Connecting the dots...

Photo: Brandon818
Part of my job as a holistic nutrition consultant is to try to uncover the root cause of a health issue.
But in most cases, by the time we're sick, we can't even remember what led up to that point, and we just want a solution ASAP.

Trying to connect the dots can also make us crazy, because we'll never know for certain if one health issue led to the next.

Still, I find it important to explore the possibilities in my practice, because discovering the root cause of an illness is going to lead to the quickest and most effective healing.

One of my clients had chronic heartburn, was overweight, and had psoriasis. He was a workaholic and was popping TUMS nearly every hour. A few easy tests pointed to hypochlorhydria - low stomach acid. Since the symptoms of low stomach acid are similar to the symptoms of high stomach acid, and since the common wisdom is to treat high stomach acid, he turned to the TUMS, which made his problem worse. And, because proteins were leaving his stomach and passing into his intestines without being fully digested, his body was getting confused - a possible cause for the autoimmune psoriasis. By getting his stomach pH up to a healthy level and eliminating/rotating gluten (which is a long protein that can also confuse the body's immune system), he lost 20 pounds in just two weeks and has only had heartburn once in the past three years - after a weekend of eating bread, beer & pizza with friends.

In my own case, I had a genetic predisposition for my autoimmune disease. But I never had a flare-up until I used the birth control patch (the pamphlet for which clearly stated that colitis was a reported but unconfirmed side effect). So in my case, the trigger for my illness was the birth control patch, but it was really just the last thing my body could handle - meaning that there was a haystack of other contributing factors beneath this final straw. This concept of "total load" can certainly make things confusing when trying to help heal bigger health issues.

Me - before. Puffy! Ugh!
I had never paid attention to what I ate, relying heavily on pizza and pasta. I drank beer, wine, cocktails - anything that would give me a buzz. I had a serious sweet tooth and kept bags of candy in my drawer at work. I had been on antibiotics at least ten times in my life, and had taken a multi-year course of acid-blockers. All of these contributed to the demolition of my GI tract, and all of them had to be eliminated, changed, or fixed in order for me to decrease the rampant inflammation in my body.

I finally got to the point where my colonoscopy results showed no signs of disease, but it took a lot of trial and error and serious commitment. And, the truth is, I still have gut issues sometimes, and I'm still in the process of figuring out what causes them.

My husband can vouch for the fact that I'm always trying new diets to figure out what works for me - and what doesn't. Three years ago I learned that I have a mild allergic reaction to red wine. Last year I did an elimination diet and its results were inconclusive, so this year I'm planning to try the Paleo, GAPS and/or SCD diets.

In addition to helping me learn more about my body, this personal testing also helps me explain the benefits and drawbacks of each diet firsthand to my clients.

So - how can you connect the dots?

Ask yourself what was going on when your health issues first began. Consider your career, family, and other health issues. If there were other health issues or medications present, repeat the process for them. What was the first health problem you can come up with - the one that seemingly started the domino effect?

See what comes up for you, and then let's talk about how to address the symphony of symptoms that is your own unique body.

Boosting Immunity

Photo: Anita Berghoef
My husband came down with the flu last night, so I've been focusing a lot on immunity lately.
Thought I'd share it with my tribe here!

What to do when you're feeling under the weather? I use a 4-pronged approach:
  1. Rest
  2. Let your body do its job
  3. Healthy foods & beverages
  4. Targeted supplements
Let's discuss each one in a bit more depth:

Luckily, we're on break at the moment so my husband can take full advantage of this recommendation. For worker bees, however, this is notoriously challenging. Some companies only provide a certain number of sick days, so illness comes to (and permeates) the workplace. If you can work from home, that's a great first step. If you can't, take a sick day. If you can't take a sick day, make sure that you allow for at least nine hours of sleep a night, and take a 10-minute break every hour to escape the hubbub of the office, close your eyes, and take a few deep, relaxing breaths. Your body is telling you to slow down - listening and respecting it will help you feel better in the moment as well as heal faster.

Let your body do its job
Most people reach for the medicine cabinet the minute fever hits. But fever is one way the body heals itself. Some viruses can't survive at certain temperatures, so a fever can kill them off. Or perhaps you're groggy and want to take a Sudafed so you can power through the day. But powering through the day can just prolong your agony, as you aren't giving your body the rest it's trying to demand (see above). I personally try to only use OTC medications if my symptoms are keeping me awake at night. Otherwise, I allow my symptoms to slow me down so I can heal faster.

Healthy foods & beverages
I've got a lot of tricks up my sleeve here. Some foods will make you feel better immediately, and some can help boost your immunity so you heal more quickly.

Homemade bone broth is an excellent, nourishing tonic for the sick. It's rich in minerals and amino acids that support the immune system. In addition, heated beverages provide immediate relief for postnasal drip and dry mouths.

Did you know that up to 80% of your immune system is located in your digestive tract? Probiotics nourish your gut, so eating foods that are high in probiotics is a great choice when you're sick. These include fermented foods such as real sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt.

Another great immunity-boosting food is mushrooms. Asian mushrooms like maitake are particularly well-known for their ability to rally white blood cells to fight infection.

Garlic has a long history of medicinal use - it's naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial. Chop up raw garlic and swallow the pieces with water, as if you're taking a few pills. (You'll have the added benefit of fending off vampires).

And my secret weapon? A non-alcoholic hot toddy: hot water with fresh-squeezed lemon juice, sliced ginger coins, a sprinkle of cayenne, and a tablespoon of honey. Sooo yummy and so soothing on a sore throat!

Targeted supplements
Everyone knows that echinacea is great for immunity. Keep some of that in your pantry and take as directed on the bottle.

In addition, Zinc is crucial for immune cell function. In addition, it is one of the most-needed minerals during preconception and pregnancy, due to its important role in reproductive function. Chelated forms of Zinc, such as Zinc picolinate, are the most absorbable.

Probiotic supplements can also help improve gut flora and support the immune system.

Curcumin (turmeric) is anti-inflammatory. I always take capsules of supercritical extract when my joints ache or any part of my body is feeling raw. There is not enough research on the effects of curcumin supplementation during pregnancy. Therefore, I recommend that pregnant women who want to get more curcumin simply sprinkle turmeric into soups or spice rubs.

If you are prone to cold sores, you're more likely to get them when you're run down. Try taking L-Lysine to prevent an outbreak.

What is your best natural secret for kicking winter illness to the curb?