Weight Loss

What is the Microbiome and does it need probiotics?

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Detoxification, Diet, Digestion, Food allergy, Food intolerance, Health, IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Naturopathy, Weight Gain, Weight Loss | No Comments

Part 1

We’ve all heard about our gut bacteria and been told we need to have a balance of more good bacteria to bad, but is it really that simple?

What is the microbiome and where does it come from?

Our microbiome is the collection of living microbes that live in our large intestines and are essential for health. A healthy microbiome can synthesise important vitamins that the body can’t get in any other way, helps strengthen and regulate your immune system and is important for healthy bowel habits and waste elimination. These microbes are originally colonized from our mother own microbiome during pregnancy and birth. If your mothers microbiome was unhealthy at this time then this puts your ongoing health at a disadvantage from day 1.

Our gut holds around 2kg or 38 trillion microbes. In fact, the amount of genetic material in your microbiome may be many hundreds of times greater than the genetic material that makes up your own genes. This effectively means that your gut bugs have a greater influence on your health than your own genes.

Mostly the collection of different species of microbes work well together and are collectively referred to as your commensal microbiome. Various diet and lifestyle choices can create an environment in our gut where pathogenic or ‘opportunistic’ microbes get the chance to grow and prosper. These microbes are inflammatory and disease causing and are usually kept under control by our commensal species until such an opportunity arises. Antibiotic use is a good example of a situation where these nasty microbes, which are always present in low numbers, find an opportunity to thrive. This is called dysbiosis and cause all sorts of problems.

What can ‘dysbiosis’ do to you?

There is a strong pathway of communication between the brain and the gut. This explains why stress can have such a strong and immediate effect on your gut. For example, have you ever experienced needing to run for the bathroom when confronted with an acutely stressful situation? But the communication works the other way too. Your gut bugs can strongly influence mood and brain function and can even make you crave certain foods (especially fat and sugar when the pathogenic species are thriving).

This ‘dysbiosis’ of the gut mircobiome can lead to health issues such as digestive complaints, toxicity from inefficient waste removal and this can lead to foggy brain, skin disorders, fatigue, poor sleep and muscle and joint inflammation. You can develop nutrient deficiencies because your commensal bacteria aren’t able to synthesise important vitamins. Much of your immune system also presides in your gut and having dysbiosis can make you more susceptible to allergies, colds and flu, food intolerances and even autoimmune conditions.

What makes a healthy microbiome?

Researchers have spent a lot of time trying to work out which microbiome composition is the most healthy. They found there isn’t one! They tested the microbiomes of a number of healthy, indigenous communities but discovered that their species of gut bugs were all quite different. The thing they did find was that the most healthy people had the most diverse microbiomes. That is, the greater the number of different types of species present in your gut, the better your health. In fact, low bacterial diversity has now been linked with obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation, autism and bowel disease.

 

Check in again in early December for part 2 of the microbiome and find out exactly how probiotics work (it’s not just about replacing the good bugs) and what you can do to directly influence your microbiome diversity.

Image courtesy of Scimat Scimat at Getty Images

Changing Bad Habits

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, changing habits, Diet, Health, Naturopathy, Physical stresses, self prescribing, Sugar, Weight Gain, Weight Loss | No Comments

Approximately 45% of what we do each day is habit. All habits were once conscious decisions we made which we continued with until it became an automatic behaviour.

Why are habits so difficult to change?

Habits are strongly influenced by all of our previous life experiences, plus, people generally prefer an immediate reward over more significant, delayed ones. This is known as delayed discounting and was the subject of a cute experiment with children which you’ve probably seen on tv. Children were told they could either have a marshmallow now, or if they waited 15 minutes then they could have 2. Many found that 1 marshmallow too irresistible and were not able to adjust their behaviour in order to wait 15 minutes and alter their outcome.

Willpower

But changing habits also requires a certain amount of willpower. Willpower is like a muscle in that it can fatigue with use. Our willpower is stronger in the morning and once we have used it 3-4 times in a day, it generally starts to decline. How many times have you woken in the morning with the intention of eating well and exercising but then found yourself on the couch that evening with a glass of wine saying, I’ll start tomorrow? This is why it is easier to change a morning habit than one later in the day.

The Cue

There are 3 components to every habit: a cue, the behavior itself and the reward. One key to establishing good habits is to manipulate the cue. For example, if your plan is to go for a run after work on Monday nights, then before you leave the house that morning, lay out your running gear and bottle of water where you will see it as soon as you walk in the door. Then you don’t have to think too much. Just change into the gear, pick up the bottle and off you go. Remove as many distractions, road blocks and reasons to make excuses as possible.

The Reward

If the reward of feeling good after the run isn’t enough to sustain the new behaviour until it becomes a habit, maybe use the reward of a small piece of chocolate straight after the run as incentive to establish the behavior.

Goal-setting and self monitoring

It has been found that one of the most effective behavioural change techniques is the use of goal-setting and self-monitoring. Be accountable to yourself and track or chart your results. Couple that with some short term dedicated willpower and you are in the best position for creating a new habit. See attached my Exercise Diary which you can use or adapt to track your progress in the behaviour you want to change or implement.

Substitution

When it comes to eliminating bad habits, substitute that bad behavior with a better behaviour. For example, if sitting down in front of the tv on a week night is your cue to pour yourself a glass of wine, try substituting the glass of wine for a herbal tea or some other healthy drink. The cue of sitting on the couch at night will eventually no longer be associated with wine. Whats more, I can assure you that when you do allow yourself that glass of wine on the Saturday night, you will enjoy it so much more!

 

Image courtesy of namakuki at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Detoxification – is it necessary?

Posted by | Balm Blog, Detox, Detoxification, Diet, Digestion, Fat, Health, hormones, IBS, IBS, Naturopathy, Weight Gain, Weight Loss | No Comments

Our bodies are busily detoxifying all the time, so is it really necessary to do a detox? The answer is yes due to the dramatic changes we’ve seen over the last 100 years. Historically our detoxification processes were generally completely adequate for our needs. These days, the speed at which toxins enter our body has increased dramatically while our bodies ability to deal with these toxins is generally compromised by our modern day diet and lifestyle.

Imagine a bucket being filled with water from a tap while water escapes through a hole in the bottom of the bucket. If the tap is turned up and the hole is slightly blocked the bucket will soon fill.

Now imagine the bucket is your body and the tap represents toxins entering your body (via the mouth, your skin and your lungs). The hole in the bucket represents your body’s detoxification processes. Just as the bucket fills, your body soon becomes overwhelmed with a build up of toxins. This can be expressed as fatigue, headaches, body aches and pains, poor immunity, digestive issues, mood disorders and hormone balance issues.

A good detox program aims to not only unblock the hole in the bucket, but to also turn down the tap.

Just some of the benefits of a good periodic detox include:

  • It can reset your appetite, decreasing sugar cravings and assist weight loss
  • Happy, healthier, glowing skin
  • Lots more energy
  • Better sleep
  • Better moods
  • Less colds and flues
  • Better concentration and motivation
  • Better digestive processes (less bloating, discomfort, nausea

Balm offers a number of detoxification programs and packages, including the program offered through Metagencis.

Click the links below to check out the various detox packages available from Balm.

2 Visit Personalized Detoxification Program

4 Week Detox Kits

Stressed about your cholesterol?

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Cardiovascular disease, Fat, Health, Weight Gain, Weight Loss | No Comments

For years we have been avoiding fat in our diets wherever we can, believing that by doing so, we will keep our all important cholesterol number down, saving us from cardiovascular disease. New findings suggest it is not quite as simple as this and that cholesterol itself may not be the real problem at all. There are actually at least 395 identified cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors and I believe cholesterol has received far more than it’s share of attention.

Cholesterol meterCholesterol is extremely important in the body. It is the main building block for production of all the important hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol and aldosterone (produced by the adrenals to regulate blood pressure and the rate of water lost from the body). Cholesterol is needed to make vitamin D, as well as bile which is produced by the liver to help digest fats. Cholesterol is also found in the membranes that surround every cell in the body, making it important in skin health. It keeps skin hydrated and helps it maintain an effective barrier against bacteria and irritating substances. Cholesterol is also important in immunity and brain function.

Doctors typically prescribed statin medications to lower cholesterol levels. These drugs come with a long list of side effects, not the least of which is an increased incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease! Yes, the very thing they are meant to be preventing by lowering your cholesterol is a listed side effect. Statin medications block the pathway in the body by which it makes cholesterol. This is the same pathway by which the body creates coQ10, an extremely important antioxidant which also enables every cell in the body to produce energy. It is also highly protective against oxidative damage, which is one of the main problems leading to the build up of plaques in the blood vessels leading to heart attack and stroke.

When doctors test blood for cholesterol readings, they actually measure a number of things.

  • Total Cholesterol
    New research suggests this number has little correlation with CDV risk
  • LDL (low density lipoproteins)
    LDL is sometimes also referred to as the bad fat
  • HDL (high density lipoproteins)
    HDL is sometimes referred to as the good fat because it is protective and gathers up cholesterol to transport it safely back to the liver
  • Triglycerides
  • The ratios of HDL to LDL and HDL to cholesterol

The main thing to be concerned with is your HDL:LDL ratio and your triglyceride numbers. You want the HDL:LDL ratio to be less than around 3.5 (ideally the lower the better) and your triglycerides to be around 1.0 mmol/L (fasting) or less.

The real problem occurs when inflammation in the blood vessels act on these LDL’s and triglycerides. This damages the blood vessel wall and causes cholesterol to accumulate and adhere to the wall, resulting in a blockage. Inflammation is caused by a diet of excess sugar, preservatives, trans fat and alcohol, as well as smoking and excessive stress. When blood fats are in good condition and circulating in healthy, undamaged blood vessels, they are actually protective against this damage and build up. It is only when inflammatory damage has occurred that plaques can form.

Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle are still the biggest risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, and should be your first priority in the prevention of CVD. Exercise is one of the most effective ways to raise your HDL level, giving you a strong level of protection against CVD. Quitting smoking, eating less sugary, processed foods and increasing your intake of water and good fats from sources such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and fruits and vegetables are the best preventative measures you can take.

Your naturopath can prescribe numerous different minerals, herbs and supplements to lower blood pressure, protect against oxidative damage and give your heart and cardiovascular system all the nutrients it needs to remain as healthy and strong as possible.

Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Physical stresses, Weight Loss | No Comments

Life is pretty cruisey these days right! We have air-conditioned homes, cars and offices, calorie rich food in ready supply, (often at the touch of a button), we have machines which makes every day chores like laundry easy, escalators to take us up stairs and sun screens to stop our skin burning. Surely with all this new technology our bodies should be thanking us, right? Well, there is a new (or perhaps an old) school of thought emerging that claims small doses of a physical stress, which may otherwise kill us in large doses, is actually really good for us. The idea is that the body responds to the small stress by activating process within each of our cells that promote adaptation and protective antioxidant production.  Within the cell the focus switches from growth and replication to a focus on repair and a clean up or recycling of damaged cell components.

Some examples of such stresses or challenges include Bandaidgetting a little too much sun, exercising a little more than usual or accidentally getting caught in a storm without our coat in the middle of winter. Our body responds by building capacity against such a challenge so that next time it happens we are better prepared. You know this is true from the fact that you begin to tan after sun exposure, your muscles strengthen and tone and you get fitter after exercising and you adapt to the cold weather after the first few weeks of winter. It seems the same is true of fasting. Yes, the practice which has been shunned for a number of years is now making a come back. I’m not talking about eating nothing for days on end. That’s moving more towards the “what can kill you” end of the scale. Simply reducing your intake for a few days a week will do it. (However, this is still not recommended for anyone currently unwell or suffering diabetes, without professional supervision.) This could be the secret behind the success many people have had with the 5:2 diet. The benefits from the body’s response to decreased calorie intake include improved insulin sensitivity, lower inflammation, better brain function, reduced blood pressure, improved stress resistance, lower cholesterol, enhanced detoxification processes and of course, weight loss. All of which equates to a lower potential for cancer and cardiovascular disease, and a longer life. It really does seem that what doesn’t kill you can not only make you strong, but can actually make you live longer.

 

Photo acknowledgement: FreeDigitalPhotos.net (cbenjasuwan)