Simple strategies for living well

Take a piece of string, measure your height with it and fold it in half, does it fit around your waist?

Waist to height measurement is a pretty good indicator of whether you really need that extra helping of… cake/pie/favourite foodstuff!

A balanced diet is made up (thanks to Paul Chek for this simplification) of food with eyes (protein and fats) and food with no eyes (carbohydrates). Avocados and nuts are exceptions to that rule but generally vegetables growing above ground like leafy greens will be less starchy than vegetables grown below ground: potatoes, sweet potato, beetroot, parsnips and carrots to name a few.

Why does all this matter?

There are a growing number of people that believe the gut is at the heart of most disease. Hippocrates got there first over two thousand years ago but a growing number of people alive today are also questioning the quality of the food we eat nowadays and are looking for simpler/less procesed foods to eat. Stuff that our bodies have evolved to digest over multiple dozens of millennia.

There are many different versions of the ‘Just Eat Real Food‘ sentiment. Eat food, not too much and mostly plants is the simple guideline given by journalist Michael Pollan in his book In Defence of Foods.

Food = Epigenetic information. Which is a new way to think of our morning break fast.

Every piece of food we eat ‘talks to’ the cells in our body. These conversations can shape how our bodies continue to exist in their environment. I think but am not fully read up on the research yet, that what we eat over time can impact how our bodies respond to everything around us. And our decendants!

Epigenetics is a fascinating area of research: A 2nd WW dutch famine had repercussions for the grandchildren of those who lived through it. Our DNA forms the building blocks of who we are but those building blocks can be shaped by the world around us, too.

This nutrition lark seems to be far from straightforward!

I attended an online summit called the Evolution of Medicine at the end of September 2014. In it a number of functional medicine experts and enlightened ‘regular’ doctors were interviewed and issues were identified that needed to and were beginning to change in mainstream medicine.

We have a slew of chronic disease – much of it could be considered to be mediated by the way we live. Type II diabetes is better dealt with by addressing what you eat and how you move now rather than waiting for a profoundly reduced insulin response to turn into heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, wonky eyes (my wording)… the list goes on.

We eat a diet so far removed from what our bodies have been designed to cope with, no wonder they’re ‘slipping up’ and creating disease in us. It’s not just GM foods that could be storing up trouble for us and our children. Food is just one aspect of how we can make our lives a little better.

Small changes to how and how much we move can have surprisingly satisfying results. Getting outside and going for a walk every day is good for the soul as well as our heart and lungs. I’ve been performing my own version of HIIT (high intensity interval training) on my exercise bike. I can’t walk very far and have a wheelchair for events that call for more walking than say, getting round a supermarket with a trolley to hold onto so it’s not often that I can achieve a change in my heart rate.

There are a wide variety of websites I visit and gather what I hope is useful information to me and I assume others including a number of strands of research from around the world. Change in my body (including not getting out of breath so quickly) seems to be happening… slowly but I think getting the heart rate up must get more blood pumping round the body and that includes the brain so, a handful of 30 second bursts on the static bike every other day with the resistance turned up is giving my brain a treat. It also has a happy side effect of warming perpetually cold hands and feet!

To a continually pumping heart the brain is just another extremity (like hands and feet) that the pressure and circulation doesn’t always reach. Gravity works against the brain here, unfortunately.

Always low blood pressure can be as problematic as high BP resulting in fatigue perhaps partly because the brain isn’t getting enough glucose or oxygen to function optimally.

I read this in a fascinating book Why Isn’t My Brain Working by Datis Kharrazian. He has used a similar functional approach to identify strategies to improve an underperforming thyroid.

It’s always a good idea to get an MOT from your gp to check that your body can cope with the changes you’d be asking of it with a new exercise regime. I never used to be much of an exercise person but I was also a smoker as a youngster so i wasn’t really caring what my body may have been trying to tell me!

Small things can make a difference and some simple strategies have got to be worth a go, no?

eat your greens!

green leafy vegWe can science-ize the term ‘eating your greens’ for the 21st century by talking about the beneficial effects of folate on our methylation cycle.

As people with a long term condition we can seem easy prey for all sorts of quackery. This is an article that I believe might chime with our innate penchant for experts. This is another article that mentions the therapeutic use of a substance for a range of chronic conditions. This, on the other hand is an article about a therapy that has fallen from favour since its birth at the beginning of the 20th century. I don’t include mention of this therapy because I advocate its use (it could be great, I haven’t looked into or had experience of it) but rather as an example of how science and medicine (it appears) aren’t ruled by efficacy but fashion, chance and luck.

The author of the science based medicine blog (a laudable fondness, it would be nice if mainstream ms treatments could follow that same model!) doesn’t damn the little known therapy out of hand. He could find no data to say the therapy didn’t work so wonders why it did fall from favour?

My cynical self wonders if its demise coincides with the growing clout of the pharmaceutical industry and it’s love of treating symptoms rather than getting to the root of the problem. But I could just be a bitter old cynic!

Another area of research that in an earlier post I said I’d be getting back to you about looks at the level of homocysteine in us (it’s a naturally occurring substance created as waste products of essential bodily processes involving mitochondria, like making ATP (these little aliens in all our cells are the energy factories). and when our bodies are functioning at their best we are able to process it. This is good as it’s apparently a better indicator for cardiovascular disease in the future (in all its flavours) than any number of HorLDL cholesterol measurements. When we’re functioning optimally our bodies are able to break down and disperse homocysteine as part of the methylation process.

You may be able to tell, this is still quite new to me. From what I’ve gathered from Ben Lynch’s presentation on the MTHFR gene mutation when things aren’t performing optimally the body gets tired and like all of us, when that happens things start to go wrong. It shows in a number of ways including a variety of chronic conditions or cancers.

We can begin to address this by getting in touch with to get our DNA sequenced which, apart from letting us know where our ancestors are likely to have come from can also (after the data is interpreted by a functional medicine practitioner) let us know of some common markers that identify the potential shape of future disease in us. Personal healthcare is getting personaller!

I’ve begun this process as my dad’s family left Ukraine at the end of the 19th century and I’m nosy and would like to find out more. Not just to identify gene mutations or SNPs as I believe they’re called but to get in touch with my ‘roots’. This information can give you percentage likelihoods of getting certain diseases (if you ask your practitioner for that information to be revealed to you).

I figure knowledge is power and if I’m aware of potential problems I can head them off at the pass and reduce the possibility of that potential by how I live my life right now.

 Before I start to think about the results of any of this information coming back to me (the process takes a few months) I plan to eat even more fresh greens. Folate is pretty important at helping our bodies function at their best so, when your mum told you to eat your greens when you were little it seems she was talking some sense and perhaps we should have tucked in and shouldn’t have rolled our eyes so much?

alternative healthcare

engulfing“Right now, they [mspatients] are not getting the kind of information we as [health care] providers would like them to get,” Wray said.”

This is quoted from a Boston Globe article of the 11th September. ACTRIMS – ECTRIMS researchers were apparently concerned about the ‘perceptions’ of ms patients.

I’d like to know where would doctors and MS researchers present at the conference rather patients get information from?

Surely not them?

Are these the same groups of people who didn’t believe in the possibility of an overgrowth of candida albicans? (thinking of more than one old GP when i make this statement)?

The same people who throw antibiotics at a problem as a first line of defence? (thinking of an old GP when I make this statement) rather than further investigation of the problem. I appreciate GPs have little time per patient but perhaps we could consult a ‘project manager’ for our bodies or even be entrusted to be our own project managers?

We are perhaps the best people to be put in charge of enhancing our own health?

The same group of people who, along with most of the rest of us didn’t know the significance of a microbiota until we found out from various TED talks over the last few years and recently a BBC2 Horizon programme on allergies (I referred to one of the over 1,000,000 pages google finds on the subject in an earlier post?

The same people who thought stomach ulcers were caused by stress not an infection?

The same people who believe that what we eat can’t have as much effect on how we feel and function than their questionably effective pharmaceutical offerings? (thinking of an old neurologist when i make this statement).

The status quo can’t continue.

The image above comes from a collection of mine with the name Earth Abides, Ecclesiastes 1:4. It was the title of a 1949 American sci fi book my dad gave me by George R Stewart. The world’s population gets wiped out and civilisation goes about starting again amongst the remains of our current civilisation.

Looking back, to get an apocalyptic tale as I was on the cusp of becoming a teenager was very good. It taught me to question everything. The message I chose to take from the book was ‘nothing that lives on earth is forever but that’s ok because we can choose to adapt’ and the planet will continue.

Things seem to be changing and we now have architecture acknowledging the presence of and creating designs specifically to take advantage of omni present bacteria.

If we believe that the 20th century was all about stamping out pathogens and healthcare was involved in a mighty struggle between us and them (evil bacteria causing disease left right and centre). Then the 21st century shape of healthcare will be all about harnessing the power of these omnipresent beings to help us, the puny human.

Some question our faltering scientific progress in medicine (as an owner of a chronic condition one of those ‘some’ is me) and ask whether antibiotics represented the only noteworthy advance in medicine since William Harvey’s discovery of blood’s circulation in the body in the early 17thC. This discovery rather neatly yet arrogantly ignores the Ancient Chinese’ awareness of body systems (please see earlier post).

Perhaps I’m biased but I choose to firmly believe that asking questions and finding out answers can only be good for our brains.

I feel the image above still stands as a representation of all that we live amongst and stands as a fine illustration of the impermanence of man. This too shall pass could be an alternative title and probably, bacteria will continue, relentlessly, to play their part long after our petrol shops have gone!

Is feeling a bit better as good as a cure?


I remember when as youngsters who knew no better, we used to wave our inebriation like a badge of honour; happy happy days but not really suitable as a long term strategy!

I think a bit differently about life now and have different priorities.

Whilst I’m with Dylan Thomas on this one and all in favour of not going gently into that good night I don’t like the fight, struggle and battle analogies common with various types of illness. Why would you want to create further imbalance in your body than it obviously already has?

We’re here, let’s get invested into making life as good as it can be. We may as well investigate how we can make life a little better. To use a lottery saying and adapt it to life – We’ve got to be in it to win it.

Receiving a chronic diagnosis changes everything.

It can change everything in a number of ways depending on the choices we make:

We can choose to see the future as an everlasting dance with our own body.

we are after all, hopefully in this for the long haul so conserving energy isn’t the choice of a wimp rather the enightened individual.

Does the dusting need to be done as regularly as before?

Does it matter if the kitchen floor isn’t clean enough to eat off of?

Realising what’s important (and what isn’t important in life) somewhat focuses the mind. Listening to our bodies is something that might make our life a little easier. There’s at least one school of thought that puts unattended issues in your mind and the always interconnected body at the heart of later chronic disease. A recurring fungal infection is a sign that you’r body is not working optimally. Usually we coexist with a variety of parasites living in our body quite happily – it’s a beautifully functioning, symbiotic relationship – they help digest our food, make vitamins, form an immune response to foreign invaders and perform other vital services but if you have recurring bouts of athlete’s foot or UTIs for example, your immune system is not strong enough to be able to keep everything in balance.

If you don’t address this issue it can develop and eventually become something else after years of putting off doing something about it. Possibly an autoimmune disorder?

It’s worth listening to what our often ignored bodies are trying to tell us. People found here can help us sort through the unknowns about our health. They dig a little deeper than our GPs have time to.

In the spirit of paying attention to things to advantage ourselves I was finding out about the 9 circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. This goes into it in a little more detail. The 8th circle interested me most – fraud (which includes flatterers, sorcerers, seducers and liars). I can think of two professions that could fit the bill but which ones have you come into contact with that would fit right in to your circle of hell? Advertisers, marketeers and certain parts of the contemporary scientific process fit into mine!

My dissatisfaction with the scientific process may be related to the fact that not only has mainstream science not come up with a cure for ms but they also are not aware of things that could make life a little better. In the spirit of focusing on what’s important in life (making life a little better to be up there in the top 10) I am into my 2nd week of a candida cleanse (my eating habits have rarely been exemplary and I took antibiotics last year) I will post details soon. Acknowledging candida is just one part of getting on board with the existence of a microbiome.

Are doctors beginning to get it?

pleasing view of natureEverything is awesome! (apologies, I watched a movie yesterday, Lego related post to follow)

This piece of news came out on the anniversary of the start of the 2nd WW. One has no bearing on the other, I’m not big into coincidences and fate (I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that even though I use a word later on in this post I don’t knit my own muesli or believe in numerology). That’s not to say they don’t hold worth for some people but I’m not one of them.

Nowadays I spend my time researching or more precisely, wading through online ‘cures for MS’. For the record, I don’t think those words sit well in a statement and am highly wary of anyone who tries to jam them into a sentence together.

I’ve been building up to a post that was to be asking ‘Why Doctors Don’t Get It’. In it I refer to the Aesop’s fable of the wind and sun competing to get a man’s coat. We all know that the persuasive heat of the sun was far more effective than the brute force of the North wind.

Seeing this particular application of research based on dampening the allergic response in folk with troublesome allergies we have a sign that medical professionals are getting it. They may no longer see the words MS and choose to research treatments that, you could argue, are akin to using sledgehammers to crack nuts. It feels like doctors/consultants/experts don’t especially consider the bodies that carry the condition they’re creating a treatment for.

Does fear of this condition perhaps lie at the heart of why it’s been considered a perfectly acceptable treatment option to wipe out a fairly essential part of a human’s functioning? We need our immune system to defend against the many external assaults a body faces every day. Or is it that Western science practitioners, like small children are using a mallet to hammer a square peg into a round hole rather than examine the qualities of either component?

AIDS drugs and cancer therapies have been suggested and offered as a way to address our brain’s apparently self destructive tendencies. Let’s rush instead shall we to pharmaceutically punish the MSpatient/EMO self harmer by offering an already confused brain Lemtrada/alemtuzamab (a recycled cancer drug).

There’s nothing much binary about the human body so why has it been, until this recent development, that research has involved switching things off and on again?

Doctors can be so much more than IT support workers dealing with squashy cabinets!

I used to howl at the moon In an earlier blog and there I pondered on the difference between Eastern and Western medical practice. Both types seem to deal with the human body very differently.

From what I’ve experienced and read Eastern medicine considers our wobbling sacks of bones and processes holistically. I hesitate to use that word because I know it gets laughed out of a Western doctor’s waiting room (this is the word I was talking about at the beginning of the post). As if treating symptoms without addressing why a thing is happening has been shown to be a terribly evolved way of approaching the human body… please take a look at an earlier post I’d written about acupuncture at the beginning of the year in response to a frankly arrogant medical professional’s somewhat childish assessment of a science/methodology he’s chosen not to find out about. Like Western medicine has all the answers?

Personalised help for MS and other long term conditions?


So, in the post “eat your greens” I mention the process I’ve just begun which involved sending some spit over the Atlantic to have my DNA sequenced by these folk. I had some reservations about finding out something in my genetic code that might be lurking in the future but, knowledge is power. I might be worried about how this data could be used if it fell into the wrong hands but having an ms diagnosis in the here and now has already made me dead to insurance companies. I’m perhaps being pretty naive not making myself aware of the details of unforeseen data splashing horrors but I prefer not to spend time thinking how awful life could be.

So, being an impetuous child I went ahead anyway!

This is lifted from wikipedia‘s explanation of SNPs “Variations in the DNA sequences of humans can affect how humans develop diseases and respond to pathogenschemicalsdrugsvaccines, and other agents. SNPs are also critical for personalized medicine.[5]

For folk interested in family ancestry this sort of data could be a boon for identifying where great, great auntie Val has most ancestors. So many possible starts of stories!

The flipside of this personalisation is that genes don’t represent ‘set in stone’ certainties. A percentage chance is expressed for which conditions your body could be becoming most primed for. Epigenetics is becoming a fascinating topic for speculation and research. It studies how we interact with our environments and how our grandparents did also. I think I’ve mentioned the 2ndWW dutch famine research elsewhere?

Instead with 23and me sequenced data, we have information to act on…stop smoking.. eat more veg… (which is pretty good advice for most people) but supplement specific vitamins and minerals because certain SNiPs are weak in your sequence and can’t do a certain type of processing which might help us get a bit of extra energy for example. I mentioned methylation in another post, it refers to how our bodies allow the process of making energy in all our cells. How we treat our bodies is far more defining than some paperwork as this particular article spells out.

I feel a need to do these things (or perhaps it’s straightforward desire – a coping mechanism if you will?) because no one cares about my health and wellbeing as much as me. Certain medical professionals care about the condition they’ve become ‘experts’ in but only in their specific research area. How a body functions doesn’t seem to concern say, a neurologist. I feel invested enough to look at all sorts of strategies and specialisms to try and get my body working a little better and I don’t have any affiliations that might stop me looking in a range of areas.

This is why I’m interested in the vascular dimension to a number of chronic conditions. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough curiosity in science. I believe sometimes healthcare professionals could do with getting a bit of distance from a disease shaped problem to get a chance at seeing the bigger picture in individuals.