WNT founder Jennie Duck reflects on her home birth experience and the factors that made it a positive one, sharing what supported her own experiences and some resources that could support you.
My daughter turned one a few weeks ago and I have been reflecting on the moment her joyful little presence wriggled gleefully into our lives. She was born weighing 8lb 10 at 8.10pm on a Saturday night and my overwhelming feeling as I held her in my arms was luckiness. How lucky I was to have a perfect, healthy, alive little baby born just as I hoped - at home with a midwife - and joining her older brother in making their entrances as Ducks with their own minds: both born on the kitchen floor alongside, rather than in, the birthing pool.
That feeling of luckiness was largely due to a fear that haunted my pregnancy of losing our baby, a common feeling, I think, for women who’ve experienced miscarriages as I have. With this pregnancy I felt it as such certainty: surely something would go wrong and a stillbirth was the ultimate point at which this fear would be realised. So, a live and utterly healthy baby was nothing short of a miracle to my nervous system. I am still slightly stunned by it.
I had a beautiful (and intense!) birth experience. I was at home in low light and felt safe. I was active throughout, lots of yogic movement and in and out of the birthing pool. I had an experienced and sensitive midwife who struck an ideal balance of letting me get on with it with support on hand when needed. I had my own music playing, my husband around and my son safely upstairs building lego with his uncle. My baby came in a swift 5 hours, contractions were intense from the get go so it was very physical and the second stage of labour was quick, just a few huge pushes (I was ready to rest by that point!). She came out in the bag, it burst as I held her and because we were at home we just transferred to the sofa and set about skin to skin snuggles with no need to go anywhere for the week to come.
It could have been so different - two days before that I had a scan that caused the consultant at the hospital to suggest I had a caesarean section because they thought the baby was so big. At the ‘geriatric’ age of 41 I had agreed to this late 41-week scan to check the placenta was still in good condition. I’d asked not to be notified about the weight as I know my mental preparation would suffer a blow if I were told it was a large baby, but because they were concerned it got flagged up and it did indeed instil fear in me that I was getting ready to birth a whopper.
That it should all end so positively is down to a number of things and these things are part of what makes me feel so lucky. I know many women are not so lucky and I hope by sharing some of the things that made my experience so positive someone might find support in these avenues too. The fact that they helped me cope with the turn of events that had me considering an unnecessary caesarean epitomises why these things are so precious to have.
Lucky thing number 1:
A wonderful midwife and midwifery team that I got to know and who got to know me.
I live in Scotland so was with the Ayrshire and Arran home birthing team, but my first child was born in West Norwood with an equally excellent homebirth team connected to Kings. This meant I had all my appointments at home and I got to know each of the team over the course of my pregnancy. The team knew my history, my mindset, my physical health, my family and my home environment. My own midwife was so keen to be at my baby’s birth that she said she would come even if she wasn’t working.
It was personal and supportive and it meant that when I came out of the scan appointment where the hospital midwife and consultant didn’t know me, my midwife was able to reassure me that my body was growing a baby appropriately sized to my capacity, that my mental and physical preparation were good and that a home birth could still be my first choice. She was so right (and here’s one for physical touch and palpation over technology): my baby was 8lb 10 rather than the 11lb the scan had suggested. Moreover, I had no painkillers, interventions and no ‘exit wounds’ from the birth, only some muscular soreness from the effort and intensity.
Lucky thing number 2:
The support of a hypnobirthing expert and bodyworkers and the financial capacity to pay for it.
I am sad that these are a privilege to women because they are so powerful and helpful. For hypnobirthing there are free and cheaper resources out there which I encourage you to use – guided meditations, books, relaxation exercises and some of the resources listed below are all really helpful. But the one-to-one support I had was incredibly valuable to me, especially as I began to prepare for the possibility of birthing an 11lb baby! Hypnobirthing works using hypnosis and deep relaxation to help shift limiting beliefs and doubt in the subconscious so it can help you prepare deeply and, for me, helped me trust my body’s implicit wisdom and capabilities.
I also had some acupuncture – privately from pre-conception and throughout pregnancy and then, amazingly our local midwifery team were trained in ‘cervical ripening’ at the later stage so I had this and some foot massage from my midwives! Full body massage was also invaluable in helping my body prepare, relax and for the physical strain of late pregnancy.
Lucky thing number 3:
My own education and understanding of bodies, birth, mind-body interplay and a decision to tune out what wouldn’t help
Of course, as a bodyworker and the owner of a complementary health business I live in a world where things like ‘mind-body interplay’ are ongoing considerations – so this lucky thing is partly due to my personal interests and life trajectory. It also means I am in an environment where I know people who will suggest things to me like reading Ina May Gaskin who opened the door to homebirth for me and gave me the confidence to start down that road. It also meant that things like peroneal massage were a no-brainer and I prioritised the relaxation side of yoga, using yoga nidra (see below) a lot and ensuring any strength building involved lots of breath work too.
I realise many people are not in this world and the jump to homebirth or some of these approaches might be bigger than for me, but the fundamental point is that my interest in what was happening and going to happen in my body and focus on working with that played an ENORMOUS part in my having the positive birth experience that I had. It doesn’t need specialist knowledge or even interest, more an attitude of tuning in and listening to what your body and baby need and then (this is the hard part) acting on that, even if it means (as it did for me) cocooning yourself for several weeks and potentially offending some people. I believe empowering myself with knowledge, techniques and boundaries made all the difference.
Lucky thing number 4:
The emphatic support and trust of my partner
This is a big one for home birth because you have to believe that it is the right choice for you and your baby. If your partner would feel safer in a hospital then this can impact your ability to fully relax into being at home, you might absorb their anxiety. My partner read Ina May Gaskin too and learned to trust that I knew my body. It was better with the second – with my first home birth he let his absolute honesty interfere! When I wanted him to tell me it was going to be ok he said “I’m sorry I just don’t know that” so I pushed him away and asked the midwife to tell me instead, which she duly did😊 The second time he knew that I just needed to hear his belief in my capacity and he was more ready for this.
And here are my key learnings that helped me have a positive birth:
Ina May Gaskin – any of her books! Birth Matters is a great starter. Guide to Childbirth another helpful one and Spiritual Midwifery if you are already a bit down the road with home birth / open to more esoteric reading
Kristin Hayward Hypnobirthing – Kristin is based in Herne Hill and also offers sessions online. She does sessions with couples and individuals and is so lovely, encouraging and an expert in her field
Katherine Graves is another big name in hypnobirthing and has a book that might be helpful if you aren’t able to have one to one sessions
Yoga Nidra and Uma Dinsmore-Tuli – Uma is the queen of yoga nidra (yogic sleep / deep relaxation) and this wonderful resource features lots of free (or payment by donation) yoga nidra sessions and some good birth preparation exercises (see the shop – yoga for birth or pregnancy)- I used a lot of this during my labour, it was wonderful 😊 https://www.yoganidranetwork.org/
Acupuncture – Philippa is our fertility, pregnancy and birth prep specialist at WNT and if I’d been in London I would have seen her regularly as I did with my first child (also a positive home birth)
Massage – Erika has lovely hands and has worked on a lot of pregnant bodies, she would be able to help with aches and pains and provide a gently nourishing space in late pregnancy and also post-natal recovery period (which in my experience is over a year long…!)
Reflexology – Laura offers this other approach to fertility and pregnancy support which is an equally effective alternative to acupuncture – I recommend choosing based on your preferences and what you are drawn to
Massage therapist Erika Zettervall has embarked upon an experiment: can running help with depression? In this inspiring blog she shares her journey so far and some helpful resources for anyone interested in exploring whether running might be a good option for yourself in improving mental wellbeing.
I have taken up running again, this time conducted as a little experiment to see how - or if - it affects my state of mind. Bluntly put, I’d like to see if it works to combat depression.
My state of mind has been a bit low and dull, feeling uninspired and finding it hard to make decisions as well as difficulty concentrating. Perhaps that’s normal sign of ageing or symptomatic of my lifestyle with increased screen time and social media indulgence.
According to psychiatrist Anders Hanson, running 30-45 minutes 3 times a week at 70% effort for at least 6 weeks would create changes in the brain that help with depression. My understanding is that there is a substance produced in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex in the brain called BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) that protects, repairs and stimulates new brain cells. Having low levels of this substance is associated with depression. Medication increases these levels as does exercise.
I have taken antidepressants in the past and found them helpful to some extent but not really making much difference long term and at this point it doesn’t feel necessary to seek them out.
So, after finding a book on my bookshelf in the great unread section by Dr Anders Hansen writing about the benefits exercise in general, and running in particular, has on the brain as well as hearing him speak on Rangan Chatterjee’s podcast, Feel Better Live More, episode 38, I decided to give it a go. A simple explanation for these benefits is that our biology is still more in line with being a hunter gatherer and not suited for the abundant, convenient world we now live in. Shorter sessions of 20-30 minutes would also make improvements in the functions of the brain such as memory and creativity.
The plan is to work up to the 45min sessions and keep it up for 6 weeks and see how I feel and then keep going with three times a week 30-45min sessions. It sounds a realistic and doable plan to have and curious to see how this will take me through the winter. No doubt shorter days and harsher weather will be a bit of challenge.
Luckily, I have always liked running when I’m fit enough and I enjoy the striding movement. It’s a nice way to explore an area be it park, wood or neighbourhood. It is also a very accessible and simple way to exercise. No need for fancy memberships, class schedules or expensive equipment. Just put shoes on and go. I like the freedom of that.
I am now 4 weeks in and it is a joy. Perhaps it’s the lovely, mild autumnal weather that brings a pep to my step. Starting out being in general good health and having a comfortable walking gait has been helpful (don’t run before you can walk as the saying goes) in having making it very pain free so far. Not focusing on speed or distance makes it very carefree.
The first two weeks I went for 20-30 min sessions and this last week increased it to 45 min a couple of times.
As to how my mind is: Feeling a lot more inspired than I did a couple of weeks ago, but if that is down to the actual running or to setting and following a plan it’s hard to say. Having an intention with what you do, whatever it is, is also one of these things in life that can shift the mood.
Acupuncturist Philippa Summers suggests some local classes suitable from pregnancy to preschool and highlights which of the WNT team can support you around this busy, nurturing stage of life.
As the nights begin to draw in and we withdraw inside a little more it can be more challenging to plan your days with a baby or toddler, and to look after your own well-being and fitness. Well, the good news is there are a wealth of opportunities out there, activities you can do with your baby or children and classes for yourself with your baby or at those precious moments you have to yourself. Just getting out and meeting up with other mums and dads can make a whole world of difference as you adjust to parenthood. Maybe you are looking for something specific or just want to browse and see what’s out there.
I came across a website, Happity, that makes searching for classes and events in your area a doddle. It covers everything from pregnancy through the baby and toddler years to age 5. Prices vary, some are free and some low cost from as little as £2.
Among them are:
I know from my own experience and that of probably every parent I know just how important these groups are through this phase of life. If you are struggling with post-natal depression Happity also have a dedicated area of their website which includes links to useful resources. Check out their blog, too.
I’d like to make a special mention for Gather-ed as they offer something a little different and I think much needed. They offer 1:1 support, workshops and group gatherings with experienced facilitators including midwives - ‘gently facilitated discussions on themes and topics relevant to parenthood…and are a space for honest, authentic conversations’. Wednesday mornings at Knowles in West Norwood, other classes in East Dulwich.
Pregnancy Treatments at West Norwood Therapies
Finally, we can help to support you throughout your pregnancy with our treatments at West Norwood Therapies:
Acupuncture: Some women choose to have regular acupuncture to support them throughout their pregnancy, but commonly it will be to help with a particular issue. In the early stages of pregnancy women often seek help for morning sickness and at the latter stages for breech presentation and birth preparation. For birth preparation there are advantages to starting treatment at 36 weeks but with the all-clear from your midwives we can also offer treatments when you are overdue and facing an induction.
If you are trying to conceive Laura and Philippa also offer fertility focussed treatments, too.
Please just get in touch if you’d like to find out more.
WNT founder Jennie Duck shares her love of river swimming and how she overcame her hesitations to get in the water this year.
I live in Scotland right by the river. It has always been a fantasy of mine to live right by a river – a swimmable river – and sometimes I have to pinch myself to know that this is in fact my life.
Normally I am itching to get in for my first swim of the year and this has been as early as April in our 5 years here. I have fantasies of going for a dip every day of the year at some point, but with young children and various life demands I am not aiming to achieve this anytime soon. But over the summer months I love to go in for mini-dips, mega-dips, paddles and full submersive swims.
But this year I haven’t wanted to! With this theme of swimming for our summer news I volunteered to write about my first swim of the year and promptly regretted it when I realised that it would involve, well, going for a swim.
I have a 9-month-old baby now as well as a 7yr old home-educated child and time has become so hazy and precisely precious all at once. We still live like in lockdown, we are both self-employed working from home and being alone is a hard thing to find at present. Having a shower now constitutes self-care time and I find myself having to choose between things that I used to value as daily activities. I can do some yoga OR tend to my veg patch. I can wash my hair OR go for a run. Swimming in the river involves a change of clothes, a short walk and a shower – that’s like 4 days personal activities all in one.. 😉
I kept thinking of the benefits I get from swimming outdoors – the freshness, the absolute presence in nature, the warm glow afterwards, the sense of achievement – and wondering when I would find these more urgent than a bit of time on my yoga mat or rescuing the beetroot from the weeds.
It didn’t come – but my family did! I come from a family who grew up swimming in rivers and the sea. My mum used to say, “I’m always happy by water” and perhaps as a family of Ducks it is no surprise that we are all energised and nourished by water and being in it.
This was a different experience than the solo experience which boosts my emotional, mental and physical health by the combination of headspace, nature, exercise and freedom. This was fun, community, connection, joy, sharing AND nature, exercise and freedom!
As I read the interviews Tessa has done with her swimming clients and Philippa’s input on swimming around perimenopause, I can see the place for doing these things in community, for the joy that can only come from sharing and doing things together. The poet Ross Gay writes about his experience focusing on delight and joy “Which is to say, I felt my life to be more full of delight. Not without sorrow or fear or pain or loss. But more full of delight. I also learned this year that my delight grows—much like love and joy—when I share it.”
Then I read Erika’s words on our senses and understand that I still want to go for my solo swims, to nurture my interior landscape as well. Maybe the weeds can defeat the beetroot this year and I can get in an extra few dips…
Acupuncturist Philippa Summers looks at what women can experience from perimenopause onwards and how exercise and swimming can be of great benefit around these years.
At a recent party on a chilly evening in the garden I asked a friend in a strappy dress if she was warm enough, she lightly replied “Oh, yes, I have my own personal weather system”. Made me chuckle but menopause is no laughing matter. Some women sail through but for others the symptoms can be unbearable and debilitating and can take a huge toll on just about every aspect of life. It can be a time when women feel at a loss with the changes that are happening to them, bewildered by them. Getting the balance between seeing them as a medical issue and a transformative time of adjustment can be helpful in easing women through this phase of life with greater serenity and joy, with a combined approach offering great benefits.
Among the most common symptoms are hot flushes, night sweats, mood changes, tiredness, vaginal discomfort, loss of libido and brain fog, but it affects women very differently and you may experience a range of other physical, mental and emotional symptoms. They can start as women enter the perimenopausal phase, often in their mid 40s, sometimes earlier, usually but not always accompanied by changes in their menstrual cycle.
From a medical perspective getting diagnosed is the first step to understanding the changes you are going through and finding solutions that suit you, including HRT. The options can be simple with far reaching benefits. Finding the right choices for you will not only help you to feel better but importantly also help to protect your future health, particularly cardiovascular and bone health.
From a lifestyle perspective nutrition, exercise, sleep, relaxation and strong social and emotional connections provide the foundations for your wellbeing, regardless of whether or not you take HRT. Acupuncture can also play a supportive role in helping women ease through the transition, connecting mind with body, with proven benefits for some of the associated symptoms including hot flushes, low mood and anxiety, poor sleep, aches and pain.
I have included a link to a resource with a wealth of info at the end, including medical, lifestyle, social and political info. Now, for an overview of exercise and then a brief focus on swimming, our topic for this summer newsletter, in relation to menopause.
From perimenopause onwards physical activity can help to prevent muscle loss which occurs naturally as we age, support a healthy weight reducing the risk of chronic disease and improve cardiovascular, respiratory and bone health. Exercise will build strength, support the joints and alleviate the aches and pain, and the mood enhancing benefits of exercise can help in the way we perceive pain. Additionally, it can help with sleep and generally help you to feel better. If you have specific health issues that limit your activity then seek appropriate advice and support.
As a guide try to get about 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times a week but if you are new to exercise then start light with 10 mins a day and build up gradually.
Aim for a combination of exercise each week:
Cold water swimming is anecdotally very helpful to relieve hot flushes and some of the other symptoms of menopause. It has proven stress relieving and anxiety reducing benefits which can last for several days, and also helps immunity. We are fortunate to have Tooting and Brockwell Park lidos on our doorstep. During the winter especially, they are places with a strong sense of community and camaraderie. If you intend to swim into the winter months then start swimming during the warmer summer and autumn months so that you can gradually acclimatise. As the temperatures cool check out the cold water swimming guides so that you adjust safely and do not overdo your exposure to the cold.
If you are seeking more information the Balance-Menopause website, set up by menopause specialist Dr Louise Newson, is a good place to start for understanding more about the perimenopause and menopause and finding support, with an app to track symptoms if you wish. Their mission is to make menopause support inclusive and accessible to everyone globally, with some extremely useful free resources. If you have symptoms then seek out a menopause trained specialist to confirm diagnosis and guide you through treatment choices - HRT, alternative options and lifestyle advice all have a role to play.
Sports massage therapist Tessa Glover interviews her client Emily Hayter who is a competitive swimmer who trains with Spencer swimming club. Emily shares how she approaches training and competing and encourages us that swimming can be taken up at any age and stage. Thanks for sharing Emily!
How long have you been a competitive swimmer?
I always loved the water and I swam competitively for a few years in my early teens while I was living in Canada. I swam on and off on my own after that but was mainly keeping active through other things. After a 17 year break from club swimming I joined a Masters club, Spencer, in London in my early 30s and started competing again.
How did you come to choose your preferred swimming stroke and distance?
It's changed since I was younger, partly due to injuries (eg no breastroke because of my knees so no medley events anymore). The only one of my favourite events from when I was younger which I'm still doing is the 50m butterfly. One thing that's great about pool swimming is you learn and practise all four strokes, so everyone finds their own favourite.
Aside from the 50 fly I race all freestyle, everything from 100m to 1500m. This year I'm also doing my first open water event which will be 3800m. At some point I might need to choose between the short and long distances though, as it's difficult to train for both at the same time.
What do you love most about swimming? What does it give you?
As an adult, swimming in a club has brought me back to a regular fitness schedule, guided by a coach and in the company of great fellow swimmers. I get so much more from it than I was getting just from going to the gym.
I've also made new friends and started going on swimming trips like training camps at Club La Santa in Lanzarote and sea swimming holidays in Italy with SwimTrek.
I feel inspired by the older swimmers in Masters, many of whom are still racing and setting records in their 60s and beyond. Club swimming has brought me great examples of how to stay fit in later life.
What's the toughest part of training for a competition?
I've always been more of a training person than a racing person. I like training and usually go 3 times a week with Spencer. Some people are the opposite, they love racing but not so much training.
The unpredictability can be tough in both training and racing. You have good days and bad days in the pool, and they can be quite random (ie not linked to diet, rest etc) which can be discouraging. So trust and confidence in the training you've been doing throughout the year is important.
There's also a lot of technique to think about in swimming, and we work on that all the time. It's difficult to change ingrained habits and patterns of movement, and it takes patience. I usually find that as soon as I fix one technique detail I start doing something else wrong! So it's a continuous process.
Can a swimmer get into competitive swimming as an adult?
Definitely! I know several people who only started doing lane swimming or learned all the strokes as adults and then got into competitions, either in pool/Masters swimming, open water or triathlon. At my club not everyone competes in pool competitions, some people do triathlon or open water and others just train for fitness and don't compete at all.
How do you look after yourself physically and mentally?
I do pilates a few times a week, which helps with management of old knee and back injuries that would otherwise prevent me from swimming. Swimming encourages me to do these types of conditioning exercises I should have been doing before but wasn't motivated to do. I used to do yoga but after learning more about hypermobility I swapped to pilates and find it better for me.
I also go for massages with Tessa at WNT which really helps me manage a neck issue I've developed.
I'm lucky to have generally good mental health. I try to maintain it through exercise, work/life balance, social life and occasional restorative yoga.
I love food and eat a lot but generally pretty healthily. Another thing I should have mentioned that swimming gives me is the excuse for a lot of snacking.
Acupuncturist Mihaly Rosta shares some information about the Chinese Medicine concept of 'dampness' in the body and factors that might cause and help this.
Is diet just about what you eat?
Sluggishness (especially) in the mornings;
Heaviness of body and mind;
Loose, sticky stools;
These are only a few symptoms of Dampness in the body.
Imagine a clear beautiful river gracefully flowing through a forest. Now what if this river is being filled with debrish? It slowly becomes cloggy and turn into dirty mud.
The most common cause for this muddiness to develop in the body is improper DIET.
Excessive intake of fried, greasy, raw food; as well as alcohol, sugar, dairy, and even meat may result in the symptoms described above.
However before removing unhealthy, overly processed foods from the diet, it’s important to intorduce new, appropriate foods in your diet.
On the picture you may see a simple stir-fry dish, perfect for lunch or even breakfast -accompanied by some soup or tea.
Bitter and slightly pungent/aromatic food like kohlrabi and romain lettuce are excellent at transforming congealed body fluids.
Add some radish and leeks in order to strengthen the Lungs (Metal/Autumn) and clear any damp/phlegm that may reside there.
Kidney -especially Aduki- beans are great source of protein in this case. Complementing the dish I also used garlic, thyme and parsley to help clear excessive mucus.
To make this dish more seasonal, add some water and cook it on low heat. In order to introduce the sour balancing flavour of autumn (Metal) you may finish your dishes by squeezing some lemon/lime juice over them.
Making small changes in the diet is an excellent tool for becoming more healthy over time. However if an already developed illness (or any of the symptoms above) are present, acupuncture treatment may be especially beneficial in order to address those issues.
Please note that we always advise patients to see a professional Acupuncturist in order to determine the accurate diagnoses, which allows us to make personalised recommendations.
For any seriously health concerns please see your GP.
#diet #damp #acupuncture #bloated #sluggish #autumn
Acupuncturist Philippa Summers delves into the world of healthy bacteria - microbiome - and gives some helpful insights and tips as to how this can benefit us along with a delicious saurkraut recipe to help us along.
Did you know that your body contains roughly as many bacterial cells as human cells? Along
with viruses and fungi, and their collective DNA, they make up our microbiome. The
microbiome varies hugely from person to person and plays a crucial role in determining our
health. There is a whole eco system living on your skin and within you, in your respiratory
tract, your reproductive tract, in breast and other tissue, but primarily in the intestines – the
gut microbiome. Among them are vitally important beneficial microbes that help to keep
the disease-causing pathogens at bay, while also enhancing and interacting with many of
the vital internal processes that work to keep us well.
The Benefits of a Healthy Gut Microbiome
A healthy gut microbiome has benefits that extend throughout the body and is considered
by some to be equivalent to an additional organ, such is its importance. It plays a crucial role
in helping to maintain and support metabolic function, immunity, plus cardiovascular,
respiratory, reproductive and menopausal health, as well as helping with sleep, mental well-
being and brain function. It is an area of intense research, with more being discovered all
The scope of its influence cannot be overstated. A healthy gut microbiome is anti-
inflammatory and helps to combat the development and progression of a whole range of
chronic health issues and to reduce infections throughout the body, helping in the fight
against antibiotic resistance. Type 2 diabetes, obesity, kidney disease, Parkinson’s,
atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, hypertension, dementia, urinary tract infections,
respiratory infections, vaginal infections, asthma, allergies, autoimmune diseases, IBS, IBD,
some cancers...the list goes on... have all been shown to have an association with an
unhealthy balance in the gut microbiome. It is the subject of ongoing research to determine
the processes and balance of cause and effect between disease and the microbiome.
A High Fibre Diet supports the Microbiome
Our environment, where we live, who we live with, how we interact with our environment
but particularly our diet has a huge influence on the microbiome, and for each of us our
microbial fingerprint will be unique and changing dynamically all the time.
A poor low fibre diet of refined carbohydrates like white flour, white rice and particularly
simple sugars will encourage inflammation and take the balance of good bacteria to bad inan unhealthy direction. A healthy high fibre diet on the other hand will help to support the
community of beneficial bacteria, which ferment more complex carbohydrates that we
cannot otherwise digest, into nutrients with anti-inflammatory and metabolic health
The beneficial bacteria lie mainly in the colon at the far reaches of our intestines and to feed
and support them we need a diet where the carbohydrate portion of what we eat can pass
through the upper reaches of the intestines to the colon without previously being
completely broken down. Simple and refined carbs get broken down too high up in our guts
but high fibre complex carbohydrates (wholegrains, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruit) make
it all the way to where they are needed. Aim for a wide variety of colourful plant foods
including herbs and spices to aid digestion, and of course include proteins and healthy fats
for a balanced diet.
We feed these bacteria and they in turn feed us with the beneficial by-products of their
meal. Think good housemates - you provide the healthy ingredients, and they cook up a
feast! The healthy foods we provide them with are the prebiotics, the healthy ‘bugs’ are the
Choosing Probiotic Foods and Supplements
Some species of these healthy bacteria will have established themselves as long term
residents of our gut, beginning at birth and supported early on by breastfeeding. We can
augment this existing population by eating fermented foods containing other beneficial live
bacteria, or for convenience and maybe for specific health issues by taking them as
supplements. To reap the benefits, we need to choose those that are alive and can survive
through the upper reaches of the gut all the way to the colon as many cannot survive the
acid of the stomach.
How our individual microbiome interacts with our own metabolism and diet is complex and
more in-depth studies that take a personalised approach are the subject of ongoing
research, one of the largest being the Zoe PREDICT studies. A peek at these studies will
show you how complicated a field it is. People with a histamine sensitivity may not tolerate
probiotics and care should be taken by people with bowel conditions like IBS and IBD.
Deciding which strains are most beneficial is a complex subject which varies from person to
person and according to the health issues being addressed, and I suspect is obscured by the
commercial nature of supplements and the influence on research. Lactobacillus and
Bifidobacterium are the most widely recommended in supplements, with many species and
strains of each offering different benefits. A little more of that below in relation to women’s
health and gut health but to go into more detail is beyond the scope of my experience or
If you prefer to take supplements in my opinion Optibac are a reliable good value brand and
provide a simple useful guide with formulas for a variety of situations: every day, after
taking antibiotics, for women’s health including during pregnancy and for gut health.
Symprove receives wide recommendation but is much more expensive and is limited to a
single multi-strain formula. I am not suitably knowledgable to offer any wholeheartedrecommendations but those are a couple of reliable options. You can eat fermented foods
as well or instead.
For Women’s Health including fertility and menopause
Lactobacillus species support a healthy vaginal microbiome where they help to keep disease
causing yeasts and bacteria at bay, by maintaining a favourable protective acidic
environment. From the research so far, implantation and reduced incidence of early
pregnancy loss are also supported when the predominant species in the uterus are
Lactobacilli. They are of benefit when taken orally, even for colonising the reproductive
Lactobacillus species can also be helpful at alleviating some of the symptoms of menopause
via the two-way interaction between oestrogen levels and the gut microbiome.
Yoghurt, kefir and Sauerkraut are all high in Lactobacillus species and other lactic acid
For Gut Health
For people with gut issues like IBS and IBD I would recommend seeking guidance from a
dietary or nutritional specialist. Some of the otherwise healthy prebiotic foods can
contribute to symptoms, and some probiotic strains can be helpful while others may
Probiotic Fermented Foods
For general health benefits why not try a range of different live unpasteurised probiotic
foods such as kefir, yoghurt, kombucha, kimchi, miso or sauerkraut to see which you like
and which suit you? Or try making your own. They can be more potent than probiotics
supplements and much cheaper, too, and all have different microbial profiles and benefits.
Some ferments like kefir and kamboucha contain a range of yeast and bacteria while others
like yoghurt, sauerkraut and kimchi are predominantly bacterial. Additionally, as they have
fermented over a period of time the fermented product will contain high amounts of more
easily digestible nutrients that are a by-product of the fermentation process.
Making your own fermented foods
If you fancy making a home-made ferment you can try the simple sauerkraut recipe below.
Incidentally, I was surprised to learn that sauerkraut, despite its German name, originated
around 2000 years ago in China and came to Europe in the 1600s. Making Kimchi, a spicy
Korean ferment, is similar and there are plenty of recipes online. If you really want to get
into ferments then I recommend Fermentation by Asa Simonsson which covers a whole
range of fermented foods and drinks including vegan dairy, or check out the many websites
and blogs on fermenting.
You will need a container in which to ferment the veg before transferring it to smaller jars
for storage, and you will also need weights to hold the veg below the surface of the liquid
while it ferments. You could use a large wide necked jar with a lid but you will need to keep
an eye on it and keep releasing the gas that will build up inside. Or you may wish to buy a
fermenting jar or a crock pot which allow the gas to release automatically. Some come with
weights, others don’t.
1kg finely chopped white or red cabbage (you can substitute some of the cabbage with
grated carrot, beetroot and apple to make a total of 1kg veg)
15g sea salt
1 tbsp chopped garlic/ginger
1 tsp caraway seeds, chili flakes, peppercorns, seaweed etc
• Place the veg, salt and spices in a large clean bowl mix well and massage with your
hands for 5 mins. Leave for 5 mins.
• Massage and squeeze again for about 20-25 mins until you have plenty of juice and
the veg has softened.
• Pack into the fermenting jar or crock, add the weight so that all the veg is completely
submerged in the briny liquid. This is very important as the fermentation will spoil if
the veg is exposed to the air.
• Put on the lid and leave at room temperature to ferment. The fermenting jars have a
valve, the crock has a sunken rim that you fill with water so the gases release
automatically. Keep checking that the water level around the rim is above the notch
in the lid.
• Leave for anything from 5 days to 4 weeks depending on the room temperature and
how sour you like it. I leave mine for about 10 days.
As the sauerkraut ferments is becomes more acidic which most bugs can’t tolerate and
you’ll end up with a tasty ferment rich in acid tolerant Lactobacillus. The result should be a
crisp, slightly sour, flavoursome kraut. If it becomes mouldy, slimy or smells rotten then
something has gone wrong, so discard.
Pack into clean jars, pressing the veg below the surface of the liquid and store in the fridge.
Keeps for weeks, months according to the experts but I’ve never left it that long. Great in a
sandwich, salad or as a meal accompaniment.A word of warning - as your body adjusts to fibre and probiotics you may find you are a bit more flatulent, but it should settle down after a few days, start with a little and build up. In any case, a little every day is better than larger quantities less frequently.
Acupuncturist and massage therapist Mihaly Rosta shares some interesting thoughts around the 'how' of our eating habits being as, if not more, important than the 'what'.
ow important is it to have the right food on your plate?
I usually see a divide amongst my friends and clients when it comes to diet and food.
Some people just eat for the joy of it, not caring much about if they eat a lot of carbs or meat. Whilst other people can be “almost” obsessive about what they eat. May that be superfoods, very specific vegetables and meat, etc.
So what is the correct attitude to diet?
Well, I of course could not give a simple answer to such an important question. Especially as I am not a dietician.
However when it comes to Chinese medicine, we always strife for balance. Walking the middle path.
Sure, it is important to have a varied diet -according to both food energetics, colours, food groups- but I find it much more important to look at how people eat and digest.
In my experience, our mental health and eating habits combined has a much stronger effect on our digestion and general health than the types of food we eat. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that we should all eat white bread, milk and sugar 3 times a day. I am referring to the fact that if you have a varied intake of vegetables, fruits and meats/nuts, you should not worry too much about whether it is organic or not, or how many superfoods and brown rice you include in your diet.
What is important then?
1. Structure and rythmn
It is generally important to follow a rythmn in our daily life. Structuring our days around our meals and sleep can provide with a healthy l. So we priorities ourselves, our nourishment amongst other responsibilities.
Taking breaks between meals (3-4 hours) gives our digestive system a rest, as opposed to continuous snacking which will overwork our Spleen and Stomach.
3. Focus /mindfulness
Eating should be about the food and our nourishment. The taste, texture, colour, smell of our food should be in the focus of our mind when we eat. Not TV, Netflix, news, daily tasks or plans for the week.
Let’s do ourselves a favour and eat mindfully. Just when we decide on the food we eat, we should apply the same mindfulness during our time of nourishment.
There is a Chinese saying that you should only fill your belly 2/3 of the way, so there is space for Qi to do the digestion.
Overeating is overtaxing on our digestive system. Finding the correct amount of food that does not leave us hungry, but also doesn’t makes us sleepy is essential.
It is important to drink plenty of fluids during the day, however it is best to avoid drinking with our meal. If you have a weak digestion, you may find it beneficial to drink digestives 20 minutes prior to your meals. Or if your meal seems to settle in heavy (lots of fats/oils) you may find drinking a (half) shot of clear spirit (I recommend Bison vodka for flavour 😛) also very beneficial.
On a different note. There seem to be a misconception about the amount of fluid we all need to drink. Generally speaking of we want to hydrate ourselves we have to include fluid-ful vegetables in our diet. Soups, curries, tomatoes, courgettes, etc.
6. 100 steps
Digestion does not stop when we finish eating. On the contrary. It’s fairly important that we rest after a meal for about half an hour. The Chinese has been recommending 100 slow steps after eating. As (slow) walking aids the intestinal movements (peristalsis) and thus digestion.
7. Avoid going to bed on a full stomach
Simple as that, we should not be wasting our energy on digestion whilst we are sleeping. More over, it is most beneficial to have a bigger gap (intermittent fasting) in our day when our digestive system is to rest.
8. Anxiety = IBS
Last but not least, looking after our mental health is perhaps the most important of tasks that we need in order to have a healthy digestion. I’ll talk about this more in detail another time.
So these are only a few points that are in my opinion are just as (if not more) important than the quality of the food we eat.
Thus if you are suffering with any digestive issues, you may find it beneficial to go through this list before you start cutting out your favourite foods.
Of course Acupuncture is an amazing tool to help/reset the digestive system. So if you feel you need some additional support in that regard. Do not hesitate to get in touch.
Acupuncturist and kitchen dynamo Philippa Summers shares some guidelines for a hearty winter breakfast of champions that will warm you from the inside out and stoke your fire for the day ahead. Yum!
What do you have for breakfast? Do you even have breakfast? It’s often a meal that people skip or habitually go for something quick like a cold bowl of cereal or a couple of slices of toast on the go but when the temperatures drop there is nothing like a comforting bowl of porridge to start the day and get the warmth going from the inside. It is quick to prepare, will sustain you all morning and is a gift to your whole digestive system.
Try a water-based whole oat porridge, flavoured with a small spoonful of blood-nourishing molasses, and maybe some cinnamon and ground flax seeds.
Top with a sprinkling of pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds for extra goodness and a couple of spoonfuls of berries. I use frozen summer berries out of season and just warm them gently. For speed, and if you don’t mind a strangely coloured porridge just add them to the porridge towards the end of cooking. I like a splash of milk to finish it off when it’s in the bowl for that that combo of thick porridge and liquid milk. Delicious and nutritious!
If you skip breakfast you may find yourself going for less nourishing alternatives as your blood sugar drops. It can precipitate a vicious cycle of sugar spikes, drops and unhealthy snacking. Starting the day with nourishing breakfast gets your eating habits off to a healthy start and one suggestion to prompt an appetite at breakfast time might be to replace supper with something very light late afternoon or early evening for a night or two, just to kick start a breakfast habit.
Finally, try to make time to sit and enjoy your meals, including breakfast. The digestive process begins when we look at the food, anticipate it and the digestive juices start to flow. And we are more likely to chew our food well, another important part of the digestive process,if we are relaxed and not in a rush. Good digestion is as much about how we eat as what we eat.
Blogs from the WNT team. For our blogs from before June 2020 please see individual profile pages - it's a good way to get to know practitioners too.