I've been wearing an anti-pollution mask around London

I've been wearing an anti-pollution mask around London

Today is Clean Air Day. I'm writing this article because too many of us do not breathe clean air. We suffer health problems and die too soon because we do not breathe clean air. That needs to change.

This is a topic that I've been talking about a lot lately, especially after the World Health Organisation released new data on air pollutionlast month, including stats like:

  • 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air; and

  • Air pollution causes 1 in 9 deaths worldwide.

I was invited be part of a Channel 4 News feature to help raise awareness on how air pollution affects people with cystic fibrosis. You can see my (very short!) clip in this piece on the UK’s most polluted areas.

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What You Should Know About Antibiotic Resistance

What You Should Know About Antibiotic Resistance

There are few public health issues of greater importance than antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in terms of impact on our society. This is a global crisis. And no, I’m not being dramatic. I've been affected by it myself.

While this is an issue far bigger than any one of us, we do have some control over it, if we each take responsibility and act now. By educating ourselves, and sharing information with our friends and family (and anyone else that will listen!), we are playing an important role that shouldn’t be underestimated. 

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4 Must-Read Books for Better Health + Nutrition

4 Must-Read Books for Better Health + Nutrition

The main point I want to make with this article is that the vast majority of the information in these books should be common knowledge.

I can’t stress that enough.

It horrifies me to think that this incredibly valuable information is out there, pretty much for free, and yet some people are never exposed to it.

Here are 4 must-read books to help you improve your health + nutrition.

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Using Data to Monitor Your Health: What I Learnt From A Medical Trial

Using Data to Monitor Your Health: What I Learnt From A Medical Trial

It’s no secret that I’m fascinated by health monitoring and the increasingly amazing options for tracking our health and fitness that are coming about thanks to new tech.

Over two and a half years ago, I watched an episode of BBC Horizon called Monitor Me, which I think was a cataylst for my curiosity.

Since then, I have tried things like tracking my nutrient intake with MyFitnessPal and recording my activity and workouts with fitness trackers, but as I mentioned in my article on wearable tech, I struggle to find the value in using any devices over an extended period of time.

I think part of the reason that I was so fascinated by Monitor Me, was that everyone featured on the show was recording their data for really specific purposes; they knew what they were looking for in their data and they had a specific outcome in mind, be it weight-loss or better sporting performance. Plus, they were working with professionals in their field.

This kind of structure is something that I’ve lacked so far when toying with health and fitness tech, simply because I haven’t needed it.

Now, that has changed.

I’ve pushed my interest a little further and got involved with a clinical trial to see if self-monitoring can have a direct, positive effect on health.

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The Problem of Body Shaming + Why It Affects Me

The Problem of Body Shaming + Why It Affects Me

I’m writing this article because I feel like I have something important to say. Rather than writing about training, nutrition, physiology or fitness kit, I am going to write about something equally important, which is body image and wellbeing.

I know that this might be considered controversial, but I have a few things that need to be said.

Please know that none of this is aimed at any one of you lovely lot reading this. I’m not out to make accusations or make anyone feel bad, but I’m also not someone to beat around the bush on important matters.

So here goes...
 

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Testosterone in Women + Symptoms You Need To Know

Testosterone-Hormones-in-Women

What is Testosterone?

Testosterone is a hormone present in men and women, although in different amounts.

In women, testosterone is produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands and the normal range for testosterone levels in women is said to be around 0.52–2.4 nmol/L.

To put this into perspective, a normal range for men is 9–38 nmol/L. That’s nearly twenty times the amount that women have! These ‘normal ranges’ are only a guideline, however, as what is considered the normal range can vary between labs.

So women, if you're scared of bulking up by weight training, know that you simply don't have enough testosterone to pack on muscle mass as males do.

What is the Role of Testosterone in Women?

In women, testosterone fuels your sex drive, increases bone strength and bone mineral density, and may even support anti-ageing effects. Testosterone also plays a role in body composition, as it aids the development of muscle mass and the metabolism of fat.

What Affects Testosterone Levels in Women?

As well as the hormone disruptors mentioned in my previous post, oral contraceptives can impact levels and some medical conditions have an effect on testosterone levels in women. Levels also change with the natural ageing process.

Symptoms of High Testosterone in Women

High levels of testosterone in women are difficult to achieve. Where they do occur, it will likely be due to a medical condition such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and can have physical side effects.

These may include hair loss (in places that you want hair), hair growth (in places that you don’t want hair), acne, menstrual problems and, sometimes, weight gain.

Symptoms of Low Testosterone in Women

The symptoms of low testosterone in women can easily be mistaken for symptoms of something else. They may include:
Fatigue and lack of energy, which may be due to disrupted sleep
Changes in body composition, such as loss of muscle and increase of fat
Decreased sex drive
Mood changes, particularly depression and anxiety
Hair loss
Difficulty concentrating

If you are suffering from these symptoms, especially struggling to lose weight and gain a lean physique, you may want to follow steps to naturally increase testosterone levels.

High intesnsity training, strength training, lowering stress levels and reducing your intake of sugar and processed foods will help.

You might like to follow these tips for balancing hormones.

Supplements for Healthy Testosterone Levels

Improving your testosterone levels with nutritional supplementation is also an option.

One of my favourite supplements for maintaining healthy hormone levels is ZMA. You can read more about this in my Guide to ZMA for Women.

Vitamin D3 is also important in maintaining healthy hormone levels. It is able to regulate the aromatase enzyme (the enzyme that converts testosterone into oestrogen).

However, there are many more complex testosterone boosting formulations (sometimes called T-boosters or test boosters) emerging in the growing nutritional supplements market. In the interests of curiousity and to demonstrate that testosterone is not a scary thing, I chose to trial one from Monkey Nutrition.

Have you experienced any symptoms of hormone imbalance? What measures have you taken to try and correct them?

CNS Food Print 200+: My Food Intolerance Testing Experience 2.0

CNS-Food-Print-200-Intolerance-Test-Review

The Most Advanced + Comprehensive Food Intolerance Test from CNS

I make no secret of my fascination for health monitoring, and that includes food intolerance testing. It’s also no secret that I was a left a little confused and dissatisfied by my first food intolerance testing experience.

After a little (a lot, actually) of research, I discovered the FoodPrint® 200+ test from Cambridge Nutritional Sciences.*

The test is incredibly comprehensive, testing for reactions to over 200 ingredients. One of the reasons that I chose this test was the inclusion of four types of milk (cow’s, sheep’s, goat’s and buffalo) and the independent proteins within the milk: alpha-lactalbumin, beta-lactoglobulin (whey proteins) and casein.

If you’ve read my posts on my food intolerance journey so far, you’ll know of my distress when it came to compromising my whey protein intake, and why having this breakdown is so important to me!

CNS offer a range of other FoodPrint® tests including an indicator test, FoodPrint® 40, FoodPrint® 60, FoodPrint® 120, FoodPrint® Vegetarian, FoodPrint® Vegan and FoodPrint® Herbs & Spices.

The FoodPrint Testing Process

After receiving your test pack, it’s simply a case of using the lancets provided to prick your finger and take a very small blood sample before returning the pack in the pre-paid envelope.

Your results report and guidebook arrive with you via email very quickly. The quality and comprehensiveness of both of these is brilliant, so I’ll go into a little more detail below.

Interestingly, CNS also offer a Food Detective self-test, which, although a little less comprehensive, will provide you with immediate results. The short video on the website showing how this is carried out is definitely worth a watch!

CNS-Food-Print-Review-Food-Intolerance-Test

The FoodPrint® 200+ Report

I love the report format provided by CNS. In fact, there are two different formats within the test report that you receive.

As well as listing the tested foods by order of reactivity (as was done in my YorkTest results), foods are also listed according to their respective food groups.

This really helped to put into perspective where my greatest problem areas are, and to help me to quickly identify alternative foods.

As well as a traffic light colour coding system for the ingredients tested, CNS provide the numerical values of the antibody levels detected in the test. This is something that is hugely important and was completely neglected by YorkTest.

The higher the assigned value, the stronger your body’s immune response to that particular food. Elevated results are over 30 U/ml, borderline is 24-29 U/ml, and anything under 23 U/ml is considered normal.

Knowing this really helps to put your results into perspective. By seeing that my reaction to cow’s milk was 117 U/ml, for example, it was immediately clear that my priority was to remove that from my diet before anything else.

Especially when dealing with a high number of reactions as I am, knowing that some are vastly stronger than others helps you to focus your attention on the foods that will have a bigger impact, and know which you can afford to treat with a little less caution in order to make the process manageable.

This is a concept that was reinforced by CNS’ nutritionist, Nicky, who was keen to speak to me over the phone following my results. It was great to speak to someone so mindful of the differences between individuals and how to make results seem manageable.

The guidebook provided by CNS also suggests that when reintroducing foods after carrying out an elimination diet, the numerical values good to refer to as reintroducing the least reactive foods first is a good idea.

This kind of guidance is something that I felt was neglected a little with the YorkTest FoodScan that I did. While YorkTest are definitely stronger on their branding, sending out both the test kit and the results in well-presented packages, I’ve come to realise that they lack some attention to detail where it matters.

CNS-Food-Print-Intolerance-Results

My FoodPrint® 200+ Results

Suffice to say, I have a lot of elevated results. But, recognising how overwhelming this can seem, one of the first things that CNS Nutritionist Nicky said to me was this:

“Stress in itself can be worse than eating the food that you’re intolerant to”

If you’ve read my post Dealing with Food Intolerance + Elimination Diets: What Noone Tells You, you’ll understand why this was music to my ears.

She also reiterated that, as with any test, these results are not concrete and definitive. However, they definitely give a brilliant starting point for improving my diet. The sheer volume of elevated values that I have could indicate leaky gut, and so as well as removing trigger foods, I would benefit from working with a nutritionist to speak further about digestive support.

Dairy + Eggs

As with my previous results, dairy and eggs showed a definitely reaction. My milk reaction was especially high given that I’ve almost entirely cut out dairy from my diet, so it’s reassuring to know that I’m doing the right thing by steering clear.

Of course, my biggest relief was to see that my reaction to whey proteins (alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin) were normal. Hooray! While Nicky would generally recommend avoiding whey for the 3-month elimination period when all other dairy results are highly elevated as mine are, she advised that for my lifestyle, the benefits of taking whey most likely outweighs this concern.

So, I’ll be sticking to high-quality whey isolate supplements, and I’ll continue to search for some good vegan protein supplements to ensure that I get variety, too.

Gluten-Containing Grains

As anticipated, my scores for gluten-containing grains are elevated. As with dairy, I already avoid gluten because of the symptoms that I get when consuming food such as bread, so I’ll continue to do this.

Generally, I opt for rice, corn or potato in place of gluten-containing grains. This was reflected in the slightly raised levels on the tests for these foods, so I will look into getting more variety by trying things like buckwheat and millet.

Yeast

Yet again, this was a high reaction for me. I really struggled to cut out yeast before, but the guidebook provided by CNS contains a whole section on yeast, including which foods to avoid, ingredients to avoid and alternative foods.

The list includes the obvious, such as bread, yeast extract and fermented food and drink including alcohol. Of course, dried fruits are on the list too, which I feel I may struggle with as they make a great alternative to processed sweeteners like sugar when satisfying a sweet tooth or choosing a snack bar. The list also includes less obvious products such as hydrolysed protein and Quorn, which require yeast to be used as part of their processing.

My Verdict + Next Steps

I’d love to find a great nutritionist who can advise me a little more going forward. I pride myself on the knowledge that I have on nutrition, and certainly by normal standards my diet is really healthy. However, I’m at the point now where I really need to refine it further and enlist someone who can take some of the hard work off my hands!

It would be great to find an experienced nutritionist who can guide me with a tailored food and supplement plan, taking a holistic approach that also considers my lifestyle and training goals alongside medical history, too. I welcome all recommendations!

Overall, I’ll be aiming for moderation and variety in my diet. Unsurprisingly, (and perhaps a little boringly!) that’s what it always comes down to.* Whether you suffer with food intolerances or want to prevent them, this is undoubtedly the way forward*.

I highly recommend the CNS FoodPrint 200+ test. I always strive for the best quality and to gather as much information as possible, and this test has definitely ticked those boxes for me. The large number of proteins that were tested for, the way the results were reported, and the advice that I received from CNS was exactly what I hoped for, and more!

The test costs £291.00, which is definitely a bit of an investment, but an investment in the best possible thing; your health.

Have you had any experience of food intolerance testing or dealing with an elimination diet protocol?

Dealing with Food Intolerance + Elimination Diets: What Noone Tells You

Food-Intolerance-Elimination-Diet-Tips

Dealing with Food Intolerance + Elimination Diets: What Noone Tells You

I’ve recently spent a lot of time researching the negative impact of food intolerance and decided to take some tests myself. My first set of food intolerance test results from YorkTest revealed a whopping 25 reactions and borderline reactions and I was advised by YorkTest advisors to immediately deploy an elimination diet protocol.

I was really keen to give the elimination diet a good go. I know that I suffer from symptoms that are caused by inflammation and that chronic low-grade inflammation is a killer. As food intolerance is an inflammatory response, I wanted to use my test results to improve my overall health.

I carried out a strict elimination diet for two weeks before making adjustments. I wouldn’t call those two weeks successful by any means. However, I did learn a few things.

What is an Elimination Diet?

An elimination diet is the process of removing foods that are common ‘triggers’ from your diet for a certain period of time. These foods are then reintroduced one at a time. If any symptoms reappear alongside the reintroduction of a certain food, this is indicative of an intolerance.

The best elimination diets are the most restrictive. Cutting out more foods means that you’re likely to get a more comprehensive profile of results by the end of the process.

However, the more foods you cut out, the harder the process is to execute. And of course, as it is impossible to cut out everything, there is always a chance that one of your intolerances could be overlooked.

Unlike with allergies, symptoms of food intolerance don’t manifest immediately. So, eliminating and reintroducing foods is a slow process and the results can be hard to identify.

Food intolerance testing simplifies this process initially by providing you with a list of reactive ingredients that should be your primary focus.

Preparation

I tried to start the elimination diet as soon as possible after receiving my YorkTest results.

However, I would have been better off writing a date in my diary that allowed myself a couple of weeks to prepare.

The preparation phase should include:
* Researching ingredients that are good alternatives to the ones that you will be cutting out
* Stocking up on those ingredients
* Finding and creating recipes and meals that allow you to use the alternative ingredients in the most fulfilling way

My reaction to the proteins in cow’s milk meant that I was advised to cut out whey and casein protein shakes from my diet. This made a huge impact given that I drank them up to three times a day. Yet, I cut them out before I had chance to research, buy, receive and taste-test an alternative. This made a big impact on my protein intake, but it also affected my mindset as I felt unable to train as well without fuelling my body in the way that it needed.

Because I was in the process of finishing my degree, finding a full-time job, and relocating to a new city at the same time that I received my results, being well prepared was near impossible.

In relation to this, I would recommend selecting a date to start the elimination diet that is going to avoid clashing with other stressful occasions. There is never a perfect time to start, so don’t keep putting it off. But if you’re dealing with an obviously exceptional situation like I was, it’s okay to push back your start date a little.

Losing Perspective

I realise that when I started to cut out foods, it was like I was wearing food intolerance blinkers.

When assessing whether food was good for me to eat, or not, the only criteria that I was applying to it was whether it was on my intolerance chart or not. This meant that I was probably eating more processed ‘junk’ food than usual.

For example, despite avoiding wheat-based foods for years (my intolerance was pretty obvious without the need for a test), I suddenly found myself seeking out biscuits and cakes under the guise of wheat-free and gluten-free labels. I hardly ever ate biscuits and cakes to begin with! Yet, I’d find myself munching away with complete disregard for the sugar content.

This is especially ironic given that sugar is also inflammation causing and my motivation behind this whole process was to reduce inflammation!

Perhaps it is because I had a high number of reactions that I just didn’t have the brain-power for any other items on my checklist, but this is something to bear in mind.

Food-Intolerance-Elimination-Diet-Tips

Guilt + Anxiety

I’ve always had a really healthy relationship with food. I’ve always wanted to nourish my body by eating foods that are genuinely nutritious, but I’ve never denied my sweet tooth either.

For the first time ever, during my elimination diet, I really started to sense feelings of anxiety and guilt over what foods I was consuming.

To take the protein shake situation as an example again, I was feeling incredibly anxious having cut out a supplement that was critical in helping me to achieve the best body composition and overall fitness level of my life. I felt like my hard work was going to be lost and that my progress was going to slow.

On the other hand, whenever I thought about allowing myself a protein shake, I felt really guilty that I would be knowingly causing my body damage.

Overall, I decided that the mental anguish wasn’t worth it, especially at a time when I had other important things to think of. So, I ate a Quest bar. And another. And the tension was gone.

I continued to stick with everything else, but without relaxing the rules a little, I don’t think that would have been possible.

My Thoughts Overall - Why I Still Recommend Food Intolerance Testing

I still think that food intolerance tests are brilliant, fascinating things that allow you to invest in your health. You just have to approach them in the right way.

Food intolerance test reports should not be treated as gospel. Instead, the results simply provide a great starting point to carry out a planned and realistic elimination diet.

I’m lucky that because of my curiosity and previous experiences, I have a pretty strong sense of self-awareness and could take a step back to reassess how this diet process was affecting me.

However, if you have ever struggled with an emotional relationship with food, disordered eating, or don’t have a great knowledge of nutrition yourself, I would advise finding a nutritionist or nutrition coach who can guide and reassure you a little through the process.

I still recommend food intolerance testing and I’m still pursuing food intolerance testing. I think that actively deciding to invest in a food intolerance test heightens your awareness to the impact that foods are having on your body every single day.

I’m keen to take a more in depth look at my food intolerances and to find a way to apply my results in a more manageable way. I’m determined to find ways to improve my health and food plays a massive role.

The Science of Cycles: Synthetic Hormones + NaturalCycles Contraceptive App

The Science of Cycles: Synthetic Hormones + NaturalCycles Contraceptive App

We are becoming so much more aware of what we put into our bodies. We’re eating clean and using natural skincare. Yet, many of us are pumping ourselves full of synthetic hormones.

Hormones are chemical messengers that coordinate complex processes from growth and metabolism, to fertility. Your body relies on them completely to maintain a healthy, natural balance. 

Most contraceptive methods involve exposing your body to synthetic hormones through a tablet or some kind of implant. There are different hormones that can be used either alone, or in combination, to disrupt your natural hormonal balance to make you temporarily infertile.

Your period is a window into your health. Issues like your period disappearing (amenorrhea) or experiencing symptoms usually dismissed as 'pre-menstrual syndrome' can actually be indicators of your health on a wider scale. By masking these insights, you might even be putting your body at risk.

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