Is a vegan diet healthy?

Round & About

health

Society considers a vegan diet a “healthy” lifestyle choice (both for humans and the environment). But is it? Some of the most severe and chronic health conditions I see are often connected to current or past veganism.

The science is convincing; vegans are far more likely to present with a number of key nutritional deficiencies compared to omnivores, particularly B12, omega 3 essential fats, choline and bioavailable forms of calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin A and D. Our cells require optimal nutrient levels to function. When cells malfunction, we develop disease.

Our digestive system closely resembles other predatory animals’ and is designed to break down animal protein with stomach acid. Herbivores do not produce stomach acid. Plants are difficult to break down, which is why herbivores have a special stomach (a rumen) containing significant quantities of bacteria whose sole purpose is to release nutrients. If you watch a cow eating, you’ll notice grass is regurgitated multiple times – “chewing the cud”. The human digestive system has very few bacteria in the stomach (stomach acid is very hostile to gut bacteria), with the vast majority residing in our version of a rumen, the colon (which is as far away from the stomach as possible) and located after the small intestine, the key part of the digestive system that absorbs nutrients (in herbivores the rumen is before the small intestine). We are designed to absorb the vast majority of our nutrients from foods broken down in the upper digestive systems (animal proteins/fats), with indigestible plant matter passed to the colon, where the gut bacteria get to work and produce a raft of essential metabolic by-products that we have discussed and confer considerable health benefits.

I’m not advocating we eat lots of animal protein; it should be the “garnish” with veg centre stage! I’m pointing out that abstaining from all animal protein is not “healthy”. A vegan diet is essentially a form of fasting.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 0118 321 9533 or visit www.entirewellbeing.com

Gluten-related disorders

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If you are presenting with any chronic health or wellbeing conditions that cannot be explained, then a professional assessment should be advised for the following disorders.

Gluten-related disorders (GRDs) are fundamentally caused by the inability of the body to properly digest gluten (the storage protein in grains), typically driven by imbalances in the bacterial species of the gut in combination with genetic predisposition. If identified, eliminate gluten from a diet permanently in order to repair the damage.

Coeliac disease (CD) is the autoimmune variant of GRDs where the immune system attacks and destroys the small intestine reducing the ability of the body to absorb nutrients. CD can be diagnosed using a combination of blood, genetic and physical assessments.

Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) are not an auto-immune disease, but is no less serious. This evidence is based upon results of a large study that reviewed 351,000 intestinal biopsies clearly showing that there was not only just as much inflammation detected with NCGS as with CD, but also that the increased risk of early mortality was 72% with NCGS compared to 39% with CD.

There is also a “new kid on the block” called non-coeliac wheat sensitivity (NCWS), where gluten is not necessarily the trigger, but instead significant immune system reactions are being triggered by other components of wheat. You can start to appreciate that both gluten and wheat can have serious implications on individuals that do not have CD but instead NCGS/NCWS.

Simply eliminating wheat or gluten, in your diet, before you have had a professional assessment is not advised.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 0118 321 9533 or visit www.entirewellbeing.com

How to deal with uninvited gas

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health

The digestive system is about 30ft in length from entrance to exit and consists of the following major sections in order from top down: the mouth, throat, stomach, small intestine (duodenum) and large intestine (colon).

As I have mentioned many times previously, the digestive tract is home to a complex community of bacteria  (approximately 100 trillion), which should not only be in balance for health and well being, but also should have the largest number of bacteria residing in the colon.

Sometimes, the small intestine gets overgrown with bacteria due to conditions such as low stomach acid, pancreatitis, diabetes, diverticulitis and coeliac disease. This is called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO. These bacterial overgrowths produce either hydrogen and/or methane gas.

The small intestine has the surface area of a tennis court and is crucial to the efficient absorption of nutrients from the diet. SIBO disrupts the ability of the small intestine to efficiently absorb nutrients (the bacteria end up competing for the nutrients that the body is trying to absorb) often resulting in a broad range of micronutrient deficiencies (including iron, calcium, and vitamins B12, A, D, E and K) and symptoms including nausea, bloating, vomiting, diarrhoea, malnutrition, weight loss, joint pain, fatigue, acne, eczema, asthma, depression and rosacea.

SIBO is typically treated with antibiotics. Research suggests, however that certain herbal and lifestyle interventions are just as effective at treating SIBO.

In clinic, a multifactorial approach delivers the best results. This typically involves a combination of changing how much and how often you eat, what you are eating, adding in certain strains of probiotics, targeted supplementation, the use of herbs and essential oils and managing stress levels using techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, tai chi or deep breathing.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 01183 219533 or visit www.entirewellbeing.com

Leaky gut

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health

We will consume between three and seven tonnes of food and drink in our lifetimes, which has to be broken down and then the nutrients absorbed across the gut barrier, before they can be utilised by the body. The size of a tennis court, the gut barrier of the small intestine is made up of a single layer of cells that not only regulate the flow of nutrients and water into the body, but also play a central role in how our immune system responds to the dietary proteins and microbes that are ingested on a daily basis.

Nothing put into the digestive system is, technically speaking, inside the body until it has been absorbed across the gut barrier. It is the gut barrier that decides what to both let in and keep out of systemic circulation.

Research shows that the integrity of the gut barrier is fundamental to health and wellbeing. If the gut barrier is compromised by ‘leaking’ between and/or through the cells (para and/or trans cellular hyperpermeability), unwanted substances might permeate through and provoke unwanted immune responses – fuelling chronic inflammation, which is the route cause of all chronic disease and is a recognised key factor in the development of autoimmunity. Some of the conditions directly associated with ‘leaky gut’ include: coeliac disease, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, spondylitis, Parkinson’s disease, endometriosis, eczema, Crohn’s disease, colitis, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Leakiness between the cells of the gut barrier is controlled dynamically by a protein called zonulin. The higher the levels of zonulin, the greater the leakiness between the cells. The zonulin pathway is initiated by either the presence of pathogenic bacteria and/or gluten in the gut. Dysbiosis (imbalances in the micro ecology of the gut) and leaky gut usually co exist.

The presence of either or both of these conditions will drive a state of chronic inflammation. Fortunately, you can repair ‘leaky gut’ and rebalance the micro ecology of the gut, regaining control of health and wellbeing.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 01183 219533 or visit www.entirewellbeing.com

Chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and energy production

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I regularly see clients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) – fatigue so debilitating that they are virtually unable to function. Often CFS presents as fibromyalgia, which is chronic fatigue with the added burden of widespread pain and stiffness all over the body.

It is believed the pain associated with fibromyalgia is caused when the mitochondria (the energy production plants in our cells), desperate to supply energy to the body, switch from efficient aerobic (using oxygen) to inefficient anaerobic (no oxygen) metabolism. Anaerobic energy production creates large amounts of lactic acid.

Lactic acid, as anyone who pushes themselves when exercising knows, causes muscle pain, which dissipates after a short rest. This pain, however, does not dissipate with fibromyalgia, as the body is unable to break lactic acid down, due to mitochondrial dysfunction. The excess acid can also cause damage to muscle tissue, presenting as very sensitive areas. This process can feed on itself as the damage releases lots of free radicals (destructive molecules), which can cause additional damage if antioxidant status (the ability to neutralise free radical damage) is low. So mitochondrial dysfunction is one of the key areas when it comes to helping move the body back into balance with CFS and fibromyalgia. Healthy mitochondria require a raft of key nutrients for optimal performance, including but not limited to magnesium, B vitamins, essential fats, CoQ10, carnitine and alpha lipoic acid and must not be bathed in toxins. There are often multiple systemic imbalances going on, including but not limited to digestive dysfunction, poor antioxidant status, immune system dysregulation, chronic inflammation, viral infections, food and/or environmental sensitivities/allergies, thyroid and adrenal dysfunction and micronutrient deficiencies. Nothing exists in isolation. Once again looking at the body from a functional and holistic perspective is key.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 01183 219533 or visit www.entirewellbeing.com

The gut and mental health

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It is not a new concept that a ‘gut brain’ axis exists and I have touched on this subject before in previous columns.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite and sleep; when there are appropriate levels in the brain we feel relaxed and positive. This is the principle behind selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs (SSRIs), to increase levels of serotonin available to the central nervous system. It is the gut, not the brain, however that is responsible for over 90% of total serotonin production.

In the gut, serotonin controls how ‘regular’ you are and it is the balance of the bacterial species in our gut that appears to play a significant role in the amount of serotonin produced. This might well explain not only why a significant relationship exists between individuals presenting with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and depression, but also why when doctors prescribe SSRIs for depression, those presenting with IBS often see improvements in digestive function.

A new study has found evidence in humans (not rodents as was the case until now) that our emotional responses, including anxiety and depression vary considerably depending on bacterial balance in the gut. The results not only suggest a strong link between the bacterial composition of our guts and feelings, but that the balance may change the physical structure of the brain by either growing the frontal cortex or shrinking the hippocampus – areas of the brain involved in problem solving, emotional regulation and consciousness. Understanding that gut microflora can play such a huge role in chemical balance of the brain is one thing, but that these microbes might initiate physical changes in the brain is another! This may well be why in clinical practice I often see clients’ overall mental health and wellbeing improve as we identify and eliminate key food and environmental sensitivities and support overall gut health.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 01183 219533 or visit www.entirewellbeing.com