Ever committed to the plight of better health, over the long weekend Rob, Lindsay, Emma & myself had the privilege of attending the 2018 International Congress on Natural Medicine. Three jam packed days of the latest research in science regarding all things functional endocrinology, chronic health conditions and environmental influences on health.
Some of the content over the weekend was pretty heavy, the impact of our lifestyle and environment on our health can be overwhelming, and truth be told for a long time I consciously kept my head in the sand and “la la la’d” my way along happily without knowing anything.
But at a time in history where we are sicker than ever before, where the cost of chronic health conditions by 2030 is predicted to be $47 TRILLION dollars, and in an environment in which western medicine suggests 80% of the causes of morbidity are preventable, I just can’t keep my head down any longer! So many times over the course of the weekend, I thought, I can’t believe everyone doesn’t know this – everybody should know this stuff!
Consider my feelings about this seminar as the exact opposite of year 9 trigonometry: EVERYONE could use and integrate this information into their daily life in some way. So, here it is, the wrap up of some of the biggest things I thought you should know. A disclaimer before you start reading: this can feel a bit full on at times. I encourage you not to bury your head in the sand, and consider this the start of your journey towards making educated decisions about what you do to your body, and in turn, how you treat the next generation!
1. CHEMICALS IN OUR ENVIRONMENT ARE UNDENIABLY CAUSING US DISEASE
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are everywhere around us in our environment. They sadly cannot be completely avoided. They are found in our food supply, plastic, cosmetics, sunscreens, cars, couches and littered throughout our air. What’s more, it is not the exposure of one chemical in great amounts, but lots of small exposures over time that are doing us harm. This bioaccumulation of EDCs over generations is potentially why we see so much obesity and chronic illness and allergy in our kids, the first generation who will be outlived by their grandparents.
EDCs are especially dangerous for kids, as they are most active in time of hormonal change, which usually coincide with times of growth (pregnancy, breastfeeding, infancy & childhood, puberty). Constant exposure to these chemicals can alter gene expression and hormone production, throwing us out of balance and negatively affecting growth. This leads to a whole range of neuro-cognitive diseases like dementia and ADD, metabolic diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes (more about that below), asthma and allergies and reproductive issues; including early puberty.
SO WHAT DO YOU DO?
While we cannot avoid these toxins completely, you can significantly reduce your exposure by taking the first step and simply SAYING NO TO PLASTIC!Plastic bottles, plastic containers, plastic toys, plastic bags AND plastic lined takeaway coffee cups! Plastic cannot be made without utilising a compound called Bisphenol, the most well-known version is probably BPA which you would have heard of before. BPA free plastic products still contain Bisphenol, which wreaks havoc on your hormones.
Here in 2018 there is absolutely NO excuse for utilising take away coffee cups. None. The lining of these coffee cups, even at room temperature, leaches into your milk, which you then drink, where plastic then nestles into your tissues and lives. Gross!!! With the average cost of a glass or ceramic take away cup at about $25 a pop, get yourself one and do yourself potentially the biggest favour you’ll do yourself in this life! Not only will you get cheaper coffee, you will reduce your toxic burden AND contribute to a happy environment J“But I don’t always have it on me /forget to bring it/can’t afford it” I hear you say. Let me sway you a little further again…
2. PLASTIC MAY BE MAKING YOU FAT
It has been suggested that Bisphenol may be an environmental obesogen – what does that mean? It means no matter how good your nutrition is, how hard you are slogging it at the gym, you may be struggling with weight due to an accumulation of Bisphenol in your body! Yes the accumulation of plastic in your own tissue. Blood analysis suggests that Bisphenol clearly promotes the production of fat cells (adipogenesis), dysregulation of blood glucose and lipid metabolism and inflammation – all of which are foundational to the development of obesity. This means; an increased number of fat cells, bigger fat cells, poor metabolism and reduced satiety and storage rather than usage of your calories.
Obesity is SO much more complex than simply calories in vs calories out. We are aware now of the impact that the environment and genetics can have on people’s ability to shift the kgs, not to mention the impact that hormone imbalance can have for people who are otherwise trying all the right things.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
There is an irrefutable cost to physical and mental health associated with being overweight and obese, if this is something that you struggle with, honour your body and respect where you are at in the process of making a change. You may not be ready to do anything today or tomorrow, which is okay!! But, I encourage you to think about how you can look after YOU in any way, big or small in the future.
Getting educated on the foods that are right for you and the type of physical activities that best suit you is only part of the picture. Addressing an imbalance in your hormones, your brain chemistry or your gene expression may be the difference between what you have done previously and what you do next in making a difference to your overall health and wellbeing!
3. YOU CAN’T CHANGE YOUR GENES BUT YOU CAN CHANGE THEIR EXPRESSION
The interplay between your genes and the environment is being understood now more than ever before – this is a concept called Epigenetics. While your genes somewhat pre-determine elements of your health, the most powerful determinant is your lifestyle…” YOUR GENES MAY LOAD THE GUN, BUT WHAT YOU DO TO INFLUENCE THOSE GENES PULLS THE TRIGGER” –Dr Pamela Peake. This means that the choices you make towards your health, good or bad, have a direct consequence for you right down to the level of your DNA.
With perceived stress one of the biggest blows to a happy physiology, people who feel stressed fast forward their biological age by about 10 years… ouch! Stress affects everyone; it is an unescapable consequence of living with the demands of the 21stcentury. In the age of the “smart phone” we are under CONSTANT stress and CONSTANT stimulation. Email, text, Dropbox, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat means we are contactable by our employer/families/friends 24/7; and therefore (albeit subconsciously) constantly on alert. Tell me you haven’t imagined your phone buzzing only to find it was still all along… this physiological response keeps us on the edge ALL. THE. TIME. A consequence to our nervous system that previous generations only experienced in times of acute physical crisis like running from a tiger, war or famine.
In addition to the affects this can have on our nervous system, it is also predicted that excessive social media use can precipitate an eating disorder (over or under eating), by up to 85%. Blue light exposure from phones and computers messes with our natural diurnal rhythm, creating sleep imbalance as the body struggles to produce hormones correct to day or night. Naturally, with poor rest and restoration comes a craving for junk and, fatigue that doesn’t lend itself to you wanting to get active. So the cycle continues… all the way down to your little strands of DNA, leading down a path to chronic illness, rather than health and vitality.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
In addition to reducing your toxic burden which we have talked about above, think about the obvious things like fuelling your body with nutritious food and exercise. More importantly, make sure you are getting a good sleep; it is the cornerstone to good health and essential for or bodies to reset and do all the things they are supposed to. If sleeping is tricky for you, consider a lock out from social media, ESPECIALLY 30 minutes prior to going to bed. No more phone falling on the face as you are drifting off to sleep, especially now that we know this exposure doesn’t just keep you awake it affects you at a genetic level!
Furthermore, engage in some sort of stress reduction practice DAILY; journaling, meditation, deep breathing, ANYTHING to get you out of your head and into your body. “I don’t have time” I hear you cry, but 10 minutes (in one go or bookending the day) could be the difference between the trigger being pulled, or keeping on the safety. Find the time, you’re worth it!
4. DISORDERS OF FEMALE HORMONES ARE THROUGH THE ROOF
Lots of our patients would have already talked to us about hormonal balance. We know that hormone balance is so much more than just topping up one and reducing another, there is a whole realm of hormones that need to be addressed together, in order to ensure we have hormonal harmony! Sara Gottfried MD & Erika Smith discussed in detail about the connection between the Brain, Adrenals, Thyroid and Reproductive Hormones and how a disturbance to the balance of any one of these hormone producing glands, be it through EDCs, stress or poor genetics, could set up a path of destruction that leads to the increase of PCOS, Endometriosis, Periods problems and menopausal symptoms that we see in so many women today.
There are some cultures in the world who do not even have a word to describe “hot flushes” that occur for women during menopause – highlighting their relative absence in their communities. We know that the it is not only the imbalance in estrogen that leads to flushing, but the increase in noradrenalin in the brain stem that precedes a hot flush. What exacerbates this? STRESS!
Further still, (as if Naturopaths didn’t love the gut enough) there is emerging evidence to suggest that the gut is an endocrine organ (or a hormone producing organ) in its own right! Dr Tania Dempsey MD went into detail about how balanced gut bugs can go on to produce our stress hormones, our calming and clear thinking neurotransmitters and particularly, hormones that regulate our weight control! A happy microbiome has huge enzyme capacity to get rid of environmental chemicals and reduce our toxic load to keep our hormones happy, but a gut out of balance (or an overburdened liver) can throw this off. This can lead to the accumulation of estrogen, imbalance of leptin and ghrelin and disharmony of our period regulating hormones, affecting women in ways that mean they are in pain, unable think clearly, function optimally or even require time off work.
What’s more, in our role as Naturopaths we see so many people who struggle with their dream of having a baby. The truth is that there are some threats to our conception now that frankly didn’t exist in the generations that preceded us. I could go into detail on this for hours, but I’ll let you hear it straight from the expert LindsayIngletonND at her public lecture “The Fertile Years” to be held on the 20thof June. You can reserve your seat by simply calling the clinic on 5221 8220.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Get some help! The intricacies of female hormones have so much potential to be addressed through nutritional, herbal and lifestyle medicine. There are so many considerations, we just had a three day seminar on it and just skimmed the surface! But for you at home, consider reducing your toxic exposure, particularly through opting for natural makeup, skin care, deodorant and personal care products. Consider if a “detox” from years of chemical exposure is something you would like to try. Couple this with nourishing your body with nutritious food and physical activity that all set you up for better health, happy genes and subsequently better hormone balance. Ask questions about what you can do for yourself to your Naturopath, GP, Endocrinologist, knowing that there are far more options for women who struggle with hormones than the oral contraceptive pill!
5. WHAT ABOUT THE BLOKES?
Sorry boys, current testosterone levels of men in modern day are dropping substantially; with men in their twenties and thirties testosterone levels not even coming close to what was true of men who are now in their fifties. Less than 50% of males have testosterone levels that meet the mark of their fathers and grandfathers, especially if they were born after 1980. Scary! Dr Flavio Cadaegiani, Endocrinologist, fastest PhD holder in the world and advocate for men’s heath, explained that low testosterone does not JUST mean lack of sexual function and can present in lots of different ways: mental fatigue, anxiety, depression, increased body fat (particularly around the chest), deeper wrinkles and a new craving for sugar all point towards signs of low testosterone.
Why? Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in our environment are increasing circulating estrodiol (a metabolite of estrogen) and upsetting hormonal balance in men too. Professor Gail Prins further went on to tell us that while estrogen does have a function in men, when there is excess estradiol in addition to bisphenol (the product found in plastic discussed earlier), there was a 45% increase in risk of prostate cancer development and an undeniable increased susceptibility to prostatic disease later in life.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
The good news is that there are heaps of things that you can do nutritionally to bump up your testosterone production and protect yourself from EDCs that threaten testosterone in the first place. Reducing your toxic burden by getting rid of plastics containers, coffee cups, drink bottles and canned food is a great place to start. Better still, because lots of EDCs, that affect males are found in the workplace (and are therefore unavoidable), build your resistance to them by increasing your antioxidant intake through consuming things like green tea and berries. Reduce inflammation by consuming things like turmeric and salmon, and ensure you are getting plenty of zinc and folate that essential for testosterone production through eating plenty of green leafy veggies, nuts and seeds.
Lastly, and probably most importantly,
6. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION
“EVERY THOUGHT, EVERY MOUTHFUL, EVERY MOVEMENT – CHANGES YOUR GENE EXPRESSION –ALTERS YOUR DESTINY – TRANSFORMS YOUR BODY AND MIND!”– Dr Pamela Peake.
Do things that make you feel good, establish rituals and habits for yourself that lead you to a happy heart and continually learn. The power of positivity has a body of research that is growing more and more all the time. How amazing to think that a shift in perspective may be the catalyst to make changes that physically alter your DNA expression and subsequent DNA of generations to follow.
As Mark Bunn so graciously told us, there is no time like the present. It is so easy to think you will address your health later; “when I have more time”, “when I have more money”, “when the next terms starts”, “I’ll start on Monday” (how many times have I said that!). Until something comes along that puts your health and wellbeing at stake, there will always be an excuse for later.
Prioritise yourself and your health now, knowing it is worth more than any financial investment you will ever make in your life. One day at a time!
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