Climbing the Eiger at 60?

“You’ve got to be kidding!” said my friend Jeannie about my plan to climb the Eiger over the Mittellegi ridge. Or maybe she thought that I was mad. After all, I have suffered from severe Spondyloarthritis and moderately severe Inflammatory Bowel Disease for decades.

However, the medication I take has a huge positive effect on my quality of life and makes such a mad plan thinkable. But there is a big difference between feeling ok, with bearable pain and being able to manage to get through the day, and feeling really, really fit and strong and confident. And that is the change in the last two years since I became aware of the power of “lifestyle medicine”.

Changes in my lifestyle have transformed my life and made it possible for me – a 60 year old woman with chronic illness – to climb the Eiger. I want to share my experience. Maybe my learnings will be useful for others. But please remember, I’m not a doctor and this is not medical advice. Everybody is different. Try things out, get professional support if you can, and observe carefully what works for you!

If you get to the end of this blog there is a slide show of the Eiger tour!

What is lifestyle medicine?

According the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, it uses evidence-based practice to help people adopt and sustain healthy behaviour that affects health and quality of life. Some Lifestyle health factors are now well-established: don’t smoke; keep your weight under control; exercise regularly. But the benefits of taking these lifestyle changes even further don’t seem to be recommended by most doctors. Perhaps they aren’t proven enough, or not well-known, or not believed in. For whatever reasons, these are all things that I have found out more or less for myself.

Lifestyle medicine focuses on sleep, nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction.

Sleep

Worries, overwork or medication have all affected my ability to get a good nights’ sleep in recent years. Many people know what a problem insomnia can be, and how lack of regular sleep can affect well-being, and how great it is to get a good night’s sleep. One source of support has been from Dr. Guy Meadows and his approach called ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). At the Sleep School he teaches how to overcome insomnia by observation and acceptance. It often works for me. Trying to control my fears and anxieties in this way matches my approach to Stress Reduction through meditation and mindfulness (see below).

However, the most important factor affecting my sleep is nutrition, which I will explain in more detail.

Nutrition

I’ve been watching carefully what I eat for some time, and have reported my experience in a previous blog called Am I really what I eat? I am still following the recommendations that I received from dieticians, and eat a Mediterranean diet with lots of fruit and vegetables. Now I can’t imagine eating any other way. It’s delicious!

But what about eating less or less often? My first thoughts and impressions about Fasting were A new F-word: FASTING – Love or Hate? Since starting interval fasting in August 2019, I believe that it has had a huge effect on my well-being!

There has been a lot written about diet as a factor in controlling inflammatory diseases, but what I have discovered in the last 6 months or so, is that it is just as important when I eat, as what I eat. Interval fasting has made a real difference to my sensitive gut, and I believe that reducing intestinal irritation, or even inflammation in my gut affects my whole well-being and may even have contributed to reducing inflammation in my back and joints. For over 6 months now, I generally eat my last meal by 6pm in the evening, and fast for 16 hours, meaning that I have a herb tea in the morning and then a delicious breakfast with coffee, fruit, whole grain muesli and yogurt sometime after 10am.

Dr Satchidananda Panda of the Salk Institute of Biological Sciences in California explores the circadian rhythm, and how this cycle of functions, which repeat themselves over 24 hours, affects our performance, mood and overall health. The best-known example is the sleep cycle. Dr. Panda believes that the benefit of sleep for the brain in the circadian rhythm is just the tip of the iceberg. Other organs have a circadian rhythm and also need time to rest and recuperate, such as the digestive system. The circadian clock may even mediate the immune system. He has tested the benefits of fasting extensively over the last 20 years and believes that every cell in our body has its own circadian clock. Every hormone, neurotransmitter, gene in our body has times when it functions best, and times when it needs to rest, repair, and reset. The circadian clock is not just linked to sleeping, but also to eating and exercising. So, it’s important not just to sleep at the right time, but also to eat at the right time.

His first results were with mice who were given a set “Western” diet. One group could only eat within a limited time window of 8 hours. The other could eat exactly the same amount of food, but without any time restrictions. After a few weeks, the mice who fasted 16 hours a day were much slimmer, more energetic and generally healthier than the mice who could eat or snack all day. In the last 5 years he has extended his research to thousands of human volunteers, who monitor their eating habits. The results indicate that similar results can improve the well-being of people. Apart from weight loss, improved mood, better sleeping, trial participants report other benefits such as reduced joint pain and inflammation. Dr. Panda explains his work in the BBC podcast Don’t tell me the score.

This seems entirely plausible to me, because the effect of interval fasting in the last months on my digestion and thus on my general well-being has been nothing less than dramatic. Through fasting I give my digestive system a period of down time when it doesn’t have to digest new food and can rest and repair. I can feel how my gut is more relaxed, how much better I can sleep, and how energised I am. For somebody who has suffered from a leaky gut and chronic inflammation for decades, this is a real gift for me.

If you understand the science (which sadly I am not trained in), then this work is summarized here: Mattson MP, Allison DB, Fontana L, Harvie M, Longo VD, Malaisse WJ, Mosley M, Notterpek L, Ravussin E, Scheer FA, Seyfried TN, Varady KA, Panda S. Meal frequency and timing in health and disease. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Nov 25;111(47):16647-53. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1413965111. Epub 2014 Nov 17. PMID: 25404320; PMCID: PMC4250148.

Getting fit

To keep my spirits up during Lockdown I made a plan “5 tips to manage your day” which included daily exercise. I used an online fitness programme with a huge of variety of options from stretching and yoga through Pilates to PIIT (professional intensive interval training!). It was amazing how doing this every morning for several months made me fitter than I could ever have imagined, despite never going far from my own house, let alone to the mountains.

Stress Reduction

The key to stress reduction for me is a few minutes of mindfulness or meditation before starting the day. Collecting my thoughts and intentions by keeping a journal also helps. If you are interested in this topic, I reflected on Stress Reduction in a previous blog, the Lockdown.

Putting it all together to climb the Eiger!

These practices all help disease management and improve my well-being. It’s a gradual process. It has taken months for lifestyle changes to translate into improved well-being. Discoveries have been a process of trial and error. No clinician has advised me to adopt these practices. I have had to sort through the available material and decide myself what is quackery and what is responsible advice. If I’m not sure about a theory, I check if the author of recommendations has been willing to expose his or her ideas to scrutiny by publishing them. If there are no recent publications on PubMed, then I’m sceptical about whether the work is serious, and discard it.

There needs to be much more research to provide evidence-based, mainstream recommendations for the benefit of all patients. The Spondylitis Association of America recently published an excellent webinar on lifestyle healthcare, but otherwise it’s hard to find trustworthy information. I believe that if healthcare research were more centred on patients well-being, rather than being driven by commercial considerations or personal aspirations, these areas would be given much higher priority.

Above all, I believe that without all these lifestyle changes…. I never, ever, could have climbed the Eiger at the age of 60!

Here is the Eiger tour in pictures – enjoy!

Covid-19 Lockdown: how is it going?

As the Lockdown started in Switzerland in mid-March I wrote about my strategy to manage Corona times. I named 5 things that I thought might help me through this extraordinary period. So where am I now? How do I feel?

Today decisive measures will be loosened, schools, shops and restaurants will open again. Like many Swiss people I am relieved that the last two months have not been as deadly as anticipated. But I am also deeply mistrusting. Will there be a second wave? Why is it ok to open up now? Weren’t we told that there has to be widespread reliable testing first? So much is unknown and there are about as many opinions on the pandemic outcome, as there are people expressing them.

My personal expectation is that it’s going to be a long time until the health authorities tell me that I can embrace the people I love …. travel to places I long to visit….. live without fear that I may become ill, or cause harm to other people…… I’m not even sure to what extent I can make my own judgements or must abide by regulations. What is my responsibility to myself and to the society that I live in? How is the lockdown impacting my health and well-being?

So, time to revisit my intentions, examine my feelings, and consider…

How did the 5 intentions help me?

Moving my body

A trainer sent me a link to a fitness studio which was broadcasting about three daily workouts – everything from Yoga to tough Interval Training. So I’ve done a workout every morning, and it really feels terrific. Sometimes went for a run or walk instead, but mostly I was @home.

Meditating

After a shaky start, a friend told me that Jon Kabat-Zinn was broadcasting mindfulness to thousands of people every evening during the pandemic. Bless him! His talks have been a marvellously soothing and comforting way to end the day. Sometimes we break out after the meditation session into small groups on zoom and exchange ideas and experiences across continents. I’m slowly understanding what mindfulness is about.

Getting overdue tasks done

Every Sunday evening, I take a piece of paper and write on it what I want to get done the next week. Work, but also household chores, gardening, reading. Many things I enjoy, and some I don’t – like doing my tax declaration. I’ve got quite a lot done and found a good structure, but I’ve been so preoccupied with ticking things off on my list, I sometimes forgot to enjoy what I was doing.

TV before bedtime

It’s an almost morbid fascination following the world in crisis and how different leaders and cultures are managing it. I was often drawn to the News in the evening. There are also many interesting “in depth” programmes. Watching them in the evenings nevertheless made me miserable and unable to sleep. It took me a long time to stop doing this to myself.

Love and compassion

It’s been easy to remember the power of love and compassion. The wonderful gestures of love and solidarity, particularly through the work of artists and musicians on social media, or spontaneous online support groups, or neighbourhood help with shopping or singing on balconies. The marvellous dedication of front-line health workers, and essential service workers delivering our food, and generally keeping things running has been quite extraordinary. (Meanwhile many of the white-collar office community enjoyed the luxury of deceleration in lockdown and closer family life offered by home office working).

So, everything is fine?

You might think everything is ok for me. Actually, reading my journal of the last 6 weeks is quite sobering. I write about nice things I did, comforting phone calls with friends, baking tasty cakes, sunshine, making a fire in my garden in the evening, interesting podcasts, new fulfilling work, and yet … my entries are short and terse. Phrases like “I feel better now” or “I feel ok” appear frequently. Beyond the reports of my flourishing activity with the 5 tricks to fight the Coronavirus, I also read about sleepless nights, a sort of numbing dread and disbelief, loneliness and boredom.

Anybody else?

I imagine many of us feel this way. The uncertainty of the future has become threatening. Strange, when you think about it, because the future is unknown and uncertain by definition. It always will be, however much we try to plan and insure against risks.

I remember the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986, which also happened during a wonderful April. Living in the Black Forest of Southern Germany at the time, the beauty of the emerging green and the spring light was in stark contrast to the unseen threat of radioactivity that the people in Southern Germany felt was literally raining down onto them. This crisis feels similar, except the enemy hides not in the clouds, but in people and creates distrusts even amongst ourselves. People I encountered on walks near my home sometimes didn’t even look at me, let alone greet me. We were all so afraid.

How am I touched by events?

The word “touch” has become key to me during these times. I am touched by the examples of solidarity that I have seen. I am touched by beautiful expressions of humanity and creativity that artists from all walks of life and everywhere in the world – both professional and amateur – are creating and spreading freely on the internet. I am touched by the friendship that I experience from neighbours and by the new encounters with people on the internet, who I have never personally met. I am touched by the appalling suffering that I have watched on television or can imagine just by reading newspapers.

The UN reports that the number of people on earth facing “acute food shortages” will more than double this year. I am touched and horrified by the thought that actually nobody has to starve, even now. If the wealthy gave to the poor, then the millions of workers worldwide who have lost their employment and have no income wouldn’t be in danger of starving.

Many people are faced by existential crisis, and even death. The world is on an unfathomable roller-coaster of transformation. My mind and soul have been touched during this pandemic as never before. However, in all this inner chaos, my body has got left behind. I have not been touched physically: not since the beginning of the lockdown and the introduction of social distancing.

After 2 months, I am realising what this means. I acutely miss the touch of a handshake, or an embrace, a close dance or a kiss… I even miss my physiotherapist extending a joint or massaging a tense muscle. I believe that this is the source of my strange despondency and the feeling of emptiness.

By nature we are beings that need physical contact. Documentaries show primates who groom each other to reduce stress and resolve conflict. Scientific papers report about the various hormones that are produced by touching. There is even a medical term for what I am experiencing: “touch starved” — also known as skin hunger or touch deprivation. There is information on many webpages describing this phenomenon and what I have so intensely felt in recent weeks. Lockdown is opening up in many countries, but even in these places, people at risk are still being told to shield themselves and maintain the strict rules. If the post lockdown “normal” is to continue isolating people at risk, the effects of touch starvation must be addressed, because it is as important as getting food to people. People are not being nourished adequately, if we just leave a bag of groceries on their doorsteps.

Groceries delivered to people sheltering at home in the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo by Alex Alpin
Groceries delivered to the doorstop (Alex Olpin)

Coronavirus: 5 tips to manage your day

The news gets grimmer every day. Many of us are living in Lockdown. We are frightened and understandably so. The Coronavirus disease is causing a pandemic which is shaking our beliefs, culture, daily habits and the very essence of our lives. These are life changing events for us all. Whatever this leads to, whatever we suffer, or learn, I suspect life will never quite be the same again.

Will I fall into a chasm of fear, helplessness and despair? I’ve been there, and that taught me that we have choices and it’s never as bad as our fantasy and creative mind can allow it to be. Rather use that creativity to generate hope and optimism, and on a strictly practical level – make a plan to keep myself afloat.

5 things to manage Corona times

What follows is my list of things to do every day. If I keep to them, I will be OK. It helped me to visualise the plan. My artistic efforts are pictured above!

Maybe a plan like this might be helpful to you? Other ideas are around. For instance, the Unicef Executive Director, Henrietta H. Fore has been broadcasting a Video diary from her home office. In the broadcast on Day 4, she recommends to make a Well-being plan.
(If it’s relevant to you, Unicef’s advice about looking after children and teens during the pandemic might also be worth reading.)

So here is my personal list of what I need everyday for well-being.

1. Move your body!

Movement and sport is absolutely essential to me. It’s the way to keep Spondyloarthritis at bay. If I move, I’m usually pain free. If I don’t, the pain comes back within a few days. So how to replace the weekend mountain trips, the back classes, training gym, climbing gym, physiotherapy and the fitness centre which keep me moving?

As long as I’m allowed to, I will go running in the hills behind my house early in the morning. I meet nobody and feel safe. Or some days, I practice Rickie Moore’s wonderful yoga for inner peace, which takes an hour. I can also go walking. The incredible value of walking was made clear to me by the neurologist Prof. Shane O’Mara on a BBC podcast called Don’t tell me the score. In summary, walking benefits our muscles and posture, helps to protect and repair organs, aids digestion and can even turn back the aging of our brains. Moreover, it encourages us to think more creatively, helps our mood to improve and our stress levels to fall. I’ve tried to follow Prof. O’Mara’s recommendations on walking, and I really think that they work. A quick summary with 8 reasons why walking is so good for you is here.

2. Look after stress levels by meditating

Sometimes I get really stressed out, which leads me to make mistakes and misjudge situations. I can even feel my heartbeat accelerating, or my voice getting tense. To relax again, I need to get myself into the here and now. I’m never tense if I’m in the present moment. It’s reflecting on some event in the past, or worrying about the future that makes me stressed.

Climbing, running, swimming, or other physical activities all help to concentrate the mind, but meditation has a special healing quality. Sometimes I can sit on my cushion and physically feel the tension falling away from my body. There are so many schools and techniques to meditate. If you are curious, it’s all on the internet.

Mindfulness is also a very helpful tool to reduce stress. It’s not the same as meditation. I like this simple way of distinguishing these two practices:

Mindfulness is the awareness of “some-thing,” while meditation is the awareness of “no-thing.” (here’s the reference)

Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment. It’s noticing and paying attention to thoughts, feelings, behavior, and everything else, but without making judgements. Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts to treat the chronically ill.

Personally, I prefer meditation. It’s the fascination of trying to get to a completely different level of consciousness. Albert Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Meditation often enables me to reframe problems and find solutions.

There are masses of information on the internet. I find Andy Puddicombe a fascinating person. He co-founded the App called Headspace. I don’t know it, although it’s probably the most popular one. He has worked hard to make Meditation and Mindfulness more accessible and relevant in today’s world.

I’ve been meditating for about 8 years now. Sometimes only for 10 minutes, but every day is the key. I still get distracted a lot, and this is quite normal, unless you are really, really experienced. My practice has not (yet) enabled me to switch into altered consciousness every time I sit on my cushion. My practice is learning to catch myself drifting off into other thoughts and bring myself back to quietness. This does help with problem-solving and calms my mind too. I also enjoy meditations that help develop a certain state of mind, such as Loving Kindness, or Compassion. There is no wrong and right way to meditate!

3. Get some overdue work done

Lots of people feel this way about the Lockdown. They can finally get some work done, which they’ve wanted to do for ages, or read some of those books stacked on the bedside table…. I am looking forward to blogging more and am launching new professional activities as a patient representative/advocate in medical research. Maybe you have other projects, or can contact old friends again.

4. NO TV before bedtime!

We all know that we shouldn’t be online in the evening, let alone watching the news. A few evenings ago there was an evening report from an intensive care unit in Bergamo in Italy, a city 30km from the Swiss border, where an old friend lives, who had a liver transplant. I was stupid enough to watch it – woke at 3am, feeling sick, my head spinning. I felt feverish but was too dizzy to move. When I did manage to measure my temperature, I had slightly over 35C! No fever whatsoever!

In the evenings I am generally to tired to read, so I need to do something very passive. That’s why TV is such a temptation. My solution was to get out some of those old coffee table books with stunning photos about beautiful places in the world and look at them again. Wonderful! I haven’t looked at such books for years!

5. Remember the power of Love and Compassion

It’s important to me to feel connected with others and to feel the power of Love and Compassion. A marvellous doctor called Sir Harry Burns, who I have been so privileged to work with, emphasised the need for Love and Compassion in health care in a recent talk. He was referring to the care of others, but it’s also important when caring for ourselves. (Sir Harry has also done a great TED talk on What causes Wellness).

I’ve heard that Neuroscience says that it is better for your health and well-being to give than to receive. I don’t know if there is really any evidence-based research on this, but I can believe it. Helping each other, staying in touch, supporting each other, will make a big difference to how we overcome this crisis. And I am sure that despite a bit of hamster shopping, people will rise to the occasion. Just knowing this, gives me strength and hope for the days and weeks to come.

Take care, stay at home, stay healthy, and stay in the space of Love and Compassion.

A new F-word: FASTING – Love or Hate?

Next week is Ash Wednesday when the Christian fasting period called Lent begins.  I’ve never fasted.  It always seemed rather uncomfortable and difficult.  Until now I couldn‘t see any benefit and feel that managing AS I have enough to do.

The more I read and try things out, the more convinced I am that diet is important to my condition.  We know that AS is about 95% hereditary, so I couldn’t have stopped it breaking out.  But what I eat can maybe influence the progress of the disease, and most importantly how I feel on a day to day basis.  A good diet should also help to keep other health issues at bay, which result from chronic inflammation.

But not eating at all?!   NOT TOO SURE THAT I WANT TO STOP EATING ENTIRELY!

Beautiful organic lettuce
I love my lettuces – this one was grown organically in my garden!

So what is fasting all about?!  HERE IS WHAT I FOUND OUT

The first thing I found out is that I could fast in many different ways.  I could not eat for just 8-12 hours, which is called “interval fasting” and seems the same as eating early in the evening; or fast for perhaps as long as 3 weeks.  I could eat nothing at all, or just limit my diet, for instance to juices or fruits.

The second thing that I realised is that not only Christians of practically all denominations, but also every other leading wisdom tradition, such as Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, observe fasting at certain ceremonies or times of the year.  These are traditions which have held for thousands of years, and are based on collective and accumulated knowledge.  Such customs are a spiritual practice but also often developed for practical reasons.  In Western Europe before global trade and industrial greenhouses, food was getting scarse by Spring, so there were good reasons to eat less!  But maybe there were health reasons for these practices too, which could not be scientifically proved, but were observed.  The ancient Greeks believed in fasting.  Indeed Hippocrates is quoted as saying: “Instead of using medicine, rather, fast a day.”

The third thing I found is that Western medicine does not advise fasting, particularly for people who suffer from serious chronic disease.  The fasting article in Wikipedia discusses fasting in religious practice at great length.  Medical applications are referred to only with reference to fasting before surgery or medical tests. 

Alternative medicine gets a one liner in Wikipedia: “Although practitioners of alternative medicine promote “cleansing the body” through fasting, the concept is quackery with no scientific basis for its rationale or efficacy.”

But the fourth thing is that I found an article on the effects of fasting on rheumatoid arthritis in the renowned medical journal “The Lancet” in 1991.  Its conclusion is: “Fasting is an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, but most patients relapse on reintroduction of food.”  But then, after 7-10 days fasting, patients were put on gluten-free vegan and then lactovegetarian diets.  A control group ate an ordinary diet.  The final result: “The benefits in the diet group were still present after one year, and evaluation of the whole course showed significant advantages for the diet group in all measured indices.  This dietary regimen seems to be a useful supplement to conventional medical treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.”

Has this research on rheumatoid arthritis (RA) been followed up?  Yes, a bit!  I found an interesting article from 2014 called “Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications“, which states that the positive effects of fasting on RA have been supported by four differently controlled studies.  The authors write: “..for many [RA] patients able and willing to endure long-term fasting and to permanently modify their diet, fasting cycles would have the potential not only to augment but also to replace existing medical treatments.”

Is fasting really “quackery” as Wikipedia claims, or has not enough research been done to establish its value?  And what about the effects on AS?

My fifth thought comes from new knowledge gained in basic medical research.  A process which might have played a key role in the positive effects of fasting for patients with rheumatoid arthritis is Autophagy.  This is a sort of automatic biological cleaning programme.  The removal of waste products and old debris is essential for the cellular and organic fitness of any living organism.  Autophagy describes a fundamental process to degrade and recycle old cells, and then use them for new purposes or as a source of energy.  Yoshinori Ohsumi who discovered the processes and elucidated the basic mechanisms of how autophagy works, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2016 for his work.

Autophagy, as a recycling and cleaning act, is essential in many physiological processes.  It is triggered by the need to adapt to a lack of food caused by starvation or intentional fasting, but it is also a response to infection.  Furthermore, it is now known that mutations in autophagy genes can cause disease, and that the autophagic process is involved in several conditions including arthritis, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.  But nobody yet understands how.So perhaps the view of fasting will change in the next years.  More research is needed to understand autophagy and how exactly it may be connected to arthritis.  We might  find out that autophagy could contribute to the treatment of diseases, perhaps even by fasting!

Am I really what I eat?

In the bad old days when life seemed to be filled only with pain, I used to comfort myself and find moments of peace with the thought: „I am not my body!“ If I could see myself at a level of consciousness where my soul and not my body was in charge, then the pain lost its power over me. That was rare, but it did happen.

If I am not my body, then I am also not what I eat, right? Up to now I believed that medication, exercise and stress-reduction are more important for my well-being, than food. However, the more I learn about diet, the more I think that it may be important too. Diet seems to be the question that interests people the most.

The leading Swiss charity for musculoskeletal disorders, the Swiss League against Rheumatism, recognises that many patients would like advice about diet, but do not know where to find reliable information. They publish an excellent series of articles explaining the different views (German, French, Italian). Many rheumatologists are sceptical of or reject any significant dietary influence on the development of chronic disease, and fear that special diets may lead to nutritional deficiencies, and make things worse for patients. At the other extreme there are holistic physicians, and health advisors who believe that diet can even replace medication.

When the disease flares up, I would try almost anything to alleviate the pain; and it seems intuitively plausible that what we eat may affect the progress of disease. It is well-known that a poor diet can lead to other health problems, such as Diabetes or cardiac disease. But what about Arthritis? Health care specialists who believe that diet has no influence, point out that there is no clear evidence that diet makes a difference. But that could be because the subject has not been adequately researched yet. We still don’t understand what triggers arthritis, so in my view it’s too early to eliminate diet from the list of suspects.

But where can patients like myself find the information to make their own decisions?

My General Practitioner sent me to a nutritional consultation at the local University Hospital. I was amazed to learn that they even have a leaflet for people with inflammatory arthritis (published by the Swiss Society for Nutrition in German and French). There I was told that many elements of a Mediterranean diet can help reduce inflammation.

The picture shows me with my kids eating a Mediterranean diet on holiday in 2014. We were doing it years ago!

Family holidays in Sicily

The first thing is to guard against Osteoporosis. I‘ve had reduced bone density since my mid-forties, so that means making sure I get enough calcium (Fish, cheese, yogurt, various seeds – you can find information on the web) and Vitamin D (supplements and going out into the sunshine).

People affected by inflammatory arthritis need a lot of protein, which is contained in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans and pulses. Some of those foods may promote inflammation, as I explain below.

If there are foods that promote inflammation, then people like me should avoid them, and eat more foods that are anti-inflammatory. That’s where the Mediterranean food comes in. As is well-known many Western diets contain high levels of Omega-6 fats, in particular arachidonic acid. These are considered to promote inflammation and are found in meat, eggs and high fat dairy products. Our Western diets contain a lot of arachidonic acid. So according to the advice I received, these should be reduced as much as possible. The anti-inflammatory „good“ foods contain Omega-3 fatty acids, like fish – so cod-liver oil really is good for you! – and certain oils. Oils that are particularly good are Linseed (we had that at home when I was a child, but it was only used to grease Cricket bats), walnut oil and rapeseed oil. To my disappointment olive oil is good, but not amongst the very best.

The last advice is to eat things containing something called Antioxidants because they scavenge „bad guys“ called oxygen radicals (who would think that something with the word oxygen in it would be bad for you?). You get your antioxidants if you eat lots of fruit and veg, and whole grain products, and nuts and seeds.

I was delighted with this advice, except it described quite well the way I eat anyway, and I‘ve still got active AS. What can I change?

I suspect that I still eat a lot of unhealthy food, even when I think that I am eating healthily. Ten years ago I visited Japan for 2 weeks.

Vegetable seller in Japan
Vegetable market in Japan
Pasta chef in Japan
Fresh pasta chef in Japan

The food was absolutely amazing, lots of weird greens and freshly made pasta. It was before my AS diagnosis, although I‘d had symptoms already for many years. I remember well how astonishingly energised and healthy I felt. I had no idea why but vowed to eat Miso soup for breakfast from then on. My promise to myself didn’t even hold a week! In the rural area in Switzerland where I live it was hard to find Miso for the soup, and my family preferred to start the day with traditional Swiss breakfasts…

Brunch bei Marlene und Sämi Wyss Rubi, Hagiboden
Traditional Swiss farmers’ breakfast

Maybe writing this blog will motivate me to try again and report in more detail in a later blog, on what I discover. The whole subject of diet is huge, and I find it quite complex.

Recently I went on a alpine trip collecting wild herbs. In the evening we prepared a wonderful 5-course meal with these plants. It was delicious, and again I felt marvellous afterwards. I’ll leave you with a picture of our starter.

Herbs from mountain meadows are delicious
Mountain meadows are a source of delicious herbs