And what advice would you give to someone who is interested in living a healthier lifestyle?
In keeping with the above, I would focus on the lifestyle tweaks that can lower your inflammation. Here are my top five:
Eat a healthy diet: This takes work, but it’s worth it. Eat whole foods and cook from fresh ingredients. Try to avoid processed foods with long ingredient lists. Don’t overeat – just make smaller portion sizes, or try using smaller plates! Ideally, follow a mostly plant-based diet with lots of fibre and healthy fats like olive oil and fish. Fibre feeds your microbiome, which turns them into anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting short-chain fatty acids; olive oil and omega-3 fats from fish are also super-anti-inflammatory. The easiest, tastiest way that I know of to achieve this: The Mediterranean diet!
Don’t eat or snack late in the evening: This gives your body time to reset, clear the gut, and switch to “repair mode” at nighttime. Any time that your body is fasting – and that includes short-term, intermittent fasting between dinner and breakfast – your body slows down the release of inflammatory immune cells called “monocytes”. Victor and I immediately notice how, if we eat or snack after 9pm, our allergy and eczema symptoms flare up overnight and are worse the next morning. The more carb-y or sugary the snack, the worse the inflammation!
Go to bed early and get enough sleep: This is a big one for us – in our family, if anybody doesn’t get enough sleep, we’re dealing with a gremlin the next day. For Victor and me, “not enough” typically means less than 7 ½ hours a night. We get cranky, moody, and our allergies and skin flare up. We need 8 hours to feel properly rested and recharged. If you think that you can get by on much less than that: Are you sure? Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep” shows that pretty much everyone’s cognitive performance and immune function declines dramatically if they permanently survive on less than 7 ½ hours sleep per night.
Replace scented cleaners & cosmetics with more “natural” options: Raid your cleaning cabinet and your cosmetics drawer, and toss out anything that’s heavily scented or can be sprayed. The worst are spray cleaners and “air fresheners” – a funny name for something which gives 20 percent of the US population headaches and breathing difficulties! These two are the worst for causing “indoor air pollution” that irritates your lungs and causes airway inflammation.
Products that are heavily scented almost always contain hormone-disrupting phthalates that have been found to cause allergies, asthma, and worse. Most supermarkets and drugstores now stock a range of “natural” cleaning products and cosmetics. As a rule of thumb, choosing those products over the “regular” ones should be an improvement for your wellness and health.
Lastly, you’d be surprised at how many cleaning and personal care products you can make at home using super-cheap, non-toxic, everyday ingredients. With a bit of googling, you can find simple recipes for homemade cleaners, body lotions and scrubs, or hair styling products. I forced my husband to swap his hairspray for a homemade beeswax + coconut oil putty. He actually loves it: It works better, smells better, and is much cheaper.
Get out into nature & get dirty: It’s not a secret that being out in nature reduces stress and boosts your mood. Also, your body turns sunlight into Vitamin D, which is crucial for your immune system and feeds your microbiome. Speaking of which: Exposure to the friendly bacteria that live on plants, on pollen, in soil, and in the fresh forest air also increase your microbiome diversity and make you less prone to allergies.
Last question: Are you planning to continue your nutrition studies?
Yes! I’ve enrolled at IINH again, with the goal of finishing the Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and then moving into a field of research. Long-term, I hope to be in a position of advising governments on food & nutrition policy. I feel that if some things – like taxes on certain foods or farming incentives – are changed from the top down and supported by government policy, it can make living a healthy lifestyle easier for all families!