Friday, 27 June 2014

Oil Pulling - Part 1 of My Journey into the World of the Coconut…

I've long been a fan of coconut oil, but how can swishing it around in your mouth produce the miraculous effects often claimed? Seriously, sounds like ‘swishful’ thinking to me. Or so I thought.
Oil pulling is something I had read about here and there over the years. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to give it a go. When I started I had no idea how it would work or what I should expect. Since then I have read a whole book on it (yes it is possible to write an entire book on the subject, who would have thought?) and have been trying it for three weeks now.
So welcome to the first part of my blog series on the amazing coconut. I’m going to share with you some of the things I’ve learnt about oil pulling, including my recent experiences. I'm so excited, not only to be spreading the word about the incredible coconut, but also to be using myself as an oil pulling guinea pig.

Oil pulling has long been reported to help an extensive list of conditions, from allergies, asthma, insomnia and chronic fatigue to life threatening illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and infectious diseases. But how? Well, apparently, it has to do with the billions of bacteria that live in our mouths, feeding off the sugar and carbohydrates that most people love to eat. We know that these bacteria cause dental decay, but what happens when they enter the blood stream from a cut or ulcerated mouth? Even simply brushing your teeth can cause your gums to bleed. If we had a cut on our arm we would be concerned about bacteria entering the wound. Why not our mouths?
The age-old Ayurvedic tradition of oil pulling removes bacteria, not with magic, but with science. A fatty membrane surrounds the microorganisms in our mouths. Whilst oil and water do not mix, two oils easily combine, which is what happens when we move oil around in our mouths. The more we swish and swirl, the more the oil attracts the bacteria, which we then spit out. With a reduced toxic load the body has a greater ability to heal itself.
One of the most fascinating things I’ve read recently is the story of Dr. Weston Price’s research. He conducted many studies in which infected teeth were extracted from a patient and implanted into a rabbit. In almost every case, the rabbits developed the same illnesses as the person from whom the teeth had been extracted. We are not just talking about minor complaints, but conditions such as kidney and heart problems, stomach ulcers, ovarian disease and more. Interestingly, no infections occurred when healthy teeth were put into the rabbits.
One of the first questions people ask is; which type of oil should I use? My blog’s title is a bit of a giveaway as to which oil I prefer, but in fact you can use any oil. I chose coconut oil because of its health benefits (much more info in blogs to come) and its mild taste (depending on which brand you buy). I recommend using a good organic, unrefined product (I like Loving Earth). Bare in mind that coconut oil is solid at cooler temperatures so if this is the case you either have to melt it in your mouth (not my preferred option unless you like gagging) or melt it first. I personally put some boiling water in a bowl and place a small glass (the size of a shot glass) into the bowl. Place 2-3 teaspoons of coconut oil in the glass and it will melt within a few minutes.
Once you have your oil, follow these simple instructions:
1. Put the oil in your mouth and swirl it in a similar fashion to mouthwash. Try to get into every nook and cranny, even sucking it through any spaces between your teeth.
2. The oil will combine with your saliva and turn white. If you feel at any stage you have too much in your mouth you can spit a bit out and continue with the remainder.
3. Move the oil around continuously for 15-20 minutes (just holding it in your mouth won't achieve anything). To start off, I struggled with 5 minutes (who knew how many muscles your mouth had?), but I built up to 20 minutes after a few days.
4. Spit the oil out into a rubbish bag when you've finished (if you put it down the sink it will eventually clog up your pipes). Do not swallow it! You are trying to get rid of the germs, not ingest them.
5. Rinse out your mouth and have a drink of water.
6. Repeat 1-3 times a day. The more severe your health issues are, the more often it is recommended that you oil pull. You may find a level above which you feel benefit and below which you don't. Oil pulling before meals when the bacterial population of your mouth is greatest is a good idea, but not mandatory.
7. I find it handy to write a diary with how often and long I oil pull, noting any effects (positive or negative), so I can see patterns and determine what works best for me.
I know that some of you might be a little skeptical and I know it sounds a bit weird. You might be thinking that it’s ok for others to do that sort of thing if they want, but you’ll stick to more mainstream treatments, thank you very much. For years I’ve had it in the back of my mind that oil pulling is some sort of strange ritual, although I hadn’t dismissed it completely. I just wasn’t ready to try it. But now I’m really glad I got past that point and gave it a go. I didn’t know what to expect, but I decided that I needed to do it properly to see if it worked. Here are a few pretty convincing things I’ve noticed.
The first thing was that my mouth felt really clean, not something I‘d expected. I’d thought it would feel oily. Then after the first few days I went through what I assumed was a ‘healing crisis’. My bowels were rather ‘overactive’ (to put it delicately), and without getting too graphic, let’s just say I feel that I had a good old detox. Whenever our body starts getting rid of harmful intruders it is common to feel worse before we feel better. It’s what happens when the immune system is freed up from some of its work defending us; it has more time to detoxify and heal.
You may find this a little challenging, as I did, but the good news is that after a couple of days I started to feel great. I had significantly more energy and I was sleeping better. Things that had been slowly improving seemed to rapidly improve, such as an inflammatory condition in my foot. Then one morning I woke up with a really throbbing headache. I hate taking medication, but I was seriously considering it. Instead I ‘oil pulled' for twenty minutes, after which time my headache was only very mild. A few days later I had another one that vanished completely after oil pulling. Then one day I felt slightly nauseous, which again disappeared after a bit of coconut oil swirling. At one point I got a bit lazy and only did it once a day. I realized that I wasn’t sleeping as well as I had been, so I reverted to oil pulling twice daily. After a couple of days my sleep improved again.
I am not saying that oil pulling is a miracle cure for everything. I also know that my experiences could all be coincidences. But it doesn’t feel that way to me and I plan to continue. I’ll let you know how I go. In the meantime why don’t you give it a try? What have you got to loose? Worst case scenario you’ll have a much cleaner and healthier mouth. Bare in mind that one five-minute session every second day won’t cure any lifelong condition you may have. If you’re serious about it, you need to do it consistently. Be aware that the longer you have had the health issue, the longer it will take to improve. And of course it won’t magically fix everything. Having said that, just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean oil pulling should be underestimated. There is a solid scientific rationale for its effects and I, for one, have felt its benefits.

For more information I suggest reading “Oil Pulling Therapy. Detoxifying and Healing the Body Through OralCleansing” by Dr. Bruce Fife. Alternatively look online at

May you be full of swishing coconut oil,


Thursday, 5 June 2014

Walk the Talk

People often mistakenly think that the way they live their life is not sufficient to make a difference. You may wonder why you bother doing your bit to help the environment when there are so many others more powerful than you ruining it. You might not see the point in buying free-range eggs or being a vegetarian or vegan when the majority of the population eat meat and animal products and don’t give a second thought to animal’s living conditions. Well I’m here to tell you that your actions do matter, and that it takes a multitude of individuals living their beliefs to make a difference. And you can be one of them.

So how did I get all fired up about this topic?  Well, I was recently in what I thought was a vegetarian restaurant. You couldn’t blame me for making that assumption by the way as the word ‘vegetarian’ was in the restaurant’s name.  Anyway, I asked the waitress what the V meant next to every single meal on the menu and was told that it stood for ‘vegan’. Confused, I asked why they didn’t advertise that they were vegan. I found the answer inspiring. Apparently one day a customer asked for a dish without egg and it set them to thinking that it wouldn't be such a leap for them to be totally vegan. So that’s exactly what they did. Because of one normal everyday person. Not a superstar, politician or otherwise famous person, just someone like you or I. Isn't it cool how one persons way of eating can set off a chain of events that affects others just by living your beliefs? Pretty awesome!

The next time you are eating out, don’t feel bad asking if their coffee is fair trade or their eggs are free range. Don’t feel guilty asking a restaurant to cater to your allergies, intolerances or moral beliefs. Every question you ask increases someone’s awareness. And who knows, your one visit could set them to thinking about positive change, or be the final comment that makes them act. You may unknowingly have made a difference just by being you.

Another thing to keep in mind is that in order to make a difference we need to walk our talk. People are often influenced by actions far more than words. Your voice is so much more influential when you are living your beliefs. To ask if a shop or restaurant has free-range eggs, for example, is great. But to then not buy them if they're not free range makes a statement that is even more powerful than words. It might not always be convenient, but remember, you have purchasing power. Where there is a need, it will be filled. It takes time, but all our individual actions add up, and can change the world for the better.

It is hard when we desire something that does not fit our belief pattern. It comes so naturally to choose the cheapest, tastiest or easiest option. But if you believe in health, the environment, animal rights or any other issue close to your heart, I strongly urge you to walk your talk and change the world. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Know that as consumers we have more power than governments to make real change happen. Committees, laws, or political negotiations do not hamper us. It’s as simple as the fact that where there is demand there will be products to cater for that demand. You can and do affect that, every day.

May you be full of beans and inspiration in knowing that even one person can make a difference,


Eating for a Healthy Mind

Eating is one of those universal things. Apart from keeping us alive, we celebrate with food, it reflects our culture, it provides us with comfort or a lift when the 3 o’clock blues hit, and it can be enormously enjoyable. But how does it influence our mood and our behaviour?

There are in fact so many neurons lining our gut that scientists have nicknamed it our second brain. New research is showing that this second brain, in combination with the brain in our heads, is involved with our moods and emotions. Anyone can benefit from a healthy diet, but those with autism, allergies and intolerances are particularly susceptible to poor food choices because more often than not they have an unhealthy gut to start with. 

So which foods are best to create a healthy mind? As with most things in life, and especially in relation to food, everything depends on individual needs. Putting aside (but not forgetting) your unique needs, I will attempt to provide you with some guidelines you may find useful. Firstly, eating sufficient amounts of protein is important. Most neurotransmitters are made from amino acids (the building blocks of protein in the foods we eat). Neurotransmitters act like chemical messengers in the brain, and among other things, affect mood, anxiety, sleep, learning, stress, aggression and fear. Also, protein helps balance blood sugar levels which directly affect mood and brain function. Those with autism, diabetes or impaired glucose function particularly benefit from keeping their blood sugar levels stable. Be aware that although there are plenty of fantastic vegetarian protein options, a lot more thought and planning is needed to meet your requirements this way than if you eat meat.

Good fats are especially vital for effective brain function, given that a large percentage of the brain is in fact made from fat. It’s highly inconvenient I know, but the sort of oil they use in most fast food outlets is in the “bad fat” category. The most crucial fats for the brain are called Omega 3. These fats affect the growth of new brain cells, gene expression in the brain and are a major structural component of the brain, influencing the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. Studies have shown the positive effect of omega 3 on mood disorders such as depression. They can be found in the highest amounts in fish (especially oily fish such as salmon). Smaller amounts can be found in marine algae, nuts and seeds (unheated flaxseed oil for example), grass-fed meat and free-range eggs (a natural diet of grass and insects is higher in omega 3 than the corn or soy they are likely fed in a cage or shed). Omega 3 supplements are traditionally available as oil or in a capsule (chewable and non-chewable). More recently though I have discovered one that even my fussy kids like. It’s called Barlean’s Omega Swirl. It has the taste and feel of a fruit smoothie without any of the usual off-putting fishiness or oily texture. Please do your research, as some brands do more rigorous testing for heavy metals than others. 

Eating fresh whole fruits and vegetables is a great way to get critical nutrients required for a whole host of processes throughout our brain and body. More specifically, studies have shown that diets rich in fruit and vegetables can reduce depression and mental distress. Whole foods, whether it is fruit and vegetables, or other foods such as grains, nuts and legumes, are almost always healthier than their refined counterparts. When foods are not whole, such as with white flour, white rice and sugar, we miss out on all the fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that nature intended. Refined foods also help feed the unhealthy bacteria in our guts, which are often out of control with our modern living. This is especially the case in autism, allergies, intolerances and other gut issues such as candida. Supplementing with probiotics (“good bacteria”) to fight the “bad guys” is often useful in these cases. Refined foods also tend to send blood sugar on a roller coaster ride, which can affect mood, unlike foods that release sugar into the bloodstream more slowly. Some people are more prone to blood sugar crashes than others, but most of us are affected to some degree. Ever experienced a mid-afternoon slump for example? 

Of course it’s not just what we eat, but what we avoid, that affects a person’s brain. You may be familiar with some of the autism diets available, the most popular of which is gluten-free and casein-free. The theory is that gluten (from wheat, rye, barely and contaminated oats) and casein (from dairy) can affect the brain like an opiate in susceptible individuals, acting like a drug and causing an addiction reaction. We removed gluten from our son Orlando’s diet at 18 months and the effects were incredible. He was a different child overnight. Apart from the enormous physical improvements in his development and strength, his mood improved dramatically. Because the proteins in gluten and dairy can be difficult to digest, those with already compromised digestive systems (such as many on the spectrum, with allergies, intolerances or IBS) can be especially inclined to react negatively. If you think specific food groups could be negatively affecting you or your child, I strongly recommend seeing a specialist health professional, such as a nutritionist, naturopath or dietician.  

Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the effects of food on a healthy mind. As Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”.

May your mind be happy, healthy and full of beans,


If it doesn't agree with you, it's not healthy

There are ideas in our society (often conflicting) about which foods are healthy. The one thing that not enough people consider is that we are all individuals. Just because the majority deems a food good for us does not intrinsically make it beneficial. An increasing number of people are becoming allergic or intolerant to a variety of foods, and for them these foods are detrimental to their health and well-being.

You may be correct in assuming that it is a better choice to eat organic or 'natural' food, but being either of these things doesn't necessarily make something good for you. Would greasy fast food be nutritious if it was made with organic ingredients? I hope I don't need to answer that! So if someone answered "But it's organic", this is the equivalent of someone saying to you "but it's healthy" when you decline a 'healthy' food that doesn't agree with you. It's just not logical.

When our son Orlando thrived on a gluten-free diet I had an array of well-educated and well-meaning health professionals concerned about the nutrients he was missing out on as a result of avoiding gluten. They wanted to reintroduce gluten for three months and then test him for coeliac disease in case I was unnecessarily depriving him of gluten. The fact that on gluten his growth rate had slowed dramatically (despite eating hugs amounts) and he was failing to develop sufficient muscle tone, had explosive bowels and a range of other extreme symptoms appeared to be secondary in importance. Is this really good science when labeling a child is more important than their development? With or without coeliac disease, gluten is detrimental to Orlando, full stop. It’s important to note though that because he’s untested we must treat him like he’s a coeliac in case he is (avoiding even tiny amounts of gluten in cross contamination etc.).

It can take some time to work out which foods, if any, don't suit your individual make up. When you do discover your bodies unique needs, you will soon realise that no health giving properties of a food outweigh the negative effects of a food that doesn't agree with you. Studies are conducted on groups, and demonstrate statistically significant results that may relate to most people, but rarely all. If your body tells you that something "healthy" is hurting you, don't eat it, no matter how many antioxidants or nutrients it contains or how wholesome it appears.

The result of an allergic or intolerant reaction can range from anaphylaxis and coeliac disease to skin rashes or gut issues. Obviously few people argue about the importance of avoiding allergens at the more serious end of the spectrum. It's those food sensitivities that cause what may be deemed merely annoying symptoms that are often ignored. In reality though even minor complaints can negatively affect our quality of life and our health.

Gut issues can cause pain, fatigue, problems digesting and absorbing nutrients and even impact us psychologically. Poor digestive health can also contribute to leaky gut and inflammation, and should be taken seriously. Other symptoms such as skin rashes, wheezing or fatigue might seem like something you can live with, but they're irritating, can affect your daily life, and are a signal from your body that it doesn't like what you're feeding it. Please listen to your body; it's super intelligent and has your best interests at heart!

May you be full of beans and wise enough to make food choices that suit your body’s individual needs,