I am writing this before the sun rises, and I am doing so because I have been awake since 4.am! I know, sleep is important… we all need to rest and recover, but I have learned a few things in my time and if your head switches on at 4.am its trying to tell you something and laying in bed wont stop it shouting at you!
Yes I have a lot going on at the moment, but who doesn’t? Deadlines to meet, planning to finish, marking and feedback to do, business launch to manage…. but the one thing that is keeping me awake has nothing to do with these things…
I have an 8 year daughter, who has been doing it tough. About 18 months ago she had a fall… yes it was off the god damn monkey bars and school, but that is far from my concern. (I am all for monkey bars, kids must build strength, balance, problem solving!) This fall resulted in a knee injury that, for approximately 7 months, despite my continued visits to the doctor suggesting it was something more than bruising and soft tissue damage, went undiagnosed. The fact that it would give out, “pop” and “crack” (her words she used to describe what was going on), was constantly swollen, caused pain behind the knee, and in my experience in sports injury management and exercise physiology knowing that these symptoms pointed to ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury, we were told, ” She is too young for this type of injury, just keep monitoring it, use ice packs if it swells, it will go away”… ! I knew she was in the unlikely category, but it didn’t sit well with me. So, when we started netball (which she absolutely loved!) and her knee became an issue for her at training and on game day I knew that if I was going to let her play this game where knee injury is one of the more common injuries, I needed to get it sorted! So after another second opinion, I demanded and MRI and opted to pay in full and get the scan (gladly the new doctor was able to work it so that medicare covered this in the end!) within 24 hours we were in and then another 24 hours we were receiving phone calls to let us know our little girl (6 year old at the time) had a full rupture of her ACL, and we were booked in to the specialist by the end of the week. Now, cutting a long story short, we are in the process of maintaining the knee joint until she is old enough for surgery, she wear a full carbon fibre articulated brace to school and during any events or activities (of which there are not too many she can participate in any more) that may put her knee at risk. No more dancing, no more nippers, no more touch, no more netball…. my gut instinct was right! This was well and truly more than a soft tissue injury.
Now this injury isn’t even really why is started writing this, but it does play a part so bare with me…
So, what is on my mind is whats in my gut…what… yep you heard me… whats in my gut? Now this is a strange question to be urgent enough to wake me up and get me out of bed, but here some facts that might interest you. Your gut – brain connection is more than just hunger pains, they are connected physically and biochemically – think nerves and hormones. Its called the Gut – Brain axis and is a two way highway for communication and messages to be relayed relating to all manner of health concerns. Your gut has over 100 million nerve endings ( more than your spinal cord!) which is enough for science to consider if this organ can be considered a second brain (or in some cases the first brain!) It also is the home for 300-500 different bacteria who share this space with other virus and fungi, plus newly discovered Enteroendocrine cells (cells that secrete hormones that communicate directly with the brain via the Vagus nerve !) which all have direct impact on these nerve endings and therefore your overall body response to this environment, your Microbiome.
There are recent studies indicating the Gut-Brain axis is linked to health concerns not simply relating to weight management, but also to: mental health in terms of stress, anxiety and depression, and they have found tangible connections with Autism spectrum disorder; immunity and inflammation issues manifesting as skin concerns, bowel and digestive problems such as Crohns disease, Irritable bowel, and Ulcerative Collitis , Arthritis and joint issues; metabolic diseases such as type-2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart disease, and Colon Cancer ( the second highest cancer causing deaths in Australia!); not to mention a myriad of other issues including reproductive health and hormonal balance and they are finding more and more connections as you read this.
Your gut microbiome also impacts on the release of hormones that directly impact on your health and wellbeing, in particular we are talking about Seratonin – your happy hormone; Dopamine – your brains reward system; GABA – your calming hormone; Cortisol – your stress hormone; and Oxytocin – your love and bonding hormone. So what this means is, before you can even process the thoughts running through your brain the body is responding by pumping out hormones in response to the questions you have regarding all manner of things.
So what does this all have to do with my daughter knee….? Well, recently she was invited to a birthday party that involved roller skating, of course this is NO, even with her Robo-Leg as her classmates call it. Her response has been one nothing short of a 3 day long emotional roller coaster. Her beautiful friend and her parents were amazingly accommodating and invited her to sleep over rather than roller skate, which she has done multiple times before and loved, but the physiological reaction to the thoughts running through her mind have created a tornado of emotions and gut feeling for her that neither she or I can explain logically. She began to act out for no reason, she craved sugary foods, she had a sore neck and the list goes on. She kept saying that her mind tells her that she should do it, but she just felt physically sick about it. So the only thing I can put it down to is that her GUT was doing all the talking, and her mind has been clouded with a hormonal response that has caused her stress.
I of course rode that emotional roller coaster with her, in the end encouraged her to listen to her GUT feelings, and when she finally made up her mind, her words on going to sleep were…” oh mum, that feels so much better, thank you”.
So this early morning as I write this my thoughts have been on this…Just as I should have in the diagnosis process of my daughters knee injury, I should trust my Gut-Brain axis and ensure that the Microbiome of my gut and my families gut is in the best balance possible so that when we need to trust it, it will be able to help me in the best way possible, physically, mentally and emotionally. How will I do this? By eating a diverse range of fresh high fibre foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans and whole-grains ; Pre-Biotic ( healthy gut flora promoting foods) & Pro-Biotic ( live micro-organisms) rich foods and fermented foods; avoid artificial sweeteners and sugars; consume foods rich in polyphenols ( red wine/grapes, dark chocolate, almonds, blueberries,& Broccoli; Supplementing if and when needed; including botanical nutrition and adaptogenic herbs; and hydrating well with purified water.
So today I encourage you to ask yourself… whats in your Gut?