There’s that stuff again – WATER! It’s incredible how important water is to our body functions! It’s REALLY important for our lungs as they are 90% water. A litre of water is required inside our lungs in order for gas exchange to take place properly. And – when we’re dehydrated, histamine levels go up … a lot of asthma and allergies could be solved by simply being properly hydrated. Imagine that! It’s an almost-free health cure all!
Breathing is under the control of our autonomic nervous system – it’s a vital function and luckily therefore not something we have to do consciously. However, the autonomic nervous system also controls our stress response so breathing changes when we’re stressed (it becomes shallow and rapid). In Chinese medicine’s Law of Five Elements, the lungs are Metal which is melted by Fire (ie, buzzing, stressing, always on the go).
In this picture, the diaphragm is labelled. The diaphragm is a large flat wall of muscle between our lungs and our digestive organs. It literally cross-sections our body from front to back and side to side. It keeps our digestive organs in place, has a role in pushing food down into our stomachs and along the intestines. Our food tube goes through it. It’s also the best muscle for breathing – and yet lots of us hardly use it. It becomes weak through lack of use and then it doesn’t hold down the stomach and this can cause a hiatus hernia. If you have acid reflux or heartburn, you could well help them without drugs by exercising and strengthening your diaphragm.
So, one of the best ways to quickly de-stress and to improve digestion, is to breathe with your diaphragm (instead of your chest muscles or shoulders). It induces an instant sense of peace and relaxation … and massages your digestive organs as well as keeping them in place. Here’s how to belly breathe:
- Lie flat on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the bed or floor
- Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest
- Take a deep breath and observe how your hands rise and fall
- Take another breath – this time focus on only allowing the hand on your belly to rise and fall
- Keep practising – it takes practice to get this right. You’ll be re-programming your brain and diaphragm to breathe more efficiently.
- As you breathe in, allow your belly to inflate and push up, while keeping your chest absolutely still. You’re now using your diaphragm to breathe.
- Once you’ve mastered this, you can use it anywhere, anytime you feel stressed.
Practising belly breathing for at least ten breaths every day will improve gas exchange (oxygen in, toxins out), your digestion AND relaxation.
Your homework for Step 3:
- Keep watering that pot plant! See Step 1. By now, you could have increased your water intake by two glasses per day and be well on the way to better hydration and therefore better health.
- Practise belly breathing for a minute or two – at least once per day.
Our skin appears to be waterproof, tough and protective. It is … to an extent … but it’s also porous. Think of your skin as lots and lots of layers of finely-meshed gauze. It allows small molecules in and out of your body. In my aromatherapy training, I learned that essential oils are absorbed into the bloodstream, and found in major organs like the heart and kidneys, within seconds of application to the skin. I even experimented myself to prove the old adage that a clove of garlic in your shoe gives you garlic breath within minutes. It’s true! Try it!
On the basis that everything we put on our skin is absorbed directly into our bloodstream and carried to our organs, we could think more carefully about the products we use every day. If you wash with a supermarket shower gel, shampoo and conditioner and then apply body lotion, moisturiser, perfume, antiperspirant and make-up … first of all you’re probably blocking your skin from being an elimination route for toxins and, secondly, all (or most of) those chemicals are going straight into your bloodstream. There are a lot of conflicting reports about the effects of the chemicals in personal care products – from harmless to cancer-causing (read this balanced article for more information). I take the view that if my grandparents didn’t use it, then I probably should question it because we don’t actually know the long-term effects yet. However, sweating and body odour are not widely acceptable in the UK in 2017. Here are some of my ideas and product suggestions:
- Pitrok crystal deodorant – still wet from the shower, I rub my armpits with this salt crystal and it creates a skin environment in which the bacteria that cause body odour cannot grow. You simply don’t get smelly. There’s also a spray version that might be easier for hairy armpits. Now, this is an effective but NOT ideal solution to body odour because it’s an alum salt crystal … so potentially you could be absorbing aluminium from it (although they say the molecules are too large to pass through the skin).
- I use a blend of organic seed and nuts oils as a natural moisturiser for face and body. Ask me for a bottle next time you’re in.
- For extra winter moisturising, add a tablespoon of fractionated coconut oil to a hot bath once a week. You could include a few drops of essential oil to make a really luxurious soak!
- Try sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners such as this UK brand or this one.
- Wash with a bar of soap … any simple, unfragranced brand will do. I buy these soaps unwrapped from Down To Earth in Dorchester.
- Perfumes used to be made from essential oils – now they’re made from thousands of chemicals. Save wearing perfume for special occasions and put it on clothes, not skin.
- If you wear make-up all day, every day you’re exposing yourself to lots of toxins all day long. Give yourself a break from it when you’re at home and try natural brands from health food shops. Dr Hauschka and Lavera are usually widely available. Read this article for more on make up.
- Finally, toothpaste – our mouth and gums absorb even more quickly than the skin (sub-lingually is the fastest route into the bloodstream for medication). Fluoride is a nerve toxin so I prefer not to use it in my mouth! I used to like this natural toothpaste but I’m now using a refillable jar from Purple Nanny in Abbotsbury. (That’s one less plastic tube in landfill.)
So our skin is highly absorbent, but it’s also an important elimination pathway. We sweat out water-soluble toxins – especially lactic acid and urea. These are the waste products of glucose and protein use – so we’re producing them all day and all night. If we block this elimination route with antiperspirants and personal care products which form a barrier on our skin, then we are making other elimination routes (especially the kidneys) work harder, and could even potentially cause a backlog of toxins – which the liver then has to handle.
We need two things to help the skin be a good elimination route and therefore support our kidneys … which in turn supports our liver:
- See Step One – WATER! It’s what dissolves and carries the lactic acid, urea and other toxins through the skin.
- Healthy, supple, unblocked skin.
Our skin cells need fats or oils (as well as water) to keep them supple and porous. We can apply as much moisturiser as we like to the outside layers but it will only help on the surface (fat cells are too big to fit through the layers of gauze). Drinking plenty of water and eating a diet rich in healthy fats and high in vitamin E makes for healthy skin. Read my fats article for more about healthy and unhealthy fats.
Your homework for Step Two:
- Add one of the following to your daily diet: half an avocado (or a whole one!); a small tin of sardines or similar oily fish, preferably in olive oil; an egg; a handful of raw, unsalted nuts and seeds, or consider supplements with fish oil or a spoonful of flaxseed oil.
- Go through your face and body products – do you really want those chemicals in your blood stream in seconds? Chuck out any products that are old – they can actually damage your skin cells. Question whether all the products are really necessary – and are they stopping your skin from being porous? Stop using an anti-perspirant now!
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If you’ve woken up this morning with a groan … and you’re thinking you must do a ‘detox’ this month, here are my thoughts and tips. This is the first article of five I will write. You could take them as a step-by-step approach to a cleaner, brighter, fresher and healthier new year.
What I mean by ‘detox’ in this article, is giving your body’s systems and organs a rest – a break from rich food & drink – so that your cells can regenerate fresher and fitter than ever. This puts a sparkle in your eyes and a spring in your step – you’ll have more energy, better immunity … and looks.
The liver is our powerhouse of detoxification – it filters our blood at the rate of about 3 pints per minute – removing dead and faulty cells, bugs, inorganic chemicals, fat globules, etc. It then detoxifies these by using enzymes to convert them from fat soluble to water soluble – so they can be eliminated from our bodies via urine, sweat and faeces.
So, the first step in giving your liver a helping hand is to help clear the elimination pathways. There are four main exit routes from our bodies:
- large intestine (bowel, colon) – faeces
- kidneys & bladder – urine
- skin – sweat
- lungs – respiration (breathing)
All four of these eliminatory organs/systems have one fundamental requirement in order to function – WATER. The lungs require a litre of water at all times in order to exchange gases in and out of the blood (the purpose of respiration). When exercising or in warm weather, our skin can sweat out a litre per hour. Urine is the most obvious watery route and is a good indicator of dehydration – it should be pale, light yellow – almost clear. If it’s yellow, orange or dark and cloudy – you urgently need to drink more water! Few of us meet our body’s requirements of 6-8 glasses (1.5-2 litres) per day of pure water. It’s such a simple yet powerful step towards better health. Read why in my article here.
STEP ONE – your homework today is to drink more plain, pure water – today and every day from now on. Here are a few tips on drinking water:
- Like a pot plant that hasn’t been watered for some time, if you drink 8 glasses today it will just go straight through you – you will probably spend most of the day on the toilet. Increase water intake slowly – if you don’t currently drink any water each day, drink one tall glass today, two tomorrow and the next day, then three, etc etc.
- Sip water over the course of the day – don’t down whole glasses at a time (think pot plant).
- Don’t drink within 20 minutes of a meal – especially before, as this can dilute digestive juices.
- Choose bottled mineral or filtered water to avoid added chemicals. I like the taste of the water from these Wellness Carafes which I also sell in my clinic.
- Herbal teas count as water. Your liver loves herbs – especially bitter tasting ones such as dandelion, nettle, mint and green tea. Don’t overdo any of them though – vary them throughout the day. You could also drink hot water with a small slice of lemon (if you like the taste – try removing the outer skin if it’s too bitter).
TOMORROW – I’ll be writing about how you can support elimination through your skin. You’ll be amazed by this vital organ – it’s literally the frontline of your body!
“Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.” Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
We seem to have lost the habit of drinking enough pure water every day – and it is having a big impact on our health. I believe one of the simplest, cheapest and most effective things you can do to improve your health is to make sure you drink around 2 litres of pure water every day. You will find health problems radically improve or even disappear (typically: headaches, skin irritations, low energy, low mood, allergies, digestion problems and breathing difficulties). Here’s why:
Quick anatomy lesson: our bodies are made up of systems (circulatory system, hormone system, etc). The systems are made of organs, organs are made of tissues, tissues are made of millions of microscopic cells. So, we are made of billions of different cells – all of them doing really important jobs. EVERY SINGLE CELL IN OUR BODY IS MADE UP OF WATER and a few other bits – even bone cells. More than any other ingredient, we are made of water – in fact, we’re mostly a slightly salty sea of water. Imagine what would happen if you left a jar of water (with the lid tightly closed) on the worktop in your kitchen. It would quickly get really fusty and stagnant. That’s what goes on inside your cells when you don’t drink plenty of pure water every day. Your body is literally going stagnant! Luckily we have amazing detoxification processes that filter and clean our cells constantly – especially when we sleep. However, without adequate water intake the systems struggle to do their job properly or thoroughly.
Most people are long-term mildly dehydrated. Our bodies adapt – thankfully we are highly adaptive beings so we survive (just look at how many different climates and environments humans live in all over the planet). But it’s a fact that without adequate water intake, our bodies have to prioritise vital functions and other functions are put on a go-slow or even shut down. For example, our brains are 90% water and without brain function, we’re dead. So that’s a big priority. However, just a 1% drop in water in our brains and we lose some cognitive function (thought processes) – for example, mental maths becomes more difficult. So, those days when you feel like you can’t add 2 plus 2 and your brain is foggy … they’re probably dehydration (it’s especially noticeable when you’ve been partying the night before!).
The lesson here is that drinking water is not just for when you’re thirsty or you’re doing a detox (which you really want to hope your body is doing all the time not just in January!). THE BIGGEST AND SIMPLEST AND CHEAPEST THING YOU CAN DO TO IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH IS TO DRINK ENOUGH PURE WATER EVERY DAY!
How much is enough? It depends on our caffeine, alcohol and salt intake, as well as the climate/environment we live in and the life we lead. Every time you have a coffee, tea, soft drink or glass of wine, you need at least one glass of water to cancel it out (in lots of other European countries, coffee is always served with a glass of water). If you sweat for an hour, you generally need a litre of water … being in air conditioning will dry you out just as much. And salt is not our enemy – it’s an important part of hydration. We need to maintain that slightly salty sea in our cells – some of us have taken the anti-salt message too far and we’re now lacking salt which means we can’t be hydrated. However, not all salt is made equal – unrefined sea salt is the best (avoid ‘table’ salt).
People have so many wrong ideas about water … here are some of my favourite popular responses to drinking more (or at least some!) water :
- “I don’t like the taste” – if your water has a bad taste then it’s not pure water! Use a filter – tap water has lots of stuff added that we’re better off without anyway. I love these water filters. I believe we can all learn to love “the taste” of water when we know it’s the ONLY drink our body needs to stay healthy. And, once you start to feel the benefits, you won’t have to learn to love it – you will crave it. Cut out juices, squash (cordial) and fizzy drinks (they’re packed with sugar and/or chemicals), cut down on tea and coffee (no more than 1 or 2 cups a day) and increase your water intake to 6-8 glasses a day (1.5-2L). You’ll soon feel and look so much better.
- “It makes me burp” – I reckon that’s probably body shock! These people usually then reveal that they don’t drink a single drop of pure water all day, every day. I reckon they’re so chronically dehydrated their body literally doesn’t recognise water. Start by sipping one large glass over the morning – after breakfast and finish at least half an hour before lunch. Then one large glass over the afternoon – after lunch and well before dinner. That’s not difficult to fit into any schedule. Do this for a week and then double the number of glasses. Don’t drink half an hour before eating (it dilutes your much-needed stomach acid).
- “If I drink all that, I’d be up all night weeing” – yes, once you start to introduce water to your body, it is a bit of surprise if it hasn’t seen enough for a while. Your body may take a little time to adapt – a few days or weeks – it may wee it straight out (or seem to). Persevere – it will be worth it! Perhaps don’t drink any water after 5pm to begin with. Your body will adjust to the water intake and this will stop (or decrease).
- “You can drink too much water – people have died from that!” I love this one – it really makes me laugh! Yes, I believe there is a form of torture where people are force-fed water until they drown. It must take a long time and a lot of water – how horrific. And definitely not the same as any sane, alive and functioning person drinking water voluntarily. There must be so much of a happy medium between none (which is what these people usually drink) and the litres needed to drown.