To start your year off well, here are some of my top tips for improving your health and wellbeing this year. Simple steps, but they add up to a massive change, almost without you even noticing.
- Get your stomach acid right.
If I had to choose one thing to tell people to get sorted, it is how well they are breaking down and metabolising the food we are built with! It drives me nutty and problems in this area are SO prevalent. I honestly believe that much of our day to day symptoms and lifestyle diseases can be prevented by this one step. Many of you do eat a good diet – I have trained you well 😉 – but what are you actually doing with it internally?
It is a fact that once we’re over about 40 years of age, we don’t produce as much stomach acid as we did when we were younger. There are various reasons, but it is probably mainly caused by poor diet and stress mostly making us low in the nutrients we need to make the stomach acid in the first place. A lot of people are low in the zinc, amino acids and B vitamins especially that we need to manufacture enough stomach acid. So, it becomes a vicious circle: we don’t have enough nutrients to make the stomach acid and we don’t then have enough stomach acid to digest foods properly to get more of the nutrients. At some point, some form of intervention is needed to break that cycle.
What happens in reality in the vast majority of cases, though, is that someone starts to get acid reflux, heartburn, indigestion and GERD type symptoms. These make people – and doctors – believe that they are producing TOO MUCH stomach acid so off they go taking meds and actions to lower their stomach acid even more. This then means they digest food down even less and start to get more and more symptoms and lifestyle diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies. (Think bone loss, for example, which we know is correlated with taking PPIs for this very reason, see here).
What a merry-go-round!
It may be that yours is genuinely high stomach acid and not too low. You could be that one in ten I come across. But clinical experience suggests you are more than likely one of the other nine who has too little stomach acid. Even if yours is high, let’s look at a main cause: a bacterial infection of helicobacter pylori. Well, how the heck did that get there?
You need enough stomach acid in your gut to kill any bacterial, fungal or viral infections that you take in through your mouth. Not enough and they pass through and start to colonise. That’s what happens with H pylori: it is a bacteria that should have been killed off by stomach acid in the first place! Ergo: the probable cause of the high acid now was probably low acid in the earlier days. The trick then is to kill off the H pylori and then restore the gut and ensure it is working optimally so you don’t fall prey to it again in the future.
Same goes for candida. The number of times I have done candida tests and found it in the mouth as well as or instead of in the gut, I can’t tell you. The first thing you do if you find candida anywhere is make sure there is enough stomach acid to kill it before it can colonise. Again this is the reason why people on antacid medications like PPIs tend to get more gut infections like candida. Quite logical when you think about it.
There’s another way that low stomach acid can trigger over-acid symptoms too. See if you recognise this: The lower eosophageal sphincter (LES) separates the stomach from the oesophagus and in between meals, it is supposed to be closed to prevent the backflow of food into the oesophagus. However, when there isn’t enough stomach acid, the food isn’t digested properly and this can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine (SIBO). These bacteria feed on and ferment undigested carbohydrates resulting in the feeling of fullness, discomfort, bloating and distension. This then causes an increase in intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which relaxes the LES and pushes the stomach contents and acid into the oesophagus. And you get the over-acidity feeling. Ugh. You can read more on this and see a suggested protocol on the Acid Reflux/GERD factsheet here.
By sorting out your digestion, you will automatically improve your nutrient levels, which means everything – everything! – in your body will start to work better. You will stop yourself becoming prey to gut infections. Because there are fewer undigested proteins, you will suffer with fewer intolerance and sensitivity reactions. And you will look and feel better: your skin will start to glow, your eyes begin to sparkle more, your tummy will start to flatten out because you will be less bloated and you’ll lose weight generally as your body starts to control blood sugar and inflammation more so less fluid retention.
It’s a real no-brainer, isnt it? Don’t assume your digestion is OK.
Action: read the Stomach Acid Factsheet and the GERD/Acid Reflux Factsheet and I’ll get off my favourite soapbox now! Also see the Gut Plan below, which includes stuff on treating and treating acid problems.
2. Take the pressure off your gut and liver.
Linked to sorting your digestion out above is giving your whole gut and liver a bit of an MOT. They work so hard for us and after Christmas indulgences is a really good time to give them some love. Sure, our body will detox naturally most of what we throw at it because that’s what it is designed to do, but you can choose to let them rest and catch up a bit by taking two steps.
The first is to lower your daily toxic load. Essentially, this means give them less caffeine, sugar and alcohol to have to process and reduce your exposure to chemicals generally such as toiletries, washing powders, cleaning stuff, pesticide-ridden food, those ruddy awful toxic candles and air fresheners everywhere (pet hate!), doing DIY, new furniture/carpet offgassing smells and the like. My usual advice for this is to do a month reducing your use of these sorts of things and, after that, every time you run out of something, swap it for a non-toxic version so your toxic load comes down over time generally.
For more help with this, I have written the free Non-Toxic House and Home factsheet for you with all my tips and tricks. It will pay dividends for your long term health, trust me.
The second way to help your gut and liver catch up is to actively support them with the nutrients they need. It would take me ages to explain what I mean by this. Happily, I have written a whole protocol for you to follow in the Gut Plan. This is the foundational step used for most people, whatever their starting issue is. I find it simply solves most of the issues so we can then see what’s left a bit more clearly – if anything. It is a powerful little workhorse that Gut Plan!
By giving your gut and liver a holiday, you will be ensuring your whole lymphatic system gets chance for a clean -up – a bit like clearing your own gutters from the moss the birds have helpfully dropped down over the last few years! You will also be reducing your exposure to triggering chemicals that are linked to many diseases, not least cancer – that’s why I ask you to swap stuff longer-term.
Again, this will lead to you looking and feeling better generally – maybe after a bit of a headache and some adjustments to life, I’ll admit! Your energy should start to increase too; people often say it’s like a heavy physical burden being taken off them – which it really is!
No-brainer number 2, huh?
Action: download the free Non-Toxic House & Home factsheet and start making some changes. Do the Gut Plan (which will also take you through sorting your digestion out above) and get to it. Your body will thank you. Many people do this once a year, in fact, which is an extremely wise preventative health measure.
3. Calm down and re-train your brain.
I really thought carefully about what my third tip might be; there could be so many. Anyway, when it came down to it, tip three had to be about using mind-body medicine on top of all your biochemical, physical efforts to get yourself well. To ignore this side of healing is to slow your healing process massively, trust me. I wish I’d learnt that little nugget earlier!
I have found myself over the past decade that finding a sense of calm and a route to healing – and what that means for each of us – is about consistency in application and learning to be calm and well, re-training our brain, developing new positive, supportive neural pathways, ensuring our sub-conscious and conscious selves feel safe and connected in many different ways.
For this to happen, you need to practice consistently, as I say. You could tell yourself you will do this, that and the other but we all know that life will more than likely take over and we’ll stop and then be annoyed or frustrated with ourselves. So, my tip here is to follow a programme to help you. There are many such things, but I wrote the Healing Plan to show you how I did it and have set up a Mind-Body Medicine section on the shop to direct you to some good stuff. You can see the Healing Plan ebook and paperback on Amazon UK here. And on Amazon US here.
It is a programme designed to help you build more confidence, resilience and happiness or basically turn around anything that is going wrong in your life. Mine was hypersensitivity to foods, yours might be wanting to be calmer and not care about stuff so much. You might want to encourage your body to heal from a chronic illness, or at least not let it keep you in a fearful and depressed state – as I was! It helps you to move into a healing state, which is crucial if you want to get well. It is far from some airy-fairy positivity nonsense. In essence, if you feel sad, anxious, flat, wobbly, lost or out of control in any area of your life, or you have a chronic health disease you are trying to reverse or improve, do the whole thing or use the elements that fit for you. It will help.
Action: Follow the Healing Plan elements consistently, using positive brain neuroplasticity techniques to help your brain truly ‘learn’ how to be happy and well. Read Why Mind-Body Medicine here for more on this subject.
4. Get with a tribe.
Ha ha – that sounds so cheesy, sorry; I couldn’t resist! What I mean here is get some form of connection going, whether that is with family, friends or community members in some way, but preferably doing something out of the house.
Research is showing just how important social connection is for our long-term health. Results of a 75 year study into what really makes us healthy and happy into older age show it’s not money or power and it doesn’t matter what position in society you started from or ended up at either; it came down to social connection!
Simply put, those who had regular interaction with people in a positive way lived longer and had fewer ‘ageing’ illnesses.
This is something I have had to think about myself. I am largely stuck behind a computer screen ‘chatting’ with you in various ways day in, day out. I closed the face to face clinic due to illness myself then over a decade ago but actually now love the way I work with so many of you from afar and choose to work this way now. But that does mean it is a lonely business and I got quite agoraphobic at one stage. I seriously underestimated how important social connection is. I love my online ‘family’ but I realised I needed to get out of the house sometimes too!
Needing to also exercise my vagus nerve for boosting immunity and after the trauma therapy, I chose to join a choir! Singing is one of the very best ways to ‘tone’ the vagus nerve. Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress, amongst many other things. I must write more about this. Anyway, it’s not much, but just that little interaction doing something different with a load of mad ladies once a week or so is enough to make me feel like I belong in the world again. My voice is stronger (never mind P!) and so is my confidence. So much so that I might even join another choir and go to two!
What will you do?
Action: Find a tribe to belong to in some way. If you can get out of the house, do so. Try Meetup.com or your local library for ideas on what might be about that you could join. But, even if you are stuck in because of health or other issues, encourage visitors even though you feel like pushing them away or, at the very least, come and join us in one of the Facebook groups where we are indeed like a little family, all helping and supporting each other.
So, there you have it: my top tips for your new year. I hope you found something there to inspire you. Having said I hate those quote things everywhere on walls, cushions and the like, I end with one! Remember this if you are dithering:
“One day you’ll wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”
Please share this with anyone you think this might inspire.
Happy Healthy New Year xxx