Hayley came to me with a long history of health issues, including chronic asthma, an immune deficiency, allergies, skin problems and bloating.
Our early years of childhood development are so important to how our bodies function as adults, which is why we ask our patients about their birth and infanthood. We use this information to get a better understanding of why their body and mind are in the state they are in.
When Hayley first came to us at Shift she had put on weight, was feeling tired and was struggling to get out of bed. She didn’t feel rested when she was waking up and sneezed a lot in the mornings – thinking she was having an allergic reaction to dairy.
“At the time I had previously had a lot of success with natural medicine and supplements and, from reverting to my old ways, I was ready to go back to that way of living.”
“I chose Shift naturopathy knowing that I would feel much healthier – I would be back to eating well and looking after myself.”
Hayley was born six weeks prematurely and removed from her mother to receive life-saving care. She doesn’t know if she was breastfed.
When she was four years old she started getting severe asthma and spent a lot of her childhood in hospital.
“I remember always needing blood tests, lung x-rays and antibiotics and steroids to get me well. And lots of oxygen as well.”
“I was really worried but I didn’t have anyone that I felt I could talk to about how worried or scared I was. So I think I was pretty silent for most of it.”
Hayley’s hospitalisations and antibiotic treatments continued for another eight years until she was 12 years old. During that time she estimates she was admitted to the hospital more than 40 times - each time she was admitted, she stayed in the hospital for one or more nights.
The hospitalisations impacted her childhood greatly.
“I always felt I was missing out. I felt that I couldn’t do the things that other kids could do – as well as the stress of going back to school and not knowing if my friends were still my friends. That was always on my mind.”
“My family ate a traditional country Australian diet – so lots of gluten and dairy and sugar – and one thing that I always think of now (knowing that dairy doesn’t work well for me) is that my asthma medication was always crushed up and put into ice cream. I was also encouraged to have a lot of dairy in my diet for calcium reasons because my bone density was affected by the medication.”
The medication Hayley was on was inadvertently making her sicker.
“The medication was causing inflammation – I always looked puffy, had bone density issues and a lot of skin issues. It wasn’t until I was 10 or 11 when I went to a respiratory specialist, and he started saying ‘your condition is not improving, your symptoms are worsening and we need to look at the emotional impacts of these treatments on your life as well.’
Looking at your health holistically (and not every symptom separately) is the key to understanding why you may be suffering healthwise the way that you are. While you need some medications to save your life, you can end up in a cycle of symptom – issue – medication – symptom (just like Hayley’s) that is hard to break.
“My specialist started recommending a high dose of the medication but for shorter periods, so not the prolonged use that I was used to. I travelled to Switzerland on exchange for 12 months and my asthma was good – we were thinking was it the air quality of being out of my childhood home? But my parents had done everything that they could in terms of getting rid of the carpet, no pets, anything that was suggested really…
“But just before I came home to Australia I had a massive asthma attack and was in the hospital for at least a week. I wondered if it was the stress of going back home. Even Switzerland – known for its good quality air and healthy living – hadn’t solved my problem.”
Stress on your body can exacerbate a lot of underlying health conditions we have. When we are stressed, our body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. This system stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This increases our heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. In Hayley’s case, stress exacerbated her asthma.
“If I have a lot going on - I’ve often worked full time and studied and maybe had a part-time job on the side of that as well - my asthma does seem to come back.”
When Hayley was in high school she experienced a lot of hormonal issues and painful periods. She was put on the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) to ‘help’ her symptoms.
This story is all too common. Young girls are put onto the OCP to help their symptoms and instead, it turns the body’s natural menstrual cycle off, even before your body has had a chance to regulate itself.
“When I was 11 or 12 my acne started – I had acne all over my chest as well – and I also had eczema. For five years I lived with this, as well as psoriasis around my elbows or ankles.
The pill can also damage the microbiome as well, at an age when our microbiome needs to be functioning at its best.
“I’ve had bloating for as long as I can remember. When I was still at school I knew that I wanted to be able to be fit and exercise even with my chronic asthma. Being able to run was the front of my mind. So I invested money into my health and fitness and got a personal trainer.”
“Society has such strong views about what’s normal or ‘the way that we should look’, particularly in those younger years when you’re making new friends and looking for a partner. Not fitting in is seen as a barrier to a good life.”
In this age of social media, health influencers portray what would seem on the outside their perfect lives, perfect bodies and perfect makeup all the time. We asked Hayley whether this influenced her attitude toward health and body image.
“I have followed people like that but often I look at what they’re doing and I know that won’t work for me. When I read about something or learn about something I think ‘is this likely to work for me based on what I already know about myself?’ I know what these people post isn’t real and are just highlight reels.
“When it comes to my health I have I’ve always chosen to work with the best people that I can find and afford – like you Katherine. It’s really important to take their advice rather than what I’m seeing on Instagram. And 10 to 15 years ago it was magazines that were feeding us the same stuff.”
“I wrote a list of 65 symptoms that I was experiencing – everything from the severe, like asthma or period pain, to the little things, like sneezing more than other people or having muscle twitches.”
“My naturopath started working with me, providing supplements and helping me make small changes to my diet because I hadn’t tried gluten, dairy or sugar free things before. After a couple of months, I had lost 9kgs. I was only going for very short, brisk walks but I felt lighter. The sneezing had stopped, I was coughing so much less and the little niggly pains everywhere had gone away.
“I knew that it wasn’t fat I was holding – I knew that it was water and inflammation – and I had cleared up within such a short time.”
It is amazing how the body can adapt and recover, by itself, with simple changes in your diet and nutritional intake.
We asked Hayley her thoughts on whether it was important to take supplements in addition to their diet if they wanted to accelerate their healing?
What did you learn on your journey about toxins or things that you were exposed to or eating that you just shouldn’t have been?
What happens if you have dairy now?
Hayley has been on a five-year health journey of healing her body after 18 years of constant antibiotics, steroids and stress – both physically and emotionally.
We asked her how much she thinks emotional wellness feeds into her health?
“I think it’s really important and it’s something that we can overlook. Just because I’m not thinking I am stressed doesn’t mean that my body isn’t experiencing stress. I’ve spent a lot of time, particularly in the last 12 months, focusing on doing practices like meditation, going for a walk and journaling – even when I don’t think that I’m stressed as prevention.”
The last thing Hayley needs is for her body to revert to the cycle of stress – medication – symptom – stress that she experienced for so many years in her childhood. During her time working with the team at Shift, she’s realised that stress in her life makes it more difficult for her body to heal – there is a huge connection between stress and your gut health.
“I didn’t realise that we also have bacteria in our mouth that is linked to the gut – the dental problems that I’ve had since I was little would be a big contributing factor to my gut health being so poor.”
“I am now seeing a dentist who is taking a holistic look at my health as well. I think the combination of stress, the pill and the antibiotics has led to the environment in my mouth that regardless of the amount of brushing I do, I don’t have healthy gums and teeth.”
We know from looking at some of the healthiest populations on earth – the ones that live the longest – that their dental health is a good indicator of actually how healthy the population is.
“I’ve learnt so much about my body. I look out for symptoms and try to take a look at what else might be going on. I always listen to my gut instinct now so, if I have a craving for pomegranate or beetroot or something strange that I don’t often have in my diet, I just listen to it and know that there must be a reason for it. I always feel better for that, just listening to my body.”
Whole, intuitive eating is inherent in all of us. Most of the time we know what we need, what our body needs, but the problem is that there are so many layers of ‘stuff’ (stress, emotional baggage, anxiety) that prevents us from recognising it or trusting ourselves.
As the old saying says, “I have a gut feeling about something.” This goes down to how important the gut is to everything else that’s going on with you as well.
We asked Hayley what she would say to her 29-year-old self that her 18-year-old self didn’t know.
What have been some of the roadblocks that you’ve come up against when you’ve been trying to heal yourself and get better?
We asked Hayley her thoughts on having to be a purist to maintain her health.
The discovery part of the wellness journey is so important. By gathering the most information we can about how our bodies work and understanding the impact of our choices we can begin to make that shift.
Our naturopaths at Shift see a lot of clients that present with chronic digestive issues with a similar picture to Hayley’s. As in Hayley’s case, this often then leads to many different health issues down the line, since the nervous system and the gut are each connected to every other system in the body.
When we truly listen to what our bodies have to say, we can then begin the real process of healing. When we take responsibility for what is happening and become curious about the reasons why we can begin the journey to making the shift.