Nutrition Brought to Life is the first book from holistic nutritional therapist Kirsten Chick – and it’s fantastic!
Written in Kirsten’s trademark accessible style, the book provides a firm grounding in natural nutrition, and how we can truly nourish ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Part 1 begins with the digestive system – the foundation of all health and wellbeing. Kirsten then skillfully guides us through energy production, the highs and lows of sugar, managing our stress response, adrenal support, the gut microbiome, inflammation, immunity, “liver whispering” (brilliant!), hormone balancing, and creating our own personal action plan for health. Part 2 provides 50 different recipes; from soups and main meals, to nourishing smoothies, salads, and warming drinks, all designed to support optimum health and vitality.
Each chapter includes a few reflective questions to help readers think about what they’ve just learnt, and how they can start making manageable changes for better health.
This isn’t just a book to flick through and put down; it’s a book that can help you transform how you nourish yourself, on every level, and get back in touch with what your body is telling you.
Kirsten has been working as a nutritional therapist since 2003, and combines private nutrition practice with teaching, writing, public speaking, and whizzing up recipes in her kitchen. Her areas of expertise include fertility, pregnancy, cancer care, and general nutrition. She’s kindly agreed to let me include an excerpt of the book here so you can get a taster of what to expect…
Sugar – the highs and lowdown
When life is sweet I don’t seem to crave so much sugar. I may enjoy sweet foods from time to time, but I don’t actively seek it out. When my mood or zest for life drop, when I feel let down, or when I feel like the ground has fallen away beneath me, my thoughts turn to sugar. It’s a pattern I learnt when I was very small, and reinforced with abandon as I grew up. It’s one I now smile at like an old friend I have drifted away from. We sometimes hang out for a brief while, but I spend more time with my other friends these days. They don’t challenge my insulin pathways so much.
Insulin and glucagon – balancing blood sugar
When you eat, your pancreas releases hormones that directly affect your energy pathways and fat levels. Remember that your pancreas sits near your stomach, and most of it is busy producing digestive enzymes to squirt into your small intestine. A small section of it, however, has a specialist role in balancing blood sugar.
About 2-3% of your pancreas, an exotic resort called the Islets of Langerhans, releases blood sugar regulating hormones called insulin and glucagon, plus a moderating hormone called somatostatin. These hormones then course through your bloodstream, with instructions for what to do with glucose, the sugar released from your latest meal or snack.
When you have high levels of glucose in your blood:
– insulin can trigger some of it to be sent into your cells to make ATP ‘energy batteries’
– any excess with be converted to a substance called glycogen in your liver, where you can keep a store cupboard of about a day’s supply
– if there’s still more glucose left over, insulin will turn it into fats, which are sent to your fat cells (aka adipose cells) for more long-term storage – this is how sugar can make you fat.
To carry on reading Nutrition Brought to Life order your copy today from one of the stockists listed on Kirsten’s website, or Amazon. And listen along to the Nutrition Brought to Life podcast too!
One of the most important things I’ve learned from both naturopathic nutrition and Yoga is that every part of the body is connected. We are one big moving part. Nothing in the body exists in isolation. Gut, brain, heart, hormones, immunity, muscles, bones, lungs, liver, skin; every organ and system is communicating with one another.
Whether its via hormonal messages, nerve fibres, fascia, or microbial metabolites: communication is constant.
I recently had the pleasure of talking about these incredible interconnections for a podcast (more details to follow on this). The podcast focuses on the links between the gut, brain, hormone balance, and the immune system. I like to make notes before I do any kind of talk, so I drew a mind-map of the links between these areas. It ended up large and colourful…
And this is just the basic links, there are plenty more that wouldn’t fit on the page!
The Gut is the Foundation
The gut is always the first place to start when looking at a health issue. Whether its mental health, low immunity, hormone imbalance, or any kind of inflammation – look at the gut first. As the mind-map shows, this is where nutrient absorption takes place, and the elimination of waste (including old hormones). You can eat all the right foods and take top quality supplements, but if you’re not absorbing them well enough, or clearing out your waste each day, improvement will be very slow.
Our gut microbes (the microbiome) play a huge role in regulating our immune response, managing inflammation, and influencing mood. They communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, the ‘super highway’ communication channel between gut and brain. Anything that upsets the microbiome – stress, infection, antibiotics – can affect mood and immunity.
Hormones are the chemical messengers zooming instructions around the body. When it comes to stress, cortisol is the main player. Ongoing high levels of cortisol can compromise our digestion making us more prone to gut problems like bloating, indigestion, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It also affects immunity, increasing the risk of infections, and hampering recovery. If we don’t learn how to manage ongoing stress, our mental resilience starts to wear thin too. Eventually this can lead to anxiety, depression, and burn-out.
Fluctuating oestrogen levels during the pre-menstrual phase (PMS) and perimenopause can affect gut health and mental wellbeing. High levels of oestrogen can be a triggering factor for migraines and PMS, while low levels lead to different symptoms depending on which part of the brain is affected. For example hot flushes, one of the characteristic symptoms of perimenopause, are triggered when there isn’t enough oestrogen reaching the hypothalamus, our central temperature regulator. Too little oestrogen in the amygdala can lead to anxiety, which in turn increases our sense of feeling threatened and stressed and upregulates cortisol production.
Balancing the connections
If you can make out my scrawls on the diagram, you’ll notice there’s a lot of crossover between the nutrients that support each area – gut, mental health, hormones, and immunity. Including these nutrients on a daily basis supplies your body with the tools it needs to: – Build hormones – Manage inflammation – Maintain immune balance – Support neurotransmitters – Detoxify hormones – Nuture the gut microbiome
Food connects us with ourselves, and enables our internal communications to run smoothly.
If you’re dealing with symptoms in any of the areas mentioned on the diagram, look at your food choices and see where you can make some simple swaps to include more of these key nutrients. This table lists some of the top sources so you can mix and match and enjoy the variety…
Supporting Vagal tone
Alongside all these good foods, think about ways to incorporate more relaxation and mindfulness into your daily life. When we’re busy and stressed we are spending the majority of our time in the fight-flight-freeze response; the sympathetic nervous system. For our health, we need to balance this by switching to the parasympathetic response: rest-digest-heal. The vagus nerve plays a big role here, and anything that activates it will help. Taking a few slow deep breaths is the quickest and easiest way to do this because the brain thinks “ah, we can’t be in immediate danger, we’re breathing too slowly!” Singing is another good technique (not always practical in the middle of a work meeting though) and doing meditative movements such as yoga and Qi Gong.
Look at ways to fit pockets of relaxation time into your day. A short walk in the park at lunchtime, ten minutes of mindful meditation after work, taking 5 slow deep breaths before each meal – that sort of thing. The benefits of these little pockets soon builds up and you’ll feel calmer and more resilient.
This winter’s flu season has taken a dramatic turn with the arrival and rapid spread of the Covid-19 corona virus. A few weeks ago I highlighted some of the key nutrients we need for all-round immune support. These nutrients are essential in the fight against flu. But is there any evidence to say nutrition can help fight coronaviruses?
The short answer to this question is yes! In a fascinating paper from the US, researchers explore the interactions between compounds in foods and the way our immune system deals with RNA viruses – including coronaviruses.
The compounds examined in this paper include:
– Ferulic acid: an antioxidant found in many different plants
– Phase 2 inducers like sulforaphane. Phase 2 is one of the detoxification pathways in the liver. It requires plenty of glutathione, one of our most important antioxidant nutrients. Sulforaphane can increase glutathione levels.
– The minerals zinc and selenium
– Anthocyanin compounds in Elderberry
– Phycocyanobilin in Spirulina: a type of cyanobacteria grown on freshwater lakes and sold as powder, tablets, or capsules
These compounds have multiple benefits for our immune defences. This is seen through their modulating effects on immune cells and signalling molecules, and by providing powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant protection in the lungs and airways.
Nutrition and the elderly
A key observation of this paper is the way in which zinc and n-acetyl cysteine have been shown to support older peoples’ immune systems against ‘flu. In a small-scale 6mth controlled trial involving 262 elderly people, those receiving 600mg of n-acetyl cysteine twice a day* experienced significantly fewer days of ‘flu and spent much less time confined to their beds, compared to those taking a placebo.
And, although the rate of infection was comparable between the two groups only 25% of the virus-infected subjects in the NAC group developed symptoms, compared to 79% of those in the placebo group.
*(This is quite a high dose, and not recommended unless advised by a nutrition practitioner)
Zinc and PPI medications
The benefits of zinc supplementation for the elderly were spotted as a by-product of another trial: the AREDS1 trial for eye health. AREDS1 used a vitamin and mineral supplement with zinc in. As the authors note: “…This effect might be pertinent to the significant 27% reduction in total mortality observed in elderly subjects who received high-dose zinc in the AREDS1 multicenter trial”. It seems a supplement trial for healthy vision had an unexpected and positive effect on flu deaths!
Many older people take PPI (proton-pump inhibitor) medications like Omperazole, Lansoprazole, and Nexium, to manage acid reflux and heartburn. These drugs suppress the production of stomach acid. This can bring short-term relief from heartburn and reflux but it has a knock-on effect on nutrient absorption. Using these medications for months on end can significantly impact zinc levels – and as a result, immune function. If you or someone you know has been taking PPI meds for more than 3 months, it’s a good idea to have your zinc levels assessed either with a GP or via a nutrition practitioner.
So the big question now is where to find these amazing nutrients?
Zinc: poultry, shellfish (especially oysters – if you can stomach them!), red meat, pumpkin seeds, nuts
Selenium: Brazil nuts, shellfish, liver
Spirulina: use capsules or tablets, or add the powder to smoothies, pesto, and dark chocolate bark (this has to be the easiest and most enticing way of taking spirulina ever known)
Elderberry: keen foragers can make their own syrups. The rest of us can find it in supplements such as ‘Sambucol‘ and Pukka Herb’s Elderberry Syrup
Sulforaphane: found in cruciferous veggies like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower
Ferulic acid: widespread in foods including oats, rice, pineapple, nuts, bananas, spinach, beetroot
Keep your diet as varied and interesting as possible and if you feel the need for more personalised advice, get in touch with your local Registered Nutritional Therapist. York-people, you can find yours here!
Reference: M.F. McCarty and J.J. DiNicolantonio, 2020. Nutraceuticals have potential for boosting the type 1 interferon response to RNA viruses including including influenza and coronavirus Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2020.02.007
Our immune systems get a real workout at this time of year with cold, flu’, and tummy bug germs thriving in warm, dry, centrally heated homes and offices. It’s a good idea to top up on immune-supporting nutrients to give your system the best chance of fending off these invaders as much as possible.
Here are 4 simple ways to nourish your immune system this winter…
Need more? Try these too:
– Vitamin C has powerful anti-viral action, particularly against the flu’ viruses. Food sources include watercress, peppers, kiwi, berries, peas, parsley, broccoli, and lemons. If you’re at high risk of infection consider using at least 1000mg per day of ascorbic acid or Ester-C.
– Zinc may help to reduce the severity and shorten the duration of colds. Food sources include poultry (chicken soup really can work wonders), pumpkin seeds, red meat, and cashew nuts. Zinc citrate lozenges are a quick way to boost levels and helpful at the first tingles of a cold.
– Echinacea has a long history of traditional use for respiratory infections like colds and flu’. Go for an organic whole herb extract that contains the natural balance of active compounds; A.Vogel do tinctures, tablets and a throat spray in their excellent ‘Echinaforce‘ range. It’s a winter staple in my remedy cupboard!
Do you have a favourite cold and flu’ remedy? Come and tell us over in the Facebook group and find out more winter health tips and nourishing recipes!
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