• Alison Aldred

Why I internally roll my eyes when I read nutritional therapy is quackery

quack therapy

This post is all about me, me, me…

So, if you are of a queasy disposition, don't want to read about me, or you are in the middle of eating, I would urge you to scroll on by.

I thought I’d start the year, sharing a little of my journey into nutritional therapy. Not in an attention seeking way, but so that I can explain why, when I hear people mock nutritional therapy as quackery, I internally roll my eyes.

You see, I have felt the benefit first-hand.

I’m the little girl at the front of the photo, aged 4. The day after this photo was taken, I stopped breathing with a severe asthma attack and needed lifesaving emergency treatment. In fact, this didn’t just happen once to my poor mum, I did it on several occasions, just to keep her on her toes. Among the treatment given was adrenalin injections, steroids, oxygen tent, antibiotics, and respiratory physiotherapy (which I’ll get to in a bit).

When people talk about asthma, they think of wheezing. I rarely wheezed. My lungs were quite silent. I would get a feeling of tightness and unable to breathe properly. Occasionally my face would have a blue tinge and then I would stop breathing. My brother on the other hand, could be heard wheezing all over the house. The noisy devil! The only drugs we had back then, was a little Ventolin tablet: bloody useless to be honest. Thankfully, when I was seven, I got my first inhalers. These stopped the acute, life-threatening episodes, but I still had severe asthma until I was in my early 40’s.

Sorry if I gross you out with the next bit, but every seasonal cold, flu or hay fever attack would result in a chest infection, which would ultimately trigger severe asthma. As a child, I remember lying face downwards over a mountain of pillows (postural drainage), with the nurses giving me lung physiotherapy. This involved a cupping and clapping motion on my back to facilitate draining the lungs of mucous. I would be told to try and breathe out as hard as I could, repeatedly, until I coughed up. They trained my mum how to do this and she continued the treatment regularly at home. Not easy with three other children to look after, I am sure! I eat yoghurt, but I’m not big on it. I see endless yoghurt smoothies and bowls on Insta and generally remember the big ole yoghurt pot, lined with a bit of loo roll, that would be my spittoon. A daily chest infection conversation focussed on what colour the mucous was (sorry! I did warn you). Colours ranged from yellow to green or brown and blood stained (from straining to cough) and the consistency was equally variable.

Thankfully, sport didn’t trigger an attack and if my chest was tight and I didn’t also have an infection, I would take my inhaler prior to whatever I wanted to do. I loved running with my dad, athletics, netball, hockey, gymnastics. I would have competitions with my brothers to do L-Pullups and push-ups and I would always win. I wish I could do just one now. Perhaps that is a goal for 2022?

Whereas both my brothers grew out of asthma, I didn’t. As the years went on, inhalers changed, and I learnt how to recognise signs and symptoms and adjust dose accordingly. I still needed the odd course of antibiotics or steroids, and it was still a major pain in the arse, but it was manageable, and I just got on with life.

Fast forward to my 50’s and I have been ‘mainly’ symptom free for about ten years. I use the word mainly because I would never say I am asthma free. I always have inhalers on hand just in case, and very occasionally, I will need a puff of Ventolin. This is usually if I’ve gone ‘off piste’ with my eating choices for too long and I can feel a gradual tightening of my chest. That’s my alarm bell to stop pushing my luck and get back on track.

“So, what made the difference then?”

I started studying a BSc in nutritional therapy, adjusted my diet and lifestyle and gradually felt improvement. Note, I said ‘gradually’ and not immediately. I didn’t just pop a load of supplements y voilà.

“Was dairy the trigger?”

The so called mucous maker? No! not at all. In fact, I’ve personally found no relationship with eating cheese, or putting milk in my tea with my peak flow measurement, or oximeter reading. Having said that, dairy can be a trigger for some: my little brother’s asthma and eczema would ramp up with cow’s milk, but not goat’s milk. I’ve also found no correlation between my symptoms and high histamine foods or sulphites. For me, the biggest difference to my lung health was going low carb (not NO carb) and concentrating on high nutrient dense meals. By that I mean high protein and lots of colourful vegetables, particularly dark green leafy vegetables. Yes, it takes a bit of planning, but this is highly preferable to not being able to breathe and believe me, not being able to breathe is a big motivator. This way of eating reduces inflammation, including inflammation in the lungs, thereby supporting the immune system, and improving lung function. Did you know that carbohydrates produce the most carbon dioxide for oxygen used? And protein is essential to keep the lung muscle (diaphragm) strong?

"Should all asthmatics eat this way?"

No, that’s not what I’m saying. We are all made differently, but on a very basic level, consider that each and every cell in your body is made from the food you eat. If you don’t supply your body with adequate nutrients, it will struggle to make healthy cells.

“So, what are the right amount of nutrients?”

That is where nutritional therapy is of huge benefit, because nutrient needs vary from person to person. I practice a person-centred approach, not a protocol approach, which means that I look at your whole life story, symptoms, genetic factors, the lifestyle you lead and your current diet and where you may have nutritional deficiencies. Then we consider your food likes and dislikes and I put a plan together that we work on, over a period of weeks. Step by step. I may suggest biochemical testing, depending on what is flagged up. This can be highly beneficial in some cases to pinpoint imbalances. I may also suggest supplements, however, focus on diet and lifestyle is first and foremost. Chucking lots of supplements into a gut that isn’t digesting or absorbing properly, is a waste of money. There will always be a valid reason when I recommend them.

My first life threatening asthma attack was triggered by a very mild dose of whooping cough. It was mild because I had the whooping cough vaccine. If I hadn’t had the vaccine, I would be dead by now. I’m sure of that. I remember all the times when I was younger and I stood at the bottom of the stairs, wondering how the hell I was going to make it to the top, because I didn’t have the breath or energy to do so. I certainly haven't got my shit together completely, so don't imagine by reading this, I'm in any way perfect, but when think about the 100-mile bike ride that I did a few years back, I do mull over how far I have come. And so yes, I have had the Covid vaccinations too, I wasn’t prepared to take a gamble on my lungs. Nutritional therapy isn’t about never using conventional medicine: pitting one against the other. There are instances when drugs are necessary, even essential. Nutritional therapy is about being proactive with health, rather than relying on a pill for every ill, which seems to be so common now. All drugs come with side-effects which means that you then need another drug to remedy the side-effect of the first drug…and so it goes on.

I could also bore you with some of my other stories, like the one of my big bald patch, which I lived with for many years. I’ll never have a thick head of hair, but it has most certainly grown over now, and I’m not embarrassed any more. I know what difference nutritional therapy has made to my life and my client’s lives, and that is why I roll my eyes when people mock nutritional therapy.

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