Toxins- making your home a safe place

Reading Time: 6 minutes

In my earlier post "Are you aware of the elephant (TOXINS) in your room and how it’s affecting your family’s health?" published last week I delved into the most common types of toxins that we are exposed to on a regular (most likely even daily) basis. It must have been alarming for many of you to read about the level of toxic exposure that our children (and adults) are exposed to in the modern world. 

Body burden” is a key concept that we all need to grasp in order to fully appreciate the effort that we need to put in order to minimise the impact of toxins on our health. It refers to the total amount of toxic chemicals that are in your body at any given point in time. NO ONE  is exempted from this toxic load in their bodies, not even newborn babies. Infact studies have shown that babies are being born already carrying a toxic load of as many as 300 different chemicals in their bodies, and that breast milk is filled with various environmental pollutants. 

Children and babies are also more susceptible to environmental toxins since their bodies are smaller by weight and can be exposed to more toxins than adults. Their immune and organ system are still developing and their exposure to toxic chemicals puts them at greater risk for chronic disease. Health problems in both children and adults can range from cancer and diabetes to autism and infertility. 

At the same time, many people mistakenly believe that there is nothing they can do to mitigate the harmful effects of toxin exposure that happens in our homes. As a result, they do not take it into account when buying food and other products. 

One of the things that I educate my coaching clients in is to become adept at reading the ingredient list of products before buying them to check for toxic chemicals in both foods and personal care products. Focussing on the things that are in our control since we can minimise our exposure to these at home. 

However, it can become overwhelming to make all the changes at the same time so it is always advisable to start with the ones that you think will make the most difference or what is easiest to change and then build from there. 

I also created a great freebie "Creating a non-toxic home for your family" so that you can use this free resource to choose different brands of products that are available in India in various categories. You can grab that right here:

Below I have listed some of the toxins usually found in each category and what to look out for.

Reducing exposure in personal care products

Please keep in mind that what is applied to the skin may be more important than what we eat. The gut is pretty good at blocking toxin absorption when it is in good health. However, it is pretty easy for toxins from these products to readily reach the bloodstream through the skin. Check out this excellent resource from safecosmetics.org HERE 

Avoid these ingredients-

  • Lotions – Avoid all lotions and moisturisers where there are ingredients like “parfum” or “fragrance” unless they are plant based /essential oil based; phthalates, petrolatum/petroleum by-products like propylene glycol, polyethene glycol (PEG) and polypropylene glycol (PPG); preservatives like parabens
  • Sunscreen- Oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate in chemical-based sunscreens
  • Cosmetics- PEGs, heavy metals, formaldehyde, and siloxanes in makeup/cosmetics
  • Shampoos and bathing products – Avoid all shampoos and bathing products like shower gels/soaps which have SLS and SLES (Sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium laureth sulphate); parabens as preservatives; “fragrances” unless they are plant-based/essential oil based; petroleum by-products like propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol (PEG) and polypropylene glycol (PPG); triclosan as an antimicrobial
  • Baby wipes and diaper cream – Avoid baby wipes with ingredients like triclosan, propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol (PEG) and polypropylene glycol (PPG), parabens and artificial fragrances; boric acid and BHA (a preservative) in diaper creams
  • Hand sanitizers – Triclosan is the key toxin in hand sanitizer due to its antibacterial effect; other chemicals to avoid are artificial fragrances, alcohol, petroleum by-products. Use normal soap for regular use at home
  • Mosquito and insect repellents – Some of the regular mosquito repellents contain chemicals like synthetic pyrethroids, DEET (N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide) both of which are known to cause allergic reactions and skin rashes. There are safer and natural alternatives which use the power of essential oils to repel insects naturally.

Home care and cleaning products

Other main sources of toxin exposure at home are laundry and dishwashing detergents, home cleaners and air fresheners. Check out excellent guide from ewg.org HERE.

  • Laundry and dishwashing detergentsDetergents which have sulphates (SLS and SLES- sodium laureth sulphate and sodium lauryl sulphate), which are foaming agents. They are known to be skin irritants and can dry the skin excessively. Other chemicals which are usually present are preservatives like parabens (Methyl, propyl, isobutyl to name a few), artificial fragrances containing phthalates are other chemicals which may or may not be listed at all. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets also have artificial fragrances and which are also known endocrine disruptors as well as synthetic chemicals. 
  • Toilet and other household cleaners– It should be enough for one to stay away from these products which usually give warnings on the bottles saying it is toxic and unsafe for children to use. Sadly, most of us are not aware of exactly how toxic these products are in terms of causing health issues like lung and skin irritation, infertility issues, hormonal disruptions. Chemicals commonly used are ammonia and chlorine, hydrochloric and phosphorous acid, ethanolamines to name just a few. Natural and safe alternatives are available in the market. You can also use this recipe.
  • Air fresheners, paints and polishes- All of these are major sources of air pollution inside our homes. Wherever possible choose non-toxic alternatives and avoid artificial air fresheners completely. Opt for natural, plant-based room air fresheners and/or incense sticks which have essential oils or use essential oils in a diffuser in each room. Also, use HEPA air filters in the bedroom for those living in cities and especially for those having children (and adults) with asthma. There are several brands of essential oils available for use in diffusers.  
  • In the kitchen– there is a LOT you can do in terms of making healthy choices in your kitchen. I have listed some of them below.
  • Perfluorinated chemicals like PFOA and PFTE have been linked to a range of health problems including thyroid and infertility. Avoid using  PFTE and PFOA coated non stick cookware since non-stick cookware when heated has proven to be a primary source of a dangerous toxic fluoride derivative, specifically perfluorinated chemicals (PFOAs). Switch to ceramic, glass or stainless steel or cast iron cookware instead
  • STOP giving microwave popcorn to your children. PFOA is not only present in the inner coating of the bag, but it also migrates to the oil from the packaging during heating. Make it from pop corn kernels instead
  • Remove plastic containers, cans, cling films or plastic wraps, canned beverages as they are all sources of various toxic chemicals. Even BPA-free containers contain other bisphenols which are equally toxic. Use glass, steel for storage and beeswax, parchment paper, paper foil for wrapping food instead of plastic wraps. 
  • Avoid putting hot food in plastic containers and avoid heating food in the microwave oven in plastic containers.    
  • Keep plastic out of the dishwasher, freezer, and microwaves, because both hot and cold temperatures can release more phthalates
  • Do not drink canned food products, soda or other beverages, because aluminium cans are often lined with BPA

Nutrition

  • Eat a nutrient dense diet - A combination of refined, processed foods lacking in nutrients and unprecedented toxin exposure is causing a lot of harm to us and our children. Foods like processed meat, canned foods; processed and refined food; foods with additives like artificial colourings and flavourings; refined sugar; artificial sweeteners in beverages and sodas are completely avoidable. We certainly need to pay more attention to our diet by making it nutrient dense by incorporating fresh vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and proteins and lots of fibre. Read this article to learn more about this topic

There is a lot which can be done inside your home to mitigate the risk of environmental toxins. It can become quite overwhelming to make sweeping changes all at once. Start with what you think will have the maximum impact for your family. Start with one category by consistently making healthier choices in terms of products and continue to do so.

After all,

“An imperfect action is better than perfect inaction”

 

Are you aware of the elephant (TOXINS) in your room and how it’s affecting your family’s health?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I am writing today’s post both as a Health Coach and a concerned mother. I first became aware of the impact that toxins have on our health when I was researching for a way to heal my daughter’s severe eczema way back in 2014. Till then I had absolutely no idea how much these hidden chemicals in our environment (inside our homes and outside) impacted our health. I had no idea that by simply breathing, walking and eating we are exposed to thousands of chemicals every single day! 

When I got to know that companies can introduce chemicals into the environment without any test to show that they are safe, it took my sense of disbelief to a different level. Add this to the fact that neither is it possible to review the potential effects of all the different chemicals nor does everyone have the same detoxification capabilities and you actually start to get a sense of the real picture. It is indeed truly alarming!

Unfortunately for most of us, toxins are like the “elephant in the room”. It takes up a lot of space and has a HUGE impact on our lives including our health but we are often unaware of exactly HOW. In fact, our children are particularly vulnerable since their organs are still developing. 

I hope that by sharing this information with you I am able to increase your awareness about this really important topic and help you and your family make healthier choices to minimise your exposure.

(In the second part to this post, I will show you exactly how. I will also share a handout on some non toxic and eco friendly brands that are available in the market today.

In this post, however, I go deep into some of the toxins that are we are most often exposed to in our houses and elsewhere. Toxins are a scary word for most of us. It originally means a “poison of plant or animal origin” and for most of our history our bodies have dealt with this and we have evolved over time to metabolise and eliminate most of these toxins naturally.

However, with the advent and explosion of man-made chemicals in the 21st century, our bodies do not even recognise most of the toxins and are not equipped to deal with them. We have now landed in the midst of a global health crisis of sorts. And our children are bearing the brunt of it. 

Toxins may be ingested through food, inhaled and applied to our skin. These are substances found in pesticides and fertilisers, health and bathing products, industrial pollutants, preservatives and additives in processed food, petrochemical fuels and solvents, cookware and other plastic products used at home. Even in minute doses, many of these can wreak havoc on our hormones, immune system and nervous system. And when these build up over time they can eventually overload our detoxification system leading to various chronic health conditions including cancer. 

Infact, just as modern medicine has almost eradicated erstwhile childhood diseases like rubella, measles, mumps, polio, tetanus we are now grappling with modern childhood diseases like eczema, allergies, asthma, autism.

Does this sound familiar to you? Does your child or another child you know suffer from any of these? 

Infact, some of the common symptoms that children (and adults) can exhibit (but certainly not limited to) connected to toxin exposure are

  • Sinus congestion
  • Allergies and eczema
  • Gut issues like constipation, diarrhoea, poor digestion
  • Difficulty concentrating, attention deficit hyperactivity
  • Development effects on the nervous system
  • Sleep problems
  • Obesity in children (and adults)
  • Puffy, dark circles under the eyes

Environmental toxins can result in obesity in children and adults by interfering with the process of glucose and cholesterol metabolism thereby inducing insulin resistance. This is a direct precursor to rising rates of obesity in babies (who are still breastfeeding) and children across the world. Indeed, many toxins can and do act as an endocrine disruptor in children and interfere with their natural hormones as they are capable of mimicking those very hormones. As a result, we now see early breast development and onset of puberty in young girls especially if they are also overweight. Rising cases of allergies, asthma and skin conditions like eczema can also be at least partly attributed to higher levels of toxin exposure through inhalation and application on the skin.

But before I get into what the most common toxins are you also need to understand HOW exactly they can affect your health (Source credit: The Toxin Solution by Dr Joe Pizzorno)

  • Toxins poison enzymes so that they don't work. Since every physiological function in our body depends on these enzymes, toxin damage has a huge impact on our bodily function
  • Toxins displace structural minerals leading to weaker bones
  • Toxins can damage nearly all the organs and systems
  • Toxins damage DNA leading to premature ageing and degeneration
  • Toxins modify gene expression leading to individual health problems and that of future generations
  • Toxins damage cell membranes so that respond properly and are unable to get important messages
  • Toxins interfere with hormones and cause imbalances by mimicking, blocking and inhibiting and inducing hormones
  • Toxins also impair the body's ability to detoxify leading to further issues

A few of the common toxins that we are exposed to are given below-

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP): These toxins enter the body when we eat the foods prepared on these surfaces. These are mainly Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) like PFOA and PFTE which are found in non-stick, stain resistant and water repellant surfaces in cookware, water-resistant clothing, pizza boxes, microwavable popcorn bags, food wraps, paint and cleaning products. When non-stick cookware is heated, these toxic chemicals like PFOA and PFTE are released which are likely carcinogens, are contributors to weight gain and obesity apart from other health concerns.

BPA, BPS (bisphenols): These are chemicals which disrupt our endocrine system thus wreaking havoc on our hormones and subsequently has an adverse impact on the development of reproductive organs of children. This can cause weight gain and obesity, neurological disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity in children and other health conditions. These are usually found in storage items like plastic bottles, food cans, containers, baby bottles, soothers and plastic microwaveable plates and dishes just to name a few.

Phthalates: Phthalates are also found in a host of products like plastic food containers and children’s toys. Hence it becomes very important to be aware of the toy quality especially if the children are young and teething. They are also routinely found in cosmetic, makeup and personal care products which contain artificial “fragrances” and “parfum”.

Parabens: These are another group of chemicals with endocrine disrupting properties especially as far as estrogen is concerned. Parabens are used in countless personal care products lotions, perfumes, anti deodorants, shampoos and conditioners to name a few. It works as a preservative and inhibits the growth of bacteria, yeast and mold and amongst other health issues have now been associated with wheezing and eczema in children.

Triclosan: It is yet another endocrine-disrupting chemical and is routinely found in antibacterial soaps. These are just a few of the many thousands of chemicals that our children are routinely exposed to in the modern world. It is indeed alarming and I do not want to mince words while saying this since it will not serve anyone at all, least of all our children.

However, having said this, it is in our hands what we want to do with all this information. We can fall into despair or we can do something about this starting with our homes and immediate environment. I really hope that you will choose the latter.

As someone wise had said, “We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change”.

Resources for further reading

Healing the new childhood epidemics by Dr Kenneth Bock and Cameron Stauth

The Toxin Solution by Dr Joe Pizzorno

Children and environmental toxins by Philip Landrigan

 

6 ways to nourish your skin in winter

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Are you struggling to ensure that your skin is well moisturised in this dry weather?

Do you moisturise your skin regularly and yet still struggle to keep it moist and supple?

This is a real struggle for most of us as the weather changes and the days and nights becomes dry and cold. In my health coaching practice, many of my coaching clients suffer from chronic skin conditions and have a tough time keeping their skin moisturised at all times of the year. The winter season can be especially hard for those who have very sensitive and dry skin.

If you have dry skin issues you are definitely not alone. In this post, I have written about SIX ways that you can nourish yourself through food and keep your skin well hydrated and moisturised in the dry season. At the end of the day, the appearance of your skin is simply a manifestation of what is going on inside your body. Mineral imbalances, toxin overload, oxidative stress and underlying chronic inflammation all contribute to various skin disorders. 

There may also be other potential causes for dry skin like low estrogen, nutritional deficiencies, bathing too much. However, most people benefit quite a bit by focusing on foods which address nutrient deficiencies and keeping our bodies well hydrated. 

(I have shared the recipe for the natural and moisturising body butter that I make for my family and friends every winter as a FREE download at the end of this post)

6 ways to nourish your skin this winter

  1. Hydration is key and is always the FIRST step that I recommend. Many of us can become chronically dehydrated as we usually end up drinking less water as we sweat less and feel less thirsty during this season. Ensuring adequate amounts of water intake is critical in maintaining good skin health as it serves many purposes including cleansing toxins from our body.
  2. Decrease your intake of tannins. Black tea (and to a lesser extent in green tea and coffee) is loaded with tannins which are polyphenols or phytonutrients that plants produce to protect itself from predators like insects and germs. Tannins are dehydrating and are what gives tea and red wine their distinct bitter flavour. Make sure to reduce intake of all forms of tea (black, green, white) as this has nothing to do with whether it is caffeinated or not. 
  3. The third thing that I recommend is to increase the intake of omega 3 fatty acids. This is another key driver of dry and flaky skin. Most of us are deficient in this essential fatty acid since it is very low in our modern diets. The best sources of omega 3 fatty acids are fatty, oily fish like salmon, cod, sardines, seaweed and algae, chia/flax/hemp seeds, walnuts, soy bean. I also usually recommend a high quality omega 3 supplement  for most of my clients since it is often difficult to get adequate quantities of omega 3 fatty acids from these food sources.
  4. Focus on foods rich in Vitamin A, Zinc and Vitamin E as they are all important for skin health. Zinc is critical for the formation of collagen, a protein molecule that forms connective tissue and skin. Foods rich in Zinc are meat, shellfish, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), seeds (pumpkin, hemp), nuts, eggs, dairy, whole grains (wheat, rice, oats). Vitamin E helps to combat oxidative stress and keeps the skin youthful. Foods rich in this fat soluble nutrient are sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, other nuts (like hazelnut, pinenut), spinach and other greens. Vitamin A is a fat soluble nutrient that plays an essential role in body growth, immune health, vision, reproductive and skin health. Good sources of vitamin A are animal liver, cod liver oil, egg, sweet potato, carrot, spinach, broccoli, mango, watermelon and papaya.
  5. Low vitamin D level is yet another major contributor to dry skin. Ideally, you should be getting adequate vitamin D naturally from sun exposure but this becomes doubly hard in this season. Supplements can help in boosting the levels once you know what your current levels are. Also, food sources which are high in vitamin D  are pretty much similar to the food sources for Vitamin E. 
  6. Bone broth or collagen supplement is another thing that I recommend for my clients who consume animal products. Collagen is the protein most abundant in our body and is the building block for connective tissues which you find in joints, bones, muscles, ligaments, skin and hair. We start making less and less collagen as we age and it lessens the skin elasticity and hydration leading to dry skin and the formation of wrinkles. Bone broth is a simple way of harnessing the benefits of collagen through food sources like bone broth, organ meats and egg yolks. For those of you who are unable to make this at home, you can add collagen to your daily smoothie or juice in the form of a supplement. My favourite supplement is this one. For those of you looking for a plant based option, check out this one

FREE DOWNLOAD : "Home made body butter recipe using only 3 ingredients"

What is holding you back from losing weight?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

(In this article I cover the basics of the underlying mechanism beneath weight gain as well as the confusion regarding choosing the right "diet". In the second part of this article, I will share some of the simple and effective ways that can help you focus on the right "diet" for you which is an integral part of the weight loss process)

 

I had done a recent survey about the health and wellness goals that people have these days. The objective was to uncover the most common goals that people want to work towards as well as the major obstacles that usually come in the way of meeting them. While the sample size was small (under 50), this was the first time I had directly reached out to people like you so that I could fine tune my services and offerings in line with what most of you are struggling with.

Once I analysed the results of the survey, I realised that I had seen similar issues being raised in many other groups and communities that I am a part of around the world. The health issues that we are facing in our societies and communities are not really unique to any particular country or location. Weight loss (in a healthy and sustainable manner) came out as the number one issue on most people's minds everywhere. This is also corroborated by the fact that there is a multibillion-dollar global industry with different "diets", "pills", books, gym memberships and other resources to help us lose weight.

However, as most of us may realise, inspite of all the awareness about exercise and "healthy" diets, there is something missing here, something that is not right. This approach is simply NOT working for most of us. Otherwise, there would not be more people (including children) who are overweight and in many cases, chronically ill.

There would be much less!

Weight loss is usually NOT what I focus on with my clients as the main objective since there is always an underlying reason why your body is holding on to the weight. For our bodies weigh gain is usually a protective as well as a defensive mechanism in order to survive in the environment in which we are asking it to live in.

Many of us are leading a life that is inherently stressful due to

  • poor lifestyle choices like lack of restorative sleep and relaxation practices
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • poor food choices like sugary foods  including beverages, refined carbohydrates and edible food like substances

Is it any wonder that our bodies are struggling to keep us healthy given the circumstances?

In fact, one of the main reasons (there are others as well) that we put on weight in the first place is often a diet that is full of refined carbohydrates containing empty calories (think pasta, breads, pizza, sugary foods and beverages) due to the mechanism of a critical hormone called insulin.

You may not know that insulin

-is released from the pancreas when blood sugar rises

-escorts the sugar out of your blood and into the cells for energy

-promotes limited storage of glycogen (it provides the body with a readily available source of energy if blood glucose levels decrease) by the liver

-triggers fat storage in the body

As a result of the poor food choices mentioned above, many of us have chronic blood sugar spikes leading to cells becoming "insulin resistant" over a period of time making the pancreas work harder and harder to secrete more insulin to FORCE the cells to accept more sugar. Meanwhile, your cells suffer from both low energy and too much sugar as insulin ensures that first the excess glucose is converted into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscle tissue and the rest (excess sugar) as fat. What used to be a life saving mechanism in the distant past when food was scarce and sugar consumption was negligible is now working against us due to our modern lifestyle and diet.

Once you are able to grasp this concept, it becomes that much easier to work WITH our bodies to lose the excess weight rather than AGAINST it. When we finally understand that our body has been only trying to protect us all this while and needs to be given the attention and support that it needs to lose the excess weight, we can start going beyond fad diets and exercises that may not be suiting our unique body types and circumstances.

There is no ONE right "diet"

I come across many people in my practice and elsewhere who are thoroughly confused about what to eat (and what to feed their children). I cannot really blame them given the often contradictory views that are shared on the same topic by different experts and nutritionists. For eg. there is much controversy regarding whether ghee and coconut oil is good OR bad for you; whether we should be on a low carb, high fat or all the other combinations possible in this space and many more. No wonder many people simply give up trying to even make sense of it all! 

Going into all the reasons why there is so much of controversy is beyond the scope of this article, but I will share a few things that are foundational to figuring out the approach that is RIGHT for you. Our individual weight loss journeys are and always will be unique to each of us and needs to happen from a place of strength rather than deprivation or at war with our own bodies and selves. Nourishing our bodies and mind depends on focussing on fresh, plant based foods, healthy proteins and fats which contributes to our optimal weight leading to long term and lasting changes. There is no "calorie counting" which is required.

Please keep in mind that sustainable and healthy weight loss 

is NOT about starvation or deprivation but actually about maintaining good gut health so that our microbiome supports our weight loss endeavour by moving from a fat and sugar processing machine to a fat burning one (read this article to learn more)

depends on addressing chronic underlying inflammation due to insulin resistance and other health conditions; inflammation can also be due to hidden food sensitivities which creates chronic inflammation and prevents our body from shedding excess weight

depends on eating consistently instead of restrictively (calorie wise), our bodies may get the message that food is scarce and become more efficient in extracting more calories in order to ensure our survival

depends on good quality sleep since lack of sleep can increase hunger and food intake primarily due to the effects of the hunger-regulating hormone ghrelin

is difficult when there are nutritional imbalances due to a calorie rich and nutrient poor diet; low nutrition status leads to suboptimal metabolism due to lack of nutrients 

is difficult when we are constantly bombarded by environmental toxins which act as "obesogens" like BPA, phtalates, PFOA and PFTE (found in non stick coating)

What else is holding you back?

There may also be some other more subtle reasons some people are unable to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable manner. You may find that these mental traps are true for you as well.

You are looking at ways to hasten and shorten the process without actually putting in the time and effort required. Infact, I remind my clients that this kind of goal is like a marathon and not a sprint and takes patience, hard work and is best viewed as a transformative process where you are no longer the person you used to be

You dislike or even hate the body that you have right now. Due to the constant bombarding of messages conveyed to us by our society, advertising and media about having the perfect shape, size, skin tone etc many of us struggle with low body image and self esteem

You are trying to lose weight for the wrong reasons. Do your reasons for losing weight align with your internal value system and things that are important to you in your life? If you are losing weight to simply fit into some clothes or to become a "perfect" body size, you may not be able to sustain the weight loss. But if you want to lose weight to finally be able to do what you really want in life as you become healthy and vibrant, it frees you to explore endless possibilities available to you. As a result, you are able to consistently put in the time and effort required to reach your health goals

At the end of the day, a happy and healthy weight is so much more than a mere number on your weighing machine. It is an indication of a body and mind that lives in harmony 

Here is some food for thought which can help you figure out your "WHY"

why is it important for YOU to lose weight?

what is the ONE or TWO main things that have held you back from losing weight before?

What is the FIRST step that you can take today to get you started on your own health journey?

 

I would love to hear from you!

Please make sure that you take out some time to REALLY think through these questions and write them down. Better yet, you can either share your thoughts in the comment section below or connect with me on my FB page "Nourish Heal Connect"  

Is your child’s immune system at risk? (Allergies, asthma and eczema- how it all comes together)

Reading Time: 6 minutes

There is an epidemic of chronic illnesses in the world right now and it is our children who are the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, health conditions like allergies, eczema and asthma have become only too common in our children today. In fact, the new "normal" for many children is chronic illness.

When our older child, our daughter, was diagnosed with eczema about 11 years ago, it was not very common in India. Sadly, a lot has changed since then and now it so much more common to hear of babies and children who have some kind of chronic health issue. Obviously, there is something going on here, something that is not right. As a parent of a child who had immense health issues, I know only too well the tremendous toll that any kind of chronic health issues of a child can have on the entire family. These include but are not limited to missed school for children, missed work and stress for parents, poor concentration in school and at home, chronic use of medications, hospitalisations and even social stigma. This is not the kind of life our children should be living and we need to educate ourselves so that we can become empowered to do something about it.

Contrary to what we think, genetics alone cannot explain this rise in childhood health illnesses. Genetics pretty much remains the same from one generation to the next (barring uncommon mutations) but the environment can and does have a huge impact on the expression of genes that we are born with. In fact, the foods that we eat, toxins that we are exposed to, infections and even our experiences alter the way our DNA is expressed and shape our appearance, function and overall health. That means that several factors (including but not limited to) like our environment, foods and our lifestyle are all factors that can determine epigenetic changes and determine whether we will move towards health or towards disease. This kind of change is a regular and natural occurrence and the study of this type of change in gene expression is known as "epigenetics". 

The health challenges that are being faced by our children today are driven by three major changes (there are others as well) due to which their immune system is showing abnormally high sensitivity to the environment

increase in exposure to toxins

undernutrition due to poor food choices as well as nutritionally depleted foods

poor gut health (with or without intestinal permeability)

(I have written about intestinal permeability and gut health in one of my earlier articles, you can read it here)  

Given this background, we can now appreciate the role of our immune system. The role of our immune system is primarily that of tolerance- surveillance for threats and then NOT react. Thus, most immune function in our body occurs without our knowledge. However, under fire due to the multiple forces at play, our immune system (and especially that of our children where the immune system is still developing) is increasingly overwrought and confused. This imbalance in the immune system along with the associated chronic underlying inflammation can show up as "symptoms".

Symptoms are a way of our body asking for "help". But only too often we either treat these symptoms as "irritants" (like fever, earache, runny nose, tummy ache and headache in children) to be medicated or otherwise as signs of "growing old" (like swollen or achy joints, migraines, skin rashes, fatigue, depression, digestive issues in adults). When we keep ignoring the body's distress communication, the symptoms ultimately manifest as "clinical diseases" like diabetes, asthma, autoimmune diseases and others. Ultimately, medication is not a long term solution to getting well, healing the root cause of any kind of imbalance is. 

The role of our gut in our immune system

Our gut plays a very important role as a part of our immune system. In fact, more than 2/3 of our entire immune system resides in our gut! The integrity of the gut mucosal lining is important for a balanced immune response and any damage can lead to various health challenges like protein deficiency, leaky gut/intestinal permeability and constipation. Also, a balanced gut microbiome helps to keep the immune balanced and not over-reactive (otherwise leading to allergy, asthma, arthritis and other autoimmune conditions). It is important to remember that whatever happens in the gut, affects the rest of the body. Not just as a nutrient deficiency but as inflammation! And as we know now, inflammation is at the root of many chronic conditions.

Intestinal permeability (leaky gut) can further develop in the gut aggravating the situation by triggering a strong immune response. This can be caused due to various factors like Vitamin D deficiency, antibiotics, gut microbial imbalance, gluten, stress, toxins, medications, stress and highly processed foods.

(Image source: Asian Scientist July 2014)

(I have written about intestinal permeability and gut health in one of my earlier articles, you can read it here)  

Allergies, asthma and eczema- how it all comes together

Key sources of inflammation like foods, toxins and intestinal permeability in our gut play a key role in the activation of allergies, asthma and eczema (and even other childhood diseases) but there can be other contributors as well such as

  • Birth by C section and not being breast fed
  • Low Vitamin D
  • Nutrient deficiencies (Zinc, Vitamin A, Omega 3)
  • Environmental toxin exposure and poor detoxification capability
  • High antibiotic use and other medications like NSAID (affecting gut lining integrity and the microbiome)
  • Family history

There is a loss of tolerance which shows up as an inflammatory response to a typically innocuous substance in the environment in case of allergies (food, pollen, chemical, medication etc). As a key part of the immune response, cells secrete chemicals which are either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.

However, if the response is chronic or inappropriate (which is true for many people today), this can lead to chronic inflammation which can then be harmful. In particular, food sensitivities are an immune system response to certain foods (like wheat, dairy, corn, soy and many others) which have become a common occurrence in children today due to this type of immune system dysregulation. 

 

Asthma is a chronic airway inflammatory disease and once again the root cause of this inflammation can be toxins, infections, allergens. This may be different from the asthmatic triggers like dust, smoke, certain foods. However, the underlying chronic inflammation can make the system more sensitive to these triggers and this factor has led to a steep rise in the incidence of asthma in children today.

Similarly, eczema is an external symptom of an internal problem of an immune system which has become hypersensitive to the environment. Once again, like asthma and allergies, eczema occurs when there is an imbalance in the body's immune system and it is actually a sign that the body is inflamed from within.

In ALL of these cases then, the solution is to figure out what's wrong and lower the inflammation and not just treat the symptoms. This is what healed my daughter's extremely severe eczema and got her off all her oral and topical medications (which she had been on for 5 long years). You can read about our story here.

True healing starts from within

As you probably realise by now, we need to work along with our body and give it the full support it needs in order to heal. For our children, finding out the root cause, eliminating the triggers (foods, allergens, toxins, infection)and lowering inflammation in order to calm and balance the immune system is the key to true healing.

Some key takeaways from this article are

beware the prevailing definitions of being "normal"

our immune system and our gut are intricately linked

our "symptoms" are our body's distress signal

childhood conditions like allergies, eczema and asthma are all external symptoms of an immune system imbalance

chronic inflammation lies at the root of these (and other) conditions

lowering inflammation and finding out the root cause is the KEY to this health challenge