Go with your gut!

I have become a bit obsessed with the amazing microbiome that is present in our gut. The billions of microorganisms that live inside us and have the potential to do so much good if we look after them.

A bowl of yogurt with blueberries and banana
Homemade yogurt with blueberries, granola and banana. (The seeds and the fertilisers in one bowl!)

Gut Microbes and Health.

More and more research shows that this microbiome is essential to our physical and mental health and many of the health problems facing those in industrialized economies could be solved by paying closer attention to what bugs are in your gut.

When your bug population get out of balance (dysbiosis) your whole body is in trouble.

The gut biome has been linked to

  • anxiety
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Synthesis of vitamins and amino acids in the gut
  • Digestion of “non-digestible” carbohydrates which therefore affects the amount of energy that is released from some foods
  • Protection from “bad” bacteria
  • Allergies
  • Irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
  • Eczema and asthma
  • Appetite regulation

 

Most studies of overweight and obese people show a dysbiosis characterised by a lower diversity[1].

Translation: Obese people have an imbalance of microorganisms with not enough variety present

It’s much better to have a good variety of microorganisms in your gut because:

The association between reduced diversity and disease indicates that a species-rich gut ecosystem is more robust against environmental influences, as functionally related microbes in an intact ecosystem can compensate for the function of other missing species. Consequently, diversity seems to be a generally good indicator of a “healthy gut.”[2]

Translation: Having lots of different species of bacteria makes your body better able to withstand challenges because what one bug can’t do another type can. They can cover all bases by working together.

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Beetroot soup! Full of fibre.

Fibre is the answer!

So how do you get a good mix of bugs in your gut? The key is consuming a goodly amount of dietary fibre and reducing the amounts of highly processed foods that we eat.

The idea is that we need to feed our gut bugs. Highly processed foods are easily digested and absorbed and don’t make it to the large intestine where most of the bug action is happening. By eating foods high in undigestable fibre, we give the bugs a meal as well.

How much is enough? Australia’s CSIRO[3]  recommend between 25 – 35 g per day. Having said that; too much fibre can reduce the diversity of your microbiome and if you suddenly change from a low fibre diet to a high fibre diet you can suffer from abdominal discomfort and flatulence. You should spread fibre consumption throughout the day and drink plenty of water to keep it moving through your intestines.

Types of fibre

There are different types of fibre which have different properties. The main types are insoluble, soluble and resistant starch.

  • Insoluble fibre found in whole grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds provides bulk and can help control blood sugar levels.
  • Soluble fibre found in legumes, veggies and fruits give the bugs something to eat so they stay happy
  • Resistant starch, which is found in cooked, cooled and reheated rice, potato and pasta, as well has whole grains, legumes and under ripe bananas. Resistant starch increases the amounts of butyrate in the gut. Butyrate, a byproduct of microbial metabolism,  is important in keeping the gut walls healthy as well as keeping bad bacteria at bay.
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Cooked and then cooled rice has increased levels of resistant starch. Another excellent reason to each sushi!

What are probiotics and prebiotics?

Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain living organisms such as yogurt and other fermented foods. Prebiotics on the other hand are foods that help the microorganisms in your body thrive.

A good analogy is that if you think of your gut as a garden, the probiotics are the seeds and the prebiotics the fertiliser.

Porridge with walnuts and banana
Porridge (aka oatmeal) with banana and walnuts. This bowl is full of healthy treats for your gut bugs!

Bug zappers!

Some chemicals and medications will damage your gut bugs.

Antibiotics kill bacteria. That’s their job, so they kill the bacteria in your gut too. You may need to take some extra special care of your gut bugs after antibiotics. There is some evidence that the appendix acts a reservoir for the microbiome and in time will help repopulate the gut with good bugs.

Emulsifiers are added to food to make oily and watery components stay mixed together. If you mix oil and vinegar together, they will after time, separate into layers unless you add an emulsifier. Some artificial emulsifiers have been linked to damaging the gut microbiome because they lead to a thinning of the mucous layer in the gut which in turn leads to leaky gut syndrome. This causes inflammation in many areas of the body. The answer? Prepare your own food from scratch as often as possible and avoid things your grandparents would not have considered as food. Be wary of foods with lots of numbers in the ingredient list and not many recognisable as food.

Omnivore vs vegan?

There does not seem to be much evidence that a well balanced omnivorous diet is any better or worse than a vegan diet. (see The BMJ article referred to below) Michael Mosley and others wholeheartedly recommend a “Mediterranean diet“. This type of diet is mostly plant based but does include meat, eggs, some dairy, healthy oils and nuts.

Further reading on gut microbes and health.

This post is only a very short summary of the growing volume of information available. Here are just a few of the articles you could read to if you want to know more.

Start with this comprehensive and easy to read article from the BMJ (British Medical Journal) Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health

These scholarly articles talk about the relationship between the gut microbiome and mental health and health in general.

The Gut Microbiome and Mental Health: Implications for Anxiety- and Trauma-Related Disorders.

Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis

The Gut Microbiome, Anxiety and Depression: 6 Steps to Take

Part 1: The Human Gut Microbiome in Health and Disease

Some good books are

Michael Mosley’s Clever Guts Diet.

The CSIRO Healthy Gut Diet.

 

[1] “Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health | The BMJ.” 13 Jun. 2018, https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2179. Accessed 24 Oct. 2018.

[2] “Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health | The BMJ.” 13 Jun. 2018, https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2179. Accessed 24 Oct. 2018.

[3] “The CSIRO healthy gut diet / Dr Tony Bird, Dr Michael Conlon and ….” http://nla.gov.au/anbd.bib-an63676915. Accessed 24 Oct. 2018. Page 25-26

 

60 for 60

I like to have challenges and goals in my life. Not crazy big scary ones but challenges that contribute to my physical and mental wellbeing. Things like no (added) sugar for a month, no alcohol for 100 days.

Past challenges have included:

200 new experiences: In 2010, I worked out it was 200 days till my 50th birthday. I was in a bit of a slump and decided to set myself a 200-day challenge. My daily goal was to do something new every day. I wrote a (now private) blog about my progress. The “new” things didn’t need to be big and could be as simple as trying a new recipe. Regardless, some days it was still a struggle, but it took me from a low ebb to riding the crest of a happiness wave as I toured France. You can read a bit more about this challenge here.

I am standing on the top deck of the Eiffel Tower
Celebrating my 50th at the top of the Eiffel Tower

No new things: From June 2017 – July 2018 (the Australian financial year) I challenged myself to buy no new things. There were rules and provisos if essential items wore out or broke down. I wrote about that in this blog post.

Capsule Wardrobe: I am currently trying to do a version of Project 333 (you can read about Project 333 here). I put together a capsule of around 40 items to wear to work for a period of 10 weeks. I have managed better than I thought I would and to date have not worn every piece I selected. I intend to do it again for another ten weeks from October to December.

Run faster: Another current goal is to cut my time for a 10 km run to below 55 minutes. My best time so far is 57:05. I hope to fulfill that goal before then end of November.

IMG_2938
Ta -da 10 km in 57:05 August 2018

Not satisfied with one challenge I am toying with the idea of a 60 before 60 challenge[1]. I’ll be 60 in 2021 and that’s about 32 months away. I am working on a list of 60 things to do before I turn 60. Unfortunately,  I don’t have access to unlimited time or money, so not all the “things” can cost money or involve travel. Each “thing” cannot be an epic adventure! I did think about putting winning the lottery on the list but that’s not a SMART goal or a smart idea!

Here’s my list so far – in no particular order of priority. It’s not sequential and I don’t have to do a particular number of tasks per month. Some activities could be bundled. So for instance I have included sell some of my photos and have a photographic exhibition. This could very well happen at the same time.  I am giving myself till the end of November to tweak it. After that I will print the ideas out on nice cards and move them from a to-do pile to a done pile.

  1. Make a will
  2. Pay extra off my current mortgage
  3. Sell some of my writing
  4. Earn at least $5000 through Old Chook Enterprises
  5. Sell some of my photos
  6. Hit at least 1000 followers on WordPress (help me out here guys!!)
  7. Hit at least 500 followers on Instagram (help needed here too!!) @robynlang3
  8. At least one overseas trip (Choose from Iceland or Scotland)
  9. Go on a another cruise (6 – 10 days)
  10. Learn enough Italian to have a short conversation
  11. Make a 15-minute documentary that gets some success (define success!)
  12. Finish the Buttons story (a sci-fi themed novella I am writing 4 our of 9 chapters done)
  13. Write a screenplay
  14. Finish the Anca story (another short story/novel idea. I published chapter 1 here
  15. Finish the family history story about Sarah Anne Usher
  16. Publish a blog post every week
  17. See an active volcano (I could do this in Iceland)
  18. Go more than 6 months without alcohol
  19. Do a woodworking course
  20. Meet someone very famous.
  21. Go to Broome, Western Australia.
  22. Spend the weekend in Melbourne for my birthday again (I went in 2013)

    Photo 18-05-13 13 30 28
    Melbourne’s Skyline from Brighton.
  23. Use frequent flyer points to upgrade an entire international flight to business class.
  24. Photograph the Milky Way
  25. Buy A Dymo Labeller ( I have ALWAYS wanted one!)
  26. Visit two of the four extremities of Australia (i.e. the most northern, southern or western points of mainland Australia. I have already been to Byron Bay the most eastern point so one down one to go)
  27. Paint the interior of my home
  28. Get new carpet/floor covering
  29. Set up a saving fund for my grandson
  30. Re-read and do the steps in the Side Hustle Book.
  31. Have a photographic exhibition which people actually come to!
  32. Go six months without added sugar
  33. Tidy my garage
  34. Road trip to Broken Hill, NSW
  35. Get a new job
  36. Fly in a hot air balloon
  37. Write up the interview I did with Tracey and sue about the Bibbulmun Track
  38. Go on a really long walk like the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia 
  39. Visit at least 15 more light houses in Australia. (I like lighthouses and want to see as many Australian ones as I can – there are more than 2000 so it might be a stretch to see them all!)

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    The Little Lighthouse – Wollongong
  40. Day in the life photography series for at least 4 people – follow 4 people in different occupations and photograph their day
  41. Do an extraordinary man series. An environmental portrait project.
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    I’d like to do more photography like this – environmental portraits.
  42. Make a soufflé
  43. Set up a worm farm
  44. Donate blood
  45. Do a big >2500 piece jigsaw puzzle
  46. Sell all my 2019 calendars (help me out here too!!)
  47. Publish a 2020 calendar
  48. Do another year of no new things in 2020.
  49. Stop dying my hair and embrace the grey!
  50. Get my first paid article published.
  51. Try being an AirBnB host
  52. Finish a short course in food photography
  53. Publish a cookbook of family favourites with my own photography

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    Dabbling in food photography
  54. Do a short online graphics design course
  55. Do some more light painting (October 2018)
  56. Pitch an article to a real magazine/publication (see point 49)
  57. Do an interview on radio/TV about something to do with Old Chook Enterprises
  58. Create a passwords spreadsheet
  59. Get a new phone
  60. Modify the design and remake the running belt you made. A lycra belt to wear while running that holds my phone/keys and tissues etc. I have already made one but it needs some modifications.
  61. Write a children’s picture book
  62. Win a writing competition
  63. Win a photography competition
  64. Enter some photos in the Royal Easter Show (a big fair in Sydney, Australia)
  65. Go on a writing retreat.
  66. Do another cheese making course
  67. Design some fabric to make some cushions for my home
  68. Have a 60th birthday celebration

There are more than 60 I know. I’d really like a list of around 80 so I can pick and choose based on time and budgetary issues. I also need to decide if I can add and subtract things from the list. What happens if I come up with a really good idea? I think I may have to have a one in – one out rule.

You never know, perhaps I will win the lottery and then all the other bucket list travel destinations can be added for one massive around the world extravaganza!

[1] This is based on Gretchen Rubin’s 18 for 2018 idea. See Her Happiness podcast.cropped-p1430465-612.jpg

On further reflection, I  think I have  exceeded my actual disposable income by about 400% with this list, it’s good to be ambitious but….. 🙂

 

PS: I usually post on Fridays but I am experimenting with Tuesdays to see if it makes a difference to my stats.

Is childhood anxiety on the rise?

A closeup shot of a leaf with dark and light green stripes

Childhood in the 1960s

Growing up in the 60s, I would describe my childhood as free range. By this I mean that while I was well cared for, I did not have much close supervision. This was not unusual for the times.  Provided we told our parents where we were going and what we were doing they just let us go and do it. We would stay outside all day, in all seasons. In wet weather, we would play inside and dress up our dolls and build whole new worlds.  We played under the house building mud pies in the dirt with little regard for the spiders that hung from the joists above our heads. We were happy and active.

I don’t remember our parents organising any of our activities. We worked it out for ourselves, although we had to ask for permission to watch TV or when we wanted a sleepover.

Water fall shot with a slow shutter.

We’d play on the street with all the neighbourhood kids. Someone would yell out “CAR” and we’d scamper aside and let the traffic pass and then continue with the game of cricket or soccer. Once again, I don’t remember any parents around to tell us to be careful or to watch out. There was a mix of ages from Will and Micky who were the oldest right down to pipsqueaks like me who were five years younger.

I obviously survived, although I did have a few near misses[1]. Once when my brother and I were playing at the beach and I got caught in a rip. Some fellow scooped me out of the surf and took me back to my mother who was sleeping on the sand. In her defence, we weren’t supposed to be swimming!

I remember slicing my foot from toe to heel on a  rusty water tank we were using as a slippery dip. The most vivid part of this memory being the bloody little foot prints I left on the road as I limped home.

In kindergarten, I was walking home from school on a rainy day splashing in puddles when I got stuck in a big open drain with the water rising around me. And the nearest miss, when I was at my best friend’s cousins’ place swimming in their pool and one of the older kids bombed me. I had to be dragged to the surface after someone realised I hadn’t come up yet.

A bee forages for pollen on a bright yellow aloe flower

Modern parents are more involved but at what price?

More recently, parents and carers are more involved in directing the activities of their children. Dance lessons, after school tutoring, training for sports, pre-organised play dates. All structured time. I guess this is mostly because many parents and particularly, mums, work away of home and scheduling is necessary. You can no longer pop next door and know that someone will be home.

Is adolescent anxiety on the rise?

If you ask me if anxiety and depression and other mental illnesses have increased in the 26 years years I have been teaching I would give an emphatic YES.   Is my perception backed by evidence?  I notice it more and more but is that because as a school leader, I am more involved in that aspect of schooling? Today alone I spoke to three families about their anxious and school-refusing children.  The quick research I did in preparation for this post, indicates my perception can not be supported evidence.

Some articles say there has been no increase in the prevalence of anxiety disorders, while others refer to an “epidemic” and crisis of mental health issues. The problem is that data collection relating to childhood anxiety has only started in the last 10 – 15 years. We don’t have a clear picture on the anxiety levels of past generations because it wasn’t measured or reported  so we cannot accurately compare. We simply don’t know. We have no good base line data. Anxiety levels might be higher or they could even be lower.

Round ball like seeds pods against a bright blue sky

 

While my hunch is not supported by hard evidence, I have first hand observational data – even if the sample size is very small –  that some kids, especially girls around 14 – 16 can not be separated from their phones. I have had girls crying and begging to be suspended from school rather than hand in their phone after using it inappropriately in class time. Their fear of losing that point of contact is palpable. They quiver and become faint.

Is there a link between the use of smart phones and the apparent increase in anxiety?

Probably?

Has the shift in care practices made a difference to childhood happiness and health?

Maybe…

The practices of 50 years ago may be seen as neglectful these days.  At school we often discuss helicopter parents – those who hover constantly over their children and the more notorious lawn mower parents who sweep ahead and mow down any obstacles in their children’s path. Of course, all parents want their children to be safe and not be hurt, teased or bullied but has the pendulum swung too far? Are today’s parents stopping their children learning valuable lessons and denying them opportunities to  be resilient and self reliant? Are they creating anxious kids by accident?

I think so.

The Australian Government report into childhood anxiety does state the following:

It might be tempting to blame increased screen time [for anxiety] and access to information via the internet that didn’t exist in previous generations….

The presence of screens is not necessarily something that’s going to create anxiety. Social media, unfortunately, is a huge factor. Particularly in primary school.[2]

Further, parents of anxious children can exacerbate the issue by protecting their children too much. When I am dealing with anxious kids I usually find an anxious parent not too far behind.

If a child is worried about going on a school camp, for example, it can be tempting for parents to accommodate their wishes….[and let them stay at home]

‘What keeps anxiety going is avoidance,’ … ‘If you stay away from situations you’re nervous about, the child will never learn that she can handle it, and that actually camp can be fun.[3]

Once again it would seem like the middle ground is the place to be. We have to keep children safe, but not so safe they are scared to stretch their wings.

More information on childhood anxiety

There are some good articles available on the topic if you’d care to read more.

This one about teens and social media from Harvard is an easy and informative read.

https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/12/social-media-and-teen-anxiety

For a very in-depth look at the situation in Australia – have a look at this 2015 Australian Government report. (You will need to click on the link that is on that page to download the PDF)

http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/mental-pubs-m-child2

And the Young Minds Matter website – in particular, have a look at the Snapshot of Findings Video.

https://youngmindsmatter.telethonkids.org.au/


 

The images are meant to be calming, natural scenes to help keep you rested!

[1] My mum will kill me when she reads this! Of course, it’s from my stand point and with my version of events! Artistic licence DLT!

[2] http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/childhood-anxiety-australia-report/7214886

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/childhood-anxiety-australia-report/7214886