STRESS, the Good the Bad and the Ugly
What does stress mean to you?
When you think about stress you conjure images of work deadlines and conflict, emotions running high, endless traffic jams and too much to do in too little time!
This is of course an adequate representation of a large part of the stress we experience.
But with statistics showing that over 50% of doctors visits are caused by or related to stress it may be important to look at this a little closer.
Your body is an amazing machine, one that is calibrated to perfection to work within certain parameters (homeostasis). When life takes you outside those parameters, out of balance, the body will work hard to return to them, as that is where the body operates at its best.
From this perspective stress is ANYTHING real or perceived, internal or external, which takes the body out of balance.
Real or perceived? What’s that about?
Let’s back up a little.
Your stress response is a protective mechanism, it is activated when you feel threatened and sense fear or danger.
For your ancestors that was represented by a predator or some natural disaster that threatened their very existence. The mechanism is designed to give you focus and energy to quickly think of a survival plan, fight or run for you life.
It is that same mechanism that you activate day in and day out every time you experience stress.
For our caveman ancestor these stressful occasions were usually followed by a period of calm where their body returned to a balanced state, but sadly for us the picture is rather different.
Stress begins the moment you are awakened by a loud alarm clock and follows you throughout the day from the school run, to the office and the traffic jam and the difficult meeting and the paperwork and that phone call you have been dreading to make … let’s not forget making sure you manage all of the kids activities and you don’t forget any pickups, make sure a good meal is on the table and look presentable for the person who chose to spend the rest of their life with you (unless you are too exhausted by that point which only adds to the stress).
Most of these things are not life threatening (unless you’ve forgotten a child somewhere then your life may be at risk …), but you perceive them as DISTRESS (BAD stress) and therefore our body reacts to them as if they were life threatening. The body activates all the systems required to fight or run … but most of the time you are sitting in the car or at your desk …
Your body is mobilising nutrients and energy to run and but you are sitting in a traffic jam … your blood pressure rises, your blood sugar rises (eventually leading to belly fat increase as it is not being used to run!), your digestion doesn’t work as well as it should, parts of your brain (like memory) are not as efficient … basically when the body activates the stress response anything you don’t need to run or fight is dialled down.
The silver lining here however, is that these effects are often caused by “perceived” stress. Therefore, if you can change your internal dialogue, it you can manage your response to your daily life … then most of this stress can be managed and the negative effects significantly reduced.
Working on mindfulness, perception and finding meaning is a big part of my work.
What about this internal or external business …
Most of us only think of stress in terms of something that happens to us rather than something that is happening WITHIN us.
Like I mentioned before, as far as the body is concerned anything that takes it out of balance, which prevents it to function optimally is a stressor.
So when your hormones are out of balance, when your blood sugar is all over the place, when you have food allergies you ignore because they are inconvenient …. you are putting stress on the body.
Stress can be physical like a slipped disc or an injury, emotional like anxiety or lack of a sense of purpose, or chemical like the toxins we are exposed to, a food allergy or toxins from a gut infection you may not even know you have.
Some of those are hidden stressors: imbalances in your hormonal, immune, digestive and detoxification systems for example. The ones you cannot see but play havoc on our health and lead to what I like to call metabolic chaos®.
Metabolic chaos® is what happens when those hidden stressors are allowed to continue over time. The body will keep trying to bring itself back to balance, but unless it is being nurtured through good food and adequate sleep and balanced exercise and stress reduction techniques to manage the “external” stressors then it will eventually start to struggle to function as it should and that’s when things can turn UGLY.
You start not quite feeling yourself, maybe you have some odd symptoms … something is not quite right but you can’t put our finger on it and of course you are not “sick” so a visit to the doctor usually result in being told you are FINE, except you don't feel fine!
To complicate matters further the symptoms you may be feeling may be far removed from the trigger that is causing them. You may, for example, be intolerant to a food but get a headache instead of a tummy ache or get anxiety instead of diarrhoea. The link with the food/gut is not necessarily obvious. For me it was debilitating muscle pain … it was my body’s way of saying slow down I can’t keep up!
It can be a bit of a maze to navigate. I help my clients reduce stressors both internal and external to give their body the best chance to heal itself.
Is it all doom and Gloom?
Of course NOT! The stress response itself is GOOD, in fact it’s great.
It is the reason you are alive today, the reason we as a species have survived to evolve. It is your survival and warning mechanism.
Stress can also be good. For example, stress we refer to as EUSTRESS such as balanced exercise, or the nerves before an event that help you prepare and perform better; the excitement you feel when you experience certain things like sky-diving (provided you are a willing participant) or the feelings you get when you graduate, get married or have a baby.
Stress can help you rise up to the occasion, it can be your friend, it can help you grow, it can make you stronger and it can strengthen your connection with others.
But it all depends on your perception!
What can you do today to help transform your stress?
• Practice deep breathing for a few minutes every day
• Keep a gratitude journal
• Spend time in nature as often as possible
If you want to explore your relationship with stress and the effect it has on your health book an appointment here.
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The Year Of Tolerance
2019 has been declared as the year of tolerance for the UAE.
It is only February but already we can feel the efforts that are going into putting this idea into practice.
From welcoming Pope Francis to the numerous displays celebrating Chinese New Year, we are definitely setting the tone for understanding and respect of all people, nationalities, religions and cultures.
But tolerance doesn’t stop at those big events and as my grandma says charity begins at home …
How can we practice tolerance every day and in our daily lives?
What small acts can we take part in to demonstrate tolerance?.
Tolerance means acceptance, and whilst it is often associated with religious beliefs it isn’t just about religion.
The definition of tolerance is:
The ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with.
This applies to any belief or opinion, from what we choose to eat to where we choose to send our children to school and where we choose to live/work.
Each and every one of us is an individual with individual beliefs, thoughts and behaviours based on our upbringing, education and culture and of course sometimes influenced by media.
Is it right or wrong …
Practicing tolerance means not judging others for their choices. It doesn’t stop us from disagreeing with them but it does require us not to criticise or judge.
Think of your day today? Did anything happen that caused you to criticise an opinion or behaviour? You may not have said it openly but did it happen? Can you create some space within your heart to really listen to another point of view, something that you don’t necessarily agree with?
In my job I see people trying really hard to find natural ways get their health back on track or maybe simply achieve their best health managing a chronic illness. Trying to free themselves of pain and of being slave to medications with unavoidable side effects through lifestyles changes. But the hardest part is often struggling daily with being judged. I constantly hear comments like:
· My family/friends don’t understand
· I am no fun to be around (because I don’t eat gluten/dairy, etc.)
· I can’t take the stares anymore
· I am tired of having to justify my lifestyle choices
· My child can’t go to parties without being teased …
Most of us don’t even think twice about commenting on other people’s choices, but the impact of our words or stares can be devastating for some. Especially for people who may have no real choice but necessarily have to make major changes in their lifestyle; people with celiac disease, for example.
I have experienced first hand those disapproving stares, hurtful comments and awkward silences when I was trying to heal my daughter. Sometimes it was something as simple as ignoring the fact that she had special dietary needs. I pushed past them but at the time, they added unnecessary stress to my already stressful life. I quickly learnt that I only had myself to rely on, it was up to me for example to make sure she would always have something to eat, but in doing so I had to ask questions about what food would be provided at various events and that was usually met with an awkward silence, then followed by the comments “well surely once won’t hurt her” or “let the poor child enjoy life” …. It felt very lonely.
Because of my personal experience and my work, I have referenced diet and lifestyle changes but this really applies to every aspect of our lives. The opportunity to show tolerance is really all around us.
We get many opportunities to show and practice tolerance on a daily basis.
Topics for which we can show tolerance are infinite...
From religion to politics
From schools to social media
From sports to medicine …
You can just about show tolerance for anything that you find yourself disagreeing with.
Next time, instead of responding and reacting immediately could you choose to do things a bit differently?
Could you take a few breaths to create some space and simply pause before reacting?
Perhaps you can ask yourself these 3 questions:
1. What is it about this person/ topic that makes you feel threatened enough to defend immediately?
2. IF it is a topic that is very dear to your heart, could you really hear what the other person had to say before responding?
3. Before you pass judgement, could you ask instead why that person may have this particular point of view?
Did you learn something new about yourself?
Asking from a place of curiosity rather than judgement can surprise us and enrich our lives at the same time if only we are open to it.
I know that when I decided to change our lifestyle it was because I had hit a wall, I could not find answers anywhere and this way of eating/living helped me keep my daughter breathing and eventually made her healthy. For others it may be as simple as wanting to try something new; for others still there may be a new diagnosis that requires it.
On my journey I realised that people have many struggles in their lives that they don’t necessarily share or make obvious. It is only when we hold off judgement and apply a child like curiosity that we can peel back the layers and dig deeper into the why.
Remember that person in school who always sat quietly and never said anyhting … they may have been labelled antisocial, or awkward or similar. The reality may have been that they were simply shy or acted as a carer after school and didn't have time to join in socially, had a disease that made socialising difficult, had a bad situation at home they preferred to keep to themselves …
There are so many reasons for the choices people make and the behaviours they exhibit. Whatever the reason, be open and respectful; it does not mean you agree with their choice, it means you are practicing tolerance.
What can you do to practice tolerance in your daily life?
Practice using the three questions above to become more mindful.
In addition, you can try some of these ideas to get you started, I am sure you can come up with more:
· Try different things yourself, notice how it feels to be on the other side
· Speak openly from a place of curiosity and practice listening and understanding
· Ask someone with different beliefs what you could do to help support him or her
· If you are hosting a dinner ask if anyone is on a special diet
- Encourage them to bring something for all to share
- Ask them to teach you a new way of cooking an old favourite
· If your child’s friend has an intolerance make sure you tell the parent what you intend to serve so the parents can send something similar (children don’t like to be different)
Children learn from what is being modelled to them. Let’s make a conscious effort to model tolerance to our children, our future.
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Should We All Be Wheat /Gluten Free?
Reflections on the International Symposium on Wheat Related Disorders
I attended the Symposium on Wheat Related Disorders in New Delhi, India on 12-13 January 2019. Listening to world renowned Doctors and Professors discuss this topic it seems impossible not to address the elephant in the room, the question on everyone’s mind …
Should we all be wheat / gluten free?
As the mother of two non-celiac gluten sensitive children, it would certainly make my life easier if I did not need to constantly monitor everything that went into my children’s mouths. I think mothers of celiac children will also agree with me on this.
As a Certified Gluten Practitioner I would have no problem rattling off all the potentially damaging effects of wheat and gluten on health, from a simple headache or tummy ache to cell damage in your gut and potentially your skin and brain.
As an Italian I cringe at the thought of never eating a nice pizza or my favourite pasta again …
As a health coach I see so many people suffering unnecessarily from potential wheat related disorders, where a simple elimination diet and gut healing would give them back their energy and vitality and free them of pain.
But it’s not that simple …
The arguments for and against were put forward by many of the presenters.
We should not ban wheat because it has sustained and indeed in some cases saved lives during our evolution, it helps feed many poor populations and can provide some important nutrients such as fibre and B Vitamins.
We should be wheat free because of the strong association with states of dis-ease and autoimmune conditions.
As we now live in a world highly dependent on highly refined carbohydrates moving away from wheat is actually not that easy. It requires a complete paradigm shift.
Yes your grandparents and great/grandparents ate wheat, but they didn’t have access to the processed and convenience foods that we have access to today.
They had their slice of home made bread possibly every day and maybe some home made cake, but they didn’t also have wheat in their stock, or their salad dressing, or in their grated cheese, or French fries, or chocolate, or crisps, in their drinks, in their medications, in their ready made spice mixes, on their dental appliances and the list goes on … wheat and gluten are everywhere today, even where you least expect them to be. If you took the time to read labels and learn a few of the names wheat and gluten disguise under (like maltodextrin or the words emulsifier or modified starch) you would see that it is potentially in everything we eat unless we are only eating a wholefoods diet (foods that are made by nature rather than by man).
Loss of Tolerance
Most of the research presented at the symposium points to loss of tolerance as a contributing factor in the development of wheat related disorders.
It has been scientifically proven that wheat/gluten damages the cells of the gut of all humans. Yes you read it right, every single one of you.
You are built for survival, a cell gets damaged, the body repairs it … but to do that the body needs two things:
We are eating between 3-6 times a day! When all the meals include wheat it becomes harder and harder for the body to heal.
Moreover, every time the body does repair the damage it uses valuable resources. Unless we have a healthy diet and lifestyle with plenty of whole, colourful foods and sufficient sleep, these resources are not being replanished and we eventually get to a point where repair is extremely difficult.
Which came first the chicken or the egg? We will probably never know, both the levels of wheat we are consuming and the lifestyle described above will contribute to gut damage and loss of tolerance…
But what this indicates is that there are other factors at play when it comes to damaging the gut. It is not just wheat or gluten that causes it.
So, once again, should we all be wheat/gluten free?
It would be wonderful to have a test that could tell us without shadow of a doubt whether we can or cannot eat gluten.
The conclusions from the symposium are that unless you have advanced celiac disease the tests that are commonly available from your GP are not 100% reliable. They can give false negatives.
The consensus is that if you carry the celiac related genes you are more at risk of developing a problem with gluten and should therefore consider this possibility when feeling unwell. It is not a given that you will develop celiac just because you carry the gene.
A biopsy remains the gold standard for diagnosis of celiac at this point, but even then it is not always 100% reliable in the absence of advanced disease states.
What about Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity? Well that’s even harder to diagnose … science is still researching this.
The current model is exploring the possibility of Gluten Sensitivity being the main disorder with celiac disease being one of its manifestations. Watch this space …
At the moment when someone has a clinical problem with gluten but is not diagnosed celiac they fall under the umbrella of Non- Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.
So in the absence of a highly reliable test what currently happens?
Currently doctors evaluate patients based on a combination of symptoms and markers on more than one test. The commonly available tests are:
•Anti-tissue Transglutaminase Antibody - tTG
•Endomysial Antibody - EMA
•Anti-deamidated Gliadin Peptides - DGP
Should we all be tested?
Based on the above I personally do not believe we should blanket test with the current available testing. At the symposium the room was also split on this specific issue.
I do, however, believe that if you think you have a problem with wheat/gluten you should get tested BEFORE you eliminate it. Once you have completed the test you can eliminate wheat and gluten and see how you feel without them. Testing after the removal of wheat/gluten will only result in even less accuracy.
Should we all switch to wheat/gluten free foods?
Packaged gluten free food is just as processed as wheat containing processed food. It should most definitely not be the basis of your diet.
But if by gluten free you mean reducing the overall amount of wheat/gluten, rotate your foods, include colours and eat naturally gluten free wholefoods then the consensus was that this would likely be beneficial to you.
Are we all doomed?
I don’t think so and neither does Dr Alessio Fasano, one of the world leading researchers in this field.
He believes that your constitution and your tolerance levels are the main defining factors in whether or not you will develop a wheat related disorder.
Can you continue eating highly processed foods, eat wheat at every meal and have high levels of stress and poor sleep and no exercise and never experience a wheat-related disorder? Your chances of that may not exactly be high, but at what point you reach loss of tolerance if at all will be very specific to you.
In conclusion, I think this was a fascinating symposium, which brought up many issues to highlight the complexity of diagnosing wheat related disorders as well as the simplicity of their resolution (wheat/gluten free diet and gut healing).
It showed that it is indeed possible to cater for such an event with a gluten free buffet! I didn’t hear any complaints.
It focused on the importance of lifestyle and nutrition in the maintenance of health and exposed how individual our response to environmental factors is.
Personally it has reinforced my belief in the power of the body to keep us healthy. I believe in giving it the nourishment and support it needs to do its job. I believe in balance and quality.
This Symposium highlighted that health is not just about what we eat, but reminded us that:
As for the original question should we all be wheat/gluten free? …
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What Is Leaky Gut
Click here to read an article I wrote for edoctors about Leaky Gut, how it can manifest and simple steps to look after the health of our digestive tract.