Commonly misunderstood gut truths

Commonly misunderstood gut truths

Wellness begins in the gut
(because we must nourish every cell). Chewing is key to start good digestion. Beyond the mouth there are no teeth!!

Gut feelings and the gut-brain axis are real
(enteric nervous system; vagus nerve connection; sleep & mood highly affected by gut status).

Disease begins in the gut
(major protective frontier: home to 2/3+ of immune system and often where imbalance and dysregulation begins).

Microbial genes outnumbers our genes by 300X
(our health depends on their health & balance, and they regulate our bodies in many ways).

We are what we eat, digest and absorb
(not just “what we eat”; many things can interfere with this process we take for granted e.g. stress, hypothyroid, stress, various medications).
Eating hygiene matters. A. Lot.

Stress has a major impact on gut function and health
(shuts down digestive secretions and impairs both motility and immune function).
Sit down to eat.
Take 5 deep breaths before you start your meal.
Chew mouthfuls many times until the solids make a liquid.
Drink liquids AWAY from meals.

Constipation and diarrhoea are symptoms of gut dysfunction, not illnesses in themselves
(take both seriously; if chronic can lead to major
complications). How long is your transit time?

Acid reflux is almost never caused by excessive stomach acid overall
(rather it is acid in the wrong place, and at times triggered by insufficient acid)

Digestion is vital!
(e.g. stomach acid, bile production and concentration, pancreatic enzymes; often the gateway to the physical breakdown observed in the senior population, impacted by Type 2 Diabetes, various drugs)

“Wear-and-tear” on the gut lining can have a long-lasting impact
(e.g. NSAIDs, pesticides, antibiotics, steroids, mercury, intestinal permeability, coeliac disease, microbial overgrowths e.g. SIBO – Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)

Meet Jill Raab, our Health Coach


I’ve been invited by my colleague, Dr. Jo Braid, to be a guest blogger at Braid Health.

So, I shall let you in on a bit of personal background, to put you in the picture.

We all have a story (I just love to hear people’s stories as we dive deeply into what makes them unique) and mine spans several decades! Suffice to say from the age of 4 years old I always felt a strong pull, a calling, a need, a love of helping others feel better. Simple hey?

I channelled that energy into a career as a nurse and midwife, where I was lucky enough to enjoy the diversity of working in both city and remote areas of Western Australia. As a Royal Flying Doctor Flight Nurse, I was privileged to serve in an area of a third of a million square miles providing emergency and clinic care to mining staff, aboriginal communities, station families and the general public. Prior to retiring 4 years ago, I worked in Emergency and Midwifery in a Perth hospital.  Another highlight of my career was community midwifery in England. In between times I have had the joy of raising two beautiful young men with my husband.

Now you may ask, why are you doing Health Coaching, why not enjoy retirement? Firstly, my health faltered on several occasions over the years, leading me to understand the part nutrition and lifestyle play in being not only well but feeling vibrant. From asthma and chronic fatigue, to melanoma, osteoarthritis, thyroid disease and especially the postnatal depletion I endured as an older Mum; I learned what it felt like for others.

Secondly, during the last decades I have watched the growing tide of chronic disease escalate out of all proportion.  People are suffering and it is not their fault!

My “why” crystallized one day a few years ago when, in response to an emergency call, I saw coming down the corridor of the Emergency Department a mother pushing a flushed, crying, overweight two-year-old with chest pain, in her stroller. The child was holding a red drink in her hand.
Whilst talking to her and her mother I quickly took her blood sugar level. It was that of a diabetic adult! Shock, anger and sadness overwhelmed me.

It was in that moment I realized I wanted to find a way to help people discover the simple steps they can take to feel well again. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that however retiring suddenly gave me space to recreate my role. I became certified as a Functional Medicine Health Coach, studying for 12 months with the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy. I learned how to leverage my extensive medical knowledge with proven coaching techniques to help you prevent or reverse chronic lifestyle induced disease. My love of learning now sees me continuing to enhance my knowledge, as I fulfil my quest for the latest science in applied functional medicine at The School of Applied Functional Medicine.

I love to work as part of a collaborative team, identifying the underlying causes of illness, helping you achieve the health goals you have set for yourself.

With my broad background in midwifery and nursing and love of people from all walks of life, I can turn my hand to coaching almost anyone.

Am I going to meet you soon?

The journey to health is one we all take when ready. I will give you a space of comfort, of safety and a place where you can be, receive and have gratitude for the complete person that you are. No matter what, I will be in your corner as you take on this challenge to feel vibrant again.

All about stress!

All about stress!

Last week I gave a brand new presentation on Stress at the Central West Women’s Health Centre. There were lots of questions at the end and surprise at the connections between stress and our bodies.

​​Did you know gut bugs, both friendly and unfriendly, respond to changes in stress hormones? Our immune system is intimately connected with our gut microbes, and is also affected by stress hormones.

​​In acute stress (running away from a predator), our immune system is UP-regulated in anticipation of infection.
​In chronic stress (lasting longer than 6 weeks), our immune system is DOWN-regulated meaning we are more vulnerable to infections.

​​The microbial balance in the gut changes which can affect neurotransmitter production.
Stress also affects our genes. In pregnant women, chronic stress can change the microbial community in the birth canal which can impact the bugs a baby is first in contact with.

​​Stress also affects DNA repair (telomerase activity) and women with highest levels of perceived stress compared with low stress have shorter telomeres. This has the average equivalent of at least one decade of additional ageing.

​So what can you do about this?

Meditation may slow genetic ageing and enhance genetic repair by promoting telomere maintenance

​​Box breathing is easy to do and can be done anywhere!
​Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4. Repeat for 4 to 6 rounds.
Lie down with your legs up the wall or calves resting on a chair, thighs vertical for 2-10 minutes for a gentle inversion.


And maybe consider this saying “Not my circus, not my monkeys” – the downfalls of trying to control what is not ours to control.
Maybe someone is trying to give you their problem to sort out/take on board.

Get some Sleep!

Get some Sleep!

100% of the top conditions seen by a General Practitioner can be related to poor sleep. Some of these include:

  • Hypertension
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Pain
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Cancer

We have different phases of sleep including:

REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement):
The body is paralysed but brainwaves are most similar to when awake.
This is important for memory consolidation and emotional control

NonREM sleep
Important for physical repair and learning
Brainwaves are slow, growth hormone is secreted. Children have a lot of this phase of sleep, it gradually decreases across adulthood.

During sleep, the brain has a special detoxification and clearance system called the Glymphatic System. Breakdown products and proteins are cleared by immune cells specific to the brain.

Sleep complaints are very common and include:

  • Snoring while sleeping – 48%
  • Snort, gasp or stop breathing – 11%
  • Trouble falling asleep – 16%
  • Unrested during day regardless of hours of sleep – 27%
  • not enough sleep – 26%

Poor sleep and chronic pain have a vicious cycle with new research showing sleep disruptions increase pain, more than pain disrupts sleep.

Quote: The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep. E. Joseph Cossman

The most common sleep disorder in the USA is “insufficient sleep”. The number of recorded sleep hours is steadily declining, with reports in 2001 of 7h sleep on worknights, compared with 6.7h in 2008. Almost 50% of adults get less than the recommended amount of sleep and up to 57% of children get less than needed.

Global effects of insufficient sleep include:

Mental health: anxiety, depression, panic
Physical health: inflammation, high blood pressure, obesity
Cognitive Performance: reduced short term memory, verbal fluency and creativity
Physical performance: decreased reaction time and coordination
Emotional Intelligence: ethical decision making and identifying emotional states.

Tips for better sleep:

  1. Start with a good wind-down before sleep. Avoid strong overhead lights as these make your body think it is daytime. Have a minimum of 1h wind down time to bring your body into parasympathetic mode ready for sleep.
  2. Control light exposure: use blue light blocking glasses 2h before bedtime when using devices or watching a screen. Use night time control for screen brightness/blue light blocking on your mobile phone.
  3. Turn mobile phone into Airplane mode or ideally keep in another room where you won’t be disturbed.
  4. Choose your bedtime so you get sufficient sleep – adults need 7-8h per night. Wake up time may be decided for you as per your schedule, YOU have the choice of when to go to bed.

Set up your bedroom for a good night’s sleep:

  • Dark
  • Cool
  • Clean
  • Silent
  • No pets
  • No wakeful stimuli eg devices

First thing in the morning ensure you have exposure to full spectrum light (ideally sunlight) for 30 minutes of the first 2 hours of waking. This will help set your day-night clock for better sleep. Aim for 10 minute bursts of light every couple of hours.

Mitochondria and brain health

Mitochondria and brain health

So how are mitochondria and brain health linked?

Very intricately indeed! Neurons which are nerve cells which send messages all around our body, use a lot of energy to do so, and the mitochondria provide the energy for this. So if mitochondria become damaged or dysfunctional (not working properly), there can be slowing down or limited messages getting through.

In terms of what this might look like for a person, symptoms could include:

  • brain fog
  • reduced endurance for tasks that previously were easy
  • lack of motivation
  • lethargy or fatigue
  • depression
  • inability to concentrate

All of these symptoms are suggestive of mild to moderate neuroinflammation.

The brain can become inflamed (aka neuroinflammation) from many causes including:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Stress
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Ageing – yup we’re all at risk of it!
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Pro-inflammatory diet – think junk food
  • Depleted antioxidant reserves – not enough colourful veg and fruits
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

So what can be done for a brain on fire?

I would start with a general overview of:

  • Maximise: Exercise – specific to the individual
  • Minimise: Alcohol and Stress
  • Prioritise: Sleep and good nutrition

Then tailor a program specific to an individual person and their contributing factors.

Variety of veggies through the week

Variety of veggies through the week

I’m always curious as to how I can easily improve my health, and I know one of the most powerful ways to improve health is by choosing what to eat. I know variety is the spice of life and that includes a wide variety of vegetables. So we eat on average 21 meals in 7 days (unless you’re intermittent fasting….more on that in another post) and I want to review the current variety of vegetables I eat in an average week and see if I fall short of 21 different vegetables. So here goes

  1. Baby spinach
  2. Cucumber
  3. Tomato
  4. Broccoli
  5. Beetroot
  6. Sweet potato
  7. Alfalfa sprouts
  8. Pumpkin
  9. Sweetcorn
  10. Rocket
  11. Snow peas
  12. Onion
  13. Mushrooms
  14. Zucchini
  15. Carrots

So I’ve listed my most common vegetables that I would purchase on an average week (mainly organic) and I’m eating two thirds of the concept of 21 different vegetables in a week! This makes me think what can I add to improve this variety. Here goes:

  1. Capsicum
  2. Squash
  3. Asparagus (although seasonal)
  4. Spring onion
  5. Aubergine/eggplant
  6. Bean sprouts
  7. Bok choy
  8. Kale
  9. Cabbage
  10. Cauliflower

So if you have a think about your usual favourite vegetables you buy/grow on a weekly basis, are you getting close to a variety of 21 vegetables? What extra/different veggies might you add to your weekly shop to increase the variety?
And why is it recommended to have a wide variety of vegetables in our nutritional intake?

Well each different vegetable provides different nutritional benefits to us, so to optimise our cellular needs through what we eat, we need a good variety of vegetables on a regular basis.

Mindfulness in daily life

Mindfulness in daily life

Are you aware of a wandering mind?

Or can you focus intently on what you are doing and not get distracted?

I was at my annual Australian Rehabilitation Medicine conference at the weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed a three hour workshop on Mindfulness with Dr Craig Hassed. We had opportunities to practise mindfulness, communicate while the other party is distracted or fully attentive, and do mental arithmetic under time and audience pressure!!!

Craig presented many research articles he has either been involved in or referenced in his talk. One of the very interesting facts about a wandering mind and longevity relates to telomeres. What is a telomere? Well it is similar to the end of a shoelace and comes out of either side of the coiled up DNA in each cell. When we are born we have long telomeres and as we age our telomeres shorten. Is there anything that makes them shorten more rapidly? Yes a wandering mind…. People who worry a lot or who have anxiety may appear 10 years older than their true age.

So if you want to maintain your youthfulness, why not give regular meditation a go. If you can manage even 5 minutes twice daily you may well notice some benefits. You could find a guided meditation online or find a quiet place to sit/lie down, close your eyes, scan your body from your toes to your head, listen and focus on your breathing, and if you notice thoughts then let them go and return to focusing on your breathing. There is no need for “perfection” in meditation, rather taking the time to sit down and not be connected with anyone or anything than yourself for a few minutes is just right.

My number 1 medicine: Sleep

My number 1 medicine: Sleep

Sleep is the number one medicine everyone should be taking!

I highly recommend a good intake/dose/amount of sleep every night. Research shows on average we are sleeping 2-3 hours LESS per night than in the 1980s – that is a big loss of sleep over 365 days.

So why is sleep so important for good health? While we sleep our brain cleans out metabolic waste products, so we can think more clearly, create more memories and be more engaged with what we do. The most important time to have undisturbed sleep is from 11pm to 3am.

Why do so many people have sleep issues?
I believe there are a whole range of reasons for this including lifestyle, nutrition, stress and environmental. Firstly I strongly believe and have read the research on the impact of screen time on our health. This has been a big change in our daily routine over the past decade and a half since portable devices have become easily available. So what is the issue with screens in the evening? Our screens emit blue light which is part of the natural light spectrum. Blue light tells our brains it is daytime and that we should be awake and not be producing melatonin (our go to sleep hormone). So by using a blue light emitting device right up until you close your eyes (your head may already be on the pillow!), your brain is wired and active and takes longer to relax into the restful state.

What can you do to help your body and mind settle into sleep better?

There are a range of supportive measures you can use:

  • Avoid using technology including tv, computers, ipads and phones for 90 minutes before bed.
  • Avoid overhead light globes and use warm lighting for example salt lamps or warm globes.
  • Buy some blue-light blocking glasses if you must use a screen late in the evening.
  • Use a screen dimming application on your computer for example f.lux, to decrease the blue light emitted from the screen – it looks slightly yellow.
  • Use the Twilight mode with an Android phone and Night Shift with an iPhone to automatically dim your screen from 7pm to 7am.
  • Go for a morning walk to get sunlight on your retinas (back of your eyes). Sunlight is a trigger for our circadian rhythm and if you teach your body when it is morning and time to be up and active, it will help train it to slow down and rest in the evening. Failing time to have a walk, even 5 minutes outside for your morning cuppa is beneficial.

If you can improve your sleep you will notice changes in your health in as little as 24-48 hours. It is fundamental to good health and there is no medicine that can replace regular restorative sleep.

Sniffles and Sneezes

Sniffles and Sneezes

As we get into the deep mid winter here in Orange, what can you do to reduce the chance of catching a cold, or shorten the duration of a cold?

I have 3 young kids at home and sniffles and sneezes are pretty common at this time of the year. As a starter I often swap dairy intake for a non-dairy source. Dairy proteins are known inflammatory triggers in the gut, and can contribute to mucousy symptoms in the nose, sinuses and throat. I would recommend avoiding all dairy for 30 days to allow gut repair to happen. Most of our immune system is in our gut so it’s a great place to start.

Other triggers may include dust including house dust mite waste products.  So what can you do to reduce the circulation of these microparticles?
Air your house often, yes even in winter, a fresh breeze can do wonders for cleaning up the air in your home.
Wash doonas regularly, change pillows annually, use a mattress protector.
Take your shoes off when you walk in to reduce dirt and toxins picked up from outside.
Some people regularly use essential oils to freshen the air, and these natural oils have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.

How good is your nutrition? If you are deficient in certain nutrients it may take longer to get over a common cold. For example zinc is essential for good immune function. Zinc is naturally found in red meat, oysters and pulses. It is important to discuss this with your doctor if you are supplementing with zinc tablets as high levels can be dangerous.
Vitamin D has a multitude of good functions in the body including immune health. Ideally we can get this through sun exposure, however over the winter months a supplement may be of benefit as the strength of the sun is less over winter and it’s cold so we don’t get our skin out so much!
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can be found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables including citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables. Did you know that we are one of the few mammals on earth who cannot make vitamin C? So we are dependent on nourishing foods to supply enough vitamin C for our system.

And finally, I would include in any patient consultation or when looking at the health of my kids, that they are having enough sleep on a regular basis. Our bodies need enough sleep to regenerate, detoxify and maintain a healthy immune system. So for an adult aim to get eight hours of good restorative sleep most nights and your body will be able to work on any pesky bugs who may be responsible for a common cold.

If you are getting coughs and colds more often than usual, it may be wise to visit your health care provider to ensure your body, including your immune system, is working well.

Detox your home

Detox your home

Are you aware that your surroundings may contribute to you and your family’s health? An important part of maintaining and restoring good health is to address your environment and the impact it can have on a cellular level.

Potential sources of toxins I commonly find in clients seen in clinic include:

  • paints
  • water supply
  • chemicals used for cleaning in the home
  • gardening supplies
  • furniture which can release toxins, called “off-gassing” which can be harmful particularly when the item is brand new

So what can you do to help your body detoxify these toxins from the inside out?

Supply your body with plenty of phytonutrients. These are naturally occurring compounds found in plants which increase your body’s ability to detoxify. We have receptors in our gut lining for phytonutrients.
Examples are whole, real foods such as broccoli, bok choy, kale and Brussel sprouts. Foods which are high in antioxidants include dark, leafy green vegetables and berries are great choices.

Avoid plastics. These are commonly found in items such as disposable coffee cups, canned foods and even in supermarket receipts.
Bring your own keep-cup to the barista, buy tomatoes in jars or cartons and avoid touching the supermarket receipt.
Use glass or stainless steel for a water bottle and to store leftovers in. Rather than buying water in a plastic bottle, install a water filter at home – I have a reverse osmosis water filter installed at the kitchen sink.

Avoid mercury in foods you eat. Choose smaller fish like sardines or cold water fish such as salmon or mackerel. These fish have lower mercury levels than some of the big fish such as tuna and swordfish. For fruits and vegetables select organic where you can to minimise exposure to environmental toxins.

Look at your cleaning products and personal care lotions and potions. Where you can, make changes to use natural, simple products. These can include easily available items such as vinegar and baking soda for cleaning the house. For personal care, coconut oil is natural and smells great. It can be used for make up removal and moisturising.
Just think, if you would be ok eating the product you’re using then it’s safe for your skin.

Finally get moving! We can detoxify through exercising and sweating. Find a buddy and get out into the fresh air or try a sauna or steam room.

So make your life cleaner for yourself and your family. Look into where you can combine a whole-foods diet with a less toxic environment and a healthy lifestyle and notice what rewards you reap.