Saturday, 27 April 2013

SALT and Other Food Issues

        When I was finally able to pin down my lack of energy to Adrenal Fatigue, I was surprised to find out that the book on the subject recommended salt for people who had low blood pressure. Of course, when you think about it makes sense that if salt brings up people's high blood pressure the opposite would also be true. However, the standard advice on food it's that everybody should stay as clear of salt as possible. And this is the fundamental problem with the advice we get on food: the idea that one rule fits all. The other big problem that I see is that there is no evidence whatsoever for a lot of the recommendations that are made. 
         Case in point: A few years ago I was having coffee with some acquaintances and I mentioned that the day before I had cooked a Nigel Slater recipe: cod fried in butter with lemon and mash. The two women I was talking to, who are roughly about 15 years older, looked at me with shock and horror and said -in a lamenting and snooty british accent (Think Violet in Downton Abbey): "Oh, but we haven't touched butter in years... " I looked at them and I didn't have the heart to reply with the thought that crossed my mind: "Well... it  looks like not having butter is not making any difference to your size..." 
        That was the beginning of my questioning any dietary advice given by "the food police" (like Nigel Slater calls them). What I couldn't get my head round was that: there they were, following all the "rules" of healthy eating and still being overweight and struggling to keep it down and there I was, paying not one bit of attention to any of those rules: eating what I liked and not exercising, and still being a dress size 6 (UK) (US size 2). It just didn't make any sense. Every single person I knew who was on a low-fat diet was overweight and every single thin person I knew didn't do low-fat . That couldn't be a coincidence. So, if what the medical profession was saying about low-fat food wasn't true, what else wasn't true? I started wondering about everything I knew about food and to investigate the matter further. In the end I came to the conclusion that most studies are flawed exactly for the reasons that Kitty explained in her comment on the previous post, that :
The complexity of controlling variables for nutrition studies must make it almost impossible to get good data."

So if studies are not a reliable source of information, what else do we have? Well, I my case, I have the history of my family. Let's start with my grandparents who lived to their mid 80s and my grandmothers, who died at 94 and 97 respectively. And here is the thing: in the village where my paternal parents are from, according to the dietary advice we get: they should all be dead. The amount of salt they put on their food is huge, well, put it this way: my aunt didn't just put a pinch of salt on the salad, she would chuck a whole fist full of salt. Their main meat was pork, which was preserved in olive oil in clay jars. Sometimes chicken and rabbit.  Occasionally lamb. Wild hare, partridge and quail while the hunting season lasted. No fish or seafood, or very rarely, since they are about 400 miles from the sea. They grew potatoes and vegetables. They ate white bread with everything. Deep fried everything. (My paternal grandmother didn't even own an oven). They didn't walk a lot: this village is so small, it takes just over 5 minutes to get to the furthest end. But there they were, unknowingly disobeying every rule of modern eating and defiantly living to their hundreds. As far as I know everyone from that generation living in the village died of old, not of disease or cancer or heart attacks. And except for one widow, everybody was thin. The next generation (my parents' generation) are not doing so great, but what's different? they all yo-yo diet.  They also all eat very fast. 
Now let's have a look at the other set of grandparents. Their diet was quite different. Where they lived was not right by the seaside but was close enough to have all sorts of fish and seafood available. They also lived in a area of green pastures so they had beef, milk and butter available. Lots of different types of cheese too. Stews with chorizo, pork belly, potatoes and collard greens. My maternal grandparents didn't stay in that village for the whole of their lives (unlike the other set, who did), they moved to a big city in their 40s. So for those who think that it was the quiet village life that made the difference... nope. This city is so noisy that people who are born in it have hearing damage by the time they get to their twenties, and the pace of life is so fast that when one of my cousins (on my father's side) visited for the first time (she must have been about 12) she asked me why people were running! They weren't running, they were walking, (similar to the NY pace) but to her, our walking was running. 
My parents diet is a combination of the two. My mother is a great believer of variety. They eat all types of fish and meats, plenty of vegetables, beans and pulses. Milk and yogurt. Lots of bread (my father will not eat a meal unless there's bread to go with it :P) Lots of fruit. Sounds healthy, doesn't it? Well,  let me tell you that they are both very overweight, even though they don't eat sweets or cakes or biscuits of any kind. On the other hand they are strong as oxen and are never ill (nor were my grandparents ever ill for that matter); well, my father gets a permanent cold every winter when he has the flu vaccine (he never had colds before) but that's a whole other story...

So quite frankly, my conclusion is that a lot of the issues that are blamed on food (such as hypertension, cholesterol, allergies, etc) have nothing to do with food. Weight gain is a lot more complex than the press makes it out to be. For most of history, lack of food was the main reason that people got ill and died before old age. My bet is that most of the medical conditions that are blamed on food are actually a result of emotional distress (subject for a whole other post really). 
Food does have a part to play in health, because what we eat becomes us, so to find good quality food it's important. The main thing is to have common sense. One rule does not fit all. People who live in cold countries need different food than people living in hot countries. I see people in the UK who diet during winter and  get continuous colds, and in the worse cases, chest infections and bronchitis. It makes sense to eat cooling foods -like cucumber- when the weather is hot, and soups and stews when it's cold outside. A lot of the time our bodies tell us what we need, if we listen carefully. If something doesn't taste good to you, it's probably not good for you. That goes for salt too. Your taste should tell you how much you need. Like Kitty, I don't like the taste of table salt, so I have sea salt.  (Jessie asked what salt extracted by traditional methods was. I found a video of traditional saltmaking in Hawaii, which is pretty much the same as the traditional methods in Europe.)

      While the press likes to go on about healthy foods and is continually praising the Mediterranean diet as the holy grail of health, the fact remains that most people have to make do with what's available where they live. Also, the Japanese and a number of other nations are just as healthy as people in Mediterranean countries, so I take the press' love affair with the Mediterranean diet with a pinch of salt (no pun intended). 
     In theory, if our diet is generally healthy we shouldn't need any extra supplements, but I have found that when I'm dealing with stressful situations, food doesn't seem to be enough. I'm not sure why this is. There is a line of thought in the UK that the soil is not as rich in minerals as it was decades ago. They say that to have the equivalent in the nutrition that a carrot had in the 1950s, you'd have to eat 7 carrots now. I have also read that some supermarkets irradiate fresh vegetables to give them a longer shelf life. I don't know if it's true, but I once had a bag of carrots in my fridge draw that was there for four months and still looked like I had bought it the day before whereas the carrots I buy from an organic supplier start shrinking within a couple of weeks if we don't eat them. So maybe there is something to it. Maybe if we're eating healthy, the food is enough to get us going in our daily routines (and to produce hair, skin and nails and all other regeneration and functions of the body that seem to be forgotten by the people who measure food just in terms of calories...) but not enough for when there is extra-stress. Maybe there aren't enough nutrients in modern food to be stored up as reserves. Obviously something has changed, because when you read what prisoners were surviving on in Nazi concentration camps while doing a whole day of physical work in the snow and still kept going, makes no sense at all that we have so much available food and yet, so many have no energy. 
(If anyone has any theories on why this is, I'd be very interested to hear them.) 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

On Supplements

In my previous post CS asked what supplements are most effective. So here is a list of the ones I have found made the most difference to me:

Vitamin C
Helps to counteract the effects of stress as is an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory (good for those of us who suffer with allergies)

Magnesium Citrate with B6
Calms the nervous system.

Vitamin D
You need it to be able to absorb the magnesium properly.

The book "Adrenal Fatigue" by James L. Wilson has this to say on Ashwagandha:
"Because of its anti-inflammatory action, Ayurvedic physicians use it as the treatment of choice in rheumatic pains, inflammation of joints and other related conditions that commonly seen in states of Adrenal fatigue.
Ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen. An adaptogen is any substance that helps the body function more towards its normal level, for example if cortisol is too high, it lowers it, and if it is too low, it raises it. Studies have shown Ashwagandha is capable of normalising cortisol levels whether they are too high or too low."

A lot of us seem to suffer with low blood pressure. Unrefined or salt obtained by traditional methods (I avoid commercial salt like the plague, it tastes awful), helps to bring up you blood pressure.  Also when we suffer with Adrenal Fatigue, we have too much potassium and not enough salt in our bodies; taking more salt helps to balance the levels.  

Some side notes:
There is a lot of debate on supplements as to whether they actually work or not. My take is that synthetic vitamins (which are the ones normally sold at health stores) don't work because the body doesn't recognise them. Finding natural vitamins takes quite a bit of work and research, and they are also more expensive than synthetic ones I'm afraid. This also goes for essential oils, I had used oils before and they did not have the same effect as the ones I'm using now, which I get from a therapist and not from a shop. 

Monday, 22 April 2013

Healing Tools 2: Essential Oils


"It was only in 1989, that scientists discovered the amygdala gland plays a major role in storing and releasing emotional trauma and therefore called the "seat of our emotions." The amygdala gland is the gatekeeper through which all sensory data to the brain are processed. The sensory data first goes to the amygdala gland where it is determined if this data needs to be sent to the adrenal glands first, for fight or flight, or on to the brain for further processing. It essentially processes knowledge about stimuli and situations that are of special importance to our survival. The amygdala is programmed to react without benefit of input from the thinking part of the brain. So, when we experience a traumatic situation, fear or any other unpleasant circumstances this is recorded in the amygdala first and then sent to rest of the body (i.e. adrenal glands or thinking brain) to be processed. Studies at New York Medical University proved this gland does not respond to sight, sound or touch but does respond through the sense of smell. Through our scents we now have a way to release stored emotional trauma in the amygdala gland and the rest of our body." (from )

Not long after I started blogging, I found an article that discussed the relationship between maternal neglect and lack of magnesium, which mentioned how blue chamomile essential oil  combined with magnesium and vitamin D helped to relieve anxiety. I tried the combination and it did work: I no longer feel the "hole" of not having a supportive mother. I can't quite tell you how it happened, all I know is that, gradually, the feeling disappeared. I think that's the thing with oils, they're very subtle but powerful at the same time. 
The link above has a fair amount of information. I have found the oils to be particularly useful when dealing with stressful situations. 

Friday, 19 April 2013

Don't Panic : A Guide For ACoNs

Most of the time when we have amygdala hijacks it's because of having to deal with situations that are triggering, and for which we don't have the tools to manage. Our body sends us a message to run because it doesn't know any other way to deal with them. Here are some tools I've learned over the course of the last year:

This I found on a forum on BDP, which is what I thought my mother had until I found NPD:;wap2

Do Not Justify
Do Not Argue
Do Not Defend
Do Not Explain Yourself
to a Narcissist or anyone with N tendencies, or anyone who attacks you, accuses you or tries to smear your reputation. Actually, come to think of it, let's add nosy and gossipy people to this list too. Oh, and trolls, cyber or otherwise.

3) SAY TO YOURSELF: "THEY CAN THINK WHAT THEY LIKE" * when you start taking care of yourself and you know that they won't approve. Let's face it, when we were killing ourselves to keep them happy, they still wouldn't approve of us, so what have you got to lose? 
This really works, it's like Narc "kryptonite". I now could not care less what my FOO think of me, or what my sister tells people about me. 

 *(credit to blogger CS from Caliban's Sisters for coming up with the concept)

4) Be Ready to Walk Away.
After we bought the car we have now, I was telling one of my friends, who is a salesman, that I hadn't liked the car salesman at all. He said to me: "ALWAYS be ready to walk away". Even though the advice was a bit late for the car,  I think it's applicable to people too if you want to maintain healthy boundaries.

5) Quickly Change The Subject when talking to jellyfish, that is, if you have to talk to them at all. I try to avoid them like the plague myself. (Jellyfish is the term that the character Bridget Jones uses to describe people who love making stinging comments. Blogger T Reddy @ In Bad Company brought this term to my attention, and it has been really handy.)

6) Respond, Don't React. Easier said than done, I'm afraid. So learn everything you can about the Art of the Response. There's a lot of books and articles which deal with the subject. Also check Kitty's post on Reactivity.

(This post is going to be a work in progress. If you have any more suggestions for the tool kit, let me know and I'll add them to the list.)

Friday, 5 April 2013

Name That Feeling: the Amygdala Hijack

Part of growing up in a Nfamily is that you have no idea of what the names are for how you feel. It's been one of the hardest things about blogging, because when I would sit down to write a post a lot of the time I would really struggle to explain the feelings that I had in connection with the event, because I didn't have the words to describe the feeling. Writing things down, reading other people's posts, helps a lot in identifying what's what.

Saying that, the concept of the "Amygdala Hijack" is one that I did manage to find "pre-blogging", though not before I had experience it, and I really wished I had known what it was before it happened to me because it was very distressing. When my sister started going out with BIL2 and I started to realise that he was like a timesx10 worse version of BIL1, my whole body went into emergency mode. It was like I had lots of loud air raid sirens inside my head that wouldn't stop. All the cells in my body were jumping up and down and I felt like my body just wanted to run. And all of this was happening without me having a say in the matter at all. It was like the body had a will of its own which was commanded by somebody other than me and there was not talking it out of it. This went on for some time; in the end, I decided to use the energy to de-clutter the house. You might as well, hey... (The thought of going for a run also crossed my mind, but I didn't have anybody to go with and the park near my house joins an isolated forest. Probably not the best place to go running on your own.

About a month later I was in the library and I saw a book called "Anxiety, Phobias and Panic" by R. Z. Peurifoy. I thought it might be helpful with the sleeping issue so I borrowed it, and what do you know? In the first lesson of the book there is a clear explanation of what was happening to me:

"When you experience something fearful or unpleasant, a memory of this is stored in the amygdala. When you encounter this object or situation again, an immediate fear response is triggered. This fear response causes you to experience anxiety and triggers the fight or flight response."

It was like my brain had taken one look at future BIL2 and remembered the 10 years of grief we'd had with BIL1 and said: "Not this again. ABSOLUTELY NOT. I'm getting you out of here."

The book goes on to say:

 "The amygdala is designed to overreact to possible signs of danger. For example, a person living where there are poisonous snakes quickly learn to associate snakes with danger. The amygdala will then trigger the fight or flight response whenever anything that might be a snake is perceived. After all, if you are walking in the woods, it is better to mistake a stick for a snake than a snake for a stick. This all occurs very quickly at a unconscious level. This circuitry allows you to react very quickly to danger without the need to consciously think about what is occurring. Unfortunately events and objects that pose no threat can become associated with danger and trigger a fear response when you encounter them. " 
I'm not sure that I agree with the "overreact" claim. If, like other researchers have claimed "“...the architecture of the brain gives the amygdala a privileged position as the emotional sentinel, able to hijack the brain.” or, in other words, the amygdala is our internal "body guard" surely the reaction is there for a reason.  I strongly believe that if the alarm is there, is there for a reason, I think the brain is pretty good at telling the difference between "a stick and a snake", so you should never, ever, ignore it. To ignore would be tantamount of hearing a fire alarm in the house and turning the sound while ignoring the fire. Sure, I can understand that for people with issues like agoraphobia this might not be the case, but my gut feeling is that the brain tries to protect us when he knows that we are in danger and we don't have the skills to protect ourselves in that situation. Because presumably if we had those skills the brain would not identify the situation as danger in the first place. I have recently experienced this myself. Over the last few years I wasn't able to stop myself from going into a panic every time I heard the phone ring and it might be someone from my FOO. When we changed the phone to one that had no answering machine (so that I didn't have to come home to ominous messages :P), there were days were I could not answer it. Over the last month I have been picking it up more often, mainly because I have been practicing ways of standing up to my mother, and how not to get "embroiled" into "maze" conversations with my brother (another subject worth its own post). Since I feel more able to handle the conversations with them, when the phone rings I don't seem to go into the same mad panic anymore. Now that my brain feels more confident to face whatever phone calls I might get, it doesn't need to sound the alarm. It's like that scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" where Indiana Jones has to face a skilful swordsman and you think: Oh no! What's he going to do now? (Watch what happens...)

Well, he doesn't even batter an eyelid, does he? I love the expression of "I really don't have time for this..." in his face as he picks up the gun and shoots the guy. Not that I'm suggesting we shoot narcs to get them out of the way... but you get the idea. It's about finding that figurative gun so that we can deal with whatever comes up.
However, while we pick up the skills to face "danger", we do need some tools to cope with the "flight" mode, because flight mode interferes with the thinking process which is what will eventually help us to find the gun. It's a catch 22: while we are on emergency mode, our brain can't think up any solutions: it's too busy trying to get you out of there to think with clarity. More on that on the next post. 

Monday, 1 April 2013

Cultural Views on Shyness

The discussion about being shy and reserved that came up on the previous post got me thinking about the views that different countries have on it. Well, the ones I have had experience of. So here is what I know:

Let's start with Spain. Generally speaking, in Spain being shy is not an option. It is simply not allowed. From the moment you start to speak, you will be expected to do so. Any shyness whatsoever will be "ironed out" of you by the constant repetition of this phrase: "What's the matter? Did the cat ate your tongue?" I would probably be quiet and reserved had this not been the case. Most people think of me as being very outgoing and confident with people, and it's true: I can hold my own in any type of conversation. What they don't realise is that this doesn't come naturally to me, it is a skill that I had to learn because I had no other choice. 
Being reserved, while not quite so frowned upon, it's not very common at all. Except for a part of Spain called Galicia - where being reserved is the norm. There's even a name for it: retranca. Basically a Galician person never lets on on what they're really thinking, and it is not because they're shy, it is because they don't want to tell you. As if life was a constant game of poker. The owner of the clothes chain ZARA is Galician, and according to the "grapevine" until 1999 no photograph of him had ever been published; "he has only granted interviews to three journalists ever" (source: Bloomberg). Another well-known Galician was dictator Franco. I have read that he used to drive his cabinet ministers up the wall with his retranca. Even Hitler found him so hard to deal with that after their meeting in Hendaye to negotiate agreements on Spain entering the war on the side of the Axis, Hitler remarked: "I rather have teeth pulled out than go through that again". Hitler was well-known for his "cleverness in adapting himself to the people he dealt with, his extraordinary tenacity for discussion and his endless capacity for argument." * Well,  looks like all that wasn't enough to overcome Franco's retranca. 

My experience with the Italians and the French I have met is that their views on shyness and reserve are very similar to the Spanish. Not shy, not reserved (though I'm sure that there are also regional variations on this as well). The Portuguese I have met are not shy, but are reserved though perhaps not quite in the "determined" way of the Galicians.  
The Finns are very shy though not necessarily reserved. Unlike the English, they look upon their shyness as a sort of handicap and wish they weren't shy. They even make jokes about their shyness:

"How do you know if a Finn is an extrovert? 
Because he looks down at both his feet."

The English are both shy and reserved. Coming from a country where this was not the norm, at first I really struggled to understand their mentality. Bear in mind that at the time I was living in a very small village in the West Country. Then I read "Pride and Prejudice". (This was before the BBC did the famous series with Colin Firth, so I have no idea how on earth I came across the book. I had never heard of Jane Austen until I came over, but she was literally a "sanity saver". ) Suddenly everything made sense: these people were still interacting as if they were in the 1700s. Over a year later I moved to London. Londoners aren't quite as shy and reserved as the people in the West Country, but are not far off. Except for Cockneys that is. Cockneys are the complete opposite of the English stereotype: they are loud and jolly and not shy or reserved at all. They talk a lot and very fast. Think of the differences between Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady. It is a pretty accurate portrait of both types.

I have met some other European nationalities but not enough of them to report on their general views. The varied attitudes makes me wonder where the differences originated from. There is always a story behind as to why people have passed those traditions for generations...

* ( )