We have all been there… desperately staring at our reflection longing the latest unwelcome intruder on our face to dive back beneath our skin. Despite conventional wisdom that surface bacteria causes acne it is really the internal conditions which lead to acne in the first place and the primary culprit is our hormones. This is illustrated clearly in my recent experience of stopping the contraceptive pill: I stopped taking the pills, my levels of oestrogen subsequently dropped and, as if by clockwork, my skin took a steep downwards nose dive. Fascinated by this direct physiological consequence of adjusting hormone levels I started doing a bit of digging on this topic…
Acne is all about hormonal imbalance and inflammation. It all begins with the up-regulation of oil production in the oil glands beneath the skin. The primary drivers of this oil production are androgens, specifically when elevated relative to oestrogen – it is therefore the balance between androgens and oestrogen which matters rather than the absolute amounts of each. Therefore, oil production will increase if either androgen levels increase or oestrogen levels fall and keeing oestrogen levels elevated offsets the negative effects of elevates androgens. This is why the contraceptive pill (containing oestrogen) is able to improve acne. This is also why anything which causes oestrogen to decrease, such as hypothalamic amenorrhea or the menopause can trigger a re-emergence of acne. So the hormone imbalance drives the oil production and the oil production clogs the pores. It is then inflammation which leads these clogged pores to present as acne.
Diet can play a key role in both the hormonal imbalance and the inflammation which leads to acne and I have set out 4 key rules below to help balance our hormones reduce inflammation…
1) Avoid blood sugar spikes since blood sugar spikes elicit an insulin response which spikes androgen production. Sugar is also highly inflammatory.
2) Avoid dairy since dairy is the most androgenic of foods and is highly insulinogenic.
3) Avoid inflammatory foods such as sugar, dairy, grains and omega 6 vegetable oils.
4) Avoid excessive protein intake since protein is a key player in oil production.
Today I met food blogger and nutrition enthusiast Ella Woodward of Deliciously Ella. Ella started her food blog as a way of healing her rare illness, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, which left her bed-bound with stomach problems, heart issues, pain and relentless fatigue. Through eliminating gluten, dairy, sugar and meat Ella overcame her illness and now quite literally glows with good health! Ella is now turning her mind to helping others take control of their health and is blogging her inspiring recipes and running cookery classes and supper clubs.
I spent the morning with Ella blending berries with homemade oat milk, spiralizing courgettes, creating a divine avocado and rocket pesto, stuffing mushrooms and whipping up banana ice-cream with a creamy coconut and cacao sauce. I saw the most vibrant greens and purples that only nature can offer and enjoyed every last drop of the delicious goodness.
What I love about Ella’s cooking is that it is such a celebration of food and flavours. Healthy eating is not about deprivation and going without – in fact, it couldn’t be further from that. It is about appreciating the incredibly varied and delicious foods that nature has given us to both enjoy and heal us. Through changing our mindset we can adore food, adore snacking and adore our bodies all at the same time.
You can find Ella’s blog at http://deliciouslyella.com
Every now and then you read a statistic which just really grabs you and makes you want to scream at the screen. This morning this happened to me twice. Firstly I read the staggering fact that 1/10 of all money spent by the NHS goes on diabetes! When you consider the sheer volume that the NHS budgets have to cover, from intensive care to trauma medicine, from cancer treatment to birthing wards, the proportion spent on just one entirely preventable disease is utterly mind blowing.
The article went on to explain that the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have proposed to offer weight loss surgery (costing between £3,000 and £15,000) to diabetic patients with a BMI of 30 or more which amounts to around 850,000 patients. The figure may be even higher as those of Asian descent are to be considered at lower unspecified BMIs. Unsurprisingly NICE has raised concerns that the NHS will not be able to afford this. Surely some of this money would be far better spent getting this individuals onto weight loss programmes!
What will it take for the Government to realise that prevention has to be prioritised more than it currently is. Firstly, there should be a sugar tax so that those who choose to consume foods and beverages packed full of added sugar are at least footing more of this bill for these ridiculous treatment costs. Secondly, the efforts to make people aware of dangers of smoking need to be applied to the sugar industry – including clear and visible health warnings on food and beverage packaging.
The second statistic I read is that the number of Alzheimer’s patients is set to triple by 2050. What many people do not know is that there is a wealth of scientific research supporting the view that raised blood sugar levels are slowing rotting our brains leading to cognitive decline and dementia – so much so that some leading experts in this area are terming Alzheimer’s as Type 3 diabetes. The recent increased Government focus on dementia is promising but important research on the dietary factors is just not getting enough focus yet. Surely this is yet another reason that the Government needs to seriously rethink how to reduce the sugar in our diet and raise awareness of sugar’s adverse health effects.
I recently read about a new fertility treatment being pioneered in Britain which works on the premise that some failed pregnancies may result from an immune response mounted to destroy the embryo as if it was an invading pathogen. The treatment involves pumping women’s bodies with a mixture of egg yolk and soya oil (which has been likened to receiving an injection of mayonnaise!) which inhibits the mother’s Natural Killer cells effectively restraining the body’s immune response. Alongside flooding the bloodstream with fatty acids women are recommended to take steroids to further inhibit the immune response and also blood thinners to prevent clots which can impede embryo implantation.
The treatment is controversial given the current lack of clinically-controlled randomised studies proving its effect but high-profile fertility experts Zita West and Dr George Ndukwe are convinced by it and in the past two years have helped 50 women embrace motherhood using this treatment. However, alongside the treatment, Zita West recommends acupuncture, supplements and dietary and lifestyle changes and it is possible that it is these factors which are bringing about the successful pregnancy.
It is clearly a very interesting and exciting new area and more research is needed but even if it can help just a handful of women have a child then I would say it’s worth its weight in mayonnaise!
Our body needs fat. Our brain is made of fat, our hormones are made of fat, nutrients are transported in fat…the list goes on and I could write a whole lengthy post about the importance of fat. But instead I just want to draw your attention to two examples of fat finally having its trumpet blown after too long being blamed for our health complaints.
I recently stumbled across an article on the London Foodie sisters “Hemsley + Hemsley”. Having read the press on them and devoured their recently published cook book I am hooked, inspired and shamefully horribly jealous of them all at the same time! These sisters have burst onto the foodie scene in an explosion of creamy buttery coconutty goodness! As well as focusing on “mindful eating” (which is all about remaining connected with what you are eating) the Hemsley + Hemsley sisters hope to raise awareness of the benefits of eating saturated fats and in particular champion coconut oil, nut butters and avocado. I have copied a link to their website below if you are interested in finding out more.
The second example I want to mention is the work of the leading neuroscientist Dr Perlmutter. I recently read his brilliant book “Grain Brain” which really throws the spotlight of the importance of dietary fat and also surprisingly cholesterol for our health and in particular brain health. Dr Perlmutter provides stunning evidence to support the idea that it is the rise of our high carbohydrate and low fat diets which has led to the explosion in Alzheimers, cognitive decline and a whole range of mental health problems including depression and ADHD. Dr Perlmutter also has fascinating things to say about gluten intolerance. I can not recommend this book enough – if you have any interest at all in avoiding cognitive decline then please read it! I have copied a link to his website below if you are interested in finding out more.
As a lover of learning all things hormone related I recently came across “seed cycling” and thought I would share this interesting concept… as women we all know the woes of a menstrual cramp, mood swings and for some of us less fortunate PMS, low energy, back ache, irregular cycles and uterine fibroids – all of which simply boil down to hormonal imbalances (in particular an imbalance between the hormones progesterone and oestrogen). Seed cycling is all about correcting this imbalance by supporting the production of the right hormones at the right times in the cycle. To understand how this works you need to know two things:
1) Oestrogen levels increase during the first part of our cycle whereas progesterone levels increase during the last part of our cycle whilst oestrogen levels are slowing declining.
2) Hormones are balanced by lignans (which bind up excess hormones) and essential fatty acids (which support hormone production).
Different seeds contain different types and amounts of lignans and essential fatty acids and therefore different seeds will influence how our body binds excess hormones and which hormones are being produced. It is best to have flax and pumpkin seeds during the first part (day 1-14) and sesame and sunflower seeds during the second part (day 15-menstruation). Naturopathic doctor Kristy Vermeulen (author of Happy Hormones) recommends 1 tablespoon of both flax and pumpkin or sesame and sunflower daily. According to the research on seed cycling, marked improvements in menstrual related symptoms are noticed after about 3 months so it does take a while – but given all of the amazing nutritious value and health benefits of seeds why not give it a try!
If you want to learn more I have pasted a useful link to a guide below: