lines. If you spend a lot of time in a place where the sun is reflected, e.g. near the water or snow, you will have to protect your eyes with polarised sunglasses but try and not wear them when conditions are more favourable.

Summary

Sensible tanning means not overdoing it and understanding your limits. By fooling nature we often go against ourselves, and search for remedies elsewhere. Sometimes all it takes is a little lifestyle change, and the results can be profound. Trusting that nature has equipped us in everything we need to happily live on planet Earth can dissipate the confusion created by conflicting information on skin cancer. Happy sensible tanning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conscious tanning, part I: Eat your sunscreen

Eat_your_sunscreen.jpg

The sun has such a bad reputation these days that reliance on sunscreen has become an accepted norm. This is especially common with those who are not able to go out to the sun during the week and want to ‘make up’ at weekends or during holidays. They may plaster themselves in lotions and potions, and lie out there for hours. Parents also don't want their little ones to get burnt so cover them in sunscreen from head to toe, and often follow with a onesie. Needless to say, some people still burn, react to the sun and even sunscreen.

At the same time, deficiency of sunshine vitamin D is more and more prevalent in the developed world, and vitamin D is one of the most commonly purchased supplements these days. Both, science and my clinical experience indicate that all chronic health issues call for optimal vitamin D status – including all skin conditions, sun allergy and even skin cancer, all of  which are on the rise.

Given the opposites, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Most importantly, I think that

If the sun was bad for humans, we would not continue to evolve on a planet that’s exposed to sunshine.

At the same time, prolonged sun exposure for fairer-skinned types may not agree with their physiology, at least not until they have built up resistance to burning.

In this post, I will discuss the importance of three key nutrients that are necessary for building natural defences against burning, sun allergy and reactions to sunscreen.

What is vitamin D - simplified

Vitamin D (really a hormone but this goes beyond the scope of this article) belongs to the group of fat soluble vitamins, and all fat soluble vitamins are stored in the liver for future use. Sunshine helps to synthesise vitamin D, therefore sufficient reserves can be built up during the summer and used throughout winter months. As some of the chemicals present in conventional sunscreen can block the synthesis of vitamin D, it makes sense that the need for supplementation is on the rise.

Vitamin D not only affects mineral metabolism (e.g. calcium needed for strong bones) for which it is mostly known. In fact, all cells in the body have a vitamin D receptor. For that reason, it is critical to all bodily functions, including modulating allergy response (sun allergy and reactions to sunscreen), repair mechanisms (sunburn) antioxidant action (anti-ageing) and skin growth, which explains why tanning can even improve skin texture in some people.

How vitamin D is produced - simplified

When cholesterol in the skin is exposed to UVB rays (the highest concentration is when the sun is at its highest, which is around noon - just when tanning is supposed to be most dangerous), the liver and kidneys convert it into vitamin D3, its active and most bioavailable form.

The liver synthesises cholesterol regardless of dietary sources but it’s a complex process that may put a burden on the liver. As there is no cholesterol in plant foods, providing dietary cholesterol in the form of animal fats can supply the necessary building blocks for vitamin D synthesis.

Dietary sources of vitamin D

We can also provide ready-made vitamin D3 in the form of animal foods, and it’s interesting to see that foods with high concentration of cholesterol are also high in vitamin D3. As always, nature knows best. These include:

  • eggs (especially egg yolks)
  • cod liver oil
  • liver
  • lard (pastured is best)
  • oily fish, seafood, fish eggs, oysters

Vegans should be emphasising sun exposure even more because they cannot obtain vitamin D3 from vegan food sources.

Test – don’t guess

If you suffer from sun allergy or your skin gets easily red and damaged after sun exposure, checking your vitamin D status can be beneficial. It will not only indicate one of the possible causes, but you may also discover why other chronic health issues have been lingering. I have also had clients who get quite dark in the summer, and yet are deficient. Sunscreen, diet, lifestyle and other underlying physiological factors are to blame.

Symbiotic relationship of vitamin D and A

Vitamin A works in tandem with vitamin D, and one can be toxic without the other. True vitamin A is called retinol, which is a well known ingredient in anti-ageing skincare. Just like vitamin D, it is also a fat soluble vitamin that is stored in the liver. Some of retinol’s functions include immune modulation (sun allergy and reactions to sunscreen), repair (sunburn) and assimilation of protein (skin elasticity and repair).

Retinol can only be found in animal foods. Beta carotene is often called ‘vitamin A’ but in fact, only a small percentage of beta carotene can be converted to retinol, given your liver works well and you’re not deficient in zinc. Children under the age of 5 cannot convert beta carotene to retinol at all, and this is why their skin turns orange from carrot juice. Saying that, beta carotene has strong anti-oxidant properties, which is anti-ageing, and regular consumption can help to achieve deep, golden tan.

Food sources of retinol

...are very similar to cholesterol and vitamin D rich foods:

  • cod liver oil
  • liver
  • eggs (especially egg yolk)
  • butter and ghee

Food sources of beta carotene:

  • carrots
  • sweet potato
  • pumpkin
  • butternut squash
  • apricots
  • cantaloupe
  • spinach
  • kale

Omega 3 – the true weapon against burning

Not only does it help to repair skin and has strong anti-inflammatory properties, but most importantly it protects the skin from not getting burnt in the first place. There are a number of different types and sources of omega 3 fatty acids but the one associated with prolonged resistance to burns is called EPA which, again, occurs only in animal fats. Some people claim they fully reversed skin discolouration with ongoing intake of EPA which often happens due to nutrient deficiencies while tanning.

Foods rich in omega 3 (EPA)

  • Cod liver oil
  • Grass-fed meat (grain fed meat is richer in omega 6 fatty acids)
  • Oily fish
  • Pastured eggs / chickens (not fed with corn or any other grains as these will be richer in omega 6 fatty acids)

Summary

Tanning is extremely beneficial to health in many ways, most of which have not even been discussed in this article. If vitamin D is produced by the sun, and might be protective against cancer or over-reactive immune system, then the paradox is that the sun can actually help conditions that we blame it for, from skin cancer to allergy. Moreover, it is not the sun or sunscreen themselves that cause skin reactions - it's the immune system that's overreacting because of various internal imbalances. I think that conscious sun exposure is the key to its medicinal properties. Along with a nutrient dense diet that is rich in vilified animal fats, quality cod liver oil is my recommended panacea for healthy sun exposure.

In part II I will address external sun protection, along with building tolerance to tanning.

 

Happy mum, healthy baby

Baby_feet.jpg

Making the right decisions for your baby is a priceless investment with life-long returns. However, the modern world doesn’t make it easy with conflicting information coming from all angles and cheaply mass-produced goods, including food. Since the beginning of capitalism we’ve seen an increase in c-sections, no or short period of breastfeeding, increased use of medications and supplements, environmental toxins, electromagnetic field, epidemic use of plastic and parental diet devoid of truly nutritious foods. Although they have become an accepted norm, all can affect baby’s immunity, often leading to allergies, intolerances, skin conditions, autoimmunity, diabetes and later on in life – decreased focus or behavioural issues. Every parent would like to avoid these but what to do when there is so much information out there to filter through?

And what about stepping into the role of a mum as such? Do you feel prepared? It can be both exciting and challenging. Mums want the best for their baby, therefore it’s easy to get fully absorbed in the new duties. At the same time, it’s just as easy to forget about yourself. As a result, mums can end up exhausted, depressed or feeling unattractive, However, looking after your own needs can help to build the strength and energy necessary for mums to bring up a healthy, happy child, and to keep a happy relationship going. Would you like to know how?

There are also other challenges for new mums, namely the many difficult decisions they have to make as soon as the baby arrives. Delayed or immediate cord cutting, vit K shot, hepatitis B vaccine, what to do with vernix caseosa, antibacterial eye drops, sugar water, further vaccinations... And future countless decisions: which formula is the best when breastfeeding doesn’t go well, how about donated breast milk, how to wean the baby and what foods are truly best to start with – these are some of the stressful dilemmas.

On thing is certain, no one can tell the parents what is best for their baby because no circumstances are identical. Overall outcome depends on the factors affecting genetic expression, mother’s diet before and during pregnancy, way of delivery and emotional wellbeing. It’s the duty of parents to analyse these various factors from their individual perspective, in order to make educated decisions. What’s important though is not neglecting any signs and symptoms, even if they are considered ‘normal’. Bloated belly, constipation, dry skin, sleeping problems or lack of appetite are all signs of underlying imbalances which require attention.

In collaboration with OsteoPalma I invite you to an interactive and practical event that will help you with future decisions as a parent. Details below:

Happy_mum_healthy_baby.jpg

Pregnancy - from the perspective of nutritional therapy, functional medicine and naturopathy

bump.jpg

When talking about pregnancy, general awareness comes down to a ‘balanced diet’, increasing calorific intake, folic acid and iron. For a woman of the 21 century (and especially after the age of 35), this is simply not enough. I often hear arguments that some women don’t look after themselves and yet give birth to healthy babies. The question is – will they grow into healthy adults? Will they have childhood eczema, chronic colic or asthma? Unfortunately, these have been accepted as a norm in the western world, and prevention in this area is basically nonexistent in conventional medicine. A doctor may say that ‘the baby will grow out of it’ and symptoms often do subside. However, they may turn into seemingly unrelated issues in future life – perhaps inability to concentrate in school or depression in adulthood.

Indeed, cetain genetic predispositions cannot be avoided. But the vast majority of genetic expression depends on the environment, both internal and external. Mother’s diet, lifestyle, social interactions, rest, forgiveness and most importantly – microbiota – can optimise future baby’s DNA. This is great news for aspiring parents. Similarly, the likes of morning sickness, high blood pressure, putting on a lot of weight or gestational diabetes – although common – don’t have to happen in pregnancy. It’s interesting to see that they are not common in undeveloped civilisations.

It’s easy to drown in the sea of conflicting nutrition and lifestyle recommendations. Therefore, in collaboration with OsteoPalma I’ve organised an interactive and practical seminar on the journey through pregnancy care, to help future mothers to navigate through the maze of truths and myths about what really matters during the 9 months. Nutritional therapy, functional medicine and naturopathy are all powerful tools that help to understand physiological changes that take place and your individual requirements in pregnancy – to maximise your baby's health and happiness.

The seminar is aimed at expecting mothers, fathers, those who plan on a family in the future, doulas, midwives, doctors, nurses, therapists, and will cover the following aspects:

The_bump_Facebook_ad.jpg

Two remaining events at OsteoPalma:

‘The bump – a journey through pregnancy care’, 16th of June 10:30-12:30

‘Happy mum, healthy baby – postnatal care of baby and self’, 30th of June 10:30-12:30

€40 for one or €70 if you sing up for both. Tickets available at OsteoPalma. Confirm attendance here.

Holistic approach to fertility and preconception care

couple.jpg

Despite greater wealth and easier access to healthy pursuits - fertility problems, uncomfortable pregnancy, recurrent miscarriages, modern childhood diseases and disorders are on the rise.

The need for convenience, fast-paced lives and changes in life priorities have paradoxically resulted in greater stress, inadequate nutrition and as a result, imbalanced physiology. More and more cases of infertility and recurrent miscarriages are unexplained, leaving couples in desperation. One thing is certain: more than ever is the period of preparation for pregnancy key to produce healthy children who will grow into healthy adults, generation after generation. In other words, the state of both parents’ health at the time of conception will affect the health of the offspring, from birth to adulthood. And the state of mother’s health will also affect the course of pregnancy, birth and post-natal wellbeing.

Nature always knows best and simply will or won’t allow the body to carry a baby if the environment is or isn’t favourable. And this is where nutritional therapy, naturopathy and functional medicine can be help: they naturally change the environment according to individual circumstances, to create the right conditions to conceive. Therefore, when conventional medicine isn’t able to find the cause, it is worth availing of complementary healthcare in order to uncover hidden imbalances.

From the naturopathic and functional medicine perspective, there are numerous factors that influence reproductive capacity that go beyond the reproductive system itself. Throughout my clinical practice I have learned that when addressing other body systems or processes that are evidently weak, conception happens without extra effort. In the clinic, I look at the following aspects:

- presence of other chronic health conditions which have to be managed

- digestion

- microbiota diversity

- diet and nutrient deficiencies

- stress and adrenal function

- glucose metabolism

- lifestyle

- immune function

- hormonal imbalances

- exposure to environmental toxins

- inflammatory factors

- balance between detoxing and ‘building’, especially now that veganism is a growing trend

- past trauma, ideas about sex, sex quality, quality of relationships

But the most important aspect of therapy is giving the right tools and control back to the person so that with appropriate guidance, they can help themselves at home.

If you would like learn lots of practical tips, OsteoPalma and GLOW invite you to a 3-part nutrition and functional medicine series that will bring you from preconception through pregnancy, birth, to childcare and beyond.

Fertility booster' – holistic approach to family planning, 2nd of June 10:30-12:30

The bump' – a journey through pregnancy care, 16th of June 10:30-12:30

Happy mum, healthy baby' – postnatal care of baby and self, 30th of June 10:30-12:30

Address: OsteoPalma, Gilbert de Centelles 19, 3°, Palma de Mallorca

€40 for one or €100 if you sing up for all three. Tickets available from OsteoPalma. Confirm attendence here.

OsteoPalma_GLOW_poster.jpg