‘All disease begins in the gut’ – (Hippocrates 460-370 BC)

Hippocrates the father of modern medicine famously stated 2,400 years ago that ‘all disease begins in the gut’. The gut is the 25 feet of tubing that runs from the mouth to the anus and contains on average 100 trillion bacteria (the microflora/microbiome) weighing approximately 2 kg and over 3 million genes. The explosion in scientific research over the past 10 to 15 years into the fundamental role that optimal gut health plays in respect of our overall health and well being, is starting to enable us to understand just how true these wise words are, yet to date modern medicine has yet to embrace this paradigm.

Clinically, no matter what chronic disease the client is presenting with, we always start with supporting gut health. Optimal gut health is the foundation upon which your house of health is built. Optimal health requires optimal gut health.

Any form of diarrhoea/constipation, excess mucous, light/excessively dark coloured and/or foul smelling output are all clear signs of gut imbalances being present. You do not however have to be presenting with any overt signs of dysfunction to still have gut imbalances. This is an oversimplification, but gut health is dependent on three key areas of the system working as well as possible: digestive capacity (includes stomach acid strength, bile flow and digestive enzyme status), the balance of the individual bacterial/yeast/fungi/parasite and viral inhabitants and the ‘leakiness’ of the gut lining (the gut lining regulates what is let in and kept out). All of these areas are intricately interconnected. If there are imbalances/issues with any of these key areas, then it is almost inevitable that your health will be negatively impacted in some way. The evidence base continues to uncover real connections between overall gut health and an ever increasing number of chronic conditions that are becoming a significant issue for society, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, IBS, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, Parkinson’s/MS/ALS/neurodegenerative conditions, dementia, cancer, cardio vascular disease, diabetes and metabolic dysfunction.

Thanks to modern testing, we can now comprehensively measure how well each of these key areas of gut health are performing and then subsequently create personalised interventions to help support/correct any identified imbalances, often with impressive results. Why then, after 2,400 years, is this approach not yet a cornerstone of modern medicine and chronic disease management?

Coeliac Disease – new diagnoses increasing at over 7% per year

Coeliac disease (CD) is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks and damages the villi (the finger like small protrusions in the small intestine/gut). Originally considered a rare childhood condition it is now recognised as primarily an adult disease. CD is essentially a disease of malabsorption. If the cells are not getting the micronutrients from the food that we eat, then logically a number of significant health problems can eventually manifest anywhere in the body.

A recent meta analysis in The American Journal of Gastroenterology concludes that – ‘the incidence of coeliac disease is significantly rising (7.5% every year for the past few decades)’.

Incidence is the number of new cases expressed as proportion of the population being studied and provides a better understanding of what is really going on, compared to measuring prevalence, which is a measure of existing cases in a particular population.

So what is going on? A number of factors are certainly at play here including, access to improved blood tests since the 1990s; the change in guidelines in respect of being able to diagnose CD in certain children without the requirement of a biopsy and the increased awareness amongst clinicians/doctors that the classical symptoms of abdominal pain and diarrhoea occur in less than 50% of coeliacs. Other common symptoms including migraines, skin problems, depression, fertility issues, chronic fatigue, joint pain, liver and cardio vascular disease, osteoporosis, other autoimmune conditions (especially type 1 diabetes and autoimmune thyroiditis) and neurological problems. This is of course all welcome progress, but is not the full picture.

Environmental factors are also more than likely playing a significant role here. These factors include, the hybridisation of wheat to create dwarf wheat – which has a significantly higher gluten content compared to ancient varieties, the timing and amount of gluten introduced into the diet of infants, the amount of antibiotic exposure within the first year of life and the presence of childhood infections. Add into the equation the explosion in the use of glyphosate/Roundup since the early 1990s due to the practice of ‘crop desiccation’, where glyphosate (a patented antibiotic) is sprayed on wheat (and other staples) just before harvest to improve yields and one can start to understand why we are seeing the continued rise in one of the most common lifelong disorders in North America and Europe.

COVID-19 – beyond washing hands and social distancing…

Thoroughly washing hands and social distancing are clearly good advice, but these actions are just the start of what we can all do to make a difference. We all have an obligation to look after ourselves and our loved ones, to not only reduce the chances of contracting the virus but also the severity of the disease, should we get it, so that those of us that require critical care can access it.

So what else can we do? This is not about ‘boosting’ immune function by the way; it is about immune system ‘modulation’. The immune system’s purpose is not to overreact to the world, but instead to tolerate it (foods, pollen, dust, animal hair etc) only reacting when required, at an appropriate level, to pathogens – viruses/bacteria.

From clinical experience, clients that regularly catch infections – coughs/colds/flu/viruses, become more immunologically robust by working on their health from a multifactorial perspective. They achieve this by:
• Eating organic (if possible), nutrient dense, unprocessed, natural whole foods – grass fed meats/ wild fish/vegetables/nuts/seeds/fruit and water, cutting out all added sugars/trans fats/alcohol/processed foods/gluten grains and dairy. Each and every one of our 36 trillion cells require optimal amounts of over 250 different micronutrients in order to function properly. We get these micronutrients from our food, so you not only have to consume these nutrients, you also need to be able to absorb them. Gut health is key here. Use a food state multi vitamin and mineral supplement.
• Optimising vitamin D levels (check levels via finger prick testing – aim for 150 nmol/L) and take a few grams of vitamin C per day – not appropriate with certain medical conditions and always check for any adverse interactions with prescribed medications. Now that spring has sprung, aim for regular sensible sun exposure if at all possible.
• Focusing on getting good sleep – this is when we repair.
• Regularly exercising – at a level that is appropriate to you.
• Breathing properly – an excellent way to not only oxygenate the body but also to manage stress.
• Reducing exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) – the science is becoming clear, EMF exposure damages cellular biochemistry and therefore health. Recommendations include switching off your WIFI at night, swap out any DECT/mobile landline phones for corded phones, make your bedroom a technology free zone, reduce mobile phone use and do not carry/place a mobile close to your body/head.
• Managing stress levels – stress increases the body’s production of corticosteroids, which are medically prescribed to suppress the immune system! Reduce exposure to the media and consider meditation/mindfulness and breath work.

Stay safe and well….

 

Osteoarthritis is not a ‘wear and tear disease’

Osteoarthritis (OA) is an ‘age related low-grade inflammatory disease of the joints’ which causes the protective cartilage cushion between the bones to wear down, allowing the bones to rub together, creating a great deal of pain and discomfort. In the UK, OA affects 8.75 million people contributing to a significant burden on our health and social care systems. Modern medical treatments involve the use of paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. ibuprofen), opioids, steroid injections, joint replacement/fusing and osteotomies. The use of drugs will provide pain relief, masking the symptoms but will not get to the root cause of the problem. Taken for long periods of time, these drugs can cause significant long-term health issues in themselves.

OA is often described as a ‘wear and tear disease’ that is caused by getting older. There is now very compelling evidence to suggest otherwise. Obesity is the strongest risk factor for OA onset in the knees, but the fact that being overweight/obese also increases the risk of developing OA in non-weight bearing joints, such as the hands/wrists, suggests that physical weight/wear and tear of the joints are not the only factors at play. In 2017 researchers at the University of Surrey identified a significant link between the body’s metabolism (the chemical processes that occur within us to maintain life) and OA – The role of metabolism in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis – Nature Reviews Rheumatology, 2017.

In this review a comprehensive explanation is made on how poor dietary choices and lack of exercise can trigger the reprogramming of cells in the joints (and indeed the rest of the body) from a balanced resting state to one that is highly active, creating a number of cellular by-products that both inhibit the repair of/and destroy tissue, as well as fuelling inflammation. We know that regular moderate exercise confers significant benefits to overall joint health, as it strengthens muscles, prevents further cartilage breakdown and builds bone.

Lead author, Professor Ali Mobasheri summarises: ‘It is important never to underestimate the significance of a healthy diet and lifestyle as not only does it impact upon our general wellbeing but can alter the metabolic behaviour of our cells, tissues and organs leading to serious illnesses’. The big question of course is what exactly does that ‘healthy diet’ look like for the individual, as healthful foods for one can literally be a slow poison for another.

 

Depression – one size does not fit all

In a previous post (available here), we explored the gut-brain axis and the significant and sustainable improvements that are often achieved in respect of anxiety and depression, by simply removing from the diet the foods that typically cause the greatest harm, focusing on the consumption of nutrient dense wholefoods, implementing targeted lifestyle choices and even consuming therapeutic dosages of turmeric.

There are however times when this approach on its own does not deliver the desired outcomes, suggesting the presence of a more complicated picture.

Dr William Walsh has spent the past 30 years collecting data across tens of thousands of patients presenting with a range of mental disorders (including ADHD, autism, depression, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease) and has created a comprehensive database of nutrient imbalances that can fuel these conditions. Dr Walsh’s work is based on the premise that we are all biochemically individual and that nutrient imbalances and/or the presence of toxins that can cause significant disruption in brain biochemistry. Interestingly Dr Walsh in his book ‘Nutrient Power – Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain’ describes a surprising finding that ‘nutrient overloads usually cause more mischief than deficiencies’. Dr Walsh goes onto to describe 5 ‘depression biotypes’, which have very specific symptoms and traits: These are:

  • ‘Undermethylation’ – very sensitive to the methyl/folate levels in the brain and must avoid folate/folic acid, choline, manganese and copper supplementation. Usually respond well to antidepressant medications and improve with magnesium, vitamin D, B6, tryptophan, A, C and E.
  • ‘Folate deficiency’ – typically intolerant to antidepressants. Must avoid tryptophan, copper and inositol. Respond well to folate, B12, B3, choline, manganese, zinc, B6, C and E.
  • ‘Copper overload’ – 96% female – mixed reaction to antidepressants. Must avoid copper. Improve with zinc, manganese, glutathione, B6, C and E.
  • ‘Pyrrole disorder’ – significant zinc and B6 deficiencies which are often genetically driven (family history of depression). Require high doses of zinc and B6.
  • ‘Toxics’ – typically caused by excess levels of lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium. This type is difficult to diagnose – typically diagnosed by exclusion of the other types.

Clearly treating depression with a ‘one size fits all’ SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) drugs and/or random supplementation is too simplistic and may in certain situations actually do harm. Tailored nutritional therapy interventions, under the guidance of a suitably qualified healthcare practitioner, can be an extremely powerful tool when it comes to implementing a comprehensive strategy to help optimally manage depression.

 

Wishing You a Very Happy and Healthy New Year…

As a new year dawns, I thought that it would be appropriate to write a few words about ‘health’. So what is ‘health’? ‘Health’ is defined by the World Health Organisation as being ‘a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. The key point here is that ‘health’ is about so much more than just the absence of disease and embraces all aspects of our interactions with each other and the World around us. Given this definition, just how many of us, might actually be classified as being truly ‘healthy’?

As a species we are currently sinking under a tidal wave of chronic disease – these are long-term health conditions that require on-going management and their prevalence is growing at an alarming rate. These include cancer, dementia, diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure, asthma and depression. Our NHS is literally being overwhelmed by complex chronic conditions. To put this into perspective NHS statistics reveal that approximately 45% of the English population have at least one chronic condition, with 16% having one or more. What is extremely concerning is that 15% of young adults (11-15) in England now have a chronic condition and 70% of the health care budget is being spent on chronic disease management.

The current approach is clearly broken. We cannot afford to just keep pumping extra billions of pounds into a system that with all the best will in the world is simply ‘managing disease’ using a ‘top down’ approach to treat symptoms with prescribed medications. We need instead to focus on the creation and promotion of ‘health’, so that the body is effectively unable to harbour disease.

We are over medicalised and need to take a step back from the current accepted paradigm and instead practice a number of simple yet powerful choices that most of us can make of consuming more nutrient dense foods, reducing toxin exposure, practicing mindfulness, less reliance on social/digital media with more real world interactions and regularly getting out in nature and moving. Of course there are times when it is appropriate to use medications to help manage certain acute and complex chronic conditions. The objective however should always be wherever possible to minimise medication load and duration. Remember that poor health is not due to a lack of medications. Wishing you a very happy and healthy 2020.

 

 

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – under-diagnosed and misunderstood

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonally driven condition, caused by elevated levels of testosterone in women of childbearing age, which can lead to a combination of ovarian cysts, irregular periods and reduced fertility/infertility.

Other common symptoms often include excessive hair growth on the face/chest and back, weight gain, oily/poor skin health, headaches, depression and hair loss/thinning on the scalp. Often symptoms are not obvious making diagnosis tricky, with data suggesting that up to 70% of women with PCOS are not diagnosed. It is estimated that PCOS currently affects 1 in 5 women in the UK. This makes PCOS one of the most common endocrine disorders, which the data suggests is also associated with a significantly elevated risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease and endometrial cancer.

PCOS is a significantly under-diagnosed and misunderstood syndrome, which can literally ruin women’s health.

Depending on the key symptoms, there are a variety of medications and medical procedures used by allopathic medicine to try and help treat PCOS. These include contraceptive pills, hormonal medications/creams, intrauterine devices, IVF, diabetic medications and surgery.

From a functional (causational) perspective, hormonal dysregulation typically involves the presence of some or all of the following key imbalances: poor blood sugar management (which can cause an increase in an enzyme that increases levels of both testosterone and oestrogen), adrenal dysfunction (chronic stress can cause sex hormone imbalances through ‘cortisol steal’), gut dysfunction (absorption issues due to micro flora imbalances and heightened inflammation which can lead to hormone resistance), poor detoxification (toxic load and efficiency of the key detoxification pathways are extremely important) and nutrient deficiencies (cells require optimal nutrient status in order to function properly). Each of these imbalances cannot exist in isolation and they all cross relate with each other via a complex web of interdependencies – this is of course entirely logical, as nothing exists in the body in isolation. Whilst genetic predisposition is now also believed to play a role, thankfully these traits can be successfully managed via environmental changes (epigenetics).

Both clinical experience and research suggest that when PCOS is diagnosed in a woman of optimal weight/BMI, who is not presenting with prediabetes/diabetes, then careful attention should be given to the thyroid. Even mild hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) can cause ovarian insufficiency and therefore impact fertility. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2016/2067087/

Clinically, employing a multifactorial personalised dietary, lifestyle and functional rebalancing approach, often delivers significant results.

Type 1 Diabetes – You May Have More Control Than You Have Been Led To Believe

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease. The body’s immune system destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin. Insufficient insulin production hinders the ability of tissues to absorb glucose (sugar) supplied by food and drink leading to dangerously high levels of glucose in the blood. Left untreated, high blood glucose can lead to extremely serious health complications. T1D occurrence is currently growing at 3% per annum. The risk of developing T1D is 10 times greater than the general population in children with a parent that has the condition. Coeliac disease and T1D share common genetic predispositions, meaning that these conditions often co-exist.

As T1D is an autoimmune disease, it is unsurprising to find that the literature implicates a number of potential triggers and exacerbators of this condition, including genetics, the timing of introduction of both cow’s milk and gluten into the diet, maternal diet (gluten content and vitamin D status), infections (viruses are a known trigger of autoimmunity), stress, toxic load, the balance of the gut micro flora, digestive system health and the integrity of the gut barrier.

It is nearly 15 years since the concept that autoimmunity develops via a complex interaction between our genetic base and our environment was first postulated. The single largest point of interaction between our environment and our genetic base takes place in the gut – the small intestine has the surface area of half a badminton court.

Our genes are set at conception, however our environment (composed of dietary choices plus viral/bacterial/toxin and stress load) is to a large extent controllable, as is the health and permeability (leakiness) of the gut. Both current thinking and clinical experience show that by modulation of both the environment and intestinal permeability (leakiness of the gut), it is often possible to not only arrest the development of autoimmunity, but also potentially even reverse it.

‘……..once the autoimmune process is activated, it is not self-perpetuating; rather, it can be modulated or even reversed…..’

Professors Fasano and Shea-Donohue – Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2005: https://tinyurl.com/yyz3vom2

The destruction of the pancreatic cells is a gradual process (even though symptoms may appear suddenly). There is therefore a window of opportunity to comprehensively evaluate environmental triggers and digestive system imbalances that may be both triggering and exacerbating this significant condition. ‘It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so’…

Cancer Treatments, Complementary Therapies and Marginal Gains

There have been considerable advances in recent years in both the treatment options (surgery, chemo/radiotherapy, hormones, immunotherapy and stem cell/bone marrow transplants) and survival rates after a cancer diagnosis, but ‘cancer and its treatment often leaves a gruelling physical and mental legacy for many years afterwards….and many of these people are not living well…..living with multiple long term conditions’ (Macmillan Cancer Support, 2013).

However, in spite of trillions of dollars of money being spent on research and treatments since President Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971, recent global data shows that ‘Cancer incidence and mortality are (still) rapidly growing worldwide’ (Global cancer statistics 2018: GLOBOCAN) and we are told to expect that ‘by 2020 it is estimated that nearly 1 in 2 of us will develop cancer at some point in our lives’ (Macmillan Cancer Support, 2015). Is this acceptable? Does this not imply ‘that something is fundamentally wrong with the current accepted paradigms of cancer?’ Calabrese, E.J – Journal of Cell Communication and Signaling 2019).

Cancer is a complex multifactorial chronic disease and the evidence would strongly suggest that complementary approaches when combined with modern medical treatments can significantly improve patient outcomes. This is not about an alternative approach, which by default implies that the patient has to make a decision as to which path to take, but about combining the best available evidence based approaches from both modern and complementary medicine to help deliver improved patient outcomes.

This is all about marginal gains. The principle being that if you can achieve small improvements (e.g.1%) in multiple areas then the cumulative gains will end up being significant. It is natural to assume that in order to achieve any desired outcome, we must focus our energies on only using actions that will deliver the greatest returns. Why bother with actions that only produce marginal improvements that may not even be noticeable? But the point here is that tiny improvements can make a significant difference over time, as marginal gains compound. This is exactly the principle that revolutionised British cycling when Sir Dave Brailsford applied this principle rigorously from 2003 onwards. The results speak for themselves. Between 2007 to 2017, British cyclists won 178 world championships and 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals and captured 5 Tour de France victories in what is widely regarded as the most successful run in cycling history.

So if this principle can transform a sport, what might it do for cancer treatments and outcomes? Why would we not, as a matter of course, always recommend using other complementary approaches to help achieve potentially substantial improvements in not only treatment outcomes but also the quality of life post treatment (a time when cancer patients require support), as well as reducing the risk of further future complications?

This is precisely the approach that Professor Bredesen is using with significant success, to arrest and even reverse Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Professor Bredesen describes AD as being primarily a ‘metabolic problem’, which necessitates the use of a ‘silver buckshot’ rather than a ‘silver bullet’ approach. In a small but groundbreaking study published in Aging 2014, a 90% success rate in both arresting and reversing early stage AD was reported. Dr Bredesen uses a combination of personalised dietary and lifestyle interactions (includes supporting digestive function, identifying imbalances in the gut, correcting identified nutrient deficiencies, optimising vitamin D levels, eating food over a particular window of time in the day, assessing metal toxicity, optimising sleep, increasing exercise and movement, reducing inflammation, identifying food sensitivities, supporting mitochondrial function and stimulating the brain) with the client to achieve substantial results over a 3 to 12 month period.

These results on the face of it look too good to be true, but in reality simply reflect the obvious, which is that the vast majority of chronic disease (including cancer) is rooted in the mismatch between our genetics and the modern world that we have created for us to live in. Your environment (diet, toxic load, stress/trauma, and infections) is fundamental to your long-term health and well-being and should be one of the first areas to seriously evaluate when confronted with any chronic condition. What makes you, you is unique to you and this is the premise behind the ‘functional model’ of medicine/health, which is all about identifying (and then treating) the triggers and mediators (perpetuators) of your chronic disease.

The cancer clients that I have the privilege of working with often inform me that they are told by their doctors/oncologists that diet has nothing to do with helping treat cancer and improving their outcomes. This just does not make any medical or biochemical sense. Why wouldn’t the food that you consume be the cornerstone of any treatment plan? We know that our cells require the ready availability of over 250 micronutrients in order to function properly and that on a basic level dysfunctional cells leads to disease. The only way that you can get these micronutrients into the body is to eat them (assuming that absorption is not hindered in any way due to imbalances such as weak stomach acid, poor bile flow, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and imbalances in the bacterial species of the gut). In my opinion, nutrient status, food sensitivities and overall digestive system health should be thoroughly evaluated as part of any cancer treatment plan.

Study after study highlights the potential impact that the microflora/microbiome (the balance of the bacterial species/viruses/parasites and fungi that live in or digestive systems) has on all aspects of our health and well being, with the existence of multiple ‘gut organ’ axes. Research shows that dietary choices can rapidly modulate/change the composition of the micro ecology of the gut, so why wouldn’t diet be a fundamental tool to achieve marginal if not substantive gains in the treatment of cancers? The concept that one should eat a ‘healthy’ diet (when diet is briefly mentioned) is also fundamentally flawed. What exactly is a healthy diet anyway? Does that include dairy? Does it contain saturated fat? What about ketogenic diets? What about grains/gluten? There are so many variables and the answer to these questions rests with obtaining the right data to be able to personalise and construct the most effective dietary approach for each client. ‘The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison’ – Dr Ann Wigmore.

So what other key complementary options should cancer patients seriously consider using to maximise marginal gains, alongside their medical treatments?

The Ketogenic diet (not necessarily suitable for everybody though), is the very strict control of carbohydrate intake, with moderate protein consumption and the majority of calories coming from high quality fats. Ketogenic diets are gaining recognition as an effective strategy for any cancer that is rooted in mitochondrial dysfunction (energy plants of our cells) and/or metastatic cancers. There is also evidence that a ketogenic approach may be very supportive of both radiotherapy and chemotherapy, improving outcomes. The effectiveness of a ketogenic approach may also be enhanced by using hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatments.

Mycotherapy (medicinal mushroom therapy). Mushrooms contain over 150 bioactive compounds and a recent interview with Dr Pere Gascón (oncologist) for ‘InFocus’ – IHCAN and Nutrition May 2019 he states: ‘There are more than 5,000 publications in English literature that indicate the beneficial effect of the extract of certain mushrooms in cancer…….mushrooms are, above all, immunomodulators, as they enhance T lymphocytes, both in number and quality and even B lymphocytes, the creators of antibodies’. Essentially mushrooms are not only natural immune modulators, but they also have substantial evidence demonstrating their ability to significantly reduce or sometimes even stop the often severe side effects of chemo and radiotherapy. This is a win win situation as the client can better tolerate the treatments and there is therefore full compliance with the program and hence a greater chance of the treatment working. Not only that, mushrooms possess anti-angiogenic, anti-metastatic, anti-tumour and anti mutagenic properties in their own right. Another key factor to note about Mycotherapy is that its use does not interfere with the excretion of chemotherapy and other cancer drugs through the cytochrome P450 liver pathway. This is important, as oncologists are always concerned by the potential impact that nutraceuticals can have on their treatments and rightly so, as either slowing down or speeding up detoxification can have significant consequences for the patient.

Finally, we are being marinated in toxins – more than 85,000 chemicals have been released into our environment since the end of the 2nd World War and we have very little understanding about their impact on our health, yet alone the World. Reducing total toxic load by thoroughly auditing your environment from the air that you breath, the water you drink, choosing organic foods, the personal care products and the cookware that you use and the chemicals that you expose yourself to in every day life including paints, air fresheners, weed killers and flame retardants, should be thoroughly assessed. What about electromagnetic pollution (WIFI, mobile phones, Bluetooth, 4G/5G)? The evidence base is rapidly building that these technologies are potentially doing us significant harm. This is again the principle of marginal gains. We cannot completely escape the toxic soup and electromagnetic smog that we have created, but we can make lots of small changes across the board potentially making a considerable impact. Maybe this subject will become the smoking of the 21st Century. Time will of course tell……

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) – a Developed World Pandemic

Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure that is produced within your blood vessels as the heart pumps. The data shows that a considerable proportion of the developed world’s population have higher than ideal blood pressure, written as systolic (the pressure created in the blood vessels during contraction of the heart) over diastolic (the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart rests in between beats). Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg (although less than 90/60 is classified as low blood pressure, which can cause other problems). We know that hypertension is extremely rare with traditional hunter-gatherers.

Hypertension is a significant risk factor for strokes, cardio vascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The data suggests that even mild hypertension (140-159/90-99 mmHg) can roughly double your risk of presenting with cardio vascular disease. Often there are no overt symptoms associated with hypertension, although headaches, chest pain, ear noise, nosebleeds, an irregular heartbeat, tiredness and vision changes may indicate an issue. Checking your blood pressure regularly is easy and affordable to do at home – home monitors start at £15.

So what should you do if you are presenting with high blood pressure? Should you resort to taking a medication? Not necessarily, as data from the Cochrane Collaboration (considered the ‘gold standard’ opinion, as it reviews the outcome of multiple randomised clinical trials) shows that the use of blood pressure medications for mild hypertension ‘did not reduce coronary disease, stroke or total cardiovascular events’ and that up to 9% of patients experienced ‘adverse effects’. For mild hypertension, the best place to start is by shifting your diet to a natural whole foods approach. This means removing all junk foods and focusing on the consumption of wholefoods – grass-fed meat/wild fish and seafood, nuts and seeds, vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices and drinking herbal teas/filtered water. By doing this you are likely to lose weight, if over weight, reduce the intake of damaged fats (heated vegetable oils), sugar, caffeine and alcohol, which are all connected to hypertension, as well as providing the body with sufficient levels of nutrients. What about salt? The evidence connecting salt to heart disease is weak and in fact restricting salt (mineral salt not table salt) intake may in fact be harmful to our health!

Finally, Dr Reaven who spent the last 60 years studying insulin resistance (IR), which is the condition where the body is unable to tolerate more than the absolute minimum amount of carbohydrate per day, without developing elevated levels of insulin in the blood; suggested that IR is the root cause of not only diabetes, but also hypertension, strokes, obesity, heart attacks and possibly even cancers and dementia. IR is more common than you might expect, which is typically estimated to be around 6% of the population. According to Dr Kraft, ‘to properly diagnose IR, one needs to measure changes in blood insulin and glucose concentrations for 2 to 5 hours after the ingestion of 100 grams of glucose. He showed that 75% of over 4,000 individuals who had ‘normal’ glucose tolerance as measured by conventional criteria showed an inappropriate insulin response, indicating that they were IR’ (Quoted directly from the Lore of Nutrition – Challenging Conventional Dietary Beliefs by Tim Noakes and Marika Sboros). That is a remarkable observation and may in fact be central to the development of not only hypertension but also virtually all chronic disease.