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FASTING (Part 1) INCREASE LONGEVITY WITH FASTING


IS AUTOPHAGY THE SECRET OF ANTI-AGEING?

Have you ever wondered what all the hype is about fasting? I know I did!

It was clear that fasting prevented you from eating too many calories which has benefits for weight management, but its role in anti-ageing and longevity was baffling – until I researched a process in the body known as ‘autophagy’.

In a calorie-restricted or fasted state, autophagy in the body is promoted which has been shown in animal studies to be important in increasing healthspan. Healthspan is a term used to describe the part of your life when you are in good health – the longer this is, the better!

So what is autophagy?

Autophagy is the body’s waste disposal process which clears out the harmful build-up of disrupted proteins, removes disordered cells from the body whose energy process isn’t working (due to dysfunctional mitochondria) and, in a nutrient-depleted state provides cells with the nourishment they need. In summary, it clears out all the bad cells that are not doing you much good anymore and cherishes the cells that are helping you to thrive!

  • ‘Inflammaging’ – inflammation that causes ageing!

As autophagy might facilitate the clearance of damaged cells from the body which cause inflammation then it may help appease the negative effects of inflammaging! New research is suggesting that promoting autophagy in those suffering with autoimmune disease can clear out autoantibodies which are a factor in flare ups of these conditions.

  • Brain health

This may be particularly important for neurodegenerative disorders which are commonly associated with an accumulation of proteins on the brain as you age, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s Disease and ALS.

  • Fatty Liver

Studies have also demonstrated the role of autophagy in fat metabolism, especially fat that builds up in the liver as you age which may lead to fatty liver disease.

Fasting and autophagy

Fasting regimes in humans have been associated with beneficial effects on blood sugar regulation, heart issues and cancer incidence. Scientific research is now providing answers as to why this might be the case. More research in this area is required, but what is notable is that sticking to a calorie restricted diet or eating in a shorter time period, such as 8 hours of eating and 16 hours of fasting, is beneficial for human health.

Prolon Body Reset

After experimenting with different fasting regimes, I have found the fasting mimicking diet known as Prolon to be the most effective for me, which is why I have launched a Prolon Body Reset programme in 2020.

Prolon provides all the benefits of fasting without the hunger and you only need to commit to it to for 5 days a month. My programme offers pre and post support so that you can enhance the benefits of fasting to achieve your health goals. Please do get in contact if you wish to find out more.

Wishing you a wonderful first Monday of January and all the wonders to come in 2020!

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FOODS TO BUILD YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM

It’s that time of year again when your immune system takes the strain as you are exposed to more bugs and have a weakened ability to defend yourself in the chilly winter weather.

So what foods should you eat to build your immune system and ensure that your immune cells are sufficiently nourished to protect you? In this article, I will be exploring the foods which support and construct our cleverly composed immune system to keep you thriving this winter.

The immune supporting staple, vitamin C

Vitamin C has long been associated with its beneficial impact on the immune system, as it contributes to the immune defence on the skin and inside your body. As such, if you are deficient in vitamin C you are likely to have an impaired immune function so you may consider taking vitamin C supplementation in this instance. However, vitamin C is not the panacea of immune health and should only be used to plug a gap, rather than overburden the body with unnecessary amounts vitamin C.

Foods for immunity

Phytonutrients are chemicals which are in plants that protect plants from insect attacks and UV rays from the sun. Phytonutrients are found in coloured fruits and vegetables, as well as legumes, nuts and teas. Although phytonutrients have been shown in research to have a positive impact on human health, they are not considered essential nutrients. Yet their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities mean that eating the rainbow in colours of fruit and vegetables this winter, could protect you against wintry infections.

Some of the key phytonutrients include resveratrol found in grape skin and cocoa, carotenoids found in yellow, orange and red-coloured vegetables, curcumin found in turmeric and ellagic acid – also referred to as a tannin – which is found in walnuts and pomegranates. Lavish yourself with these nutrients this winter to keep a spring in your step as the cold sets in.

Nurture your microbiome 

The microbiome is made up of a community of bacteria (as well as viruses and fungi) that live on your skin and body, and in most cases they are beneficial to their human host – you! Recent research shows that the microbiome in your gut plays a role in a well-functioning immune system, as 70% of immune cells are found in the digestive system. As such, nurturing your gut bacteria will benefit your immune health this winter.

Gut bacteria thrive on fibre so ensure that you are eating plenty of fibrous foods this winter such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit including artichoke, avocado, and pears. Other great sources of fibre include chia seeds, almonds and dark chocolate.

Eat healthy fats

To ensure your immune system stays vigilant, make sure you are consuming lots of healthy fats. It has been shown that omega 3 essential fatty acids help regulate the immune system and control the inflammatory response. Omega 3 fats may also increase the number of immune cells in the body which ensures your body can monitor for pathogens optimally. Foods rich in omega 3 fats include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, as well as walnuts, hemp seeds and flax seeds.  

Don’t forget the sunshine!

As the winter nights creep in, your opportunity for absorbing the sunshine vitamin D through your skin diminishes. Vitamin D plays an important role in ensuring that your immune system’s defence stays within limits, so it doesn’t cause damage to yourself in its attack. The best sources of vitamin D are in oily fish and there is a small amount in beef, cheese and eggs. If you are worried you are deficient in vitamin D, it is best to get tested with your GP and consider vitamin D supplementation if you are found to be deficient.

Immune constructing soup 

If you do get hit with an infection this winter, a great immune constructing meal, is traditional Jewish chicken soup, known as Jewish penicillin. This soup is rich in a protein called l-carnosine which has been shown in studies to dismantle viruses as they try to spread in your body. The soup also contains a medley of vegetable, herbs and spices such as onions, garlic, thyme and parsley which support your immune system and will promote you back to health.

The immune system isn’t built on diet alone

Eating nourishing and supporting foods which help your immune system work ably will give you an advantage against the bugs in this winter, but there is more that you can do to keep yourself flourishing.

Movement is a great way for your immune cells to circulate your body so maintaining a weekly exercise regime should be protective for you this winter.

Sleep is a restorative time when new immune cells are produced, and faulty cells are destroyed and removed from the body. Try and get to bed a little earlier as the darkness draws in and make sure you are getting between 7 and 10 hours sleep to really feel revived.

Enjoy yourself this winter and do things that make you laugh out loud! Endorphins which are produced during exercise and during laughter, have been shown to strengthen the immune response. So what better way to foster your immune system this winter, than with fun and jollity! And natural highs outweigh the ones with side effects, so drink sensibly and delight in every moment of your day!

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INFLAMMATION: THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY

Inflammation has been demonised in recent years, and not without good reason, especially when you are suffering with a chronic illness such as an autoimmune disease. However, from an evolutionary perspective, inflammation has got us to where we are today. Humans probably wouldn’t be ruling the planet if our superb immune systems weren’t capable of this sophisticated defence system against pathogens and trauma.

So, we are right to praise the good in our immune inflammatory response in an acute setting, but I will focus the rest of this article on when the immune system becomes disrupted due to peer pressure from other sources and as a result behaves badly – that is when things for you get ugly!

What causes the immune system to misbehave?

A lot of the functions in the body make perfect sense when reflecting on the hunter gatherers who roamed the world 70,000 years ago, but in the world we live in today, they are rather outdated. Running from lions and tigers isn’t something that most of us must deal with day to day, but unfortunately your body doesn’t realise this and is still adapted to a fight or flight stress response.

When you are stressed, you release adrenaline which stimulates the receptors on your immune cells to get ready for an attack which puts your body in a proinflammatory state. This is good if you are in fact under attack, but if you are stressed chronically because you are under pressure a lot then staying in this state can cause more harm than good.

Luckily, when you do have small spurts of stress, cortisol is released to settle the inflammation triggered by the adrenaline and your body returns to a normal state. If this cycle is repeated and repeated, again and again, then your body may stop responding to the appeasing effects of cortisol and you are in a vicious cycle of stress and inflammation without the turn off switch.

This is why stress relieving techniques are an important factor in lowering inflammation in the body which should be considered if you are suffering with symptoms of chronic inflammation such as swelling, redness, heat or pain in parts of your body.

The gut factor

Inflammation in the body is intrinsically linked to stress and inflammation. Intestinal permeability, often referred to as leaky gut, is normally a factor when someone is suffering with chronic low-grade inflammation in their body. Leaky gut is a condition where the digestive tract has larger openings in it than it should which lets food and other gut bacteria into the blood stream. As more particle are entering the blood stream, which may be pathogenic, then they are more likely to create an immune response in that person, causing inflammation.

Leaky gut may be caused by various factors such as a low fibre diet, food sensitivities, gut parasites or viruses, or a meal heavy in calories or saturated fats. Also, in a stressed state, adrenaline causes the gaps (called tight junctions) to widen because if you were running from a lion you would need all your fuel resources as quick as possible. However, if you are stressed continually and adrenaline continues to increase the leakiness of your gut, then you carry on being inflamed!

Eating a high fibre diet is particularly important for closing the openings in the gastrointestinal tract. A variety of different fibres feed the beneficial gut bacteria which produce immune-supporting and gut healing molecules called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are incredibly helpful for gut health and decreasing overall inflammation in the body, so eating a diet rich in healthy fibres such as apples, spinach, broccoli, flaxseed and chia seeds can help to bring down inflammation in your body.

What happens when things get ugly?

You might be thinking, why does it even matter if I have systemic inflammation? Well, there are lots of reasons why systemic inflammation can cause havoc within our bodies.

For example, the damage to your vessels in cardiovascular disease, is due to inflammation of the vessels which impairs their internal walls. This allows cholesterol and calcium to build up and form plaques in pockets of the vessel which under pressure can lead to cardiac arrest.

Systemic inflammation is also a key driver for chronic health conditions such as autoimmune disease. If the immune system is already switched on in the body due to proinflammatory factors like leaky gut and stress, then it is more likely to start damaging your own body as well.

In addition to this, inflammation may disturb other biological systems working properly such as blood sugar regulation and hormone balancing. In diabetes, inflammation can play a significant factor in how responsive a person’s cells are to the hormone insulin, which is a key factor in removing sugar from the blood.

So, as you can see, finding ways to lower inflammation and eating an anti-inflammatory diet shouldn’t be a temporary diet fad but a way of life. Anti-inflammatory foods encompass a delightful assortment of foods including berries, ginger, garlic and omega 3 rich foods such as oily fish and flaxseed oil. Vitamin D is a crucial component of living an inflammatory free life, so make sure you get this checked regularly by your doctor and, if you are deficient, supplement appropriately.

And roll on to the last scene…

As you can see, there is the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to inflammation. And if you are familiar with the film, the saying goes ‘if you work for a living, why do you kill yourself working?’ By analogy, we could say the immune system works so diligently to keep us alive, but in the wrong setting, it can end up getting the better of us in the process.

In next week’s article, as we move closer to the Christmas period when temptation is around every corner, we will look at the link between food intolerances and autoimmune disease, to understand if there really is a link?

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RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS AND DENTAL HEALTH

A possible trigger for this joint weakening condition?

Autoimmune diseases are a complex group of illnesses that have a thirst for damaging a person’s own body with no specific cause. However, as the research develops into these conditions, it is becoming more apparent that there are originators for these diseases, we just don’t understand them completely yet.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease which effects the joints causing stiffness, swelling and pain. Its cause is not fully understood, however, growing evidence is uncovering a link between RA and the health of your gums.

In this article, I will review the association between RA and a type of gum disease, known as Periodontitis, as well as exploring natural ways of improving your gum health which may help prevent the onset of or manage symptoms of RA.

What is the link between RA and oral health?

Centuries ago, Hippocrates observed that in people suffering with arthritis, when their infected teeth were removed their arthritis improved. Since then, very little has progressed in determining the interaction of gum health and RA, however recent research has indicted the following:

  • Periodontal disease is often observed in patients with early stages of RA. In most cases, it is severe and includes symptoms of gum bleeding, gingivitis and gaps between the teeth and the gums, leading to receding gums.
  • The inflammation caused from gum disease at first is localised to the gums, but the understanding is that this inflammatory response becomes systemic leading to rheumatic conditions such as RA.
  • They have identified specific strains of oral bacteria such as Porphyromonas gingivalis (Pg) which may play a role in damaging joints in RA, through its effect on various molecules within the body. The mechanism for this damage is through a process known as ‘citrullination’ which affects the creation of important enzymes causing them to not function properly. These enzymes contribute to joint formation. As a result, the immune system begins to target the affected joint, which damages the joint further and causes inflammation which leads to the symptoms of RA.
  • Recent studies have shown complex interactions between dental heath, a person’s response to infection and their immune function. Further research is needed but it is apparent that the health of your gums plays an important role in overall health.

RA and Sjogren’s syndrome

Many people suffering with RA also have symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome which impacts the parts of the body that produce fluid such as tears and saliva. A common symptom of Sjogren’s syndrome is a dry mouth which may affect the ecosystem of the mouth, leading to a build-up of pathogenic bacteria, potentially leading to the onset of RA. Anyone suffering with Sjogren’s syndrome should take extra care with their gum health as a result.

How to protect your gums naturally

For those at risk of RA or who are suffering with the disease currently, protecting your gums may be a way to manage your condition. Natural ways to support your gum health includes:

  • Oil pulling – this is a technique used in Ayurveda tradition, where oil is swirled in the mouth for up to 20 minutes which has been shown to prevent pathogenic bacteria from colonising in the mouth.
  • Green tea – as well as green tea’s other health promoting qualities, it may also be effective at preventing gum disease. Have at least two green teas a day for optimal effects.
  • Saltwater – this is as simple as it sounds. A saltwater rinse may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects on the gums.
  • Brushing and flossing – this is an obvious one, but it cannot be left out when it comes to gum health. Brushing and flossing daily is essential for gum health – opt for a natural based toothpaste so that the beneficial bacteria in your mouth remain intact.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids – eating foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to settle gum inflammation possibly by increasing immune tolerance and supporting the immune function.

What next?

Further research on the link between RA and dental health is needed. However, if the associations and mechanism are confirmed in clinical trials, improving someone’s dental health with natural therapies or medication might become a treatment for someone at risk or who is suffering with RA.

If you are suffering with RA and have problems with your gums, exploring this option might be worthwhile for you now.

In my nutritional therapy clinic I offer a 3-month autoimmune transformation package which may help set in motion the process back to better health and manage symptoms of autoimmunity. If you are interested in discovering how these packages might help you, please feel free to arrange a 15-minute free call with me through the booking option on my website.

In next week’s article, I will be reviewing the concept of inflammation and unravelling its benefits and pit falls, especially when it comes to autoimmunity.

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GUT HEALTH & AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE

 

The theories linking gut health and autoimmunity have been evolving for several decades, but the research is now getting us much closer to an answer. The diversity and composition of the gut microbiota is a key driver of gut health, with research now linking the presence or absence of microbes in the gut to specific autoimmune disease. In this article, I will explore the role of gut health and microbiota in the onset and potential therapies for autoimmune disease.

Why is intestinal integrity important?

The gastro-intestinal tract has a vast surface area ranging from 180 – 300 square metres and is the barrier between the substance that you eat and drink, and the blood inside your body. As not all of what you consume is good (food may have been contaminated with harmful bacteria or mould) the immune cells on the walls of your digestive system need to keep a surveillance system running. Digestive wall policing is required to identify friend from foe. When a harmful bacterium is detected, the immune system responds creating an inflammatory response to remove the infection as quickly as it can. On the other hand, when the immune cells notice a nourishing food particle that is ready for the body to utilise, it gives the all clear for the particle to pass by and no immune response is created accordingly.

What happens in autoimmunity?

These two arms of the immune system working properly and collaboratively are imperative for a healthy gut and a functional immune system. However, when the immune system is damaged or impaired (which can be for various reasons), the immune system may lose its tolerance to the food it once viewed as a friend. An inflammatory response may then occur, causing damage to the gut, producing discomfort to the host and allowing particles to enter the blood stream that either shouldn’t be there or are not in the correct form to be used by the body. This can then lead to the body creating an immune attack on particles in the blood stream which leads to systemic inflammation and onset of chronic disease.

How does the gut microbiota interact with gut (auto)immunity?

In order for the gut to function properly, it requires a diverse range of commensal and symbiotic bacteria to help with proper digestive function and promote the integrity of the gastro-intestinal tract. Gut bacteria help produce compounds called short chain fatty acids which have various roles in the immune response and tolerance at the intestinal barrier.

In addition, gut bacteria such as Prevotella has been linked to multiple sclerosis (“MS”) and rheumatoid arthritis (“RA”). Interestingly, in MS, Prevotella appears to decrease in quantity in the gut, whereas in RA it is increases in quantity, which suggests a personalised therapy approach to these conditions is necessary.

Autoimmune disease is associated with gut dysbiosis where the concerto of beneficial and harmful bacteria becomes tilted. The loss of beneficial organisms in the gut which promote an anti-inflammatory response and an excessive growth of potentially harmful bacteria may create an environment where autoimmune disease can prevail. Understanding someone’s gut bacteria profile is important when underpinning whether this might be a contributing factor in the symptoms of autoimmune disease.

Improving gut health as a therapeutic approach

In the Autoimmune Transformation Packages that my clinic offers, a GI Map stool test is the first investigative test in the package. The GI Map not only looks at the makeup of the gut microbiota but also identifies autoimmune markers including parasites which have been linked in scientific research to the onset of certain autoimmune diseases. This is powerful information, as once the robustness of a person’s gut health is known, a personalised nutritional protocol can be recommended to support and address any issues found.

Nutritional therapies for improvement of gut health and support for autoimmunity include eating foods which feed beneficial gut bacteria and increase organisms in the gut which produce those helpful short chain fatty acids. Other therapies such as probiotic supplementation (or in more extreme protocols faecal microbiota transplantation) may also be considered dependent on the severity of symptoms and oddities revealed on the person’s stool analysis.

Start with the gut!

The cause of autoimmune conditions is multifactorial but addressing and improving gut health should be the first place to investigate when someone develops symptoms of autoimmune disease. Many people will have no symptoms of digestive upset, but they may still have issues in the gut. It is common in my practice that a client recalls a stomach upset when they were travelling overseas or someone close to them had a stomach bug before they developed their autoimmune disease.

So whether you have gut symptoms or not, it is worth knowing what is hiding in the intestinal abyss. Then you can take forceful strides to harmonise the symptoms of autoimmune disease by tackling any unbalances from within.

In my article next week I will be putting the spot light on Rheumatoid Arthritis and the interesting link between dental health and the onset of autoimmune disease.

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MICROBES AND AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE

In my last article ‘Is there a Gene for Autoimmune Disease?’ we considered the link with certain inherited gene variations and the likelihood of developing an autoimmune disorder. Genes are an important factor in autoimmune disorders as they give an indication of how the immune system might react under certain stressors. Finding the trigger of autoimmune disease is central to addressing the underlying cause of the symptoms.

In this article we will explore the role of microbes as an environmental trigger in autoimmune conditions and why understanding this helps to find strategies to support the symptoms of these conditions.

The powers of mimicry

One common theory in autoimmune disease is the so called ‘molecular mimicry’ concept. Molecular mimicry is a process where the immune system mistakes a part of the body as a pathogen and targets an attack against it. The possible reason the immune system becomes ‘confused’ is because a pathogen, such as a virus, may have a similar appearance to a part of the body so the immune system targets both, and as a result there is self-damage.

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) which causes glandular fever in some people has been linked to multiple sclerosis (MS) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Clinical studies have shown that those who have previously suffered with glandular fever are at more of a risk of developing MS. SLE may also be provoked with EBV and it is thought that molecular mimicry plays role in this association. A common body cell target in SLE (protein Ro) has been shown to ignite a similar immune response to a molecule produced by latent EBV in the body, suggesting that EBV is a trigger in SLE. More research in this area is required, but as EBV can lay dormant in the body for a number for years, a possible treatment may be to follow an anti-viral dietary protocol so that the immune systems stops reacting to this virus, possibly settling the autoimmune response.

Innocent bystanders

Another model for autoimmunity is where the immune system is stimulated to attack a pathogenic molecule in the body such as a bacterium, and whilst undergoing its attack it starts to develop an autoimmune response to a body part close by, causing dysfunction of the affected organ.

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is one such bacteria found in the stomach and is linked to autoimmune conditions, in particular, autoimmunity gastritis which causes inflammation in the stomach. Inflammation in the stomach can cause an array of symptoms, but as the absorption of vitamin B12 is dependent on its combination with a protein in the stomach, this condition can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in energy depletion and pernicious anaemia and may play a role in the onset of other autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

By removing H pylori from the stomach with either antibiotics and/or using alternative therapies, then the autoimmune destruction and subsequent nutritional deficiencies may be improved.

Do microbes cause autoimmune disease?

It is likely that microbes play a prominent role in autoimmune conditions, but their affects are only part of the picture. Whether your cells become autoreactive is likely due to your genetic predisposition and potentially many other factors, such as the health of your cells. The health of your cells could be impacted by environmental air borne toxins such as cigarette smoke, or pesticides found in food, or plastics from water bottles and packaging. These all need to be considered as well as the potential initial trigger from the pathogen which could be viewed as the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Stress from life situations such as changing jobs or having a baby and being influenced by events from your childhood that may have changed your tolerance and response to certain predicaments in your life, need to be viewed holistically when deciding the best solution for autoimmunity.

A central and unfolding area of research in autoimmune disease is the association with the commensal gut flora and how this has an impact on the onset of autoimmune disease. In next weeks article, I will be looking at the link between your gut health and autoimmunity as well as promising methods to strengthen your digestive system and harmonise the microbial environment in the gut to support autoimmune symptoms.

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IS THERE A GENE FOR AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE?

In my last article, ‘understanding autoimmune disease’, I discussed the various elements that are at play in autoimmune disorders. These complex diseases which can be both systemic (affecting various parts of the body in similar ways) or organ specific (predominantly affecting one organ) are difficult to pinpoint to one underlying cause. However, what we do understand is that genetics, environmental factors and a breakdown of our bodily defences may contribute to the onset of these conditions. In this article, I will consider the genetic aspect of this picture, and debate whether there really is an inheritable gene for autoimmune disease?

Several people in my family have autoimmune disorders including my parents, siblings, aunts and grandparents. Is this a coincidence or do we all carry a gene that codes for autoimmune disease?

Autoimmune disease encompasses a variety of different conditions which present with differing symptoms. Scientific studies have found that autoimmune disease is evident within certain families, increasing the risk factor for developing an autoimmune disease if someone in your family suffers from one. What isn’t clear, is whether specific autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, can be inherited or whether it’s the underlying risk factors that are passed on and the presentation of the distinct autoimmune disease is dependent on other factors such as environment and lifestyle.

The cause of autoimmune disease is multifactorial, and this is true for the associated genetic predisposition to the conditions as well. So no, reflecting to the title of this article, it is highly unlikely that there is one gene that causes autoimmune disease. It is more likely that the combination of gene variations in unison creates an ecosystem where under certain disruptive conditions autoimmunity can take effect. As the research in genetic variations and disease presentation develops it is likely that we will have a better understanding of which genetic variations are important in autoimmune disease.

Current research suggests that genes involved in the immune response are most influential in autoimmune disease. The fragility of the complex immune system relies of key messages from cells with defined roles in the body. For example, one particular cell (an antigen presenting cell) warns the body of foreign invaders so that it can start to build an immune response to this invader. If this cell sends the wrong message to the immune system, then the immune system might not target the foreign invader but targets an innocent cell in the pancreas instead which can lead to diabetes. Studies have demonstrated that genetic variations in these alerting antigen presenting cells are associated with autoimmune diseases in families.

I would also postulate that genetic variations in genes that are involved in methylation pathways and detoxification are linked to autoimmune disease, as it is understood that some autoimmune disorders are caused by the affected self-organ or system being caught in the crossfire.

Issues in methylation and detoxification can cause ‘oxidative stress’ which broadly causes cells to alert the immune system that there is an issue in this part of the body (wherever the oxidative stress is present) and the immune system fires up an attack in response causing inflammation. In turn, the inflammation then can cause destruction to that area of the body (self-tissue). For example, demyelination in multiple sclerosis is seen when there is inflammation in the central nervous system which may be due to oxidative stress created upstream by fundamental issues with functionality at the cell level.

Should you consider your genetics in autoimmune disease?

There may not be one gene associated with autoimmunity, but it is certainly helpful to know what your genetic risk factors or weaknesses are, as this will help to determine possible underlying causes of autoimmune conditions. It also helps to take preventative measures in your life when you know that there are certain areas where you body might not function as optimally as it could.

Genetics is a small piece of the jigsaw, and only when this is considered holistically with other pieces of the puzzle can you begin to get an understanding of your risk factors. In knowing this, you can then work with a health practitioner to explore possible nutritional therapies and lifestyle practices that will support your symptoms and promote your wellbeing.

In next week’s article, I will be discussing the role of pathogens in autoimmune disease and how you can take action against this. Autoimmune conditions are often viewed as self-destructing diseases with no pathogenic cause, but as evidence evolves we are seeing that bacteria, viruses and parasites may play a vital role in these immune inhibiting disorders.

 

 

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UNDERSTANDING AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE

What is the root cause of autoimmune disorders?

Autoimmune disease relates to a complex cluster of immune disorders where the immune system appears to target your own cells (self-tissue). In recent years, more and more diseases are being categorised as autoimmune conditions. Even cardiovascular disease is being considered an immune disorder, as chronic inflammation of the vessels is commonly a characteristic of heart disease.

Understanding the root cause of such varied illnesses can be difficult, however, it appears from research that there are 3 factors which most contribute to the onset of autoimmunity. These factors relate to epigenetics, environmental factors and a breakdown of biological barrier integrity and immunity. In this article, I will provide a summary of the current understanding of these 3 ideas which I will explore individually in more detail in later articles.

  1. Epigenetics

Epigenetics relates to the activity and expression of your genes which can affect various biological processes in the body, for example, how well your body eliminates toxins or your ability to metabolise certain fats. The variations in your genetics is not a life sentence, it just means that due to these differences you may have more risk of developing certain diseases. The good news is that with changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can take preventative measures to ensure that any weaknesses that you may have due to your genes are supported. It’s useful to understand your DNA profile, as it can provide clues for what might be contributing to symptoms of autoimmunity which can help form a health protocol to appease these issues.

  1. Environmental Factors

Environmental factors encompass many different environmental triggers and trying to decipher which ones are contributing to autoimmunity can be challenging. However, with exploratory functional testing and trial and error these influences can be determined which helps to direct a nutritional therapy protocol to eliminate the trigger. The main elements that may feature in autoimmune conditions are as follows:

  • Infectious agents such as bacteria, virus and fungus through a process known as ‘molecular mimicry’ (see more on this soon)
  • A high viral or bacterial load from past exposure to infections
  • Heavy metal toxicity
  • Environmental pollutants in air, food or water including diesel fuel, moulds and pesticides.
  • Gut dysbiosis from a build up of unhelpful bacteria which outcompete the good.
  • Food intolerances, most notable in autoimmunity is gluten and diary.

Functional testing can help understand which factors might be at play in the cause of chronic conditions and working with a practitioner will help guide you in which testing is right for you based on your symptoms and lifestyle.

  1. Breakdown of barrier integrity and immunity

This third factor was often associated with intestinal permeability (the so called ‘leaky gut’) as scientific research found that those suffering with autoimmunity largely suffered with this condition. However, our immune system has various protective barriers including the skin, the blood brain barrier, the alveoli of our lungs and the intestinal barrier. The intestinal barrier is by far the vastest barrier of all those described which is probably why it gained the most attention. However, the other should be considered as well when you are trying to strengthen these barricades from obstructive inhabitants. In autoimmune brain disorders it is theorised that moulds and bacteria pass through the blood brain barrier. This may cause an immune attack on neurones and other brain cells which harbours these unfriendly antagonists, causing damage to our brains. It is therefore important that we find ways to fortify our protective barriers with functional foods which support the integrity of our first line of defence.

Many causes with many presentations

We would love to find one cause and one answer to propel ourselves to health, but often there are multiple factors in the cause of any disease. By understanding the various factors which might be contributing to your symptoms, an approach for therapy can be investigated. Sometimes the answer is easy, and simply removing a food group can have a significant impact on your health. Other times it might take longer to reconcile the imbalances and the deficits which have accumulated over the years. However, by knowing your genetic disposition, finding YOUR trigger and eating to strengthen our biological walls, there are steps that you can take which may support the symptoms of autoimmunity, to help you live that little bit better.

 

Watch out for later articles where I will explain various ways that nutrition and lifestyle interventions may target these foundations, as well as understanding the various functional testing which should be considered if you suspect that you may be suffering with an autoimmune disease.

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HOW ANTIBIOTICS AFFECT THE GUT

Since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 through an accidental finding, antibiotics have had a huge impact on the human race. Some of the diseases which we now expect to survive including bacterial meningitis and strep throat could have been fatal before the effects of antibiotics were known.

In this new age, we still require antibiotics to protect us from disease, but these ‘against life’ (literal translation of antibiotic) medicines which we use to defend ourselves from disease are also causing long term damage to the mutualistic symbiotic relationship between the gut microbes and human digestive system for the long term.

In this article I will consider the impact of antibiotics on your gut microbes and the ways that you can counteract their effects with dietary interventions.

The symbiotic relationship between humans and microbes

Mutualism is a form of symbiosis where two organisms live together with beneficial outcomes for both creatures. In a healthy individual, gut microbes are advantageous as they have important functional roles in the digestive system – they absorb and breakdown nutrients from food, they act as a protective barrier between the gut and the bloodstream, and they maintain the immune system found in the cells of the intestinal wall. And the gut microbes are happy as the are fed, they have a roof over their heads and space to roam. The perfect peace and harmony between many species of life all found in your belly!

How do antibiotics disrupt the equilibrium?

The colonisation of healthy gut microbes in the intestine is critical for many important biological functions, and their presence helps to outcompete the harmful bacteria which can cause disruption to this homeostasis. This is where antibiotics begin to fulfil their life harming prophecies, as we take them in order to kill the bad guys, but unfortunately sometimes the good guys get caught in the crossfire! Antibiotic forms a parasitic symbiotic relationship with our friendly bacterial hosts, which is the opposite of the mutualism causing many of them to die but benefitting themselves.

As the balance of the microbes in the digestive system becomes skewed, many opportunistic commensal bacteria which were once part of the tranquil habitat, decide its time to make their mark. As these commensal bacteria multiply, they may become pathogenic as well, causing harm to the body and leaving no room for those once helpful microbes to serve our bodies.

These changes can lead to intestinal inflammation and damage which may cause conditions such as intestinal bowel disease and food allergies, immunological issues such as autoimmune disorders and obesity and cardiovascular disease. So, we need a solution where we are still able to use antibiotic against microbial infections, but without the damage to the delicate environment housed within our guts.

Bring back balance through diet

Studies have shown that certain nutrients and probiotics modulate the gut microbial environment which could be valuable to bring back balance after antibiotic use.

Probiotics are commonly advised to be taken after antibiotic use but there is still more research required to understand which strains have the most potential to restore the ecosystem of the gut. This is a very interesting area of development and it is expected that probiotics could replace the use of antibiotics to some extent for therapy against infectious disease as well. Faecal microbiota transplantation where faecal microorganisms from a healthy person are injected into a sick person, is also growing in popularity and has shown some positive results, supporting the importance of a healthy microbiome.

Other nutrients such as curcumin found in turmeric and omega 3 essential fatty acids in oily fish and nuts, which are known for their anti-inflammatory effects, may also have substantial influence on the gut microbiota by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria. Consumption of walnuts which contain a high level of omega 3 fats, have be shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer which scientist now theorise may be due to their impact on gut health.

Polyphenols, such as those found in green tea and chocolate, are also being researched for their role in gut health, as they are ordinarily known for their anti-inflammatory properties but it is thought they also play a key role in maintaining the plantations of the helpful bacteria in the intestinal wall. Polyphenols appear to have a targeted approach when it comes to gut microbes, only feeding the needy good, and starving those who harm. Further studies on polyphenols may reveal ways to tailor our intestinal bionetwork, so that we have the optimal balance of gut microbes that are right to fulfil our personal requirements.

Finding harmony in moderation

Antibiotics have been demonised in recent times, but their contribution to human health and longevity is without dispute. What we need to consider is counteracting their negative effects as we enjoy the benefits of their targeted actions. So, if you do take antibiotics or you need to take them due to sickness, then eat foods which protect your beneficial microbes so that at the end of your illness, your gut stays in harmony and you feel alive!

As featured in https://thrive-magazine.co.uk/how-antibiotics-affect-your-gut-health-2/

 

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AUTOIMMUNE FOCUS: UNDERSTANDING SARCOIDOSIS

Sarcoidosis is an autoimmune disease which causes granulomas to form in different parts of the body. A granuloma is a mass of tissue which is usually produced in response to an infection or foreign particle to protect the body from disease. However, in sarcoidosis these granulomas form without a known cause and may cause damage to the self-tissue which can result in scarring and organ damage, leading to health problems.

Which part of the population is most affected by the disease?

The most recent findings suggest diagnosis of the disease is usually between 20 and 40 years old and is most prevalent in Nordic countries and within the African American population.

Which organs are most effected with sarcoidosis?

Due to the nature of the disease, any organ can be affected by sarcoidosis, but it commonly starts in the lungs so most of the research has been conducted in this area. Neurosarcoidosis is an unusual presentation of the condition where granulomas grow in the central nervous system causing nerve damage in the body.

What are the risk factors for sarcoidosis?

Research suggests that risk factors for the disorder include obesity, smoking and occupational risk factors from mining, construction and agricultural work. Interestingly, firefighters and emergency medical services workers who helped in the World Trade Centre disaster in 2001 had an increased risk of developing sarcoidosis which implies airborne toxic agents may have a part to play in the development of the disease.

What are the possible causes of sarcoidosis?

There is no known cause of sarcoidosis but if you have a family member with the disease you may have an increased risk of developing the disease which indicates that there is a genetic component to the condition. Research also suggests that infection or hazardous airborne chemicals might be the trigger for the disease’s onset as the body attempts to defend itself against a foreign invader, but once the immune system is activated it continues to attack and causes damage to the infected organ.

What are the symptoms?

As sarcoidosis can affect any organ the symptoms can be vast ranging from fatigue, weight loss and night sweats but as the disease typically affects the lungs the most common symptoms are as follows:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A cough that won’t go away
  • Enlarged lymph glands in the chest
  • Reddish bumps on the skin, which are sometimes found on the shins

Sarcoidosis can also cause red eyes and blurry vision, swollen joints and kidney stones. In neurosarcoidosis, it can cause facial weakness (facial palsy and facial droop), seizures and hearing loss.

Given the number of symptoms that can present in sarcoidosis it is a difficult disease to diagnose and may require biopsies from the affected organ to make a conclusive diagnosis.

What nutritional therapy and lifestyle factors can help support sarcoidosis?  

As the cause of the condition is still unknown, then the nutritional approach for supporting the condition is dependent on presenting symptoms but an autoimmune-type protocol focusing on decreasing the systemic inflammation in the body may be beneficial.

Polyphenols such as resveratrol and quercetin have been shown in studies to help ease inflammation in the body . Resveratrol is found in the skins of grapes and quercetin is found in red and purple coloured foods such as red onion, apples and peppers. Also, eating a diet rich in antioxidant foods such as green leafy vegetables, berries, dark chocolate and pecans may also be helpful.

Omega 3 rich fats such as those found in sardines, wild salmon, herring, mackerel and walnuts are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, as well as foods containing vitamin D which include egg yolks, calf’s liver and cheese.

The quality of the air that you are breathing daily should also be well thought out and if you work or live in an environment with compromised air quality then an air filtration system or face mask should be considered to decrease toxic exposure.

Stress can also be a contributing factor in autoimmune disease so finding stress management techniques that suit you such as meditation, daily journaling or spending time outside in nature should be explored to help symptoms or for those at risk, to take preventative measures against potential onset of this condition.

If you suspect that you might have sarcoidosis, discuss this with your General Practitioner.

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THE RISE OF PERSONALISED NUTRITION

As a race we are coming to expect customisation in all areas of our lives. We like to watch and listen to media when we feel like it, we like to choose what food goes into our take-away lunchtime salad, and increasingly we tailor our leisure experiences to our requirements. So why would our approach to nutrition be any different?

Personalised nutrition is on a steep upward trajectory and people are beginning to understand that a one-size-fits-all approach to a dietary and lifestyle protocol may be ineffective. We now have the tools and the understanding to take a more bespoke approach to our health.

In this article I will discuss the various ways that you can empower yourself to take the reins on your health and wellbeing – using the resources available to make the choices that are right for you, rather than participating in conventional diets which only work for some.

Test to get the Best

Using functional testing can be helpful to understand what dietary approach is best for you, as it can give an indication of the root cause of health issues. And with this information, recommendations can be made for ways to modify your diet to provide health supporting and promoting effects.

Genetic testing has shown an incredible upsurge in recent years, as these tests can now be performed with simple “at home” testing kits at minimal cost. Most companies offering these tests provide a comprehensive genetic health report including a personalised nutritional recommendation which can be useful to incorporate into a wider nutritional protocol working with a health practitioner.

Metabolic testing, stool tests, hormone profiling and testing for nutritional deficiencies are also valuable ways for you to understand what your health risks are, how these should be managed, and which foods and habits are right for you.

Tracking helps Biohacking

Fitness trackers, health apps and even wellbeing-tracking jewellery are helping people to monitor their calorie intake, understand their sleep patterns, capture their daily movement and check their heart rate daily.

This information is powerful, as it gives you the knowledge required to make positive changes to your lifestyle, affirmed by data. And for those who like to challenge themselves, there are ways to set challenges for yourself which reward you for your positive actions. The human reward system never felt so satisfied!

Technologies for better Physiologies

Technologies are being created which embrace both testing and tracking and provide you with an on-the-go solution to support your personalised nutritional approach.

Research is providing mounting data for the role of gut bacteria in our general and mental wellbeing. There are now even apps available which analyse the results of your stool tests and provide specific meal suggestions which help to proliferate certain helpful bacteria in the gastrointestinal system. Daily tracking of food intake in this way can provide details of how beneficial these foods are for improving your gut health.

There are also apps being designed which provide the consumer with a personalised health coach, so when you are confronted with an unhealthy choice, you have the support of the health coach to get you back on track.

The momentum of testing and tracking apps isn’t losing pace, so expect to see more inventive and interesting ways to propel your health using technologies in the time to come.

The Next Generation of Personalisation

The growing trend in personalised nutrition is showing no signs of stopping as we all seek to develop and improve our health for longevity and a higher quality of living. Using testing, tracking and technologies can be a great way to take accountability of your wellbeing as only you can make the changes to better your life. Knowledge is power when it comes to making the right diet choices and having this customised information readily available is making adopting a healthy lifestyle that little bit easier.

As featured in Thrive Magazine:

The Rise of Personalised Nutrition

 

 

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MTHFR Gene and Folic Acid: Personalise your Approach

Certain foods are routinely fortified with the synthetic form of vitamin B9 known as folic acid (particularly breads, pasta and cereal) but those people who have variations in their MTHFR gene may be negatively impacted by consuming additional folic acid. Instead, those people should ensure that they only consume folate, the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9, or supplement with the ‘methylated’ and active version of vitamin B9 which is referred to as 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (“methyl folate”).

It is understood that 10% of Caucasians and Asians, and 25% of Hispanics have the most consequential variation in the MTHFR gene, often referred to as a single polynucleotide polymorphism (SNPs), so it is worth understanding what your biotype is so you can adapt your diet and supplement plan to suit your needs.

In this article, I will consider the potential risks associated with variations in the MTHFR gene and the impact of consuming folic acid for people with this altered genetic baseline.

Why is the MTHFR gene important?

The MTHFR gene creates the MTHFR enzyme which is important for a cycle known as methylation. Broadly, methylation is an important biological reaction within the body which helps other critical functions operate effectively by donating a methyl group so that a bodily process can occur. These include such things as detoxification, energy creation and DNA repair.

During the body’s detoxification process, if there are not enough methyl groups available then detoxification will be impaired leading to increased levels of toxins in the blood, which in turn leads to inflammation and even nutrient depletion as the body uses all its resources to put out the inflammatory fire.

Variants in the MTHFR gene are highlighted in the genetic tests such as DNA Life and knowing this about yourself can be empowering to make personalised dietary and lifestyle choices which suit your genetics. Even if you don’t have a genetic variation of the MTHFR gene, environmental factors such as being under chronic stress, having increased exposure to toxins through air contamination or eating a poor diet can result in the MTHFR enzyme being ineffective, leading to an increased risk of an impaired methylation process.

So what is the role of folic acid?

Folic acid is a form of vitamin B9 which is inactive in the body. Its active form helps decrease levels of homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid and high levels in the blood are a risk factor for heart disease and cancer, so reducing amounts is beneficial for overall wellbeing.

For vitamin B9 to be active and have its necessary effects on the body, it requires the MTHFR enzyme to convert it from folic acid to methyl folate. Therefore, if your methylation cycle is defective as a result of gene variants or unfavourable external conditions, then folic acid will remain in its inactive form and build up in the body. As a result, you may have high serum levels of folic acid, but still be deficient at the functional cell level which is what the body needs to work properly.

Also, as folic acid builds up in the body this can prevent any of the active folate that you consume from doing its job, so it is excreted out of the body (which usually presents itself as a bright yellow colour in your urine!).

What are the impacts of a folate deficiency?

Folate deficiency is particularly important for women who are trying to get pregnant or are already pregnant, as folate is required by the developing foetus. Birth defects can occur as a result of the mother being deficient in this essential nutrient.

Folate deficiency can also cause megaloblastic anaemia, where the body produces less red blood cells, but which are also premature and enlarged. Consequently they are not able to carry out their necessary chores in the body, meaning that some of your essential organs, including the brain, might not receive an adequate oxygen supply. This can make you feel tired, weak, start to lose hair, get mouth sores and have shortness of breath. Enlarged red blood cells will be picked up on a routine full blood count test through your General Practitioner but these are often overlooked.

How can you take a personalised approach?

If you relate to any of the symptoms associated with folate deficiency or members of your family are suffering with these symptoms, then it is worth considering whether you might be impacted by a dysfunctional MTHFR enzyme. The best source of folate is found in foods which is found in green leafy vegetables, asparagus, avocados and Brussel sprout. However if you are supplementing, it is worth discussing with your doctor whether you should supplement with the methylated version of folate instead of the inactive form.

Personalising your nutritional protocol is key to supporting your health. We are all born wonderfully unique and the food that we eat and the lives we live should reflect that!