Nutritional therapy can help manage a vast number of health conditions, sometimes reversing the path of disease, othertimes helping to control symptoms. Some of the more common conditions are listed below:
Infant and child health
Depression and anxiety
Digestive complaints are very common and affect not only the process of digestion, causing symptoms such as bloating, cramps, diarrhoea or constipation, but actually influence the foods that can be digested and absorbed. These issues can then lead to nutrient deficiencies, food intolerances and contribute to the development of other diseases both within the digestive tract and in other parts of the body. Some common digestive disorders include:
Hypochlorhydria or low stomach acid. Stomach acid is released by cells lining the stomach wall and helps to start breaking down the protein we eat, but also kill of any possible microbes taken in with food. As we age and during times of stress, the amount of stomach acid released shrinks and its ability to carry out these normal functions is reduced. Also, infection with Helicobacter Pylori is thought to contribute to development of this condition. Typically this results in symptoms such as indigestion, bloating and discomfort and the undigested proteins may cause problems further along the digestive tract such as leaky gut and bacterial overgrowth. As stomach acid is needed to help absorb some nutrients, sometimes deficiency signs can appear.
Trying a home bicarbonate test can give an indication if lower stomach acid might be a problem. Chewing thoroughly and reducing proteins such as red meat and dairy can reduce the load on the stomach. Foods such as papaya and pineapple contain enzymes which help to break down proteins so should be included in the diet.
Hyperchlorhydria is the opposite situation – where there is an increase of stomach acid which can sometimes travel back up in to the oesophagus causing acid reflux. Spicy, rich foods and caffeinated drinks contribute to this condition and so should be reduced. Eating protein based meals earlier in the day and carbohydrates later may help with both better digestion and reduce reflux and may help in such situations.
There is no formal definition of how often somebody should have a bowel movement, but if you regularly go for more than a day without going then it might be something to look at improving. Recent and prolonged constipation requires medical investigation, but if you intermittently feel constipated there are many things you can do to help the situation. Dehydration is a first priority – make sure you are drinking enough water – this is probably somewhere between 1 -2 litres/day depending on diet and exercise. Increasing soluble fibre as found in grains such as oats, and fruit and vegetables should help to keep bowels moving . Reducing red meat may help as this sits in the gut and slows down transit through the intestines. There are many other factors that can be explored one a one to one basis within a consultation.
Where diarrhoea is recurrent, or long term, there are many dietary interventions which may help to normalise function. It is important to understand the possible causes of the diarrhoea, which can be discovered during a consultation process, or through tests such as a Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis for Food Intolerance test. Dealing with triggers including food intolerances, inflammation and stress, and supplementing with specific strains of probiotics (good bacteria) has been shown to be successful in improving flare-ups.
Short term, often infection led diarrhoea will usually resolve itself, but it is important that water and salts that have been excreted are replaced. If this lasts for more than a few days medical attention should be sought.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
This is a very common condition and it’s thought that around 15% of people suffer with this over the course of their lifetime. The causes are not entirely known but it is thought that stress and intolerances are the main culprits, and parasites are often a factor in the development. Probiotics have been shown to be very successful in managing this condition, and identifying and eliminating food intolerances have also shown some success, especially wheat bran found in bread, pasta, cakes and biscuits. Regular meals, reducing refined foods such as white bread and rice, limiting tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and increasing water and soluble fibre such as oats may help with symptoms.
Diverticular disease affects around 30-40% of 60+ year olds and is where little pouches form in the walls of the colon. It is usually caused by chronic constipation which increases pressure on the intestinal wall. It becomes a problem where it becomes infected and inflamed resulting in symptoms such as pain, bleeding, diarrhoea and fever.
Management of this condition starts with addressing the cause of the problem – constipation. Diverticulitis is rarely seen in cultures with a high fibre diet. Start with a constipation protocol of water and soluble fibre. During flare-ups try to stick to a liquid diet such as soups, smoothies, yoghurt, with a little fish. Try to limit insoluble fibre which will bulk-up and irritate the situation. Foods with seeds can cause problems as they may get stuck in the little pockets, and red meat and dairy are inflammatory and can further irritate. Within a consultation we could look at specific dietary programmes and digestive aids to help control flare ups and manage inflammation.
This refers to a situation where the body loses its ability to use insulin correctly and is related to increasing levels of bad ‘LDL’ cholesterol and circulating fatty acids as the body tries to adapt. Insulin’s purpose is to manage the level of glucose, or blood sugar, within our bodies, ensuring our cells and organs have the energy they need to function. It is released after eating glucose, or sugar, which can be found in sweet foods, bread, pasta, potatoes and related products. The more of these we eat, the more insulin is released to manage the level of glucose in our blood. Insulin works on cells, given them an instruction to allow glucose (or energy) in. Continued oversupply of insulin and these cells start to dysfunction, rejecting the glucose that they should absorb. These cells then tell the body they don’t have enough energy and need more glucose and insulin, which is then released, but is again ignored. Unless this cycle is addressed a situation of high glucose and insulin results, but the cells still don’t have the energy they need. Unmanaged this situation could lead to Type 2 Diabetes, however this pathway can be reversed with a dietary programme low in refined carbohydrates, managing blood sugar and retraining the cells to take up insulin and glucose with aerobic exercise.
This is a normal part of life for women in their 40s of 50s. It starts with a period of peri-menopause when periods start to become lighter and less regular. Actual menopause starts when periods stop, as normal levels of oestrogen and progesterone fall. Typical symptoms through these stages include hot flushes, irritability, dry skin and increased facial hair, weight gain and insomnia. Natural oestrogen has a protective effect on bones, keeping them strong and so the menopause can have a negative effect on bone health with increased risk of oesteoporosis. Eating a diet rich in phyto, or plant, oestrogens can help to lessen the effects and there are a number of herbal products that are used with some success in dealing with menopausal symptoms. Therefore include fermented soya products, beans, chickpeas, nuts and seeds will boost your intake of phytoestrogens. Dietary measures to address osteoporosis can be addressed, increasing intakes of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome occurs with an imbalance of hormones, particularly high oestrogen, testosterone and insulin. The effects these changes have can result in increased weight, facial hair, acne, sub-fertility and hair loss. Therapeutic intervention would include controlling blood sugar to manage the high levels of insulin, optimizing liver and digestive function to ensure excretion of used hormones and taking in foods such as flaxseed, a phytoestrogen, that can help to ‘normalise’ levels of circulating hormones.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
Prostate problems are very common with an estimated 50% of men aged 50 and over have an enlarged prostate, which causes increased need for urination, difficulty in starting and stopping urination and a poor urine stream. It is thought the changing balance of hormones as men age is primarily responsible. Although levels of testosterone fall with age, levels of a derivative chemical called dihydrotestosterone increase and this has a much stronger growth effect on the prostate. Likewise, exposure to oestrogen rises in men in later years, as a result of increased exposure to xenoestrogens found in plastics and pesticides, which can prevent breakdown of this potent DHT. Dietary intervention can help in balancing the amount of oestrogen, free testosterone and provide advice on some of the herbal supplements available for BPH, which have been shown in clinical trials to be as effective as some medications but without the side effects.
In situations where all the normal causes of infertility have been ruled out, and there are no clinical explanations for the inability to conceive it can be useful to test for hormone levels. A monitored cycle can test levels of oestrogen and progesterone over the course of a 28 day cycle to identify if there are imbalances that may result in subfertility, and dietary changes to address this can be looked at. Other conditions such as low thyroid function and PCOS can also play a role in infertility, as can nutrient deficiencies and stress so there are many areas which can be explored and corrected with nutritional and lifestyle changes.
Menstrual problems, ranging from PMT to heavy or irregular periods are very common and can sometimes have a dramatic effect on the quality of life for certain periods of the month. Hormone imbalances characterised by high oestrogen levels, and low progesterone are usually the cause. Managing blood sugar is the first priority, followed by limiting saturated fats from meat and dairy which can have an inflammatory effect. Include beans, green vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds all provide key nutrients for menstrual health including phytoestrogens, zinc, B vitamins and essential fats.
Managing weight is much more complicated than simply counting calories in against calories out. There are a number of physiological and emotional factors that can make it very difficult to get to, and maintain, a healthy weight. Consideration should be given to thyroid and adrenal function which both have a role to play in control of metabolism and may result in weight gain. Much of the eating that contributes to weight gain is emotional eating and after identifying the triggers behind this it is easier to stop it happening again. Clearly exercise and diet have a role to play – by eliminating simple sugars in chocolates, cakes and biscuits (or at least reducing them) we reduce the insulin effect of fat storage . Different foods will make you feel fuller for longer so including protein with each meal should help to keep hunger pangs, and dubious snacks, at bay. Fibre in the diet also releases hormones that keep us feeling full, but lack of sleep has the opposite effect and leaves us wanting to snack. In managing weight, there is much that can be done to help maintain a healthy body weight.
Children suffer many similar complaints to adults and they normally respond very well to nutritional therapy. From infancy through to the teenage years there are many conditions that can be treated:
- Infant colic
- Digestive problems
- Skin conditions such as eczema, acne
- Food allergies, hay fever and asthma
- Recurrent infections such as colds, flu, ear infections, tonsilitis
- Dizziness, lack of concentration,
- Behavioural problems such as ADHD, autism
- Teenage issues such as weight gain or eating disorders, hormones, acne, heavy periods
Cardiovascular disease the number 1 killer in the UK, but it is also high preventable and treatable. It is a condition of inflammatory origin, with high LDL cholesterol and hypertension being factors that increase the risk of suffering an episode such as heart attack or stroke. A cardiovascular risk assessment test can provide a good picture of your cardiovascular health, with greater detail than provided with standard tests. Much can be done with diet and lifestyle to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. A diet high in fibre and oily fish and low in saturated fat will help to bring the dangerous LDL cholesterol levels down. Reducing salt and increasing fruit and vegetables should help lower blood pressure and the latter should help to raise levels of antioxidants, necessary to control inflammation.
Depression and anxiety disorders are becoming increasingly common, increasing as we age and have to deal with life-changing events such as bereavement. Depression can make daily living very difficult and long term depression can adversely affect our immune health. Typically treatment involves boosting the effects of ‘happiness’ neurotransmitters such as serotonin which can be done with medications, but also supplements such as 5 HTP can be used to good effect, as can St John’s Wort.* Often when the depression involves lethargy and loss of motivation the adrenal glands may be involved and may suggest that stress is a cause, and sometimes an underactive thyroid can be the cause so it can be worth investigating whether there is a hormonal cause. Lifestyle measures such as exercise and getting enough sunlight can also benefit sufferers, and it can also be useful to take a multiple therapy approach with counselling and hypnotherapy able to tackle some of the negative thought patterns common in this condition.
Anxiety is a related condition and many people with depression also suffering some degree of anxiety. Following a depression protocol is generally a good starting point and then looking at the other neurotransmitters involved in stress and anxiety such as GABA. Blood sugar should be controlled to lessen the impact on adrenal function which can exacerbate anxiety conditions so eliminating refined sugars, alcohol and stimulants is advisable. General nutrient deficiencies should be addressed to ensure adequate levels of minerals needed for stress and adrenal function and there are a number of supplements which may help to calm.
Skin is the largest organ in the body and serves many functions including protection, temperature regulation, elimination of toxins, sensory input and vitamin D synthesis. It is also one of the areas we feel most self-conscious about and skin conditions can have effect self-esteem. Many factors affect skin health from genes, hormones, stress, digestion and liver function through to products we use, the environment we live in and nutrient status. There is therefore much that nutritional therapy can do to improve skin health and function. Key nutrients for health skin include vitamin C for collagen production and with vitamins A and E, and CoQ10 provide anti-oxidant support, vitamin D which is produced by the skin and in turn protects it, B vitamins, essential fats and Zinc. Nutritional protocols are available for acne rosacea and vulgaris, psoriasis and eczema.