So, you`ve probably heard a lot of talk about microbiomes lately. There`s mention of them everywhere at the moment… from adverts about skin cream to all sorts of food advertising the benefits of probiotics.
So what is a microbiome?
A microbiome is an area of your body that houses hundreds of trillions of friendly, efficient and protective bacteria that we need to function optimally.
You actually have several areas where you have a microbiome. The main one that is of supreme importance, is in your digestive tract, often called your gut microbiome. You also have them on a smaller scale in your mouth, your nose, your genitals and upon your skin.
When your microbiome isn't as good as it should be, we get issues. We can get eczema, infections down below, strep throat and many uncomfortable digestive related symptoms. We can suffer with brain fog ( you know… that moment where you just can`t remember why you walked in to the kitchen and generally struggle to retain information)
We are prone to depression and anxiety, inflammation in our joints and muscles, hormone problems, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, allergies, food intolerances, asthma, an inability to lose weight- no matter what you do, intense food cravings, headaches… the list goes on…
These organisms have a profound impact on how we absorb the nutrients from our food, how we detoxify and eliminate everyday toxins and the health of our gut lining. When your microbiome is balanced, you stay healthy. You fight off infections more easily, you are more energised and have a better mood. That's because 80% of your immune system is in your microbiome.
Your immune system is responsible for fighting off those pesky bugs that make us feel so unwell, but also for finding and destroying cells that are growing a little weirdly. Every single day, we have cells that grow a little weirdly. Our immune system seeks them out and orders them to die. They then get eliminated, and we are ok. When our immune system doesn`t order these cells to die, they get out of control, multiply and can become the start of a cancerous situation.
So you see how important our microbiome is.
The trouble is, these little guys are quite fragile. Their health relies upon the way we treat them in our everyday lives. Too much sugar in our diet causes our gut to acquire a host of bad bacteria. These bad guys are the bullies that gang up and take over the digestive tract. When they outnumber our defenders then we have a problem called ‘dysbiosis’ and a whole host of the symptoms I mentioned above to go with it. More about sugar later….
Our gut health also goes right back to when we were taking our first breaths in the delivery ward ( or where ever you were born)
The adult microbiome that we have today, began in the womb of our mothers. If they consumed beneficial bacteria, it would find its way to us. It then continued to form through the actual delivery of the baby. The age of 0 - 2 years also has a huge impact on how your microbiome develops, so listen up if you have little kids.
Now, before I say this next bit… Those of you who know me will vouch for the fact that I am the least judgemental person ever. I`m not saying this next bit to mum-shame anyone or make you feel bad about your delivery if you have had children. I`m saying it with love so that you can consider how this may have impacted your kids immunity in order for you to have the knowledge to boost it from this point on. I`m also mentioning it so you can think about your own birth and early childhood and its impact on your immune system and so that those of you who are pregnant or are considering pregnancy can have some food for thought.
In an ideal world, a baby is born vaginally and breastfed.
Now life isn`t always that simple though. Things happen. Birth is a complex and potentially dangerous situation for both mum and baby. If you`ve had a C- section, then you did the right thing under the guidance of some very clever and experienced doctors. Breastfeeding doesn't always work out either and if you had the distress of it being difficult, then I really do sympathise with you and you know what? … It's ok. Your baby was fed and nourished and loved and is perfectly happy. Read on for the facts, but don't beat yourself up.
A vaginal delivery exposes the baby to a healthy dose of beneficial bacteria as it leaves the vaginal canal. This bacteria is unique and through a really complex system of the gut - brain communication (did you know our tummies have their own nervous system!) it sets the tone for the immune system and the mental health of the child from that point onwards.
When I say the mental health of the child, what I mean by that is this-
Our lack of exposure to certain beneficial bacteria can shape our predisposition to anxiety, depression and how we handle the stressful situations that life throws at us. This predisposition can carry on into adulthood.
If we were exposed to these bacteria then we have a different coping mechanism and can be more stress resilient. This isn`t always the case though.
In the days after birth, if we were given antibiotics, or our mothers were, and we were breastfed, then this also had a huge effect on our microbiome. Antibiotics kill bacteria. That's the reason we use them!
The problem is that the pill you take cannot differentiate between the bad guys that are causing your illness and the good guys that are trying to protect you. It has a sweeping effect and kills off everything. It's one of the reasons why the medical community are trying to raise awareness about not having antibiotics. Every time you take them, you destroy a large section of your immune system. You probably know of someone who takes them regularly and ends up catching every bug that is flying around. If you need antibiotics, then please purchase a good probiotic supplement (that's what the beneficial bacteria are known as) to take alongside it.
So if you were a child that was born by C-section, you already had a different start to life in terms of your immunity. Your mum was possibly put on antibiotics because of the risk of infection (I`m going back a few years now when they used to dish them out more readily) and she may or may not have breast fed you. If she did, you were getting drip fed the antibiotics too.
Your microbiome was not up to scratch and may have been the start of your tendency to catch infections and have childhood conditions like asthma and eczema. On top of this, there are statistics that say children under 2 have probably had at least two lots of antibiotics. Now think about it… You already had a lowered immunity from your birth and so you caught nasty bugs, like - ear infections and tonsillitis repeatedly. You were given more antibiotics and the cycle repeated over, and over again. Here you are now with a host of issues because your immune system never really recovered.
Back to sugar…
So as an adult, here you are with a microbiome that is really low in numbers of the good bacteria that keep you feeling tip-top and energised. You are fatigued and achy, have some digestive issues and probably some skin problems along the way. The bad guys largely feed on sugar and they are clever! Really, really clever. And, Sneaky!
You know I mentioned earlier that our tummies have their own nervous system?
These bad guys are like computer hackers… They can manipulate your thoughts and cravings by hacking into that nervous system and literally can get you to crave the sugar that they are desiring so badly to keep themselves alive.
It's like you are being brainwashed as you rise off of the sofa to get that packet of M & Ms that you have in the cupboard! You went to the gym today, or maybe did a nice walk… you are trying your hardest to drink plenty of water and make some really great steps in recovering your health, but you just can't stop that overpowering urge for a sugary treat. The hackers have got you! You are their puppet.
Just knowing this information can really help you control those urges. Knowing that eating the sugary snack will strengthen the bad guys and cause you more problems can really help you understand that you are never going to win this war while you strengthen your opponent! It also helps you understand that it isn't some flaw in your personality where you can`t resist the sugar, you are being controlled!
So the first thing you need to do is cut the sugar right back. Have some back-up plans of other foods that you like pre-prepared and ready to go in the fridge for when you get cravings. Protein is good for keeping them at bay… some shredded roasted chicken pre-prepared can hit the spot, or, if you're veggie then some hummus and dips are good.
Try to avoid starchy snacks like crackers as unfortunately, that converts straight into glucose (sugar) and will feed the bad bacteria what they are craving. Unfortunately, fruit does this too and whilst you are trying to kill off the bad guys, it's best to avoid them. Berries are good, as are nuts. I can't emphasise it enough - be prepared… have some items pre-chopped or ready to handily grab.
Now there's an old saying that ‘a candle burns its brightest at the end’ and here is where being forewarned is being forearmed. As those bad bacteria die off, they will be that bright burning candle. They will be louder than before and your cravings will feel pretty intense. This is because they are desperate. They know they are dying off and they are screaming like a baby that's not had its milk!
This isn't going to last long, the whole process is largely better after a couple of weeks and after a month you will notice that you just don't get sugar cravings, so stay strong!
The other thing that may arise is something called the herxheimer reaction (google that one)
It is a harmless but annoying process that the body has to go through when it is trying to rid itself of bad bacteria or toxins.
As the bad guys die off, they decay and let off nasty gases and toxins that can make you feel pretty yucky for a few days. It can disrupt your sleep, give you headaches, cause break-outs or dry patches, cause inflammation in your joints or muscles and a few other annoying symptoms.
It doesn't last long and is actually a really good sign that your body is healing itself. You need to drink plenty of water or herbal teas to flush it all out and eat plenty of veggies to get your colon working efficiently so you can release it all down the loo. If you don't eat the veggies and drink the water, it will be worse. It's also best to avoid alcohol and caffeine if you can.
There`s a whole topic of other reasons why your sugar needs to be lower in general. It really does have a nasty effect on the body in many, many ways… that's another blog post though.
What can you do to help the situation?
Well, you could supplement with beneficial bacteria. Now the old saying is - start low and go slow. Don`t go racing to get the brand with the most billions of live cultures in it (that`s the figure they are measured in… I`m not just going all exaggeration mad on you)
What is more important is the variety of bacteria that the supplement contains. Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most common strain of probiotic but try to get one which also contains bifidobacteria. A lower dose to start with will be better in the long run as if you are very out of balance in the tum department then too much too soon can cause gas and bloating.
So what about those of us with children? Probiotics are very safe and there are many brands specifically for children. There's also studies that prove that a regular probiotic is more effective at deterring the flu virus in children than the flu vaccine.
I`m not allowed to suggest certain products, but your nutritional therapist or health food shop clerk could help you decide upon this. Of course it's important that kiddo has less sugar too. Stay strong on that one as they can put up quite a fight! Know that you are doing this for them to help them be healthier for the rest of their lives. Know that you are improving their immune system and their body`s whole nourishment. In general, kids get over the cravings quicker than adults but can be a whole lot noisier about it.
Another really great source of beneficial bacteria is found in certain fermented foods. Kimchi, sauerkraut and Kefir are all good sources and readily available from supermarkets. If you are lactose intolerant or avoid dairy then get a coconut based kefir (my personal favourite). Kids also like kefir as it is quite yoghurty in texture.
In conclusion then,
You`ll be surprised by what a difference you can make to your life by getting your microbiome up to scratch and functioning strongly.
The symptoms that restrict your life may have a root cause in the demise of your microbiome over time and can be turned around with a little self-nurturing.
Avoid antibiotics wherever you possibly can and try to avoid your children having them unnecessarily.
If you or your children need an antibiotic, supplement with a probiotic at the same time.
Cut back on the sugars and stock up on healthy snacks.
Supplement with a good quality probiotic.
I`ve only just scratched the surface of a very complex subject here. Look out for news articles in the press over the next decades about the use of probiotics and the microbiome in the treatment of serious diseases. It's being heavily researched as we speak as scientists discover more amazing things about them every day.
I wish you luck and send you love,
It`s late September and my house is smelling all lovely and fruity. That`s because I have a load of Rosehips in my dehydrator that I have picked this morning in-between the showers we are having this week, here in England. Honestly, it`s hard to know whether we`re coming or going this week. One minute we have blue skies, the next torrential rain. I`m sure it is timed everyday for 3pm when it`s time to go and pick up little B from School. Never mind...
Well, whilst the sun was shining I managed to get outside with my basket and snips and get a great haul of Rosehips. They are starting to get on the squishy side so if you are thinking about getting some, get them now!
When you pick your rosehips, you want the glossy red ones that are firm with a slight squeeze to them. They will go dull and lose their shine as they go past their best. They will mush when you squeeze them and go a brownish colour. Only get the ruby red ones.
The old advice was to wait until the first frost had sweetened them, but with our current warmer climate, they will be far too squishy if you wait for a frost in the UK. You can encourage them to sweeten by putting them in your freezer for a day or two at least before using them once defrosted.
Rosehips are so good for you in so many ways. Herbally, they are cooling, which is great if you have a fever but also have a calming influence. This means they are great for angry things like skin issues such as eczema or hives.
They are astringent, Stomach strengthening, great for diarrhoea, good for warding off coughs and colds (and also getting rid of them quicker), asthma, heart palpitations, immune system strengthening, mood lifting and nervous system supporting. They have great quantities of vitamin C in them which makes them an excellent choice to use as a supplement if you have any joint problems, cartilage issues (like Ehlers Danlos), osteoporosis and painful joints. This is because the pathway to create great functioning cartilage relies on having the right amount of vitamin C.
If you struggle with your immune system or are having immunomodulatory medicine or a condition where your immune system is compromised then you should explore them further also.
Rosehips have such an amazing amount of vitamin C within them that the UK Ministry of Defense looked into them during the war as a substitute for oranges (which were unavailable at the time)
It was found that the humble rosehip had 20 times more vitamin C than oranges!
The Ministry of Defense went on to get communities to gather rosehips across the UK and made rosehip syrup to be distributed across the nation to mothers and young children. People were taught how to make it and it was widely available to buy in chemists right up until the 1970s.
The Rosehip is grown on the wild rose bushes that you see in hedgerows. It is more commonly known as the Dog Rose. It was thought that the name "Dog Rose" pertained to the plants ability to heal the sufferer from the bite of a mad dog! It`s more commonly accepted that "Dog" was actually "Dag" and meant "dagger" due to the thorns and the serrated edges of the leaves.
It`s thorns can be quite brutal, so do be careful when you are foraging for the fruits. On the plus side, any medicinal plant with thorns is thought to be super - protective to the picker, both physically and mentally.
The rosehip is also supportive to our mood. It contains not only Vitamin C, but manganese, selenium, Vitamin K and B vitamins. All needed for brain health. Supplementing with rosehips can give you extra support with anxiety and depression by gently nurturing our nervous system.
Rosehips are pretty renowned for their ability to give us beautiful skin. Not only is rosehip oil extremely nourishing but the high vitamin C content is rejuvenating for the collagen in the skin. Rosehips are packed with antioxidants so will also go about removing all those free-radicals that can accumulate in our skin. They will also set about removing them all the way through your body if you consume them.
I love looking into the folklore and energetics of plants, I find it fascinating and usually the message that is being told can be linked to scientific studies that have revealed similar benefits.
In this case, when we work with the rose in general, it is said that we should think about wearing our own thorns. Perhaps you say yes too often to things you don`t want to do. Are you in the habit of self-sacrificing when you shouldn`t? Maybe you don`t stand up for yourself when you should. The rose is said to encourage us to have outward kindness and loveliness but also remember to protect ourselves by being a little more assertive.
It is also a good plant for those who are better at loving others than themselves. It can help you remember to find the good in yourself rather than looking for imperfections.
Looking at the evidence of the rosehip being supportive for anxiety, I guess this fits together nicely. Whether it does or not, they are good messages to listen to anyhow as each time we put ourselves last, our cells know about it!
Our immune response has been proven to react negatively when we are under stress, watch something that upsets us or generally feel like we are at the bottom of the pile. So put your thorns out a little... protect your emotions a little more, whilst retaining the grace and beauty of the rose and it`s fragrance.
So... what lovely things can you do with the rosehip?
Well... most commonly, people make syrups with it. It`s tasty and kids will usually happily take a spoonful. If you start taking a measure each day from the Autumn to the Spring, it will benefit them greatly over coughs and cold season. If you can double up with elderberry as well then all the better!
If you like making tinctures then that is an easy way of extracting their goodness and a glycerite tincture with rosehips would be great for kids.
If you prefer less of a sweet product, then try them in a tea. Rosehip tea is delicious and very nurturing. Let it steep for a good 15 minutes to get as much goodness out of the little hips as you can.
Herbal vinegars are also very good for extracting the phytonutrients so you could have a look into rosehip vinegar. You can use it as a dressing or dilute a little in water to drink.
More culinary recipes you can find are jams, powders and even ketchup!
Here comes a red flag alert so pay attention carefully to the next bit...
Rosehips are completely non-toxic but as you open them up, there are tiny little hairs inside, a bit like the ones on a cactus. You must remove them before making anything that you are going to consume. Do your research and look into how to do this - there`s plenty of tutorials out there on the internet.
The hairs are very irritating to the digestive tract and you don`t want them in there. Our digestive tract has enough to deal with already without having all those little hairs in their poking around. There are also little seeds that you need to remove so please be careful!
Ok.. warning over.
So what will I be doing with rosehips this season?
At the moment I am drying rosehips so that I can use them throughout the year. You can freeze them also, but I take up far too much room in our freezer with herbal products so I find jars of them to be convenient, and pretty to look at. I`ll be storing my dried ones for further use and making various remedies with fresh ones.
I will definitely be making syrups and tinctures and getting as much into my little girl and my family as possible. We choose to avoid the flu vaccine in our household so we will be fighting off any nasties with our usual routine of supplements and elderberry and rosehip. I`ll also be making rosehip oil to help with any skin issues and to use in my skin care routine.
I am without a kitchen at the moment as the building work is still happening here so no ketchups or jams for me!
You`ll have to let me know if you make any though how they turn out.
So Rosehips are wonderful, help with numerous things and are tasty and pretty. Go out and get some before they go mushy!
Here`s a little corner of the world where I discuss life, our bodies, natural remedies and nature.
Clinical Nutrition and Naturopathic Health
BA hons. NT. FNTP. AMNNA. Soc Nat
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