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Health Coach

Does Biotin Work? Or is it a Scam?

I’m sure that you’ll have noticed that biotin is rife within products that purport to support hair growth, but does biotin work? It’s also known as Vitamin B7 and is a water soluble vitamin that isn’t stored in the body. It’s main role is the activation of enzymes called carboxylases. The majority of people obtain enough biotin from their diet, plus your gut microbiota also makes it. The RDA for biotin is 30 mcg daily. Most people in developed countries consume 35 mcg to 75 mcg per day plus an additional amount is manufactured in the gut.

How does biotin work?

Biotin is associated with hair growth as it’s fundamental to producing keratin which is the protein that comprises the majority of the hair shaft.

Good food sources of biotin include: beef liver, cooked whole egg, salmon, pork chop, roasted sunflower seeds, sweet potato, roasted almonds.

Supplement for hair growth

So why is biotin always included in hair supplements? The unlikely but not unsurprising answer is Marketing. It’s as if supplement companies are adding 2+2 and reaching 5 rather than 4. However they don’t let that stop them as that would have a negative impact on sales.

While there are a small minority of people who have a deficiency of biotinidase (that’s the enzyme that helps to recycle biotin to enable it to be reused by the body). The deficiency occurs when this enzyme isn’t working properly. Biotinidase deficiency (BTD) is caused by genetic mutations in the BTD gene. Other health problems caused by BTD include: seizures, developmental delays, problems controlling movement and with vision and hearing. It can also have an impact on skin (eczema) and  hair (alopecia).

Rare Disease

While BTD is a rare disease it can be treated with supplemental biotin. Interestingly there are two categories of BTD: profound and partial. Those in the profound group tend to have more severe symptoms earlier in life. It’s estimated that 1 in 60,000 people are impacted by BTD. This small group of people are the ones who would benefit from a biotin supplement and will need that supplement for life.

In the US newborns are screened for BTD, although it’s always worth double-checking the exact procedure in your state. For example my children were born in New York and Connecticut and were tested at birth for this and many other genetic disorders. The UK elects not to screen for BTD due to cost and the low incidence rate. Here’s a link for some more information:  https://bimdg.org.uk/site/about.asp

You might be thinking that this woman’s just a Functional Health Coach what does she know? Fair point! Clearly I’m not a medical professional or scientist. I help people to change their daily behaviours to improve their health. However I’m incredibly passionate about regrowing hair as I know the impact that this can have on all of the other areas of your life. I find that people suffering from hair loss can easily fall victim to sales scams for shampoos or supplements.

Medical literature

Let’s take a look at the medical studies. A 2017 review of eighteen biotin studies showed that biotin supplementation did improve hair growth! https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5582478/ Wait, what? Let’s take a deeper look… Fourteen of those studies were on patients with an underlying genetic condition (like BTD), so yes given what we already know we’d expect their hair growth to improve. The remaining four studies were focused on low biotin levels and brittle nails, i.e these subjects were not presenting with hair loss. All eighteen studies were on babies and young children.

More recently in 2020 a study on biotin deficiency and telogen effluvium found that biotin levels were optimal for all 80 subjects (20 of whom were the control group with no hair loss). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7159307/ The group had equal representation of men and women and concluded that there were no statistical differences between biotin levels and people with telogen effluvium and the control group.

Who’s at risk of biotin deficiency?

That said, certain groups of people are more likely to suffer from a deficiency. For example, risk factors include chronic alcoholism, chronic antibiotic use, gastrointestinal issues (impairing absorption) and Accutane use. In the US up to half of all pregnant women might be suffering from a mild biotin deficiency which has the potential to contribute to birth defects.

One other thing to watch out for is raw eggs. There’s a protein in raw egg whites called avidin which binds biotin. Eating large amounts of raw egg whites will significantly increase your risk of biotin deficiency. Cooking the egg whites decreases the amount of avidin although some will remain.

Negative impact

Finally biotin supplementation can have a negative impact on your health. While there’s not a known toxic amount it can create false test results for thyroid screening. Just because it’s possible to buy a product over the counter with no prescription doesn’t mean that it’s safe, even a 10mg dose is enough to create a misdiagnosis. Given the intense marketing efforts by supplementation companies and the ubiquitous appearance of biotin, it’s easy to see why vulnerable consumers are being conned. Don’t even get me started on biotin shampoos!!!

So does biotin work?

To conclude from the information available, I’d say it works for specific cases where there’s an actual deficiency which could have multiple underlying causes. In my experience of working with clients biotin hasn’t been part of the solution. After all, how simple would that be?

If you’re ready to address your health and make changes to improve it in a scam free setting then let’s talk. https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/work-with-me

How to manage an autoimmune flare

What can you do when you’re in the middle of an autoimmune flare? Depending on the AI disease(s) that you’re managing this could appear in many different ways. For example it could mean a recurrence of hair loss for alopecia, or fatigue and brain fog for Hashimoto’s.

These are steps that I’d recommend taking to manage an autoimmune flare:

Time

Look at your To-do list or schedule for the next few days, what can you drop or move to next week?

Sleep

Prioritise sleep. This means maintaining good sleep hygiene, for example, make sure that you get outside (the earlier the better to support your circadian rhythm), avoid blue light in the evening and keep your bedroom cool and dark.

Food

Prioritise nutrient dense whole food. This isn’t the time to think that you feel like rubbish so might as well attack the chocolate, crisps and booze as it can’t do any more harm as you already feel terrible.

Instead focus on meat/chicken stock rather than the longer cooked bone broth, healthy snacks like nuts and seeds, and foods containing healthy fats (particularly omega 3s). Here’s a link to some nutrient dense, gut supporting foods. https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/foods-to-regrow-your-hair/

Have a think about what food you really want to eat right now and follow that instinct with the aim of healthing it up if it’s not already healthy. For example, if you really want to eat chicken wings, then eat chicken wings but have them baked rather than fried. I love this recipe from Dr Anna Cabeca. https://drannacabeca.com/blogs/recipes/chicken-wings-with-buffalo-sauce

Maintain hydration by drinking warm water rather than cold or hot.

Self-care

Be kind to yourself! Don’t beat yourself up for the things that you’re not able to do. Trust me, I know it’s frustrating but being annoyed with yourself isn’t going to help.

Have a bath, add a cup of Epsom salts. The magnesium in the salts is absorbed via your skin and supports over 300 of your body’s biochemical reactions.

Try some gentle exercise. It could be a walk, it could be some yin yoga. This is not the time for HIIT or pushing your heart rate up with a run.

Meditate

Meditate, just 10 minutes a day will make a difference. Use an app with a guided meditation to help you, or if you’re a seasoned meditator make sure that you continue to carve out the time for yourself.

Medications

Check your medications with your doctor, are they still at the right dose? The same thing goes with your supplements are you up-to-date and taking what you need to?

Find joy

What would you love to do? What can you schedule for yourself that will put a great big smile on your face? Whatever it is, plan to do it over the next few days.

Even if you’re in the middle of an autoimmune flare there’s always something that you can do to help yourself. If you’re looking for more support you can book time in my calendar here: https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min

Which foods can help to regrow your hair?

If you’re interested in which foods can help to regrow your hair, you’re in luck! It’s the New Year and we’re all keen (I think…) to improve our eating habits after the last few months.  In the UK walking around a supermarket from September onwards is literally a battle of temptation and nostalgia for Christmas eating. We’ve emerged on the other side only to be met by creme eggs, but they can be safely ignored until April this year.

Not ready for AIP or Paleo?

While you might be happy to plunge full-on into the AIP diet or a Paleo reset, equally you might not. If you’re in the latter category but also want to ramp up your healthy eating a little these are the foods that will support hair growth. They’re in no particular order, and you should aim to consume foods from a couple of different categories daily:

Fats: Avocado, MCT oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Flaxseed oil and Coconut oil.

Protein: Fatty fish rich in omega 3 like wild salmon, mackerel and sardines, chicken liver, calf’s liver.

Vegetables (starchy): Sweet potatoes, beetroot and parsnips

Vegetables (non-starchy): Cruciferous veg like broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy. Spinach, asparagus, onions, organic seaweed.

Fruits: Berries, Cherries, Pomegranates and apples.

Grains: Gluten free grains only!

Nuts and seeds: Flaxseeds, Walnuts and chia seeds.

Herbs and spices: Basil, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, ginger, oregano, parsley, rosemary, turmeric and sage.

Full disclosure: I’m not a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist, I’m a Functional Health Coach who has had success with these foods in regrowing hair!

With this quick post on which foods can help to regrow your hair I’m trying to keep it simple and give you a steer towards foods which will support hair growth once you’ve ruled out any intolerances that you may have and have started to improve your gut health. I haven’t even mentioned bone broth… which is brilliant as long as it doesn’t trigger a histamine response. This is a great article on that very topic: https://chriskresser.com/could-your-histamine-intolerance-really-be-mast-cell-activation-disorder/?fbclid=IwAR1xoK18j19vpjaMFjCkGI280zqfT0NPdNrK5jsAW2nX6bVDo9JVHEouLew

If you’d like to find out if I can help you, book some time in my calendar. https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min

Trying the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP diet)

Before we embarked on the AIP diet I considered that my family’s lifestyle was pretty healthy. We don’t eat takeaways (okay, we’ll have fish and chips every three or four months), we don’t eat fast food, we don’t eat out in pubs or restaurants often. We are all involved in team sports and go to the gym. I started making my own baked goods when the children were small because it was easier to bake than bundle up three kids into the car, drive and navigate a shop with them. I’ve baked sourdough bread for the last decade, switching to gluten free in 2014. If we have pizza it’s homemade. As a family we cook from scratch 90% of the time, and all of the kids who are now teenagers can cook.

Prescription: AIP diet

So when a Functional Medicine doctor prescribed the AIP for my son to address his alopecia I thought that it sounded interesting and was keen to try it. In fact, we started the very next day. There was none of this phased approach, we dived straight in. It seemed to make sense for the whole family to go on the diet as three out of the five of us were dealing with autoimmune conditions, and I figured that it would be easier to cook one meal for everyone than multiple meals for the two without AI conditions.

My supermarket shopping reduced dramatically as when you’re only buying meat, fish, veg and fruit there are literally two aisles in the whole shop which are of interest. I became a label reading expert. Why, oh why do food makers take a perfectly healthy food like organic olives, and then add industrially processed sunflower seed oil? Oh, cost, that’s why. I found some great dairy free milks that weren’t full of thickeners and gums. But probably the most interesting part was getting pushed out of my comfort zone to try foods that I’d not eaten much before like plantain and cassava flour.

Will it fix everything?

I know that many people hold out the AIP diet as a panacea to fix any AI issue, but that wasn’t my experience. I found the constant shopping, prepping, cooking and cleaning up to be really time-consuming and tedious. It was also expensive. My shopping habits changed… before AIP I’d visit the same one or two supermarkets each week, I started to visit my local butcher and greengrocer each week. I’d also have an organic veg box delivered. I’d buy fish from the market on the weekend. Plus trekking down to the local ethnic store… Like I say it was time-consuming.

I used the Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook as the basis for our meals. It was fine. Some dishes were better than others! We were trying the diet in the Summer so lots of the soups and stews just weren’t appealing. It was very easy to keep making the same dishes. I reached the point where I couldn’t even look at another sweet potato. Our experiment was further compromised by a trip to France which coincided with our final week on the elimination diet. We were self-catering but our food bill went through the roof. The kids were not enjoying the food at all and couldn’t wait to start the re-introductions.

Reintroductions

After a month we started to reintroduce the foods that we’d been excluding. It’s really funny how much you miss different things, for example eggs. I never thought that I had such a close relationship with eggs until they went away. So what happened to our various AI diseases? Well it was only a month after all… there was no improvement to my daughter’s ulcerative colitis, my Hashimoto’s felt the same and with regards to alopecia Harrison didn’t lose his eyebrows during that month. So that’s sort of a positive, but as we reintroduced foods (still avoiding gluten and dairy), his eyebrows did slowly fall out too.

Recommend it?

Would I recommend trying the AIP to people with AI diseases? Yes, but… only if you have a LOT of time to invest. I found that the stress of the experience likely mitigated any positive effects. I found that I was having to think about food all of the time which I didn’t enjoy. (It reminded me of when I lived in a converted garage in the South of France with no kitchen – I lasted just over a week before moving). Plus my kids were complaining about being hungry, and they weren’t enjoying the food flavours. Every time we sat down to eat someone would be unhappy, it didn’t make for a relaxing eating experience. AIP just felt too extreme and I feel that it would be extremely triggering to anyone who has a less than great relationship with food already. If you’re just cooking for one person and enjoy meal planning and batch cooking then it’s probably worth a try.

My kids and I fondly remember those plantain waffles, to be honest I should maybe try those again. They had a unique flavour (in a good way!) When I hear about people who eat this way long-term it sets off alarm bells because it’s so limiting. The whole point is to start making reintroductions to see what you’re able to tolerate. There’s a danger that the diet starts to define people and it’s quite easy to fall down a rabbit hole with it. If you’re trying it as an elimination protocol I’d start with 30 days and if you feel good after those 30 days then start the reintroductions. If your autoimmune symptoms are still apparent you could perhaps extend an additional month and then check in and perhaps start reintroductions at that point.

Do you need a coach for the AIP diet?

In my experience I’ve found that adopting a paleo template to eating is much less extreme and gives comparable benefits. I also found it considerably less stressful than AIP. I’ve written about it here https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/thirty-day-paleo-reset/ If you’re looking for support with AIP there are coaching programs out there, but there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be able to manage this diet by yourself. The paleo template that I use is modified for autoimmune conditions and has been a proven route to managing multiple autoimmune diseases within my family. I have a Hashimoto’s diagnosis that is in remission, my daughter’s ulcerative colitis is no longer flaring and my son is having amazing hair regrowth (without loss) despite having previously lost all of his hair. Another positive is that meal times are no longer traumatic, and I’m able to spend time on other things apart from just food shopping/prepping/cooking and cleaning.

If you’d like to get your autoimmune condition under control then let’s talk. Here’s a link to my calendar https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min.

Getting to the Root Cause of Hair Loss

One of the areas that I work on with clients is getting to the bottom of the root cause of hair loss. Once we figure out what the cause is we can address it and support your hair regrowth. It could be caused by an autoimmune disease, poor nutrition/absorption, infections, chronic stress, a traumatic event, hormones or histamine intolerance. And that’s just for starters! Clearly you are not going to get the bottom of this in a 12 minute GP appointment, or just by using a topical steroid prescribed by a dermatologist.

Genes load the gun…

If we acknowledge the widely accepted concept that genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger with regards to disease, then it makes sense to start here. Let’s put it another way, if we both have the same autoimmune condition e.g. Hashimoto’s, mine could have been caused by extreme stress which kept the body in fight or flight mode for sustained periods of time. While yours could have been created by inadequate sleep and eating foods that your body doesn’t tolerate well.

We have the same disease with (potentially) an identical impact on our thyroid functions causing hair loss among other symptoms. Our doctors will likely have prescribed the same dose of thyroid hormone. However, our treatment strategies to resolve the root cause of disease would be completely different. Mine would include stress management techniques, yours would incorporate a sleep hygiene protocol and a food diary to track the impact of the food that you’re eating.

Root Cause of Hair Loss

If we look at the root cause for alopecia any of the below list could be a trigger:

  • A car accident
  • An infection
  • A hormonal imbalance (e.g. pregnancy)
  • Chronic stress
  • Environmental toxicity (e.g. mold, heavy metals)
  • Histamine intolerance

This could be compounded with gut dysbiosis and/or leaky gut. As you can see all of these triggers are completely different and yet create the same end result of hair loss.

Alopecia

I’m frequently asked about the root cause for my son’s alopecia. I’ve concluded the following:

  • Genetics: We have a family history (both maternal and paternal) of AI disease.
  • Gut problems: Intolerance to dairy leading to leaky gut AND antibiotics wiping out gut bacteria
  • Triggers:
    • Underlying Stress – Moving internationally and attending 3 schools in 3 years
    • Trauma – 2016, Broken leg (nasty spiral fracture), 2017 Broken arm, 2018 Broken finger
    • Mindset – All of the breaks occurred while playing rugby, each recovery necessitated not playing rugby (which he loves) for between 6-15 weeks. I think that this had a negative impact on mental health.

I hope you can see that this particular scenario is unique to my son, just as your root cause will be completely unique to you.

It takes time to get to the bottom of the reasons for your hair loss, and it’s highly likely to be multi-factorial. Your hair is not a separate part of your body, it’s all connected. For example, if your nutrition/absorption is poor your body will prioritise your essential organs over your skin (the body’s largest organ) and hair.

I hope that this brief article has provided an insight into how figuring out your root cause can help you to regrow your hair. My program is naturally tailored to your precise circumstances because one size does not fit all.

If you’d like to find out how I can help you please book a call following this link: https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min

Case Study: Can coaching transform your life?

After passing my Practical Skills Assessment with the Kresser Institute I needed to accrue a prescribed number of hours in order to become certified as a Functional Health Coach. I was looking for people who were ready to transform their lives! I’m part of a Facebook group dedicated to women’s fitness and considered that these ladies would be an excellent group to ask for volunteers as they’d all already demonstrated a commitment to change just by being part of a fitness group.

There was a great response to my request but some people fell by the wayside when we were trying to firm up a time to talk. In part this was due to the difficulty in reaching across international time zones and in part due to fear of the unknown. There I was, a stranger on the internet, offering free health coaching to other women on the internet. I mean, what even is health coaching and why might you want or need it?

I was incredibly grateful to the courageous women who showed up and were willing to be open to the concept that coaching could possibly help them. Kelly was one of those women who volunteered.

Living in Lockdown

At the time we were just starting to come out of lockdown, but we were all living with the fear of what our daily lives would look like in the short-term. Here’s what happened when I met Kelly…

My first impression was of a woman who was open and curious about coaching. She’s travelled all over the world and clearly loves being able to experience different environments and cultures. Lockdown had prevented her from taking an epic three month journey across the world with her family.

She was ‘stuck’ in a beautiful part of Australia. We talked about the things that she loved to do on her property, and how lockdown didn’t prevent her from going for walks or building fires and roasting marshmallows with her young son. We focused on what she could do for herself over the next week that would make her feel better. As we talked, and a plan formed she became more animated.

She talked about the death of her baby four years ago and how incredibly difficult this was. She talked about her time in the NICU. Coaching is not counselling. A simplistic definition is that coaching focuses on the future, while counselling supports the past. As a coach I’m not trained to support mental health issues.

Take Action

As we completed our call Kelly had a short list of actions to carry out over the next week, and we agreed to speak at the same time in seven days.

Let’s be clear a week is not a huge amount of time. And yet… when we reconnected it was almost like a different person was looking at me in the Zoom room. She was so happy, she was practically glowing. The woman from our prior meeting was nowhere in sight. Kelly had smashed all of her action items out of the park. Exercise? Check! Following a keto diet? Check! Spending time with her husband and son? Check! Writing books? Check!

The process of coaching is sometimes described as holding up a mirror. Through gentle but challenging questions I held up that mirror to Kelly. She didn’t recognize the woman in the reflection. In my experience as a new coach most people really struggle if that image reflects someone they don’t recognize, or worse don’t like.

Excuses… or courage?

This is when people start to make excuses for how their life’s going, or they try to blame somebody else. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s a normal human reaction. The most difficult thing that you will ever do is to be responsible for your own life. It takes courage to own up and accept how things are. There’s the danger that you could start down a rabbit-hole questioning every decision that you’ve ever made.

Action

Kelly didn’t do any of those things. She took action. She methodically addressed every little thing that we’d talked about. While she’d already started to write a series of children’s books, her actions that week took her to a completely different level. It was really happening now! She’d found a publisher, she was figuring out her marketing, she had a publication date.

Transform

Transformation happens when you take action. The ‘magic’ of coaching happens when you stop moving away from pain and actively move towards joy. By making these tangible steps towards joy Kelly was literally transforming her life as we spoke.

Book Published

Since our sessions together Kelly’s continued to take great strides. In addition to the children’s stories, she’s working on a book for parents of children in the NICU which gives practical tips for making it through that incredibly stressful time. She’s also speaking out and talking about this subject to help others. Her work will continue to create a beacon of light and hope for both new and bereaved parents.

I’m writing this with Kelly’s full permission as today she’s a woman on a mission who’s found her purpose in life. You can read about what it felt like to be a practice client below. If you’d like to see if I can help you, book time to talk here https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/work-with-me/

It’s incredible to think that all of this happened because of a one line response to a Facebook post. Find out more about Kelly here https://kellymareeauthor.com/

Kelly’s side of our coaching story

I have been working with Laura Krippner for the past 5 months, little did I know that just a few sessions with Laura would change my life completely!

We both felt it would be beneficial for people to understand the process and the benefits, from both points of view, and how the power of coaching can drastically change your life in such a short period of time.  So I want to share my story and have asked Laura to share her side of my story too, what we both learned, how Laura uses her skills to help people, and how impacting lives through coaching is such an incredible thing. 

A change of plans

I work incredibly hard, as a multiple business owner this is just the norm for me.  The harder I work the more money I can make, which means more holidays, and every holiday is the reward for sacrificing my soul to the daily grind. 

Earlier this year we had planned a 3 month trip around the world, to reward ourselves for all that hard work and to visit family that we hadn’t seen for so long.  My heart was so set on this trip, hours of planning went into it, thousands of dollars was invested in the tickets, there were also life goals on my list that would be ticked off, something that was so very import to me and my mental health. 

In walks COVID, the killer of dreams, the canceller of plans, throwing the whole world upside down and throwing our trip into the bin.  I was devastated!  I had suffered so many years of PTSD and depression after losing my son Oli, and spending 133 days in hospital with Oskar getting him strong enough to come home, at the same time building the furniture removals business that we had just started 2 weeks before the twins were born.  I deserved that trip!

Battling Depression

I slipped back into my black hole of despair, I mourned my travel like it was a child, I cried, felt sorry for myself, spent days in utter sadness, with all the memories of the trauma and loss in the front of my mind again, that was a very dark time and I couldn’t see the light.

When a saw a post from Laura on a Facebook group, I was willing to try anything and put my hand up immediately.  I didn’t know what her course was, what it would require from me, or what to expect from the sessions with her, but it felt right, and I always trust my gut instinct.

The first thing I noticed about Laura was her soft voice and calming mannerisms.  She put me at ease immediately.  Then she started to ask me questions that no one had asked me before.  Questions about MY mental health, about MY physical health, about MY dreams and aspirations, about MY future.  I knew I could tell her anything and everything, and that’s exactly what I did:  poured my heart and soul out to this stranger that was willing to listen, that cared about ME.  The proverbial light bulb went ding!  And I never looked back.

Putting a plan into action

By the end of the first session I had a plan of attack, and it was put in motion the moment the session ended.  I wanted to be an author, I had always wanted to be an author.  To write full time, to inspire others and to make a difference in this world.  This was my purpose, and at that moment my dream was born. 

I wrote three children’s books for Oskar in a week, found an illustrator the next week, and found Ocean Reeve Publishing the month after that.  It all fell into place so fast!  This was the journey I was supposed to be on, the one that I had put on the back burner for so many years, this was my fate.  To create a legacy for my son Oskar and honour the memory of his angel twin Oli, to help raise awareness about infant loss and support bereaved families, and to raise money for the Precious Wings and Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital foundations, who helped us through the hardest time of our lives. 

Why Coaching?

If you had of asked me a year ago if I needed coaching, I would have said no way! Why?  I have successful businesses, a beautiful family, a wonderful home, money to travel whenever I wanted, everything anyone could ever ask for.  But something was missing from my life, I didn’t have a purpose, everything I did was not for me, it was for someone else.  Money and success means nothing if you aren’t happy.

After just a few sessions with Laura my whole life has changed, I am now on a completely different path, one I would not be on without that coaching.  The opportunities and experiences that have presented themselves have only been because my entire mindset changed.  The more I give, the more I get back, the more I help people, the more I heal.  It’s a positive cycle that is so welcomed after years of negative cycles, and it’s possible for everyone. 

The power of coaching is life changing, empowering, it shows you how to take your life back and focuses on YOU, about what YOU want, no one else.  You can’t know true love until you love yourself, you can’t help others until you learn to help yourself and you definitely can’t live the life you want if you aren’t living it for YOU.

I am so grateful every single day for the incredible journey I am now on thanks to coaching and in just a few sessions it’s possible to think differently, feel differently and change negative thoughts into positive ones. 

A very special thank you to Laura for her patience, kindness and faith in me.  It has changed my life and I know how many other lives that will be impacted by the coaching she offers.

How can Vitamin D support your immune system?

While talking with some of my Functional Health Coach chums, I asked what their favourite vitamin was. After the initial shock, this question is a bit like asking who your favourite child is… more than 70% of those asked for my highly unscientific poll agreed on vitamin D. We then delved into minerals, but that’s a whole other story.

Unless you live under a very large rock with no access to the outside world you’ll have seen that vitamin D has been in the news recently. This is due to the first randomised controlled trial which showed that administering vitamin D almost completely removed the risk of needing admission to the ICU for patients who’d tested positive for Coronavirus. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960076020302764?via%3Dihub This is obviously fantastic, although more research is needed as the study was small.

However, that’s not why this vitamin would always be top of my vitamin charts. Firstly, most people know of its role in supporting calcium absorption. It also helps to prevent rickets, osteoporosis and stress fractures. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and death from all causes. While these are all great reasons to optimize your vitamin D levels, my interest lies in the immunomodulatory effects of the vitamin.

Immunomodulatory impact

Part of the conclusion from The Implication of Vitamin D and autoimmunity: A Comprehensive Review states:

“Due to its unique capability to bind to VDR* and serve as a transcriptional factor, vitamin D can regulate gene expression and further exert its immunomodulatory effects on immune cells.”

*Vitamin D receptor

It goes on to state that additional studies are required to fully understand the potential capacity of vitamin D to prevent and ameliorate autoimmunity. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23359064/

So what does this mean for those of us who are living with an autoimmune disease? Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that clients report hair regrowth after the Summer when they’ve tended to be outside more, or been on holiday to a sunny place. That said given that vitamin D is toxic at high levels the answer isn’t just to  take a supplement. First you need to understand what your levels actually are, and retest after 3 to 4 months. You can ask your GP to run the test or use one of the private companies to get this information. I like Medichecks or Tiny Tests.

Sunshine is simplest

The easiest (and cheapest) way to obtain vitamin D is from sunlight, but in the UK that’s only possible between the end of March and September. I like the Dminder app which helps you to track depending on your location, your skin colour and amount of exposed skin. The image below is from September 22nd 2020 in North West England. We only have a few more weeks remaining after which time you’ll need to look for other sources until late March/early April 2021 when it becomes available from the sun again.

Snapshot from Dminder app

Food

Good sources are cod livers and cod liver oil. Other fatty fish include herring, fatty tuna, rainbow trout, salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Other good food sources are egg yolks with free range eggs containing more (approx 4-6 times more) than eggs produced by chickens without access to pasture.

Supplement

While you could argue that cod liver oil is a supplement. Here I’m talking about the ones which are not food-based. Ideally you’re looking for an over the counter supplement which also contains vitamin K2 as they work together synergistically.

Toxic

As stated earlier too much can be toxic so don’t start to supplement without first knowing what your personal level is. There’s a fair amount of debate regarding what optimal levels are. Generally in the Functional Medicine Community 50ng/ml is regarded as optimal, but that doesn’t mean that would be the perfect level for you.

To wrap up I make sure that I obtain vitamin D from sunlight in the first instance, and then food. Given the risk of toxicity I don’t think this is a supplement that you should take without medical advice. If you’re interested to find out more take a look at this article by Chris Kresser. https://chriskresser.com/vitamin-d-more-is-not-better/

How safe is Hand Sanitiser?

As a Functional Health Coach one of the areas that I work on with clients is cleaning up their home environments. This is a key step towards recovery for those suffering from autoimmune disorders like alopecia or Hashimoto’s. For starters we look at water and indoor air. Together we examine other areas that have the potential to create problems: for example, fire retardants on new furniture, metals leaching from cooking equipment, toxins in skincare, etc. Everyone’s home environment is unique, it’s key to have a systematic approach to this.

I don’t just talk about these issues! I do actually apply everything that I’ve learned in my training to minimise these daily risks that we encounter. Last week I went shopping with my daughter in the Trafford Centre and noted that every single shop had hand sanitiser near to their entrances. This is a sensible approach to minimise the risk of catching coronavirus after you cautiously leave your home following weeks of lockdown. That said, hand sanitiser can produce some unwanted side effects when combined with other chemicals.

BPA

We’ve known about BPA and it’s negative health impacts for years. I remember first hearing about it with regards to, specifically, the lining of tomato cans. BPA or bisphenol A is found in plastics, aluminium cans used for foods, and critically thermal paper e.g. cash register receipts. It’s an endocrine disruptor which means that this chemical can interfere with your endocrine (hormonal) system. What does this mean? Studies have shown links with this chemical and insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, cancer, liver damage and ADHD. (1)

The National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences states that even low doses of hormonal disrupting chemicals may be unsafe. This is because your body’s normal endocrine functioning involves very small changes in hormone levels, yet these small changes can create significant developmental and biological effects. An endocrine disruptor like BPA can increase or decrease normal hormone levels, mimic the body’s natural hormones or alter the natural production of hormones. (2)

Unfortunately chemicals which were supposed to remove BPA from our environment, like TPP (triphenyl phosphate) which enable manufacturers to use the ‘BPA free’ label on plastics still produce estrogenic activity (EA). (3)

Coronavirus and BPA

Perhaps the area that we should be most focused on today given the fact that we’re living through this time of coronavirus is that of thermal paper (commonly used for till receipts, transport tickets, restaurant orders from front of house to the kitchen). In 2014 a study showed that people who were handling lots of receipts had increased levels of BPA in their urine and blood. (4) While another 2014 study found that “data show after holding a receipt for 60 sec, there was 185-times more BPA transferred to a wet hand due to holding thermal receipt paper immediately after using hand sanitizer with penetration enhancing chemicals as opposed to when the hands were dry”. (5)

Given that we are all using hand sanitisers significantly more in an attempt to remain safe during this pandemic, we should be aware of this increased risk. Let’s face it we’ve already ran out of sanitiser once in the UK, I even have a quick recipe on my site giving instructions on how to make your own. https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/how-to-make-hand-sanitiser-at-home-using-ingredients-that-you-probably-already-have-lying-around/Other cosmetics like lotions and moisturisers also enable lipid-soluble chemicals like BPA to be absorbed by the skin.

More recently last year, a study examined BPA and BPS (bisphenol S) in receipts from Brazil, France and Spain and found that hormone-like activity was found in >80% of the paper, and that the BPA levels were 30 to 100 times higher than the EU recommended level of 0.2mg/g. The United States currently has no minimum recommended levels for these endocrine disrupting chemicals. (6)

What can you do?

So what can you do to minimise your contact with thermal paper while still following safety protocols for CV-19:

·        Have a receipt emailed to you if that’s an option.

·        Leave the receipt!

·        Use gloves.

·        Don’t keep receipts in pockets, or lying around the bottom of your bag.

·        Don’t touch thermal paper if you’ve just used hand sanitiser.

·        If you must take a receipt, fold it inwards on itself and put in a rubbish bin as soon as practicable.

·        Exercise caution if you’re in a vulnerable group: for example, pregnant women, pre-conception couples, working in an environment which has significant contact with thermal paper, children and adolescents.

Notes:

  1. https://chriskresser.com/re-examining-the-evidence-on-bpa-and-plastics/
  2. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4063249/
  4. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1832525
  5. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0110509
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0013935118306820#!

My experience of alopecia as a teenager

I asked my son, Harrison, now aged 16 about his thoughts on managing the autoimmune disease alopecia. He was diagnosed in 2016. You can read more about his and my experience over the last few years here. https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/child-develops-alopecia/ There’s never going to be a good time to lose your hair, but having alopecia as a teenager regardless of whether you’re a boy or girl has got to be one of the worst.

What did you think when you first found a bald spot?

When I first noticed I had a bald spot it was pointed out to me by everyone in my year at school. It made me feel very self-conscious and that feeling of constant self-consciousness has stayed with me to this day. I took the short term solution to the problem and simply wore a hat until my hair grew back. But years passed and nothing changed.

What worried you the most about losing hair?

What worried me most was that I would be looked at differently and judged for not having hair. It seemed that I was either seen as a thug or as someone who was sick. At a rugby training camp, some of the boys thought that I was a skinhead and were concerned about being friends with me because of this! I despised the unwelcome attention given to me constantly because of how I looked.

Which was your least favourite treatment protocol that you tried?

My least favourite treatment by far was taking corticosteroid pills. One of the dermatologists prescribed them a couple of years ago. They gave me extreme mood swings… for example, my mood could go from happy and hopeful to angry and back to happy in under ten seconds as I was walking around at school.

After you’d lost all of your hair did you think that it would ever grow back?

Once I lost all my hair, I did not think my hair would ever grow back due to the sheer number of treatments I tried that failed. Eventually I gave up on my hope of getting my hair back, and thought that I’d be wearing hats all of the time.

What does it feel like now that your hair is regrowing?

Now my hair is finally growing back I feel much more hopeful for the future. But I still feel self-conscious because I still have some bald spots. I know that they’ll fill in eventually, but it’s taking time.

What to do if your child develops alopecia

First off, while it would be fantastic to receive a diagnosis at the very first hint of a bald spot, the chances are that it will take a period of time to receive a diagnosis after your child develops alopecia. Then you know what you’re dealing with, and can take appropriate action immediately. I’m speaking as someone who didn’t do this, and hindsight is a wonderful gift! It would have been much more straightforward, painless and quicker to address the autoimmune disease before it really dug in, took hold and became even more challenging to address.

What not to do…

We didn’t do this… My son, Harrison’s, alopecia didn’t start with an obvious spot. It began slowly during the Summer of 2016 with thinning eyebrows and the ophiasis pattern. The first time that we noticed it, we thought that it was just a bad haircut! His hair behind each ear had simply disappeared in even lines almost as if it had been waxed. It wasn’t until the next hair cut a few weeks later, with a different barber who announced that it looked like alopecia.

With the second hairdresser’s diagnosis we visited the GP who thought that maybe it could be alopecia, but he wasn’t sure. It was tempting to go back to the barber and ask for his recommendations given that the GP had none, other than there’s not much that you can do and it’ll probably grow back on its own. To be fair to the doctor maybe this would have happened, but unfortunately two other events happened in relatively quick succession which resulted in complete hair loss.

Immune System took a hammering

First, in December Harrison suffered a nasty spiral fracture to his leg while playing rugby. This meant that a super sporty boy was in a cast and stuck on the sofa for the best part of 12 weeks. He was annoyed at missing such a big chunk of the season, and unable to do any exercise at all. Being stuck inside and on the sofa had a negative impact on him. He then developed a throat infection. A week after starting a course of antibiotics his hair was falling out in handfuls. This was in March 2017.

Back at the GPs when I mentioned the timing they were genuinely confused and told me that hair loss wasn’t caused by antibiotics. It simply wasn’t a side effect of amoxicillin. At this time I had an awareness about gut health and knew that antibiotics could wipe out your ‘good’ bugs. I was wondering how I knew this but the doctor didn’t. Typically if your child develops alopecia you will be referred to a dermatologist, in our case he recommended a topical steroid cream. That didn’t work. Harrison lost all of his hair including eyebrows and lashes.

How many experts?

We then started along a path of seeing various experts including: a pediatric dermatologist, allergist, pediatric gastroenterologist (x2) and immunologist. Each of these doctors carried out their own tests, and some prescribed treatments too which we dutifully carried out. These appointments were mainly through our private health insurance, but none of them helped much either. Although the second dermatologist told us that the first had prescribed the wrong version of the steroid cream. Awesome.

This all took months during which time Harrison would have some patchy growth and brows and lashes would come and go. For the most part he was wearing a hat to school, and his friends and teachers knew of his condition. When he turned 14 he joined our local gym and started working out. He trained himself using youtube videos and after a year or so he bought Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Body Building bible.

While he did have some patchy regrowth during this time it never stayed, as I mentioned before the brows and lashes were particularly unpredictable. We’d also completely given up on conventional medicine as none of these experts had helped at all. What continues to astonish me is that the gastros didn’t have a clue about gut health. The problem with all of these specialists is that they are so focused on their own little niche, which they’ve spent years being immersed in, that they no longer see the body as a whole interdependent system.

Done with ‘normal’ medicine

Having given up on mainstream or ‘normal’ medicine while continuing to have an unhappy bald son we crossed over the line to alternative treatments… We saw a trichologist, Chinese Medicine doctor, bought hair growth products from Israel(!) and tried acupuncture. Do I have to mention the shampoos? Yes we tried ‘hair growth’ shampoos too. All the above served to do was lighten my purse. With the exception of the acupuncture which I’ll come to later, none of the above helped at all. Still bald, still not happy.

In the Summer of 2018 we experienced hope for the first time in two years. Harrison had an appointment with a Functional Medicine doctor who was the first person to utter these magic words: Root Cause. Rather than treating the symptoms of alopecia i.e. hair loss, we would get to the bottom of what was actually causing the hair loss. He started on the Auto Immune Protocol diet which produced limited success, in that his eyebrows which had grown back did not fall out. He was treated for an infection and placed on a supplement regime which he took for 2 to 3 months depending on the supplement.

Child Develops Alopecia
Back to school 2018

Back to school

He went back to school in September with a smile on his face. It didn’t last long, by November his eyebrows had gone again. I didn’t want to be the kind of Mother who was constantly hassling her child so we didn’t try anything else. In fact, I thought that he had come to terms with it, and if he was happy, then I was happy. But sadly that wasn’t the case. In February 2019 he asked if he could get a wig. Clearly he hadn’t come to terms with being a bald teenager, and was starting to grab at straws.

I didn’t have a clue about how one went about getting a wig, none of the doctors had mentioned it as an option. Plus because he played so much rugby I kept seeing this image of him being on the pitch in a scrum, and instead of the ball coming out, it would be a wig… So we went back to the drawing board.

LDN

I remembered an autoimmune web conference that I’d attended where a US pediatrician mentioned using LDN with children suffering from autoimmune disease. In a nutshell, for those of us who like our science to be understandable… it causes increased endorphin release, and increased endorphins modulate the immune response. His Functional Medicine doctor had experienced success with this strategy for other patients with alopecia. He started in February, and by May new hair growth had started. This is something that you could perhaps consider if your child develops alopecia. I’ve written about it here https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/alopecia-and-ldn/

Functional Medicine Health Coach

Also in May I took a  5 week course with a Functional Medicine Health Coach on alopecia. This was the first time that I heard that it was possible to regrow hair even if you’ve been bald for years! By June I was hooked and enrolled on the ADAPT Functional Medicine Health Coach program in order to help spread both the concept of Functional Medicine and Health Coaching in the UK. It has literally been the only thing that has worked for my son, and as you can tell we’ve tried a pretty big array of treatments over the years.

Fast forward to today and Harrison’s hair is continuing to grow in. Perhaps more importantly he hasn’t lost it either. I mentioned earlier about acupuncture, we tried that for a few weeks in the Summer of 2019 when his hair had already started to grow back, potentially that may have helped too.

My Health Coaching Practice

In my practice I work with clients (or their parents) to help them find their own root cause for alopecia. I can guarantee that your root cause will be different to other clients. There’s no magic lotion, potion or pill. Just because LDN helped Harrison it may not help you. If your child develops alopecia you need to start with gut health and diet, moving on to the importance of sleep and exercise, finally looking at breathing/meditation and environmental causes. I know, it all sounds so simple and straightforward!

What’s unique about my work is the focus on micro behaviour changes through the lens of autoimmune disease. I’ve spent the last four years learning about what works, and what doesn’t, for alopecia. I’m actually really excited to be able to share this with you in the hope that you save time and money yourselves. I will always work with people who can’t afford my fees on a pro-bono basis. Please get in touch if you’d like to go on my pro-bono waiting list. Obviously, like you, I can’t afford to work for free so each quarter I work with one client for 3 months on this basis.

Thanks for reading, I wanted to raise awareness that if your child develops alopecia it’s entirely possible for hair to regrow. I want to give you both insight and hope.

What is Health Coaching?

Let’s be clear, when I was growing up in the 70s Health Coaching didn’t exist. Little kids did not say that they wanted to be a Health Coach when they grew up. For the record I had aspirations to be a spy… But I found myself drawn to the world of health and wellness as a result of managing chronic health conditions both for myself and my children. The regular GP route with referral to individual specialists didn’t work for us. We were all still ill.

I saw a Functional Medicine practitioner in the UK, Dr Sarah Davies, https://www.drsarahdavies.co.uk/ which ignited my interest in this area of lifestyle medicine. Perhaps more importantly we started to get better. This was all of the evidence that I needed. But I wasn’t about to retrain as a doctor… After working with a Functional Medicine Health Coach in the US I was really keen to help bring that level of care and service to the UK.

I joined the second cohort of the ADAPT program at the Kresser Institute as my research showed that it was the best health coach course available. I was looking for academic rigour without the wishy-washy woo woo component. (That’s not a technical description…).

In a nutshell I support my clients to make critical lifestyle and behavior changes to enable them to reach their health goals. For example, we all know what a healthy lifestyle looks like:

  • Eating unprocessed whole foods
  • Adequate exercise
  • Enough sleep
  • Not smoking
  • Limiting alcohol

So if we all already know this, how come we’re not all the absolute healthiest that we can be? We all have that same information. Simply put, information alone cannot create change. A coach will help you to understand and prioritise which health goal is most important for you at this particular time in your life.

As a coach my role is to empower you to uncover your own knowledge and strengths, support you without judging, help you to devise your own solutions to issues and hold you accountable to your goals. By making micro changes we’re able to tiptoe past your amygdala bypassing the freeze, fight or flight response.

How is coaching different to having a chat with a friend over coffee? For a start while your friend obviously likes spending time with you they are not at all invested in helping you to find your inner knowledge and innate strengths.

So you might tell your friend that you ended up having three glasses of Pinot on Friday, when you only meant to have one small glass… She will likely respond with a similar story of when she had too much wine as well. There will be no conversation around how you felt when you poured that second glass or what you were thinking about by the time the third glass came around.

Coaching creates the space to have that conversation and understand the motivations regarding why you chose not to stick to your original plan. It will explore how you felt afterwards, and provide some options for the next time that this situation comes up which gives you opportunities to respond differently.

Those of us that aren’t key workers have likely found that we have more time on our hands due to events being cancelled and the complete reduction of commute times as work and study have both moved into the home. What are you going to do with this time? What have you always put off because you didn’t have enough ‘time’. What’s perhaps more interesting is what’s stopping you now, if you still haven’t kicked off that project?

One of the things that I’ve done is rewatch a film that I saw once back in 1991. I was actually afraid because I loved it so much! I was worried that I wouldn’t like it as much as I remembered. As all of my usual excuses vanished I sat down with my teenage daughter and we watched it together. It was a completely different experience, I saw different nuances to the storyline, but thankfully still loved it.

What’s on your to-do list? How do you want to spend your time during this unique stretch of history? What kind of person do you want to be as you come out of the other side? How could your health be improved? As a functional medicine health coach I can support you to answer these and other questions that you haven’t even thought to ask yet.

Thirty Day Paleo Reset

After embarking upon a rigorous course with the Kresser Institute to study and train to be an ADAPT Health Coach, I decided to put myself in my prospective client’s shoes and begin a Thirty Day Reset diet following a Paleo template (sometimes called ancestral health diet). Typically a client would be prescribed a diet protocol by a Functional Medicine doctor, a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist to address their health concerns.

In fact, last year my family and I were placed on the Auto-Immune Protocol (AIP) by a Functional Medicine doctor and I found that to be very challenging. The Thirty Day Paleo Reset is quite similar in approach with some subtle differences, e.g. unlike AIP it includes nuts and seeds in moderation, and excludes natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey completely.  I wanted to understand the challenges that clients would be dealing with when faced with a prescription or protocol that you can’t just hand in to the pharmacy to fill.

Let me start by saying that the Thirty Day Reset was a lot more straightforward than last year’s AIP. This was due at least in part to the fact that I’d already made so many lifestyle changes over the last 12 months. I felt overwhelmed by the AIP because it was a huge amount of food shopping, cooking and preparation. As soon as one meal was finished and I’d cleaned up, I’d start to prep the next as we’re a family of 5, with 3 of us battling auto-immune diseases. I remember walking into the supermarket and thinking ‘this will be quick!’ as only the first aisle had the fish, meat, vegetables and fruit that were part of our ‘new’ diet. I found the supermarket incredibly expensive and soon turned to my local butcher, fruit and veg stall, fish man and egg lady who not only provided a wider and better priced array of local produce, but could also vouch for the provenance.

A key difference with my AIP experience was that this time it was just me, and not my entire family. This meant that I didn’t have to spend time preparing food, then more time talking people into eating it, teenagers don’t tend to like hot smoked mackerel salad. Surprisingly I still had the caffeine withdrawal symptoms on Day 2, but this was less severe and more short-lived than before. One of the worst days was Day 5 which was the first Friday night. Typically my husband and I will have a glass of wine or a G&T to mark the start of the weekend. This ritual effectively disappeared as a glass of San Pellegrino with a slice doesn’t really cut it.

Another challenge was going out to dinner with friends. I was driving so not having an alcoholic drink wasn’t a problem. However, I became that person, you know the one who asks for the salad, but then proceeds to ask for half of the ingredients listed on the menu to be excluded. My three friends had ordered their complicated tapas dishes in the time that it took to figure out my amended salad.

How did it go? Well, I feel fantastic. My sleep has improved, my skin is clearer, my thoughts are sharper and I’m much less tired than before. I’m waiting on blood test results to see if my auto-immune disease has been pushed into remission. Was it easy? Yes, because this time around I knew what to expect and I had a far greater insight into the science behind the diet because of my Health Coach training. Was I hungry? No, although I did have some cravings for sweet food. Did I lose weight? Yes, I lost 3 kilos over the month which was an unintended benefit.

The most important thing is that I feel more like myself and have so much more energy. Now the fun starts with the food reintroductions, I’m going to take it slowly and carefully monitor any side-effects. By the time that I’m finished I’ll have created a personal paleo template that will be the perfect diet for me at this time in my life. For more info, take a look at The Paleo Cure by Chris Kresser or e info, take a look at The Paleo Cure by Chris Kresser or https://chriskresser.com/