I have always loved pesto sauce and especially since suffering with heartburn I found a real friend in basil. Basil is an underestimated herb which is full of health benefits.
Not only does basil reduce inflammation, it also reduces the effects of oxidative stress, has anti-ageing properties and its anti-bacterial. There are also studies to show that it can also be effective at fighting cancer. If you ever needed an excuse to eat more basil, this is it.
The problem with the shop bought varieties is that they have so many added preservatives, my main aim is always to keep it fresh, keep it simple and to know exactly what I am eating, so here is my simple fresh Pesto.
Invest in a pestle and mortar or you can use a blender.
Add lovely fresh clean new green basil leaves, no stalks, and no dead leaves.
Use the pestle to ground it until its a green paste
Add a lug of organic olive oil
Add toasted pine nuts and work into the paste
Add grated parmesan cheese
If you want to add crushed garlic you can do that now
Finish off with a little sea salt and a squirt of lemon and some chilli flakes
If it seems a little dry add a little more olive oil
The result, an easy pesto sauce as fresh as you can get within 5 minutes, now just add warm pasta, or spirallised courgettes or use the mix to make a salad dressing.
As someone who has personally suffered from the effects of anxiety and stress, I know how it feels to live with the fight or flight response, which is often permanently active and the consequences of this condition mean exhausted adrenals, fatigue and a general feeling of malaise.
One study shows that 3 million adults in the UK currently suffer from anxiety disorders, some claim that anxiety is the disease of the 21st century. Many psychologists working with young people have noted a substantial increase in the number of people, young and old, reporting with symptoms of anxiety.
So what are we getting all anxious about?
It seems to be a problem mainly associated with the modern world and can be triggered by stressful events, work or relationship problems. Some people find the news makes them anxious and it wouldn’t be surprising. The news is full of stories of conflict, natural disasters, economic troubles, and crime and that can also add to our anxiety.
What is Cortisol and what effect does it have on the body?
Cortisol is a stress hormone which is produced by our adrenal glands and is usually released in response to events such as exercising and stress.
It’s a healthy response when it is required especially if we are in a dangerous situation but the problem is that this stress response is being triggered too frequently from our ever-stressed, fast-paced lifestyle and our bodies are pumping out cortisol almost constantly, which can wreak havoc on our health.
The Effects of Elevated Cortisol
– Elevated cortisol over the long term consistently produces glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels which could cause blood sugar imbalances and put our bodies at risk of type 2 diabetes.
– The purpose of Cortisol is to reduce inflammation in the body, which is good, but over time these efforts to reduce inflammation also suppresses the immune system. Chronic inflammation caused by lifestyle factors such as poor diet and stress, contributes to keeping cortisol levels soaring.
– It’s important to eat your meals in a quiet manner allowing your digestion and absorption of nutrients to work at its peak performance, however if you are stressed, indigestion develops and the mucosal lining becomes irritated and inflamed. This inflammation can lead to a higher increase in the production of cortisol and the cycle continues as the body becomes increasingly burdened.
– Long-term stress and elevated cortisol may also be linked to insomnia, chronic fatigue, and depression. When we sleep our cells renew and regenerate and in situations of chronic stress these systems are compromised allowing cortisol to soar.
How Can We Reduce Cortisol?
The best approach to keeping cortisol levels at bay is mastering stress management and optimising our diet.
1. Tackling Stress: Exercise is a great way to release built-up stress, emotions, anger and the toxin overload that comes with it and this will also help to promote a better nights sleep. If you need to talk about what is causing your stress, try seeing a therapist, whether its someone who can just listen or perhaps someone who can find an alternative way to break your stressful thought patterns such as hypnotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy.
2. Be Mindful: Try practicing Yoga and Meditation, I found it easier to start by making it part of my morning or bedtime routine, even if its just 10 minutes of stretching and conscious breathing. Yoga, Meditation and other mind-body practices train your body and mind to be able to cope with stress which can also improve overall health and well-being.
3. Lower Inflammation: Systemic inflammation causes elevated cortisol levels. If we can naturally decrease inflammation in the body and minimise stress, decreased cortisol levels should follow. Try sticking to a low inflammatory diet which includes lots of organic plant-based foods, fibre, nuts, seeds, and beans and cut down on inflammatory foods such as processed take away meals, high sugar, alcohol, caffeine and foods high in saturated fats.
4. Laugh: I don’t know about you but after a good belly laugh, nothing can change my good mood, Its just addictive and I crave more and more laughter. Spend time with friends that are fun, that make you laugh or watch a comedy or funny cats on youtube, whatever makes you smile. Those feel good endorphins that you release will naturally lower your stress levels and if you make time for regular laughter this should help to keep your cortisol levels at a low. Also sometimes when I am meditating I find that if I smile to myself it really has an effect of, its all ok, everything is going to be fine even if I don’t feel it is at that moment just fake it. Smile or laugh as much as possible and your high cortisol levels will have no place to hide.
Apparently as many as 16 million UK adults* are suffering from sleepless nights. That’s 1 in 3 adults who suffer from insomnia. Have you ever suffered with this debilitating sleep disorder?
Sleep is essential for our general well-being. When we sleep it allows for healing to take place. It helps to keep our hormones balanced, improves immune health, digestion, brain health and also skin health. It also gives us a better capacity to cope with everyday stresses and gives us the ability to make sound judgments.
How can we make sure we get enough quality Zzzz’s?
Many studies are being done to understand the connection between our gut and our brain health. Our gut microbiome is the complex community of microorganisms that live in our digestive tract. So if you’ve been having trouble sleeping, embracing a gut-friendly diet and lifestyle will put you on the right path to protecting your overall health which will also give you a better chance for some good sleep.
It’s uber important to get enough exercise as it releases tension and toxins which help relieve the body of any mental and physical reasons which could be keeping you awake at night. Exercise boosts the effect of natural sleep hormones such as melatonin.
What’s your bedtime ritual? Is it to look at Instagram or watch TV in bed? This will stimulate your mind and the light from your devices will deplete your melatonin levels. If you are struggling with sleep, try reading a book. According to a study conducted in 2009 by researchers at the University of Sussex showed that six minutes of reading reduces stress by 68%, clearing the mind will really help to calm the body and induce natural sleep.
Meditation is an ancient practice which can improve symptoms of Insomnia by reducing measures of arousal in the brain, whether you do it for just 10 minutes in the morning or before you go to bed, this will train your brain to clear itself of negative thought patterns or the constant chatter in our minds which can keep you awake at night.
Digestion is a very common reason why some people can’t sleep. If you are making your digestive system active just before bed, your liver and kidneys will be working hard, which could keep you awake. Your kidneys repair between the hours of 10-1am so its good to eat at least two hours before bed and try to get in a sleep routine where you go to bed at the same time if possible.
If you are looking for a good sleep formula without the health risks of prescribed sleeping tablets. We+People have formulated a blend of organic plant based ingredients listed below, which are all proven to induce calm and promote natural sleep.
A herb native to Asia and Europe, is often referred to as “nature’s Valium.” In fact, this herb has been used since ancient times to promote tranquility and improve sleep.
It contains a number of compounds that may promote sleep and reduce anxiety. These include valeric acid, isovaleric acid and a variety of antioxidants.
Valerian has received attention for its interaction with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical messenger that helps regulate nerve impulses in your brain and nervous system. Researchers have shown that low GABA levels related to acute and chronic stress are linked to anxiety and low-quality sleep.
The Ashwagandha plant is a small shrub with yellow flowers that are native to India and North Africa. It is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, a form of alternative medicine based on Indian principles of natural healing.
It is best known for its stress-lowering effects. It’s classified as an “adaptogen,” meaning that it can help your body manage stress.
Bacopa Monnieri has been used for centuries in Ayurveda traditional medicine and has long been thought of as a “wonder herb.”
As a quintessential Adaptogen, it has a helpful effect on our stress management. It has similarities to L-Theanine, in that it reduces anxiety and keeps you calm, but also provides additional benefits such as enhancing your memory.
I’ve often suffered from periods of insomnia which makes me feel quite an expert on the subject of sleep, especially when it comes to what’s good to eat before bed and what will make you have nightmares.
A warming drink before bed triggers something in the mind which says, lights out and sweet dreams and it works for me every time. Warm cows milk is often given to children before bed, it contains two substances, the hormone melatonin and the amino acid tryptophan which both promote sleep.
I prefer to avoid cows milk as it contains many growth hormones and there are plenty of healthier alternatives out there such as Almond milk, Coconut milk, Tiger Nut Milk and Oat Milk.
Here is my current favourite bedtime drink which contains warming herbs and spices of Turmeric, Ginger and Cinnamon which all promote healing, lower inflammation in the body and which in turn will all promote a good nights sleep.
Choose which milk you prefer, if you really like cows milk but you are trying to find an alternative for health reasons, try oat milk, its got a creamy taste and texture which means you won’t miss cows milk at all. I love this with Almond Milk or Coconut.
Gradually warm up the milk in a saucepan,
Add a pinch of grated fresh ginger or powder,
Add a pinch of grated fresh turmeric or powder,
Add a little grass-fed ghee butter
Add a cinnamon stick or some cardamom powder
Add a teaspoon of Manuka Honey
Warm it up long enough to let the flavours blend and then strain into a teapot if you don’t want any pieces.
Get in bed with your favourite book and sip your tea,
Heartburn affects more than 60 million Americans every month, its not actually anything to do with your heart though, its a burning sensation in the chest caused by stomach acid which travels up towards the throat and it has the ability to show up when you least want it to, usually while you are at a nice restaurant and have just taken your first bite of delicious food and a sip of red wine, a burning feeling arises in your chest, you start to turn down the wine and request water instead and you wonder how you are going to get through the meal without embarrassingly having to leave the table and your friends or hot date to find a pharmacy so late at night. Does this ring a bell?
One pop of an antacid, such as Tums or Rennie and it usually gives instant relief so what’s the problem? the problem being, what happens when it doesn’t go away after a Rennie or two?
I had a recent heartburn flare up which lasted for 4 weeks and I was terrified, I thought I would have the symptoms forever. I realised how complex the condition was when I researched it online, the symptoms were similar if you had too much stomach acid to if you didn’t have enough, so how does one know? It’s more common to not have enough stomach acid than too much, but western medicine seems to focus on getting rid of the symptoms with a quick fix rather than looking into it too deeply. I made appointments to see 3 different doctors over the four weeks who all prescribed me PPI’s (Proton-pump inhibitors) a group of drugs whose main action is to reduce stomach acid production. One doctor said I had gastritis due to Ibuprofen use and one told me I had a hiatal hernia and one said I had acid reflux caused by anxiety. Not one doctor gave me any nutritional advice, considering it was a digestive condition I found this quite strange and surely blocking all my acid production isn’t going to be a great idea in the long run?.
I was mortified when I researched the side effects of the PPI drugs, if taken long term they could cause Kidney Disease and Osteoporosis and other awful conditions! I had already started taking the drugs as I had such extreme discomfort in my chest, upper stomach, hoarseness, sore throat, neck pain, and earache and flu on top of it all, so I was pretty low. I looked into ways to reduce my symptoms and heal my condition through food and ayurvedic medicine while gradually weaning myself off of the PPI.
It took me three weeks before I saw a significant difference. I firstly avoided all trigger foods such as chili, spicy foods, alcohol, chocolate, coffee, tomatoes and citrus fruits and I stuck to a diet that was easy to digest, ensuring that I chewed my food many times so that my digestive system which was already under strain didn’t have to work harder than it needed to.
Here are some of the foods that I tried that worked well for me and eased my symptoms and put me back on the road to good health.
Almond Milk – Coat your stomach and esophagus lining with a protective layer to stop the acid damaging your stomach wall, I found almond milk and a little ghee butter very comforting before I went to bed, I also added caprylic acid which can kill any bad bacteria in your gut.
Fennel – I roasted some fennel seeds which I snacked on in between meals and it did ease my discomfort, I also juiced fennel, cucumber, and celery which cooled the inflammation.
Pomegranate juice – I started taking this as my symptoms were starting to improve, it balances PH levels and neutralises any excess acid. I juiced fresh pomegranates which felt more nutritious than buying it from concentrate in a supermarket.
Papaya – Full of great digestive enzymes and anti-bacterial properties, felt very soothing to my digestive tract.
H-Pylori – Acid reflux symptoms could be caused by a common bacteria called H-Pylori so I would recommend eliminating these bacteria, ask your doctor for a stool test.
Ginger – fresh ginger tea with manuka honey soothes the esophagus and also kills any bad bacteria in your tummy. Ginger is anti-inflammatory and has been used for digestive health for hundreds of years so it’s a safe bet.
Parsley – I boiled a handful of parsley in a saucepan, strained it and then sipped on the water throughout the day, I noticed vast improvements but it tasted really bad. Parsley is known for its super healing powers on the intestines.
Bananas- The texture just felt like the right thing to eat, it coated my throat in a protective layer and staved off any hunger pains, I don’t think bananas work for everyone, but they definitely worked for me.
Chicken – I kept my food quite simple, chicken in chicken broth soup really felt nourishing and bone broth is one of the best foods to eat with any inflammatory condition, its healing and contains collagen vital for healing and repairing the gut.
Pro-Biotic – I made sure when I became hungry that I would eat some yogurt as it was easy to digest and hunger would bring on symptoms so I wanted to avoid hunger pains. I chose a sheep yogurt containing bio-cultures as sheep’s milk is 10% lower in lactose than cow’s milk.
Basil Leaves- I placed basil beside my bed as when the acid reflux flared up in the night, I would take a few basil leaves and chew on them, I was quite amazed at how effective it was and it helped ease the pain pronto. Basil helps reduce excess acid production. Tulsi Tea was also great which is made from Holy Basil leaves.
Aloe Vera Juice – Healing to the intestinal tract and digestion, normalizes ph balance in the gut and encourages good digestive bacteria.
Melatonin – Tests show that melatonin improves GERD symptoms such as heartburn (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) by decreasing esophageal acid exposure. This really helped me as my symptoms were often worse at night when I was lying down and so it helped me to sleep through the night.
Avoid These Habits:
When taking pain killers or supplements, make sure you take them with lots of water and maybe even eat a small piece of bread with it to ensure it’s gone into your stomach properly. If it’s exposed for too long in your esophagus it can irritate the lining and create damage to the tissues and cells.
Avoid NSAIDS such as ibuprofen if you regularly take pain killers for a condition, they are irritating to the stomach and can cause irreversible damage.
It’s always good to get the advice from your health practitioner if you suffer from heartburn, but its also good to know that we can heal our bodies naturally to give it gentle support rather than harsh treatments, which often only cause more problems further down the line.
I was 30 when I first heard that word, Endometriosis. I was having a routine smear test and the nurse said to me, “if you want children, you should start trying soon as it looks like you have a touch of endometriosis.” OK, I said.
I went home and thought nothing of it, this was just before the internet generation, so I didn’t really know how to research it other than to go to the library, it wasn’t as easy as it is now. I was also in a band and too busy having a good time, children were not on my agenda. How I wish it was easier back then to google the condition, to see what it was all about as my doctor had no useful advice for heavy painful periods and endometriosis symptoms, he said it was normal for some women to get painful periods and offered me the contraceptive pill when I was 16. I had been taking it for 14 years, but what happens when you want to stop taking it?
The endometriosis word came back into my life at 34, I stopped taking the contraceptive pill as I wanted to try for a child with my partner, soon after stopping the pill, I developed severe pains in my tummy, a scan on my pelvic area revealed two big ovarian cysts measuring 8cm each, called ‘chocolate cysts’ as they were filled with old blood, yuk. This was when I realised the severity of the condition and how much it was going to affect my life in more ways than one.
I’d always suffered from painful and heavy periods but just thought they were normal and that every woman goes through the same torture each month. However, when I came off the pill I was older and wiser, the symptoms and consequences of my symptoms which caused low B12, anemia and infertility meant that I needed to try to find ways to heal myself through diet and lifestyle choices and I knew there would be no short cuts.
As I have knowingly lived with this condition for 10 years now, I have grown to understand what makes it worse and what eases the symptoms. I have learned that I also need to make peace with my uterus, so instead of calling my period “a b*tch of a period” which I did every month for the past 20 years, I now send it loving thoughts, which isn’t easy to do when you are in excruciating pain.
Here are just some of the alternative methods, and products that I find have really helped my endo condition so far that you might not have discovered already;
Castor Oil Packs – This was a big game changer for me. Castor oil helps to bring circulation to your uterus and help bring in new fresh oxygenated blood which is what you want for a healthy uterus. Check out this video I found on how to do a Castor Oil Pack, I find the Pukka Castor Oil brand a really nice organic brand which is cheap and easy to find in most health shops or on Amazon. I found it really helped me to relax too as you cannot do anything for 45 mins to 1 hour so just lie down and listen to meditative music or whatever you find relaxes you.
Magnesium Spray – Apparently many women with Endometriosis lack magnesium so it’s a good one to have in your armour, it helps to relax your muscles which helps ease cramps. I found this really helpful to spray at night as it also promotes restful sleep. My favourite is by Kiki Health.
Clary Sage – Clary Sage oil contains natural phytoestrogens from plants and I was a little dubious at first as estrogen is usually a no-no with this condition, but apparently, good estrogen is ok just the bad ones like xenoestrogens from toxins and plastics are the bad guys. I found the oil really helped my pains if I put the oil on my tummy and then had a hot water bottle on top.
Supplements – If you haven’t tried ‘Endo Complex‘ yet, Its a food grown natural supplement from Wild Nutrition which provides all the right nutrients to help ease the complex endometriosis condition. I find it works really well with their ‘Methyl Connect’ supplements too which help your body to absorb folate and B12. Methylation is a biochemical process involved in almost all of your body’s functions. It controls everything from your stress response and how your body makes energy from food to your brain chemistry and detoxification.
Another supplement I also find useful which I formulated is ‘Woman’ by We+People, its an organic natural superfood supplement which contains maca root to help balance hormones, ginger to help fight inflammation and also a prebiotic which promotes a healthy gut and immune system. All required in abundance to tackle this often debilitating condition.
Ashwagandha – One of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing, has been used since ancient times for a wide variety of conditions including stress and anxiety. This one is a new one for me as I have been researching the connection between stress and endometriosis recently as I personally suffer a lot with anxiety. So it turns out stress really affects our adrenal function and it’s our adrenals which play a huge role in keeping our hormones balanced, so it’s really important to keep them calm. I find Ashwagandha has totally stopped me from waking up with anxiety caused by high cortisol levels that peak in the morning. My favourite is the Organic India brand.
Fibre – I know this sounds totally crazy but after 10 years of having this disease, I have only just worked out how important fibre is. I mean, it took a herbalist to tell me that I should buy a fibre powder. I added a spoonful to my smoothies and started to go to the toilet twice a day instead of once and almost immediately it solved my constipation issues which I didn’t realise were related to my endo. It helped me to expel the excess estrogen and toxins which were clogging up my system. Be careful with it though as it does make you dehydrated if you don’t drink enough water. It’s better to get your fibre from food but I did use Lepricol which I found good to get me started and it also includes digestive enzymes and probiotics.
Tulsi Tea (Holy Basil) – This is a tea that I find really good for keeping my adrenals calm and there are other great teas too which are supposed to help reduce endometriosis and fibroids such as green tea which is full of antioxidants. I use the Pukka Tea variety.
Since I’ve gained a little more knowledge and insight into this condition and through research and trial and error, I am now mostly pain-free. I do have an endometrial polyp which has shrunk in size so this has made me more determined than ever to get my reproductive health back. When I stick to my well-balanced whole foods diet, get plenty of exercise and take supporting supplements, I manage pretty well. Now all I need is to get my fertility back. But at 44 I know that I am wishful thinking. If you think you have endometriosis don’t leave it until its too late to take control and get to know this condition so you can manage the symptoms and get on with enjoying your life.
There are lots of support groups and awareness of this condition out there nowadays so don’t suffer alone. Try ‘This Endo Life’ for a great blog and website dedicated to living and thriving with this condition. Also, check out UK charity group https://www.endometriosis-uk.org which organises several meetups and events throughout the year.
There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep, that feeling of satisfaction when you wake in the morning feeling refreshed, body and mind alert, ready to take on the day.
Realistically, how often do you wake up feeling like you’ve had a great night’s sleep? Apparently as many as 16 million UK adults* are suffering from sleepless nights.
Many studies are being done to understand the connection between our gut and our brain health. Our gut microbiome is the complex community of microorganisms that live in our digestive tract. Gut microbes are key to many aspects of human health including our immune system, digestion, hormones, mood, neurotransmitters, skin health, weight, pain perception, and energy levels.
So if you’ve been having trouble sleeping, embracing a gut-friendly diet and lifestyle will put you on the right path to protecting your overall health.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Cut out processed foods, preservatives, and refined sugar from your diet, Most highly processed foods are loaded with artificial chemicals, including artificial flavours, textures, colours, and preservatives which are harmful to the digestive tract and bad bacteria will feed on the sugar.
Eat whole foods, preferably organic if you can. My rule is to be strict on some items such as berries and soft fruits without hard skin as they will be more likely to absorb more pesticides. Try eating more fermented foods too such as kimchi, kefir and raw apple cider vinegar which are natural probiotics.
Exercise also improves gut health so take up some regular activities such as walking, swimming, tennis or barre to get your body moving.
Supplement with a combination of probiotics and prebiotics which can improve the friendly flora in your microbiome. Probiotics are healthy bacteria and Prebiotics are the food that feeds the healthy bacteria. It’s quite difficult to get enough prebiotics through diet alone so try adding a prebiotic powder to your smoothies.
Once you have nurtured your gut health and you start sleeping soundly through the night, you will find that your whole body feels more balanced and supported.
This blog post I wrote for Myza.co.uk, A marketplace dedicated to all things sleep related.