Keep calm and love your immune system

From personal experience, training and research in bio-medicine, nutrition and NLP, I have learned that we have an amazing immune system that works hard, all the time, to keep us in a state of health. When we give it the right environment to do so, it will thrive. When we don’t, it can’t function so well. We can ‘feed’ it with food and water that will nourish every cell, tissue and organ or we can feed it foods that harm it. And that’s not all. When we are stressed we activate the fear centre in the brain and this leads to a downgrading of the immune system. The opposite is also true. When we are calm, relaxed, happy – those wonderful, clever immune cells get a boost, renew, repair, re-energise and get to work for us, protecting our health, just as they are designed to do.

As a wellbeing coach, I do my best to live by the principles I believe in, to practice what I preach. And yet in these last couple of months, especially the last few weeks, I too have had my ‘wobbles’. On top of the ‘noise’ of all that is happening in the world, I’ve had a family bereavement and other personal tricky moments that have meant I’ve felt ‘off kilter’ at times. For us coaches, there is often an expectation that we know better, that we live this life of peace and harmony – all the time. Let me tell you, unless you’re living a life of devotion on top of a mountain, that’s not true! I came into this career because I’d been chronically stressed for years and ended up with cancer so calmness and peace don’t always come naturally to me, yet. They take daily, conscious practice. I do it though, because, as the ad says ‘I’m worth it’ – and so are you.

In these testing times when most of what we’re hearing, seeing or reading is about this pandemic, restrictions and fears for the future, as well as dealing with day to day challenges in all of our lives, it can feel overwhelming, frightening, and sometimes out of our control.

When I feel this way, I draw on what I know and believe in, in order to interrupt the patterns of anxiety, worry and stress and bring myself back into a state of balance and calm. I now know that we have a choice. We don’t have to be victims of our thoughts and emotions. We can learn to notice how we feel, become more conscious of what we’re thinking and then draw on a range of resources; tools in our mental and emotional toolbox, and use them to change our state of wellbeing.

Each of us have different ‘tools’ that will work for us, and that’s OK. Here’s a few of mine, tried and tested, so if you need a few more, give them a go. It helps to physically move, letting the brain know that it’s interrupting the pattern, so I get up, move around, look out of the window or take myself out of the house and walk in nature. I talk to those I love and tell them how I feel, listen to my favourite music (I’ve got a playlist for different moods), exercise in whatever way feels right for me at the time, meditate – even if it’s just 5 minutes or an hour of Joe Dispenza, practice gratitude (it really works!), cook (food really is medicine), read, watch something funny or listen to one of my ‘go-to guru’s’, anything, to shift my state.

I’ve learned that I have a choice to see the world as a safe or scary place. I’m not in denial, I know that there are scary things happening, most of which I can’t control. What I can control is what I focus on. Energy flows where focus goes and I’d rather focus on the good, the people doing great things, being amazing and compassionate and most importantly, the things I can control such as my wonderful intelligent, complex immune system that has been serving us modern humans well for 200,000 years, and giving it the right environment to thrive.

The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe” Albert Einstein

We can of course choose to sit back, live in fear, wait, ‘outsource’ our health as if there’s nothing we can do to help ourselves. I’ve felt sad and dismayed to hear several people recently say “if I get this virus, I’m done for”. What a frightening belief to have, when around the world, many elderly people, and those considered ‘seriously at risk’ are recovering well. We hear less about these people though and sadly, some are learning to believe they are ‘doomed’. They’re not.

Alternatively, we can choose to see this pandemic as a wake up call to improve both our minds and bodies, to ‘up the odds’ of protecting ourselves and making our wellbeing more of a priority than we have in the past. To understand that whilst we obey the rules and protect each other at the moment, we can, at the same time, start to take the better care of ourselves, feel purposeful and positive about our health and remind ourselves what powerful, resilient, creatures we humans are.

We can choose to love ourselves enough to nourish our bodies through food and nurture our minds in ways that will give the immune system what it needs to thrive. We can remind ourselves of what we’ve forgotten over generations and reconnect with our own healing.

In this video, I’ll give you a few ideas of how you can start the journey, take small steps to building a resilient immune system, through choosing what to eat and reducing stress, to serve you well now and in the long run. It may take a shift in thinking, doing things a bit differently but won’t it be worth it to feel it’s in our control to live a more contented, healthier life?

Food is Medicine: How To Boost Your Immune System

So, at the time of writing, we are in a health crisis caused by a pandemic. We are having to live very differently, conform to rules that we don’t like but are for the greater good. Lives have been turned upside down, families are separated and jobs and finances have uncertain outcomes. This state of chaos can be scary and unpredictable and it can sometimes feel like we have no control.

And yet, right now. we are being given the opportunity to stop what we’ve been doing and reflect, re-evaluate and reset our priorities, focus on what’s important to us, our loved ones, communities and the world at large. We have the chance to question the old and create the new and help to fix things that are broken.

Albert Einstein is believed to have said that “insanity” is doing the same thing over and over again in the same way and expecting different results. We can do things differently and get better results. We can change the old ‘normal’ and think in ways we’ve never done before. Out of chaos will come calm, eventually, and with it a new ‘normal’ and we can choose what that will look like.

Our health and wellbeing could surely now be one of the things we choose to prioritise, to fix. And if we do this for ourselves, the effect on others and the world around us could be transformational.

We can choose to bring health and wellbeing back into our consciousness in a way we haven’t done for years. We have an amazing health service but haven’t we come to rely on it too heavily? Could we support it better by taking more responsibility for our own health and supporting those around us to do the same? If we were already doing this, would we be currently living in a society that is more obese, more medicated, more stressed than ever before?

This is not about blame. Over time, for many reasons, including our ‘busy’ lives, we’ve inadvertently lost our connection to how to be well. We’ve let it slip down our list of priorities and often felt powerless to do anything about it.

So, while we’re safe in our homes, we can do two really useful things: 1. Start to reconnect with our own wellbeing and 2. Boost our immune system. When we keep fit, stay calm, sleep well and eat well, we trigger a more effective immune response that does the healing for us.

And so, I’ve decided to share a series of blogs on various aspects of mindset and nutritional health. Information that I’ve not only learned through training and years of research, but practices that I live by. Those of you that know me, understand the impact this has had on me and therefore my passion for raising awareness and empowering others to do so too.

We can do so much to get our immune system into the best shape possible and one of the most powerful ways is through food. We would not have survived as a species without eating the right foods to support our bodies to fight disease and heal us. Deep down we already know this and we know which foods we need. The problem is we have forgotten to consciously connect to thoughts that remind us that food is one of the greatest medicines we have.

So, let me ask you a question: Why do you eat what you do? Now you may think, well that’s obvious – we eat because we’re hungry, to give us energy or something similar. And yet in reality, most of us choose to eat for so many other reasons. Maybe it’s taste, or cravings, boredom, convenience, social acceptability, a treat, because we’re upset, happy, it’s mealtime and so on. And therefore what and when we choose to eat isn’t necessarily what our bodies need. Our sophisticated brains mean we can choose so many reasons to eat, however, we’ve lost our belief in food as medicine, and that what we eat will nourish our minds and bodies and support us in the best way possible. How often do we consciously think about food being used to repair and renew those millions of cells, working together to keep us healthy.

Before we look at specific foods to help our immune system, let’s look at how we can reconnect with food as medicine. When I was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago, one of the first things I thought was, ‘how can I stop this happening again?’. Food was one of the areas of my life I began to change – initially out of fear, to help keep me healthy. Foods that would nourish me became my focus and reconnected me with healing. The good news is that you don’t have to get very sick in order to do this! You can start to believe that you have some control over your health, to consciously set an intention when you shop, cook and eat, to choose foods that will nourish you and your family and help keep you well, not just now, but in the future.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the food police. I too like the odd glass of wine, bit of chocolate and plate of fish and chips, and our bodies have the ability to deal with these less-than-healthy foods in small amounts but it’s when they become the everyday foods, without the majority of our diet being made up of the good stuff, that the damage is done. Processed food is one such group of foods that causes more harm than good. It’s either made from chemicals or it’s food that has been messed with and is therefore not in it’s natural state. Unnatural substances that the body does not recognise will create inflammation, the pre-cursor to disease. There is often hidden sugars and bad fats in processed food too and a serious lack of nutrients, even in those so-called ‘healthy’ snacks!

Added sugar is one of the most damaging substances that we eat, particularly in the quantities that we now consume. It has been linked to just about every common physical and mental disorder in today’s modern world, including cancer and depression. If it was a new substance created today, it could well be banned due to it’s toxicity. It’s often hidden in food we don’t expect so without realising we can consume more of it than we think.

Instead, getting back to basics and eating real food, in it’s natural form is what will help feed your immune system to function in the way it was designed to do. Eating a rainbow is something I often tell clients. When you look at your plate of food, what colours do you see? If you see all the colours of the rainbow, you are getting a wide variety of nutrients, particularly in vegetables as these are where many immune-boosting vitamins and minerals are found. To fill your plate half full with veg is really we want, forget five a day, that is nowhere near enough to maximise your health. It will also mean you are eating plenty of fibre to rid your body of toxins.

There are particular vitamins, minerals and foods that boost immunity so I’ll give you some foods that are rich in these to help you see where you may want to up your intake.

Let’s start with vitamin A – found in liver, cod liver oil, mackerel, salmon, tuna, cheese eggs, sweet potatoes, carrots, red peppers, kale, chard and spinach. Few of us eat liver and even oily fish these days, so if you don’t, eat a range of the other foods to ensure you’re getting enough.

Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin which means the body doesn’t store it, and yet it’s vital for our immunity. It’s also destroyed by cooking and time so fresh, raw or frozen sources will mean we get more of it. Found in chillies, yellow peppers, blackcurrants, thyme, parsley, spinach, kale, tomatoes, papaya, strawberries and oranges.

Vitamin D is difficult to get from food and as the main source is sunlight, most people are lacking this one, particularly after a long winter. When we can get outside, exposing our skin safely, without sun cream for a few minutes at a time (without burning of course!) will help to get this from sunlight. Foods that do contain vitamin D are oily fish, egg yolks and mushrooms.

Zinc is a mineral and is found in shellfish, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, cashew and pecan nuts, cocoa, chickpeas, lentils, beans, mushrooms, and spinach.

Magnesium rich foods are leafy greens, almonds, fish, beans and pulses, whole grains, avocados, bananas, figs and dark cocoa.

A group of foods I must mention are mushrooms! These beauties have so many benefits I could do a whole blog on them. They are powerful immune-boosters that help kill viruses, bacteria and yeast. Different mushrooms have different properties so try shitake, reishi, maitake, cordyceps and oyster too. They can be bought fresh, dried and powdered for soups, stews and sauces.

A healthy gut means that the nutrients that we do eat, get to where they are needed so eating pre-biotic foods will help maintain gut health. These are bitter foods such as artichokes, chicory, garlic and onions as well as asparagus, oats, apples, cocoa and flaxseeds.

We use herbs and spices to flavour our food but how often do we think of the goodness in them? They are concentrated nutrients and have powerful, healing properties – ask any herbalist. Common ones particularly helpful for the immune system are sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, ginger and turmeric.

As many of us have more time on our hands right now, why not try something new, experiment with foods that maybe you haven’t tried before. If you’ve got children at home, get them involved, make it fun and laugh about it if it doesn’t go according to plan. Start to get the next generation connecting with healing food. Google some recipes or try out those from my other blogs such as home made hummus, lentil soup and coleslaw (more on the way).

Let’s stop outsourcing our health. Apart from the social distancing, isolation and hand-washing, we can do something empowering. We can boost our immune system by providing the nutrients to repair and renew those wonderful white blood cells that help us to get well from any illness, not just this one. These cells are our defence, they attack viruses and destroy them. That’s what they do, all the time, most of the time without us realising it’s happening and when we do feel unwell, e.g. feel achey or have a fever, it’s our immune system that’s doing it’s job. How amazing is that.

HRT – Is it really worth the risk?

So, this week has seen the publication of a comprehensive world-wide study by Oxford University about the link between breast cancer and Hormone Replacement Therapy. And, shock-horror, they’ve found that the risk is greater than previously thought.

This isn’t new though, is it. The link between these two has been known about since the turn of this century. Since then, there has been so many conflicting studies, it’s not surprising women are confused and anxious about whether or not to use this method of alleviating symptoms of the menopause.

It’s no secret that my view is that there are many natural ways of dealing with the likes of hot flushes, brain fog, anxiety and so on, but of course the choice is up to the individual.

However, I’ve been so dismayed by the reporting of this latest finding, the down-playing, dismissing and miss-informing that’s going on, I’ve felt compelled to rant a little, and offer a balance of alternatives.

In one news report, I read that HRT was worth the risk because having breast cancer was hardly the death sentence it used to be! Really??? Tell that to the families of the two beautiful friends that I’ve lost in the last 5 years. Friends diagnosed with early stage 1 and 2 breast cancer in their 40’s – both with a better prognosis than me, both who dutifully took the drug tamoxifen that was the ‘gold standard highly researched’ drug that was supposed to help prevent it metastasizing. It didn’t.

Although rates are improving, in the UK, around 11,500 people die from breast cancer a year and 1 in 7 will be diagnosed with the condition in their lifetime. When I was diagnosed 9 years ago, that number was 1 in 10. That’s a rapid increase. Oh, and by the way, TREATMENT IS BLOODY AWFUL! It’s cruel, scary, debilitating and can be soul-destroying. So don’t let breast cancer be ‘normalised’. Just because it’s common and the ‘middle class cancer’ and is therefore high profile, it isn’t OK. You do not want to have to go through this.

Anyway, back to HRT. Marilyn Glenville PhD states in her book ‘Natural Solutions To Menopause’, ‘I believe that the menopause is a natural phase in every woman’s life and should not be medicalised by replacing hormones that should not be there at that stage’.

HRT also does not replace like with like either. The hormones in these drugs are synthetic and trigger oestrogen receptor sites in the breast, ovaries and womb – places these should not be triggered at this time. Hence the increased risk to, not only breast but ovarian and womb cancers too.

Other side effects have also been linked to HRT, e.g. weight gain/loss, bloating, depression, high blood pressure, skin rashes, hair loss… to name a few.

My friends that take HRT tell me how much better they feel – and maybe they do. There is no doubt that many symptoms can be alleviated by it and I would never judge anyone for choosing this path. My only advise to them, and anyone thinking of taking it is this – please think carefully. Is it really worth the risk? Are your symptoms SO unbearable? Have you tried other ways?

I guess it comes down to individual choice and there’s no doubt that for those experiencing early menopause, then HRT may be the right choice. But for those going through it at the right time of life, or like me, medically induced (and the right time!), you could choose to make changes to lifestyle, exercise, diet and mindset. All of these can make a huge difference, not just to the menopause but to life beyond it.

I’m now 58. My menopause experience was awful, it cost me my job and nearly my sanity. However, I gradually learned how to get my life back and have made changes that have drastically reduced my symptoms. Not only that, I am not on any medication. My BP, cholesterol and bones are fine. I don’t have any regular aches and pains and I feel calmer and happier than I’ve ever done.

I can’t blame HRT for my breast cancer experience – I was never on it (although I was on the Pill – another story). I believe that there are many factors that lead to any disease. Stress and mindset play a huge part. For me, it’s like pieces of a jigsaw being put together, and when all the pieces of lifestyle factors and mindset join up, disease (or dis-ease) is created. HRT is just a piece of the jigsaw – how significant, no one really knows, everyone’s jigsaw is different. That’s why the side-effects, including breast cancer are ‘risk factors’, not certainties.

So, lets end on a positive. Here are a few tips for natural ways to help with symptoms I mentioned in the podcast I did a few weeks ago.

  • Hydrate – drink plenty of water, especially in the morning. Symptoms of de-hydration are VERY similar to many menopausal ones.
  • Eat phytoestrogens such as lentils, beans, fermented soy, nuts and seeds (especially flaxseed) as part of a balanced diet
  • Adopt a traditional Mediterranean diet to balance hormones and protect bones, joints and heart.
  • Exercise every day. I’m no gym bunny but I walk miles – it’s what we’re meant to do.
  • Change your limiting beliefs about ageing and begin a gratitude journal to interrupt those negative thoughts that keep you grumbling.
  • Reduce stress by changing how you react to people and situations (you have a choice) and limit time with toxic people/in toxic environments and try a stress relieving routine such as meditation, yoga, gardening.
  • Get outside, be in nature and re-connect as often as you can, even in Winter.
  • Love yourself – and be thankful we live long enough to experience this phase of life!

Coming through the menopause: My Story.

When Irene from One Dream One Vision approached me in July and asked if I’d tell the story of my menopause experience in a podcast interview, I was delighted. I’d never done a podcast before but had enjoyed listening to many. I like the feeling of listening in to a conversation that is both entertaining and informative.

So, here was my chance to ‘go public’ with what happened to me during my enforced menopause, due to cancer treatment.

In the podcast I share my journey of discovery. From struggling with anxiety, losing my confidence, almost my sanity and walking away from a 22 year teaching career, to understanding that it doesn’t have to be that way and to a new and rewarding lifestyle.

Take a listen to how I made changes to nutrition and mindset to overcome many of the debilitating symptoms brought on by a combination of drugs, fear and imbalances in hormones. How I realised that although the menopause is a natural phase of life, the way we live it often isn’t! I learned that food really is medicine from nutritional experts such as Dr Marilyn Glenville and I learned to listen to my body and go with what it needed rather than fighting it and above all, I changed my mind.

I chose to come off and stay off medication, to find new habits, to stick to my core values and beliefs around health and to take action to change how I felt about myself, to nourish my mind and body and to enjoy this amazing and precious gift of life I have.

Healthy Homemade Hummus

I’ve been recommending making hummus for a long time now – to my clients, groups I speak to and on social media and so I thought it was about time I wrote about this fabulous, healthy snack, how to make it and why it’s such a great idea to do it yourself instead of buying those nasty little plastic pots of insipid beige stuff you get in the supermarkets! Believe me, once you’ve made this stuff, you’ll never want shop-bought again!

So here’s why – we’re all concerned about the amount of plastic in our environment and the damage it’s doing to our beautiful planet and it’s inhabitants. When you make you’re own hummus – and any other dips for that matter, all of your ingredients can come from fresh produce, tins or glass jars. It’s free from artificial preservatives and other ‘nasties’ we’re not meant to eat. It’s also cheaper in the long run and can be made in bulk and frozen. It’s easy and needs no cooking and the recipe can be adapted to suit your taste – more or less lemon, olive oil, garlic or tahini – it’s still hummus! If that’s not enough to convince you – take a look at the benefits of the lovely fresh ingredients.

Chickpeas – packed full of a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber that help to regulate blood sugar, aid digestion, help prevent high blood pressure and reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol, so supporting heart health. It also contains phytoestrogens that ease menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Because it’s so full of fibre, it helps to remove toxins, including excess ‘bad’ oestrogen.

Tahini – very high in protein and together with the chickpeas provides a ‘complete’ protein – ideal for vegans. The B vitamins boost energy and brain function and it helps protect against heart disease, strokes and cancer.

Garlic – the powerful anti-oxidants boosts the immune system. It’s anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory so can help recovery from most illnesses.

Olive Oil – high in omega 3 which supports brain function and is a powerful anti-oxidant. It therefore helps prevent heart disease, strokes and cancer.

Lemon juice – promotes hydration, high in vitamin C for immune function, aids digestion, kidney function and is great for the skin.

So, with all this, no wonder it’s been a staple food in parts of Europe and the middle East for many years.

Blend, mash or blitz together: 1 400g tin of chickpeas, the juice of 1 to 2 lemons (depending how lemony you like it), 1 to 2 cloves of garlic ( to suit you), 1 tablespoon tahini, a large glug of extra virgin olive oil (depending on your preferred texture), pinch of good salt.

To mix it up a bit, add other spices such as cumin or smoked paprika. Keep in the fridge or freeze when fresh. Enjoy!!