The main priority for most people when embarking on a new health regime is to lose weight. Often this is based purely on aesthetic reasons and very little thought is given to the impact that being overweight can have on our health. The human body is a highly sophisticated system and being overweight has a cascade of ill effects from the way that you feel about yourself to playing host to a number of potentially fatal metabolic diseases.
The biochemical imbalances created by a poor diet not only impact on our weight but have further implications in our propensity for disease; the key message here is that if you lose the weight, especially the fat around your middle, then you will reverse the markers for many of the major chronic and fatal diseases of our time. Research indicates that the whole host of degenerative diseases can be linked to the prevalence of industrialised processed food (including seemingly innocent produce) in the modern diet. Refined foods, additives, trans-fats, sugar, unhealthy animals, monoculture cropping and genetic engineering, all play their part. Gluten, especially in modern wheat and other grains, can be shown to have extreme effects on the human body whilst even the gluten-free grains and pulses that rob us of vital nutrients are better left out of our diet.
By taking a holistic approach to your health, and making the necessary changes to your diet and lifestyle, there are a number of improvements that you can expect to see. We highlight some of the key benefits below.
Type II diabetes lies at the root of many modern degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, heart disease, and neurological disorders. Getting your blood sugar levels in balance and ensuring efficient insulin production is one of the greatest steps you can take towards increased health. On the increase, what used to be termed ‘adult onset diabetes’ is no longer allowed to be called that due to an increased prevalence in children and young people.
Metabolic syndrome is the term for a group of markers that often occur together and indicate increased likelihood of degenerative disease. They are; abdominal obesity (visceral fat), high blood pressure, elevated blood sugars, high levels of triglycerides in the blood and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Addressing any weight issues and following a diet low in toxins and high in nutrients can significantly decrease or even reverse these markers.
Next to insulin control, one of the most important factors in decreasing the risk of degenerative diseases is reducing inflammation. A natural immune response, inflammation is intended to fight off invaders. And that is exactly what it does. Problem is there are just far too many invaders so that every cell in the body becomes inflamed and even triggers allergic responses; doing all of this means that there is nothing in left for fighting off the rest of invading marauders. Inflammatory conditions such as asthma and joint pain are only the surface manifestations of inflammation; most goes on at the cellular level where you nothing about it. A healthy immune system is vital against inflammation, but the major culprit is the excess omega-6 in our bodies that comes from highly processed vegetable oils, practically all processed foods and intensively farmed meat and animal by-products. We discuss omega -6 further in our eBook Paleo: 12 Weeks to Change your Life.
A healthy immune system is vital for the body to be the amazing self-healing machine that it is designed to be. Reducing the toxic load (environmental, lifestyle, external and internal) is paramount as well as a daily dose of antioxidant and other life affirming micronutrients. Eliminating gluten is a major factor in reducing inflammation and boosting immunity.
Fatigue? What Fatigue
Although fatigue would probably be classed as a symptom rather than an illness, next to weight loss it is probably the number one reason that people choose to follow a Paleo lifestyle. For such a seemingly innocuous thing (what do you mean you’re just tired?) fatigue can be just a crippling as any illness, but without a tag to hang to it on and no remedy in sight. Underlying mechanisms of a body in despair will all show themselves as fatigue so the whole system needs attention but an influx of micronutrients on a daily basis will go a long way towards making you feel capable of living again. Dealing with any insulin issues and stabilising blood sugar will also stop the nightmare dips that accompany a carbohydrate based diet. Although food remains fuel, it becomes like one of those slow burning fires that never go out rather than a system that constantly requires refuelling; energy literally comes from within.
Tired and dehydrated skin, dark rims and bloodshot eyes, excess weight and poor posture do absolutely nothing for your appearance or your sense of wellbeing. With enough healthy fluid (water) and a diet rich in antioxidant, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, your skin plumps up, eyes and smile shine, and the excess weight literally melts away. Feeling good makes you look good. Looking good makes you feel even better; we believe it is what they call a self-perpetuating cycle.
Losing weight, looking good and feeling great is enough to make anyone smile, but there are other reasons for your better mood. Mood is largely regulated by your hormonal system and if you have ever burst into tears because you dropped your knife or broken into raucous laughter at a highly inappropriate moment then you know exactly what we mean. With your hormones in balance you can re-join the sane people of the world and feel far more in control. Not only does the influx of nutrients and improved metabolism keep your hormonal levels in check, but eliminating unknowns from your diet and beauty regime can help too; hormone disruptors are absolutely everywhere. Not having to face irritable hunger every few hours goes a long way too.
We all cope in different ways so when we say “appropriate” we mean “appropriate to you”. A body that is constantly flooded with stress hormones is the quickest path to ill health, but as we cannot remove most stressors we need to alter how we deal with them. Regulation of insulin and other hormones clears the way to seeing things in perspective, whilst a physically fit and healthy body is better equipped to deal with life in general. After that, techniques in stress management, regular relaxation, and putting a little more time into your own self development will help to create excellent coping strategies for whatever life throws at you. This is explored in depth in our eBooks Paleo: 12 Weeks to Change Your Life and Introduction to Yoga.
The power of good quality sleep has become a huge issue right now, with research, techniques and discussions at the forefront of practically every health movement. Poor quality sleep has the power to affect the functioning of your body in a myriad of ways; increased hunger and fat storage, hormonal disruption, chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, aging, memory loss and depression. By learning to tune in to your body’s needs and set everything back into sync you will learn to deal with stress and restore yourself with quality sleep every night.
The entire mainstream view of a healthy diet is based on outdated ideas from half a century ago concerned with keeping a heart healthy; namely that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat are responsible for heart disease. This has plausible links to the catastrophic picture of ill health, obesity, diabetes and heart disease that we see before us today, borne out by a low-fat, high-carb diet full of processed, often “healthy”, foods full of highly processed vegetable oils.
The majority of risk factors presented for heart disease can be prevented or reversed by dietary and lifestyle changes. As well as a diet devoid of the horrors described above, a good intake of heart healthy nutrients, including omega-3 fats from oily fish and monounsaturated fats from olive oil, avocado and some nuts, should help keep your heart healthy. On top of that you need to move more, sleep well and address any stress management issues that you may have.
The health of your digestive system does not necessarily manifest as digestive issues, although it can lead to problems with itching, wind, bloating, irregular stools and even abdominal pain. Up there with restoring insulin balance and reducing inflammation, addressing the overall health of your gut is a vital step along the path to health. A gut imbalance can manifest as depression, psoriasis or even heart disease. There are two factors involved in the health of your gut; bacterial levels (gut flora) and the integrity of the intestinal lining: problems in one often indicate issues with the other.
Your entire intestinal tract is home to millions of bacteria, mostly beneficial to health in some way or another, but eating a diet high in sugar, processed foods, refined carbs and dietary toxins such as gluten, can upset the delicate balance and cause the less than favourable bacteria to crowd out the beneficial strains. Taking medication, especially antibiotics, and chronic stress also contribute.
Inflammation and irritation of the gut lining can lead to increased permeability that lets large protein molecules and other unwanted substances pass through into the bloodstream. The body then recognises these particles as the intruders that they are and mounts an immune response. Health of the intestinal lining is essential to the health of your immune system.
In order to rebuild healthy gut flora and restore the delicate lining of the tract you need to learn to manage stress and avoid all sources of food toxins. Eating sweet potato (a fermentable fibre) is said to be good for restoration of the lining. Otherwise a good quality pro-biotic supplement should help.