Category Archives: Healthy Living

Digestive enzymes – the stuff of life…

Enzymes are clever little molecules of protein that are made from amino acid chains.
Enzymes are clever little molecules of protein that are made from amino acid chains.

They act as catalysts (or triggers) to bring about specific biochemical reactions in the body, which produces over 3,000 kinds.

Every process in the body is driven by enzymes of one kind or another – whether acting alone, in combination or in complex chain reactions. They are therefore vital substances – without them, many biological functions would simply be impossible, or too slow for us to survive. So, they are certainly worth finding out a little more about because they play a central role in helping us to achieve optimal nutrition, health and vitality.

Types of enzymes

If we are deficient in enzymes, this can have a direct effect on the efficiency of important processes in the body, which can become unbalanced, making us more prone to ill-health. The structure of enzymes establishes their particular function or use.

Enzymes produced by the body can be classified into two types: metabolic enzymes and digestive enzymes.

Metabolic enzymes are primarily involved in energy production and cellular activity on every level, but they also have other functions – like helping to detoxify the body.

Digestive enzymes also have a number of functions, chief amongst which is assisting in the break down of food into its constituent nutrients (as the name suggests), followed by the absorption of these. The body uses different types of digestive enzymes to digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates for example. Enzymes can also be obtained through dietary sources, i.e. food enzymes present in natural whole foods, such as leafy green plants, fruit and vegetables. These assist the body with the digestion of that particular food. For the purposes of this article, we are particularly interested in the role played by enzymes in digestion.

The process of digestion

During digestion, food is broken down into a simple form that can be absorbed by the body. The process starts in the mouth with the chewing of food, continues in the stomach and small intestine where it is chemically broken down by the digestive juices and enzymes and finally gets completed in the large intestine. Basically, food is taken in, digested to extract essential nutrients and energy and any remaining waste is finally expelled.

Digestion is arguably one of the most important and complex processes in the body, because it dictates our nutrient absorption, as well as our toxin and waste elimination. It also involves a wide number of organs and nutrients. For instance:

  • Organs and other components: the mouth, teeth, tongue, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, rectum, anus and other organs are all involved in the digestive process.
  • Nutrients and other chemicals: such as saliva, hormone regulators, nerve regulators, gastric juices, friendly bacteria, bile, hydrochloric acid and, of course, digestive enzymes.

The efficiency of the digestive process therefore affects everything from immunity and hormone balance, to metabolism, toxic load, general health and well-being.

A digestive system that is sluggish or functioning less than optimally can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, including constipation, imbalanced bowel flora, irritable bowel, heightened toxic load and even self-poisoning. Healthy digestion is therefore arguably the cornerstone of good health.

A bit more about digestive enzymes

Digestive enzymes play a central role in healthy digestion. The human body produces around 22 different kinds, each of which acts on a different type of food. They work best at a specific temperature and pH and also have specific sites of action, such as the mouth and stomach.

As mentioned above, these enzymes are used to help break food down into nutrients and waste. The nutrient molecules must be digested into molecules that are small enough to be absorbed through the lining of the small intestine. When we don’t produce enough digestive enzymes to complete this process efficiently, or there are insufficient enzymes available from the foods in our diet, this can lead to what is called partial digestion.

Food that is not properly broken down cannot be absorbed. It can therefore sit fermenting in the stomach and small intestine, or putrefying in the colon. This can, in turn, lead to increased activity of harmful bacteria and parasites in the gut, along with poor nutrient absorption, fatigue, digestive upset, flatulence, bloating and more serious health issues (including food intolerances and allergies).

Digestive enzymes and health

In relation to digestion and nutrition therefore, it is essential to recognise the critical role of enzymes and the importance of having sufficient levels of these. However, according to Dr. Edward Howell, each of us has a finite reservoir of enzyme activity. What’s more, the complex digestive process requires a great deal of enzyme activity to extract nutrients from food and translate these into all the various tasks of the body. Factors such as caffeine and alcohol intake, illness, pregnancy, stress, severe weather and exercise can also all take their toll on our enzyme reserves. Plus, our bodies produce fewer enzymes as we age. By age 35, the production of enzymes in the stomach, pancreas and small intestines begins to decline. Enzyme production in the body decreases by 30% in most adults over 50. It therefore follows that it is sensible to put the least possible strain on the digestive system and its enzyme reserves, both by eating a healthy diet and, in particular, including a high number of enzyme-rich foods in it (such as raw foods, sprouted and/or fermented foods).

Unprocessed whole foods contain most of the enzymes required for digesting that particular food, which can then help to relieve some of the strain on the body when having to produce its own enzymes. Many people also consider digestive enzyme supplements, to support their digestion. In contrast, a diet high in enzyme-poor, highly refined and processed foods can place a significant strain on digestion. The body will try to compensate by producing more of its own digestive enzymes to make up for the lack of external plant enzymes, thereby depleting its own reserves more quickly. Theoretically, the more we can preserve our reservoir of precious enzymes, the better able our bodies will be to protect themselves against ill-health and maintain a healthy balance between activity, repair, immunity and recovery.

Yeast overgrowth

When people talk about yeast overgrowth in the body, they are referring to harmful yeast organisms. Candidiasis is by far the most common type of yeast infection, and there are more than 20 species of Candida, the most common being Candida albicans (a type of fungus).

We all have small amounts of Candida growing in our digestive tracts and living on our skin. This (along with other harmful gut flora, such as fungi, parasites and bacteria), is usually kept in check by our “friendly” bacteria. In this way, Candida normally co-exists with many other types of bacteria, in a state of balance in and on our bodies.

When things go wrong

It is only when our natural defences are out of balance that we become vulnerable to overgrowth – in other words, the levels of harmful gut flora that can make us ill start to exceed the number of beneficial bacteria which help to keep us well. Illness, poor digestion, a high-sugar diet and medication (such as antibiotics, which destroy both good and bad bacteria), are all examples of factors that can create the perfect environment for dysbiosis – the technical term for too many bad bugs.

In fact, yeast overgrowth is a common manifestation of dysbiosis. When the immune system is under strain, or the liver is functioning poorly, Candida (an opportunistic organism) is able to flourish. If allowed to remain, it can grow in the mucous membrane lining of the small intestine, where it can take root and cause damage. For instance, Candida can worsen any ‘leaks’ in an already inflamed gut (such as those seen in cases of leaky gut syndrome). If the yeast is permitted to enter the bloodstream, it can then also travel to various other parts of the body and promote multiple fungal infections.

Some of the more common signs of Candida overgrowth include:

  • fatigue
  • sugar cravings
  • brain fog
  • food allergies / intolerances
  • blurred vision
  • depression
  • digestive problems
  • joint pain
  • muscle pain
  • chronic diarrhoea
  • yeast vaginitis
  • bladder infections
  • menstrual problems
  • and constipation.

The end result of a prolonged infection can be an immune system that becomes overwhelmed with toxins and reacts by producing antibodies and inflammatory chemicals. In these circumstances, it can be useful to review your overall lifestyle, paying particular attention to your diet, toxic load, hormonal balance and digestion – it is estimated that as much as 70% of our immune system resides in the digestive tract.

The role of diet

The average modern diet and lifestyle are not always conducive to healthy levels of gut flora and efficient digestion, which can in turn make us more prone to yeast overgrowth and a strained immune system. For example, we are exposed to an ever-increasing amount of toxins and chemicals, not least from the processed foods we eat, as well as the pollution and contaminants in the air we breathe and water we drink. It is therefore now generally accepted that people suffering from Candida albicans overgrowth can benefit from the following:

1. Eliminating certain foods and drinks from the diet, which ‘feed’ the Candida and inflame the gut: Some foods provide energy directly to the Candida yeast, while others impact the digestive system, the immune system and reduce the body’s ability to fight infection. If you want to beat Candida overgrowth and avoid it in the future, give your body the best possible chance by avoiding them. Good examples are refined sugar, white flour, alcohol, caffeine, chemical-laden processed foods, foods containing yeasts or fungi (such as mushrooms, cheese and milk) and other acid-forming foods. Wherever reasonably possible, also minimise your use of medication (such as antibiotics).

2. Incorporating more of certain foods into the diet: Just as there are certain foods worth avoiding as part of an anti-Candida diet, there are also certain foods that can support your body’s recovery, your immune system and help to restore gut health. Increase your intake of nutrient-rich fruit and vegetables (preferably raw, organic and seasonal). These natural whole foods are packed with dietary fibre, enzymes and other cleansing and protective nutrients (such as antioxidants, amino acids and phyto-chemicals). They are also naturally alkalising – a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut and a strong immune system is thought to be assisted by a diet which maintains the correct acid/alkaline balance.

3. Taking probiotics: As yeast overgrowth is often linked to an imbalance in bowel flora (as mentioned above), there is also a good case for taking probiotics (good bacteria). This can be through fermented foods or probiotic supplements. Some of the best probiotic foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tofu and tempeh. If you choose to take probiotic supplements, it is a good idea to opt for high-strength, multi-strain products, with bacteria that colonise the gut.

4. Boosting the immune system: It is thought that overgrowth of yeast tends mainly to occur in those with weakened immune systems or those whose levels of good bacteria have been diminished as a result of some external factor (for instance through stress, pregnancy and/or the use of antibiotics, birth control pills or steroids).

As mentioned above, failure to promptly address a yeast overgrowth infection can lead to Candida organisms entering the bloodstream and colonising other areas of the body, such as the urinary tract, vagina, nails, mouth and skin. This level of infection can result in a chronic systemic problem, with large numbers of yeast germs further weakening the immune system and perpetuating the problem.

Candida albicans can produce around 75 toxic substances that are poisonous to the body. These toxins can contaminate tissue and weaken everything from the immune system, liver and kidneys, to the lungs, brain and nervous system. It would therefore logically be beneficial to take proactive steps to boost your immune system during a Candida infection. This might include cleansing and detoxifying your body, increasing your intake of organic whole food nutrients and (as suggested above) ensuring healthy levels of good bacteria in your gut.

Here are 3 of our most popular probiotic supplements:

Antioxidants vs Free Radicals

We all know that oxygen is essential for all life…

But did you know that, as well as being an absolute necessity for our survival, its use in the body can also result in the production of certain unwanted by-products? They are known as oxidants. Some of these oxidants will act as free radicals.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage DNA and cell structure. They cause harm because they are constantly trying to stabilise themselves by attempting to ‘steal’ electrons from nearby molecules. This, in turn, damages those molecules and makes them unstable too, causing them to also seek out other electrons in order to become stable again. And so, a vicious circle is created.

Free radicals are produced as a result of both internal (endogenous) and external (exogenous) factors. Endogenous free radicals are produced as a result of normal biological processes, like aerobic respiration, metabolism and inflammation. In contrast, exogenous free radicals are produced as a result of environmental factors, like:

  • pollution,
  • sunlight,
  • stress,
  • UV rays,
  • poor diet,
  • alcohol intake,
  • smoking,
  • strenuous exercise
  • and X-rays.

Unfortunately, in our modern age, filled with ever-present pollutants and toxins, both in the environment and in the foods we eat, the levels of free radicals within our bodies are higher than they have ever been before. It is impossible to avoid damage from free radicals, and our body’s own defences against it are not foolproof.

When the levels of free radicals within our bodies exceed the protective capabilities of those defences, it results in a phenomenon known as “oxidative stress” which means that the defence system is no longer able to readily detoxify or to repair the occurring damage.

As the time goes on, cell parts which have become damaged by process of oxidation accumulate, contributing to the toxic load of the body as well as speeding up the processes of ageing and causing a further stress on the immune system.

Our bodies are really amazing in terms of being capable to run many complex processes which keep us healthy and in a harmonious balance. One of the main keys to staying healthy revolves around providing our bodies with as much nutritional support as we can, in order to fuel our natural defences. Our primary line of defence against free radicals are antioxidants – substances that help counteract the damaging effects of oxidation in tissue.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, polyphenols and other phyto-chemicals), as well as enzymes (proteins in the body that assist in chemical reactions). While it is not entirely clear how antioxidants work, their most important characteristic in terms of supporting the body against free radicals is that they are stable with or without the extra electron, so they can help to stop the chain reaction (or the vicious circle) referred to above. These beneficial compounds are present in many natural, whole foods (such as fruit and vegetables).

In many cases, it is possible to identify antioxidant-rich sources through their distinctively bright colours. For instance:

  • the deep red of cherries;
  • the deep purple of beetroot;
  • the bright orange of carrots;
  • the yellow of turmeric;
  • and the blue-purple of blueberries, blackberries and grapes.

Vitamin C and vitamin E are two of the most potent antioxidants found in nature, present in high levels in foods such as parsley, rosehips, elderberries, blackcurrants, citrus fruits, broccoli, nuts and whole grains (like oatmeal, rye, barley). Foods that have exceptionally high levels of antioxidants are often referred to as “superfoods” or “superfruits”, for that reason. The most common examples of those are: green tea, acai berries and wheatgrass.

How to support the level of antioxidants within your body?

Our bodies produce metabolic enzymes that are extremely effective antioxidants but their capability of sufficient production drops dramatically in our twenties. Likewise, if we are adding to the free radical production though our lifestyles, it is a good idea to support the antioxidant levels through external (dietary) sources.

Antioxidant foods
Eating a balanced diet, rich in a variety of seasonal (preferably organic) fruits, vegetables, green leafy plants and whole grains, is one of the best ways to support your body’s antioxidant levels.

However, if you feel that you need additional support due to your life and health circumstances, a more concentrated intake, or a more convenient and reliable source, food-based antioxidant supplements can be the perfect solution.

You can find plenty of antioxidant options to suit your lifestyle and healthcare needs in our eBay shop.

Antibiotics vs Gut

Good health begins with balance in the body.

Friendly Bowel Bacteria
Did you know that there are twenty times more bacteria than living cells inside our bodies?

Having the right kinds of bacteria (often “friendly bacteria”), in appropriate quantities, is essential for virtually everything from healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, to immunity and defence against infections. It’s no wonder that more and more people say that health starts within your gut- it really does!

What can disrupt gut flora?

The delicate balance of healthy gut flora can be disrupted by a range of circumstances, which may include:

  • excess alcohol consumption,
  • diet high in sugar,
  • poor digestion,
  • stress,
  • exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants.
  • antibiotics

For the purposes of this article, we will look in more detail at one of the most common causes of the imbalance of bacterial flora within the gut – the long-term or frequent use of antibiotics.

How do antibiotics affect the digestive tract?

In present times, antibiotics have been arguably prescribed and used far more than they should have been and, a result, antibiotic resistance is, unfortunately, now a fairly common problem.

Antibiotic Resistance
Antibiotic resistance is a type of drug resistance where a pathogenic microorganism is able to survive exposure to an antibiotic.

If that wasn’t enough, one of the most notable effects of antibiotics is their negative impact on the digestive system and the fine balance of gut flora since antibiotics destroy both good and bad bacteria within our bodies, with no differentiation between them.

Antibiotics work by either killing bacteria or by preventing bacteria from growing – which great news in terms of ‘bad’, pathogenic bacteria, but really bad news in terms of our ‘good’ bacteria, which help to keep us healthy!

It is somewhat ironic, when you consider that people start taking antibiotics in the first place because they are ill, often not realising that the medicine is destroying one of their bodies primary lines of natural defence.

The most important part of our Immune System resides in the gut, where Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (special antibody-producing cells) works hard to prevent unwanted micro-organisms (such as bacteria or viruses) from entering our body.

I’m not completely dissing antibiotics, they do have a very significant role to play and can certainly be highly effective in resolving bacterial infections but there should be a time and a place for them, when there is no other, less drastic and more natural alternative at hand. It is so important to use antibiotics sensibly and to support your levels of beneficial bacteria both during and after antibiotic treatment, in order to ensure that they won’t cause any longer term damage. This can be done through a specialised detox treatment which can deal with any residual after-effects whilst helping your body to regain the optimal balance.

If your levels of good bacteria fall, you provide opportunistic ‘nasties’ (like bacteria, parasites and yeasts) with an excellent environment in which to thrive and spread. An overgrowth of harmful gut flora (called dysbiosis) increases gut toxicity and can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, which may include:

  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pains after eating
  • wind
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Leaky Gut Syndrome
  • and Candida overgrowth

This is one of the main reasons why antibiotic programmes often result in thrush (an infection caused by overgrowth of Candida which is an opportunistic yeast).

Digestive Problems after antibiotic treatment
Research has shown that the damage done to the digestive tract by antibiotics can last for far longer than was previously thought.

Stanford University researchers in America analysed the levels of friendly bacteria in 3 healthy adult women both before and after each of two cycles on the antibiotic Cipro. Following the first cycle, they found that the drug had altered the population of the subjects’ friendly gut bacteria significantly, perhaps even permanently. Following the second cycle, six months later, they discovered that the effect was exponentially greater. As such, antibiotics should never be used as a regular “quick fix” for minor problems and, wherever possible, long courses should be avoided. Where a course of antibiotics is really unavoidable, you may consider a detox therapy or support your levels of friendly bacteria through diet and probiotic supplements, at the very least.

Cultures around the World have observed the health-supporting effects of fermented foods (often referred to as “probiotic foods”) which are often include as a regular part of their diet. These foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tofu and tempeh, to name just a few.

Introducing these foods in your diet on a daily basis is a really good way to promote healthy intestinal flora. However, it is worth noting that most of these foods do not contain strains of bacteria that can actually colonise the digestive tract. Instead, they do good work for a week or two and then pass through. Supplementing with strains of good bacteria that are capable of colonising the digestive tract (such as L. acidophilus, L. salivarius, B. infantis, B. bifidum, B. brevis and B. longum) is arguably a far more effective and powerful means of supporting healthy levels of gut flora for the long term.

Dandelion… weed or a valuable herb?

I can’t believe it’s May already; the Spring has come to greet us in a full swing and with it came a mass of flowers. I’m sat here looking at my garden and see the grass speckled with white daisies and yellow dandelions. I can’t help but wonder… why do we consider these amazing plants as weeds when every single part of them can be used to benefit our health?

What are the benefits of Dandelions?

  • Immune system support
  • Increased metabolism
  • Increased production of bile and digestive enzymes
  • Detox
  • Liver function support

As I mentioned above, every single part of Dandelion has medicinal properties which are closely related to the time of year and stage of the plant development.

We tend to harvest dandelion root in Autumn, leaves and green buds in early Spring (before the flowering period), and flowers and stalks in late Spring/ Summer.

dandelion-4119846_1920.jpg

Seeing as most of the dandelions in my garden are in the full bloom, I am going to focus on how we can use that to our advantage.

So… what can we do with flowering dandelions?

You can pick them, wash and separate the flowers from stalks. Now we have 2 ingredients which we can use in multiple ways, some of which I described below:

14 day Dandelion stalk treatment

Slowly chewing on 5 fresh dandelion stalks each day can help with:

  • Liver and gallbladder problems and pain- especially if it extends up your back under your right shoulder
  • Gallstones- it can help to stimulate the gallbladder and liver function in order to dissolve any gallstones
  • Pancreas problems- it can aid in enzyme production
  • Diabetes – you can eat up to 10 stalks a day in order to help with regulation of sugar levels
  • Stomach problems- it increases production of gastric juices as well as cleansing of any leftover material
  • Skin problems- especially if they involve spots, rashes and itching
  • Physical and mental fatigue, especially if it includes feelings of sadness and melancholy
  • Gout, rheumatism
  • Eyesight problems

You can mix the ‘milk’ from the stalks with distilled water in order to soothe irritated eyes, eczema and go over any ‘liver spots’ or other skin discolorations.

What can you do with the ‘leftover’ flowers?

Many, many things! Dandelion flowers are very beneficial in supporting our immune system and liver function. You can use them in salads (but soak them in salty water for 30 minutes beforehand in order to get rid of the bitter taste), use them to make tea, syrup, oil infusion or a tincture.

Dandelion Tea:

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of dandelion flowers
  • 2 cups of water

Simmer for 20 minutes before straining and serving. You can drink 1 cup of dandelion tea twice a day.

Dandelion tea is very beneficial for women and can help with:

  • Irregular or scanty periods
  • Inflammation of ovaries or fallopian tubes

Dandelion syrup:

Ingredients:

  • 350-400 dandelion flowers
  • 1litre of water
  • 1 lemon
  • 1kg of sugar (you can use coconut sugar, honey, etc)

Wash the flowers throughouly and add to the cold water. Bring them to boil and add sliced lemon (if you can’t find organic lemon, peel the skin) and continue to boil for another 15 minutes. Leave to cool and sit overnight.

The next day strain all of the flowers with lemon and add sugar to the liquid. Slowly bring everything to boil between 1-2hrs, checking the consistency. Pour the boiling liquid into jars, lid them and cover over with a blanket for approx 30mins.

Dandelion syrup is especially beneficial in:

  • Strengthening immune system
  • Aiding recovery in cold & flu
  • Easing coughs and sore throats

Dandelion Oil:

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup of dandelion flowers
  • 1cup oilive oil

Wash and dry dandelion flowers then put them in a jar and fill to the top with olive oil. Put the jar in a pan filled with water and slowly heat it up over 1-2hrs. Leave to cool before straining the flowers.

You can use dandelion oil externally in:

  • Rheumatic pains
  • Muscle pains
  • Skin problems


Please note: avoid using dandelions found in parks, on sides of the road, fields and anywhere where you don’t know if they have been sprayed with chemicals. Remember to leave some for our bees, they rely on dandelions as one of their first sources of food before other flowers begin to bloom .

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