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  • Writer's picturejuliakimd

The Five Pillars of Health

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

There are five things we should be doing as a matter of course every day that have a profound effect on our health, whether we are already without health complaints, or if we have a chronic disease. Either way, these are five important ‘pillars’ that help form the foundation of your health.


Whatever condition you have, there is no doubt that if you can include these five pillars of health into your life, your health will improve. The five pillars are:

  1. Diet and nutrition

  2. Water

  3. Sleep

  4. Exercise

  5. Mental health & wellbeing

All five pillars link to one another in some way....if one of them is not fulfilled, it will have a knock-on effect on the others.


Without proper diet and nutrition, sleep, mental health, gut microbiome and hormonal health are all affected, too.


Water is needed for many chemical processes in the body, for digestion, mental health, cardiovascular health, and we need it when we exercise to replace sweat.


Sleep in turn supports mental health and hormones, and without hormones like melatonin and cortisol being released at the right times, our circadian rhythms are messed up.


Exercise is beneficial for good gut health, mental health, supports hormonal health and tires us out so we sleep.


Mental health affects sleep, digestive processes, gut microbiome, hormone pathways and cardiovascular health.

Diet and Nutrition:


Eat the rainbow of vegetables and fruit - this ensures you get an array of vitamins and minerals, which helps keep you fuller for longer, so you stop reaching for unnecessary high processed ‘carby’ foods. Vegetables and fruit contain fibre, which feeds the microbiome, and helps stool transit time and motility.


Eat unpackaged, unprocessed foods as much as possible - the more processed food is, the worse it is for us. Additives, preservatives, sweeteners - these are all things your body wasn’t built to process and has to detox from, or they clog up your system, especially the liver.


Avoid sweeteners - they cause people to eat more because their sweetness falsely tricks your brain into thinking you’ve eaten something, but when it discovers that there are literally zero calories, survival mode of starvation kicks in, and you eat even more food than if you just had something unprocessed to start with. Sweeteners are also very dehydrating.


Cut out all carbonated beverages - not only are they usually laden with sweeteners, additives, preservatives, but the soda/gas they use messes about with the bicarbonate buffer in the blood, which your body was not designed to have to encounter.


Eat very minimal simple, processed carbs - most flours are like eating pure sugar when it comes down to the processing in the body - all cereals fit into this category, even things touted as healthy due to ‘no sugar’, like Weetabix, Shreddies, bran flakes, corn flakes - they are so processed and such simple carbs, you might as well have a bowl of sugar, not to mention that they are also loaded with additives, preservatives and pesticides, which wreak havoc on your gut microbiome. Breads, wraps should be absolutely minimal, maybe every two or three days, or even once a week or every 10 days.


Avoid not just products made with white flour, even brown wholemeal flour - reason is that wheat is stripped of all nutrients when it is bleached to become white flour, and the wholegrain is added back in afterwards to some of the batches of bread - this saves them having 2 separate grain mills which is far more costly to run.


Only eat complex carbs - they keep you going for longer, like sweet potato, potato, root vegetables, butternut, beans, legumes, pulses, lentils, chickpeas, oats, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.


Include good fats (and that’s a ‘yes’ to saturated animal fats) - but not chocolate bars, cakes, biscuits kind of saturated fat! The brain relies on saturated as well as unsaturated fats - because the brain uses up 20% of your energy, and thrives on ketones that come from a diet low in carbs, and high in fats and proteins. Fats should make up the highest percentage in your diet - we need cholesterol for every single cell membrane in your body, and it is the base for all our hormones.


Add a teaspoon of coconut oil to coffee or smoothies, olive oil drizzled on salads or vegetables but not cooked with, cook meat or fry your food in butter or ghee - all oils end up as ‘bad fats’ which are very pro-inflammatory and pro-oxidation, meaning you need a lot of antioxidants to buffer their destructive capabilities.


If fat solidifies at room temperature, it’s safe to use when frying or cooking with because it is a stable oil at room temperature rather than an unstable oil like sunflower, canola, rapeseed, grape seed. Ditch all these so-called ‘vegetable oils’ - there are no vegetables in any of these, they are highly processed using chemicals to get those oils out, and also products of the genetically modified industry, and contain concentrated forms of the pesticides used.


Go organic wherever possible, but if you can’t, still eat as unprocessed whole foods as possible.


Include protein at every meal - protein, fat and fibre are what stay in your belly the longest, carbs leave first, which is why they don’t keep you full for long enough. Protein should be the second highest percentage of food intake per day.


Always eat breakfast - the protein you eat at breakfast is taken apart into amino acids and used as neurotransmitters and things like melatonin by the time you go to bed at night. Eating a good, hearty breakfast is one of the best things to do for your blood sugar regulation, and thus mood.


Always include rock salt, sea salt or Himalayan pink salt - don’t be afraid of using too much - every cell in your body needs sodium to function. Table salt is synthesized (sodium and chloride) - very processed, and contains no other minerals like those found in the sea or rock salts. If you are lacking energy, try adding ¼ of teaspoon of rock or Himalayan salt to the water you drink - this is because salt is used by the adrenal glands. Stop or reduce coffee to 1 a day – not only very dehydrating, but increases cortisol levels, and disturbs sleep, as caffeine can stay in the body for up to 12 hours after consumption. Always drink 1.5 cups of water with a coffee to help mitigate the dehydration and other chemicals from coffee. If you’re drinking more than 2 cups a day, start by removing just 1 coffee a day for 1 week, then the next week to 3 cups and substitute with herbal teas. Then reduce to 2 cups the following week.


Note: even decaffeinated coffee has plant chemicals that contain some caffeine, but possibly worse is the process to remove the caffeine which typically harsh chemicals - a further strain on the liver to detoxify this.


Include bitter herbs for your liver - salad leaves (with no dressing except oil and apple cider vinegar) like rocket, baby leaf salad, dandelion leaves - the bitterness is wonderful liver support and gets your digestive juices going. We need good amounts of digestive enzymes not only to help digest foods but to help keep pathogenic microbes under control.


Take nutritional supplements appropriate for you - the first starting point for anyone and everyone is: bioactivated B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin C. Trace minerals are also good to take, these include potassium, zinc, selenium, copper, iron, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, vanadium, boron, silica. The only caveats are iron, copper and zinc, although most people are usually low in all the others and zinc. Iodine is not to be feared like we have been made to be concerned about - it’s a trace mineral that most people are deficient in around the world since they stopped including it in ‘iodised table salt’.

Water:


Water is inside every cell of your body, as well as in the fluid that sits in-between all your trillions of cells. Water is as vital a nutrient as any of the ones mentioned above. The human body contains a lot of water, but it is busy with an activity—a chemical reaction or undertaking. That water is called “bound water”, but the body also needs “free water” in order to perform new functions - that’s where it counts on you to provide it.


In dehydration, even though the body has a lot of water in it, it is the lack of free water that constitutes dehydration. That is why you need to replace the water loss of your body with fresh intake of water, in order to supply the body with free water to perform new functions.


So, any time the body needs to perform a function that requires water, the body actually needs it in advance of the event. In other words, if you want to eat, you need water to digest the food. If you want to exercise and sweat, give the body water to shed in sweat, and so on. It is free water shortage in the body that constitutes dehydration.


In dehydration, we lose a lot of the essential amino acids, as they are used as anti-oxidants, because when there isn’t enough water to wash the toxic waste away, the toxic waste has to be neutralized, otherwise it will destroy the system. Amino acids such as tryptophan, tyrosine, methionine, cysteine, and histidine become depleted as a result of being neutralized in order to compensate for the toxic waste build-up in the body that hasn’t been washed away.


We get mineral deficiencies in dehydration, because the stomach does not produce enough acid, and you need acid in order to absorb zinc, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and other essential minerals. Once you’re dehydrated, you become amino acid deficient, but you also become mineral deficient, which is the foundation for all diseases in the human body.


Stress translates in the body into dehydration - every time you feel stressed, you secrete a lot of hormones - cortisol and hormones to control blood pressure - they break down tissue, and your body has to ‘mop up’ the free water from the circulation - all of a sudden you are short of free water.


Here’s what to do:

  • First thing in the morning when you wake up, drink two glasses of water to offset the dehydration of overnight.

  • Then you need a glass of water half an hour before food because if you expect to digest the food, you need the water before the food enters the system.

  • You need also a glass of water two-and-a-half hours after food, to wrap up the process of digestion, and hydrate the areas that lost water to the circulation.

  • For every litre of water, you need ¼ teaspoon of salt, as well as trace minerals to regulate the volume of water that is held inside the cells. The trace minerals are inside the cells for so many cellular functions that happen all the time - they are: potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, manganese, molybdenum, iodine, copper.

  • Herbal teas count as water, they’re flavoured water with extra added herbal benefits and minerals. For every caffeinated beverage, drink 1.5 cup/glass of water, and then on top of that, include your 2 litres. We lose 1 litre of water via water vapour just from breathing every day!

Water regulates all functions in the body because they are all chemical reactions, including the function of everything that it dissolves. Water is actually a cementing material in the body, it’s that mortar between the bricks; and lack of water will cause disturbance in that process.


Your blood is 94 percent water - it stops blood pressure from getting too high or too low. Water helps remove toxins via urine. Water has life-giving properties, it manufactures hydro-electricity, in other words it is a natural source of energy. All nerve transmission in the body depends on this hydro-electricity from water. That’s why water is a better pick-me-up than anything you might imagine.

Sleep:


I cannot stress enough how important it is to go to sleep by about 9-9:30pm, or 10-10:30pm at the absolute latest. This has a massive impact on energy levels, adrenals, hormonal pathways, cardiovascular system, digestive processes, healthy gut microbiome, immune system, mood, nervous system, cognition, brain detoxification, the list goes on.


Melatonin peaks around 9-9:30pm and then again at 10-10:30pm. Our ancestors went to bed when it got dark - our pineal gland in the brain relies on us going to bed at these times for our circadian rhythms to be established and working properly, so that our other hormone pathways function optimally, too.


Being a night owl depletes key nutrients needed for everyday things, even the cardiovascular system is strained as the heart is still beating as hard and fast as it does during the day instead of slowing down to have a rest, like all the other body systems that need to slow down whilst we sleep.


The body uses up a considerable amount of nutrients when we stay up late - it chews up the things we need, so we end up becoming adrenally fatigued with no energy and mineral deficiencies, as well as protein deficiencies as the body has to break down muscle to use it for energy when we stay awake late into the night. The brain uses a massive amount of energy and nutrients when we are awake, but being awake when we should be sleeping is an even bigger demand on the brain.


The brain also has its own detoxification vessels called the glymphatic system, and it is only when we sleep that this can take place. This is the brain fog we get when we don’t sleep well - a lot of waste products from neurotransmitter activity and chemical reactions of nerve cells that need to be removed.


If you’ve been going to bed for a long time at 11-11:30pm or even midnight, it will be hard to get into the earlier time, so start reducing slowly by 15 minutes earlier every night, or even every few nights go to bed by 10:30pm, then after a few nights of that, go to 10pm or even 10:15pm. So that in a week or two, or even a month, you’re closer to 9:30pm. This means no screens from 7.30pm, or 8pm if you’re going to go to bed at 10pm.


Absolutely no screens within 1-2 hours of going to bed - read a book, do journaling about your day or your intentions or goals, practice gratitude and journal it, painting, anything other than screens.


Get blue light glasses if you do have to work on screens in the early evening – they help filter out the blue light that is from any kind of blue screen to minimise the impact on the circadian rhythms.


If you have been a night owl for a long time, you definitely will need good quality bioactivated B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and zinc which have all been shown to improve fatigue and psychological stress.


Vitamin C reduces blood pressure, cortisol, and response to acute psychological stress – you can even use the cheapest supermarket one, and go up to bowel tolerance, meaning that start with 2g dose of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and then work up to 5g.


If you’ve tried the above and still really struggling to get to the right sleep time, try 3mg of melatonin every night, and then 50mg of Pregnenolone in the morning.


Make your bedroom a sleepy, relaxing paradise - use tea lights and/or a Himalayan salt lamp to create ambience, use your bedroom only for sleeping or reading a book to go to sleep.

The room temperature should not be too hot - you need lower temperatures to go to sleep.

Put some chamomile or lavender essential oils in a diffuser.

Don’t use bright lights, make sure there is no or very little light coming into your bedroom, not just for going to sleep but also so that there is a stark difference to the daylight when you wake up to get that daylight onto your retina first thing - this helps to set your circadian rhythm.


Do not drink alcohol or any drink, or eat anything 2 hours before bed. Eating a diet high in unhealthy fats and simple carbs can cause insomnia. Certain medications can also disrupt sleeping patterns, amongst other causes that need investigation, eg. restless leg, sleep apnoea, mouth breathing.


Herbs are very helpful in helping you fall asleep, as well as helping to keep you asleep. There are others that help relax and energise the nervous system and reduce anxiety.

Exercise:


Do the right amount and the right kind of exercise appropriate for you and your condition - low impact if you have knee or joint issues, or are pregnant; weight/resistance training in menopause or other conditions that might be limiting, eg. compromised lungs; cardio work out if you can.


The rule of thumb is that if you end up ‘puffed out’ or at least deeper breathing, and a bit of a sweat, that’s when exercise has it’s beneficial effects. You also need to get to that stage at least 3x a week, ideally more. Walking around the block once a day is not going to be enough for the health benefits we need from exercise - think of the kind of exercise our ancestors had to do just to get their food!


Blood circulation improves with exercise to take nutrients and oxygen to organs and body systems, and remove waste products away to one of the elimination organs and pathways - these are the bowels, liver, kidneys, lungs, skin and lymphatic system.


Lymphatic circulation improves - the only way to ‘pump’ lymph around the lymphatic vessels is by exercising as it doesn’t have a heart like the blood vessels do. In this way, exercise helps support detoxification via lymph. Lymphatic vessels run alongside all the blood vessels, and waste products can transport across from lymphatic vessels to blood vessels to be taken away and excreted.


The lungs get a workout with the deeper breathing that exercise causes, as well as the diaphragm and abdominal muscles which are used more when we perform exercise that causes us to puff and pant. This also helps expel waste products via the lungs, and deep inhalation of fresh oxygen which ends up in the blood stream to be circulated around the body. One place it ends up is the gut, which is not only beneficial for us but also for the gut microbiome, which is then supportive of our immune system because the microbiome are what mount an immune response when we need it.


Exercise increases microbiome diversity, which is what we need for mental health and a good immune response, as well as improving our body fat percentage and muscle mass. They found a far more diverse gut microbiome in women who exercised compared to women who were sedentary.


Muscles are like an organ and if they are not used, they get broken down. The old expression of ‘use it or lose it’ is very true! You need to involve all the major muscle groups like the leg and arm muscles, the abdomen and also the buttocks.


The heart is also a muscle and when we exercise and get it beating harder and faster, we ensure that it is a healthy, well oxygenated muscle from the deep inhalation from exercising.


Exercise promotes an ‘anti-inflammatory state’ in the body, reinforces neuromuscular functioning, and activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. If you have hormonal issues, adrenal fatigue, trying to lose weight, or have a chronic disease (cardiovascular illness, diabetes, hypothyroid, even chronic pain - our gut microbiome help regulate our pain response), exercise should be a core part of your treatment. Exercise also stops fat building up in and around organs, as well as around the belly, which contributes to chronic disease.


Choose an exercise you enjoy so that it doesn’t feel like you’re exercising. Going to a class, whether it’s dancing, netball, football, or any other kind of sport that involves a social side, this not only makes you accountable to attend every week, but also good to make friends. If cardio or team sports are not your thing, try practice yoga, pilates, or Tai Chi.


Exercise is crucial for maintaining mental health through the release of endorphins, and also has a positive effect on our gut microbiome. Without a diverse gut microbiome, the immune system does not respond when there is an invader, like bacteria or virus.

Mental Health & Wellbeing:


We need to manage stress and reduce the harm it causes us when it releases stress hormones, amongst other processes that do not happen when we are stressed, such as good gut function, immune health and reproductive systems functioning optimally.


Stress has a devastating effect on our microbial diversity which negatively impacts our mental health, physical body, causes inflammation and a pro-oxidative state. A stressed out mind doesn’t have a good sleep which then causes further mental anxiety, and a circle of insomnia causing further effects on the microbiome and hormones.


Make time for yourself to relax and unwind – add chamomile or lavender essential oils in a bath to promote wellbeing and relaxation. Burn oils such as ylang ylang or basil in an oil burner or diffuser as aromatherapy treatment for nervous tension. Get rid of any spray air fresheners or plug-in ones - these just emit toxic fumes to your lungs and eventually liver.


Treat yourself to physical therapies such as reflexology, massages, osteopathy, acupuncture, or try a float in a floatation tank. These are great for switching off some of our senses and tap into the sympathetic nervous system (the one that calms us down). Do a search for “flotation tank near me”, in case there is one you didn’t know about.


Practice grateful journaling, meditation, mindfulness and/or guided meditation - there are plenty of resources on YouTube for this, that you can listen to with headphones for a fuller immersive experience. You can also search YouTube for “guided meditation for anxiety” or other things you might like, or join a class which ensures your commitment to yourself, as well as apps you can download.


Breathing exercises - holding your breath actually helps calm you down more than taking deep breaths, which just basically get more oxygen into you, which is good, but our parasympathetic nervous system (the side that calms us down) actually kicks in when there are higher levels of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, meaning we can tap into this by actually breathing slowly in and out, and then see how long you can hold your breath for. You can also try the 4-7-8 breathing, which is inhaling for 4 counts, holding for 7, and exhaling for 8 counts.


Reduce stress where possible from your occupation - is there something in your job you can change to make it less stressful? Do you need to change your job? Can you employ someone to help you or delegate work?


Get help in your home life - can you delegate household chores to spouse, sibling or get the children involved? Research shows how it is really good for children to do unpaid chores around the house - gives a sense of achievement, makes them feel part of the family unit, and of course, teaches/prepares them for when they are adults and need to do that themselves. Can your spouse take on some child care or take the kids to sports club instead of you?


Stop drugs, stop or greatly reduce alcohol and tobacco use - consider the help you might need with this. Herbs can be really helpful in taking the edge off when considering addictive substances. You want to increase the detoxifying capacity of the liver to get rid of the toxic build up these substances cause, which will help reduce the withdrawal length of time.


Do something for you at least once a week - hobbies and leisure activities you might not have done for a long time due to being time-poor, or not done since you were a child, will help bring back some fun, and fun memories!


Are your daily routines stressful - what can you change in your daily routine to include exercise? And to set aside time for you? Even if it means getting up earlier than the rest of the family.


Herbs are very useful for reducing cortisol and helping the stress response, as well as calming the nervous system, reducing anxiety and nourishing the adrenal glands.

References:


Please let me know if you’d like me to send you any of the following references to read:


Your body cries for water, DR. F Batmanghelidj, M.D., Transcript of his lecture at ‘The Governmental Health Forum’ in Washington D.C., USA, March 28 - 30, 2003


Sleep and mental illness, Cambridge University Press, 2010


Lifestyle and thyroid health, Thyroid Reset Summit, Transcript of conversation between Dr G Ruiz and Dr J Marchegiani, 2019



Actions of Caffeine in the Brain with Special Reference to Factors That Contribute to Its Widespread Use, Pharmacological Reviews, The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Vol. 51, No. 1


Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity Volume 2017, Article ID 3831972, 8 pages, https://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2017/3831972


Gut Microbiota Modification: Another Piece in the Puzzle of the Benefits of Physical Exercise in Health? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4757670/


Differences in gut microbiota profile between women with active lifestyle and sedentary women https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5302835/

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