Here's a question you won't find on many health questionnaires I'm sure! But have you noticed that your dog (or random other friendly dogs) greet you with a friendly kiss to the leg? Sure it may be that you just have a loving friendly canine friend but there can be a few other reasons for this. Maybe you have a wound that needs attention or perhaps you have been visiting other hounds and you are being investigated for betrayal but it can also be indicative of a hormonal disturbance in your body.
By now you may have heard of the hormone cortisol. This is our chronic stress survival hormone which can have an influence on blood sugar levels, blood pressure, immune function and even the anti-inflammatory processes in the body. It is made in the adrenal glands. It has a very helpful friend called aldosterone.
Aldosterone is also made in the adrenal glands and it belongs to a group of hormones called mineralocorticoids. It's main role is to regulate the amount of salt (or more specifically sodium and potassium) in our body which in turn regulates our blood pressure, balances electrolytes in our blood and controls the distribution of fluid in our body (ie. cankles, face swelling).
Like all hormones in the body, there is the possibility of them being over-produced or under-produced.
When aldosterone is over-produced which can happen under stress and when cortisol is also over-produced or if there is excessive processed salt in the diet (table salt - sodium chloride), signs can be an increase in blood pressure, low potassium, muscle weakness and tingling and even numbness in your extremities. One suggestion here is to eliminate processed salt. Processed table salt is simply sodium chloride as compared to a natural salt which contains an array of numerous naturally balanced minerals (around 84). It is extensively documented in studies (in particular the DASH study which has been cited by 2047 further articles) that dietary sodium from PROCESSED SALT is a key influence in elevated blood pressure and blood volume. This is the salt that is found in most processed foods. This salt as already mentioned needs to be minimised/eliminated. But that does not mean we should avoid all salt; in fact it is essential for optimal health to consume natures salt. Mineral salts have been shown to actually lower blood pressure in patients who have presented with mild hypertension (Nutrition Journal 2011, 10:88)
One of the effects of chronic stress where there can be a cortisol "deficiency" or under-production of cortisol termed adrenal insufficiency as part of the picture of adrenal fatigue syndrome is an under-production of aldosterone. Some of the symptoms of this can be:
* dizziness (especially if moving from a lying position to standing)
* irregular heart beat
* swelling of extremities (ankles, wrists and a puffy face).
* low blood pressure
* low pulse
* frequent urination
* change in body temperature (often warmer)
* craving salt (often plain salted potato crisps, olives and other salty foods)
* dog licking your legs (without a wound) as you may be excreting excess salt.
Many of these symptoms form part of the chronic stress picture that is far from uncommon today.
There is a role that natural salt (such as Murray River flakes, Tassie Sea Salt, Himilayan salt, Celtic Sea Salt etc) plays in supporting both low and high aldosterone.
By adding 1/4-1/2 tsp of a natural salt to 1L of water (and then drinking between 2-3L water a day), trace minerals are brought into the body and the balance of aldosterone can be supported.
Aldosterone and renin levels can be tested by 24 hour urine collection or by a blood test to assess whether the adrenal glands are producing appropriate amounts of aldosterone and also to determine a potential cause of excess or deficiency. This is something to chat with your health professional about.
But above all, any symptoms of chronic stress should not be taken lightly. The effects stress has at a physiological level in our bodies I believe is still grossly underestimated today. There is only so long we can ignore the effects of stress and every new sunrise brings the perfect opportunity to look into ways of managing the stresses in our life. Perhaps today is the perfect day to take that loving dog of yours out for some nature and take some deep breaths and switch the focus away from your legs!
A little 2 minute mindfulness challenge for you.
Stop what you are doing.
Look around you.
Take everything you see in.
Now ask the question: "what would have been here 200 years ago?"
If you are like me where I sit right now, I can see a crystal, plant, lots of shells (thanks to my little miner birds!) and that really is about it.
Why do this you may ask?
Even when we may think we are not stressed, our nervous system may still be dealing with a burden of extra sensory information compared to what was around pre-industrial revolution time.... there are the man-made plastics everywhere, computers, bright man-made colours dying man-made materials, buzzing sounds from electromagnetic radiation, perfumes, chemical smells and the list goes on!
So how can this impact our health?
Our body doesn't perceive the stress of a running from a tiger any differently to the bombardment of information it receives from extra sensory input. This impacts our nutrition in many ways from gut health, brain health with anxiety, mood disorders, etc, even our blood sugar response and our hormonal system. The first three areas of our nutrition to suffer are our magnesium and zinc levels and the production of stomach acid. Straight up this can lead to nutrient deficiencies, gut flora changes (SIBO - small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), leaky gut, liver function changes, inflammation, food sensitivities, skin rashes, allergies, anxiety, mood issues, depression, thyroid function changes, food cravings, fatigue, hypoglycaemia, insulin resistance, depleted progesterone, elevated estrogens and many other reactions I have not remembered to list!!!
As you may guess by now, we can be stressed without realising we are stressed!
So what can we do..........
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In the years before our big diet and lifestyle changes and moving from the world of diagnostic imaging into nutrition I carried an extra 30kg. I had tried so much and thought I was doing the right things - eating as I was told by diabetes clinic (yes I had T2 diabetes too...) and exercising madly to the point of heart palpitations and passing out. I remember days when it was really challenging and I was so disappointed that my weight wouldn't shift that I thought that if I could just gain another couple of kilos, I would qualify for bariatric surgery. It was easier to go up than down. it only took one pasta meal to grab me a couple of extra kilos!
Fast forward 5 years.... here is what back then I failed to realise about weight......
As a nutritionist I have never focused on weight loss. To me weight is another marker telling us that the body is in some way out of equilibrium whether from food sensitivities, inflammation from inflammatory foods, chemicals or stress, hormonal imbalance or suppression of optimal function. There are other just as important markers of health. These include our moods, energy, digestion, whether our immune system is helping us fight infection or if it is overstimulated by auto-immune illness and hormonal function (ranging from blood sugar, stress response, thyroid hormone through to reproductive health).
From personal experience, I found it demoralising being told that I needed to lose weight. I knew I was struggling with weight and lived with frustration, embarrassment and judgement of myself that I couldn’t lose it so to hear it from others affirmed that I wasn’t good enough in my mind. But what if the weight was an extra symptom to add to the list of others (hormonal fluctuations, depression, fatigue) rather than being the cause? Finding health today is focused on losing weight when this is really a side benefit of gaining health! But our modern approach to losing weight has the capability to create deep scars and internal emotional abuse in the way we speak to ourselves.
How many of us gauge our self-worth by a number? Our day can be directed (a great day or a bad day) by the number displayed representing our gravitational pull when we jump on those scales at the same time every morning. That number triggers a barrage of emotion; shame, guilt, un-worthiness, embarrassment, comparison, judgement and fear if it is not what we wanted to see. Anyone who has stood in line anticipating that moment when secretly (yet not so secretly as there are 15 people standing in line behind you) a number is whispered to you or written down for you to process privately will have heard the self talk. “I should have, I could have, why didn’t I do better.” “If only I didn’t go out, if only I was stronger.” This special number is more than a measure of weight, it is tool you can take home and beat yourself up with for not being good enough. Or if you have “been good”, you can praise yourself just for one week on a job well done but in the back of your mind reminding yourself this is not forever…. It is only one week and you must try your hardest not to fall off the wagon….
You are not a number. Your happiness is not derived from a number. Your self worth is not based on a number. You are beautiful and so much more than your gravitational pull. So get the scales out of the house! Let’s stop this nonsense before it is passed down to our kids. Gauge your health by inflammation, bloating, energy, moods, hormonal presentations, digestion, stress and know that weight is just another one of these health markers. When you identify the other health issues they can be addressed and weight loss is a side benefit. Ditch the scales!
By now I'm pretty sure you have heard of the importance of gut health for optimal overall health. Hippocrates really was onto something over 2000 years ago after all!!!
Rather than talking specifically about gut bugs and the gut lining which there is so much focus on currently (and rightly so), I want to focus on an aspect of digestion that is not spoken about as frequently yet it is affecting most of us today. This is the production of stomach acid.
The production of stomach acid is possibly one of the most important aspects of our overall digestive function.
Stomach acid is normally made on demand in response to the food stimuli by the cells in the lining of the stomach. Just thinking about what we are about to eat, preparing food, the smells of cooking, chewing (along with saliva production) signals the stomach telling it to wake up, it's time to get ready for food! So if you think about our food culture today and compare it to the past, we can already see lost opportunities to signal stomach acid production. In the past there weren't instant pre-prepared meals available, we grew our food and often there were broths, soups or long cook dishes on the stove wafting through the beautiful smells of food to help instigate digestion.
Have a think back to high school science and the pH scale! Stomach acid has a low pH (pH scale runs from 0-14; zero (low) is highly acidic and 14 (high) is highly basic – water sits around the 6/7 mark). Stomach acid normally should sit between 1.3 and 3.5. It is so acidic that outside the gut it would burn us to touch our skin. The stomach is a controlled environment that actually protects the rest of our cells from being burned by this concentrated acid. Ideally we want this low pH so that we can start breaking down macro-nutrients from our food (fats, carbs, protein). From there the pancreas is signaled to produce bicarbonate. This bicarb buffers the food that is about to enter our small intestine so we don’t burn holes in our duodenum after it leaves the stomach. From there pancreatic enzymes are released (in accordance with the signalling thanks to stomach acid) which break down our food and help the release of nutrients..... can you now see how important this acid is?!!! Then from there we produce bile which is our master transporter of fats, toxins and excess hormones but with impaired signalling this is also not optimal.
So from this point we can present with any of the following:
How do we support stomach acid production?
Who needs to consider their stomach acid production?
In one word: everyone!
Interestingly stress is a major contributor to a decrease in stomach acid production and alterations in pH. Just living in our modern world with our modern diet is having an impact on stomach acid levels. If you are stressed, have hormonal or digestive disturbances, this is a very support to be considered.
Studies have shown a change in stomach acid production and pH changes in children with autism (Clin Infect Dis. (2002) 35(Supplement 1): S6-S16.doi: 10.1086/341914).
It is a worthwhile habit to bring into daily life which can have significant health benefits!
Wow I have put the pressure on myself. For each day of this challenge, I have blurted out and tried to make sense of lessons as they have arisen (yes there have been many!!!) over the past month six weeks and they have come effortlessly. They just flowed for 39 days but I reach day 40 and I feel I have to have something poignant and life changing as the final reflection. I have sat on it for a few days now waiting for it to come!!! With the patience of a typical type A personality this has been tortuous! Ironically I haven't let it be, I have a huge attachment to the outcome of how it is received, many expectations placed on myself, I've ignored intuition and failed to follow the signs! I have allowed a need for perfection to subconsciously rule; unless it is perfect, it will not be published. So my huge revelation hit me this morning in the shower..... this is all ok! There doesn't have to always be a topic, there doesn't always have to be a problem or an answer. It is perfect to not know!
I felt the need to have the ending so perfect that I would sacrifice publishing the final day for fear of it not being enough. Translate this; if my work is not good enough, I am not enough.
It is ok to say I don't know. We don't have to always know what to do, what to say, what to think, what to "be". It's perfect to say right now I don't know and hand over the reigns and trust that the answer to whatever we are seeking is to be revealed.
* Do you have unfinished business that you can't seem to push through?
* What is stopping you?
* How will you feel when it is complete?
* How will you feel if you don't complete it?
What is the difference between someone who keeps reaching for the stars and someone who is stuck in a rut? There is very little difference between emotions perceived or their fears they face; they often so similar. But the way the fear or emotion is dealt with is often the big difference. Often the person who keeps striving for more faces the fears head on, asks questions about it, looks at how they have struggled with it before and then chosen a different approach and pushed through it.
When we ignore the fear though, often in sits in the back of our mind playing over and over again on loop. We may not have the tools to face it so we instead cover it up by drinking, overeating, negative self talk, becoming ill until it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; "see I knew I couldn't do that".
But what is on the other side of the fear? What if we push through the discomfort? So many times we are held back by the what if's which love to keep us small and in a place of fear:
* what if it didn't work?
* what if I couldn't do it?
* what if I ran out of money?
* what if no-one agreed with what I had to say?
* what if I got hurt?
* what if I fail?
* what if I succeed.............?
So many what if's! What if we could face a whole day making choices we want to make not making them from a place of fear? Pick a fear and face it head on. It could be facing a fear of an animal, reptile or insect. How would you feel if you held a snake after fearing them your whole life? It could be fear of saying yes to something you deep down want to do but are afraid to face because of all the what if's for example a new career path. Ask the question, what if I didn't do it.....?
We don't want to be at the end of our life asking "what if".......... wouldn't it be better to be saying remember when....?!
* Think of a fear that you want to conquer.
* Imagine how you feel when you have done it.
* Ask some questions about why it scares you so much.
* What is the worst case scenario.
* What is the BEST case scenario.
* What is to be gained by overcoming this fear?
* How could my life be different if I did this?
There is a genuine need for heartfelt apologies. We need them to dissipate the energy around hostility and negative emotion. But this reflection is looking at the overuse of the words "I'm sorry"; the diarrhoea of apologies!
There is only so much that we can truly apologise for; that is really ours to own. But really do we need to apologise for the weather or if someone bumps into us or for wearing paint stained runners to an exercise class or speaking too long?! Then we find ourselves saying sorry for saying sorry!!!!
Often we can perceive situations as offensive to others that other people don't actually find offensive and we apologise unnecessarily. Maybe this could this boil down to not wanting to do wrong and a fear of upsetting others. Over-apologisers may not be aware of what they are doing but at a subconscious thought level they may be trying to seek or hold the approval of others. It can also become a filler word; especially in an anxious moment where silence is uncomfortable.
It can reach a point where it becomes a subconscious addiction. A need to apologise for every little thing. Each sentence can contain an apology! Just have a listen to where and when you apologise and see if there may be a little overuse issue there. Overuse can lead us to being just like the little boy who cried wolf so when we really need to make an apology the power of it's meaning can be lost.
* Listen to your words and see how many apologies you make.
* What are the expectations that you place on yourself and situations that leads you to apologise?
* When you apologise, have you actually done something wrong or is this a habit?
Each day we are presented with mirrors. The more annoying we find someone or we criticize them (internally or vocally), the more we need to have a little look inside to see what it is that is coming up for us! It is called the mirror theory and when we are observing and analysing the behaviour of others, we are actually discovering ourselves in them.
If we view someone as unkind, look at an area of our lives that we may be unkind either to others or ourselves and find ways to increase compassion and kindness. If it is judgement of others that is irritating us, then have a look to see if there is a way in which we are being judgmental and perhaps there is a need to think about a new way to view people.
Others provide us with the greatest opportunity to work on ourselves. The issues we perceive to belong to someone else are not theirs but our own. When we look at others positively and in light, we are also doing and thinking the same of ourselves. We can hold gratitude to those who we may have perceived previously to be difficult for allowing us to go in and "tidy up"!
* Can you think of someone who makes you prickle?! What is it about them that you are struggling with? Say out loud exactly what your issue with them is. Now replace their name with I. Where is your life is this emotion or feeling going on for you or how could you being doing this to someone else?
* Think of people you admire. The singers and stars you follow and the people you are inspired by. Write down what it is in them that you love. Now remove their name and insert the word I!! This a reflection of the traits that are in you that you are seeing in others.
Our gut feeling... you know that feeling when there is something you need to do but can't quite place your finger on it! Or you get a funny feeling when you meet someone; in a good or not so good way. We must learn to trust these feelings.
This is a gift we all have; some are more tuned in than others. Sadly I think our modern lifestyle blankets a fog over our intuition with the inflammatory foods we consume, toxins in our environment, changes to our sleep patterns and the fast pace we are living. It is very hard to listen out for the signs when our body is in damage control.
Our intuition can guide us to the nutrition our body needs (listening to the messages our body is telling us is so important in leading us to information about our health), it can lead us to the people we need to meet, the places we need to go to bring us the lessons we need at the time. When someone tells me they have been under a lot of stress, the first question I ask is if they have been craving plain salted chips!! Sounds like a ridiculous question doesn't it, but our body intuitively needs additional salt (especially a good quality natural salt) when under stress as aldosterone (a hormone produced by the adrenal glands) production is often altered and the body needs salt to maintain homeostasis and ensure we don't drop from dizziness.
How can you test your intuition? Think of a question. Shut your eyes and answer with the first thought or word that comes to mind. As soon as you pause to think, the intuition is gone and the brain takes control trying to provide a logical answer!
If you get a funny feeling around someone; trust it. If you get a sense of knowing that you need to go somewhere; go there. There is always a reason and often lesson behind the intuition.
* Think of ways your intuition has helped you in your past. Has there been somewhere you knew you just had to go and it turns out to have been such an important decision?
* Is there a feeling that keeps popping up for you? Any burning desires?
What would happen if you woke up tomorrow and instead of trying to make everything happen as you feel it needs to you just let go and follow the crumbs? I don't mean you quit your job and run to the hills (unless you really really want to!!!).
But just for tomorrow maybe take notice of who calls you, or who you "coincidentally" bump into! What would happen if you called that person someone recommended you contact or follow a lead you have been given but would normally scribble down for "later"?
Maybe you see a word repeatedly or you keep hearing a song. You were thinking about doing a course and you open your email and there is an email from the institute! What would happen if you took action on the hints?
We become so comfortable in our comfort zone. So comfortable that we find ourselves going to work begrudgingly or doing things we don't want because they are familiar and just routine and it too scary or inconvenient to change. But what if things could be different? What could be the worst thing that could happen if you did something different? Just one thing!
Warning: every time the comfort zone is starting to expand that little bit, it can feel really uncomfortable. Often fear steps in as it's main purpose is to keep us safe and small. We worry about finances, time demands, what will people think, question whether we can really do it and procrastinate!
Questions to ponder"
* Has there been a recurrent theme coming up for you?
* Is there something you would really love to do but find that fear is stopping you?
* Do you repeatedly hear someones name?
* How many times will you listen to little signs to do something before taking a step?
* Just for a day, listen to your intuition. It could be as simple of a weekend jumping in the car just for fun and at every intersection asking yourself left or right and taking your first answer! See where it takes you!!! It can be a bit of fun too!