Time to Come to our Senses!

Sensory-Spa-Preidlhof-Italy

Hear the words ‘sensory integration’ and you tend to think of occupational therapists and child development. We refer to the five senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell) but go online and you discover it is a hotly-contested subject. Some scientists cite up to 33 senses! Why am I so interested? That’s because my recent Integrated Healing Retreat at Preidlhof in Italy made me realise just how much Covid has dulled everyone’s senses.

My stay at Preidlhof was profoundly restorative. It also reinforced my belief that we are more than the sum of our parts which the pandemic seemingly reduced everything to:  symptoms and daily statistics.  Preidlhof goes beyond medical diagnostics to treat the whole person.  I was curious to learn more as it is rare to find such a concentration of so many extraordinary and highly skilled healers.  I am sharing personal insights as there were some big surprises in store for me too!

Sensory-Integration-Preidlhof-nature-immersion-health
Preidlhof in South Tyrol, Italy

Our senses shape our self and community

The past two years have been dehumanising, separating people from the outside world and others.  In many cases I see in my own nutrition practice, people are disconnected also from themselves.

It is, however, our senses that unite us and provide meaning to the world around us, also our internal landscape.

Yes, Covid made us alert to our sense of taste and smell. However, with all the focus on symptoms, did people lose touch with what it is to be human and to be truly well?  Did we actually take leave of our senses?! 

It is a question I asked Patrizia Bortolin, Preidlhof’s award-winning Wellness Alchemist and leading Transformational Life Coach: 

“We are seeing a big disconnect in our guests. Our senses are the starting point to enjoying life more (Hedonic Wellbeing). They enhance self-discovery and start the inner journey towards improving awareness, self-healing, and the development of our potential.  They give us a better understanding of our mind’s limitations and our body’s intelligence… that sense of belonging and oneness,” says Patrizia Bortolin.

“Optimum health and wellbeing is more than about symptoms and diagnostics.  Now you see so much anxiety and fear. Many, many people fear their own minds…”  Patrizia continues.

Preidlhof’s gardens are infused with the scent of 50 lemon and olive trees, cypresses, and aromatic herbs from all over the world. Images © Laura La Monaca

Senses are the doorway to perception

Our senses help us understand and perceive the world around us. How we perceive things is shaped by integrating information across our senses, across time, and across space as we move between different environments and people. This ‘sensorial integration’ or processing enables us to make sense of the world… Also, it lays the foundation of everything we do as a human being: our social and motor skills, also our emotional and cognitive wellbeing.

“A multi-sensory learning experience with combinations of visual, auditory and other sensory functions exploits the natural connectivity of the brain. As each sense holds a proprietary memory location within the brain, the effective orchestration of multiple sensory inputs ensures a wider degree of neural stimulation.”

Wolfe (2001)

Sensory integration is essential for cognitive health, and mental and emotional wellbeing. 

At Preidlhof, sensorial integration plays a pivotal role in their ‘transformational wellness’ offering. Patrizia’s own Transformational Wellness sessions blend a whole variety of senses with coaching. Colours, sights and smells all play a part along with mindful eating and sensorial eating classes.     

Senses-Analysis-Patrizia-Bortolin-Preidlhof
Sensory Analysis with Patrizia Bortolin ©Preidlhof

Your sense of smell can enhance cognition

My initial Psychoaromatherapy session with Patrizia was revealing. I had to say if I liked or disliked a particular smell. From the findings, Patrizia suggested that my ‘pause/go’ button was stuck, and this inhibited my ability ‘to let pain go’ while conflicting with a strong desire ‘to take my power back’.

In a sensory analysis called ‘The Wheel of Life’, I had to see if I could detect a smell and if so, describe it. Then, Patrizia compared my description to see if it fell within an approved framework of descriptors. It was a fascinating exercise as I learned more about how the weakening of the olfactory sense, our ability to smell, can be an early detector of ageing and Alzheimer’s. Of course, odours take a direct route to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory.  

I became more alert to my own sense of smell when I moved from London to Kent. What I had always dismissed as ‘my weakest sense’ started to improve immeasurably.  What’s more, I found myself seeking out new scents. Rediscovering your sense of smell is like reconnecting with an old friend. It unlocks memories and, during the worst of the lockdowns, when we couldn’t travel or see friends and family, I found solace tapping into those memory reserves.

Given our sense of smell’s frontline role in cognitive health, Patrizia encourages practice.  She also recommends building an ‘olfactory vocabulary’, verbal descriptors. This helps to establish neural pathways and new ways of thinking.

Senses-olive-sauna-preidlhof-wellness
Olive Sauna at Preidlhof

The healing power of touch

Our sense of touch plays a primary role in our development and physical and mental well-being. Studies show the importance of physical contact in early development, communication, personal relationships, and fighting disease.

“Who do you want to kill?” asked Stefano Battaglia with a wry smile when we first meet at Preidlhof.  Stefano, aka “The Shaman” had noticed that my right hand was pulling an imaginary trigger.  Stefano is a healer famous in the wellness world for his work in grief and trauma healing.   His signature ‘Glowing Flow’ sessions combine unique trauma touch skills, together with various bodywork techniques and dialogue.    

It transpired that the ‘pause/go’ block that Patrizia had raised was also playing out in a tug of war in my right arm. I had slipped down the cellar stairs four months earlier, carrying some old curtains. At the time, my mind was racing at short notice of another Covid school closure.  Ever since, my arm had been in constant pain, fizzing as though live with an electric current .  It’s hard to describe what happened but Stefano deftly and ever so gently ‘defused’ the arm.  It was like cutting a wire.  The relief was immense and the results extraordinary. All achieved through touch and dialogue.

Stefano-Battaglia-touch-Trauma-Healing-Preidlhof
Master Therapist, Stefano Battaglia

At the end of my session with Stefano, I experienced this incredible lightness. In fact, it felt like Stefano had removed a giant rock strapped to my chest and shoulders, and had hurled it across the Ortler Mountains.   The benefits weren’t just physical; vivid flashbacks to a distressing time four years ago also dissolved behind distant peaks.

The session with Martin Kirchler was also integral to my healing.  Martin’s a holistic practitioner and expert in TCM and Ancient Medicines. He applied various soothing touch techniques on my arm for over 80 minutes.

Sensorial-Integration-Martin-Kirchler-Preidlhof
Martin Kirchler ©wisthaler.com

Martin explained that my parasympathetic nervous system had gone hyper as a result of the fall. “It’s like with the springs in a mattress… they recoil to cushion you from the initial blow, to protect you, but then they get stuck in a push-pull rebound.” 

A multi-sensory experience

Other highlights of my stay included a heart-warming session with Shiatsu Master Andrea Martinelli; forest bathing with ‘Lady of the Woods’, Irmgard Moosmair; and a yoga nidra session with Psychologist Norma Jean.  The yoga nidra reinforced the nights I slept under the stars on the bed made up for me on the loggia outside my room.

Sense-Preidlhof-nature-immersion
My view on waking up

I loved waking up to the beautiful mountain scenery and hypnotic sounds of Val Venosta. As for the new Gourmet Healing Menu, that was fabulous and a delight in every sense!

Sensorial-eating-Preidhof-Italy

Preidlhof’s retreats stimulate guests physically, energetically, spiritually, psychologically, socially, and emotionally.  They integrate ancient and contemporary healing treatments, sensorial experiences, special classes, nature immersion, medical analysis and smart technology, with the latest neurological and psychology research. All this, combined with the natural, high energy of the location, enables guests to discover a new, higher frequency in their everyday life.    

Sense-Nature-immersion-Preidlhof

Importantly…

Stefano likes to emphasise the importance of play.  One of the big problems, he says, is that “We all take ourselves far too seriously.  This makes us stiff.  Were not meant to become rigid, we are basically here to evolve, preferably experiencing joy.”

How true is this?! Play is important for enhancing our sensory integration and that is why it is so essential in childhood development. In growing up, did we perhaps lose something precious on the way?

“Those enforced touch-deprived days perhaps made us understand the power of touch more.” Says Patrizia. “The tangible warmth emanating from a compassionate person… The power of a forbidden spontaneous handshake… The healing effect of an authentic therapist’s touch with no mask. The sacred rituality in a covert hug or the energy of an adventurous secret couple’s dance…”

I hugely benefited from my escape to Preidlhof. Now I encourage everyone to reinvigorate and cultivate those senses… for they can open up a whole new world!

For more information, visit Healing Holidays and Queen of Retreats.

Huge gratitude and special thanks to Klaus and Monika Ladurner; Patrizia Bortolin (you are amazing); Stefano Battaglia; Martin Kirchler; Dr. Alexander Angerer; Andrea Martinelli; Irmgard Moosmair; Norma Jean; Carmine Signorile (my brilliant Wellness Concierge); and all the Spa Team at Preidlhof. Also to James Leigh at Healing Holidays for all your brilliant travel advice!

Introducing The Whole Student Programme ©

Whole-Student-Holistic-Health-Wellbeing-Kent

I am pleased to introduce ‘The Whole Student Programme’ ©. This is a health programme I have developed to provide holistic health and wellbeing support to students aged 12-19 to help them prosper in health, life and in their learning.

We integrate an in-depth holistic healthcare approach, scientific assessment and screening, with wise counsel, coaching and pragmatic interventions.

The programme is led by Founder, Charlotte Fraser BA Hons, Dip. NNP, Dip. AIT, an award-winning nutritionist and holistic health practitioner. Charlotte also works in close partnership, with Sarah Morris and Carmen Beyxer at Emerge Be Who You Are. Nutritionist Virginia Hills DipION, mBANT, CNHC is also on the team.

Sarah and Carmen are qualified NLP Master Practitioners, Hypnotherapists, and Life & Resilience Coaches. Sarah and Carmen can further support students in making any sustainable lifestyle changes, to improve their wellbeing, and to facilitate and build personal development, growth and resilience.

 

Whole-Student-Holistic-Health-Wellbeing-Kent

In devising this programme, we consulted many parents, teachers, schools and health professionals. It is the culmination of many years working in nutrition, holistic health and teaching, also our own experience as parents. The Whole Student Programme © aims to join the dots and to fill a big gap… a genuine need. Yes, there’s been lots of talk about ‘Holistic Education’ and the need for a ‘Whole Child’ curriculum. However, has there been a service available to students, parents and teachers that offers a truly holistic approach to the health and wellbeing of students?

The Whole Student Programme © works with individual students, parents, schools, SENCOs, and other educational experts to improve the health and wellbeing of the student both in and outside the classroom. With so many health problems often taking root in adolescence, the programme also has a strong emphasis on health prevention.

Whole-Student-holistic-health-programme-kent

We are proud to also be working in collaboration with Think Healthy Me, an organisation committed to delivering personalised, high quality, sustainable health and well-being benefits for everyone.

Think_Healthy_Me_Kent

What inspired The Whole Student Programme ©?

There has been an increase in emotional and mental health issues in teenagers in recent years. While Covid-19 has been a catalyst, anxiety and depression were on the rise even before the pandemic. And while there’s been a growing tendency to label, diagnose and over medicalise children, we now see teenagers increasingly self-diagnosing and identifying within mental and emotional health groups.

50% of all mental health problems start at the age of 15.

Source: The Children’s Society

According to The Children’s Society, in the past three years, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem increased by 50% . Now, five children in a classroom of 30 are likely to have a mental health problem. 75% of young people with mental health problems aren’t getting the help they need. 34% of those who do get referred into NHS services aren’t accepted into treatment. More than two thirds of young people would rather access emotional and mental health support without going through their GP.

Where should parents look for help for their children in this situation? What if your student is suffering from anxiety in school? Or what if your child thinks that they have ADHD like their school mate? All too often, the SENCO is working with a four-month backlog on two days a week. A GP referral can take months. Where do you go for support or for that initial assessment? Or, perhaps you have seen a consultant already and they want to prescribe medication. Is medication your only option, or is there a more natural treatment path?

This is where The Whole Student Programme © comes in.

For more information, visit: The Whole Student Programme’ ©.

Lettuce and IBS

iceburg-lettuce-ibs-naturopathic-nutrition-kent

Do you think they eat ice cream every day in the Arctic?   This may sound a daft question but it illustrates a point that I often raise with my clients suffering from IBS and gut health troubles.  

Why as a northern hemisphere nation do we eat so much cold, damp lettuce and raw salad leaves? We eat lettuce all year-round, even when it is snowing, cold and damp outside. It has become such a staple in everyone’s diet and we often reach for the the same variety, the same bag of lettuce each time too. Lettuce is just so routine it tends to pass under the radar when it comes to gut health problems. In fact, people don’t think about lettuce much at all.

Lettuce is rarely considered a possible culprit in irritable bowel syndrome and I can understand why as it seems so counter-intuitive. After all, we know that having lots of fibre is essential for digestive health and so it is a natural instinct to pack in the fibre and roughage if you experience any cramps, constipation or diarrhoea. However, if you are experiencing an Ulcerative Colitis flare-up for example, this can make symptoms worse.

Occasionally lettuce comes up as a food intolerance but more often than not this is a red herring. In gut health, it isn’t always helpful to look at food sensitivities in isolation. You need to look at context and balance, and timing as well. Small adjustments can make the world of difference.

What is it about lettuce?

There is a good reason why we don’t introduce lettuce early on when first weaning a baby onto solids: lettuce is too challenging for a baby’s developing digestive system.

We wouldn’t dream of hanging up our washing to dry in a cold and musty attic would we? Yet many of us don’t think twice about filling our overloaded digestive systems with cold and damp raw foods like lettuce. With IBS and gut health problems, it is often a case of doing some simple renovations to the attic before we move the wonderful, soft furnishings such as lettuce in.

Lettuce is healthy as part of a balanced and diverse diet. While we can’t put the bowel in a sling like we would a broken arm, we can give it a short sabbatical. We can reduce the bowel’s workload. Even a six day mini-break can do wonders.

gut-health-naturopathic-nutrition-kent

Simple tips and timings for a happier gut

Here are just some basic tips which can help support the bowel and reduce its in-tray in the short-term to help promote recovery:

For 7-days:

  • Avoid eating raw foods. Have cooked vegetables as the heating process make them easier to digest. The easiest thing is to roast a whole lot of different coloured vegetables and have any leftovers cold the next day with lunch. If you bake a potato or an apple, leave the skin.
  • Avoid eating too many heavy legumes and after the seven days, have legumes more at lunch rather than in the evening. Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney and soy beans and are more heavy duty on the digestive front. Like lettuce, chickpeas (and hummus) crop up a lot with my IBS cases. You might also want to try canned legumes as these are lower FODMAP than the dried variety.
  • Eat supper early (be finished by 8.30pm at the latest) and have a 14 hour overnight fast. There is a lot of scientific research into the benefits of intermittent fasting for your gut and brain health. If you eat at 6.00pm, have breakfast at 8.00am, or if at 7.00pm, breakfast at 9.00am. For more useful advice, I recommend Jeannette Hyde’s new book, the ’10-Hour Diet’. That book is also the subject of my next blog.
  • Drink more water. So much constipation and diarrhoea is connected to dehydration. So is hunger often.
  • Eat breakfast, lunch and supper at the same time as much as possible. The gut is a stickler for routine and finds change unsettling.
  • Aim for an optimum 8 hour sleep and sleep on your left hand side.

After the seven days and for the longer-term, it is best to eat raw foods at breakfast or at lunch. Who wants all that cold, damp food festering in their gut overnight when it wants to be resting and recuperating? Some of the best advice I once received was at the Original FX Mayr: they advise ‘no raw food after 2.00pm’. They also encouraged an overnight fast. My own cut-off time for raw food is 4.00pm and of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. However, it’s what you do 80% of the time that can make a huge difference.

lettuce-gut-health-naturopathic-nutritiion-kent

Be more attuned to the environment, your location, external temperature and the time of year. Warming foods are more beneficial during the colder months. Eat foods in season as much as possible. Then, when you do eat lettuce, why stick to the same old Iceberg or Little Gem? There are so many varieties of lettuce, a vast array of different plants and leaves to enjoy. I encourage you to eat as many different plants, leaves, shoots and roots as possible. Explore all the different colours, flavours and textures available. The worst thing we can do is eat the same old foods every day. There is so much research now to show that it is in eating a varied diet, rich in diverse plants, that we really improve our gut and overall health. Your good bacteria, so key to immunity and weight management, will be sure to have a field day!

For more information or to book a nutrition consultation, contact Charlotte Fraser at enquiries@naturopathic-nutrition.com.

‘A Well Mind’ by Dr Lisa Parkinson Roberts: Book Review

a-well-mind-lisa-parkinson-roberts-book-review

Why are we taught how to care only for our body and not our mind?   That’s the question that is the driving force for Dr Lisa Parkinson Roberts’ new book, ‘A Well Mind’.  I have often asked the same question! As Lisa rightly observes: “while this is slowly-changing, it is “more in the context of ‘Better do crosswords and talk to people daily so we don’t get Alzheimer’s,’ or ‘Better see a doctor if I’m feeling depressed.” 

With all the discussion about mental health, as a society, we still remain focussed on treating the symptoms of disease. Little attention is given to cultivating a well mind. Good health is, however, about more than the absence of disease and that’s why I whole-heartedly recommend ‘A Well Mind’ to you dear Reader. As well as being informative and engaging, this book is refreshing to read.  Positively uplifting in fact. As Parkinson Roberts says, “You have more control over the wellbeing of your mind than you might currently believe.” This is a message that I am keen to share as it can make such a profound difference to one’s overall health and treatment outcome.

Imagine if in school we had lessons on cultivating a well mind.  Imagine being given tools to calm our nervous system, tools to ward off anxiety and depression, foods to nourish and heal our mind.  Imagine if we were taught that we are not our thoughts; rather, we are an audience who has the power to choose which thoughts to watch and nurture, and which thoughts to dismiss.  Imagine if we were taught how to rewrite the narrative in our head, and let go of what doesn’t serve us.” 

Lisa Parkinson Roberts PhD

Published by Exisle Publishing, ‘A Well Mind’ (RRP £12.99) is a comprehensive and holistic guide to improving your wellbeing by eating well and maintaining healthy routines. Dr Parkinson Roberts looks at why the health of one’s mind is just so important. She investigates nutrition, sleep, stress management and exercise to achieve optimal mental health and to help you to regain control of how you feel. She likens her journey to reduce inflammation in her body and mind to that of a person embarking on a weight-loss journey. 

The Author’s candour, her realism and compassion is striking. This is an author and academic who knows what she is talking about, not just from years of study and clinical practice (she has a PhD in Nutrition Science) but from deep and at times, most painful experience. Her personal journey makes the book all the more compelling to read and her passion and curiosity shine through.

Lisa Parkinson Roberts, Ph.D. Author of ‘A Well Mind’

Diagnosed with Bipolar at the age of fifteen, also depression and OCD, Dr Parkinson Roberts has struggled with mental health for most of her life. She now manages her mind by using “food as medicine”. Dr Parkinson Roberts found successful methods for coping and she shares these tools and her academic expertise with her readers. She learned an important lesson during her journey: “struggle can alchemize into growth, and we all struggle; the struggle just presents differently for each of us.” 

‘A Well Mind’: In Summary

Parkinson Roberts explores the Gut Brain Axis, the role of the microbiome, and explains how the diversity of our good bacteria and the foods we eat influence our mind and emotions. She highlights important nutrients, vitamins and minerals to consider for optimum mental, emotional and physical health.

Supported by the latest scientific research and case studies, the Author also explores Epigenics; the benefits of immersing in nature, mindfulness techniques; the importance of breathing properly, nourishing food and nurturing relationships; the value of community and the value in finding gratitude, purpose and meaning. Dr Parkinson Roberts is only the second person I know to reference Eudaimonic wellbeing in the context of contemporary wellness. One of my mentors, Patrizia Bortolin, the innovative Spa Director at Preidlhof and a leading Transformational Wellness Coach is the first. I must take Patrizia a copy of the book when I go to Italy!

Aside from the solid nutrition and lifestyle advice, I particularly like Dr Parkinson Roberts’ mind-changing or ‘shift’ exercises. These are very helpful – powerful too. I place a great deal of importance on mindset in my own nutrition work with clients. Our thoughts affect our gut health, our emotions, our behaviour, and vice-versa! Indeed, our overall health. Our thoughts and emotions can also manifest in physical symptoms. It was a ‘change of mind’ that helped me in my own past struggles with ulcerative colitis. One day, I changed my mind. I decided to be well… that I really was going to get better. That mental shift was profoundly life-changing.

The beauty of a well mind is that it alters the landscape surrounding us.  We can move from living in the past, and with it anxiety and regret, or from being caught up in the future, and with it uncertainty, to experiencing each day
mindfully and calmly.” 

Lisa Parkinson Roberts, Ph.D

Dr Lisa Parkinson Roberts, I salute you!  ‘A Well Mind‘ is a keeper! I will enjoy recommending this book to my clients and revisiting it time and again.  Thank you!

Nuts Help Protect Against Dementia

People who eat more than two portions of nuts a week in their forties, are 21% less likely to have impaired memory after the age of sixty. That’s according to a study published in Age and Ageing.

Eating nuts just once a week in middle age also makes you 19% less likely to have impaired cognitive function. Rich in a variety of nutrients, it’s thought they help reduce inflammation and boost blood flow.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore carried out a long-term study into diet and dementia. From 1993 to 2016, they tracked 17,000 people aged 40 and upwards. The researchers analysed how often each participant ate nuts and carried out repeat cognitive testing over the the years. Reduced cognitive function is an early warning sign of dementia.

Nuts-dementia-cognitive-health-ket

The Singapore study supports other evidence that eating nuts can help protect against dementia. Researchers at the University of South Australia also found that they can help improve brain function in old age. Their study tracked 4,822 Chinese adults over the age of 55. They found that consuming two teaspoons ( around 10 grams) a day improved thinking, reasoning and memory.

Health benefits

Nuts are a good source of healthy fats and fibre. they are among the best sources of plant-based protein. They all have their individual nutritional benefits but for optimum health, moderation and variety is recommended. Some of the healthiest varieties are detailed here.

A word of caution:

Moderation is key as nuts are calorie dense. Have them as part of a balanced diet.

Be sure to always chew them well.

Some people find that nuts upset their digestive health. Eating too many can cause you to feel gassy, cramped, or bloated. They are also a common dietary allergy.

To book an in-depth nutrition consultation and a Cambridge Brain Sciences cognitive test, contact Charlotte Fraser at enquiries@naturopathic-nutrition.com.

Grammatical Reasoning is Affected by Mental Health … and Being Underwater

Reasoning-Cognitive-Health-Nutrition-Kent

In the Cambridge Brain Sciences Health Assessment I send clients, there’s a Grammatical Reasoning task. You need to work out the meaning of verbal statements, and then determine if they are true or not. The score provides a scientific measure of how well you combine verbal abilities with reasoning skills to solve problems.  Some people find the task simple, but for others, the task can be quite challenging.  Changes to nutrition, sleep, fitness and stress can improve your score however.

The Grammatical Reasoning task was first developed to measure the mental capabilities of divers.  Divers often show signs akin to drunkenness after swimming to extreme depths. In fact, you can observe impairments in Grammatical Reasoning from depths of around 30 metres.  In an interesting twist, it would appear that it isn’t only depth or compressed air responsible for impairment, but the stress of being at sea as well. Click here to watch Adrian Owen, chief scientific officer – Cambridge Brain Sciences, explain the science behind Grammatical Reasoning.

Grammatical-Reasoning-brain-coral
Ocean Brain Coral

Why Test Grammatical Reasoning?

Verbal reasoning is associated with mental health factors, like stress, and extends to anxiety and depression. Recently, Goodall et al. (2018) found that depressed youth consistently scored lower in verbal reasoning tasks. The conclusion: “the findings support the need to consider neurocognitive functioning when treating youth with depression.”  Poorer attention, verbal memory, visual memory and verbal reasoning skills are also identified in youth with depression.   

We all have a subjective idea of how our brains are doing. For instance, what’s your definition of ‘fine’ compared to mine? Some days you might experience “brain fog” but, on other days, feel like you can conquer the world. Just how much better are we on those good days? Can health and lifestyle changes making a difference? That’s where the CBS Health Assessment is really useful, it helps quantify those subjective feelings. It enables us to determine what is supporting us on the good days so that we can have more of them.

Reasoning-Cognitive-Health-Nutrition-Kent

Where does this fit with Nutrition?

We don’t pay much attention to our brain but our cognitive health affects all areas of life. Every second of every day. When our brain is performing, every activity in our daily life is just easier. Such as remembering where you put your mobile phone or planning the layout of your new room. What’s more, the brain and bowel (‘The Second Brain’) are in constant dialogue, they are intrinsically linked. For me, the CBS Health Assessment is a useful indicator also of your underlying gut health.

Reasoning-nutrition-gut-brain-connection

Scientifically-validated, the measures help me assess, monitor, and manage core areas of cognition to tailor every nutrition programme. What’s more, you get a fuller appreciation of how changes in nutrition, exercise, movement, sleep, social engagement can improve your overall health.

Would you benefit from an in-depth nutrition consultation? Contact Charlotte Fraser Naturopathic Nutrition at enquiries@naturopathic-nutrition.com for a free basic (4 task) online CBS Health Assessment.

Latest Insights into Nutrition and COVID-19 Prevention

Covid-19-British-Nutritional-Foundation

Stress management, reduced stigma around obesity, healthy intakes of selenium, vitamin D and zinc, and a healthy gut microbiota… These were all highlighted as potential contributors to the fight against the effects of COVID-19 by expert scientists at the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF)’s virtual conference: Nutrition and COVID-19.  The conference took place on Tuesday 24th November 2020.

Eminent speakers working in the field of nutrition science discussed new and emerging research on the role nutrition plays – both in protecting against COVID-19 infection and in reducing the severity of associated health complications.

With the need for everyone to be more proactive about taking greater care of their own heath, I share some of the more interesting discussion points and conclusions.

Nutrients and Immunity

Prof Philip Calder at The University of Southampton explained that a well-functioning immune system is key to providing strong defence against infections such as COVID-19. He highlighted vitamin D, zinc and selenium as being important for anti-viral immunity:

Zinc
Calder emphasised the various roles zinc plays in the immune system and its specific function in preventing multiplication of single-strand RNA viruses, like Coronavirus, by inhibiting the enzymes they require to spread. Meat, poultry, cheese, shellfish, nuts, seeds and wholegrains provide natural sources of zinc.

Selenium
Selenium-deficiency can impair immune responses; increase susceptibility to viral infection; permit viruses to mutate; and allow weak viruses to become stronger. Calder shared previous research that suggests selenium supplementation in humans can help prevent viral mutation.   Poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and organ meats provide natural sources of selenium.

Vitamin D
Data suggests that low levels of vitamin D are associated with increased risk of COVID-19 infection, as well as hospitalisation. Calder stressed that this is an association and so does not provide evidence of causation and that there is currently not enough data available to recommend vitamin D for prevention of COVID-19.

Prof Susan Lanham-New at The University of Surrey, who reviewed the evidence on vitamin D, concurred but highlighted the importance of vitamin D for bones and muscles in the context of widespread low vitamin D status in the UK.  Lanham-New emphasised that all members of the public should take the recommended daily vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms between October and March as a precaution to ensure good bone and muscle health.   

Long overdue, the Government has in the past 24-hours committed to offering free vitamin D to 2.5 million of the most vulnerable in England and those in care homes.

Covid-19-Naturopathic-Nutrition-Kent

“Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, including foods from all the main food groups, is the best way to help ensure you get all of the nutrients you need for a healthy immune system. However, everyone should consider taking a vitamin D supplement especially during the winter months and also during the summer months if they are spending more time indoors than usual.”

Sara Stanner, Science Director – BNF
Covid-19-prevention-nutrition-kent

The Effect of Probiotics and Prebiotics on COVID-19 Symptoms

Prof Glenn Gibson at The University of Reading presented the “Emerging evidence for the role of the human gut microbiome in COVID-19 infection outcomes” . He explored the potential for probiotics and prebiotics to support the gut microbiome in fighting COVID-19.

The gut microbiome is a harbouring site for COVID-19 and clinical outcomes can be governed by the type of gut microbiome the patient has. If numbers of ‘good bacteria’ in the gut are low it can be more difficult for that individual to fight off the virus.  

Gibson shared promising results from a recent Italian study into the effect of probiotics on the recovery of patients with COVID-19. The study involved two groups of people. The control group was given hydroxychloroquine, antibiotics, and tocilizumab, alone or in combination. The second group was given the same treatment but with a specific formulation of probiotics added. Within 72 hours, nearly all patients treated with probiotics showed remission of diarrhoea and other symptoms. This compared to less than half in the control group and there was also reduced admission to ICU and fewer deaths. More research is needed to confirm these findings.  

Covid-19-nutrition-mental-health-kent

The Mental Health Impact of Obesity and COVID-19 Risk

In the talk ‘Obesity as a risk factor for COVID-19’ ,  Prof Jason Halford at The University of Leeds, presented evidence to show that people living with obesity have an increased risk of contracting the virus, hospitalisation, ICU admission and dying from COVID-19.
 
The European Coalition for People Living with Obesity conducted a survey which Halford shared. The survey revealed that 73 percent of respondents are concerned about COVID-19 due to their weight. However, 43 percent have also been comfort or binge eating since the beginning of the pandemic; 60 percent are experiencing low levels of motivation; and 60 percent are struggling daily with their mental health.
 
Halford emphasised the negative impact that unusual life events can have on weight gain. Events like quarantine and being under lockdown. He highlighted that many weight management services have been de-prioritised due to the pandemic.  As such, stigma around obesity, particularly on social media and in the press, is unhelpful in improving public health. Instead, strategies for supporting good mental health are needed to help the weight loss efforts of those living with obesity.

“This year we have all faced a plethora of new challenges, and mental health issues are often the silent symptom of this pandemic. It’s therefore important for us all to recognise that we are living through an extremely stressful time, not to be too hard on ourselves, to look for support in finding ways to manage stress and to eat as healthily as we can”

Sara Stanner, Science Director – BNF

A growing number of resources with information and advice on diet and COVID-19 can be found on the BNF’s website.

To complete an online Cambridge Brain Sciences Health Assessment and organise an in-depth personal nutrition consultation with Charlotte Fraser Naturopathic Nutrition, email: enquiries@naturopathic-nutrition.com.

Cambridge_Brain-Science_Cognitive_Health_test_Kent

Stay Positive: Dementia Study Shows Benefits

Positive-Mental-Health-Nutrition

Are you glass half full or half empty?  It might sound like a slightly odd question but it’s one that I ask my nutrition clients in their initial 90-minute nutrition consultation. Do you generally have a positive or negative outlook on life? The answer provides just one of a series of ‘compass readings’ which help guide me down the various vitamin, mineral and disease pathways on every client’s individual health road map.  Depending on the answer, I might ask other questions, such as ‘do you hoard or throw away?’, and ‘do you find yourself thinking about the past, or more about the present or the future?

These questions are helpful for the purpose of differential diagnosis: are you just feeling a bit down at the moment or are you suffering from depression? And, if it is depression, how severe is it, and might it be symptomatic also of another health condition?  Is it a symptom of mental health, or is it more of an emotional symptom, or is it a combination of both?

Positive-Outlook-Nutrition-Dementia-Alzheimer's

Various emotional, physiological, mental, nutritional, environmental and lifestyle factors contribute to the rich fabric of your health, and YOU as an individual. That’s why it’s so important to consider symptoms within the context of the whole person, not in isolation. Nowadays, I see more and more people prescribed antidepressants for symptoms not even related to depression. And yet, antidepressants can disrupt gut health and studies show that the ‘Gut/Brain Axis’ is integral to preventing anxiety and depression. So the vicious circle starts, but this is where nutritional interventions can help.

A recent study found that persistently engaging in negative thinking patterns may raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  The study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, found that people who exhibited higher repetitive negative thinking (RNT) patterns experienced more cognitive decline over a four-year period. They also experienced declines in memory (an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease), and they were more likely to have amyloid and tau deposits in their brain. 

Positive-Attitude-Alzheimer's-Prevention-Nutrition

About the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Study 

For the Alzheimer’s Society-supported study, the research team from UCL, INSERM and McGill University studied 292 people over the age of 55 who were part of the PREVENT-AD cohort study, and a further 68 people from the IMAP+ cohort. Over the course of two years, the study participants responded to questions about how they typically think about negative experiences, focusing on repetitive negative thinking patterns like rumination about the past and worry about the future. The participants also completed measures of depression and anxiety symptoms. They assessed cognitive function, measuring memory, attention, spatial cognition, and language. Some (113) of the participants also underwent PET brain scans, measuring deposits of tau and amyloid; these two proteins cause the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, when they build up in the brain.

Positive Findings

The study found depression and anxiety were associated with subsequent cognitive decline but not with amyloid or tau deposition. Thus suggesting that chronic negative thinking could be the main reason why depression and anxiety contribute to Alzheimer’s disease risk. 

The researchers say RNT should now be further investigated as a potential risk factor for dementia. And that psychological tools, such as mindfulness or meditation, should be studied to see if these could reduce dementia risk.

“Depression and anxiety in mid-life and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia. Here, we found that certain thinking patterns implicated in depression and anxiety could be an underlying reason why people with those disorders are more likely to develop dementia.” Said Lead author Dr Natalie Marchant (UCL Psychiatry).

“Taken alongside other studies, which link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, we expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia. We do not think the evidence suggests that short-term setbacks would increase one’s risk of dementia.”

The researchers suggest that RNT may contribute to Alzheimer’s risk via its impact on indicators of stress such as high blood pressure. Other studies have found that physiological stress can contribute to amyloid and tau deposition.

“Taken alongside other studies, which link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, we expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia. We do not think the evidence suggests that short-term setbacks would increase one’s risk of dementia.” Says Dr Marchant.

Back-to-School-Naturopathic-Nutrition-Kent

“Our thoughts can have a biological impact on our physical health, which might be positive or negative. Mental training practices such as meditation might help promoting positive while down-regulating negative-associated mental schemes.” Said co-author Dr Gael Chételat (INSERM and Université de Caen-Normandie)

“Looking after your mental health is important, and it should be a major public health priority, as it’s not only important for people’s health and well-being in the short term, but it could also impact your eventual risk of dementia.”  

The researchers hope to find out if reducing RNT, possibly through mindfulness training or targeted talk therapy, could in turn reduce the risk of dementia.

I wish the researchers every success in the next phase of their study. I’m so delighted that more research is going into adopting a more multi-therapeutic, holistic approach to treating and preventing Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Of course, we live in particularly testing timings with Covid, but the advice to stay positive is a good prescription for us all.

To book an online Cambridge Brain Sciences Health Assessment and an in-depth nutrition consultation with Charlotte Fraser, contact: enquiries@naturopathic-nutrition.com.

Cognitive_Brain_Health_Nutrition_Kent

Back to School Nutrition Tips For Health Prevention

Back-to-School-Naturopathic-Nutrition-Kent

After six months of homeschool and two days back at school, my 9 year old put in an impressive 90 minutes of homework last night… developing a cough.

“I have a cough Mummy. EHH… KKHHH.. KKUHGH… I will need to quarantine for two weeks at home,” he announced. This was all accompanied by a lot of grunting, like he was trying to swallow a rubber.

I resorted to the first line in my ‘Differential Diagnosis’ manual and recommended he take a spoonful of honey and go to bed early. This provoked an immediate recovery much to everyone’s relief. Of course, the symptoms just happened to coincide with the launch of a new season on his Xbox. Enough said!

The whole ‘back to school’ is extra challenging for teachers and parents this year. September is the start of cold and flu season and now we have Covid-19 to contend with. With everyone on high alert for Covid-19 symptoms, how do you differentiate between these and an ordinary cough and cold? The answer is you can’t easily, especially with diarrhoea and vomiting now also reported as a Covid symptom in children. These symptoms are all part and parcel of school life at this time of year.

While we sadly can’t magic Covid-19 away, we can build our natural defences to benefit our overall physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

Back-to-School-Naturopathic-Nutrition-Kent

Prevention is Better than Cure

We all need to do as much as we can to build our immune defences to protect our community and bubbles. There is only so much that the Government, the NHS and our schools can do. Ultimately, everyone has to take more responsibility for their own health and I wish this message of self-care was integrated more into Government strategy. There needs to be a more preventative national health policy, one that extends beyond hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing. There are some early steps to address the UK’s high obesity levels evidenced in higher Covid complications and death rates. Again, however, making more gastric band surgery available on the NHS isn’t the solution, let’s do more to prevent obesity.

Back-to-School-Naturopathic-Nutrition-Kent

Back to School Basics: Ways to Strengthen your Immune System

As well as protecting yourself from viruses on the outside, you can build up your body’s defences from the inside by strengthening your immune system. What you eat is pivotal to this as 70% of your immune system is in your gut. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure your diet is as varied as possible. Variety and balance are integral to optimal health and building up your immune system. So don’t go crazy for one fruit or vegetable that is particularly high in a certain nutrient. Aim to have 5-7 different plants a day at a ratio of 1 fruit for every 4 vegetables ideally. Ensure you have more vegetables than fruits, go for a rainbow of colours on the plate. The more varied your diet, the more you feed the good bacteria in your gut microbiome – your natural defence system. You are also more likely to get the full spectrum of nutrients and micronutrients that you need.

  • Eat foods which contain microbiome-enriching good bacteria such as kefir, natural bio yoghurt, certain cheeses and fermented foods. For a more in-depth analysis as to the important role of probiotics in strengthening our immune system click here. There is also a list of good bacteria-friendly foods.
Probiotics-Naturopathic-Nutrition-Kent
  • Keep an eye on your Zinc levels. This mineral helps develop white blood cells, the immune cells that fight off foreign bacteria and viruses. Zinc also helps protect the mucous membranes that coat the nose, throat, lungs and digestive tract – the entry points for Covid-19. I especially look out for zinc deficiency around puberty as Zinc is involved in numerous aspects of cellular metabolism that influence growth and maturation. Puberty pulls on your Zinc reserves more. Look out for possible signs of deficiency: white spots on the nails, spotty skin, acne, constipation, IBS, obsessive or stuck behaviour, and a more ‘glass half empty’ outlook.

    As well as being important for respiratory and gut health, Zinc is also an important mineral for your brain; Zinc deficiency is often implicated in my cognitive health and depression cases. If you supplement with Zinc it is best to choose a supplement such as Cytoplan’s Zinc & Copper; Zinc and Copper compete for the same absorption sites and too much of one can deplete the other. Similarly, ensure you get sufficient iron from natural food sources such as lean meat, spinach, lentils, apricots and eggs. Natural food sources high in zinc are oysters and shellfish, lean meat, pumpkin and other seeds.
Back-to-School-Naturopathic-Nutrition-Kent
  • Watch your Vitamin D levels as this vitamin plays an important role in immune function. It is a common deficiency in the UK. Scientists are considering vitamin D supplementation as a preventive or therapeutic agent for severe COVID-19. They are researching Vitamin D deficiency as a possible risk factor. The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors. I recommend supplementation if you have dark skin which absorbs sunlight less easily or if you don’t get enough sunlight from October to March. Good natural food sources otherwise include: oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, herring, tuna and anchovies) and egg yolks.

  • Oily fish is important for brain and heart health. It is rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation.
Citrus-Naturopathic-Nutrition-Kent
  • Vitamin C is water-soluble: you don’t store it in your body and so you need to factor this into your daily diet. It is a common supplement but I encourage clients to get their Vitamin C in natural food sources. Bioflavonoids naturally accompany vitamin C in fruit and vegetables.  Vitamin C contributes to normal immune system function, and, as an antioxidant, the protection of cells from oxidative stress. It’s also important for bone and tooth formation, collagen production, Iodine conservation, wound healing , red blood cell formation, and infection resistance. Natural food sources include citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, Honeydew melon, potatoes, green peppers, broccoli, papayas, strawberries, rosehips, blackcurrants and tomatoes.

Do I Need to Supplement?

Nutrient shortfalls are caused by a number of different factors. Most people aren’t getting the essential nutrients they need for health and protection on a daily basis.

The following contribute to the nutritional ‘bank balance’ of our bodies and need to be factored into the equation:

  • Individual food choices
  • Food growing, processing and preparation methods
  • The actual nutrient content of the food you eat
  • The ability of you body to assimilate these nutrients
  • Lifestyle factors, such as stress and medications etc.
  • Activity levels and energy-expenditure
  • Certain life-stages, e,g. puberty where there is increased hormonal activity and growth

It isn’t always easy to determine what your child is eating in school dinners. And, a lot of school pack lunches lack the important variety factor so essential for good health. That’s when supplementation may be helpful.

Nutri-Bears is a good all-round wholefood supplement for primary school children who are fussy-eaters. For teenagers and young adults, Little People is a good option if you are looking for an additional layer of baseline support during the colder months.

All products referenced are available at www.cytoplan.co.uk. They supply science-based Food State and Wholefood nutritional supplements.

Please note that supplements aren’t a substitute for a healthy, varied diet. Keep introducing new plants and wholefoods to the mix and have fun experimenting with different textures and flavours. This really is the best recipe for optimum health.

If you have an underlying health condition or are on medication, I will be happy to provide more tailored advice for you. You should also consult your GP.

Contact Charlotte Fraser today to book a Nutrition Consultation.

Is Your Gut Microbiome Driving your Desire for Nature?

gut-microbiome-nature-environment-benefits

I often allude to the microbiome, the colony of trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses in our gut, as our internal rainforest.  This analogy resonates more as we recognise the importance of ensuring plant diversity in the natural world to safeguard the future wellbeing of our planet.  

Scientific studies show that we can boost our good gut bacteria by eating as diverse a diet as possible, and in consuming as many different plants especially.  The more diverse the diet, the more diverse the gut microbiome. Conversely, a loss in species diversity is a common finding in several disease states.

Though invisible to the naked eye, our good bacteria play an important role in maintaining our overall physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.  The gut and the brain are in constant communication and dynamic exchange determines metabolism, immune system function and appetite. 

Our thirst for nature and the great outdoors became especially pronounced during lockdown.  It isn’t just humans however who crave a change of scene and fresh air… our gut bacteria also relish diversity and new company!

The journal Science of The Total Environment recently published a new theory called “the Lovebug Effect.” This theory suggests that our gut microbiome may actually be driving our increased desire for nature holidays and woodland walks.

gut-microbiome-nature-environment-benefits

The Lovebug Effect

The Lovebug Effect theorises that gut-brain communication drives our nature-seeking behaviour. When our gut microbes are starved of contact with their country cousins (environmental microbiota), they hijack the neural pathways between the brain and gut to make us venture outdoors to find them. Microbes intercept the gut-brain ‘switchboard’ by activating the vagus nerve and sympathetic neurons through the release of neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine and GABA.    

Certainly, being in nature can have a very tangible feel-good, stress-relieving effect. There have been numerous scientific studies also linking gut microbiome imbalances to increased depression and anxiety. However, what else might be fuelling our need for nature?

Why does our gut microbiome love the great outdoors?

When we immerse in nature, we surround ourselves with environmental microbiota. Nature is teeming with trillions of microbes: this provides our gut microbiome with endless choice when it comes to selecting which microbes to propagate. 

Fresh air offers a microbial diversity that avoids the build-up of harmful microbes. Exposure to soil microbes may boost the immune system.  Just a single teaspoon of rich garden soil can hold up to one billion bacteria.

The role of the environment in the make-up of the gut microbiota has yet to be fully understood. Studies have shown children (ages 1 to 5) from rural communities have a more diverse gut microbiota compared to children from Western populations. Early-life exposure to microbe-rich environments may be beneficial for human health by increasing the gut bacterial species pool. Studies have also shown that individuals who grow up in city environments have a less diverse gut microbiome. And that City-dwellers are more prone to inflammatory disorders and allergies. Urbanisation can lead to increased sanitation and antibiotic use, separation from the outdoors, and land management practices that reduce soil microbial biodiversity.

‘Baths in the Forest’ for full nature-immersion

Preidlhof in South Tyrol, has made Forest Bathing a central component of their Integrated Health and Transformational Wellness programmes. They also offer microbiome testing to assess the state of your gut bacteria, and champion mindful and sensorial eating.

The ancient Shinrin-Yoku (literally “Bath in the Forest”) came to the fore in the 1980s. Japan made Forest Bathing part of a national health programme to tackle stress-related disorders. Studies showed that conscious contact with the forest brought benefits to body and mind. It bolstered the immune system, reducing stress and blood pressure levels.

Preidlhof’s Forest Bathing takes place on Monte Tramontana, a dense area, rich in biodiversity, with woods, streams and small lakes.  Leading the sessions is Irmgard Mossmair, a 73-year-old official mountain guide. She found her source of healing in the wisdom of plants, trees and in the regenerating power of forests.  Irmgard has studied aromatherapy and natural remedies through herbs and Chinese medicine. 

Gut-microbiome-nature-environment-benefits
Forest bathing at Preidlhof in South Tyrol Image © Nicola Cipriani

Forest Bathing facilitates complete immersion in the woods, lights, scents, aromas, textures and pulsations of the earth. Sensory interaction with the forest helps to increase our frequency, and promote mental calm and awareness.

“Slowly, they open up to their surroundings and find themselves immersed in another world, in contact with nature and its secrets. The scents of the trees, the earth, the flight of birds and insects, the sound of the wind, the sunlight on the trees, the different shades of green… All these elements can facilitate a profound transformation.”  

Patrizia Bortolin Spa Director and Transformational Health Coach – Preidlhof

We can so easily take our access to nature for granted. What’s more, we increasingly inhabit a virtual and digital universe which provides a further disruptor. However, what Covid 19 has reminded us is that we are still all very much part of the natural world.  And our microbiome will act as a constant biological prompt to reconnect with us our ancient roots.  

For further recommendations on how to boost your gut bacteria through natural food sources, click here.

Contact Charlotte Fraser today to book a Nutrition Consultation.