Tag Archives: immune system

Inner Spring cleaning: why probiotics are your friends

During the past couple of weeks the buzzword on social media has been “Spring Cleaning”. This expression seems to be incredibly versatile and it can be applied to almost any field of interest: from decluttering around the house, to reorganizing files and directories, removing Facebook frenemies… but Spring cleaning can also be applied to our thoughts and habits.

Spring in the UK can be a funny time of the year. Actually, for someone like me who still remembers being too warm most of the year in Italy, Spring in the UK can be a source of tears because there are more hours of daylight but brighter doesn’t necessarily equal warmer. And so I cry whenever I have to wear three jumpers in April.

I am not the only one who’s been suffering though. Recently some of my clients seem to  have fallen victim to the Spring germs that brought them colds, flu and general misery. And that’s how I know that they haven’t really paid any attention to the advice I gave them when we first met…  😛

The impact of stress on the health of your gut

The thing is when you work long hours for long periods of time you are inadvertently placing your body under a lot of stress. This tends to weaken your immune system leaving you open to the attach of the many seasonal viruses. As the immune system is intrinsically linked to the health of your gut I like to start there when addressing the nutritional habits of my clients.

Intestine and bacteriaMy favourite recommendation is to consider adding probiotics to your diet in order to ensure that your digestive tract is in tip-top shape as you start your fitness makeover journey. When the digestive system is overworked it won’t be able to extract the nutrients from the food and drinks efficiently. This could result in varying degrees of malnutrition and a metabolism that is out of balance.

Our intestines are responsible for the absorption of nutrients from the food and drinks that we consume every day and they are populated by both good and bad bacteria. According to medical wisdom the ideal ratio between good and bad bacteria is 9 to 1, however most of us fall short of this.

Why is that I hear you ask? The foods that we eat have a significant impact on the bacteria population in our intestine for good or for bad. SMART choices will ensure you nurture the good bacteria in your gut, but bad choices made at the table could have a negative effect on your health and wellbeing.

For example, if you suffer from an intolerance to something like gluten should you choose to eat it anyway could result in your intestinal tract becoming damaged resulting in bloating, joint pain, bleeding gums and so on. Also, be aware that taking antibiotics to get rid of a stubborn and brutal cold will kill off a large proportion of the good guys in your intestine.


Pay attention to your diet

It might seem like I am stating the obvious but ensuring that you drink plenty of mineral water, eat mostly fresh organic produce with adequate amounts of protein can go a long way to improve your gut health. For some reason for many people this seems to be the hardest habit to change. They resist the idea of giving up convenience food and are in love with the illusion of a “magic pill” that will fix everything. Whereas a little bit of effort and willpower in the beginning will result in not needing any pills in the future.

When you are spring cleaning your nutritional habits protein has a major role in your diet. It is broken down into amino acids aka the body’s very own building blocks. In this context the most important one is L-Glutamine because of its ability to assist with intestinal function, health and repair. It also helps us build muscle and contributes to the health of our brain. L-Glutamine occurs naturally in both animal and vegetable protein, however it can also be taken as a supplement if you suspect that your gut lining may be damaged and you need extra help.

Give your digestion a boost

Digestive enzymes are often overlooked as a powerful digestion aid. Their task is to break down the macronutrients in your food so that they are easily absorbed into the bloodstream. They are especially useful if you suffer from food intolerances as these can cause varying degrees of malabsorption. You can feel the benefits almost straight away in terms of more energy and less hunger.

Take probiotics on a regular basis

There are many reasons why it’s a good idea to do so: as well as making your immune system rock solid they work in tandem with the digestive enzymes in transforming food into energy producing nutrients. Probiotics will also help you reduce hunger and bloating (hello flat belly!). You will find it easier to manage your food intolerances: sometimes these will get better and you might even be able to virtually eliminate some (since taking probiotics regularly I can eat dairy products safely without side effects). Allergies like hayfever will also improve because your body will carry less inflammation and therefore won’t react so violently to allergens.

You might still catch a cold or a flu every now and then, especially if the virus responsible is a new strain that you are not yet immune to, but these will typically manifest themselves as a couple of sneezes or feeling slightly under the weather for a day or two with no need to take medications other than for comfort (hot lemon… yum!).

Probiotics come in many varieties: for convenience you can buy probiotic tablets from your local health shop. In my opinion these aren’t great but are awesome when you travel, especially by air. You can also find many dairy based probiotics drinks at your local supermarket and although good they are not brilliant either. The best probiotics are the ones that you make yourself starting with some live cultures and leaving them to ferment in either milk (Kefir), sugary water (water Kefir), sugary tea (Kombucha) or vegetables (e.g.Milk Kefir sauerkrauts). Typically probiotic in kefir will have a much higher count of good bacteria than any dairy probiotic drinks you can get from a shop and no added preservatives, thickeners, fats, etc.

My personal experience and the reason I always recommend them to my clients is that since I started making my own probiotics in July 2013 I had a nasty cold once in September 2014 after spending 10 days on a road trip around Europe eating gluten (which I am intolerant to) and drinking alcohol destroying my intestines in the process. I got back on track immediately on my return and haven’t had anything major apart from a few sneezes in Winter every now and then.

Pretty good going, huh?

If you would like to have a go at making probiotics drinks yourself you can check out this post for Milk Kefir and this post for Kombucha. Do bear in mind that cultures tend to grow like triffids when they are happy so there is a good chance that your place will soon be overrun with them (if only my bank account behaved in the same way!).

Get plenty of restful and uninterrupted sleep

I know that this is very hard to achieve when you are super busy but remember that sleeping is the best form of detox available to you. It’s the time of the day when your body eliminates toxins and repairs itself as well as the time when cortisol levels drop and reset.

Sleep is the best form of detox ever

Find time for some “me time”

Spending some time alone in peace and quiet is a great way to relax and explore habits that are outdated and no longer serving you. This is another important aspect of an effective Spring cleaning mission. Sometime we get caught up in perpetual ruminating of thoughts going over and over the same scenarios in our heads. Putting an end to this will greatly reduce our chances of feeling drained and becoming emotionally stressed.

A technique that I love using when I catch myself ruminating is to visualize myself freezing that thought and face it head on. I allow myself to feel the feelings that it evokes and then I imagine it thawing and melting away.

Inner Spring cleaning is an all year round thing

Although Spring is the time of the year most associated with fresh starts it goes without saying that this type of reset can be done at any time of the year, month, week, day. Look at it as having a break from the life you got used to with a view of re-prioritising your health and well-being over everything else.

The rewards will come in terms of that feel good factor that will see your confidence soar leading you to make brave choices in your work or business helping you push the boundaries of your comfort zone. This is often where success is waiting for you.

Need help with your inner Spring cleaning? Get in touch now and book a complimentary 30 minutes breakthrough call to explore the best strategy for you. 

  • Verna EC, Lucak S. Use of probiotics in gastrointestinal disorders: what to recommend? Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology. 2010;3(5):307-319. doi:10.1177/1756283X10373814.
  • Aragon G, Graham DB, Borum M, Doman DB. Probiotic Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2010;6(1):39-44.
  • Özdemir Ö. Various effects of different probiotic strains in allergic disorders: an update from laboratory and clinical data. Clinical and Experimental Immunology. 2010;160(3):295-304. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2249.2010.04109.x.
  • De Oliveira Leite AM, Miguel MAL, Peixoto RS, Rosado AS, Silva JT, Paschoalin VMF. Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage. Brazilian Journal of Microbiology. 2013;44(2):341-349. doi:10.1590/S1517-83822013000200001.

A berry easy way to enjoy a delicious treat packed with many health benefits

There are many things that make the prospect of Summer getting closer alluring. Food-wise I believe one of the biggest anticipations is finally being able to eat fresh berries. And I mean literally just picked off the plants, fresh, scented, juicy. Perhaps accompanied by a Strawberries and champagne in a Martini glassglass of Champagne whilst sitting outside under a canopy of trees. Who else is salivating already?

But wait! Isn’t fruit a big no-no when it comes to fat loss?

Au contraire, in my opinion nothing is truly off-limits. Some things are perhaps more likely to hinder your progress, others can be downright destructive if you are intolerant or allergic to them but fruit offers plenty of benefits as well as providing us with a bit of healthy sweetness.

My personal experience is that once I got my shit together and sorted my nutrition out by going organic most of the time and buying from local farmers some of the time, I was once again able to enjoy the true flavour of cherries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries in its full intensity. It’s amazing how sweet real fruit can be once you wean yourself off from pre-fab foods.

It’s not just the flavour that you should go for though, there are also many health benefits in eating berries on a regular basis.


Cupped hands holding a bunch of freshly picked strawberries

Research recently carried out into why strawberries are good for humans1 showed that they are a rich source of micronutrients and phytochemicals such as α-carotene, vitamin C and phenolic compounds. Because of this they have shown to have antioxidant properties, can help in preventing cancer (or at least slow down its progress) and assist with the correct function of the immune system.

In order to establish how many of the beneficial compounds were available to us a small group of healthy individuals were made to consume “acute quantities (300g)” of fresh and stored (refrigerated for 4 days) strawberries obtained from a local grower and then blood tests were carried out. Of particular importance was to establish what difference eating fresh vs. stored strawberries would make to the bio-availability to humans of the many phytochemicals, after all it had been previously proven that storage methods can indeed have an influence on nutrients’ absorption but also on the chemical structure of produce.

Surprisingly (but also yay!) the blood tests carried out over a period of hours showed that there were minimal differences in the levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin E between fresh and stored strawberries, with the only significant difference shown in the levels of Vitamin C after consumption of stored strawberries. Levels of α-carotene were higher after eating fresh produce whilst antioxidant compounds didn’t show any significant results.

The takeaway from this experiment is that yes, storage methods can have an impact on the bio-availability of nutrients from fruit but that it’s so minimal that we really shouldn’t worry too much about it as long as the fruit is refrigerated immediately after harvest and consumed within 4 days. In fact, researchers have hinted that it’s the process of deterioration of the fruit that can possibly make some of the beneficial compounds more easily processed by our bodies.


A bowl of frozen berries

© SMART Fitness Makeover, MMXVI

Well, berry flavonoids and their health benefits for humans seem to have been the subject of many research papers. Women seem to have a particular interest in berries and have increased their consumption on the basis that they might help them cope with menopausal symptoms. Studies have demonstrated that post-menopausal women who consumed berries at least once a week over a 16 year period of time had a remarkably lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

From the data currently available2 it seems that berries have indeed beneficial effects, albeit moderate, on cardiovascular health, “bad cholesterol” levels, free radicals and weight loss. They appear to inhibit the expression of the inflammation gene and are helpful in the prevention of oesophageal cancer. The reasons for this effect are multiple: like strawberries other berries are also rich in polyphenols, flavonoids, vitamins A, E and C, carotene, selenium and folic acid. “Berry anthocyanins also improve neuronal and cognitive brain functions, eyes health as well as protect genomic DNA integrity4″. The bio-availability of these compounds unfortunately isn’t great and they tend to be concentrated in the skin of the fruits.

Berries are low in calories (approx. 40KCal/100g) and contain modest amounts of fibre which is always a bonus especially when on a calorie controlled programme. Of particular interest to me is the fact that berries, like chocolate, contain catechins which can support muscle growth when performing regular resistance training.

If all this wasn’t a good enough reason to regularly include berries in our diet researchers have found that “specific berries, such as bilberry and black currant extracts, chokeberry juice, cranberry extracts, and freeze-dried strawberries were shown to have favorable effects on plasma glucose or lipid profiles in subjects with metabolic risk factors including type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, or metabolic syndrome”3. Blueberries have been shown to be useful in improving insulin resistance.

The consensus among researchers seems to be that it’s best to eat berries either fresh or frozen when all their nutritional compounds are still intact. In the Summer it’s really easy to eat them straight out of the punnet they tend to come in. The rest of the year we can still enjoy them frozen.

I like to use mixed berries for my post-workout recovery shakes: I add 1 scoop of unflavoured whey protein powder to a mug with 1.5 scoops of raw cocoa powder, 2 grams of cinnamon extract and 1 cup of frozen mix berries from the local supermarket. Sometimes I mix the ingredient with mineral water, other times with coconut milk and then I blitz them until I have a thick but frothy shake and enjoy it as if it was a dessert. In fact, in the rare occasions when the temperature raises above 25ºC I might even turn this into a sorbet.

Had I not ripped out all the strawberry plants in my back garden mistaking them from weeds I would be repeating these experiment every year with my own crops. Especially the bit in which I have to consume berries in acute quantities like a whole punnet every day (but skipping the blood test bit). Instead I am forced to resort to some of the local growers who kindly sell their produce every fortnight at the local Farmers’ Market and eat them in moderation to make it cost effective.

I love all berries but I think if I really had to choose a favourite it would have to be strawberries. What about you?

1 – E. Azzini et al. , “Absorption of strawberry phytochemicals and antioxidant status changes in humans”, Journal of Berry Research 1 (2010) 81–89, DOI:10.3233/BR-2010-009
2 – Huntley, A.L. “The health benefits of berry flavonoids for menopausal women: cardiovascular disease, cancer and cognition.”, Maturitas (2009), DOI: http://www.maturitas.org/article/S0378-5122(09)00174-1/fulltext
3 – Basu, A et al., “Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health”, Nutr Rev. Author manuscript; PMCID: PMC3068482
4 – Zafra-Stone, S. et al., “Berry anthocyanins as novel antioxidants in human health and disease prevention”, Mol. Nutr. Food Res. 2007, 51, 675 – 683 DOI 10.1002/mnfr.200700002