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  • Dr Penny Ward

Only you.

Updated: May 6, 2020

Change. For one word this definitely packs a punch.

When you hear the word ‘change’ what do you think? Do you stop listening? Most of us do.

Change is not easy. Change takes us out of our comfort zone. Change pushes us. Change makes us anxious, uncertain, provokes a sense of loss of control, of choice, of routine. Change threatens our sense of self. Change can be pretty poor with it’s level of return on investment.

I hear this all the time, we all do, regardless of the environment we work in. I just ask people to be open to the idea more than most.

Our lifestyle, the way we lead our lives, contributes to 70% of long-term illnesses. If we change our behaviours, even a little, some of these conditions are avoidable and some of the ones we already have can be reversed.

So whilst change may not be easy, it is important. If we can dig a little deeper into ourselves, coax out just one change then the results will speak for themselves. This is the essence of lifestyle medicine. How nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, sleep all interact directly with health and how they all contribute to disease burden.

Those who know me will hear me speak often of trying to steer away from medical diagnoses and prescriptive treatments. In trying to engage patients to think about their own health and take ownership for the choices they make. Disease burden is now shifting to what we call non communicable diseases, chronic diseases of lifestyle.

The statistics if you look into them are frightening, I knew it was bad but these shocked me: non communicable diseases kill 41 million people each year, this is 71% of all deaths globally. Genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioural factors all play into this. Whilst rapid unplanned urbanisation and an ageing population are contributors which we can’t change; a lifestyle-based approach to managing disease is right up my street.

Migraines, IBS symptoms, brain fog, tired all the time, aching joints and body pains…..we need to think more broadly about the patient, giving personalised, targeted interventions. Learn how to join the dots in their systems biology rather than getting carried downstream with each additional symptom, adding further medications, making more referrals.

Halfway through writing this blog I tuned into the latest offering on the You, Me, Big C podcast and was thrilled to find it based on nutrition. With Toral Shah from The Urban Kitchen and Deborah James (@bowelbabe) speaking in detail about gut health and our microbiome. The timing of this is uncanny but being a huge fan of this podcast a great listen. There is a lot of research and a lot of discussion about our gut microbiome and how this may be the key to our health. I find it a tricky one to get my head round – essentially our bodies are host to a huge array of micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi) and the microbiome are the genes these micro-organisms contain. These bugs live off the food we eat and in return they convert the food into vitamins, serotonin to help our mood, they boost our immune system and have anti-inflammatory properties to name just a few.

The discussions around our microbiome are to keep them healthy, keep the bugs in our gut diverse so all areas are fully staffed and doing the jobs we need them to do. Over-use of antibiotics, food additives, high fat, sugar, alcohol and modern industrial living have decimated our gut population over many years. The trend now is to try to repair our damaged microbiomes and that’s where the discussion around nutrition in lifestyle medicine comes from. This is the essence of nutritional change.

Toral Shah was brilliant at dispelling multiple food related myths and her key message was to increase the number of vegetables you eat. And eating vegetables of all different colours is best to widen the variety of bugs we’re exposed to. The reason: our gut loves plant-based fibre.

Allergies, anxiety, obesity, diabetes, brain fog, cancer, Alzheimer’s, auto-immunity have all been linked in part to poor gut health.

Of course there is a lot more to it than this with nutrition being just one facet in learning to respond to the signals our bodies are giving us. So it’s up to us as individuals to take responsibility for our health, it’s our future and our opportunity to make that change.

I personally am going to embrace change and hope to find at the end of my search that metaphorical pot of gold, I am after all going to be eating the rainbow!

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