high cortisol levels**Disclaimer: this article about high cortisol levels is a collaborative piece between myself, and PrecisionBiotics (manufacturer of Zenflore). For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

Cortisol is a glucocorticoid steroid hormone, produced in humans by the adrenal gland. It is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration. In other words, too much stress can lead to too much cortisol being produced. This can trigger a whole host of problems, including depression, weight gain and reduced libido.

Regular readers will know that I had a very unstable, dysfunctional childhood. There was so much change, and so much threat, that I spent it in a perpetual state of fight or flight. Unsurprisingly this caused an imbalance in my cortisol levels. Now that chronic stress provides the backdrop to my family life, I do everything in my power to lower them. I hope you find this piece useful.

Consider natural supplementation to help lower your high cortisol levels

I could write all day long about the importance of gut health, and the link between the gut and brain. If your gut has a disproportionate amount of bad bacteria to good, your mental health will absolutely suffer. Ever since doing the gut healing GAPS Diet in 2014, I have been a massive advocate for probiotics, which naturally boost the good bacteria. I make my own kefir, kombucha, goat milk yogurt and fermented veggies, which I eat and drink every single day. In addition I take good quality natural supplements in the form of 5-HTP (for boosting serotonin) and evening primrose oil (to help take the edge off PMT). Last month I started taking Zenflore, which is known as a physcobiotic. Which not only aims to increase good gut bacteria, but also helps to reduce high cortisol levels.

Zenflore contains 1714-Serenitas, a bacterial culture which increases the activity in the areas of the brain associated with emotions, learning and memory. The 1714-Serenitas culture in Zenflore is also involved in regulating the immune system which is vital for our health and wellbeing. Zenflore’s unique live culture and specially selected B vitamins work in harmony to support the mind and body during busy and demanding times. Check out the video below, for a more detailed explanation of the link between the gut and brain.

My experience of Zenflore

I eat a very natural diet of real food, and run a non-toxic household. Day to day we eat Paleo, which means no refined sugar, no starchy carbs and nothing processed (check out my YouTube channel for lots of tasty recipes). We simply do not do chemicals here – I even make my own deodorant. I truly believe, because of this, I’m very in tune with my body.

During the first few days of taking Zenflore I had mild diarrhoea and the start of a cold. This is quite a common reaction as the body adjusts to the influx of a new bacterial strain. By day five my stools were solid and I had no sign of the cold. I felt good within myself and healthy.

I have trialed many supplements over the years, and if they are going to have the desired effect (lots of them don’t!) then I feel it pretty quickly. After about ten days, I filmed a set of Instagram stories, which have been saved as a highlight on my profile marked Zenflore. I was in the midst of yet another super stressful time, as I’d had two weekends away a fortnight apart, and the kids were not happy with me. It was a pleasant surprise for me to not feel like they were pushing all my buttons and tipping me over the edge. Obviously it could have just been a coincidence, but I’m convinced it was the Zenflore working it’s magic.

high cortisol levelsSleep in my house has massively nose dived in the last few months, and my youngest is once again in the marital bed every night. He’s become a terrible bed sharer, and often wakes me up by kicking me in the head, laying diagonally across the pillows or pulling my hair. I also average one super early wake up a week – where I get up for the day anything between 3:30-4:30am, so I can write.

Although I’ve felt shattered, through tiredness, I can honestly say I haven’t been as stressed out as I have been previously. Which is absolutely huge for me. When you’re home educating three children – one of whom is autistic – you cannot underestimate the effect of trying to hold it all together while chronically stressed.

I would be lying if I said my sleep has improved ten fold and I’m as zen as I would be after a pilates retreat, every day. BUT I do feel like Zenflore has given me a much needed happiness boost, and that’s all I can ask for from a supplement.

Other lifestyle changes which help to lower high cortisol levels

Exercise. This gets bandied around a lot, because it really does make a difference. I don’t have spare time for long workouts or to go to the gym, but I manage to fit in what my husband calls “yoga snacks” throughout the day. They are my teeny tiny chunks of calm. For example, standing in tree pose while brushing my teeth, or sitting in the lotus position when I’m on the floor playing with the kids.

I go through cycles when it comes to more vigorous exercise. Sometimes I love it and sometimes it actually makes me feel worse. Truth is, when your cortisol levels are sky high, hardcore exercise puts additional stress onto the body. Earlier in the year I was doing twenty minute HIIT routines and feeling hideous afterwards, so took a break. Over the last few months I’ve been doing five or six minute standing abs workouts, a few times a week. This gives me a nice little adrenaline dump, without feeling like I’ve over exerted myself.

high cortisol levelsSleep. Even in the midst of severe child induced sleep deprivation, there is plenty we can do to help ourselves. A few years ago I stopped taking my phone up to bed, and noticed a dramatic improvement in my sleep quality. I rarely stay up later than 11pm, and have at least an hour, usually two, free of small screens before going upstairs. It doesn’t stop Freddy kicking me in the head half the night, but it makes all the difference to the broken sleep I do get.

Eating well. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of eating good quality nutrient dense food. Since eating my own way to better health, I don’t think there is a better head start we can give our children than a clean diet. Among a multitude of other things, nourishing ourselves appropriately will boost our brains, clear the mental fog and ensure our blood sugars aren’t riding on a rollercoaster all day long.

Get in tune with your cycle, ladies. It won’t actively lower your cortisol levels, but there is much to be said for knowing our bodies inside and out. It’s a tough pill to swallow at first, but I have long just accepted that I’m going to be ruled by my hormones for anything between 24 and 72 hours per menstrual cycle. Yes it sucks, but it’s part and parcel of being a woman. I never make plans around that time, and am super gentle with myself. I have zero expectations, and if anything asides from the bare minimum gets done, I consider it a bonus.

My overall verdict of Zenflore

I’m going to be brutally honest, as I always am. Zenflore hasn’t changed my life – because I am already massively ahead of the gut health game, compared to most. However, I can absolutely see that it would be a game changer for a person who has never taken probiotics before.

I’ve definitely noticed a nice boost, and given the high stress levels inside this house, it goes a long way. In fact I’m so confident that it’s helping me that I’ve started the kids on half a capsule each. Zenflore is perfectly safe for children over the age of three, but do head over to the Zenflore website for all the official info.

To keep up to date with all the news on this wonderful supplement, follow Zenflore across social media:

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

Non-Alcoholic Paleo Christmas Cake

I’ve once again teamed up with a fabulous bunch of free from bloggers, to bring you a wonderful selection of free from Christmas food this year. Please check out the links at the bottom of this post for more details. 

My family has been eating the paleo way for almost six years now. We aren’t perfect eaters, and subscribe to the 80/20 principle, which gives our life a healthy balance. By and large however, this means that we do not eat any grains (of which gluten is just one, but the most publicised one), or refined sugar. We do eat a little dairy in the way of raw milk, cheese, and home fermented goat milk yoghurt and sour cream, but steer clear as best we can of commercial dairy.

Between eating like this, and my recent leap into teetotalism, I wanted to create a non-alcoholic paleo Christmas cake. One that we could all enjoy and doesn’t have the excess sugar, unnecessary ingredients and alcohol you would usually find in a traditional version.

Sugar is sugar people!

Unrefined or not, dried fruit is exceptionally sweet, and the icing alone on most Christmas cakes (especially shop bought) amounts to diabetes on a plate. Apart from anything else, my Hubby is not a fan at all, so I had to put my thinking cap on, and get creative. 

non-alcoholic paleo christmas cakeDid you know that the purpose of soaking the dried fruit (and nuts if you’re using them like I am) in alcohol is to make them super moist? Feeding the cake with booze is partly for preservation purposes, but also for flavour. Nothing more, nothing less.

Tea which has been brewed and cooled down works just as well to soak the fruit and nuts overnight. Not using booze also means that you don’t have to make the cake too far in advance, and can leave it until the week of Christmas. Also it’s best to use organic dried fruit, because it will be sulphite free which is always a good thing! 

I have used Earl Grey tea, because it gives the cake and wonderful smell and flavour. For some reason, bergamot reminds of the beach, and elicits happy memories of far flung holidays and adventures. Not exactly Christmassy, but it makes me smile so I’ll call that a win.   

If you really want a boozey cake, then you can substitute the tea for alcohol of your choice, make it a month in advance and feed with 1-2 tablespoons each week. 

Non-Alcoholic Paleo Christmas Cake that is free from all Grains (including Gluten), Dairy and Refined Sugar

Ingredients for a very large cake, approx 20 servings  
250g grated carrot
200g chopped dried dates
200g sultanas 
200g cashew nuts
100g chopped dried apricots
100g ground nuts (almonds or pecans work great)
non-alcoholic paleo christmas cake100g coconut flour
120ml coconut oil
250ml cool brewed Earl Grey tea
4 large free range eggs
tbsp vanilla

Method
– Get a large bowl and add the dried fruit, cashews and carrot
– Give it a good mix, then pour over the cold tea 
– Cover the bowl and leave the mixture to soak overnight
– In the morning preheat your oven to 150C and prepare a large cake tin by greasing it well and lining with baking paper
– When you’re ready to start cooking add the ground nuts and coconut flour to your bowl of soaked loveliness  
– Give it a big mix
– In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, vanilla and coconut oil together
– Pour the wet mixture all over the bowl of other ingredients and give it a good stir
– Pour the batter into your tin and brush with a tbsp of coconut oil 
– Bake for an hour, ensuring that the cake is completely covered in baking paper
– Take out of the oven and allow to cool completely
– Store in an airtight cake tin and decorate as you please on the big day 

non-alcoholic paleo christmas cakeCheck out the other #FreeFromChristmas posts from these fabulous bloggers

Dairy Free Kids

Easy Peasy Foodie

Free From Fairy

Free From Farmhouse

Glutarama

Gluten Free Alchemist

Intolerant Gourmand

Julie’s Family Kitchen

Le Coin de Mel

Paleo Crust (aka Modern Food Stories)

The Adventures of an Allergy Mummy

The Peachick’s Bakery

**I created this recipe for non-alcoholic paleo Christmas cake myself, but would like to say a huge thanks to the wonderful people at Unsplash for the gorgeous photos**  

Water Kefir: make your own supply of powerful natural probiotics What is kefir, and why is it so good for me?

Kefir are little live strains of gut-health promoting bacteria and yeast, and are exceptionally good for our bodies. The grains can be fermented in either water or milk, and makes a fermented drink which is one of the most powerful, and cost effective, natural sources of probiotics we have readily available to us. 

Whilst milk kefir is very potent, and could create a die off reaction while your gut bacteria is changing.

Water kefir (also known as tibicos) is much gentler on the gut and easier to introduce as a starting place. It’s still a great source of natural probiotics, and especially if you have issues with digesting dairy products, it could be the better option.

The cost saving is phenomenal

Water kefir grains are hardy, and once established can live forever providing you look after them. I started drinking one litre of water kefir daily about a year ago, and after three months I was able to stop taking probiotics supplements. Once established, a month’s supply of water kefir will cost around £2 in comparison to £30 for good quality supplementation.

When I first embarked on the GAPS Diet back in 2014, gut health was still considered a little bit woo. Nowadays it’s mainstream, and was recently discussed on the BBC program Trust Me I’m A Doctor, where home fermented foods came out winning.

You can buy a large portion of water kefir grains here for just £3.99, including UK postage.

 

Gut Health: 3 Low Cost Ways to Get Probiotics in Your LifeWhen I first embarked on the GAPS Diet in 2014, gut health was still considered a little bit woo. Nowadays it’s becoming mainstream, and was recently discussed on the BBC program Trust Me I’m A Doctor. On the show, home fermented foods came out winning as a method of promoting gut health.

Why you might ask?

Fermented foods are rich in probiotic bacteria (also known as good bacteria or beneficial bacteria). A lack of good bacteria is said to be the root cause of many autoimmune conditions, and when we eat fermented foods we add these good bacteria to our intestinal flora. This increases our gut health, which in turn increases the health of our digestive system and boosts our immune system.

Fermented foods are also easier to digest than regular food, as a lot of the work has already been done for us in the fermentation process.

Whilst taking probiotic supplementation is the most convenient way of promoting gut health, there’s no denying that quality supplements cost a small fortune. Low cost supplements are pointless taking, and yield little value if any to our gut. Home fermented food and drinks are the very best – and most cost effective way – of getting probiotics into our lives. Here are three easy wins for you to get your gut health on track without it breaking the bank!

Kefir

Kefir is a fermented drink, and is one of the most powerful natural sources of probiotics we have readily available. In a nutshell kefir grains are little live strains of good bacteria and yeast, and are exceptionally good for us. Note: they are not an actual grain, as in wheat, but are referred to as grains.

You can ferment kefir in water or milk. Perhaps because of my long standing issues with dairy, I find the milk kefir too potent. It bloats me, whereas I tolerate water kefir just beautifully. I swapped out my probiotic supplements for water kefir about a year ago, and have continued feeling the benefits.

Check out the video below for a full tutorial, and Q&A session on the benefits of water kefir. Click here to buy quality low cost grains.

Sauerkraut

3 Cost Effective Ways to Get Your Gut Health on TrackOnce fermented, cabbage is a fabulous source of probiotics. Although tasty, most commercially made sauerkraut has been pasteurized, which destroys the good bacteria. Home fermented sauerkraut is a delicious and simple way of adding probiotic goodness to your diet. 

Making it for the first time can be a little daunting, but once you get into the swing of fermenting your own foods it won’t take up too much of your time.

Ingredients (to fit into a 500ml jar)
300g cabbage
3 carrots
1.5 tbsp sea salt
Sterilised glass jar

Method
– finely slice (shred) your cabbage and grate your carrots, then put everything into a large bowl and sprinkle over the salt
note: you can leave out the carrot, and bump the cabbage up to 500g if you’d prefer 

– cover with a loosely fitting plate or a tea towel, and leave in a warm place overnight (as you would with home made bread). By morning your veg will have wilted down to about half and the salt will have naturally drawn out a lot of the probiotic juices. It will also kick start the fermentation process

– pack the veg tightly into your sterilised jar, and cover with the juice at the bottom of the bowl. Top up with a little water if needs be, to ensure the veg is completely covered. It is imperative that you don’t leave any space for air to get into the jar. Put the lid on loosely 

– leave to ferment on your kitchen side for 3-5 days, depending on how hot it is. Check daily to ensure that there is still no air getting into the jar, and there is no pressure building up 

– once it’s ready store in the fridge, and serve with savoury dishes 

Yoghurt

3 Cost Effective Ways to Get Your Gut Health on TrackCommercially made yoghurt is widely available, but again it’s never going to be as good for you as home made. I’ve been making my own out of a mixture of goat milk and goat double cream for a few years now, and the whole family adores it.

I’ve never gotten around to posting a tutorial, however my lovely friend Vicki who writes the Free From Fairy has done. 

Check out Vicki’s comprehensive yogurt tutorial here.

For my recipe, substitute the 600ml of double cream for 775ml whole goat milk, and a 125ml goat double cream. The rest of the process stays exactly the same.

Happy fermenting ❤

Polly GAPS IntroIn Spring 2014 I embarked on the all natural auto-immune healing diet GAPS, which is an acronym for Gut and Psychology Syndrome.

It consists of three stages, the first being a six step introduction diet; the second stage is Full GAPS – a Paleo-style grain free, refined sugar free, commercial dairy free diet; the third stage is introducing fermented grains and healthy starches such as sweet potatoes.

What causes gut and psychology syndrome?

According to Natasha Campbell-McBride, the doctor that created GAPS, all auto-immune disease (which encompasses everything from allergies to depression to thyroid dysfunction) starts in the gut, and is likely to be caused by leaky gut syndrome and/or a disproportionate amount of bad gut bacteria.

Leaky gut gets worse with each generation, and mine are a prime example of what Campbell-McBride calls a GAPS Family. My mother has an under active thyroid, urticaria and various other issues; I had severe reflux as a baby which led to stomach surgery aged five and have suffered all my life with food intolerance. My eldest daughter is very similar to me on the intolerance front; she also has the poorest immune system of our family (and most other kids that we know); and she is autistic.

Campbell-McBride says that until the gut is healed you can mask your symptoms but you’ll never be cured. Check out this awesome article for more info by the fabulous Dr. Josh Axe. 

I’d heard about GAPS from reading other blogger’s personal experiences such as this and this. Real people who cured their lifelong food allergies, and debilitating auto-immune diseases with the GAPS diet. There is also a  scary looking text book (that’s actually very easy to read) written by Dr. Natasha giving her theories on why some folks health is as bad as it is. Given that my third child was only eight weeks old, and I average reading only two or three books a year, I whizzed through it in two days. Her words sung to me, and I knew I would have to take action by giving this diet a go. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, it was a huge undertaking!  

The most important part of the very first step of the intro diet – which most people do for around one week – is drinking a ton of home made meat stock (also known as bone broth). The quickest and easiest way to make it is by boiling a whole chicken with sea salt and water for a couple of hours. Your entire food consumption for that first step is drinking the stock and eating the boiled chicken meat. If you’re able to tolerate non-starchy veggies then you can add them to make yourself a bowl of soup. It’s delicious real soup, just like Grandma used to make. But that’s it.

No dairy, no sugar – natural or refined, no grains at all, no starch, no caffeine, no booze. The only extras are a cocktail of supplements, including probiotics, omega fish oils and digestive enzymes.

You are completely stripping your diet back to the very basics, giving it plenty of nourishment to sustain you while your body goes through a period of detoxification. The aim is then resetting your auto-immune function and getting it to work better. After that first step you introduce foods one by one, starting with egg yolks and home made sauerkraut.

It’s a big deal, and even though I was used to eating Paleo before starting GAPS, it still took me two attempts to get it right. I whizzed through the six steps too fast the first time, and also cheated by keeping a morning coffee. I paid the price by going back to the very beginning six weeks later.

Second time around I spent five days on each of the first three steps of intro, and hung out on step four for months. By then I could eat so many foods that I felt I was having a delicious and varied diet, and I didn’t feel deprived in the slightest. I guess once you’ve lived on chicken soup anything else feels like fine dining!

I won’t go into too much detail here as it’s already a long post, and I documented my entire journey from start to a year update on a separate blog, so check out Mummy Tries GAPS if you’re interested. 

GAPS worked for me. I have clarity of mind, clear skin and am not a walking wreck despite suffering from severe sleep deprivation. My depressive thoughts are largely kept at bay and ultimately I’ve never felt this good in my entire life. People often ask me how I’m able to function given my challenging life, and the answer is GAPS! 

When I started intro we put the kids on to Full GAPS, but we’ve never been super strict like I was with my own eating. We always let them have cocoa in home made cakes and natural snacks; we let them eat the odd sausage roll or something similar if we found ourselves at the farmers market at lunch time. We have always been strict with not letting them have refined sugar, but some days their natural sugar intake has left a lot to be desired.

It all has an effect, how any parent can say there is no link between diet and behaviour is beyond me.

stock makingWhich is why we are seriously considering putting Polly on GAPS Intro. Not because we think it will ‘cure her autism’ (anyone claiming this is being rather bold in my opinion), but if it took her even further up the high functioning end of the spectrum then that would be a bonus. We’re looking at doing it because I know first hand how damn good I felt on GAPS Intro, and I would love for her to feel that great!

I’m absolutely certain that once we got through the first week or two she would feel as amazing as I did. Plus, if we don’t do it, I’ll always have a little nagging feeling in the back of my mind wondering if things would have turned out differently if only we had given it a go. I’d do it with her too, so she only saw me eating the things that she was. It would be a huge challenge in the short term, but I am positive my entire family would reap the rewards in the long run. 

An action plan for now

It’s a rather controversial thing to do though. To essentially make a six year old child eat soup morning, noon, and night for a whole week. The way I see it, a week is a very short amount of time and passes really quickly, but it would be an exceptionally difficult week, and I’d never put her through it until I had done extensive research and found a suitable practitioner to help us.

As of this week we are being super strict with all the children eating a Full GAPS diet. Just to dispel a few common myths: no, it’s not really low carb or ketogenic. It is simply a natural way of eating that doesn’t allow grains, starchy veg, refined sugar or processed food. It’s varied and interesting, and unbelievably nutrient dense. Just by cutting back on sweet snacks (albeit natural ones) I’ve seen an improvement.     

There’s a huge part of me hoping that we don’t have to put her on GAPS Intro, but only time will tell.

Would you do it?   

**Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor am I giving medical advice, I am simply sharing my own personal experience and views**