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Q&A with Alex Wu, author of A User’s Manual for the Human Body

Alex Wu’s new book, A User’s Manual for the Human Body is a transformative guide to the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The book shows how Traditional Chinese Medicines differ from Western medicine and what that means in practice. It also illustrates how we can help our bodies to heal themselves and thereby achieve a longer, healthier life. Here, Alex answers a few questions about his lifestyle, which is the basis for his book.

Alex Wu
Alex Wu, author of A User’s Manual for the Human Body

Can you describe your current lifestyle? How many hours per night do you sleep?

I am 66 years old so my regime might not be the same as people in different age groups. I sleep at 10pm and I wake up normally around 6am. I do the pericardium massage when I wake up in the morning and at night time, I practice the bladder meridian massage (Both the hair combing and back massage). I do the gallbladder massage (leg) after dinner. I try to walk at least an hour a day during the day time and I pay attention to the amount of clothes that I wear to avoid getting a cold.

Describe your diet. What do you eat? Are there any foods that you avoid?

There is no specific food that I eat or avoid but the general rule is I try to eat as little processed food as possible. To avoid cold energy, I do not eat anything raw except for fruits. The fruits that I eat are the ones that are in season.

What exercise do you do?

I exercise mainly through walking and I practice Tai-Chi occasionally.

What was your life like before you started practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine? What aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine that was most impactful?

Before I was ill, I worked well over 60 hours a week under high pressure. I was an investment banker in China back in the 1990s. I wouldn’t say that my regime was changed because of TCM but rather TCM concepts let me understand what type of harm this regime was causing to my body. I quit my job and it changed everything.

In your book, you talk about the Qi and the TCM concept of blood. How would you explain that to a Western audience?

An analogy I often use when describing qi to those who do not have a deep cultural understanding of the concept is that the body is a battery. Blood is the equivalent of the battery’s capacity and qi is the amount of energy currently stored in the battery. It would logically follow that the amount of qi you can have is limited by the amount of blood you have. This relationship between blood and qi is important if we are to understand how to improve our health. Because the quantity of qi a person can have is determined by the amount of blood the person has, the focus of healthy living should be to increase the amount of blood in the body.

To learn more about A User’s Manual for the Human Body, watch Alex Wu’s explanation video on YouTube here and here.

You can purchase the book from Hammersmith Health Books. The paperback is now on special offer for £9.99 and the ebook is £5.99.

A User's Manual for the Human Body

 

 

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The reasons behind Male Anorexia

The reasons behind male anorexia

Although the risk of anorexia nervosa is higher in females, boys and men are not immune. Interestingly, atypical eating disorders, such as ‘selective eating’ (very limited food choices) are more common in boys than girls before puberty. These are often related to developmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorders, or to severe anxiety. However, very few of these eating problems develop into anorexia nervosa after puberty.

About 10% of people with anorexia known to health services are male. On the other hand, large community-based epidemiological studies have recently shown that as many as 30% of participants reporting a lifetime history of anorexia were male, but only a minority sought treatment. Eating disorders are associated with women and this may be an impediment to seeking treatment for men. John Prescott’s disclosure of his bulimia could be a typical example of this situation.

However, even if as many as 30% of sufferers were male, the imbalance towards the female sex is most extreme amongst psychiatric disorders. Interestingly, there is some evidence that homosexuality/bisexuality is a specific risk factor for eating disorders (particularly bulimia) in males. According to a recent study, attending a gay recreational group is significantly related to eating disorder prevalence in gay and bisexual men. The reason for the higher prevalence in non-heterosexual males is unknown at present. In some cases, the drive for weight loss may be an expression of the rejection of male sexuality, such as in men with gender identity disorders.

The motivation for initial weight loss is usually different for men than for women. Preoccupation with a muscular but ‘fat-free’ body is more common, sometimes resulting in excessive exercise and steroid abuse. This is consistent with male sexual attractiveness, but paradoxically, these strategies damage normal sexual functioning. Biologically, abnormally low weight does not allow muscle building, not just because of lack of nutrients, but also because testosterone levels fall during starvation. The low testosterone does not just affect libido and sexual performance, but also the body’s ability to build muscles. Steroids illicitly used for muscle building also interfere with normal sex hormone production, and can be harmful in the long run.

Illicit substance misuse has also been associated with anorexia in males, for a number of reasons. Firstly, amphetamines, heroin and cocaine all reduce appetite. Secondly, some underlying personality traits may present a risk for both conditions.

Research on anorexia in boys and men is limited. This is mainly because only a small proportion of clinic populations are male, so it is very difficult to recruit sufficient numbers of male participants into studies. Furthermore, the majority of research studies concerning anorexia nervosa exclude male patients from recruitment or the analysis in an attempt to keep the methodology simple. The Minnesota Semi-Starvation study, which will be discussed later, included only male participants. Hence, this study has provided invaluable information about the consequences of self-induced starvation in males.

Medical complications are more common in men than women during starvation. However, a recent study in Sweden showed that the long-term recovery rate of men hospitalised for anorexia was good. The same research group has also shown that the outcome of eating disorders in females has improved in Sweden (in contrast to many other countries). These findings may be true only for the Swedish populations, due to the effective screening programmes and early intervention in this country’s highly developed and equitable healthcare system. Finnish researchers also found better outcome for males in terms of weight restoration, but additional psychological problems were common.

 

This extract was taken from Anorexia Nervosa by Dr Agnes Ayton.

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The ‘D’ Word: Rethinking Dementia

When the brain is affected by dementia, logical thinking and reasoning ability are affected quite early on. However, the amygdala – the part of the brain that is the integrative centre for emotions, emotional behaviour, and motivation – is less affected. People with dementia (PwD) who have trouble processing logic and reasoning do not have a similar problem with their ability to feel emotion. Indeed, as far as research can show, people with dementia still feel happy, sad, afraid and so on, even after they can no longer speak or recognise people they know well, even when they need total support to live their lives. It seems, though, that most people – including many well-meaning carers – are unable to adjust their own behaviour and thinking to accommodate the continuance of emotional experience, along with the decrease in reasoning ability of the person they care for.

If someone has a broken leg we do not assume that they could walk on it ‘if they tried’. We do not suggest that they listen very carefully whilst we explain how to walk. We do not try to divert their attention so that they can walk without thinking. No. Instead we set the broken bone and maintain it in position with support (a leg-plaster). We allow them to rest the leg. We give them a crutch to aid movement and we accept that walking will be slow and difficult until the leg is healed. Similarly, if someone has part of their brain which is not functioning we should make allowances. We should try to keep the parts of the brain that do function in as good order as possible – by encouraging social interaction, physical exercise and general health. We should allow the brain to ‘rest’ when it needs to by not demanding actions which are no longer essential. We should supply a ‘crutch’ using memory aids, providing unobtrusive help and support. We accept that everything cannot be as it once was because this brain is not what it once was.

It is important, though, that society should recognise the relative importance of the emotions which come to predominate when logical thought and thought processing are deteriorating. Society in general does not much like domination by the emotions. ‘Civilised’ people should learn to control emotion and apply logic and reason to manage their everyday life, it is thought. But what if we can no longer use our logic and reasoning to help us come to terms with emotions? Suppose we are unable to understand and work out why we feel sad or happy? Imagine if we feel these emotions overwhelmingly, but we are unable to deal with them by a change of scene, by talking through our feelings, by taking actions to alleviate the misery or express the happiness. Imagine being no longer able to speak coherently enough to tell anyone how frightened you feel or how angry. What might you do? How might you try to express yourself? Perhaps you would try to hide somewhere, or to run away and escape. Or you might shout and get angry. Perhaps if no one made any effort to understand, you might try to use physical methods to show them how you feel.

This blog is taken from The ‘D’ Word: Rethinking Dementia by Mary Jordan and Dr Noel Collins

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Eating Your Way to Better Brain Health

brain, food, health, diet

Brain food

There are some nutrients that are worthy of separate mention in relation to the central nervous system. The living foods diet will be high in all of these nutrients, but the following, in my opinion, are worth additional overview.

Thiamine-containing foods

Your brain relies on thiamine (vitamin B1) to produce neurotransmitters, which are needed to send messages throughout your nervous system. Without adequate thiamine, people can experience brain-related symptoms such as loss of memory and even brain damage. Conventional eaters are usually told to eat cereals and grains that are minimally processed, such as whole-wheat breads or brown rice, and to eat fortified cereals. However, always looking for ways in which to upgrade, I prefer the sources found in a living foods regime, in which the sprouted small grains such as quinoa, amaranth and teff serve your needs. Soaked nuts and sprouted legumes are also good dietary sources.

Potassium-containing foods

Your brain relies on potassium to generate the chemical reactions that create energy and allow your brain cells to communicate. If you don’t get enough potassium in your daily diet, you can experience symptoms such as mental confusion and even an irregular heartbeat. Fruits and vegetables tend to be highest in potassium; we all think of bananas as being high in potassium, but all the dark green foods are great sources.

Zinc-containing foods

Your body requires zinc each day to improve your memory and keep you thinking clearly, and a good source is soaked pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin seed butter. Eating a handful of these seeds, ideally soaked before eating them, can give you all the zinc you need to boost your brain power. Sprouted lentils and chick peas (garbanzo beans) are also good sources of zinc. See how easy it is?

High-calcium foods

While you may think of calcium as a mineral that strengthens your bones and teeth, your brain requires calcium to transmit nerve signals. On the living foods diet we are never thinking about dairy products as a source of calcium, so remember that dark green leafy foods such as kale will give you plenty of calcium, as will raw tahini.

Magnesium-containing foods

Magnesium, a crucial dietary mineral, helps maintain proper cardiovascular system function, affects energy metabolism and plays a part in bone health. Magnesium also helps maintain the health of the nervous system. In their book, Psychiatric Side Effects of Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications: Recognition and Management, doctors Thomas Markham Brown and Alan Stoudemire report that magnesium has an inhibitory effect on certain neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals responsible for signal transmission between nerve cells. Specifically, magnesium helps with the manufacture of dopamine, which has a calming effect on the brain. As previously stated, any food rich in chlorophyll, such as the dark leafy greens, will provide plenty of magnesium.

Severe magnesium deficiencies have previously been considered to be uncommon in developed nations, because so many available foods contain magnesium. However, many people do not regularly get adequate magnesium from their diet, and it is now thought that up to 80 per cent of the population may be deficient in this mineral. A magnesium deficiency can have a profound impact on the functioning of the nervous system. Low levels of magnesium are associated with symptoms of anxiety, irritability, agitation insomnia and confusion, according to the University of Maryland Medical Centre. A review published in the December 1992 issue of the journal Magnesium Research reported that magnesium deficiency can result in neurological symptoms such as hyperexcitability, convulsions and a number of psychiatric symptoms, ranging from apathy to psychosis. Magnesium deficiency may also cause seizures. ME Morris, the author of the study, suggests that some of these symptoms may be reversed with magnesium supplementation.

Magnesium supplementation may help disorders associated with the nervous system. A study published in the October 2004 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition reports that magnesium supplementation, combined with vitamin B-6, helped to correct symptoms of hyperexcitability, including aggression and inattention, in children. All 52 study participants experienced benefits from magnesium and vitamin B-6 treatment. A 2006 study in the journal Medical Hypotheses, reported several case studies in which magnesium supplementation benefited patients suffering from ‘major depression, traumatic brain injury, headache, suicidal tendencies, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, postpartum depression, cocaine, alcohol and tobacco abuse, hypersensitivity to calcium, short-term memory loss and IQ loss’. That’s a wide range of effects, indicating just how widespread this mineral is in its biochemical reactions.

The key with magnesium supplementation is to ensure that it is bioavailable (that is, that your body can absorb and make use of it). If you are not eating sufficient leafy greens, not drinking sufficient green juices and not using wheatgrass juice regularly, or have been shown to be deficient on blood testing, I suggest using a transdermal magnesium spray for best absorption.

This blog was taken from ‘The Whole Body Solution: The Complete Guide to Ultimate Health and Anti-ageing’, by Max Tuck.

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Understanding a brain with dementia

How the brain works, a very logical and straightforward article produced by Alzheimer’s Australia, gives a clear and basic introduction to the brain dysfunction involved in dementia and always helps me to picture what is going on inside of the head of someone affected by this disease. The article explains that the brain can be thought of as a factory and that the factory runs at peak efficiency when all the parts are working.

At the front of this factory (the frontal lobes) are the directors. They make plans for the factory and decide on who is going to do what and when. As things get underway they get feedback or other information as to how well things are going and they make judgements on what looks good and what does not look so good. Then they make further decisions, to change that or to keep this, and show their appreciation and annoyance. Planning, organising, judging, decision-making and appreciation therefore take place at the front of the brain.

In the middle of the factory (the parietal association cortex) are the managers. Each manager runs his/her own department. The left side is the talking side: there is a speech department that moves the throat, tongue and lip muscles, a language department that is responsible for finding the words you want and knowing the words’ meaning, a music department, and various other departments. The right side is the picture side, with a motor department that helps you find your way around a building, knows where you are when you are driving a car, puts your arm through the sleeve of your coat, and so on.

The directors pass their plans on to the managers, and the managers make sure the directors’ plans are carried out. In order to do this, directors and managers communicate freely with one another, sending messages back and forth.

At the bottom of the factory (the limbic region, amygdala and basal ganglia) are the workers. They do not know what the directors’ plans are, but they know their job and they do that same job day in, day out. They take care of things like appetite control, the need for water, staying alert and awake or going to sleep, as well as basic emotions, such as turning on tears, making the face red and increasing the pulse rate.

When brain damage occurs, basically someone gets sacked. It can be the director, a manager or a worker, depending on where the damage takes place. Someone can also go on temporary leave of absence – for example, when there is a temporary swelling or loss of blood supply in the brain that is reversed in a short time.

The result of any injury, whether permanent or temporary, is that the efficiency of the factory is reduced. Messages are sent but are not picked up. Directors get annoyed. The managers get tired and the emotional workers get overwrought. Confusion reigns.

Understanding who has been fired and who is still on the job can help in interpreting the behaviour of people living with dementia.

This blog is taken from The Dementia Whisperer: Scenes from the frontline of caring by Agnes B Juhasz.

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Taking charge of anxiety with an invisible illness

Mental health and coping with anxiety affects everyone, and if you are suffering from an invisible illness it can be even more difficult. It’s #mentalhealthweek so here are some tools for looking after your emotional and mental health when dealing with chronic illness, whether it be IBD, IBS, CFS, ME or other fatigue/auto-immune conditions.

How can we deal with anxiety and invisible illness?

Since many patients feel stress can trigger their symptoms, it is vital to try to get a handle on anxiety. It has been suggested that support for this should be part of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) patients’ care plans, yet currently only 12 per cent of IBD clinics offer this. Therefore, it is clearly an area where more medical services need to be directed. As I discussed in Chapter 1, initial consultations after being diagnosed can lead to the patient being overwhelmed with information and having a variety of leaflets thrust into their hands about the disease they can only take in later. But where’s the leaflet that tells us how to cope with the associated emotions? The leaflet that gives us ways of not breaking down, and staying strong? The leaflet that offers support groups and websites?

Hopefully the studies I have cited have highlighted the growing link between mental health and IBD. Of course, if you feel you are struggling with anxiety and depression it is vital you speak to your GP urgently. If you have done this and are looking for some self-help suggestions to deal with times of worry and help manage your anxiety, then the guidance below from Sally Baker – a therapist who works specifically with the mind-body connection – may be beneficial. (It is important to be aware at the same time that these tips offer general guidance which cannot replace the individual advice of a medical professional and if you are feeling any new symptoms of anxiety and depression, then it is very important to see your GP.)

Advice from Sally

When Sally works with clients living with chronic ill-health she recognises how having little or no confidence in how one will physically feel from day to day encourages self-doubt and frustration. As you are probably aware, feeling negative about yourself can create a vicious circle of frustration, disappointment and anger. One of the first therapeutic approaches she suggests to break this cycle of negative self-thinking is to encourage patients to gain an enhanced level of self-awareness to highlight the impact those uncomfortable emotions have on them.

She has found one of the most beneficial ways of discovering if a person is prone to negative thoughts about themselves is to explore the kind of things their inner voice says to them. If on reading this your response is, ‘What inner voice? – I don’t have one!’ then that is your inner voice.

Your inner voice runs an almost continuous internal dialogue commenting on everything you do and often makes judgements on how well you do it too. Happening as it does just below conscious awareness, one’s inner voice goes unchecked, and unchallenged, for most of the time.

For many people, especially those living with chronic illness, their inner voice is rarely a source of uplifting encouragement. It is more likely to give an unremitting flow of self-criticism, and negative self-judgements (everything from ‘I hate my body’ to ‘What am I doing wrong?’). Taking the time to become aware of how your inner voice speaks to you can accurately demonstrate to you your own level of self-judgement and self-condemnation. Tuning in, and clearly hearing your inner voice, is the crucial first step to silencing the draining and dispiriting stream of negativity that can hinder moving forward and making positive changes. Sally suggests spending a little quiet time – just a few moments – every day for about a week tuning in to your inner voice, and simply listening and noting down the negative statements. A therapy tool she then uses to resolve those negative, limiting beliefs is called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or ‘Tapping’). EFT is an energy therapy that has proved highly effective for revealing true feelings, in this case prompted by one’s negative self-talk.

Once you have a greater awareness of your own negative self-talk you can then apply another of her core therapy tools – called Percussive Suggestion Technique (PSTEC) – to turn-down, or dispel, the emotions attached to the negative beliefs you have about yourself. Turning off negative self-talk is the beginning of a powerful journey which can transform a former inner-critic into your greatest advocate – someone cheering for you instead of undermining you.

This blog is taken from Managing IBD: A balanced guide to inflammatory bowel disease by Jenna Farmer, available as ebook and paperback. For more from Jenna you can follow her blog A Balanced Belly, and for more emotional therapy techniques from Sally Baker check out her book Seven Simple Steps to Stop Emotional Eating.

If you found these tools helpful help us raise awareness of mental health by sharing for #mentalhealthweek

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10 Ways to Colour Your Pregnancy Journey with Love

Midwife Bridget Sheeran has just released her first adult colouring book for pregnant mums. To help you get the most out of the book we’ve put together these ten top tips for using the book on your pregnancy journey.

  1. Notice and enjoy the touch of the book in activity! The good quality paper, colourful & unique hard cover design. Press the double page images flat in the centre of the page – no need to worry about felt pens seeping through; coffee spills on the cover; children pulling and tearing the cover or pictures of real life birth of other women’s shapes, colour, babies and sizes!
  2. Bridget has made it easy to just go ahead and start. The introduction invites you to consider the book as a handy companion with all the best intentions of a midwife there to put into your bag and to take it anywhere with you on your pregnancy journey.
  3. Look at the posed essential questions at the end of the introduction, and with the wishes of an experienced midwife – go ahead, take the time it takes and find your own answers for this birth. If your ‘brain feels tired’ be inspired by the index at the back explaining each image and take what you need from that, not forgetting to add you own ideas.
  4. Genuine, good intentions from Bridget’s best wishes are there for you from woman to woman, to discover and keep. Turn the pages and indulge with the child-like qualities of learning new things – with colours and fun! This can seriously change your way of engaging with the ‘usual’ approach to childbirth and learning, and bring new skills such as ‘letting go’ and ‘jumping straight in’ – like the beginnings of birth, and positively stepping into the unknown.
  5. Interacting with the images and the positive messages about birth and you, will lead you to discoveries of yourself plus whom is connecting with you right now – today – to help you, as others have been helped before. Busy lives can prevent us from ‘taking stock’ of who we need around us and who we have nearby…use the book to consider what Mother Nature shows us to do, such as to listen within, appreciate who cares and connect with both.
  6. Some days are ‘sloppy-jo’ days for resting and yet there will come a day when you feel great and ready to get up and MOVE – the colouring in of Dancing Mamas the evening before contemplating an exercise class or a walk locally can motivate you take that step, knowing there are friends and fun to be had in this healthy pursuit.
  7. Using the small actions of colouring in – literally at your fingertips, you use what’s called right-brain activity. This benefits you, because not only does it bring a sense of calm to your day, but also it is what Nature herself has prescribed for you – in preparation, as your baby grows and for taking care of yourself while pregnant and for afterwards, mothering the baby.
  8. In your own time, before or during antenatal classes, this book can help you consider your questions through the prompting of Bridget’s words and images. It may make you think differently about what perhaps you can do for yourself in preparation, to use your body well and to get your baby down (and out) however you give birth. You can discover how well designed your body actually is – or find out through specific birth classes what skills you need eg flexibility of your joints or pain coping practices.
  9. Pass on what you notice about yourself and Birth to other children, using this book – have fun conversations about the colouring, nature’s way and your growing family.
  10. Focus on your physical and emotional needs now, and this will help you after the birth, because you will have already found what works for you or what is needed. Your resources do include the people nearest you, and the birth workers (midwives & doulas) to help your birth recovery and for you to become the woman you want to be after the birth.

Buy Preparing for Birth: colouring your pregnancy journey by Bridget Sheeran, and let us know your favourite ways to stay mindful and calm during pregnancy on twitter.

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Eat to beat depression

Eat to beat depression for World Health Day

Tackling depression naturally for World Health Day

Nutrition-related health issues seem to take an age to become part of accepted medical practice. The medical establishment requires comprehensive scientific evaluation, randomised trials and peer review before a new drug can be licensed, for instance. The pharmaceutical company has to weigh up the costs of research and development versus the potential profit to be made from launching a successful product that can earn a good return on their investment. (When you add in the factor that 80 per cent of their budget goes on marketing, it is clear the stakes are high indeed.) As real food is simply real food and can’t be licensed, branded or patented, there is little impetus for the medical community to fund costly research.

Medical research over the last couple of decades has, nevertheless, highlighted how an unhealthy gut can contribute to many physical diseases and these findings are becoming more accepted in mainstream medicine. Clinicians increasingly agree that the gut-brain axis also plays a crucial part in emotional wellbeing, including the development of conditions as diverse as chronic fatigue syndrome, depression and autism.

The Gut-Brain Axis

The gut-brain axis is a way of describing the interrelationship between gut health and brain health. The various aspects of digestion are controlled via the vagus nerves by a complex set of neurons embedded in the oesophagus, stomach, intestines, colon and rectum. The brain sends messages to all the nerves in your body, including the neurons that control digestion. All work efficiently enough until a person is anxious or stressed on an ongoing basis. You perhaps know for yourself that if you are feeling nervous your stomach can feel upset and queasy. The reason for this is that strong negative emotions, stress and anxiety increase cortisol and adrenaline, which then stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and shut down the parasympathetic system, which includes control of the gut. This causes a physical chain reaction:

* Reduction in pancreatic enzyme production

* Reduction in gall bladder function

* Reduction in the production of stomach acid

* Slowing down of peristalsis – the involuntary muscle movements essential for moving food efficiently through intestines for the absorption of nutrients

* Reduction in blood flow to the intestines

* Suppression of the intestinal immune system

In the short term, this allows the body to focus its resources on ‘fight or flight’ – a good survival mechanism. However, with ongoing stress and anxiety, this cumulative slowing down and suppression of the digestive process can, over a prolonged period, lead to a condition called ‘small intestinal bacterial overgrowth’ (SIBO). As the digestive process is compromised by stress and anxiety, the lack of stomach acid allows the stomach and small intestine – which should both be pretty much microbe free – to be colonised by unhealthy bacteria, and yeasts, causing foods to be fermented rather than digested. In addition to gas and bloating, compromised digestion leads to declining absorption of nutrients, which contributes to the loss of the co-factors needed for good digestion, and consequently further gut problems.

Now consider this situation lasting for extended periods of time. The integrity of the gut lining may be compromised, contributing to gut permeability (‘leaky gut’) that may be sufficient to produce chronic low-grade inflammation.

Chronic Inflammation

The inflammatory process includes the production of cytokines, chemical signals of inflammation that are carried by the blood to the brain. The cytokines can activate cells – so that the inflammation originating in the gut thereby causes widespread inflammation in the rest of the body, including the brain.

The impact of brain inflammation is that the brain has reduced nerve conductance which – guess what – shows up as depression, anxiety and stress.

This vicious circle can self-perpetuate and requires long-term changes to heal the gut, which in turn will help to heal the brain. This is done through changes in behaviour and improving levels of nutrition through changes to food choices. To improve your natural resilience to stress it is important to increase the amount of healthy polyunsaturated omega-3 oils in your diet, so look for oily fish, grass-fed meats and butter made from the milk of grass-fed dairy herds. Good plant sources include hemp seeds, linseeds, chia and some nuts and nut oils (macadamia, almond).

If you consider yourself to be depressed it will be helpful for your recovery to manage your stress levels, improve your sleep patterns and add nutritious and gut-healing foods into your regular eating plan.

Do bear in mind, however, that you may also need professional help if you have been suffering from this debilitating psychological disorder for some time. Please make sure you are accessing all the medical and psychological support you need. Try hard not to add isolation to an already challenging situation.

This blog has been taken from How to Feel Differently About Food by Sally Baker & Liz Hogon.

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The Science of Stress Hormones

Stress Awareness Month

Exploring the role of hormones for Stress Awareness Month

There are two main hormones governing the stress reaction: cortisol and adrenaline. They work together to exert the ‘fear, fight or flight’ response that was first described in the scientific literature as long as 1936. This response gives a temporary increase in energy production, at the expense of processes that are not required for immediate survival. The resulting biochemical and hormonal imbalances should ideally resolve as soon as the danger is over, due to a hormonally driven negative feedback loop. The following is a typical example of how the stress response is supposed to operate as a survival mechanism:

* An individual is faced with a stressor

* A complex hormonal cascade ensures, and the adrenals secrete cortisol

* Cortisol prepares the body for a fight-or-flight response by flooding it with glucose, supplying an immediate energy source to large muscles

* Cortisol inhibits insulin production in an attempt to prevent glucose from being stored, favouring its immediate use

* Cortisol narrows the arteries whilst adrenaline increases heart rate, increasing the blood pressure and delivering more oxygen rich blood to the tissues

* The individual addresses and resolves the situation

* Hormone levels return to normal

Unfortunately, with our over-stressed, fast paced lifestyle, our bodies are pumping out cortisol almost constantly, which wreaks havoc on our health. In times of high stress the body will break down amino acids to form glucose through the process of gluconeogenesis (a physiological process via which proteins and amino acids are utilised, instead of glucose), to produce energy. Cortisol is the major stress hormone that promotes this process. Collagen, being a structural tissue made from protein, is one of the target areas for spare amino acids; the muscles are another. Chronically elevated stress levels increase collagen breakdown. Since collagen is the matrix upon which our bones are built, anything that is likely to break it down will have potentially serious consequences for the strength and integrity of the bones.

Cortisol primarily acts on the outer layer of the bone, known as the periosteum. Research has shown that elevated cortisol levels interfere with the formation of osteoblasts and cell proliferation. This dramatically decreases bone building and lowers bone density. Without adequate rest and repair, bone mineralisation and collagen formation will be reduced for the duration of the elevated stress.  The absorption of vitamin D is also adversely affected by high cortisol levels. This gives a double whammy in favour of bone loss.

Stress can rot your bones faster than a can of fizzy drink. Stress and the negative emotions that accompany it have been shown to have a chemical structure in our bodies. And guess what? That chemical structure is acidic! With all the emphasis I place on ensuring appropriate intake of alkaline minerals in earlier chapters, and the fact that increased acidity causes increased urinary calcium excretion, is it any wonder that for prevention and reversal of osteoporosis we absolutely have to take stress reduction seriously?

The power of exercise

My favourite way of combating the stress that often accompanies a bad day at work is to get out and go for a run, or go to a karate class. Both are also excellent ways of not only de-stressing the body but also improving bone strength. Exercise is a surefire way to de-fuse. It boosts the level of endorphins in the brain, morphine-like ‘happy hormones’ which are often depleted by our daily lives. Relaxation classes and guided meditation are well worth doing, as is a meditation based on love and compassion. Thoughts of love and compassion stimulate the production of a hormone called oxytocin, whose effects in the body work in the opposite way to those of cortisol. Oxytocin lowers the blood pressure and relaxes the walls of the arteries.

This blog is taken from Love Your Bones: The essential guide to ending osteoporosis and building a healthy skeleton by Max Tuck.

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Sleeping for Health

We love bed times. Nothing beats a good night’s sleep, but it isn’t always so easy to get one so we’ve put together some of our favourite sleep facts and tips from three of our health books. If you’re catching more AAAAAH!s than ZZZZZZs we hope this blog can help you find the sleep of your dreams.

 

Prepare to snooze or prepare to lose

Ensure that you don’t eat within three hours of bedtime – easy to say, possibly harder to do. I know many people who snack in front of the TV in the evenings. Watching TV late in the evening can interfere with your sleep patterns, and we need that surge of human growth hormone that occurs shortly after we fall into deep sleep. Reading, or meditation, to calm the mind prior to going to bed allows the body to go into sleep mode more naturally. Eating too close to bedtime also causes a surge in cortisol, the stress hormone that we know is bad for bones, so don’t fall into this trap. If you have trouble sleeping, try a camomile or valerian tea before bed. These herbs are non-addictive and have no adverse side effects.

Love Your Bones: the essential guide to ending osteoporosis and building a healthy skeleton by Max Tuck

 

Food, water…sleep?

Humans evolved to sleep when it is dark and wake when it is light. Sleep is a form of hibernation when the body shuts down in order to repair damage done through use, to conserve energy and to hide from predators. The normal sleep pattern that evolved in hot climates is to sleep, keep warm and conserve energy during the cold nights and then to sleep again in the afternoons when it is too hot to work and to hide away from the midday sun. As humans migrated away from the Equator, the sleep pattern had to change with the seasons and as the lengths of the days changed.

After the First World War a strain of Spanish ‘flu swept through Europe killing 50 million people worldwide. Some people sustained neurological damage and for some this virus wiped out their sleep centre in the brain. This meant they were unable to sleep at all. All these unfortunate people were dead within two weeks and this was the first solid scientific evidence that sleep was as essential for life as food and water. Indeed, all living creatures require a regular ‘sleep’ (or period of quiescence) during which time healing and repair take place. You must put as much work into your sleep as your diet. Without a good night’s sleep on a regular basis all other interventions are undermined.

Prevent and Cure Diabetes: Delicious diets, not dangerous drugs by Sarah Myhill and Craig Robinson

 

Sleep and mental health

When sleep requirements are not being met on an ongoing basis, teenagers will present with fatigue, low energy, exhaustion, and a lack of motivation. It is generally recommended that teenagers get eight to 10 hours’ quality sleep a night. This is vital for the body to relax, repair and refuel. Lack of sleep has a domino effect and impedes mental and physical wellbeing, inviting the onset of self-defeatist syndrome. As I have said already, parents are advised to take their child to a GP to rule out any organic causes of fatigue. In instances where no organic cause is established it is highly likely that the Gremlin has moved in. The Gremlin loves and thrives on the darkness. It becomes alert and active, coming out to play its evil games at night when we are programmed to relax, unwind and fall into a peaceful slumber. The Gremlin is very powerful and demanding, wanting to keep us awake, bolstering and encouraging negative thinking, which leads to rumination, tossing and turning and feeling like our head is going to explode! Thoughts are negative, racing and exhausting. It is vital that teenagers who have been taken hostage by the Gremlin receive appropriate support and professional intervention so they may be facilitated in developing the tools and techniques needed to evict the Gremlin.

Overcoming Self-Harm and Suicidal Thoughts: a practical guide for the adolescent years by Liz Quish