Will eating a Plant Based Diet improve my Gut Microbiome?

Are you confused about whether you should be avoiding certain food groups , following a plant-based diet to improve your gut microbiome, eating less red meat or following some other dietary exclusive plan to optimise your health?

All of us are keen to understand what constitutes “healthy eating” but being constantly bombarded with food marketing messages and often “shock” headlines quoted somewhat misleadingly from one-off studies, it can be hard to navigate through this and truly have an understanding of how to eat well and enjoy your food.

To help your understanding of how our bodies work and guide you in your decision making around food choices, a key message is that we need to see food not just as “fuel” but rather that there is a link between the food we eat , the microbes in our gut ( our microbiome) and how our body works. Our bodies produce around 20 gut hormones but it is our microbiome which acts like an “inner chemical plant” producing thousands of chemicals which will in turn influence our health and wellbeing as they affect our

  • Digestion
  • Metabolism
  • Brain function &
  • Immune Systems

For example the state or “health” of our gut microbes influences how often and for how long our blood sugar peaks and if this is too frequent or for too long, this causes inflammation which we know is linked with unhealthy outcomes and risk of disease.

Similarly the health of our gut microbes influences how we digest fats and how quickly those fats are cleared by the body and if we are laying down more body fat then this too will lead to inflammation and unhealthy ageing- now sometimes called “inflammaging”.

Ensuring that we have the right microbes which secrete a range of chemicals to support our mental health and wellbeing is also a factor as research now shows that people with depression have a less diverse set of microbes and that the best way we can support our brain is through healthy gut microbes some of which produce serotonin “our happy hormone.”

So how do we eat to support a healthy microbiome?

Whilst there is still lots of debate as to whether to go wholly plant-based, all the science supports eating as diverse and varied a diet as possible to achieve a healthy, diverse microbiome.

Simply translated this can best be achieved by aiming for 30+ different plant foods each week from the following list: Plant foods that are high in polyphenols- these are ones with strong tastes and colours like beetroot, berries, olives, bitter foods like rocket, radishes, artichokes, endive and plant foods with thick skins like avocadoes, kiwis, bananas

  • All other brightly coloured vegetables and fruit
  • Green tea – if you find this too bitter on its own, drink with lemon or teaspoon honey
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Legumes which include chickpeas, lentils and butterbeans
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Wholegrains from quinoa, rice, oats, buckwheat
  • All herbs and spices.

Aiming for 30 different plant foods weekly and making plants the base of your diet will ensure that you are eating a diverse diet, improve your gut microbiome and help you to support your overall health and wellbeing “from the inside out”.

This might mean eating more vegetable based meals each week, cutting down on eggs, fish and meat, being a ‘flexitarian’ or excluding some or all animal based products completely according to your own preferences but the key thing is what our gut microbes need more of is plants!

In my next newsletter I will provide tips on how to incorporate more plant foods into your meals and achieve that magic 30+ different plant foods in a week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Improving hormone balance

Top 10 Daily habits to promote Hormone Balance

Hormones are part of our Endocrine system and function in a network together in symphony ( like an Orchestra) sending messages to nearly every cell, organ and system in our bodies including our nervous system, our gut and reproductive system . It is not surprising therefore that hormones and hormone balance have a huge impact on our overall health and wellbeing and for women when our hormones are imbalanced this can trigger common conditions including

  • Hypothyroidism
  • PMS/PMDD
  • PCOS/Endometriosis/Fibroids
  • Mood Disorders ( anxiety, sleep disturbances, mood swings)
  • Resistant Weight Loss/Unexplained Fatigue.

Our daily habits – following the popularity of my article top-10-foods-to-restore-hormone-balance I thought I would write about how, what we eat, how we move, our level of toxin exposure all contribute to our hormone balance. So if you are looking for dietary and lifestyle changes to help you restore and maintain hormone balance here are my top 10 tips:

How Do I Improve My Hormone Balance?

EVERY DAY

1. Eat Half a plate of vegetables at Lunch and Dinner from a combination of

  • leafy greens ( e.g kale, rocket, dark green lettuce, spinach)
  • coloured vegetables – eat 3 different colours
  • sulphur rich vegetables ( includes onion family, mushrooms and cabbage family)

Vegetables are anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants which help improve hormone function.

2. Eat Sufficient Protein ( around ¼ of your plate) from either or both animal and plant sources but preferably organic, grass fed animals, wild caught fish and a variety of vegetable proteins from all beans, lentils, whole grains and nuts and seeds.

Protein contain the building blocks for our bodies to function and are essential for hormone function and balance.

3. Eat a source of fat at every meal such as olive oil, nuts (flaked almonds, crushed walnuts) or Omega 3 seed mix, nut butter or avocado.

Fats are essential for hormone production and play a key role in regulating hormone levels and resolving hormone symptoms which occur in PCOS and Endometriosis.

4. Feed your Gut with combination of:

  • Fibre – from vegetables, fruit especially the skin, beans and wholegrains.
  • Prebiotic foods  from leeks, onions, garlic, oats, rye, beans, lentils, chickpeas, bananas, asparagus, sweet potato, chicory
  • Probiotic foods from yoghurt, kefir, miso, organic tofu, fermented cabbage, olives

Our gut health is connected to our endocrine system so maintaining a healthy gut is integral to hormone production – for example 70% of our serotonin “our happy hormone” is produced in the gut.

5. Maintain Optimal Weight as this will keep your hormones in balance. Excess weight will play havoc with all of our hormones especially sex hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone and worsen conditions and symptoms associated with Oestrogen Dominance- link to other article.

6. Avoid processed foods as by the very nature of their processing, they will have a lower nutrient value, ingredients will have been added which are higher in sugar, saturated fat together with other chemicals that the body does not recognise. Rule of thumb – avoid foods which contain names you don’t recognise, can’t pronounce or better still shop from the perimeter of the supermarket focusing on fresh whole foods and avoid the central aisles and the plethora of packaged foods.

7. Avoid foods that contain hormones especially non- organic dairy, farm raised fish which are fed unnatural diets and factory farmed animals. Additional hormones used in food production (including growth hormones), confuse the body and interfere with normal hormone production especially oestrogen levels.

8. Reduce/Avoid Toxins in Household and Beauty Products as these interfere with the function of female sex hormones thus affecting hormone balance and health. You can do this gradually by switching your household products over to parabens free brands such as Ecover or Method and similarly each time you finish one of your beauty products such as deodorant, foundation, body lotion replace it with a brand that is free from endocrine disrupting chemical including parabens, aluminium, fragrances and phthalates. Your body will thank you for it!

9. Move your body!

Exercise helps to regulate a number of hormones including oestrogen and cortisol, adiponectin (which helps with glucose and fat breakdown) as well as improving insulin sensitivity and stimulating the production of testosterone.  In addition when we exercise mood boosting hormones are released ( notably dopamine and serotonin) so for hormone balance daily movement is a must.

Listen to your body and adjust your workout/movement ( for cycling women this may be rigorous in the first half of the month and more moderate intensity after mid cycle ovulation) but my recommendation is to ensure you are moving your body daily in some form whether it’s walking, stretching, Pilates, yoga or more intense HIIT, strength and resistance training exercise as appropriate.

Note: exercise in the mornings if possible if you have low thyroid function as this boosts thyroid metabolism.

10. Sleep affects many hormones in the body especially those related to stress and hunger. Inadequate sleep ( research shows for most people the optimum is around 7 hours each night) or poor quality sleep will cause hormones to spike as well as drop, altering hormone production especially our sex hormones like oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

Adopting the same daily night time routine i.e going to bed at roughly the same time each night, relaxing before bed by reading a book,  listening to music, stretching, taking an Epsom Salt Bath, or doing a Gratitude practice will help promote a restful night’s sleep and remember

“ A great day and hormone balance begins with a great night’s sleep.

Loose fat around the middle

How do you lose Fat Around the Middle?

These are my dietary and lifestyle interventions to help anyone looking to lose fat around the middle.

Do these 8 things to improve your body shape, your body composition and lose body fat.

ONE: Eat whole fresh food and avoid or strictly limit Ultra-processed Food (a recent report showed 50% of food bought in the UK is ultra-processed!)

TWO: Ensure you eat sufficient protein –minimum2g of protein per kg of body weight. You burn more calories eating protein than any other macronutrient, as well as helping gain more muscle and accelerating fat loss

THREE: Limit or avoid all refined carbohydrates and sugar. These foods spike our insulin and overtime will increase your risk of excess body fat.

FOUR: Leave long gaps between meals and a 12 to 14 hour gap overnight. In addition consider adopting 16:8 Intermittent Fasting by extending your overnight fast 1 day at weekend to 16 hours. Eating less frequently was found in recent studies to be linked with improved insulin sensitivity and overtime improved body composition through fat loss.

FIVE: Take regular exercise ideally rigorous and intense but any exercise that increases the heart rate and engages muscle activity including yoga, pilates, running, resistance exercise, weight lifting, cross-fit will support a healthier body composition. The key is to find something you enjoy that is accessible to you, you diarise and commit to it just as you do other entries in your diary.

SIX: Sleep has a significant impact on body composition so take all necessary steps to promote better sleep which includes avoiding bright lights between 10pm and 4am, going to sleep when you are tired but waking at approximately the same time every day, get exposed to natural light within 20-30 minutes of waking or buy a Lumie Desk Lamp to use in the mornings

SEVEN: Stress is endemic in our modern lifestyles but chronic long term physical or psychological stress disrupts your body’s homeostasis, causes accumulation of visceral fat and with it unfavourable health outcomes. If this is you take active steps to reduce your stress, enlist help, engage in a Stress Management programme.

EIGHT: Work with a Functional Medicine Practitioner who will help you assess your health status, body composition, undertake Functional Testing to establish hormone status ( especially Thyroid Hormone Testing) and establish key interventions to bring you back to homeostasis.

Good luck with losing your fat around the middle!

 

Photo by Jade Destiny on Unsplash

 

Outdoor activity helps Oestrogen Sensitive Fibroids

Natural Treatments For Oestrogen Sensitive Fibroids (Ostrogen Excess)

Fibroids affect 20% of women over the age of 30 and whilst they are usually non-cancerous ( less than 1 in 1,000 are malignant) they can cause a number of debilitating symptoms including

  • Heavy and irregular periods
  • Painful periods
  • Abdominal swelling ( in extreme circumstances looking pregnant)
  • Constipation/Frequency of Urination due to pressure on the bowel/bladder
  • Infertility in some cases

Fibroids are known to be sensitive to oestrogen and develop in part as a result of having too much oestrogen in our bodies ( otherwise known as Oestrogen Dominance). Whilst conventional medicine offers either drugs to reduce the size of problematic fibroids, or a Myomectomy (surgery to remove fibroids) or sometimes a full blown Hysterectomy, there are less drastic more natural treatments available. A client recently came to see me to explore natural dietary and lifestyle interventions to alleviate her fibroid symptoms and here is the clinical case study highlighting the process:

CASE STUDY

My client had been living with a very large non- malignant Fibroid which caused her

  • uncomfortable and embarrassing bloating (worse just before ovulation due to oestrogen surge)
  • irregular periods
  • constipation,
  • sensitivity to food
  • poor sleep
  • low mood and energy.

She had been offered a hysterectomy (which initially would require injections to induce an early menopause to shrink her fibroid and ease the operation but was interested in avoiding both of these for as long as possible).

After reading her 5 page questionnaire including a 3 day food and lifestyle diary we agreed an initial one hour consultation which was followed up with 2 further consultations over a 4 month period.

At the first consultation I explained that Fibroids were associated with

Oestrogen Dominance plus Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency and how our protocol would be aimed at addressing these 2 key imbalances.

The key dietary changes included:

  • Increasing Essential Fats into her diet so adding nuts, seeds, olive oil and increasing oily fish
  • Increasing Phyto- oestrogenic foods to support oestrogen detoxification such as beans, lentils, garlic
  • Increasing foods which support liver and oestrogen detoxification such as beetroot, kale, watercress & cruciferous vegetables
  • Reducing dairy (my client had already eliminated meat) – both are higher in saturated fat which blocks absorption of Essential Fats
  • Eating 3 regular meals with high protein intake ( hormone balancing) and limiting snacks to stabilise blood sugar and energy

Key Lifestyle Change

  • Exercise daily to support bowel movements and get outdoors in morning whenever possible to promote better sleep

Supplements were individualised  but notably Iodine was particularly useful in this case as it reduces oestrogen sensitivity.

After the 3rd consultation all of the client symptoms had significantly improved. She reported regular periods, better sleep and energy, a happier gut. Her bloating was no longer embarrassing or debilitating – she still noticed it just before ovulation but felt optimistic this would improve further with longer on her programme.

Whether my client decides in the future to continue to manage her fibroid in this way it shows that ( fibroids can shrink by up to 50% after menopause which provides hope that she can) I hope this case study shows that dietary and lifestyle interventions can be transformative in resolving long standing health issues.

 

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