The Language of Inflammation

When something is not going right with your body it is usually due to inflammation. Pain, stiffness, rashes, swelling and heat are all signs. With Sjogren’s syndrome, I notice inflammation in the form of a “flare”. The dry eyes and mouth become more dry, my joints ache, and I become very tired. When your body communicates with you in the language of inflammation, what symptoms do you notice?

Do you take a pill to “quash” the inflammation, or do you try to figure out what caused it? I never just experience inflammation just “out of the blue”. There is always a reason. Perhaps I didn’t sleep well, or there was a lot of stress the day before in my life. Maybe I didn’t hydrate properly or eat very well.

I look at my signs of inflammation as a language now. It’s sort of a loud shout from my body saying, “Hey, wake up and pay attention! I have needs!” Too often people just try to subdue the inflammation and carry on as normal.

This is a mistake. If you allow the inflammation to continue, you can cause further damage to the body. Catch it early on, and it is usually modifiable. Wait too long, and the only way to relieve it may be through those strong anti-inflammatories and pain killers, which do not work towards healing the inflammation, only suppressing it.

I’ve written up a quick infographic for you, if you are interested in subscribing to the freebies I send out to my caregiving group. Send me a message here, and I will add you. You can unsubscribe any time, and I do not use your email for nefarious purposes like selling it or driving you crazy with sales pitches. May you understand the language of your body and figure out how to answer it too.

AIP in 2023

2022 was certainly a shake up of a year for me regarding my health. I had always, (perhaps bit smugly), considered myself to be a healthy person. After all, I was trained as a naturopathic doctor and I knew the ins and outs of optimizing wellness. I had a good diet and I exercised. I didn’t use excesses of anything harmful to the body. Sure, I had lots of symptoms like fatigue and dry eyes and dry mouth and joint pain, but wasn’t that part of getting older? Oh, and I had trouble sleeping, and I was anxious, and my brain didn’t seem to work right anymore, but it could all be explained away… post menopause, everyday stress, caregiving, etc. except when it all came to a head in November of 2021 when I couldn’t stand it any longer. I think the expression is that I was a “hot mess”.

I felt like I was falling apart. I sat in my optometrists office and poured it all out, the dry eyes, the dry mouth, the profound fatigue. She wrote a referral to my medical doctor and that got the ball rolling for me. A few referrals and consults later, I had a CPAP machine to treat my diagnosed sleep apnea, and after that I had a confirmed diagnosis of Sjogren’s Syndrome. I found trying to integrate all the new self care around these two conditions, as well as continue my main job as an essential caregiver for my parents, and work on my coaching business, to be quite a challenge.

The rheumatologist mentioned medication as an option, but also that it could mean major side effects but I had a plan I wanted to put in place first. I am not opposed to medication, should the time come when I need more help controlling my symptoms. There are some autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and Hashimoto’s where medication is critical. I felt my healing journey, at this point, could be self-hacked. My professional experience with autoimmune conditions had taught me the importance of figuring any co-existing health conditions. Autoimmune can’t be cured, but other health issues causing stress to the body can be helped, which maximizes healing. Dietary irritants can be removed. Infections can be healed. Nutrition can be optimized.

In mid-April I started on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). This is a brilliant healing protocol first popularized by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD. In her book, “The Paleo Approach”, she provides an evidence based method for removing foods that are potential roadblocks to healing, and at the same time integrates foods with the most healing potential. That is half of the protocol. The other half is about optimizing lifestyle. I also started seeing a naturopathic doctor, and asked her to optimize my gut microbiome. We found a bacterial infection and started treating it with herbs and supplements.

I began with the elimination phase of the AIP diet. I was already gluten free and 95% dairy free. There were a lot of foods to remove, but also new foods to explore, some of which have become my favourites. After a time, I followed the reintroduction protocol and was able to add a number of foods back into my diet without aggravating my symptoms. I will say that this was a darn hard diet to implement. I have a lot of past experience with different diets, including elimination diets, and I still found it really hard. Healthy foods like eggs and nuts and tomatoes were no longer on the plan, and I had to get very creative in the kitchen to prevent boredom. I lost weight because the inflammation in my body was improving.

So what happened? First I noticed the joint pain getting better. Much better. I no longer lay awake with an aching back or hips at night. I found my knees rarely bothered me climbing stairs. Next, the dryness in my mouth improved. I had saliva and my enlarged tongue shrank. Finally, the dry eyes had some tears again and were less gritty at night. Energy was the last thing to improve and took a number of months, but finally I started feeling better than I had in two or three years. I could read and retain what I read. I could write. My mind also became sharper and my memory improved. Some of my blood work markers have also improved, which is an exciting “objective” finding.

This was exciting! This was working! I had to be able to share this with my coaching clients! Now that I could think and function better, I enrolled in the certified AIP coach training and became a certified coach. I am set up to offer one and one AIP coaching to a few clients at present. It is a tool that people can use at the beginning of their autoimmune journey, or along the way. It works while you are waiting to confirm a diagnosis, and it works along with medications and treatments recommended by your health care team. I have so many resources to share with you to make the AIP journey easier, and I can’t wait for the day when you tell me, “Hey Wendy, I am feeling better!”. Is 2023 the year you start the AIP and start healing your autoimmune disease? If you are interested, I would love to chat with you about whether this could work. Can I give you a quick free call? Here’s a link to book the call, and I hope to meet you soon,

The AIP Adventure Continues…

Those who have been following along with me know that I was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome earlier this year, and started using the Autoimmune Protocol to help my symptoms. I noticed good success and decided to train as a coach in the system. It has been an interesting journey, watching my symptoms improve since that time. I can honestly say I am feeling better than I have in a long time. Now, at last, my energy is returning, my brain fog has lifted, and I feel much calmer and more optimistic about life. Not to mention the joint pain has improved, the eyes are less dry and I am sleeping better! It really brings home the point of how important, and how basic, a nutrient rich diet and supportive lifestyle are. There is no cure for this condition, but so much can be done to reduce the intensity and frequency of flares. New research on Sjögren’s syndrome and on all autoimmune disease, is showing that there is a link between the gut bacteria, which of course is highly influenced by diet, and autoimmune disease. If you optimize the gut bacteria you can reduce the impact of the disease. Stress also contributes in a huge way to autoimmune flares, and figuring out what triggers the flare and how to prevent it is key. Do you have autoimmune disease? Are you interested in finding out more? Drop me a comment!

Caregiving and Autoimmune Disease

Both the role of caregiver and susceptibility to autoimmune disease happen predominately to females. In addition caregivers may find the stresses of caregiving trigger an autoimmune disease, and then they may then struggle to look after themselves well as trying to care for others. There are over 100 types of autoimmune disease, and there is no cure for them. There is good news, however. Healing the disease, and sending it into remission, where the signs and symptoms of the disease go away, or are at least are greatly improved, is possible. This is often the goal of medical treatment, where medications are used to suppress inflammatory processes in the body to help prevent damage. Most of these drugs also can also cause a range of side effects or adverse outcomes, and need to be carefully monitored. Other therapeutics can be useful as well, such as acupuncture, naturopathic, and chiropractic treatment. One of the best ways that a person with autoimmune disease can help heal their condition is by following the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). By supporting the body nutritionally, and removing obstacles to healing, this gentle, effective approach can be used in addition to any other treatments. It is also something that a person with autoimmune disease can begin on their own while waiting for a specialist appointment, or even if there is just a suspicion of autoimmune disease. All autoimmune disease is associated with vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as well as a leaky gut. The Autoimmune Protocol teaches you which foods to eat, what to avoid, and the lifestyle measures that will help you to sleep better, reduce stress, correct deficiencies and help heal your gut. I have personal experience with the healing abilities of the Autoimmune Protocol, and I am currently training as an AIP coach. The training is going great, and I am collecting lots of nuggets to make the AIP transition much easier for my clients. In addition to my private coaching, which is available anytime, I am excited to offer a first ever, cost-effective virtual group class, starting soon to guide you through the autoimmune protocol. I will only be coaching 10 people in this group, so if you are interested in more information and getting on a waitlist, please send me a message, so that you will be one of the first to find out when it is available.

The Next adventure – Autoimmune Disease!

Life brings us many surprises. When I practiced as a naturopathic doctor, I often saw patients with autoimmune disease. After working with me for a time, their symptoms would inevitably improve. It was a special focus in my practice, and it felt good, helping people with conditions that were not always managed well by conventional medicine. Anyway the saying of “what goes around, comes around”, can come true. Earlier this year I was diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease characterized by dry eyes and mouth and fatigue. At this stage of my illness, there is no medical treatment. Coupled with newly diagnosed sleep apnea, I needed to draw on my background and pull out all the stops in getting a handle on my health! I am delighted to say that six months has made a huge difference. I am feeling better than I have in a long time. I have found the Autoimmune Protocol to be invaluable in this venture, and in fact, I am so impressed with it I will be training on how to help coach others using it! Stay tuned, I will be sharing more about this in the future. Meanwhile, if you have an autoimmune disease and might be interested in a supported group or individual coaching program to help you improve the symptoms you are experiencing, drop me a message and I will add you to my interest list. You will be the first to know when my new program is ready!

What Makes a Good Family Senior Caregiver?

I started thinking about this as I trundled along the streets of Guelph on my way to my parents’ house, enjoying the early spring sunshine. I was reflecting on the changes in my life in the last few years as I transitioned from one job to another, one province to another, and from parenting a child to caring for parents. I was thinking of the shift in responsibilities that I’ve taken on, especially during the pandemic, in an effort to both meet my parents’ increasing needs and to protect them from outside contagion. I was crafting a job description for the “family senior caregiver” in my mind. I quickly realized how different it was than the professional care-giving roles I had once held. I also realized that I had changed in my own skill set from two years ago to the skills I have today. So here goes. Imagine the following want ad:

“ In Search of a Family Senior Caregiver”

  1. You must be able to lose your sense of time. Rarely will anything happen from now on in the time you think it might, when dealing with your senior family members. This includes everything from decision making to getting dressed. Think about the worst that will happen, if your time goal isn’t achieved. A late fee? A re-booked appointment? A delay moving on to your next task? A cold supper? It’s not the end of the world. Having just said that, always double the amount of time you think a task or preparation will need.
  2. Can you see and understand the words and actions of your senior loved one(s) in terms of their history and values, their sense of control and the current chaos around them? My parents make great decisions They need information and time to reflect. If I push them to make a decision too quickly, that lack of decision making control rears up, and they become reactive, rather than reflective, and the decision may not be ideal. Also see qualification #1.
  3. Are you adept at reading the non-verbal language around the spoken words to discover the true meaning of the communication? This one can be trickier for the family caregiver than for outside help, because every negative word you hear from them may be an echo of your past relationship. Flashbacks to childhood and teenage years if dealing with parents, or stressful points in your past marriage if you are dealing with a spouse, are common. Your reactions to these words must be dealt with like a duck deals with water. Let it roll right off your back. Sometimes this is just them reacting to their perceived loss of control. Instead watch their face and body movements and consider the context of the words. Are they upset about something else? Did they sleep well? Have they eaten lately? Are they in pain? We can discern so much more about communication as adults than we did as children.
  4. You are able to think outside the box. Everyday. All the time. There is an endless opportunity for creative thinking in care-giving. “How can I make this easier for them to be independent?”, “We’ve always done it this way, but does it have to be done this way?”, “ Is there a different way?”,“ How can I get a different perspective on that?”
  5. You are good at getting out of as much work as you can. Yes, in this job you are always aiming to do as little as possible! Don’t take a task away from a senior that they can manage for themselves, since this will lead to further dependence. Instead see if you can modify or help with just part of the task.
  6. Proficiency at delegating work is your strength. See point 6. Care-giving work increases over time and you’re the main/only caregiver. Time to tap into close by and distant relatives and friends. The distant ones can help with work done online such as paying bills or banking. The near by ones can give you a bit of respite, drive to appointments, pick up groceries or make meals. What mundane tasks can be hired out for? Housekeeping? Grounds maintenance? Car maintenance? Laundry? If costs start to add up, just remind yourself you are in this for the long term and you don’t want to get sick or injured. And even with hiring out some jobs, it’s still a lot cheaper than a nursing home.
  7. You’re super skilled at setting your own healthy boundaries. Yes,you are there for them, but your needs are just as important and deserve to be met too. Sometimes caregiver forget this.
  8. And finally, and most importantly, you are perfect at sharing as much non-task oriented family time as possible. This is the reward for you and so important for them. As you relax and listen to well known family stories, share memories or you all start laughing at the same time at a joke on the radio, you realize that there is no replacement for your role as family caregiver. You also realize that as challenging as the job is, you wouldn’t trade it for the world!

Are you in the process of becoming a family senior caregiver? Are you just about to bring someone home from the hospital or a care home? I’ve developed a resource based on my professional background and personal experiences just for you! In it you will move from feeling unsure and overwhelmed at the thought of transitioning your senior loved one from professional care to your care to feeling confident, supported and organized. Drop me a message if you are interested, and I will put you on my pre-release notification list!

That Sweet Tooth

Did you know that the craving for sugar actually increases as we age? It seems to be due to the body’s metabolism working less efficiently, and therefore trying to pull in quick energy through rapidly absorbed carbohydrates.. The problem is that eating highly processed, sweet stuff can create a feeling of fullness and prevent us from eating enough high nutrient food.

I have a terrific Halloween tip – buy only stuff that you don’t like to give out! I have a terrible sweet tooth. Everything containing sugar draws me like a magnet. I walk around the grocery store and stand in front of every sweet display, staring at it. I have spent many years trying to convince myself I will just eat small portions of something if I bring it home. Nope, it doesn’t work for me. I’ll keep it in the freezer. Nope. I am buying it for other family members. Nope again. So in the end, I just don’t bring it home from the store!

The wonderful and amazing fact is that if I don’t eat concentrated sources of sugar for three days, I am free of the physical cravings, and the mental cravings calm down to a manageable level. I also make sure to keep lots of fresh fruit, and nuts, and unsweetened stuff in the house for snacks. Do I still fall off the wagon? Yes. However, every time I do I climb back on again and I don’t beat myself up. Cutting back on sugar does get easier over time with less relapsing, (honest). I am gentle with myself and if I feel overwhelmed and stressed out, I lie down and listen to a relaxation u-tube video or do 10 minutes of yoga.

Do you have trouble taming a sweet tooth? I can help! I offer health coaching with a free 15 minute call to find out what your needs are. Just leave me a message if you are interested!

Another Perspective About Elder Care

Yesterday was Father’s Day. I felt very blessed to celebrate with my Dad who is now 89.5, and is still living in his own home with my mother. So many of my friends no longer have the privilege of celebrating with their parents.

I have been thinking a lot about elder care lately. The horrific stories about the conditions in so many of our long term care facilities in Canada have caused me to feel very, very sad. How can we treat our parents and our grandparents like this?

The reality is that we no longer value family care giving in our culture. Extended families, except in some of our immigrant communities, is no longer the norm. An elderly wife will take care of her husband as well as she can, through her own failing health, until she can no longer manage his care at which point they may both need to be institutionalized. How can their kids help when children and parents are often thousands of miles apart, children have full time jobs and kids of their own to take care of?

How can children take care of that elderly person when the parent has advanced dementia, doesn’t know their own family, wanders away and start fires? Yes, at this point family care giving is extremely difficult, if not impossible. The person is institutionalized to keep them “safe”. This is the accepted “elder care” practice in our society. The rare exception is that if the parent or grandparent is wealthy, they may be able to fund a retirement home life and/or bring in enough services to support them in their own home, but this is not the usual case.

Our government is focused on improving elder care in institutions, which is an important issue. We do need fewer beds per room and more highly trained staff. However, more thought and money needs to go into supporting seniors in a setting they can thrive most in – their own home, or the home of a family member.

This can be accomplished by paying family caregivers and supporting aging in place with increased access to professional health care support in the community. Educational and support groups for family caregivers with non-medical backgrounds are also needed to enable them to take care of their loved ones. This will lead to happier, healthier seniors and end up costing the government, (and therefore taxpayers) a lot less than housing people in institutions. It will also mean fewer emergency hospital trips, less mental health interventions and less chronic disease in our seniors. Altogether, this will represent a huge savings economically for Canada.

Earlier intervention – especially at the point when a partner dies and a person is left on their own – can make a huge difference in offsetting chronic disease. Timely lifestyle changes can prevent mild cognitive impairment from developing into dementia. Our society believes that chronic disease is a sign of “aging” and that dementia is inevitable, and yet it doesn’t have to be. For example, prolonged loneliness, a sedentary lifestyle and reliance on fast foods, all risk factors for dementia, can be modified.

Where are the initiatives addressing these issues? According to the LIHN in Ontario, (the provincial home care overseeing agency), supporting aging in place has been a priority for the last five years. I don’t see much offered in the way of disease prevention. I don’t see much offered in the way of cognitive stimulation or physical training. Thirty minutes for help with a bath once a week, always provided by a different PSW, is not enough to support someone living at home. We need a radical overhaul of our elder care system, and that goes far beyond reducing beds in an institution from four to two per room.

Mother’s Day – Another Loaded Holiday

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. What does that bring to mind for you? Visions of happy children presenting their mom with homemade cards and a breakfast of burnt toast and runny eggs? Or does it bring a pang because you lost your mother recently, or never had a child of your own? I find myself examining some of our celebrations with a different perspective. Our traditional holidays, besides being blown up into huge commercial marketing opportunities, also cause pain to many people because of our stereotypes and expectations. Personally, I have had a hard time with Valentine’s Day, for example, since I have spent more years of my life single rather than paired. Renaming it “Chocolate Day”, and celebrating with, well, chocolate has helped immensely.

Let’s look more closely at Mother’s Day. Traditionally, a mother is a person who gives birth to or adopts another person and usually has a role in raising them to adulthood. If you look a little more closely at this, then you see a mother is a person with the task of carefully nurturing a young person, physically and or emotionally. The “mother” role is teaching that person how to grow and flourish in life. The “mother” protects the young from harm, teaches them the values of the society they live in and passes along knowledge. The “mother” affirms the young person and validates their place in the world. Using this concept, our definition of a mother broadens to include any woman, man or “other” who has taken a role of nurturing the young. Can a single dad be seen as a “mother” to his children? Yes. How about a grandparent or aunt taking an active role in supporting a child? Yes, they too are being “mothers”. A scout leader or a youth pastor or a classroom teacher? Yes, yes and yes.

All of these people are at least some of the time taking on the role of mother. In conclusion, if you have a heart for children and take a little extra time to smile at them, talk to them and listen to their stories, or care for them in any way you too are a “mother”. Happy Mother’s Day!

Does coffee “Create Joy” in your life?

I do a lot of things in my life to maintain my health. I eat organic vegetables, I exercise, I sleep 7-8 hours at night, because doing these things is good for me. Whether I should or should not drink coffee is something I haven’t yet figured out.

Certainly the research showing coffee’s benefits is widely available. It is a source of antioxidants, (for those who eat no fruits or vegetables it may be the only source), it provides cognitive stimulation by releasing a flurry of neurotransmitters, and it increases metabolism.

Best of all, though, it tastes great and is a hot, comforting beverage. What’s not to like?

Twenty-six years ago, as a first year naturopathic student, we learned about the downside of coffee. We were taught about it’s addictive qualities, how it was a “band-aid” for an over stressed, poorly rested society. Coffee, we were told, is hard on the liver, and not part of a healthy diet.

Up to that point, I didn’t drink coffee anyway, and when I started my practice a few years later, it was easy to preach the evils of coffee and tell everyone, without exception, to stop drinking it. Heads would nod as I talked about quitting dairy, and gluten, and sugar, but then a look of incredulity would cross their faces. “What, give up my coffee? Even the first cup in the morning?” I am sure I lost a few patients as a result of this advice.

Fast forward to about 2014 when coffee suddenly became healthy. Dave Asprey had founded his “Bullet Proof” coffee empire and drinking a cup of joe was the new “healthy” trend. I started paying more attention to the studies validating the physical and mental benefits of coffee.

Around the same time, on reaching my middle years, I became interested in natural ways to slow down aging. Turns out a lot of our so called aging problems are actually from decades of nutritional deficiencies. Plants and herbs can have wonderful effects on our brain and body. Coffee entered the scene as as something that could help ward off Alzheimer’s disease and have a positive effect on other chronic diseases.

It was exciting research, and as coffee is readily available, and a huge part of Canadian culture, I figured I might as well reap the benefits. As some of you know from following my Facebook page, I started to drink coffee, found I liked it, and then, likely due to not keeping the amount of caffeine consistent from day to day, developed headaches. My fling with coffee lasted a couple of weeks and then it was over. The headaches scared me and I quit drinking coffee until last year.

In the summer of 2018 with a cross-country move pending, I introduced coffee again. One cup each morning. Seemed to go well, I stayed alert, wasn’t anxious, looked forward to my cup each day. Over time, though, I was aware my sleep was more intermittent at night, that I wasn’t feeling as rested when I woke and wondered if the coffee, even just that one cup in the morning, was interfering.

So now, yet again, I am off coffee. My fifth day “on the wagon”, and I woke up out of sorts and a bit sad this morning. Yes, it is February and the weather has been pretty wintry lately. However, I think it is the absence of my morning coffee that is having the most effect on my mood.

Where do I go from here with coffee? This love/hate relationship I have. I feel good when I drink it, but the boost is temporary and at the cost of a decent night’s sleep. It creates calmness and peace, opens my mind to inspiration and aids my fluidity of thought. In addition to the sleep issues it creates a dependency with withdrawal effects of fatigue and depression.

I don’t have all the answers yet. If you see me as a patient I may well tell you to give up dairy and gluten and sugar, but when it comes to your coffee I will hesitate. “Does it interfere with your sleep?”, “Do you have heart palpitations?” “Are you currently dealing with anxiety or depression?” If you answer “Yes”, then my response is, “Don’t drink coffee”. If you answer “No”, then I will tell you one to two cups a day is likely OK. Some people do have a genetic issue in clearing caffeine, but one to two normal size cups of coffee should keep the clearance threshold low enough even with that gene SNP. Oh, and keep it organic, since it’s a heavily sprayed crop.

The question remains, “Is it healthier or not healthier to drink coffee?” This naturopathic doctor doesn’t know. My answer is if it “creats joy”, keep it, if it doesn’t – throw it out.