Dr Charles Forsyth

Ecological Physician

 
 

Diet

We are what we eat - quite literally!  If you wish to enjoy optimal health, you must make your diet the best it can possibly be.  Our diet should ideally be: fresh, natural, wholefood, organic, vegetable dominated, with minimal sugars & additives, relatively low in starch, not too much dairy or refined/cooked vegetable oils, as micronutrient dense as possible, broad & varied, delicious & satisfying, etc.  It usually doesn’t need to be perfect - just much more balanced (from the above perspective).


On a purely physical level our body is a biochemical machine and the machinery is totally dependent on receiving the right amount of raw materials.  There are over 50 different nutrients that are essential to our health - amino acids, fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, etc - and we need each one of them in the right quantity.  Man evolved over a million years meeting these requirements as a hunter gatherer.  It is only in the last 10,000 years or so (yesterday in evolutionary terms) that he started cultivating/farming and has consumed cereals and milk products.  Prior to the Industrial Revolution (early 1700’s) sugar hardly existed and margarines only became popular in the early 1900’s.  Before these times there was minimal food storage or processing, no grains, almost no refined vegetable oils/ margarines, no dairy products, and no refined sugars - this lot now comprise 70.9% of our energy intake!  This has resulted in a radical reduction in our micronutrient intake - the consequence of which can only be serious ill-health! 


If you can’t resist eating the naughty things frequently - try to look at the reasons why - so often it is because we feel stressed, tired, low spirited, anxious, lonely, unloved, insecure, angry, etc - try to resolve these issues - bearing in mind that each & all of the topics on this page can hugely influence our psychological state and general health.  For more info, see: Nutrition.



Exercise

Take plenty of regular physical exercise.  In addition to exertion that increases our heart and breathing rates and induces sweating, this should include exercises that improve muscle and especially core strength, balance, agility, posture & suppleness. 


Our body was designed for a lot of activity, without it, it just does not work as well.  It is only in very recent times that we have become so inactive - a nation of couch-potatoes.  Exercise has a huge effect on our psychological state, improving mood and sense of well-being, reducing the effects of stress, and improving the functioning of all our organ systems: gut (digestion and bowels), heart & circulation, lungs, immune & detoxification systems, musculoskeletal system (bones, joints, muscles, ligaments & tendons), etc.  For more info, see: Exercise for Health.



Sleep

Most of us need good quality undisturbed sleep for 7-8 hours most nights if we are to achieve and maintain optimal health.


It seems that if we don’t already suffer with insomnia or have our sleep disturbed by external factors, many of us just do not allow ourselves enough good quality sleep.  Good sleep is essential because this is when most of our “repair & maintenance” systems work most efficiently.  Without repair & maintenance, systems rapidly deteriorate.  Like all the other topics on this page, the quality of our sleep depends on - yes, all the other topics on this page!  For more info, see: Sleep.



Stress Management

It is not an easy task to maintain our balance through the stresses and strains of life - especially in the world as it is now.  For most of us life has become far more complicated, fast and uncertain - and if we are to cope we need to be as healthy as possible in both mind and body. 


The following are fairly obvious, but so easily neglected: good self pacing with regular rest periods, catnaps / “power-naps”, regular holidays, simple relaxation exercises, realistic & appropriate expectations (of both ourselves & others), make life as simple as possible, etc.


When we feel “stressed” it is the result of either too many external or/and internal demands and pressures on us, or a downturn in our ability to cope - or a combination of both.  Our coping ability, both physical and psychological, is dependent on all the other factors discussed on this page - it is hugely affected by our nutritional state, exercise, sleep, infections, toxins and our psychological state.  For more info, see: Relaxation Essentials & Psychological.



Bugs

We share our environment with countless billions of microorganisms - without them life on our planet would cease.  For example, those in the soil are absolutely vital to healthy plants - including those we eat.  There are more bacteria in our large intestine than we have cells in our body - and the correct balance is vital for our health.  However there are also plenty of disease causing “pathogenic” organisms.  A healthy immune system is constantly vigilant, constantly deciding what is “foreign” and therefore bad for us and what is “self” and therefore ok/ good for us. It’s functioning is hugely affected by all the other factors discussed on this page.


Be sensible about cleanliness, hygiene and exposure to infection.  Use specific preventative measures when and where appropriate.  Use natural approaches to treat infections, avoiding antibiotics whenever possible.  Eat live yogurt or take a probiotic occasionally and always after antibiotics.  For more info, see: Bugs & Dysbiosis.



Toxins

Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution we have been living in a greater and greater chemical soup!  There are around 60 - 70,000 synthetic chemicals in regular use and the majority are new on the planet.  It was estimated that in 1997 the average UK family spent £25 per week on synthetic chemicals.  UK annual sales of chemicals is around £33 billion. By 1988 pesticides/herbicides were applied to 97% of all arable land - a total of 22,4oo,000 Kg.  Most of the plastics, adhesives, gloss paints & varnishes, composite woods (plywood, MDF, blockboard, particle board, etc) and fabrics (fire retardants) in our homes, schools and work places give off toxic fumes.  Synthetic chemicals are present in most of the cosmetics, soaps, creams, shampoos, hair dyes, bath additives and other items we put on our skin and hair, and in most perfumes, fragrances, air fresheners, etc.  The exhaust fumes from the combustion of most fossil fuels - oil, petrol, diesel, coal - are toxic (household gas, butane, propane, etc are not as long as they are burnt correctly).  Urban living and modern homes exposes us to a high level of air pollution.  Additionally, in the UK we consume over 200,000 tons of food additives a year.  If you smoke tobacco or work or live in a smoky atmosphere you are exposed to over 50 known cancer-causing (carcinogenic) compounds and over 400 other toxins. These include: nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, cadmium, nickel, arsenic, formaldehyde, ammonia, acetone, benzene, hydrogen cyanide, toluene & DDT! 


It may be stating the obvious, but toxins are toxic because they interfere with our biochemistry.  And we are much more susceptible to absorbing and retaining them and their toxic effects if our biochemistry is already compromised by nutritional deficiencies. 


So try to minimise your toxic exposures - in what you eat & drink, what you put on your skin, in the air you breathe, in your medical and social drug usage, in what materials you use and bring into your home and work place, etc.  For more info, see: Toxins.



Psychological

Our emotional state - our feelings - have a huge impact on the way our body functions.  We all know this in relation to rapid reactions - blushing from embarrassment, red faced from anger, trembling from fear, etc - but we are usually much less aware of the long-term effects of the way we feel most of the time.  Our inner feeling “landscape” is totally unique and individual to us, but because it has been there all the time we take it for granted - the majority of it is quite subconscious.  We tend to avoid unpleasant or painful feelings - it is a natural coping mechanism.  But the stronger the feelings and the more strongly and longer we avoid them, the deeper we push them into the subconscious and the more likely they will be expressed physically as symptoms by disturbing the function of one or more organ systems. Whatever the emotional “pain” (eg. anger, sadness/grief, anxiety/fear, aloneness, worthlessness, etc), we use all sorts of tricks to avoid them.  We may keep ourselves constantly occupied (whether physically, emotionally or mentally), or eat too much, drink too much alcohol, smoke, take drugs, work too hard, etc.  It is very difficult to break out of this loop.  Recognising and understanding what one is feeling is a very important first step but may not actually diminish or resolve the feelings, particularly initially.  Thinking and feeling are different departments - one can’t think away emotional issues with a mental approach - but one can develop better strategies for coping with them. 


Try to be actively engaged in working towards resolving your emotional, personal, occupational, relationship and life goal issues.  Try to foster a happy, positive, balanced outlook on life.  Actively prioritise those things in your life that are most important, fulfilling and nurturing to you - ensure you do them regularly/frequently.  Homeopathy is one therapy that can directly address the emotional level.  For more info, see: Psychological.



Nutritional Supplements

It is almost impossible to eat a perfect diet and nutritional deficiencies so often occur even when eating a very good diet, usually because of compromised digestion or/and absorption.


Reference Daily Intakes (RDIs) are relevant to only healthy individuals and most have been calculated on the basis of the minimum amount of the nutrient to prevent the recognised deficiency disease.  These are not the optimum intakes for optimum health - and especially not if you are unwell.  So most of us working in functional medicine believe that most RDIs have been set far too low for the average person - and very rarely see patients with chronic health problems without very significant nutritional deficiencies.  The most common deficiencies I see in patients not taking supplements are:  Vitamin D, Iodine, Zinc and Magnesium.  Followed by Selenium, Essential Fatty Acids, and Iron.


These are the minimum nutrients I think most of us should be taking in addition to an excellent diet:


  1. Vitamin D - everyone in the UK should be taking vitamin D - it is a rare person who is not deficient or suboptimal without supplementation. I usually recommend 1000 - 3000 iu daily all year round, unless you spend a great deal of time in bright sunlight exposing lots of unprotected skin.  A ‘normal’ diet is unable to provide enough for our needs.  It is actually a hormone biosynthesised in the skin when exposed to enough sunlight.  See: Vitamin D, and my information sheet.

  2. Vitamin C - I believe we should all be taking some extra vitamin C - and I think 1000mg daily is a good starting point.  We are one of the very few mammals that doesn’t biosynthesise this for themselves.  See information sheet: Vitamin C.

  3. Iodine - almost everyone I test with a urinary iodine:creatine ratio test is deficient. A UK study in 2011 revealed that 70% of schoolgirls had urinary iodine levels below the lower limit of the reference range (< 100 ug/l).  A 2002 global study reported in the WHO “Iodine Status Worldwide 2004” showed that 57% of Europe was iodine deficient. A US study showed a 400% increase in moderate to severe iodine deficiency over a 20 year period.  The reason is there is just not enough in the foods we eat, mainly because our soils are deficient.  And most of us working in functional medicine believe the Dietary Reference Intake has been set far too low (around 150 mcg).  The Japanese have the world’s highest average daily iodine intake (because of their very high seaweed and fish consumption), of between 5 and 12.5 mg - and these kind of intakes may well prove to be our optimal intake.  I think we should be taking at least 1 mg (1000 mcg) daily (I have taken 3 mg daily for many years and now take 6 mg daily).

  4. For more info, see: Nutrition & Diet and Nutritional Supplements


Resources

  1. See: www.sehn.org/ecomedicine.html  - gives a nice overview of some basic principles of ecological medicine

  2. Environmental Medicine - Beginnings and Bibliographies of Clinical Ecology.  Randolph TG. Fort Collins, Colorado, Clinical Ecology Pub. 1987

  3. Environmental Medicine in Clinical Practice, by Anthony H, Birtwistle S, Eaton K, Maberley J.  BSAENM Publications 1997  IBSN 0-9523397-2-2

  4. Practice Information Sheets

 

Health Essentials

  ECOLOGICAL MEDICINE:  Overview   Nutrition   Allergy   Microbes   Toxins  EMR

  Ecological Medicine:         Overview          Health Essentials          Medical Management