I've always believed that keeping oneself healthy, or regaining health after an illness or injury, has to be done holistically. When I set up Bandana Health and Fitness it was with the intention of offering an holistic approach to my members.
holistic - characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease
In fact, the more you understand about nutrition, the more you'll realise that movement, mind-set and muscle condition contribute to digestion and the uptake of nutrients. Absorption of nutrients takes place in the small intestine and we would be wrong to assume that simply eating good nutritious food will result in the absorption of these nutrients. There are many factors that can prevent absorption taking place.
The small intestine is lined with villi, small hair like projections that maximize the surface area across which the broken down nutrients can pass into the bloodstream.These villi, when healthy, are long and are bathed in a solution of broken down nutrients as the 'chyme' travels along the small intestine. Ill health, alcohol abuse and some medications can all affect the villi, meaning good, nutritious food may pass through the system without being absorbed.
If you are living with cancer it is more than likely that you'll be receiving treatments which can damage the lining of your small intestine. In the images below, A, is a cross-section of the small intestine wall. Notice how the surface area of the wall is undulating with many outer cells where absorption of nutrients can take place. If you were to measure the top profile it would be very long. Image B is a cross-section of the small intestine wall ( same person) 3 days after chemotherapy! Here we can see how the villi are barely distinguishable, resulting in greatly diminished absorption of nutrients.
Image taken from D M K Keefe, J Brealey, G J Goland, A G Cummins (Gut 2000; 47 632–637) Chemotherapy for cancer causes apoptosis that precedes hypoplasia in crypts of the small intestine in humans
Likewise, many of us find that chemotherapy alters the taste of food and frequently results in a lack of appetite. If you experience long periods of bed rest you are probably aware that you may lose muscle mass in your limbs. This is known as atrophy. What might not be obvious is that this lack of muscle tone is happening to every muscle in the body...including the heart and the digestive tract.
Swallowing is more difficult for people confined to bed and it has been shown that non-viscous substances pass through the oesophagus more slowly when the body is supine (lying down). It also takes longer for food to pass through the stomach - 66% more slowly in recumbent patients than in upright ones.
This slower movement of the food through the digestive tract means that the movement of faeces through the colon and rectum is slower too. Unfortunately this delay allows more water re-absorption. As a result, stools progressively harden causing constipation, a common problem in those bedridden. In an upright person, gravity causes stools to exert pressure on the anal sphincter; lying down negates gravity allowing this sensation, reducing the urge to defecate.
There are many other factors too, but as this is turning into a science lesson..(sorry!) and I like to give you practical tips, I will move on.
Pureed fruit and plenty of water will help to reduce the risk of constipation. Be aware that if a low iron count is being addressed by iron supplements in the form of tablets, you may get constipated.If you can increase the amount of iron you get from your diet by eating dark green leafy veg you can help restore your body’s iron levels.
Now, this summer I have had a theme of changing habits and today's blog does indeed have some suggestions to changing habits holistically.
I don't drive; I never have. Sometimes it's a bit of a pain (especially when the trains in the South East are currently far from reliable!!) but on the whole I view my lack of driving as a very positive factor in my holistic health. Fortunately, my habits were formed before the onset of online shopping! You see, I have to walk and carry my shopping home. I know this isn't an option for people living in remote areas, but a good majority of us do live in a village, town or city.
On a Saturday morning I walk round the corner to my local greengrocer. He knows the provenance of all the fruit and veg; the produce itself lasts much better than supermarket produce due to less storage and shipping...and I get to chat! The family greengrocer business has been providing the community with fruit and veg for decades and there isn't a lot they don't know about my local community.
I loved the fact that my chemo or PICC line flush was always on a Friday morning. It meant that I caught up with the same familiar faces each week; a very welcomed factor of the chemo routine. In the same way I see the same faces on a Saturday morning. I hadn't realised how important this social interaction was until one Monday, a year or so after my cancer treatment, I was walking to catch a train when the greengrocer shouted across the road and waved me over to him. You see, I'd been busy on the Saturday morning and hadn't been in. All he wanted to know was that I was ok!
I was really touched and realised then how good it felt to be part of my little community. I vowed that when I got back to total fitness and life became hectic that I wouldn't drop my weekly habit of visiting the greengrocer. In fact, because he knows I juice and make a lot of soups he often offers me fruit and veg that aren't looking quite as pretty! And I do love a bargain! A win, win situation!
As I have reduced the amount of meat I now eat I decided that I could afford to buy better quality produce ( organic, local or free range), just less of it. So my new habit, on a Thursday (my only afternoon off at the moment) is to walk to my local butcher with my rucksack and buy fantastic quality meat for my family and the dog! It's always an informative trip, always a giggle and everyone comments on the quality of the food. If you are reading this thinking..."Well I simply haven't got the time for all this"...then all I can say is, make time. I shoehorn a ridiculous amount into my weeks, but once a trip out on foot becomes a regular habit, you don't question the time taken. In fact, as I don't have to find parking spaces or sit in traffic, I'm able to nip in and out of shops and the post office in the same time some poor folk are driving round in circles getting stressed.
So my advice this week:
Choose a product that you can buy locally and make use of our wonderful experts.
Walk there, have a chat and make a new healthy habit!