Most people think that teachers have easy lives. With weeks off here and there as well as long breaks during the school holidays, what’s not to like?
It’s only when I began treating teachers at the clinic that I realised that maybe things aren’t as easy as they seem.
Working with children can be frustrating. I only have one little person to look after and I know how mentally and physically exhausting that can be.
Yes, there are immense rewards that cannot even begin to be measured, but a hard day at the clinic is nothing compared to a room full of adolescent school kids.
That brings me to the story of Emily, a 32-year-old teacher, who, by her own admission, was always on medication. When she came to see me, she was taking drugs for irritable bowel syndrome, acne and acidity.
The mind-gut connection
She also couldn’t seem to kick the fatigue that was plaguing her. Even before we filled out the rest of my questionnaire, I knew that all these issues were stress-related.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition that encompasses a number of symptoms, from diarrhoea and/or constipation to abdominal cramps, spasms and outright pain.
While the treatment differs depending on what a person is suffering from, one trigger that I see in almost all the cases I’ve treated is stress.
It’s due to what is known as the ‘mind-gut’ connection. You see, the colon, or large intestine, is partly controlled by the nervous system, and when our brain feels ‘stress’ it can affect the gut, causing symptoms such as pain.
The increased pain can then lead to further anxiety, leading to a not-very-nice vicious cycle. The location of the acne on Emily’s face indicated that the colon was indeed the problem and that she was also constipated.
Both constipation and acidity (her third symptom) can directly be caused by ongoing stress. That’s partly because the only kind of stress that our brains have evolved to respond to is the lion-creeping-up-on-you kind.
The hormones that are released prepare the body to either defend itself or flee, what is known as “fight or flight’. And to defend the body efficiently, attention needs to be diverted from the digestion of food.
Truth be told, I think poor Emily was worried that she was never going to feel better.
So how did we turn things around? We cut out wheat and dairy (both could have been irritating her gut) to start with, and did away with things that converted quickly to sugar in the bloodstream (juice, fizzy drinks, refined carbohydrates, dried fruit, sweets, chocolate, bananas and potatoes). It’s actually very rare that I put someone on a programme so strict.
The majority of people just won’t stick to it. Emily did and two weeks later, the difference was remarkable. In fact, it was only once she was in better shape that the real healing could begin.
She started to eat more soluble fibre (apples, carrots, beans, lentils, oats) to carry away the toxins in her body, and drink plenty of water. She also kept a food diary.
Without the wheat and dairy skewing the results, we found that it was beef and eggs that were actually messing her system up.
Eight weeks later, she was able to go back to eating wheat freely. The dairy produce, she never went back to. She simply didn’t miss it. And the fatigue, it never came back at all.