6 factors that worsened my health
For the past 7 years I have been dealing with multiple health issues. For lack of a better label, I would tell people that I have Chronic Fatigue. It is a simple way to avoid an hour long explanation as to what is really at the root of my chronic health problems and nearly everyone has heard of the term (bonus, right?).
Regardless of how you label your condition, if you have been dealing with multiple health issues for years now, you will often be asking yourself, why? Why do I experience these symptoms? Why can’t the doctor’s give me a clear diagnosis? Why is it taking so long to get better? I have asked myself these questions many a time and after all these years I now have insight into some of the contributing factors to my ill health. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Although I was tested for celiac disease when I was around 12 years old, it was only until much later on in my life that I undertook other genotype testing. These later tests showed up the following results:
I have Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) genes that make me susceptible to developing coeliac disease and prevent my body from being able to properly eliminate biotoxins (e.g. fungi, yeasts, moulds, bacteria, endotoxins etc).
I am also a Lewis Non-Secretor which leaves me more susceptible to immune deficiency, coeliac disease, candida, bacteria urinary tract infections, helicobacter pylori, autoimmune disease and many more illnesses. My understanding is that non-secretors allow infections to “stick”, letting the invader in and requiring my immune system to kill it internally. On the other hand, lewis secretors don’t allow the invader to enter in the first place (smart, right?).
Note: I am working with my doctor to determine whether my very low IgG1 (immune deficiency) is genetic or simply a result of the chronic infections my body is currently burdened with.
The combination of these results mean that if i do not proactively avoid gluten, avoid biotoxins and engage in a lifestyle that optimises for immune function, my body will continue to pick up infections and amount chronic inflammatory responses.
It could be possible that performing genetic testing at an earlier age may have helped me avoid the situation I’m in. It wouldn’t change the fact that I’m stuck with these genes for life, however, it can guide the lifestyle decisions I make. I’m a firm believer that although genetics play a role in ill health, it is largely lifestyle choices that drive the overall outcome. This analogy sums it up nicely.
Genetics loads the gun, lifestyle and environment pull the trigger.
It should be no surprise that the remaining factors are all related to lifestyle choices that I made.
I know you are probably sick of hearing the word stress, however, it is popular for good reason. It is causing and exacerbating disease and illness in our society at an accelerating rate.
I am the first to admit my A-type personality and having grown up in a family which strives to push and work hard has led me to be an overachiever. I don’t like settling for second best. In school and uni I strived for good grades. At work I was driven to complete tasks efficiently and to a high quality. Then when it came to general life I am the type to not like surprises. I like organising my weekends, planning holidays well in advance, looking up the menus of cafes and knowing what I’m going to order before I get there. I can’t sit still easily and will always try to find something to do that is leading me one step closer to a goal or results based outcome.
Now, there is nothing wrong with these traits, I witness close family and friends who share these same traits. The difference is that for some people these traits motivate them, give them purpose and lift them to their higher self whilst for others they create stress, overwhelm and burnout. Recognising whether a fast paced lifestyle is lifting you up or breaking you down is critical when it comes to health.
Clearly I am the latter and my body thrives on a slow-medium paced lifestyle.
5 Ways To Lower My Cortisol
I like using alternate nostril and belly rising / falling techniques. Even doing 3-4 deep belly breaths throughout the day really make a world of difference.
I struggle with this one, however, I enjoy listening to guided meditations whilst stretching, in the bath or in the sauna. It helps me to become more present and to focus back in on my breath.
Exercise and movement
I love walking and yoga as they are low impact and keep my cortisol down whilst still making me feel a million bucks. Bonus points if I get to do my walk barefoot on the beach!
When I have a plan and stick to my routines, especially in the morning, I feel more in control of the day, a sense of calm and less reactive to stressors e.g. work, traffic.
When we allow ourselves to experience pure joy, it fills us up and naturally calms us down. My doctor said to me meditation would be great to do everyday because he sees it benefit people with immune deficiencies. He went on to explain to me that meditation doesn’t have to be sitting still, closing your eyes and breathing ...it can be anything that you enjoy. He asked me “What do you do where time escapes you and you feel happy and enjoying yourself?” It can be literally anything - swimming in the ocean, surfing, knitting, playing table tennis, watching movies, hiking, yoga, cooking, painting, reading, travelling, writing, problem solving, playing with your kids .. whatever it is, you will know what lifts you up when you are excited to do that activity, you are calm, more centered, have a huge smile on your face and time escapes you.
I have suffered from a chronic sore throat for 7-10 years now. It started when I was in high school, however, really became persistent on a daily/weekly basis from first year university onwards. I would go to doctors who would diagnose it as a throat infection and give me antibiotics. At the time, I blindly took the medication because I wanted to cure my throat and had no idea of the damage they can cause when taken inappropriately and in excess.
I appreciate that there are some illnesses where antibiotics are the best option and do not want to sit here and advocate to avoid antibiotics. That is not my message. However, what I do want to highlight is that practitioners very rarely outline the pros and cons of taking such medication before administering them to patients. Without this knowledge, it is difficult for individuals to make an informed decision.
Using antibiotics repeatedly over long periods of time can often lead to an impaired immunity, digestive problems and increased resistance to antibiotics. For some antibiotics are absolutely crucial and necessary to treat their health issues, however, for others there may be alternative natural solutions which are more effective for the long term.
5 Tips When Taking Antibiotics
Knowledge is power
Understand how the antibiotics work, any side effects, the effectiveness of their use etc. Do your own research and ask your doctor questions.
Look to nature
Are there natural alternatives that you can take instead? Can you pulse or rotate treatment to prevent long term use of antibiotics? Ask your doctor or naturopath and again do your own research. Then make an informed decision.
Nourish your gut
If you decide to take antibiotics, support healthy gut flora by consuming prebiotic rich foods and/or introducing a good quality probiotic.
Support your liver
Antibiotics often place extra stress on the liver so supporting a healthy liver and detoxification is important. Read more here.
Eat the right foods
Some foods can interfere with the absorption of antibiotics whilst others should be i ncluded in the diet to support immune and gut function. Ask your doctor or naturopath for guidance.
4. Birth Control Pill
Ever since my first period when I was 15, my hormones have never been balanced. After finishing high school the symptoms seemed to get much worse. In the 7 years that followed, I feel like I have suffered from majority of the common hormonal symptoms including:
Body pains: mainly ovary, back, shoulders
Skin issues: acne, rosacea, dry skin, oily skin
Mood swings: irritability, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, uncontrollable crying
Food cravings: sweet, salty, carbs
Low sex drive
Abdominal discomfort: bloating, constipation, nausea
Fluid retention, weight gain
Brain fog, lack of concentration
Unsurprisingly conventional doctors prescribed me the birth control pill as a solution to these symptoms. Although these pills are often effective for contraception, if you have underlying hormonal imbalances, they may simply mask the symptoms like a band-aid until you come off it at a later stage in life. In my case they not only masked my symptoms but also contributed to my impaired gut function by aggravating the gut lining (Leaky Gut) and feeding yeast organisms leading to an overgrowth (Candida).
5 Must Reads About The Pill
- What mainstream medicine gets wrong about hormones. Read here.
7 Ways Hormonal Birth Control Harms Women. Read here.
Step by step guide to stopping the contraceptive pill. Read here.
Risks of Birth Control Pill. Read here.
The Hormone Cure. Read here.
p.s. I also believe that my hormonal imbalances play a big part in the symptoms I experience on a daily basis including hormones such as thyroid and cortisol as well as my sex hormones.
5. Refined Sugar & Processed Food
There is absolutely no nutritional benefit to refined sugar and little in highly processed food. I know in today’s day and age it is hard to avoid packaged and processed foods which contain hidden additives and sugars. Our supermarkets have become so well stocked with all of these convenient, cheap and tasty foods that we too easily neglect the whole foods section. I find it interesting that 90% of the food I need is in fruit and vegetables isles. I only occasionally wander down other isles for food products like coconut oil, shredded coconut, coconut cream, tahini, rice, quinoa and dark chocolate.
Growing up I was a chocoholic and sugar addict. For snacks during my childhood I lived off biscuits, cakes, cream buns, lamingtons, muffins, double chocolate milkshakes and much more. I was a lean kid and seemed healthy enough and there was no question about whether the food was good for me or not. When it came to high school and university, although I cleaned up my act, I was still consuming way too much sugar. It’s hard not to. It is in everything.
First year university was the worst. I was in a really bad way with my health and I turned to food to comfort my pain. I would eat blocks of chocolate, drink multiple cups of artificially sweetened coffees, eat chips by the bagful and have two servings of sugar laden cereal for breakfast. If often wish I could go back and do it all so differently. I wish I had learnt to connect to my body, mind and soul. I wish I had wanted to eat healthy for myself and not for how I looked or what others were telling me to eat. I wish I knew that food can be medicine. It can heal you if you leverage its powers.
5 Tips To Cut The Sweets
Read nutritional labels
Make sure you read all nutritional labels for the ingredients and sugar content. You want to try and avoid foods that contain high amounts of refined sugar and those that have artificial additives, flavours or preservatives.
Progress over perfection
100% avoidance of sugar and processed foods is not very realistic in today's world. If you think you need to make a change, start making small shifts. Gradually eliminate or replace one food at a time. Start buying a few more vegetables, fruits and herbs every week and incorporating them into your meals. It’s all about progress, nobody is perfect and everybody has cheat days.
Knowledge is power
Notice this is becoming a common theme? Read up about the benefits of whole, unprocessed foods. When you have knowledge, you are more likely to make informed better choices.
Try becoming fully present when you are eating. Take a few deep breaths and chew your food thoroughly. This will encourage you to become more mindful and aware of what you are eating. This may in and of itself reduce cravings for sugar and junk food.
Don’t buy it
If you don’t walk down the confectionary and sweets aisle of the supermarket, you won’t buy them. If you don’t have them in the kitchen pantry, you won’t eat them. Simple, but true.
6. Exposure to Toxins
I don’t believe toxic burden has caused my illness on its own, however, it definitely hasn’t helped. Throughout my life I have been exposed to many toxins and still are. It seems impossible to avoid them sometimes when you live in a big city such as Sydney. In saying this, there are choices now that I can make to significantly minimise my exposure. Some of the more common sources of chemicals I have been exposed to include:
Household cleaning products - it didn’t help that my mum was obsessed with cleaning
As I mentioned, although I can’t avoid all of these, I incorporate routines into my daily practice to ensure I am optimising my body's detoxification pathways. This ensures that I am constantly helping my body to eliminate the toxins I absorb, breathe in or consume.
5 Ways I Minimise Toxic Burden
Drink filtered water
Consume as much organic, non-processed produce as possible
Switch out chemical laden household cleaners with natural alternatives
Switch out chemical skincare products with natural alternatives and stop using fragrance perfumes
Be mindful of your surroundings and ask yourself if you could choose a different less toxic environment to sit, walk, work in, sleep in etc.
What Is Causing Your Health Issues?
It is often an accumulation of multiple health issues that result in chronic and mystery illness. Unfortunately when you only have one health issue it is easy to ignore it or take a quick fix solution. The second issue starts to show and you again either ignore it or go to the doctor who gives you a bandaid solution and sends you on your way. This pattern continues until the person realises they have a bigger problem on their hands. They feel much worse and normal day activities and functions start to become difficult. This was most definitely the case for me. I would try and address my problems with medications that the doctors were throwing at me with little knowledge or insight to look deeper and uncover what the root causes were.
You may recall the below 7 common sources of inflammation that I outlined in my article: Are you Treating the Symptom or Root Cause? Can you see that the each of the 5 lifestyle factors above correlate to at least one source of inflammation?
Diet and food intolerances
Gastrointestinal pathologies e.g. SIBO, dysbiosis, parasites, fungal overgrowth, helicobacter pylori
Chronic infections e.g. reactivated Epstein Barr Virus, tick-borne illnesses e.g. Lyme
Toxic burden e.g. mold, heavy metals
Hopefully this is a reminder of the importance of exploring each of these sources of inflammation and uncover what the true underlying cause of your illness is. At the end of the day if you don’t figure this out, you will be walking around for the next 30-50 years telling people that you suffer from Chronic Fatigue or that you never quite feel well without an understanding of why that is. Remember,
Knowledge is power. Educate yourself. Be your own detective.
As always, these above factors are by no means an exhaustive list or even applicable to everyone. We are all bio-individual. What is one person’s medicine, may be another person’s poison. Learn from others mistakes, but don’t blindly expect one person to give you the answers or have the solution. Even the doctors don’t know the solution. They are simply employing a process of trial and error. Be your own detective. Take note of what works and doesn’t work for you. Ask questions. Listen to your body intelligence. Our bodies want us to heal.
Sending much love and light to everyone healing from chronic illness.