Introduction and Background:
As executives we exist in a high pressure, fast-paced, “executive world”; a world that we have created ourselves, a world in which we are being constantly overstimulated. Our genes, our body, have not adapted to cope with the effects of this constant pressure and overstimulation, we are not cut out to be continually pushed to the limit. As a consequence, those of us who are part of this executive world find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve optimal health. There is an increasing need for executives and organisations responsible for them to recognise this and to take positive action that encourages workplace wellness.
At Functional Medicine Associates it is our job to stay at the forefront of science. We have had over 20 years of working with Executives and Organisations on corporate wellness programmes. This work has given us the opportunity to apply newer scientific research to individuals and, importantly, to test whether this has been effective. Given our unique position we offer the first five key topics for our 2020 guides to health and wellness at work.
1. You’re going to need to supplement your diet:
There are many that still argue that you can get all your nutrient needs from the foods you eat. Whilst we whole-heartedly agree with the concept of food first, we have failed to see “foods only” provide a patient with their complete nutrient needs in over 20 years of testing.
In our experience, even the very best ‘executive’ diets have needed a little bit of help from external supplementation based on nutrient testing results and individualised genetic data.
Why does this happen?
Our team have thought over this situation for many years and we have come to the conclusion that it is one of the prices we pay for living in high pressured times. In short, stress reduces our ability to get the best out of our foods. The result being that despite an excellent diet, there is the need for additional vitamins and minerals provided by supplementation.
Getting the best out of your foods takes many coordinated biological checks and balances. Not only do you need to eat the best quality, preferably organic foods, you also need the ability for your body to break it down and absorb it effectively thereby allowing it to reach the cells where it is needed. Putting foods into your mouth and expecting it to magically get to your cells just doesn’t happen for many of us.
In order for the food to successfully reach our cells we need to “rest and digest”; take time to chew and relax whilst eating, away from the stressors of the moment and day. Move away from your desk at lunch time leaving your phone and other technology behind whilst you take time to appreciate the food you are consuming. Breaking our foods down through chewing and relaxing allows the release of the correct amounts of digestive enzymes and gastric juices that are crucial in the digestive process. Our perpetually busy and stressful lives mean that many of us unknowingly fail to effectively extract the complete nutrients from our food. Throughout our years of testing these processes of digestion in clinical practice we consistently see problems caused by ineffective digestion of foods. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact that stress has on the digestive process.
2. Good oral health is the new gym!
What has become increasingly apparent both in the science and through working with our patients is the importance of good oral health not only in reducing gum disease but in improving overall health. There is now plenty of scientific evidence to support the fact that ‘what happens in the mouth doesn’t stay in the mouth’ and that chronic disease management must take into account the health of the mouth. The science is so strong in this area that regular dental and hygienist visits could be as effective as regular gym sessions for reducing disease risk.
At Functional Medicine Associates we were noticing that many of our patients were presenting with some form of gum disease. This is not unusual or alarming considering that most adults in the UK have some degree of gum disease, but we could no longer ignore the science, pointing to the fact that both mild and advanced gum disease may be an indication of wider excess inflammation throughout the body.
To put it differently, your smile can reveal a lot more than you might think about the state of your health. Your smile is the gateway to your mouth and in turn, your mouth is the gateway to your gastro-intestinal tract and the rest of your body.
The mouth is home to the second most diverse microbial community in the body, harbouring over 700 species of bacteria that colonise the hard surfaces of teeth. As individuals we each harbour, on average, about 100-200 of these individual species of bacteria. Recent technological advances have meant that we have a much better understanding of this ‘oral microbiome’ and the role it plays in health and disease and we now know that it contributes not only to oral health but to general well-being.
If you are suffering from bad breath and/or bleeding gums, these could be the first signs that the bacteria in your mouth, known as the oral microbiome, is out of balance and that you are suffering from gum disease, potentially increasing your chances of developing chronic inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s
Dr Mark Ide, Reader of Periodontology at King’s College London, writes “Research has shown that gum disease can elevate the levels of molecules in the bloodstream that are involved in the inflammatory response throughout the body” and this in turn can lead to the development and progression of a range of chronic disease conditions throughout the body.
It may seem strange in an article geared around workplace wellness to talk about going to the dentist. Regular trips to the dentist are not just about avoiding tooth decay and fillings, they should be seen as an essential part of maintaining general health, equally as important as visiting the doctor, going to the gym and eating a healthy diet. If you are concerned about the state of your mouth or want to know more about the signs of gum disease, fighting and/or reversing gum disease, or if you would like to know more about gum disease and its associated health risks, then read on and find out what we at Functional Medicine Associates are offering our patients when it comes to improving and monitoring their oral health.
Given the high prevalence of gum disease and periodontitis (advanced gum disease) amongst our patients we have for several years now explored and tested both the bacteria in the mouth and the associated genetic risk factors for periodontal disease. Our training and the continued scientific research mean in effect, at Functional Medicine Associates we are bringing the mouth back to the body.
3. Sitting is the new smoking. Use our 30 for 2 law
Many scientists like to use this phrase and whilst it’s a little over the top as a comparison, it’s a well-known fact that sitting for long periods really is very bad for us. Of course, in most offices, people inevitably do tend to sit for long periods of time so we think this is very important in the context of a corporate wellbeing programme. Most of our genes are designed for and expect movement daily and when this doesn’t happen, we cannot have optimal physiology. We are designed for not just a bit of movement, but consistent movement over most of the day.
Given that on average, United Kingdom office workers report sitting at work for 6.3 h per day this has major ramifications on mind, body and, importantly, business.
Prolonged sitting starts to reduce the blood flow around the brain, which reduces your ability to concentrate and be creative. Not only is this detrimental to business productivity, there are longer term damaging effects on our health. Reductions in brain blood flow from prolonged sitting have associated risks for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In effect the more we sit the more we risk long term reductions in blood flow around the brain. A recent study of healthy desk workers however, has shown that if we stand up and go for a walk for 2 minutes for every 30 minutes of sitting down we can offset these reductions in blood flow to the brain. Hence, we like to encourage all of our executives to engage with the 30 for 2 law whilst working at a desk.
Given that we know how prolonged sitting is damaging for both brain and body, it is clear that there is a need for employers to protect their staff by doing something as simple as promoting the 30:2 law in the workplace. We know that the majority of working adults do not achieve the weekly recommendations for physical activity and so the 30:2 law is even more crucial if we are to encourage more movement and activity. There is a need to look at how we design, build and use or working environments. Standing desks, walking meetings and just getting up often and doing some form of movement has to become standard. It helps employer health and it helps businesses as it improves concentration and creativity levels. Enough said.
4. Colleagues, friends and family influence our health more than anything else:
“This is the science of “Network Medicine” and how it should drive “Corporate Wellness”
Go to the pub with colleagues who are big drinkers and you inevitably end up drinking more than you normally would. Sunday lunch with family and friends and you know you are going to overindulge when it comes to pudding. Signing your like-minded friend up as your gym buddy and you know you are far more likely to actually use the gym than you would if going solo.
Have you ever considered how social gatherings and/or relationships, be they with family friends or workmates, can influence the choices we make? This phenomenon is known as ‘network medicine’ and first appeared as a term in the medical literature in 2007. How we are interconnected to others and how these relationships influence our health is becoming an area of great scientific interest. Our social networks pervade all aspects of human health and are one of the most important influencing factors to our health. Research in this field has allowed scientists to move away from looking at humans & their health in a linear fashion, replacing linear thinking with a more organic, complex, interconnected web of influences.
An example of this network medicine appeared in a 2007 paper in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in which a study was discussed showing the impact of social relationships on health. It concluded that, over time, having an overweight friend made you 171% more likely to become overweight yourself. Here I am reminded of patients I have seen in the past whose partners either have or have not been on board with their journey back to health. No prizes for guessing which patients are more likely to be successful on their journey.
Research clearly shows that decisions around health, both positive & negative, are based on the norms of a social group. This is the reason that corporations who have a genuine investment into wellness culture can dramatically change the health of their workforce. Humans love to follow, be led. Seeing the CEO eating a healthy meal in the canteen every day or members of the board frequenting the corporation gym. This type of wellness culture needn’t cost anything. It is a social decision led by “leaders” who have a positive influence on the wider group.
Getting people to sit down in the canteen and share a meal together is a simple but very powerful health measure regardless of the choice of food. Studies show that simply sharing a meal with co-workers becomes a therapeutic modality because it creates a sense of belonging. In older populations, studies demonstrate that the act of sharing meals has a positive influence on health and nutrient intake. We have worked with an organisation recently in which the Executive Board has started to buy into the development of wellness culture. One of the first changes they implemented was to agree a cut off time for evening emails. A small but very significant health change given that research shows people touch, swipe and/or tap their phone on average 2617 times a day. Technology affects every sphere of our lives and more than ever in a negative way. It is also a distraction to the attention and concentration span of workers. The tribe drives change.
Our health is not determined so much by our own decisions, but by what our friends, family and colleagues decide.
5. Look after your bacteria and they will look after you
Humans are superorganisms, a combination of human cells and bacteria. Science shows that we are made up of more bacteria than human cells and a new definition of you has been coined. Humans are “holobionts”; defined as two different species or many species working together in the same space for the benefit of all. Get used to it, you are more bacteria than human and your health is determined by the health of the bacteria you carry.
Over the last few years more and more of our patients/executives are unwell or not getting better from conventional treatment because their bacteria have not been investigated. Many suffer with low immunity and yet have never been tested through their gastro intestinal tract, crazy when 70% of our immune system resides there. Poor food choices and in particular low fibre in the diet is a major concern. Bacteria love fibre! Fibre is not for us humans but is the preferred food for feeding your resident bacteria. Feed them lots of different fibre and they will help your immunity become strong, create acids that are very helpful to us and control inflammation. A rainbow of colours from plant foods allows for a more diverse bacterial rainforest and that gives our immunity and general health a way to flourish.
The next two decades of medical science is going to be dominated by microbes. You are no longer you; you are you and the bacteria you carry. Bacteria want a good host, as a good host lets them be healthy which in turn keeps you healthy. Feed them well, keep stress under control, exercise and sleep well and you give the bacteria their best chance.
Summary and call to arms:
In February we will present our part 2 which will include such subjects as brain health/performance and barrier control. If you would like to keep in touch with our latest news and get a sneak peak of our latest content, please sign up using the form below of follow us on our social media channels.
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