Gobble, gobble says the turkey, as if it knows its fate this time of year! I have to admit I love to gobble turkey. My Grandfather and uncle had a small farm and reared turkeys for the Christmas market. Every Christmas my uncle would arrive with a massive turkey that could barely fit in our oven. But even before it got that far, it hung upside down from the roof of our lean-to conservatory for a day or two. Its broken neck and blood-filled head with the odd un-plucked feather, was a curious and slightly scary sight for an urban dweller. A scene that could have been a turning point to veganism, as the head came off and the gizzards were yanked from its belly, did not a vegan make! Year in and year out my mother spent half the night preparing and stuffing a giant bird for Christmas dinner. On waking Christmas day, the house was always filled with the aroma of stuffed turkey cooking in the oven. Such a massive bird needed a head start on the rest of the day.
It seems apt that the spirit animal of the turkey symbolizes connection with Mother Earth and the abundance the earth provides. It represents nourishment in our life, harvesting the fruits of our efforts, community, generosity and sharing. This totem animal encourages us to honour our sources of nourishment, whether they are physical, emotional or spiritual. The turkey reminds us to develop a harmonious relationship with the land and our environment and consider them as foundations to our well-being and sustenance. Turkey totem is a powerful guide to unlocking the fullness of life and feeling content with what we have instead of accumulating material belongings to seek happiness.
When Santa got stuck up the chimney he began to shout … “you girls and boys won’t get any toys if you don’t pull me out”! How, how, how… did Santa get stuck up there? Hmmm.. it looks like he could have Syndrome X.
All grown up now, I can take an objective view of this Jolly ol’ fella who may have added some magic to my childhood memories. Although I sometimes wonder at the scale of psychological damage inflicted in the name of Santa, on the innocent, who offer only pure belief and love in return. I know that my own mother made a conscious effort to play down the character of ‘Santa’ with us kids because she was so devastated to find out in her own childhood that he wasn’t real. And, at our office Christmas celebrations one year, a colleague recalled how, at age 12 and being the oldest child in her family, she got ‘the truth’ along with her Christmas present. In one swift and traumatic moment she was handed a new pair of gloves and leveled with an instruction to grow up, as she watched her younger siblings open their Christmas toys. “You better watch out, you better not cry”, even though you’ve been snookered by a lie! I thank my mother for having the wisdom to save us from at least falling hook, line and sinker for the phantom that is Santa. Anyway, I digress!
What is Syndrome X ?
There is no direct connection between Syndrome X and Santa or Xmas, the season of stress and over-indulgence, but indirectly it seems like the perfect occasion to talk about this health condition. Syndrome X is also called ‘Metabolic Syndrome’ [MetS]. MetS is a metabolic imbalance. This means that how your body metabolizes and stores energy is off balance. The physical manifestation of MetS is ‘fat around the middle’, also called visceral fat. Scientists now know that storing fat around the middle of your body rather than anywhere else, has major health implications, and studies show that it increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and cancer. But, you don’t even have to be overweight to carry fat around the middle. And, it’s not only about what you eat, your diet is just one contributing factor.
This week is International Stress Awareness Week. The World Health Organization is calling ‘stress’ the health epidemic of the 21st Century. And yet, the medical profession is slow to recognize or treat ‘adrenal fatigue’ or ‘burn out’ as a real condition.
Persistent fatigue and tiredness are some of the most common symptoms that drive people to seek the help of a doctor. Often the doctor finds it hard to come up with a diagnosis. She may take your medical history, carry out a physical exam and do some blood tests. Often this yields no explanation. To complicate things further for the doctor, fatigue may be linked to thyroid dysfunction, anaemia, fibromyalgia, M.E. and various other conditions. If he is testing solely for adrenal dysfunction, he’ll be looking for the extremely low ‘hypo’ or extremely high ‘hyper’ production of cortisol, for a diagnosis of Addison’s disease or Cushing’s Syndome, but anywhere outside of these ranges will not deliver a diagnosis. Neither do the Endocrinology Society and other medical specialties recognize this condition. Your doctor is in a bit of a dilemma. At best, he may not think you are neurotic and may accept that your symptoms are real. At worse, the doctor thinks you are depressed or neurotic and if so you may walk away with a prescription for anti-depressants. This now becomes your dilemma because with no diagnosis there is no treatment. But what if you do have adrenal fatigue, you are not depressed and there is another way? We place so much of our trust and hope in our doctors, often they are in a position to help us and just as often they are not. But here’s the good news, that doctor may not yet be aware that in other streams of medical practice namely ‘functional and complimentary medicine’, adrenal dysfunction is recognized and it can be tested and treated as a real condition.
So when I was growing up it wasn’t “trick or treat” it was “any apples or nuts”? And, this is literally what we got when we knocked at neighbourhood doors. Apples, grapes, oranges, bananas, peanuts in their shells and if you were unlucky some nuts in rock hard shells that my Da had to take the hammer to. We suspected sinister motives from the contributors of the hard shelled nuts, but it was better than getting a bucket of cold water over you, which we feared, but never actually experienced. Now that’s giving my vintage away. At Halloween my mother made ‘Colcannon’ for dinner. A traditional Irish dish made of curly kale and mashed potato. I think she added sauteed onion and butter. I loved it! Back then Kale only appeared in the shops around Halloween. Then there was the traditional ‘barmbrack’ with the prized ring in it. You’d wish and pray, against considerable odds (large family) that you would be the lucky one. Cue the violins, I don’t recall ever getting the ring. Boo Hoo!! Dress up was what you could find or borrow or make. In hindsight this was a time of year where nutritious food was part of a celebration that children eagerly participated in.
I’m not sure when “any apples or nuts” turned into “trick or treat”, or when the collection of fruit and nuts turned into the collection of sweet, sweets and more sweets. Probably right about when the word ‘obesity’ started making an unexpected entrance into our everyday conversations.
I passed some children on their way to school this morning, all dressed up in some fantastic looking Halloween costumes. Last day at school before mid-term. The enjoyment of Halloween for the 21st century kid is no less than it was for us. The fun and excitement was palpable. It is just such a shame that we feel compelled to offer these beauties sugary sweets instead of healthy treats. When I give out healthy treats at the door I suspect the offering is not appreciated by today’s kids who are wondering about my sinister motives!!
I was inspired to write this little blog after seeing this fun instagram post by NTOI. Check out @healthyhalloween and @prep_over_fail on instagram if you are a follower, for some really fun Halloween ideas that kids will love. Have a Happy & Healthy Halloween!!
The first time I heard the words ‘Functional Medicine’ was when I rolled up for a course introduction for nutritional therapy with the Institute of Health Sciences. Using an example of a health condition, the then module leader Moira Browne explained an approach to resolving health issues that was very different to anything I had heard before. Understanding the person as a whole being with a genetic, personal, health and medical history, looking at current diet and lifestyle, medications, relationships and stress levels etc. Understanding how the body works, what it needs to function well, physically, mentally, emotionally. Without knowing it at the time I was hearing about functional medicine. I was hooked, I was excited to learn more! This approach just made perfect sense to me.
In the last four years I have come to learn so much more about nutrition and functional medicine. And, even though at the time I was told that my nutritional therapy training was based on the ‘functional medicine model’, I didn’t fully get what this meant! With every new client for nutritional therapy, the first thing I do is explain that my training is based on this medical model. I ask “have you heard of it”? The answer is usually – no! I proceed to explain a little of how I apply this method in working with them. Naturally, like me at the outset, they are thinking that nutritional therapy is just a healthier alternative to going to the GP, but instead of getting a prescription for drugs, the prescription will be for foods or supplements that will fix their ailment. And that’s okay too, it is part of it, but it’s actually a whole lot more besides. Using the tools of the functional medicine model a nutritional therapist looks at your presenting symptoms from each body system, your diet and lifestyle – social, emotional, sleep, exercise, your medical history, medications, environmental factors and genetics. And then applies an understanding of the body’s nutrition and lifestyle requirements to design a personalized set of recommendations for you. [That stewed apple recommended for dessert might be significant beyond your understanding]. The outcome may not be the quick fix you were looking for but it is more likely to deliver a better understanding of you as an individual and provide lasting results, if you are up for the challenge. This is functional medicine in a one to one context but what I wasn’t aware of back then was that it is a relatively new and growing movement that is gaining momentum world wide. If you ever looked at the healthcare system and wished for a better alternative, then read on. Functional medicine is here in Ireland now!
A Growing Movement
Time! We don’t claim to have a lot of it these days! And, I’m going to save myself a lot here by just providing a link to an article which perfectly explains what functional medicine is. Functional Medicine the Future of Healthcare
What I love about the functional medicine movement is that it opens it’s door to everyone. It is not necessary to be a functional medicine doctor to incorporate the model principles into your own practice. In three weeks time Functional Medicine Ireland will host a conference in Galway. The audience attending come from a range of backgrounds: health journalists, policy maker(s), authors, health advocates, patients with autoimmune conditions, medical and nursing professionals, nutritional therapists, physical therapists, pharmacists, personal trainers, acupuncturists, health coaches, and those that wish to remain healthy! People from 11 different countries will be attending (Ireland, UK, South Africa, USA, Poland, Egypt, France, Spain, Finland, Sweden, Denmark).
The movement in Ireland is spearheaded by Maev Creaven, Nutritional Therapist and Director of Functional Medicine Ireland. Maev had this to say in a recent email to current ticket holders:-
It is hard to believe how far the FMC event has come since our first meeting in 2016 in Dublin. It’s even harder to fathom the support received especially over the last year! From you the delegates, the speakers (current and past), friends, family and other organisations (big shout out to The Institute for Functional Medicine, their incredible team andDr Kristi Hughes!) whom have rallied behind this movement.
You can learn more about this upcoming conference if you click the link on the image below.
Last week some of our Irish nutritional therapy graduates together with a range of other healthcare professionals attended a five day training course in London – Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice. Watch out world, they’re all fired up and certified now to go !!
There will be an impressive line up of speakers from around the globe at the Galway conference on 3rd/4th November, but what impresses me most about this movement is that it brings a new energy to health care that excludes no one. Members of the general public, health coach, GP, consultant, nurse, pharmacist, nutritional therapist etc. can gather together side by side and learn more about what matters to us all – our ‘health’. I think this movement is a healthy sign that a growing number of people are willing to shift their focus from wanting a ‘pill for every ill’ to being open and ready to pursue health in a more integrative and holistic way on a personal and global level.