The prevalence of inflammatory bowel disease is increasing dramatically. Yalda Alaoui explains why chronic inflammation can affect us all.
We become familiar with inflammation from a very young age. When you cut your finger, to heal the cut, your body sends inflammatory cells to the injury.
Inflammation refers to your body’s process of fighting against things that harm it such as infections, injuries, and toxins, in an attempt to heal itself. When something damages the cells, like cutting your finger, your body releases chemicals that trigger a response from your immune system. This is known as acute inflammation.
Chronic inflammation, however, happens when this response lingers, leaving your body in a constant state of alert and can have symptoms harder to spot such as abdominal pain, chest pain, fatigue and fever.
Yalda Alaoui found that she was suffering from chronic inflammation after she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis – an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores or ulcers.
“I had an acute case for many years where my body did not respond positively to medication. I was pretty much in a constant flare,” Yalda tells me. Despite not experiencing remission, doctors assured her multiple times that there was no link between nutrition and her condition.
“Because I didn’t see any results, I set myself on a path of research on lifestyle and nutrition. I was looking at everything, not just dietary changes,” she says. “I changed a few things in my diet and I started working out again. But I later found out that some workouts can increase inflammation.”
Yalda was also diagnosed with a disease called autoimmune haemolytic anaemia – a rare blood condition that causes the antibodies of a person’s immune system damage some of their red blood cells. “It was almost fatal for me a couple of times. But it sparked a conversation with my doctor that made me realise that the link between my two conditions was actually inflammation.”
Subsequently, she extended her research and started talking to other people on forums with similar conditions. “We would exchange phone numbers and I would talk to other people and try to understand the mechanisms of those diseases through their experiences,” she explains.
Analysing the common symptoms of chronic inflammation is what helped Yalda to improve her lifestyle – from sleep and nutrition to exercise, mental health, strengthen immunity and body composition. “I was trying to put all the pieces of this puzzle together through others to truly understand the inflammatory processes and the links to other diseases much further than just autoimmunity,” she says. “So, I developed a method to improve my symptoms, and finally be free of pain.”
After retraining as a nutritional therapist, Yalda launched Eat Burn Sleep – an online platform that helps people reduce inflammation, restart their gut microbiome and promote optimum immune and liver health.
“70 per cent of your immune system cells sit in you gut,” she points out. “So, the reason why gut health is so important is because it influences your immune system and your inflammation as a result.”
Yalda’s platform is based on three pillars: nutrition, movement and mental wellness. “Very few people realise that if you’re really stressed, it’s hard for inflammation to be reduced because your cortisol levels are high,” she tells me. “When you have high cortisol levels, what it does is it switches on the sympathetic nervous system, your fight or flight response, and it switches off the parasympathetic nervous system, your rest and digest side.”
Eat Burn Sleep encourages a better lifestyle rather than adopting restrictive diets. Yalda says that she wants people to be social and have fun with their friends, cautioning that most diets can be extremely unhealthy mentally, physically and physiologically.
“My method is very moderate,” she adds. “Cutting out a certain food group entirely increases the chances of losing the good bacteria to digest it. Instead, I want to show people how much of that food to reduce and for how long.
“When it comes to exercise, for example, being sedentary is linked to heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity. But high intensity exercise is also linked to chronic inflammation. So, I have a library of anti-inflammation workout videos along with a mental wellness section where I help people not only stay calm and meditate, but also rewire the subconscious brain and tap into neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to form new neural connections throughout life.
“We also have about 20 doctors backing my method. They have used it for themselves and now share it with their patients,” she says. “My aim is to put people together – gastroenterologists, GPs, osteopaths, immunologists – and share interesting findings or observations that can help others with their practice.”
The prevalence of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) increased between 2006 and 2016 by 33.8 per cent and globally, more than six million people are affected by IBD.
Yalda thinks that Deborah James’ case will help more people understand chronic inflammation, but she also says that: “The food has changed a lot. Many healthy organic processed foods are packed with additives that lead to inflammation, metabolic syndrome, unhealthy weight gain, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
“Unfortunately, with chronic inflammation, unless you’re diagnosed with a chronic disease, you don’t get any signs,” the nutritionist explains. “But one of the first things to pay attention to is excess fat. Although I know everyone talks about body positivity, it is not helping our health, because a high BMI means that your body produces more inflammatory cells.
“So, things like a high BMI or bloating may suggest that you probably have inflammation in your body. I would say do something about it. A doctor cannot sleep for you. A doctor cannot eat for you. A doctor cannot think positively for you. Take steps to improve your health today, which will improve your mental well-being. You’re going to have a sharper brain, a better mood, you’re going to enjoy your life better, and prevent diseases later.
“Also, when you do that, you start shopping for healthier foods,” she adds. “And guess what, healthier foods are better for the planet. So, from an ecological standpoint, sustainability helps the environment and you become less of a burden on the healthcare systems in the future.”
I ask Yalda why she thinks it is harder to maintain a healthy lifestyle now. “I think there’s a lot of confusion. You hear so many mixed health messages and you don’t know which one to follow and I also think that we have such a perfectionist mindset.
“Everything’s black and white. People feel that they either have to be really good or if they eat one bad thing, they’re going to go for all the unhealthy foods. So, in my method, it’s about damage limitation, not perfection. I developed this because I wanted to continue having fun. Life was so boring when I was sick. What I tell people now is skip the sandwich on your lunch break and go for a salad. Then if you want to enjoy some prosecco with your friends, do it well, so you produce the enzymes to digest it and enjoy it guilt-free.”
Alongside improving Eat Burn Sleep, the nutritionist is also working on an app that will be available soon and will help more people on the path of recovery.
“I want to continue helping people and I want to keep raising awareness,” she says. “In the long run, my goal is to help introduce nutrition in the curriculum in medical schools because I really want to bridge the gap between holistic treatment and allopathic medicine and truly make a difference.”
For more information, visit eatburnsleep.com.
Nurses left with no time for training amid “workforce crisis”
Disruption in health services has meant that face-to-face nursing courses had to move online
After they led the fight against Covid, nurses remain four times more likely to take their own lives than people working in any other profession. Michaela Nuttall, founder of the educational platform Learn With Nurses, tells us why they deserve better.
The impact of the pandemic on healthcare services has been immense, reads a 2021 BMJ report. For the over 500,000 nurses in the UK, Covid’s mental health toll has been intensified by physical and emotional exhaustion and an increased risk of burnout.
Despite interrupted training and fear of exposure to the virus, surveys have shown that nurses strived to provide excellent care and support for their patients and colleagues, sometimes at personal cost.
“Nurses were stretched more than ever during the pandemic,” says Michaela Nuttall, cardiovascular nurse specialist and founder of the online educational platform Learn With Nurses.
“At a time when they were forced to work extra hours, look after their kids and take care of their parents, they were left with little to no support and no time for training.”
The sudden disruption in health services along with staff shortages have meant that face-to-face nursing courses had to move online.
However, letting people have time off for training proved extremely difficult, says Nuttall. “Because nurses can’t be at work during training, many were left with no access to training.”
Having worked in cardiovascular disease training herself, Nuttall decided to host a Zoom meeting about the importance of blood pressure control at the start of the pandemic and invited people to join through social media nursing groups.
“I was really missing training and I wanted people not to forget about cardiovascular disease,” she explains. “I put the Zoom link online and about 200 people registered for the first session.
“The need was definitely there. So, I started working with other nurses to build a bigger platform and we went from nothing to everything in a very short space of time.”
Learn With Nurses, now a global online community of specialist nurses, provides free educational support to healthcare professionals and helps them improve the quality of care while promoting evidence-based clinical practice guidance.
“It is not meant to replace formal training,” the founder says. “Our aim is to make training much more accessible and give people a free platform where they can learn, ask questions and interact with other healthcare professionals. We now use a platform called MedAll instead of Zoom because it makes our job much easier and allows thousands of people to join and we try to have a relaxed style that almost feels like you’re talking to a friend over a coffee.”
The courses, delivered in bite-sized sessions of 30-40 minutes, cover a different subject each week, allowing nurses to understand some of the most common health conditions they treat in hospital.
“We’ve made a commitment at the beginning that we will always provide our courses without any barriers to learning,” Nuttall says.
“People tell us how much Learn With Nurses has helped them and although we are looking at memberships and donations to help us fund the training, we don’t want money to be a barrier.”
Nurses like Nuttall say that the NHS is still facing challenges. According to the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee, health services in England are currently facing “the greatest workforce crisis in their history” with the NHS losing millions of full-time equivalent days to staff sickness caused by anxiety, stress and depression.
“Nurses remain under extreme pressure,” says Nuttall. “Almost 90 per cent of them are female and they need our support more than ever.
“Our ambition is to give more visibility to all nurses, but particularly to those from minority backgrounds. I hope that through Learn With Nurses they will find a diverse community where they could feel represented and supported.”
Step us for breastfeeding: educate and support – WABA 2022
This year World Breastfeeding week’s theme is ‘Step us for breastfeeding: educate and support’.
The World Breastfeeding week (WABA) 2022, which takes place from the 1st of August until the 7th, focuses on strengthening the capacity of actors that have to protect, promote and support breastfeeding across different levels of society.
WABA’s aims to inform and educate governments, health systems, workplaces and communities to strengthen their capacity to provide and sustain breastfeeding-friendly environments for families in the post pandemic world.
Anwar Fazal, Chairperson at WABA, said: “World Breastfeeding week is a vibrant global movement that expands and connects the power of one with the power of many. Only by working together we can make the changes we need.”
Breastfeeding is key to sustainable development strategies post-pandemic, as it improves nutrition, ensures food security and reduces inequalities between and within countries.
The theme is aligned with the thematic area one of the WMW-SDG 2030 campaign which highlights the links between breastfeeding and good nutrition, food security and reduction of inequalities.
The World Health Assembly (WHA) aims to increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding to at least 50 per cent by 2050. This policy aims to increase attention to, investment in, and action for a set of cost-effective interventions and policies that can help Member States and their partners in improving exclusive breastfeeding rates among infant younger than six months.
Exclusive breastfeeding is a cornerstone of child survival and child health because it provides essential, irreplaceable nutrition for a child’s growth and development.
It serves as a child’s first immunisation, providing protection from respiratory infections, diarrhoeal disease, and other potentially life-threatening aliments.
Exclusive breastfeeding also has a protective effect against obesity and certain noncommunicable disease later in life.
Yet, much remains to be done to make exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life the norm for infant feeding. Globally, only 38 per cent of infants aged zero to six months are exclusively breastfed.
Recent analysis indicate that suboptimal breastfeeding practices, including non-exclusive breastfeeding, contribute to 11.6 per cent of mortality in children under five years of age.
Breastfeeding could be a powerful tool to meet the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as it can be linked to all of them.
Amal Omer-Salim, executive director at WABA, said: “By focusing on a broader context, longer timeframe and practical yet ambitious goals, we can create sustainable and engaging campaigns.”
Indian digital health platform on a mission to provide affordable family care
Over 75 per cent of women in India experience postpartum anxiety while 25 per cent struggle with postpartum depression
As the country recovers post-pandemic, we asked Carina Kohli, founder of the digital health platform HUMM, why India desperately needs affordable and accessible family healthcare.
Although 76 per cent of healthcare professionals in India use digital health records, gender-based discrimination remains a prevalent issue.
According to a study conducted in 2016 by researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the Indian Statistical Institute and Harvard University, only 37 per cent of women got access to healthcare compared with 67 per cent of men.
Recent figures show that 75 per cent of Indian women experience postpartum anxiety for up to 24 months post pregnancy while 73 per cent of them quit the workforce to start or raise a family.
When the pandemic hit, the country faced big question marks. A 2021 BMJ report found that Covid had a negative impact on the Indian healthcare system, with “the exaggeration of income inequality during lockdown expected to extend beyond”.
“I grew up thinking that healthcare is a human right,” says Carina Kohli, founder of HUMM, a healthtech company focusing on postpartum and postnatal care. “The reality is that in India, the majority of the population either don’t have access to healthcare or can’t afford it.
“I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was about 13 and I felt very isolated. I remember being very insecure and nervous and, aged 19, I started doing research on options for women’s health and fertility in India.”
At the peak of the pandemic Kohli and her team created a web application and launched Baby Space – a digital content and community platform for fertility, pregnancy and childcare.
“We grew that to about 16,000 people,” she says. “But in a country like India where we still deal with issues of affordability, geographical accessibility and infrastructure. Therefore, we realised that access to healthcare is a primary need and we decided to pivot and rebuild [part of the system].
“So we established HUMM to offer affordable unlimited family health care to mothers, families and organisations with a focus on postpartum, postnatal, neonatal and baby care.”
HUMM has a range of on-demand, solution-based health programmes as well as different tools with personalised insights, health plans and progress charts covering physical, mental and emotional health.
“Our incredible doctors and experts often chat with our users on social media and the HUMM app, answer their questions and essentially, build that trust,” Kohli explains.
“Telemedicine has been around in India for a little while and people are now more open to options and they’re more adaptable. They know that this can be a much more affordable and convenient option.”
Has the pandemic helped digital health technology in this regard? “Definitely. The pandemic has influenced consumer behaviour to a great extent,” the founder adds.
“There are still a lot of cultural barriers and people may not be always open about mental health or sexual health, but the response we’ve had has been really eye-opening and we found that couples felt less alone knowing that they had dedicated doctors and experts to speak to.”
The lower costs and the one-to-one consultations with experts are what keep users coming back and Kohli says that receiving positive feedback is by far the most rewarding feeling for her, as a founder.
“We have great doctors in our country and I think information and awareness will definitely help us grow,” she says.
“Our dream is to broaden access to healthcare services across the country because the need is definitely there. Currently, we are India-focused because it’s a huge market where 25 million babies are born every year. But we are also looking at neighbouring countries that deal with similar issues. In the next five to seven years, we might consider countries across Southeast Asia.”
Kohli would love to see more openness to femtech. Although there is a growing interest in the sector, women’s healthcare remains underfunded. “I really don’t like when people talk about women’s health as a niche,” the founder says.
“We are 50 per cent of the population and there is so much we need to do.”
For more info, visit hummcare.com.
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