Since the outbreak of Corona Virus (COVID-19) Mrs Jacko and I have been trying to do everything we can during lockdown to stay as safe and healthy as possible. As Hippocrates points out, gut health, what we put into it through our diet is so important to our overall health;
All disease begins in the gut – Hippocrates
We’ve been focusing on things that are in our control and researching what changes and additions to our diet, training and lifestyle choices we can make. I’ve made some significant changes and feel healthier than ever!
Just before lockdown began, we watched the Betrayal series from Dr Tom O’Brien on YouTube. (I would highly recommend watching this for anyone and particularly anyone affected by autoimmunity).
Having watched this, there was no way that I couldn’t take gluten out of my diet.
No more rice cakes! Surely these are gluten-free I argued? Well apparently many products like rice cakes and oats are made in factories where other gluten-containing products are made, so have shown to contain a fair amount and if you’re going to cut it out, best off just leaving them alone.
So it wasn’t just gluten, it was a profound reminder of how much our diet and lifestyle can impact on how we feel and function ; it was, therefore, a kick-start to cleaning up and simplifying my diet… and was as much about including more of the foods that help nourish my body as well as other lifestyle factors.
Plus, it wasn’t just what, but also how I was eating.
To help with digestion we now have a pre-dinner digestive drink mix of 100ml warm water and 2 teaspoons of organic apple cider vinegar (with mother) or lemon juice. This stimulates stomach acid production to gear up ready for more effective digestion.
We’re also using ‘breathwork’ to help aid digestion with pre-dinner ‘down-regulating’ with focus on calm, belly breathing emphasising slowing down the breath on the exhale to elicit more of a parasympathetic (our rest and digestion system) response, which, as the name suggests, promotes digestive actions for more effective uptake of the nutrients from the food you’re eating. Dr Sally Bell and Tony Riddle both spoke about this in Podcast 99 and Podcast 106 respectively.
One really interesting takeaway from the Betrayal series I mentioned earlier was from Dr Michael Ash. His research found two stewed apples per day can provide the same anti-inflammatory effect as 10-15g of steroids . There are a few things in the apples such as polyphenols and pectin which is helpful – they help to build up good bacteria in the gut, important for loads of health reasons; boost appropriate immunity, anti-inflammatory (at the core of all modern disease). So we’ve been cooking up a batch of stewed apples at the weekends and then having some daily, it’s actually become a delicious little treat.
Stewed apples: Chopped and cooked in water, add cinnamon for flavour. Allow cooling before storing in the fridge for the week.
Another way I have been getting more anti-inflammatory foods into my diet is by using turmeric and ginger in smoothies. I’ve not always been great at getting vegetables into my diet (the corona situation has really spurred me on with this) and therefore I’m getting vegetables like carrot, broccoli, spinach, beetroot into my smoothies as well. We spoke with Dr Sally Bell (in Podcast 99) about how these foods provide so many nutrients to support our immune system to work properly and – shoot down – any foreign invaders to our body before they can cause problems.
Also adding extras like Bulk Powder ‘Natural greens’ vitamin C and taking a B12 supplement alongside it too – click here to see the bulk powders supplements we use.
Greens Smoothie: Frozen broccoli, frozen blueberries, beetroot, carrot, Bulk Powders natural greens, bulk powders vitamin C powder, ginger and turmeric (fresh and powdered), black pepper (increase the uptake of the good stuff in turmeric) or from Bulk Powders mixed in a blender.
We have had a constant bone broth on the go, the many benefits have been documented in the literature . Great source of protein, collagen, glycine, glucosamine, chondroitin (I used to take as a supplement for my joints but as with most things you can get it in naturally). This provides the body with easily digestible nutrients which are amazing for our bone, joint and skin health and is also anti-inflammatory. It is good for the gut (and therefore immunity). Use as a drink on its own, or as a great way to add flavour (and nutrition) to cooking; in soups, sauces (curry, bolognese, chilli, gravy).
Bone broth: Bones from organic grass-fed animals (ideally – if not organic important that it’s free-range) in a slow cooker completely submerged in water. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (which helps draw out nutrition from the bones) and herbs like rosemary, thyme, bay, sage etc. Plus vegetables like celery, carrot and onion which add more nutritional value and flavour.
This will probably come as much as a surprise to you as it did for me, only a couple of days ago when I’d already written 90% of this blog;
but I felt a duty to others out there who’ve experienced brain injuries to share what I’ve found.
Back in 2013, I had a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) playing rugby, which ended my professional career. I’d had to retire from rugby, but finally, go back to training in the gym after 6 months and able to run without headaches after a year. I’d made a full recovery or so I thought.
Something that I’ve been exploring in the world of ‘functional health’ is the effect of the gut as central to our overall health as I mentioned right at the start. Unknown to me until Mrs Jacko was doing some research is that TBI can be linked to health factors relating to the gut . Due to the Brain-Gut Axis (BGA) the researched mechanism creating changes in the gut microbiome, which may clinically manifest in patients as abdominal pain, gastric distension, altered intestinal motility, constipation, or ulcers . Guess what, I’ve had an ulcer after my TBI for over two years and it still comes back from time-to-time even 7 years later now. My ears pricked up and I’m now digging deep into the idea that have I, in fact, made a full recovery yet or is there a disruption to my gut microbiome?
The good news is that if I have gut issues and resulting BGA disruption leading to things like leaky gut, inflammation (which would explain some of my ongoing joint pains) the nutritional interventions are many of the things that I’ve already been putting into place .
But some more investigation is needed and it’s something that I get the sense is currently confined to the ‘functional health’ world so I’m motivated to document my findings and personal experience to help share that to a wider community, particularly into sports like rugby where brain injures are unfortunately so common these days.
My training focus has shifted to enjoy more of the basics and taking the time to dial back in on re-honing some of the foundational movement patterns that we build everything else from. I’ve been mainly using the Bodyweight Basics programme for this which we designed for that purpose and the fact I’m seeing such great benefits in my training goes to show it can help beginners, intermediates and those more advanced.
With the restrictions of lockdown, it’s been important for us to get outside for our once a day exercise outside. This has been either a run or a walk in the morning. It’s been a time I’ve used to focus on my breathwork, which is believed to be such a big player in good health and fitness. Having dedicated time with a walk or a run to focus on breathing solely through my nose (in and out) and deep belly breathing as outlined by Patrick McKeown in Podcast 121 (MUST LISTEN).
Although I’ve been a huge advocate of nasal breathing as per Patrick McKeown explains so eloquently in his book the ‘Oxygen Advantage‘ I’d never actually dedicated a training session towards it and it’s something I’m bringing in more and more to my daily life. Little breath-hold exercises and relaxation breathing techniques have become part of my day-to-day and I love how it makes me feel as well as the effect on my breathing mechanics. Going from a heavy mouth and upper chest breather to a nasal diaphragm breather has freed up my thoracic spine and shoulders as well as dramatically improving my 5km run personal best – two things I’d really reached a plateau on previously.
This has got me into the habit of tracking my progress with some key markers like waking heart rate, my BOLT and walking breath-hold scores (breath-hold tests from Patrick McKeown see Podcast 121).
We can’t recommend his book highly enough, available on amazon here – Oxygen Advantage book
Something that my morning run and walk has given me the benefit of is being outside in nature and early morning exposure to daylight – and sunlight as the weather in the UK has been amazing during lockdown!
Why is this important first thing in the morning? Well, we learnt a number of things from Nick Littlehales (sleep expert) from his Podcast 92 interview about sleep and things that affected it. Your circadian rhythm was something that he’s mentioned with the importance of getting outside first thing in the morning to help optimise your sleep-wake cycle, which helps regulate hormones and energy level to basically ‘wake you up’ for the day. But it just wasn’t something I took seriously until I felt the urgency on ‘being as healthy as possible’ during the Corona virus outbreak.
Now everything I’ve mentioned so far is focused on being ‘as healthy as possible’, which is obviously going to help us stay healthy during this time. Now there are things that have been recommended by the likes of Dr Sally Bell on Podcast 118 to help boost our immune function to help fight off viruses like the Corona virus. It’s been shown that immune function is improved by anything that boosts parasympathetic activity and anything that promotes gut health.
Our parasympathetic part of our nervous system is basically our innate recovery. It is opposite to the sympathetic (fight or flight). So when the brain cues saying ‘we are safe’, it can down-regulate our survival responses (increased heart rate, muscle tension etc) and focus on recharge; digestion, long term immunity muscle recovery and repair etc.
The time out walking or running has not only had the physical benefits from exercising but also been a time to reflect and talk together (when not nasal breathing). Being outside and appreciating being outdoors because of the restrictions in place due to lockdown has really made us much more grateful for the one time of the day out in nature and there are well -documented benefits of being outside in nature, including parasympathetic response .
Finally, our gut is central for so many important functions, as Dr Sally Bell speaks about. We are only just beginning to discover how influential it is to our health and wellbeing. It is important for regulating our weight and appetite, our mood and is where most of our immune system is. Our gut bacteria communicate with our immune cells helping to regulate their function ie. to know which are the good guys to keep and which are the bad guys to nuke. So things in our diet that help promote good gut health like feeding our good bacteria with prebiotic foods; like green bananas and cooked and cooled potatoes that contain resistant starches that our ‘good’ bacteria feed off is key, as well as probiotic food like fermented foods (we make our own fermented cabbage) and kombucha which contain those good bacteria for your gut.
You are your thoughts
One thing to finish on is my appreciation of this time. Being restricted during the lockdown has made us organically be so much more appreciative of the simple things in life. It’s really decluttered our life – which I’m thankful for.
The amazing thing about practising gratitude is that it’s been proven to change your brain . You are your thoughts, they can change you can change them. It’s something I’ve been documenting as part of the Positive Podcast series I’ve been running each Monday morning since lockdown started – listen here.
For many of you out there, however, you have children at home that you are homeschooling (unlike Mrs Jacko and me) or your job has changed, people are sick and this has been a very stressful time for you. We really feel for you and hope that there is at least one thing in the blog that might help you positively impact your health and lifestyle.
If you are interested and keen to implement any of these changes, I suggest doing some of your own research too. I’d love to hear from you or if you just have some thoughts and feedback to share of your own experiences I’d love you to email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading, stay safe and healthy
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