We live in a time where there’s a cure-all for all – a solution for all of our needs, an antidote for all of our ailments – and of course this is a blessing. A blessing that we aren’t suffering for lack of information, research or availability. But it doubles as a curse. A curse because we’re flooded with opinions, options, and products from a vast array of sources.
New drug treatments with no studies on the long term effects, products we consume and lather on our skin made up of unfamiliar ingredients… How do we make an informed and safe decision? How do we take care of ourselves? The power of choice is both enabling and crippling.
Through frustration, pain, discomfort, and finally by my own preferences, I’ve discovered the beauty of being au naturel in a synthetic world and I want to share it. I want to share it with those looking to improve their health and wellbeing and with those who are considered ‘average’, and thus deemed ‘healthy’, by some accepted health standard, but may not be their healthiest selves – and not even know it.
I’m taking the au naturel route in a variety of ways so I’m going to break up my posts between Health and Beauty – starting with Health and a particular topic that’s impacted me – and to whomever is reading this, I hope that you’ll take away some of the importance that I’ve attached to this topic and that it improves your life in some way.
Navigating the increasingly complex healthcare system can be overwhelming. Medical doctors, clinics, hospitals. Physiotherapists, massage therapists, chiropractors. Nutritionists, naturopaths, dieticians. Psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists.
What I’ve learned is that you need to be an advocate for your own health. You need to be proactive in your self-care or you run the risk of being reactive – bouncing between silos of healthcare that not only don’t communicate with one another, they don’t even speak the same language.
My first Au Naturel post is dedicated to gut health.
The Gut-Brain Connection
The gut-brain connection inextricably links our gut health to our mental health – and our mental health to our gut health. As explained in more detail in this Psychology Today article, when our bodies respond to stress, our ‘fight or flight’ system is powered up – adrenaline floods ours bodies affecting us in a number of physical and physiological ways. When we’re constantly stressed, this system tends to get muddled, leading to symptoms of chronic stress, such as anxiety and depression, as well as physical issues such as chronic gut problems, headaches, high blood pressure, etc.
Check out my 10 Tips for Tackling Stress here.
Underlying our fight-or-flight hormonal system is our immune system. Unfortunately for us, our stress response doesn’t distinguish between mental and physical distress; when our body is under stress, it releases ‘inflammatory cytokines’, snapping our immune system into action. What this means is, in ways, our body reacts to stress as if it were an infection, and to chronic stress as if it were a chronic infection. The issue here is that chronic levels of inflammatory response can lead to all kinds of health complications such as depressive disorders, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.
So, where do our tummies come into play?
Our gut ‘microbiome’ plays a key role in regulating our immune response; the right sort of gut bacteria keeps pathogenic bacteria (causing illness) low, and turns off that chronic stress response. This microbiome also intercepts on a hormonal level, helping to turn off the cortisol and adrenaline response that can cause us harm.
Saved by our stomachs.
You are what you eat
How can we help our bellies help us? Diet is obviously first and foremost, and at the very least, we should be avoiding fake food (refined foods) and sticking to real, whole foods. Whole foods are unprocessed, unrefined, and without additives—and therefore more nutritionally packed. When foods are processed, they lose a lot of their beneficial vitamins, minerals, fibre and water.
That being said, whole foods aren’t necessarily organic foods. Whole or ‘natural’ foods can include eggs, certain cuts of meat, and fish, so long as they’re free of additives and preservatives—but they aren’t always free of chemicals and pesticides.
Organic foods are free of chemicals and pesticides and are closely regulated to ensure as much – meaning that they are produced, manufactured and handled according to standards defined and verified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) Organic Products Regulation.
So what’s the big deal with this organic label and how is organic farming any different from convention farming? And why does this matter for our gut health?
The big deal and the big difference is that organic farming doesn’t use genetically modified (GM) seed, synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and doesn’t allow livestock to be fed or injected with antibiotics or steroids. What this means for us is that the food we eat is free of hormones, steroids and other harmful unnatural products.
And an added bonus – not only does organic farming contribute to our own personal health, the sustainable farming practices contribute to the health of our environment.
Save your tummy, save the polar-bears.
But if none of this is striking a chord with you, it just tastes better. I love the Healthy Butcher here in Toronto.
And a note on diet – am I strictly eating only organic, whole foods 100% of the time? No. Is gelato also a staple in my diet? Yes. Limiting your consumption all of the time isn’t realistic (or exciting) – just do the best that you can as often as you can and your body and brain with thank you for it.
PSA: Healthy eats don’t have to be boring eats.
Trust your gut
There are also food sensitivities / intolerances to be wary of. While you may not be allergic to something, you can be sensitive to it which is detrimental to your gut and overall health. And you can unknowingly be sensitive to foods that you’re eating on a regular basis. Moodiness, ‘brain fog’ (“what did I come upstairs for?”), headaches, fatigue, heart burn, joint pain, skin irritations (acne, rashes, itchy eyes, etc.), bloating, and stomach pain – these can all be symptoms of a food sensitivity / intolerance.
A commonly known (and shared) example of a food intolerance is the sensitivity to gluten. Some people experience symptoms of celiac disease, such as a ‘foggy mind’, depression, ADHD-like behavior, abdominal pain, bloating, headaches, bone or joint pain, and chronic fatigue, when they have gluten in their diet, but don’t test positive for celiac disease.
Another common intolerance is to ‘FODMAP’ foods – carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found in foods naturally or as food additives.
Luckily, there are ways to identify the culprits – like an IgG Food Sensitivity Test – and a lot of workplaces will at least partially cover these expenses with your health and wellness benefits.
Also, if protein powder is a part of your diet, go easy on the intake. Whole foods contain a natural balance of nutrients – a balance that’s lost when the food is broken down and one or more of the smaller constituents are removed. Translation: our guts may not be prepared for the punch that protein powder is packing and will therefore have trouble digesting it.
If you’d like to include protein powder in your diet, I recommend organic brown rice protein (found in the majority of health food stores or online); it’s vegan, gluten free, soy free and contains only one ingredient – organic sprouted whole grain brown rice protein. Whey protein contains milk and milk-derived products containing several hormones and ‘bioactive peptides’, some of which may negatively affect our health. And if you’re sensitive to dairy, whey protein will only serve to worsen the matter.
My gut go-to’s
In addition to regular diet, here are some au-naturel ways I keep my gut happy and healthy:
- Probiotics – Probiotics are living microorganisms that improve immune function, protect against hostile bacteria to prevent infection and improve digestion and absorption of food and nutrients. You can get your daily dose of probiotics in a variety of ways. I prefer a supplement.
- Aloe Vera concentrate – Aloe supports healthy digestion and immune system function, increases absorption of nutrients, balances stomach acidity naturally, and reduces inflammation.
- Apple cider vinegar – ACV stimulates digestion by helping the body breakdown food and controls the growth of unwanted yeast and bacteria in the stomach and throughout the body.
- Chlorophyll – Chlorophyll promotes digestive health by maintaining intestinal flora. It also helps strengthen our immune system, has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, aids our hormonal balance, and detoxifies our bodies.
- Kombucha – Kombucha is a fermented tea rich in probiotics and antioxidants.
I’m not relying on all of these natural remedies all of the time– my intake is dependent on my different needs at different times. Also, I began a number of these therapies in consultation with a naturopath here in Toronto – and I’m so glad that I pursued this form of care. Naturopathic Medicine incorporates traditional and natural forms of medicine with modern scientific knowledge and the practice involves treatment and prevention using natural therapies. If you’re thinking of trying a more au-naturel health regimen, or looking to supplement your current health routine, I recommend seeing a naturopath to get started (also covered, at least partially, by most workplaces’ health and wellness benefits).
I’ve been going to the Integrative Health Institute in Toronto and it’s been a worthwhile experience – I feel informed, in control, and in good hands.
Obviously, au-naturel healthcare isn’t always a viable option – if you’re experiencing stomach pain, of course get you and your gut to a medical doctor. But natural treatment and therapy is a way to understand your gut as it relates to and interacts with your entire body. It’s a way to give your body the chance to heal itself and it’s a way to proactively take care of yourself.
At-home concoctions to keep your gut in a good mood
Aloe, Ginger & Mint Elixir:
Ginger is a digestive aid and a natural remedy for nausea.
Mint activates salivary glands which promotes digestion and can help to soothe symptoms of indigestion and nausea.
For a batch:
- 6 oz unflavored, whole leaf Aloe Vera concentrate.
- 2 tbsp grated ginger
- 10 mint leaves
- 1 tbsp Agave, honey, or maple syrup to sweeten
- Add all the ingredients in a large shaker bottle and shake until well combined.
- Pour over ice in a glass and garnish with more mint leaves.
Morning Detox Tea
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp agave, honey or maple syrup to sweeten
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Dash of cayenne
The brand ‘Rise’ makes kombuchas with chlorophyll in them. You can also buy the chlorophyll yourself at a health food store and add 1 tbsp to your store-bought kombucha. Alternatively, you can brew your own kombucha at home – most health food stores sell kits with the necessary basics to get your home brew started.
Happy tummy, happy life.