Clapham Osteopathy and Functional Movement

Hormesis: The Good Stress

Nietzsche famously said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Or was it Conan the Barbarian? Either way, there is certainly some truth to the statement. One such way actually involves stress. Now, with good reason, we are constantly warned about the dangers of stress, both physical and psychological. Stress has been shown to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. However, the intent of this post is not to warn you about the dangers of stress – you are probably already well aware of them. Rather, we’d like to focus on a very particular kind of stress – a good stress – called hormesis.

Whereas the chronic stress from our jobs, lack of sleep, bills, antagonistic relationships, poor diet, etc. will break you down, certain low-level stressors can actually make you physically stronger, boost your immune system, improve your mood, and more. Some of these hormetic stressors are probably already very familiar to you, including such staples as exercise, sunlight, fasting, exposure to extreme heat or cold, and even certain foods. The key to hormetic stress is that it needs to come in small(er) amounts. For example, plunging into arctic water for a long period of time will ultimately probably kill you. But a cold bath or shower can actually stimulate your immune system, making you healthier. Similarly, exposure to extreme heat for a prolonged period can lead to dehydration and other issues, whereas a 20 minute sauna session can produce loads of beneficial effects, physical and mental. For a more detailed and scientific analysis of this, check out Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s article, Hyperthermic Conditioning’s Role In Increasing Endurance, Muscle Mass, and Neurogenesis.

weightsAnother very familiar example of hormetic stress is exercise, in particular strength training. A challenging weights workout increases levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in your body. Done in the right amount, ie not over-training, this provides a relatively low and manageable dose of muscle injury. Your body responds to this microtrauma by building new muscle fibres as well as repairing the slightly-damaged ones. Regular exercise improves your body’s ability to rebuild, making you stronger and healthier. But the key to this is not overdoing it, and ensuring proper rest and recovery between workouts. If recovery isn’t adequate, the hormetic stress becomes chronic stress and the body can’t cope with the damage. This is why so many people who insist on training super-hard too frequently often wind up feeling ‘broken.’

Fasting, especially intermittent fasting, is another hormetic stressor. Skipping meals provokes a great hormetic stress response. Additionally, fasting triggers autophagy, a process in which cells clean themselves up, getting rid of damaged or junk cells that could potentially become cancerous. Again, though, this needs to be approached correctly, as calorie deprivation combined with gruelling exercise, sleep deprivation or other chronic stress can do more harm than good. So once again, don’t over do it! Notice a trend? Dr. Jason Fung is one of the world’s foremost experts on fasting. You can check out interviews with him here and here. Even better, buy his book, The Complete Guide to Fasting. We’ve read it, and highly recommend it.

Certain foods also promote hormesis. You’ve almost certainly heard about foods rich in antioxidants. Well, antioxidants are actually hormetic stressors, which is why they are so good for you. Colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as bitter foods, tend to be high in antioxidants, so having a good amount of these types of foods in your diet can be very beneficial. Check out this article on antioxidants for more info. Some of the most popular “superfoods” – blueberries, dark chocolate, turmeric, red wine, green tea, broccoli –  contain hormetic compounds that activate adaptive stress response pathways, improving our health. But of course, moderation is still key. You certainly don’t want to go on an ‘all chocolate and wine’ diet, no matter how appealing that may sound.

Believe it or not, sunlight is even a hormetic stressor. Getting regular, small amounts of sun exposure can help reduce skin cancer and improve vitamin D levels. But again, overdoing it can have the opposite effect, so don’t get sunburnt!

In conclusion, it’s critical to note the difference between chronic stress and hormetic stress. In almost all instances, too much of a good thing can have the opposite of the desired effect. Too often we push ourselves too hard – the ‘just do it!’ and ‘no pain, no gain!’ mentality. Conversely, not having enough hormetic stressors does not enable us to develop as we should. Here at Backs Etc., we believe that balance is the key to health, fitness, and happiness, so do challenge yourself, but do it wisely.

 

The problems of the modern jaw

Are you or your family mouth breathers? Teeth overcrowding and poor dental health are likely related to how we breathe, as well as what we eat. In this article, Stanford’s Paul Erlich discusses how poor breathing and the lack of chewing in our modern near-liquid diet has contributed to reduced jaw sizes in children. Undersized jaws have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, hyperactivity, sleep deprivation and other issues. Make sure your kids breathe through their noses and give them some food that needs chewing.

 

Read the full article, Stanford’s Paul Ehrlich on the problems of the modern jaw.

 

More than half your body is not human

Our bodies (especially our skin and gut) are perfect environments for a vast range of micro-organisms. In fact, human cells make up only 43% of the body’s total cell count. The rest are microscopic colonists. Because of bacteria phobia, we destroy these using anti-bacterial cleaning products and antibiotics, often without a second thought to the vast quantity of bacteria beneficial to us that are wiping out. Think of a wildflower meadow – if you covered it in pesticide, it would likely kill off most of the existing plants and that space, without some careful planting and care, would regrow with weeds. This is what happens to the microflora in our guts when we use these products, and this is intensified when we eat a diet of processed foods. Everything you eat is feeding your microflora as much as it feeds you, and we need healthy microbiome to be truly healthy.

 

Read the full article, More than half your body is not human.

 

 

 

 

Why we owe it to ourselves to spend quiet time alone every day

Are you always rushing around? Take a few moments to meditate, breathe or just be alone with your own thoughts. By not giving ourselves the minutes — or hours — free of devices and distractions, we risk losing our ability to know who we are and what’s important to us, says physicist and writer Alan Lightman.

 

Read the full article, Why we owe it to ourselves to spend quiet time alone every day.

 

 

 

 

The Nature of Pain

Pained figureMost new patients at Backs Etc arrive with some form of musculoskeletal pain. They are often scared that the pain is resulting from some form of tissue damage and fear that they are ‘broken’ with a fragile body that is giving up. These attitudes and fears are not surprising as they are reinforced by the media and many medical professionals.  Indeed, when you have recently had an accident, eg a car crash or heavy fall, then there will be tissue damage and inflammation (which is the body’s healing process). However, in most patients the onset of their pain was either completely unclear (came on gradually for no specific reason), or is related to an injury more than a couple of months old.  In these cases the tissue damage has healed or is just not there.

Human bodies are resilient, and it’s unlikely that anyone will structurally damage their backs by bending to pick up a sock or sleeping in a soft bed. However these innocuous events often appear to be the proximate cause for an episode of excruciating pain. So if there isn’t any tissue damage, what is going on? Modern neuroscience has identified another function of pain.  Our nervous system’s prime function when we move is to keep us safe and stable, so pain is an indication of threat levels in a person’s nervous system and is a message to try and stop us moving in a way that our brains have determined to be threatening. It is a multidimensional response; an output of the brain that weighs up a whole range of inputs not just relating to pain receptors in your back but also habitual movement patterns, sleep, anxiety, nutrition, beliefs and overall systemic health. Thus, the brain is making a decision based on all sensory inputs into your nervous system as to whether or not it feels ‘safe’ in relation to any movement you want to do with any part of your body.  If the decision is that it doesn’t feel safe, there will be restriction and/or pain in the relevant area to try and stop you. In fact, we should feel grateful for this type of pain as it is a message from our nervous system to try and persuade us to change. Unfortunately we mostly misinterpret the message and either ignore it or just suppress it with painkillers. Then, over time, our pain response can be hyper-sensitised so that it over-responds to things that considered individually are not very threatening.  This is like a fire alarm that makes the same sound whether the house is burning down or when you have burnt some toast.

Here at Backs Etc we discuss and evaluate the stressors to your nervous system with you to decode the message your brain is trying to send you.  In some cases, just reducing fear by explaining the pain science can be beneficial. Also, giving guidance in relation to managing stress and improving sleep and nutrition is part of the treatment.  However a large part of the negative inputs into the nervous system come from the neurological traces of old injuries, a lack of core stability, and poor movement patterns. These are all inputs which can be changed with treatment. NKT is particularly effective to improve motor control patterns.  We also improve movement with functional training, and gain core stability with breathing retraining. Our strategy is to reduce these movement-based threats as much as possible to return the nervous system to a state of equilibrium and so eliminate pain.

 

If this short post has whet your appetite, here are a few links to some further resources:

Tame the Beast – It’s time to rethink persistent pain

Body in mind – the role of the brain in chronic pain

Your Cranky Nerves: A Primer For Patients To Understand Pain

 

A Quick Guide To Fasting

fastingMore and more studies are proving the myriad of health benefits that fasting can provide. And these days, with the growing popularity of intermittant fasting, the 5:2 diet and compressed eating windows, many people are reaping these rewards. If you’re at all interested in fasting (and you should be!) here is a great little one page intro guide from the folks at www.gutgeek.com.

Read the article, ‘A Quick Guide To Fasting’

Is Red Meat Bad For You?

meatNina Teicholz describes red meat as ‘the third rail of nutrition’ because of the abundance of bad news about it out there. However, in this fascinating presentation video, she analyzes many of the studies and reported facts about the dangers of red meat, and comes to some conclusions which may surprise you. Recommended viewing, regardless of your stance on red meat consumption.

 

Watch the video, Nina Teicholz – ‘Red Meat and Health’

Can You Learn to Love Liver?

liver pateLiver. Be honest, for most you, your first reaction to that word would be something along the lines of yuuk or eeew! I can empathise. I spent much of my life avoiding the stuff at all costs. Growing up in a somewhat meat-phobic household, this wasn’t much of a problem when I was young. I was never force-fed liver just because it was good for me!

Well, good for you it certainly is. Very good. To quote Dr. Josh Axe, “When we typically think of superfoods, we think of things like green leafy vegetables, berries from the Amazon, cocoa, green tea and other plant foods. However, certain animal foods are also highly valuable due to their rich nutrient content, especially organ meats (also called offal), which is exactly why they have been included in traditional diets for thousands of years.” (Check out the full article here.)

So, yes, liver should be considered a superfood. For one, organ meats are between 10 and 100 times higher in nutrients than corresponding muscle meats. And to put this into perspective with other non-meat foods, every nutrient found in beef liver occurs in higher levels in the liver than in apples and carrots! Check out a chart detailing this nutritional info at the bottom of this very good article by Chris Kresser.

While you’re at it, have a look at these articles from Andrew Weil and Weston Price.

“But isn’t liver potentially bad for us because of the toxins?” you may ask. Here’s what Chris Kresser has to say: “A popular objection to eating liver is the belief that the liver is a storage organ for toxins in the body. While it is true that one of the liver’s role is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents and poisons), it does not store these toxins. Toxins the body cannot eliminate are likely to accumulate in the body’s fatty tissues and nervous systems. On the other hand, the liver is a is a storage organ for many important nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, and minerals such as copper and iron). These nutrients provide the body with some of the tools it needs to get rid of toxins.”

That said, you should only ever buy high-quality liver. Organic is a must, and ideally grass-fed in the case of beef and lamb. Stay away from anything CAFO! The good news is that even high-quality liver tends to pretty cheap, certainly cheaper than comparable muscle meat.

But isn’t liver high in fat?” Yes, liver and other organ meats are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. However, despite years of having the contrary drummed into us, plenty of recent research indicates that there is no significant evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Research also suggests that we’ve been misguided about the relationship between dietary cholesterol and increased heart disease as well. But that topic is worthy (and lengthy) enough for its own article, so I’ll leave it there.

Okay, by now you should be pretty convinced that liver is healthy for you. But you may still be thinking. “Yeah, but it’s gross!”  Well, okay, I admit preparing raw liver is a little disgusting, but I’m going to show you a recipe that is very easy and, in my humble opinion, rather delicious. And this is coming from a confessed liver hater! I’m talking about good old liver pate.

Pate is a great way to easily incorporate the health benefits of liver into your diet. It’s one of our main go-to in-between-meals foods these days, so I always try to keep some in the fridge. Snacking without guilt!

Liver pate recipe

A few notes before the recipe:

  • I use chicken or lamb’s liver as they tend to have the mildest flavour.
  • Don’t fear the fat! There is a good amount of fat in pate, but as long as it’s good fat, eg organic animal fat and butter, coconut and olive oils, etc., you shouldn’t worry about it. Especially so if you’re already following a low-carb diet.
  • I’m very imprecise with my measurements. I prefer to cook using taste and experience, so apologies to anyone who prefers detailed amounts of ingredients. Besides, mindfully adding ingredients will make you a better cook, rather than just blindly following recipes. Don’t worry, though, I do give guidelines.

Ingredients

  • Liver, 250-500 grams or so
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • A few cloves of garlic
  • Coconut oil, ghee or other good oil for frying, 1-2 tablespoons
  • Allspice, a few teaspoons
  • Butter, 1-3 tablespoons or more depending on the amount of liver
  • Port/other sweet wine and/or balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • Salt (Himalayan or good sea salt) and pepper

 

Start by trimming off any sinew from the liver. Don’t worry if there are a few bits left. You can cut the liver into small pieces if you like or leave it in the big blobby shapes it comes in. Whatever’s easier for you to manage in the pan.

Heat the oil and fry the onion over a lowish heat so it caramelises nicely without browning too much. (though feel free to brown them if you prefer your onions that way) Adding a little salt to the sauteing onions can help reduce burning.

When the onions are looking soft and golden (not incinerated), raise the heat a little and add the liver. I like to add the garlic at this point, too, so it’s not as well done as the onion, keeping more of its intensity. Turn the pieces every few minutes so they brown on all sides.

When the liver’s about halfway done, you can add a few glugs of port or other sweet wine if you like. You can use dry wine too, but I prefer a touch of sweetness to help cut the richness of the liver. The alcohol will cook off in a minute or so, so safe to serve to non-drinkers. (Note that the port will impart a dark colour to the finished pate, so if you’re all about aesthetics you can skip this ingredient.)

Continue sauteing, stirring every minute or two until there are no more blood droplets on the outside of the liver pieces. Most chefs suggest leaving liver a little pink in the middle – feel free to cut pieces open to check. My own thoughts are that the texture might be a little smoother when they’ve got some pink left, but the taste shouldn’t be any different.

When it’s all done, let the mixture cool before adding it all to a food processor, along with salt, pepper, and – if you want a bit more bite and sweetness – a tablespoon or so of balsamic vinegar. At this point, you’ll also want to start adding butter and allspice.  Good butter really helps this recipe, and if you’re squeamish at all about the aftertaste of liver, it helps reduce that. So, too, does allspice, so you’ll want to use a good amount of both of these. Start with a smaller amount, though, blitzing the pate into a smooth paste, and keep adding more of each (as well as salt and pepper, if desired) until you find a nice balance of spice and richness.

You may find that you need to thin the pate out a little bit, as it can get pretty thick. I just use a bit of water, using a spatula to scrape the sides, and blitz some more. Some people use milk, or even cream (yeah, baby!) for this, but I think it’s rich enough with lots of nice butter.

Once it’s all blended nice and creamy, and seasoned to your taste (always taste your food whilst before serving!), you can scrape it into a container or two, let it cool and eat it or pop it into the fridge. I often freeze half the amount so I can have back-to-back batches without worrying about one going off. Freezing will degrade the texture a little bit, making it slightly more crumbly, but it still tastes great.

Spread the pate on some nice bread, use it as a dip for crudites or, hell, just eat it with a spoon. We’re low-carb (and this pate is too!) so we love it with carrot or celery sticks, or even better, homemade crispbread.

This approach to cooking liver has turned me from a hater into a fan, and I hope it can help you, too, to learn to love liver!

liver pate with apple slices

Strength Training For Treating Depression And Optimizing Cognitive Performance

weightsAs this article details, strength training is not just for building bigger muscles. The author, a psychiatrist, demonstrates that strength training can help improve a variety of mood, pain. and cognitive issues. A 2010 study done in elderly women showed that once weekly and twice weekly resistance training, both improved cognitive function as shown by a cognitive test of selective attention, and resolution of the mental conflict between naming colors and reading words. A 2017 study done in men and women, ages 30–45, showed improvement in psychological health, as measured by a questionnaire after 12 weeks of resistance training. In another study on adults greater than 60 years old, 10 weeks of a supervised progressive resistance training program three times a week was shown to improve depression, as well as improve bodily pain, vitality, and social functioning. It was also shown to decrease limitations on routine activities from emotional problems.

At Backs Etc., strength training is one of the foundations that we work with our training clients on because of its tremendous benefits, both physical and mental. Get in touch with us to see how we can tailor a programme to fit your needs.

Read the full article, The Prescription of Strength Training For Treating Depression And Optimizing Cognitive Performance

Shoulder blade dysfunction increases risk of future shoulder pain

scapulaResearch supports the idea that if you can’t control your shoulder blades then this will increase your risk of developing shoulder pain. I find that the origin of most shoulder pain is in the core, thorax, neck or scapular, resulting in overload and pain in the shoulder joint. It’s important to look at the whole kinetic chain when assessing a shoulder. If you need help with this make an appointment at Backs Etc.

Read the article, Scapular dyskinesis and risk of future shoulder pain