Why is the advice for treatment of the menopause so confusing?

menopause

In the midst of conflicting information surrounding HRT and the best ways to treat the symptoms of the menopause, author of The Menopause Maze, Liz Efiong – inspired by recent media inspection of the issue – weighs in.

Last year, Dr Megan Arroll and I published a book for women approaching and experiencing menopause entitled The Menopause Maze: The Complete Guide to Conventional, Complementary and Self-Help Options. We set out to write a book which would inform and empower women to visit their GPs and seek the help they needed. Our book was published after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s (NICE) new guidelines at the end of 2015 and presents the very latest advice from menopause experts.

On the 23rd of February 2017, an hour long documentary called The Insiders’ Guide to the Menopause, became available on BBC iPlayer*. The programme was presented by Kirsty Wark, who herself went through the menopause following a hysterectomy and took HRT for 3 years until stopping abruptly in 2002, when the health scares surrounding the study called the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) were published. The results showed an increased risk of breast cancer for women taking HRT, which caused many women to stop taking HRT suddenly, often going cold-turkey without even consulting a medical professional. Women stopped asking their GPs for HRT, whilst GPs were also caught up in the safety issues and became less familiar with HRT.

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Spring is the Wood Phase



The following has been adapted from Qigong Through The Seasons – How to Stay Healthy all Year Long with Qigong, Meditation, Diet and Herbs by Dr. Ronald H. Davis, published by Singing Dragon, 2015.

Spring is the Wood Phase


This is a heady, invigorating, sometimes disturbing season with wild fluctuations of energy surging throughout nature as birth, arousal, and movement. The momentum created by spring Qi gives structure and impetus to the world: young trees thrusting skyward, icy rivers flooding valleys, babies everywhere screeching with the joy of life. In humans, Qi rises like a slow tide coming up from its winter storage in the lower abdomen and moving into the chest where it stimulates the Liver with fresh vitality. As an infusion of energy, the rising Qi carries benefits as well as the potential for problems. The practice of Spring Qigong centers on using qigong exercises, foods, herbs, and meditation to nourish the Liver. This amazing visceral structure has more functions that any other single organ. During the process of filtering and detoxifying the blood, producing hundreds of enzymes and hormones, and regulating the volume of circulating blood, the liver tends to become congested. In order to do these many tasks it must be decongested so that it becomes supple, enlivened and fully functional.

In the spring, the Rising Yang Qi emerges from the lower dan tian (lower abdomen) and begins a season-long ascent to the upper and outer regions of the body. As it passes into the Middle Dan Tian (chest), it encounters the Liver. If this blood-rich organ retains stagnant blood and metabolic waste, which typically happens after winter’s inactivity, it will obstruct the Qi flow and result in a condition called Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood. According to Chinese medicine, the Liver controls the smooth and harmonious flow of both Qi and blood. Any obstruction to this flow will cause a serious functional disruption in the circulation of vital energy and vascular components. Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood, an all too common disorder, has physical symptoms of muscle pain, menstrual cramps, trembling movements, poor balance, headaches, neck pain, numbness in hands and feet, vision problems, digestive ailments, and more. The mental and emotional symptoms can run the spectrum from frustration and irritability to anger and rage.

Anger, stagnation, and kindness


When the normal emotion of anger becomes prolonged, repressed, or inappropriate, it often results in Stagnant Liver Qi. This disorder affects women and men, but because each gender exists as fundamentally either yin or yang, Qi stagnation usually results in different problems for each sex.

Men have innate yang energy; women have innate yin. Yang energy tends to expand outward; it’s active and dispersive. Yin energy embraces receptivity, containment, and concentration. The gender predisposition to problems of Stagnant Liver Qi hinges on men being more yang/fire, and women more yin/ blood. Stagnant Liver Qi, if not corrected, becomes virulent and flares up as Liver Fire in men and as Stagnant Liver Blood in women:

  • Anger > Stagnant Liver Qi + Men > “Liver Fire Rising” = muscle spasm, ulcers, hypertension, heart disease.
  • Anger > Stagnant Liver Qi + Women > “Stagnant Liver Blood” = menstrual disorders, varicose veins, insomnia, anxiety.

While disturbing and potentially dangerous, Stagnant Liver Qi can be effectively treated. Acupuncture and herbal remedies can release obstructions to the flow of Qi and prevent stagnation. Qigong can remedy the condition by gathering fresh Qi and properly circulating it through the body’s energy pathways and storage centers. Meditation will definitely enhance Qi flow, clear the mind of distractions, and nurture the virtue of kindness. Having a self-care practice of qigong and meditation is one of the best ways for you to nurture the great Yang Qi of Spring and benefit from this infusion of vital energy.

Entering Quiescence

One of the greatest benefits of Qigong is the internal relaxation of the body. The Qi can only circulate with maximum benefit when the organs, the surrounding muscles, the web of connective tissue, and the intrinsic vessels and nerves are calmly relaxed. This state of physiological quietness is unique to Qigong. It is a kind of alert peacefulness that melds the body and mind together into a complete whole. Dr. Jiao Guorui, a well respected contemporary Qigong practitioner in China, calls this state “entering quiescence.” He describes it in his book Qigong Essentials for Health Promotion, China Today Press, 1990:

Entering quiescence is a major requirement of qigong exercise. But how to achieve this is a common problem for beginners. First of all we must understand the quiescent state correctly. This state exists relatively as compared to the dynamic state. Life is movement and the quiescent state is actually stillness in movement. It is not motionless. Therefore, qigong exercise is essentially quiescent motions. When we enter the quiescent state we are entering a special state of movement. *

 What then is quiescence? It is a special state of inward quietude. In this state the brain eliminates interferences from both inside and outside the body, providing favorable conditions for the central nervous system to carry out the active, natural regulation of body functions and mental abilities. Some people, after entering quiescence during qigong, feel like a frozen river that is melting during the springtime…their whole body is completely relaxed and comfortable.
*Dr. Jiao is referring to the movement of Qi in the body.

 The state of being “completely relaxed” is especially important for the liver. Inner Nourishing, Nei Yang Gong, is an excellent internal qigong practice for relaxing the liver. According to Ken Cohen, well respected qigong master and scholar, Inner Nourishing was a secret Daoist healing method of the Ming dynasty that was transmitted by qigong masters to only one select student. In 1947 Dr. Liu Guizhen began to teach this powerful qigong exercise to the public for the greater good of society.

How to practice Inner Nourishing

This exercise may be done sitting or lying down. Most practitioners find that this outwardly simple practice instills a wonderful sense of well being. Rest and be comfortable but alert. When you inhale, think of bringing the qi up the back, over the head and to the mouth. While inhaling gently place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind the front teeth and silently say, “I am calm.” Then start to exhale and bring the qi down the front of your body to the lower dan tian. While exhaling let the tongue rest gently on the floor of your mouth and silently say, “and relaxed.” The tongue movement is like a pump that moves the Qi through the Governing and Conception vessels. Do this for about five minutes. Then stop the tongue movement and put your attention on the phrase “I am calm and relaxed” synchronized with your breathing, for a few more minutes. Then drop the phrase and just relax as you enter quiescence. Be there as long as you wish.

~~~

Ronald Davis, DC. LAc. Dipl Acu (NCCAOM) has dedicated thirty years to helping people discover their optimal state of well being based on physical integrity, mental clarity and nutritional support. As a chiropractor, he understands the critical interrelationship of physical form, physiological function and visceral health. As an acupuncturist, he knows that optimal well being depends on the essential flow of vital energy and blood throughout the body/mind. The integration of this knowledge with his extensive practice in medical qigong, meditation, and Chinese medicine has led to the development of a series of classes called “Qigong Through The Seasons” which is a comprehensive program of qigong, meditation and dietary guidelines that allows one to be healthy all year long.  Dr. Davis is the creator of the popular CD, Guided Meditations For Summer, and is the author of Qigong Through the Seasons available from Singing Dragon, February 2015. He may be reached through www.thehealthmovement.com.

 

 

Spring Qigong and Neigong exercises

Davis_Qigong-Through_978-1-84819-238-6_colourjpg-webThese exercises are taken from Qigong Through the Seasons by Ronald H. Davis. They are designed to release any stagnations of Qi and blood in the Liver, the organ associated with Spring and the Wood element.

See the exercises here…

Qigong Through the Seasons is a guide to health through seasonal Qigong, including diet and meditation, seeks to creates harmony with nature’s cyclical energetic changes. Fully illustrated, it provides Qigong meditation, herbal information and dietary guidance for each season, including some appropriate recipes.

Call for Comic and Graphic novel submissions

Singing Dragon and Jessica Kingsley Publishers have recently started developing an exciting new line of comics and graphics novels and we are now open for submissions.

Singing Dragon publishes authoritative books on all aspects of Chinese medicine, yoga therapy, aromatherapy, massage, Qigong and complementary and alternative health more generally, as well as Oriental martial arts. Find out more on www.singingdragon.com

JKP are committed to publishing books that make a difference. The range of subjects includes autism, dementia, social work, art therapies, mental health, counselling, palliative care and practical theology. Have a look on www.jkp.com for the full range of titles.

If you have an idea that you think would work well as a graphic book, or are an artist interested in working with us, here is what we are looking for:

Graphic novel or comic – Long form

We are looking for book proposals that are between 100 and 200 pages, black and white or colour, and explore the topics listed above or another subject that would fit into the JKP/Singing Dragon list. Specifically we are hoping to develop more personal autobiographical stories.

Here are the guidelines for submission:

  1. A one-page written synopsis detailing the plot/outline of the book, as well as short bios of all the creators involved.
  2. Character sketches of the main characters with descriptions.
  3. Solo artist/writers or writer and artist teams should submit 5 to 10 completed pages to allow us to get a sense of the pace, art style and writing.
  4. Solo writers will need to submit 10 to 20 pages of script as well as the one-page synopsis from point 1.

Comic – Short form

We have some shorter comic projects underway and are looking to expand the range of topics covered. These books can run from 20 to 40 pages, black and white or colour, with dimensions of 170x230mm. We are mainly looking for comics that provide ideas and information for both professionals and general readers.

For example, the first in this series, published by Singing Dragon, is a book exploring the latest developments in chronic pain research.

Here are the guidelines for submission:

  1. A one-page written synopsis detailing the narrative style and subject matter to be explored in the book. Also include short bios of all the creators involved.
  2. Solo artist/writers or writer and artist teams should submit 3 to 5 completed pages to allow us to get a sense of the pace, art style and writing.
  3. Solo writers will need to submit 5 to 10 pages of script as well as the one-page synopsis from point 1.

When submitting please provide low-res images and send them, along with everything else, to Mike Medaglia at mike.medaglia@jkp.com

If you have any other ideas that don’t directly relate to the subjects described above but you feel might still fit into the Singing Dragon or JKP list, please feel free to get in touch with ideas and enquiries on the email above.

Osmanthus – the Scent of an Oriental Autumn

 

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In Scotland, we have just enjoyed an uncharacteristically glorious summer, full of beautiful scents. Autumn can be wonderful too, but then it is more the rich pallete of colours that we appreciate – our visual sense tends to dominate the season. Here, if we are asked to identify the scents of autumn, we might think of fallen leaves, damp earth, pumpkins and gourds, bonfires, wood smoke, maybe coniferous forests. However, there is one beautiful scented flower that, in China and Japan, is very much associated with autumn, and that is osmanthus.

Osmanthus fragrans is a woody, evergreen flowering shrub. In China it is known as kweiha, and the scent of the blossoms is loved and renowned; and indeed has been described as the quintessential scent of China.  It has been cultivated for hundreds of years, and is often found at Buddhist temples, where it is planted in groves. Osmanthus is very much considered to be an autumn flower, despite the reality that some varieties bloom all year round, hence the name ‘osmanthus four seasons’.  The flowers range from silvery white to reddish orange, but the most fragrant are the orange-yellow varieties. Osmanthus blossoms fill the air with their diffusive, floral-fruity fragrance, and when they fall from the shrubs and carpet the ground, the scent persists for many hours (Kaiser 2006). It is no wonder, then, that they grace such special places, and are held in such high regard.

Traditionally, like jasmine, dried osmanthus flowers are used to flavour both green and black teas, however the scent is very different, and quite distinctive. An absolute can be extracted from the flowers. This is very costly – it is an amber or greenish, thick liquid, with a complex, rich, sweet, honey-like, floral scent with prominent notes of plums and raisins, and apricots (Warren and Warrenburg 1993; Kaiser 2006). Because of its complexity, and the unique relationship between its floral and fruity notes, the absolute has the qualities of a perfume, in that its scent has many dimensions. It is impossible to attribute its scent to a handful of constituents, however it would be reasonable to say that β-ionone (woody, floral, violet, slightly fruity, with cedarwood, raspberry nuances) and dihydro-β-ionone, γ-decalactone (powerful, peach-like) and related lactones, linalool (light floral, woody), nerol (sweet, floral, seaweed-like) and geraniol (sweet, rosy) have a major impact (Kaiser 2006).

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Turin and Sanchez (2009) discuss the use of osmanthus in perfumery; they suggest that it is actually a ‘ready-made’ fragrance, and that the perfumer’s skill is in reviving it after the solvent extraction process! They illustrate this with two fragrances composed by Jean-Claude Ellena – Osmanthus for The Different Company (2001), which is true to its nature with peach and lemon top notes, and the uplifting Osmanthe Yunnan for Hermès (2005) which pays tribute to its traditional uses by including Yunnan smoked tea notes alongside freesia, orange and apricots. Other well known, ‘mainstream’ fragrances that claim to include osmanthus or an osmanthus ‘note’ are Eternity (Calvin Klein 1988), Escape (also Calvin Klein 1991, but since reformulated), and Sunflowers (Arden 1993). The artisan perfumer Alec Lawless, who worked mainly with natural raw materials, commented on his experience working with osmanthus absolute when composing Kuan Yin (Essentially Me); it produced an unexpected, delicate note of peach blossom (Lawless 2009).

It would seem that the fragrance of osmanthus has, for a long time, been regarded as uplifting. A study on the mood effects of fragrance conducted by Warren and Warrenburg in 1993 included a synthetic version of osmanthus. It was shown to increase feelings of stimulation and happiness, decrease feelings of irritation and stress, and prominently decrease depression and apathy; it had no significant effect on feelings of sensuality or relaxation. So, in the west, where we cannot readily access the fragrant flowers, we could consider using the scent of the absolute to lift our spirits. As autumn progresses, and after the equinox the days grow shorter and darker, many of us experience low mood, lethargy or even ‘seasonal affective disorder’. Osmanthus can offer us a beautiful, safe way to restore balance.

Jennifer Peace Rhind is a Chartered Biologist with a Ph.D. in Mycotoxicology from the University of Strathclyde. Her long-standing interest in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) has led to qualifications in massage, aromatherapy and reflexology. She co-founded the first professionally accredited CAM school in Scotland and remains involved in scent education. She has written several books on aromatherapy, published by Singing Dragon, the latest is Listening to Scent, a guide to training your olfactory palate. She lives in Biggar near the Scottish Borders.

References

Kaiser, R. (2006) Meaningful Scents around the World. Zurich: Verlag Helvetica Chimica Acta & Wiley VCH.

Lawless, A. (2009) Artisan Perfumery or Being Led by the Nose. Stroud: Boronia Souk Ltd.

Turin, L. & Sanchez, T. (2009) Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. London: Profile Books Ltd.

Warren, C and Warrenburg, S. (1993) Mood benefits of fragrance. International Journal of Aromatherapy 5, 2, 12-16.

 

Increasing IVF Success with Acupuncture – recipe for IVF patients

The below recipe is taken from Nick Dalton-Brewer’s Increasing IVF Success with Acupuncture in which he aims to teach acupuncturists the main tools needed for treating patients with fertility problems. The following extract can be given to patients alongside other useful tips in the book.

Increasing IVF Success with Acupuncture is available now from the Singing Dragon website

Blood-forming foods

Women need blood-forming foods (blood is the mother of energy), and this is particularly necessary when it comes to fertility treatment. From a TCM point of view, blood-forming foods include carrots, beetroot, meat such as beef and chicken, dark leafy greens and oily fish. For IVF patients a good chicken soup is a very useful supplement. All ingredients should be organic where possible. At the very least the chicken needs to be organic, since the soup will be drawing out essences from the bones.

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Ritmeyer Family Chicken Soup

1 whole chicken

12–16 cups of water

2 onions

3 carrots

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1 parsnip

1 turnip/swede

3 celery sticks

1 bunch of parsley

Chicken stock

1 bunch of dill

1 large knob of ginger

A Return to Diet 163

2 garlic cloves

Salt and pepper

1. Wash the chicken and put it into a large saucepan. Add vegetables to the pan. Add water and stock cubes. Tie the herbs in a bunch together and add to pan. Season as required.

2. Cover the pan and bring to the boil. Immediately lower the heat and simmer. Skim the scum off the top and discard.

3. Simmer for two hours.

4. Remove the chicken and divide into pieces.

5. Strain the stock and return as much as needed to the pan. Keep it simmering.

6. Return chicken to pan and add ginger, and other ingredients if required. Simmer for another hour.

Increasing IVF Success with Acupuncture is available now from the Singing Dragon website

Request a copy of our 2014 Singing Dragon new and bestselling books

SD logo 300 x 300 pixelsOur brand new catalogue of books and resources from will be available soon.

Click here to sign up for a free copy.

Our new catalogue has essential new titles from Charles Buck (Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine: Roots of Modern Practice) and Clare Harvey (The Practitioner’s Encyclopedia of Flower Remedies).

This is a great opportunity for parents to get a hold of Damo Mitchell’s newest book, The Four Dragons as well as Ioannis Solos’ Developing Internal Energy for Effective Acupuncture Practice.

There are useful new resources for every practice like Getting Better at Getting People Better by Noah Karrasch, and the new fully updated edition of A Guide to Living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (Hypermobility Type) by Isobel Knight.

To request a copy of the catalogue please click here.

Click this link to see more forthcoming books from Singing Dragon.

Improve patient’s experience through relationship-building – interview with Jane Wood

Jane Wood

Jane Wood has been involved in reflective practice for the last 20 years.  She is a supervisor and teacher of reflective practice at the University of Westminster and is the head

of practitioner development and reflective practice at the International School of Homeopathy, London.

Jane Wood’s new book The Compassionate Practitioner is now available from Singing Dragon. This handbook, full of practical tips and supportive advice, explains how best to enhance the client’s experience through compassion and mindfulness. This book will be a valued support for anyone working in private practice.

What inspired you to write this book?

I have been teaching the practitioner-patient relationship to students at college and at the University of Westminster for nearly 20 years. At the same time, I have been supervising qualified alternative practitioners and seen their struggles to build up a private practice. Many practitioners talked about the same issues in supervision: their patients were demanding, impatient or simply didn’t return. The practitioners needed to find a way to create trust, loyalty and staying power. They could do this if they improved the patient’s experience during the consultation. I realized I was in a position to write a book that takes the practitioner through every stage of the consultation, giving them lots of practical advice on how to create a healing relationship with the patient – and gain a flourishing practice.

 

Why is relationship building so important for people working in private practice?

I strongly believe that relationship building is vitally important for everyone in the caring professions whether they are alternative practitioners, counsellors and therapists or traditional doctors, nurses and consultants. Unfortunately, most orthodox practitioners do not have the time available to do much relationship building, leaving both the practitioner and the patient feeling dissatisfied and rushed. Many alternative practitioners such as homeopaths, acupuncturists, and body workers have longer sessions with their patients, which allow them more time to work on the relationship.

On the surface, making an effort to improve the experience for the patient will increase their trust and loyalty to the practitioner, but it is more than this. When the practitioner takes time to make the patient feel safe and appreciated, the patient can start to relax and explain themselves better; which in turn enables the practitioner to give a better treatment.

The added bonus for anyone in private practice, is that once there is a good relationship, the patient will help build up the practice by referring other people.

There are many different ways in which the practitioner can improve their patients’ experiences. One way is consider the clinic environment. I suggest that practitioners take five or ten minutes to sit in the patient’s chair, quieting their mind by focusing on the breath. Once they are quiet and relaxed, they can bring themselves into the present moment and use all of their senses to assess the clinic room. What is the feel of the chair they are sitting in? Is it comfortable? What is the room temperature? What smells are there?  Can they hear the receptionist or another therapist working in the next room? If so, does this impact on confidentiality?

 

What can practitioners do to improve their patients’ experiences?

The appearance of the room will make a big difference to the patient. If the practitioner is behind a desk they will feel more secure, but the patient will feel distanced. What do the patient’s eyes rest on when they are not talking? Considering the clinic room through the senses will give the practitioner a taste of what the patient experiences. They then need to consider what they can do to improve the current environment.

Another suggestion for improving the patient’s experience is that the practitioner should explain to the patient what will happen during the consultation. This is called ‘signposting’ and should be done at the beginning of the session. It can be very brief, such as, ‘I’m going to invite you to talk about yourself and your problem for the first twenty minutes, and then I’ll give you a treatment which takes about thirty minutes. You’ll need to take off your shoes and get onto the treatment couch. After the treatment we’ll see how you feel.” Once this has been clarified, the patient knows what to expect and can relax.

 

How can practitioners maintain balance in their work and avoid burnout?

Being a practitioner and listening to many patients talking about themselves is a great privilege and helping them can be deeply rewarding.  But sometimes the price is too high. There are several different causes of burnout, including working for very long hours, anxiety about patients or unconsciously taking on the patients’ negative emotions. The last one occurs mainly when there is a long time spent face-to-face with the patient, such as for counsellors, therapists or homeopaths. Our brains are programmed to read other people’s body language and facial expressions, so that we can empathise or feel their emotions.

The patient’s emotions can be directly experienced by the practitioner who might carry home a patient’s anger or depression. An awareness of this will help them consciously make more breaks in eye contact, and change their own body language more often so they don’t unconsciously mirror the patient so much.

Another way to avoid burnout is to make sure the practitioner has enough personal time to have fun and relax. This might sound obvious but when a single practitioner is running a private practice, they have to be their own marketing manager, record keeper and accountant and this all takes time. The practitioner needs to balance the intense work in the clinic with care for themselves, physically, mentally and emotionally.

 

You write a lot about self-reflection. Who do you think should do it and why do think it’s important?

Wood_Compassionate-P_978-1-84819-222-5_colourjpg-web

Self-reflection is a process of self-examination, of thinking seriously about your own character or actions. In the caring professions this will mean exploring something about the practitioner-patient relationship in order to understand it in more depth and decide what can be done to improve it. It is not nearly as effective if it is done within the limitations of the practitioners mind, and much better if it’s done out loud in front of a colleague or supervisor, or written into a self-reflective journal. If something went well, the practitioner can make a note of it so that they can repeat it. If it didn’t go well they can analyse why and plan how to change things next time. As I see it, all practitioners should be doing self-reflection. Their learning taught them how to work with the average patient. Experience shows them that patients are anything but average and everyone is very different. Self-reflection raises the standards of the practitioner and everyone gains from it: the practitioner, the patient, the clinic and the profession in general.

 

 2014  Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

 

Is there a secret to healthy ageing?

old-people-webAgeing seems to be the only available way to live a long life (Daniel Auber). In fact, some would say that the business of ‘getting older’ brings so many benefits that we should positively embrace it.

Ageing is certainly high on the current news and political agendas. As a nation, we’re heading for an unprecedented population shift towards older people. (The King’s Fund predicts that within 18 years, the number of 65-84 year-olds and those aged 85+ years will rise by 39% and a staggering 106%, respectively, whereas the number of people in the 15-64 year-old age group is set to increase by a paltry 7%).

The problem is, we don’t appear to be ageing very well. And this hampers our ability to see the benefits and enjoy the ‘golden years’. For too many people, mid- and later-life is dominated by the pain and disability of degenerative diseases like CVD, cancer and dementia. Recently, for example, Diabetes UK told us that 700+ people are diagnosed with diabetes every day.

So what, if anything, can be done? Is there a secret to healthy ageing?

Well, yes, there may be: it’s called anti-inflammation. As you age, you gradually become more predisposed to the type of low-grade yet chronic, insidious inflammation that promotes degeneration and disease. As the lifestyle medicine authority Dr Gary Egger describes in his paper ‘In search of a germ theory equivalent for chronic disease’, our environment has become increasingly more inflammatory since pre-Neolithic times. Pre-Neolithic individuals lived within a predominantly anti-inflammatory mileu of low calorie intake (compared to the level of energy expenditure), a low omega-6-to-omega-3 ratio and good levels of monounsaturated fats, fish, fibre, vegetables and nuts. In today’s environment, these are typically replaced with inflammatory triggers (‘anthropogens’) like pollution, endocrine disrupting chemicals, being sedentary, a high omega 6-to-omega 3 ratio, saturated and trans-fats, sleep deprivation, chronic stress, junk foods and obesity. Indeed, the medical journals are stuffed to the gills with scientific papers demonstrating that most, if not all, age-related chronic diseases are driven in part by inflammation. And this applies not only to classic inflammatory conditions like autoimmune arthritis, but also to Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, depression and others.

Hence, the trick to a long, healthy life is to stay out of the ‘inflammazone’.

But, hang on, this isn’t necessarily as simple as it sounds. It’s not just about taking anti-inflammatories, whether pharmaceutical (like ibuprofen) or nutritional (like curcumin from turmeric), as these offer merely allopathic, ‘sticking plaster’ remedies. The only effective long-term approach is a systems-based one, in which the focus is on identifying the pattern of inflammatory antecedents, triggers and mediators that is unique to the individual in question.

old-people-eating-webBy all means, remove Egger’s anthropogens from the environment, and reinstate the anti-inflammatory inputs of pre-Neolithic times. This is an excellent start. But look also at the functioning of the key body systems. For all body processes, when they are in a state of dysfunction, become drivers of inflammation. Microbial imbalances in the gut, for example, can cause gastrointestinal hyperpermeability and immune dysfunction, leading to systemic inflammation. Poor detoxification processes can lead to an accumulation of toxic, inflammatory metabolites. Failing mitochondria (the batteries of your cells) can leak electrons that cause free radical damage and inflammation. Problems with glucose and insulin control mechanisms can result in sugars attaching to proteins in the body (a process called glycation), damaging these proteins and triggering inflammation. Exhausted adrenal glands can fail to produce sufficient cortisol to moderate any over-reactive inflammatory responses. And so the list goes on…

And, let’s face it, all chronic diseases are foreshadowed by years of decline in one or more body systems. Alzheimer’s, for example, is preceded by years of elevated homocysteine levels (which may be inflammatory), indicating a problem with a biochemical process called methylation.  Methylation is crucial to healthy ageing in the brain. In fact, elevated homocysteine is such a strong predictor of future cognitive decline that every ‘healthy ageing’ strategy should include a homocysteine check. If you find your blood level is elevated, you should work on your nutrition and lifestyle to get it down to 7-8.

Now, you might ask, where is the evidence that it’s possible to exert some control on this sinister type of inflammation, that is, that you really can take action to change the way you age?

The evidence lies in the fast-developing area of science known as epigenetics. In recent years, epigenetics has taught us that the rate at which you age (and your propensity to specific diseases) is not limited to how your parents and grandparents aged, what diseases they got and how long they lived. Rather, it is more to do with how your lifelong environment, essentially your diet and your lifestyle, is influencing the ways in which your genes behave, including which genes are switched on and off. (Only a small proportion of your genes are active (expressed) at any one time; and this is determined by the way you live your life.)

Of particular interest to healthy ageing is the discovery that environmental inputs (such as those proposed by Egger above) promote inflammation at an epigenetic level, that is, by directly increasing the expression of inflammatory genes. Environmental inputs can also down-regulate genes that produce energy; they can silence genes that supress tumour growth; and they can speed up the rate at which telomeres get shorter. (Telomeres are the physical ends of chromosomes on DNA; and they get shorter, the faster you are ageing.)

What’s really exciting is that scientists think that such changes to gene expression are likely reversible – meaning that we may have more control over our destiny than was previously thought.

Unsurprisingly, the search is now on for interventions that can reverse such harmful changes in gene expression – and thus slow down the ageing process. To date, the intervention with the most evidence is the practice of eating less than normal, either by restricting calories daily, or by fasting intermittently.

Certain special nutrients (‘epigenetic nutrients’) have also recently been discovered to mimic the healthy ageing effects of eating less. These nutrients are found in grape skins, green tea, turmeric and cruciferous vegetables, to name but a few. Some of them, however, are notoriously hard to absorb, so for a truly therapeutic effect, their dietary intake may need to be supplemented.

Nicolle-Bailey_Eat-to-Get-Youn_978-1-84819-179-2_colourjpg-webThe best approach to healthy ageing, then, is one that promotes anti-inflammation, by preventing or even reversing harmful (epigenetic) changes to gene expression; and by optimizing the function of the key body systems. These ideas form the central theme of my recently published book Eat To Get Younger, (co-authored with colleague Christine Bailey).  In it, we bring together the current thinking on the best changes to make for healthy ageing.  Chapter topics include staying lean and preventing diabetes, supporting connective tissue health (skin, bones, gums, etc), keeping energised, making the most of your mind, memory and mood, staying as pain-free as possible, experiencing a trouble-free menopause transition, and keeping your digestive and immune systems in good working order.

The opening chapters explain exactly why fasting is better than eating little and often; and how you can set about eating less without feeling deprived.  You can then pick which of the remaining chapters to focus on, depending on the areas of ageing that are of most concern you. Each of these chapters contains advice on why things can start to go awry as you age, and what you can do about it, with advice on diet, lifestyle and nutritional supplements. The advice is supported by references to relevant scientific studies. And, to make it truly practical, we’ve also included meal plans and over 100 recipes.  Ultimately, the recommendations are designed to support your key biological systems, reducing your overall inflammatory load and preventing your genes from misbehaving.

Looking at the balance of the evidence, there is more reason now than ever before, to positively embrace the ageing process, for there is so much that can be done to support vigour and wellbeing into your later years.  And, for anyone who’s concerned that living a clean life is boring, that it can all too easily cramp one’s style, I’ll venture the view that pain, disability, fatigue and low mood, not to mention the endless hospital appointments and repeat prescriptions – they sound pretty boring to me!

 

Lorraine Nicolle MSc is a nutrition practitioner with a regular clinic in London. She has developed and taught on undergraduate nutrition and health degree programmes at British universities, and currently teaches on two university-validated courses. She also works with a dietary supplement company, delivering nutrition education sessions for healthcare practitioners; and she runs workplace nutrition programmes for businesses. She is a recipient of the CAM Award. www.lorrainenicollenutrition.co.uk

This article was originally featured on Bite the Sun.