STRESS . HORMONES . GUT HEALTH . HEALTHY HABITS
Ever since I was a kid, people would come to me for advice. I loved helping people and using simple natural methods. I had an innate understanding that nature is all we need, that our bodies can heal themselves; we just had to use the right tools and get out of our own way.
While all my friends loved animals and dolphins, I loved trees and plants, and wanted to save the rain-forests. It made absolute sense to me to save the things we needed most - the things that provided oxygen and clean air to breathe, the things that fed us and the animals and provided homes and ecosystems for all of life. I believed that every disease on Earth could be cured with a plant and that we hadn’t even begun to discover all of these.
Fast forward to now and I am still searching, discovering and fascinated by how our bodies work, how nature compliments this and what it is to be human. I’ve done a Bachelor of Health Science and after years of clinical practice, I am still learning from every single client I see.
My actual story is quite long and involved so stop here if you only want the short version.
Read on to hear about my health journey and how I would naturopathically analyse my health history. This may give you some idea about how naturopathy works and what the “underlying cause” actually means.
MY HEALTH STORY - THE LONG VERSION
I often get asked why I chose to be a naturopath. My story is long and complex, but looking back it’s hard to tell if I chose naturopathy or if it chose me.
Growing up I always had something “wrong” with my health. From the outside most people I grew up with and went to school with would have no idea of what I’m about to tell you. From the outside I was a happy go lucky kid, a bit of a dreamer and quietly thinking deep thoughts.
Experiencing all of the below has helped shape the person I am today, I hold no shame/blame/regret and I am actually grateful for everything that has happened in my life.
As a little kid I had frequent sharp tummy pains. I can still remember how painful they were when I think about them. I had these right up till I was a teenager and even a few times through adulthood. I would describe them like a deep persistent ache or a sharp cramping/twisting sensation, like someone was trying to wring my digestive system out from the inside. I didn’t know how debilitating these were (until I experienced them as an adult after a long gap without them), but they were my reality as a kid… when they passed I would carry on being a kid. I had these frequently until I was a teenager and then infrequently into adulthood. I no longer experience these.
I also had chronic constipation as a kid. I think it started with not wanting to miss out on anything or stop playing, so I would hold it until it went away. But the other side of that was it took so long on the toilet and there was a good chance of experiencing the gut pains. I experienced constipation until I was a teenager. One day at primary school I fainted because I hadn’t had a bowel movement for almost a week. I was about 11 or 12 years old, and had to get a syringe into my bum to help move the compacted stool. It was extremely embarrassing, but I needed to get a syringe again on another occasion to really learn that this was important and I had to make a conscious effort to eat fiber (berries and spirulina were really helpful), drink lots of water, make time to sit on the toilet and chart the days I’d been so I wouldn’t “forget to go”.
I also had a sore throat and tonsillitis all the time as a kid. It seemed I was in and out of the Doctors and on antibiotics most of my childhood. Whenever I got tonsillitis I would also get the tummy pains quite badly. I got my tonsils out when I was 8 years old and also developed an allergy to penicillin in the process. That seemed to solve the tonsillitis problem (or so I thought at the time), see my naturopathic analysis of this below for more information about this.
I also had insomnia from a young age. I struggled to go to sleep and if I couldn’t get to sleep before Mum and Dad went to bed I would get anxious that I was the only one awake in the house. I would have nightmares quite frequently when I did go to sleep and sometimes I would sneak into Mum and Dad's room to sleep on the floor, so I didn’t feel afraid. The best advice my Mum gave me for my insomnia was to “just rest your body”, that it didn’t matter that I wasn’t sleeping but as long as my body was resting it was okay. This made me relax and not get upset if I was awake for hours during the night, and sometimes I was able to slowly drift back to sleep because of it. With the nightmares Mum told me that my dreams couldn’t hurt me and I was safe in my bed. That worked until I happened to see/hear something that challenged that belief on “Unsolved Mysteries” on TV (probably by accident). I had insomnia and nightmares on and off until I was about 30 years old. I only get nightmares now when I am extremely tired.
When I was about 8 years old something really odd happened while my brother and I were staying with our grandparents. I was poisoned by a tree which I played in every time we visited them. On this occasion I was making mud pies with the leaves and berries, and the next morning I woke up swollen all over my body (especially my face). I still remember the look of shock on my Grans face when I woke her up to say I didn’t feel well. We discovered afterwards that the tree was a toxic Rhus and at certain times of the year it is more poisonous.
I’ve always felt that event changed my health and especially my skin, so that from then on I would swell and rash easily. I became what I would call an “itchy person”. I would get itchy skin from frustration; wearing damp togs too long; eating certain fruits (hives); mosquito/sandfly/midge bites would swell and sometimes blister; would react to sunscreen and all sorts of skin products and fragrances; and sometimes different fabrics would irritate. My skin is always the first thing to show that something is not right in my body. I’ve included skin in my naturopathic analysis below - it’s an interesting subject and you’ll be able to see why my skin is a weakness considering my other health issues.
After I hit puberty at 10 years old, I would begin a long unpleasant hormonal journey, of irregular and heavy menstrual cycle, painful cramps that would bring me into the fetal position and quite bad acne. One day I picked at my face so much that I created big sores and had to go to the Doctor for antibiotics so they wouldn’t get more infected. I felt like I could handle the pain, but the acne made me feel self conscious, socially awkward and frustrated me more than anything.
I battled with these hormonal issues for a long time. I went on the pill a few years later and it made the acne go away (mostly), which I was happy about. I also put on weight (especially thighs, with lots of cellulite) and my mental outlook on life changed. I was angry and emotionally unstable. But deep down inside I knew the way I was acting and feeling was not me. I stopped taking the pill approximately 10 years later, while I was studying to be a naturopath. All of my crazy hormonal symptoms came roaring back and it took me a full 12 months to correct my cycle, the acne improved but took a bit longer because of the stress I was experiencing during study.
I also had recurring thrush from early on too (I don’t remember what age). This was one of the most debilitating things to go through, and I would get a run of it where it would just keep coming back no matter what I did. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and run a cold bath to sit in to try and get some relief. I’ve had the Canesten cream and heard the Doctor say “again?” so many times. Thank goodness this all went away soon after my first naturopath visit - I’d had it all my teenage life and some of my childhood (like I said - I don’t remember exactly what age it started, but I think it was around the same time as puberty when my hormones started to change). See my naturopathic analysis about this too. If you are in this situation, please know I feel for you. There are natural options available that really do work.
When I was about 14 years old, I remember being bed-ridden for a long period of time (maybe a week or so). I didn’t know what was going on at the time, but looking back I’m guessing that was my first bout of glandular fever. I was so delirious at one point I remember talking to shapes and colours… and they talked back. As you will see from my naturopathic analysis, this is one of the triggers for chronic fatigue but considering my health history it was really just adding to the hidden poor health foundation I already had.
When I was about 19 years old I had a health scare where I thought something was seriously wrong with me. I was tired and grumpy all the time and felt like I never got a refreshing sleep. But the worst part was I was falling asleep, standing up, at work. A couple of customers woke me up and I got the biggest fright! I thought I might’ve had a mild form of narcolepsy. I was afraid I was going to fall asleep driving my car and cause an accident without knowing I’d fallen asleep. The fatigue was getting progressively worse and it felt like my body was slowing down and turning off.
So I went to the Doctors… I was tested for iron and glandular fever (among other things). Iron was fine and I’d had glandular fever at some stage of my life (maybe at 14) but was immune to it. So that didn’t tell me anything about this crazy fatigue I was experiencing.
My Mum had an appointment with a naturopath booked and she told me I should go because I needed it more. This naturopath was booked months in advance and was hard to get into. I’d never heard of a naturopath before, but if it was better than what I’d been told so far I was willing to try anything.
That first appointment was a turning point in my life.
I suddenly found the answers I’d been looking for my whole life, the reasons why my health was the way it was and most importantly what to do about it.
I was highly motivated and did everything the naturopath told me to do. She told me that I might have waves of feeling better and worse, especially in the beginning, but I would progressively start getting better. Sure enough I did, to the point where I felt better than ever.
Fast forward over 15 years since that naturopath visit. I moved from New Zealand to Australia a few years later, met the love of my life, husband and now father of our beautiful son; studied 4 years (which took me 6 years) to get a Bachelor of Health Science in Naturopathy, I run my own clinical practice from my home office (currently), and I’m still on a journey of healing and wisdom.
Being a naturopath has allowed me to understand myself, dig deeper into who I am, heal when I become unwell and better maintain a state of wellness. I don’t believe in taking handfuls of supplements everyday, especially long term. I feel healing needs to be practical as well as being effective.
I always want to know the best ways to do things and all the options. I do a lot of research and continuing professional education. But most useful of all, I learn from everyone I come across, especially my clients.
If I was to summarize my story it would be this:
NEVER judge a book by its cover. We can look around and decide others have it better than us, but we don’t know the things they are not showing us or what they have come through. Everyone has their own journey. Be kind and listen, you might learn something.
I feel that my life has been one long healing journey.
Because I have been through those hard times, it has allowed me to grow my own inner strength, intuition, awareness and compassion for others. I didn’t always get it right and I have self-sabotaged many times, but because of this I hold no judgement for anyone who wants to heal or become better.
For the most part, I have been there. I was once where you are now searching for answers, if you’re reading this you’ve come to the right place. Natural medicine may hold the answer for you too. I may not be able to help everyone but it’s my mission to try, and I will search for those answers with you or find someone else who can.
MY HEALTH STORY - NATUROPATHIC ANALYSIS
Want to know how I would look at my health story now, with my knowledge and experience as a naturopath and having lived through all of it?
This is where it started. I’m not sure what started these but let’ hypothesize that it started with a compromised gut function… from:
Stress and inner tension/anxiety
Having control issues and not being able to “let go” of a bowel movement (and therefore constipation probably happened around the same time)
Possibly from diet (it's hard to get kids to eat healthy)
Possibly from an earlier dose of antibiotics
Possibly just simply from not developing optimal function as a baby
Possibly a little of each, all or none of these reasons
We can hypothesize that the compromised gut function included a disruption to the microbiome (good and bad bacteria ecosystem in the gut) which we know negatively affects the immune system. The gut pain was an alert signal that something wasn’t right - possibly damage to the intestinal tissue due to an imbalance in microflora and an unhealthy ecosystem.
BODY-MIND aspect of the tummy pains: not trusting or going against your “gut instincts”, which can make you physically feel like tensing or holding to regain control.
Then add ANTIBIOTICS frequently
Essentially bombing the gut with a powerful bacteria-killing substance. We now know the dangers of over prescribing antibiotics these days, but when I grew up in the 80’s it was still a miracle drug. Even though I was a free-range kid getting lots of fresh air, climbing trees and getting covered in dirt, my immune system was compromised by the constant antibiotics. Because my microbiome (of good and bad bacteria) was wiped out many times over.
What happens when the entire gut microflora is wiped out, is that there is no balance, no ecosystem to keep everything in check, so the out of control “weeds” grow (fungal and parasitic). Looking back at my story it is pretty clear that my issue was fungal (Candida/Thrush) that would’ve been lurking around for a while before my hormonal cycle kicked in and took it up a notch.
This is both physiological (from body processes) and mental… I didn’t want to stop playing to go to the toilet because it took so long to have a bowel motion (see body-mind above regarding holding and control). It was probably one of the only things in my small child life that I had control over and I was extremely good at controlling it.
There was also the physiological hindrance of compromised gut function… the ecosystem of the bowel was not friendly and it had contributed to slowing down the transit of any wastes.
This part is interesting, because the body likes to recycle. If you have wastes sitting in the bowel too long, the body will start reabsorbing them to see if it can reuse any of it… unfortunately what happens is that much of these wastes are toxic. They enter the blood stream where they can act like free-radicals and cause damage on their way to the liver for sorting/processing. Once at the liver they are deactivated (and detoxified) or activated (and used/processed/transported) depending on whether they are useful or not.
So, when this is a common occurrence (as with my chronic constipation), these toxins start putting a strain on raw materials needed for optimal liver function, these processes start to become dysfunctional and the blood becomes “dirty” because the toxins are not cleaned up fast enough.
The next thing that happens, is that the immune system surveillance in the blood find these particles and treat them as foreign matter. The immune system is activated. Particles are trapped in lymph glands… like tonsils… do you see how this all is connected?
BODY-MIND aspect of constipation: control, especially when there is no control in other areas of life. Unable to relax and “let go”. Must hold on to tension to feel safe and in control. Note that I often had tension in my jaw also - another form of holding back (information/communication).
SORE THROAT & TONSILLITIS
Because my gut was compromised, so too was my immune system. This is a big topic and I’m only summarizing here to give you concepts, but this is something I will go into more depth into in future.
Immune activation from gut imbalance happens for a number of reasons, and the hard part is that it looks different for everyone. For me as a kid, the immune activation was triggering tonsillitis. It would always start with a sore throat… it seemed like I always had a sore throat (but also remember how I said I had a lot of jaw tension - this may have been contributing; and I used to cry a lot being a sensitive kid). I used to get tummy pains at the same time, which again, tells us that there were gut issues happening in tandem.
To be continued… The rest of the naturopathic analysis is coming soon.
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