Distributed Workforce: Time to Rethink the way you work

After 5 weeks of New Zealand being in lockdown and forced to work remotely, I’m seeing companies and employees surprised at how much better it is; not only from a productivity but also a work-life balance standpoint. With many company executives considering what hybrid remote working might look like longer-term, I wanted to share the most commonly asked questions raised during my executive health and performance sessions and expand upon why this work style has more to offer.

Discussed:

  1. What is distributed work?
  2. What motivates people?
  3. Matt Mullenweg 5 levels of adaptation to distributed work
  4. Will distributed work be appropriate for your organisation?
  5. Why you should consider the distributed work model
  6. How to track and measure work
  7. Important considerations around distributed work in this current climate

Although many use the term “remote work” we prefer to use the lesser-known alternative “distributed work” as we believe it defines the model more comprehensively.

What is distributed work?

Distributed work describes a workforce that reaches beyond the restrictions of a traditional office environment. A distributed workforce is dispersed geographically over a wide area – domestically or internationally.

In this challenging time where you’d expect things to slow down, many businesses are experiencing an increase in productivity, as staff no longer have the stress or need to commute, plus they are removed from the distracting environment of the office with the opportunity to design a workday that suits them and their productivity peaks. This is only the beginning of unlocking the potential of distributed work.

Distributed work is nothing new and there are many great examples across small and large multinational companies eg. Dell, IBM, Salesforce, General Electric, Jet Blue, and even Sears.

In our opinion, one of the thought leaders in this space would be Matt Mullenweg, founding developer of WordPress (open-source software which runs 31% of the internet) with 1,172 employees working in 75 countries. Let’s unpack some of the principles behind WordPress’ success and how that can be harnessed by other organisations.

What motivates people?

A motivated worker is a productive worker.

Daniel Pink outlines in his book Drive that there are three things that truly matter in motivating people: mastery, purpose, and autonomy. Additionally, Matt Mullenweg, argues the physical work structure allows the first two to flourish, but too often fails to offer sufficient autonomy.

What is Autonomy?

“Our desire to be self-directed, to have agency over ourselves and our environment.”

What better way to ignite this than distributed work.

Let’s now breakdown Matt Mullenweg 5 levels of organisation autonomy

  1. Level Zero autonomy is a job which cannot be done unless you’re physically there. Imagine a construction worker, barista, massage therapist, firefighter. Many companies assumed they had far more of these than it has turned out they really did.
  2. Level One is where most businesses sit. There’s no deliberate effort to make things remote-friendly, but in the case of many knowledge workers, people can keep things moving for a day or two when there’s an emergency. More often than not, they’ll likely put things off until they’re back in the office. Work happens on company equipment, in company space, on company time. You don’t have any special equipment and may have to use a clunky VPN to access basic work resources like email or your calendar. Larger level one companies often have people in the same building or campus dialling into a meeting. Level one companies were largely unprepared for this crisis.
  3. Level Two is where many companies have found themselves in the past few weeks with the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve accepted that work is going to happen at home for a while, but they’ve simply re-creating what they were doing in the office in a “remote” setting. Marshall McLuhan talked about new digital mechanisms initially copying the activities from the previous generation media before. You’re probably able to access information from afar. You’ve adapted to tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but everything is still synchronous, your day is full of interruptions, no real-time meetings have been cancelled (yet), and there’s a lot of anxiety in management around productivity. That’s the stage where companies sometimes install surveillance software on laptops. Pro tip: Don’t do that! And also: Don’t stop at level two!
  4. At Level Three, you’re really starting to benefit from being remote-first, or distributed. That’s when you see people invest in better equipment — from a good desk lamp to solid audio gear — and in more robust asynchronous processes that start to replace meetings. It’s also the point at which you realize just how crucial written communication is for your success, and you start looking for great writers in your hiring. When you are on a Zoom, you often also have a Google Doc up with the other meeting participants so you can take and check real-time notes together. Your company has a zero-trust BeyondCorp security model. In a non-pandemic world, you plan meetups so teams can break bread and meet each other in person a week or two a year.
  5. Level Four is when things go truly asynchronous. You evaluate people’s work on what they produce, not how or when they produce it. Trust emerges as the glue that holds the entire operation together. You begin shifting to better — perhaps slower, but more deliberate — decision-making, and you empower everyone, not just the loudest or most extroverted, to weigh in on major conversations. You tap into the global talent pool, the 99% of the world’s population and intelligence that doesn’t live near one of your legacy physical office locations. Employee retention goes way up and you invest more in training and coaching. Most employees have home-office setups that would make office workers green with envy. You have a rich social life with people you choose. Real-time meetings are respected and taken seriously, almost always have agendas and pre-work or post-work. If you get good at baton passes work will follow the sun 24/7 around the world. Your organization is truly inclusive because standards are objective and give people agency to accomplish their work their way.
  6. Finally, I believe it’s always useful to have an idea that’s not wholly attainable — and that’s level five, Nirvana! This is when you consistently perform better than any in-person organization could. You’re effortlessly effective. It’s when everyone in the company has time for wellness and mental health when people bring their best selves and highest levels of creativity to do the best work of their careers, and just have fun.

Matt Mullenweg, 2020

Will distributed work actually work for my organisation?

You may have previously said that distributed work would not work for your organisation, but what if I said you were most likely working remotely prior to COVID without realising it. Yup, you are working remotely effectively and you may have no idea. If you don’t have a Marketing, Accounting or Legal department inhouse, no doubt you are outsourcing eg. working remotely. Yet we don’t think twice about this. On the flip side, when we lose the oversight of a staff member we feel uneasy.

Why do we trust external organisations or contractors over our own staff? 

What do you think happens to company culture when employees don’t feel trusted to do their jobs?

Is this a healthy business model? So, how can we expand upon this?

How does your organisation track performance?

  1. Time in the office looking busy?
  2. Work output?

You don’t lose oversight within a distributed organisation, in fact, it shifts to a more productive measurable model – away from intangible (time in office) to tangible (work output).

The sad truth is the physical structure of work allows people to fall under the radar because if we see them at work looking busy, we wouldn’t necessarily question productivity or output. They may even escape being identified for months just doing the bare minimum.

However, when thrown into a distributed working environment it becomes quickly evident when someone is not pulling their weight.

For example when they don’t deliver on what was agreed upon.

On top of this from a management standpoint, staff are less likely to be micromanaged and continuously interrupted with pointless inefficiencies.

With a distributed workforce it is no longer a short walk to a desk for a casual chat. The managers now have to schedule a chat which should ensure they have a true purpose for touching base (with possibly an outlined agenda) vs a casual conversation pulling you away from the flow of productivity.

Cost Saving

A distributed workforce is not just an advantage from a productivity perspective, but also a financial cost-saving one. Companies no longer have to accept the massive capex and opex burden for large commercial spaces, fitting out costs, maintenance and monthly bills (e.g power, supplies etc). Just imagine what that reallocated budget could do in profit centres such as sales or R&D? This is not to say the office space, in general, is fully redundant. But it will no longer be a business necessity. I will discuss the future of workspaces in another blog post because this is an exciting topic 😉

Win-Win

A distributed workforce is truly a win-win situation as it also offers the staff the autonomy or flexibility to optimise their work-life balance which is one of the biggest contributors to stress and poor mental health.

An organisation is formed from individuals coming together, with no one member of the staff being the same. By forcing everyone to conform themselves to one workplace model while expecting high levels of productivity, you will naturally see organisational culture and engagement negatively affected.

Let’s look at this from another perspective. All of us have lived in a shared space with others at one point, whether with family members, friends or a partner. A successful situation requires a certain amount of compromise within the relationship to find a happy balance for communal living. This is tough enough within one household, but trying to find mutual ground for 50,100, 1000 staff members all with different roles, demands and preferences, GOOD LUCK!!

From the AC (too hot to too cold) to overhead lights (too bright or not bright enough); from the variance in alertness and productivity windows (Early bird vs Night owl) and workspace layout (open floor through to the private office). On a daily basis, we risk falling into the time-wasting, challenging conversations around who is the lucky one with the corner office or the desk with a view, best airflow, best temperature, location…. you get the point. This list seems endless.

Wouldn’t it be better to avoid these difficult awkward conversations altogether, while allowing people to maximise their own environments and attain higher productivity and happiness?

Next Step’s

You’re no doubt thinking this sounds too good to be true, but it is not. If executed correctly, this is as drastic a change as it gets for an organisation. With COVID-19, we have all been forced to take the plunge into the deep end without a systematic approach and while some of this change management process has been thrust upon us, why not take it for an extended test run?

Yes, it will involve some inevitable fires to be put out as we scramble to figure out this new digital business landscape of distributed work, video calls, collaborative software.

However, with no choice at the moment there is no better time for you and your staff to work through all the kinks with flipping the paradigm.

Keep in mind this. For most organisations, you’ll be functioning at Mullenweg’s Level 1 and 2 of a distributed workforce due to the nature of New Zealand’s COVID-19 response. But the longer you work though these kinks and view it as an opportunity, you will progress into level 3 and above. This is where the true magic begins while removing any shackles that may be holding your business back from rapid recovery and growth.

As I discuss with all my executive clients, it will not be easy. However, Taylored and the team is here to help guide you throughout this challenging situation. If you need support in adaption or just want to run something by us, please get in touch.

In the meantime, we will keep blog posts coming highlighting important considerations to help guide you through this transformative time.

7 Edible Anxiety Therapies: To Support COVID Stress

How are you going as we head into Level 3 of NZ lock-down?

Any old nutrition habits starting to creep in? Or perhaps you have used the time to really nail down a new way of eating, or refresh your menu?

Regardless, it is an interesting time for all of us, and we are all different, and therefore cope with things differently.

Something I have noticed coming up a few times in conversation is anxiety and for many different reasons. Some people find they have a lot of anxiety around the COVID-19 pandemic, and staying healthy, particularly as we head into Level 3 and start to go back out into society, albeit in a controlled way. Others find anxiety around the economy, and how this is hitting them financially. Also, there are those of you that have been struggling with simply being confined to one or two spaces, and how to deal with the lack of freedom they feel, or dealing with being around family a lot more than normal!

Whatever it is, anxiety is no fun for anyone, and its effects can range from psychosomatic paralysis, through to depression, to full-blown panic, anger and rage.

Since we are somewhat stuck in this situation for at least another fortnight, and then some, since we all know things are not going to simply go back to normal, it is absolutely essential that we address this issue, which affects our mental, physical and emotional health, as well as that of those around us. Now, I know anxiety well, and because of this, I have both researched and experimented with a range of things, in order to somehow allow my higher faculties to regain control, and even turn things around into a positive situation we can actually learn from.

Sound good?

Even better sounding, to me at least, is the fact that a lot of these things occur in an edible format!

So, what can we eat, and every single day, to help us calm feelings of anxiety, cope with the current situation, whatever that may be for you while achieving enough mental grounding to find the positive?

Here are my top 7 edible anxiety therapies 😊

1. High-quality protein

Ok, so this protein thing gets talked about a LOT, so much so that you may think it’s just an easy go-to for nutritionists who don’t really want to come up with something new…But the constant recommendation for high-quality protein is due to the fact that it is so super important for every single aspect of health, and thus mental health is absolutely no exception. In fact, it is so important that low protein consumption is directly related to risk for anxiety, as well as other mental and cognitive health issues.

Why is this?

High-quality protein sources (animal proteins such as dairy, eggs, meat and fish) contain an abundance of mood-enhancing minerals and vitamins, including iron, zinc, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and magnesium. However, the thing that protein sources give us that no other food can make up for are the amino acids, as many of these are precursors for neurotransmitters, molecules playing a major role in the signal transmission of feeling states throughout the brain and body. For example, the essential amino acid tryptophan is required for the production of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter when it comes to positive mood and coping with stress. The amino acid tyrosine is required for dopamine production, and glutamate and glycine function as neurotransmitters exactly as they are, although they perform opposite functions. Glutamate is required for excitation and action, and glycine for calming and relaxation. These must be in balance for optimal mental health.

Since protein is required for so many different functions throughout the body, and large amounts are used to build and maintain muscle mass and organ health, it is not uncommon for neurotransmitter synthesis to be less than optimal in a low quality/refined food diet. High-quality protein sources provide ALL the amino acids, at levels that support all the many roles of protein and the amino acids in the body. As mentioned in Part 1. of this two-part series, at least 1.2 g per kg body weight per day is necessary to support optimal health, and this requirement increases for active or older individuals. Soy protein also provides the amino acids at high levels but does not supply the minerals and vitamins that animal proteins do, particularly Vitamin B12.

 

Vitamin B12 has its own link to mental health, with deficiencies found in issues such as depression and dementia. If you are vegan, or a vegetarian who has a low intake of dairy and/or eggs, it is essential to supplement with Vitamin B12.

2. Collagen or glycine

Collagen is a type of protein that is high in the amino acid glycine, which, as a I mentioned above, is a neurotransmitter with roles in calming and relaxation – it is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and has shown promise in the treatment of mental health disorders such as OCD, and is also a sleep aid. Glycine can be taken as a powdered supplement (take around 3 g or 1 tsp per dose, with up to 3 doses per day), but this amount of glycine is also provided in around 10 g of collagen, and when you take it as collagen, you are getting all the other benefits of collagen, such as joint and skin health.

It is very important to keep in mind that neither glycine nor collagen, can count towards your daily protein intake, as collagen has a protein quality of zero (it lacks the amino acid tryptophan) and glycine is only one amino acid.

3. Essential fatty acids (the ‘omega-3s’)

The essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA and DHA are found in animal sources, such as fatty fish (salmon and trout), and ALA is found in vegetable sources, such as linseed/flaxseed, walnuts and some algae. All are exceptionally beneficial in their own right, and show significant anti-inflammatory and/or antioxidant properties. However, EPA and DHA have benefits for the brain in particular. While the body converts ALA to EPA, and then to DHA, this is done in a very limited manner, and, rather, ALA has its own benefits in the body, including the lowering of blood sugar and improved skin health.

The brain is an organ with one of the highest compositions of lipids (fats), and the fatty acid make-up of the brain’s grey matter is around 50% polyunsaturated fatty acids, of which around 33% are Omega-3s. Although DHA has been suggested to be the primary omega-3 fatty acid in the brain, recent research has suggested that EPA shows significant promise for the treatment of mood disorders, while DHA has greater benefit for cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s. 

What does all this mean?

Fish oil (with high concentrations of both EPA and DHA), is extremely important for brain health, ESPECIALLY if you are someone who is prone to anxiety or comes from a family with a history of neurodegenerative conditions. If you do not eat a lot of fatty fish, taking a supplement is important, even if you consume significant amounts of nuts and seeds. However, there are some tricks to selecting a good fish oil supplement, as quality will affect the actual levels of EPA and DHA in each capsule, as well as the degree of lipid oxidation, and thus rancidity.

Recommended high-quality fish oil supplements include Be Pure Three and Thorne Research Super EPA. Be Pure Three is also an NZ product and contains Vitamin E to assist in the prevention of lipid oxidation during storage.

4. Minimally processed complex carbohydrates

There is a reason we crave carbohydrates when we are feeling low, and a very good one, that has its foundations in biochemistry.

Above I mentioned that the amino acid tryptophan is essential for the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Well, in order for serotonin to actually do its job transmitting messages throughout the nervous system, it must first be released, and this release is controlled by food intake, primarily carbohydrates. To make a complex story simple, carbohydrate consumption increases serotonin release, but, while protein helps make serotonin in the first place, simply eating more protein (or fat for that matter) will not promote its release.

Complex carbohydrates, although looked down upon in some circles, are digested and absorbed at a slower rate than simple carbohydrates, and therefore promote prolonged serotonin release, rather than a simple short burst, meaning they are a much better go-to for anxiety.

Of course, the major point to note here is that healthy, whole-food, minimally processed carbohydrates are very different to their refined counterparts, so go for beans, legumes, unprocessed whole-grains and root vegetables, especially those packed full of colour.

A breakfast high in both protein and complex carbohydrates, such as porridge and Greek yoghurt, or even protein powder (my go-to), is the best way to tackle this and will set up serotonin production and release for the entire day.

What if you are following a keto diet?

You can still consume some carbohydrates, as long as they have a minimal impact on blood sugar, so pick wisely. For these diets, orange and purple kumara are extremely good options; 100 g of orange kumara, for example, contains under 20 g of net carbs.

Also, if you are following a keto diet and feeling a lot of anxiety with it, it may be a signal from your body and mind that you need more carbohydrates in the mix. Recent research has shown that dietary ketosis can still be achieved in a diet containing 15% carbohydrate as energy, which, for most people, is around 75-100 g carbohydrate per day. So listen in and be sure to follow the approach that is best for your holistic health.

5. Coconut oil or MCT oil

This little gem of an oil contains a large proportion of medium-chain fatty acids, which have been shown to possess anti-depressant properties. Of course, MCT oil is purified medium-chain triglycerides (which carry fatty acids), so will have a similar effect. The exact mechanism by which this occurs is not fully understood, however, medium-chain fatty acids are remarkably anti-inflammatory, and this property is likely to be involved.

You can add MCT oil to your coffee (start with 1 tsp only as it can cause digestive distress at high doses in some people), and coconut oil to your cooking, baking or even smoothies.

Even a coconut cream is an option for these benefits, and chilled coconut cream makes a lovely treat if you want something a bit special after dinner.

6. Spinach and other leafy and/or dark greens

Spinach (and other dark greens such as rocket, kale and broccoli), is another nutritionist old fave go-to, but that’s because it is another food absolutely packed full of nutrients. For mental health, a key vitamin in spinach and other dark greens is folate (Vitamin B9). Folate deficiency is extremely common in both depression and anxiety, as well as a number of clinically defined mental illnesses.

Folate plays a very important role in a pathway called the MTHFR pathway. This is the pathway responsible for methylation in the body, and methylation is absolutely critical for both physical and mental health. Actually, it is more correct to point out that it is a BALANCED methylation that is critical for physical and mental health – both too little and too much are a bad thing. Without going into extraneous detail (which I would LOVE to do but maybe in another blog post all of its own because that would be geeky and cool), folate is the molecule that actually allows the methylation pathway to run, which means it is an essential vitamin for us.

Why is methylation important for mental health? Well, methylation is needed to make creatine, which is great for athletes but also has a role in reducing depression. The neurotransmitter dopamine, that’s the one that makes us feel amazing or ‘on a high’, gets methylated and this methylation is associated with a reduction in rumination (those thoughts going around…and around….and around….and around…). Methylation is also important for the production of choline, which, among many other things, assists in mental focus.

 In addition to methylation, folate performs other roles that are important for optimal mental health, such as helping to conserve glycine, which you will remember above is a key inhibitory neurotransmitter and calms us down (which is SUPER for anxiety). Folate is also a star player in the prevention of anaemia, and since anaemia is a lack of red blood cells and therefore the ability to carry oxygen around the body, having enough folate means our brain will get enough oxygen, which again, is critical for optimal mental health.

 How much spinach do you need to eat per day? 300 g would give you your recommended intake, which is pretty much one of those small pre-packed bags from the supermarket.  However, remember that broccoli, rocket and kale are also high in folate, and so are leeks, so if you are eating a good serving of leafy green and/or cruciferous veggies every day, you are onto a good start. You also get a really good amount of folate from legumes such as chickpeas and liver (if you are keen to go that route! but don’t overdo the liver – keep it to once or twice per week only as it is very high in Vitamin A, which is toxic in high doses).

7. Herbs

Last but by no means least, are herbs.

Most people think of herbs as a way to add flavour, but these little plants are an absolute goldmine of phytonutrients, including some that can modulate brain function. In particular, a compound called rosmarinic acid has been shown to produce anti-depressant like effects, via a number of mechanisms that include upregulation of a super important molecule in the brain called BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. You may have heard of BDNF if you have read up on the positive effects of fasting, as BDNF plays many roles in the brain (that fasting helps to activate) such as the growth and differentiation of new brain cells, and synaptic connectivity, which basically refers to how well signals are transmitted between nerve cells.

Herbs which are particularly high in rosmarinic acid are spearmint (which is your traditional garden mint), basil and sage, but oregano, thyme and rosemary also contain rosmarinic acid at lower levels.

Before you think you would need to eat a plateful of herbs to get any kind of decent benefit, simply 3 tbsp of fresh, raw spearmint will give you over 200 mg of rosmarinic acid, which is comparable to amounts used in scientific studies to produce significant health benefits.

 

Summary

If we take a good hard look at the list above, it isn’t hard to see, with the way that diets have become low in fresh whole-food produce and meats, and high in refined, processed carbohydrates and sandwich ham, why mental health has also taken a downwards turn. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

You can totally eat your way to feeling amazing – calm, motivated, focused and stress-free all at the same time! And you can do this healthily, and yummily, with no added sugar 😉.

 

-Dr. Carlene Starck

Nutritional Approach to Combating COVID-19

At the moment it is fairly difficult to think about anything other than COVID-19, and I don’t know about you, but despite my best efforts, it is taking a toll on my own anxiety and stress systems.

There are so many factors to consider – our own health, the health of our loved ones, our ability to be strong when it counts… and then the nutritional and psychological implications of a 30 day isolation period. Every single factor which places stress on our nervous system has the potential to decrease how robust our immune system is, which merely adds to the stress and worry. How do we escape?

After thinking about this for some time, I have come to the conclusion that we can’t. We simply have to accept it, accept what is happening in the world and around us, make peace with it, and look at all the positives it is going to bring, because, once you start thinking about it, there are many of these.

So we can’t escape and we can’t change what is happening.

But we CAN change and affect many things around us and those are the things that we need to focus on. With this post and those that follow, we are going to start looking at what we can do, to turn this around, and take some form of control back.

First of all, something we have a whole lot of control over is what we eat – our nutrition. Even if we are stressed and anxious we can eat in a way that nourishes our immune system, which will help to alleviate some of the anxiety around our health. Almost more importantly however, we can eat in a way that helps our nervous system to cope as the events unfold, and as the nervous system and immune system are intimately linked, this way, we are killing two birds with one stone. Interestingly, and to drive this point home, many of the nutrients are the same. So yay! Easy peasy. Let’s get started.

In this first post, we will address nutrition for the immune system and in Part 2, nutrition for anxiety, stress management and resilience.

PS In no way does this stand in the place of medical advice, and if you develop COVID-19 symptoms (runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever and shortness of breath) ensure you get medical advice and/or attention ASAP.

Nutrition for Optimal Immune Health & Defense.

First, a very quick, short and sweet overview. I categorise nutrients into three major fields:

Macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat, fibre)

Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals, such as zinc)

Phytonutrients (the amazing array of bioactive compounds we get from plants eg anthocyanins, from berries, are a potent antioxidant)

We will consider each one.

  •   Macronutrients

For overall health, every single macronutrient is important, which means that, for immune health, eating a well-balanced diet is your absolute first go-to. However, protein needs to be a major point of focus during this time, as not only does it contain the building blocks for important immune molecules (such as glutathione), but in addition, when we are sick, the breakdown of our muscle proteins is increased to help us both fight disease and recover. The major way to cover both immune demands and this increased loss is by eating high-quality dietary protein. That means your animal proteins, such as eggs, meat, fish, dairy if you can tolerate it, and whey protein powder if you happen to be a smoothie fan. If you don’t eat animal protein, soy is your highest quality plant-based protein. The recommended optimal intake for protein is at least 1.2 g per kg of body weight per day, although, for highly-active individuals and the elderly, this can increase to around 1.6 g per kg of body weight per day. The best way to ensure you are achieving this is to consume high-quality protein at every meal.

Alongside protein, fibre is essential for maintaining the health of your gut bacteria, which form an intimate alliance with your immune system, and if the immune system in the gut is compromised, so is that of the entire body. However, also super important to consider is that the gut bacteria ferment the fibre to produce short-chain of fatty acids, which appear to play key roles in immune cell recruitment and function, alongside many other important functions in the body. Fibre is also delivered in combination with a bunch of phytonutrients that add to the strength of the immune system (which we will cover in a bit). The absolute best sources of fibre are your fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, beans, legumes and whole-grains. Some people find it hard to tolerate large amounts of nuts, beans, legumes and whole-grains, and if this is you, eating fresh produce is your best bet for optimal immune health. However, keep in mind that fibre can be overdone! Too much fibre can reduce the absorption of other key nutrients…so there is no need to go overboard, just be sure to include some form of fibre with every meal.

  •   Micronutrients

One of my favourite gurus in the micronutrient health world is Chris Masterjohn (CMJ). In a recent document, he outlined the most effective micronutrients specific to combating SARS-viruses such as COVID-19. In particular, these are zinc and copper.

Zinc has been shown to directly inhibit at least three mechanisms associated with the original SARS coronavirus, indicating that it is likely to be a key micronutrient here as well. In general, zinc interferes with the ability of the virus to replicate and function inside a cell. CMJ pairs zinc with elderberry extract (which we will talk about under phytonutrients), which may be able to prevent the virus actually entering a cell in the first place, so is the first line of defence.

All forms of zinc supplementation are useful, including sprays, lozenges and tablets, and the recommended dose to fight the virus is 10-15 mg 4 times per day, spaced well apart. These can be taken with food, or on an empty stomach, but if taken with food, it is recommended to avoid nuts, beans, grains and legumes, as these may interfere with full absorption of zinc.

Of course, zinc is potentially best obtained from food, primarily from oysters. However, since oysters are not common fare for the majority of people, supplementation is your best bet.

When you purchase a supplement, check that it is not in the zinc picolinate or zinc oxide forms, as these are not well absorbed, and once the threat of the virus has diminished, keep taking around 10 to 15 mg per day, as this is one mighty nutrient for overall health.

Copper is toxic to viruses, including coronaviruses, which is why copper surfaces are effective for hygiene maintenance. Copper works synergistically with zinc, and we should aim to get around 1 mg of copper for every 10 to 15 mg of zinc. This means that if you are taking 15 mg of zinc four times per day, you will need at least 4 mg of copper per day. Many supplements provide zinc and copper together, although copper from foods is superior to copper from pills. The best food sources to provide 2 mg copper are 2 oysters, 25 g spirulina, 40 g shiitake mushrooms, 50 g sesame seeds, 50 g cocoa powder, 56 g of 90% dark chocolate and 70 g of 70% dark chocolate. I know which one my go-to is going to be! However, since you would need 2 or 3 times the amount in each of these servings, supplementation is going to be necessary with a high zinc intake.

My personal approach moving forward is going to be 15 mg zinc 4 times per day, with 4 mg of copper from a supplement, and as much dark chocolate as I want. Why wouldn’t I?

Phytonutrients

Ah, nature, in all her glorious wisdom, who provided us with more healing compounds than you can poke a stick at right there in our garden. Or the fresh produce aisle of your local supermarket. For overall health, every single herb, vegetable and fruit is beneficial, when consumed in moderation. However, different phytonutrients work in different ways and some are more (and less) beneficial for a respiratory virus like COVID-19.

Elderberry. As I mentioned above, CMJ also states that elderberry has been shown to prevent the ability of the SARS coronavirus to enter cells, and so for this reason, it is an effective supplement to add to your virus prevention list. If you already have the virus, it is unlikely to reverse its effects, so zinc and copper are your best bets for this, although taking elderberry will definitely not hurt!

The recommended dose for elderberry extract is 700-1000 mg per day. After extensive searching, and finding that many elderberry supplements are sold out, I came across this Product: which would require 4-5 servings per day to provide the recommended elderberry dose. However, it also contains Vitamin C, for which the research is equivocal – while some studies show it is highly beneficial for respiratory infections, others show it may increase the inflammatory response. Personally, I am going to buy this supplement and take it, as a preventative measure, since it is all I can find! However, if I were to contract the virus, I would likely stop and focus on zinc and copper.

Allicin. In addition to elderberry, allicin, the key bioactive ingredient in garlic, has been shown to play a significant role in fighting a viral infection. Keep in mind that you have to eat garlic raw in order to gain the maximal benefits of allicin, which may not go down too well unless you are in self-isolation, in which case go nuts! However, allicin supplements are easy to come by, and I am going to add these to my regime. While CMJ recommends 180 mcg stabilised allicin per day, the supplements I have been able to find easily are 3000 to 4000 mcg per day, so I am just going to take these as is and hope for the best.

Oils of oregano, tea-tree and eucalyptus. We can also look at some essential oil powerhouses for fighting viruses. Oil of oregano is a traditional remedy for respiratory viral infections, as well as gastrointestinal viruses and inflammatory conditions, and research in animals is supporting this traditional use. While pure oregano oil can be taken internally, it must be totally pure for consumption, so a good alternative is to put a couple of drops on the soles of the feet. Oregano can be combined with tea tree oil and eucalyptus, also shown in research studies to possess potent antiviral activity. Both tea-tree and eucalyptus can be toxic when taken internally, so topical application, or aroma diffusion, is recommended.

Is there anything I should avoid?

Yes. Most definitely. As always, limit inflammatory foods such as refined sugar, refined vegetable oils and processed meats. In addition, CMJ recommends avoiding supplementation with high levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin D, as these can increase the production of molecules in the body that may benefit viruses like coronavirus.

Wrapping up….

This is by no means an extensive list! Every single macro, micro and phytonutrient has a role to play in our overall health and therefore, our immune health, when consumed in a balanced way. However, the nutrients that have been mentioned and described here were selected as those most beneficial for immune health, in the specific context of the SARS family of coronaviruses.

At the very least, if they assist in reducing some of the anxiety that you might feel at this time, that will be a huge benefit in and of itself. Share this list with friends and family, and possibly assist older family members in obtaining some of these supplements. Everything we can do to enhance our immune health, and the health of those we care about at this time is on the table.

Keep well! And stay tuned for Part 2….

 

-Carlene Starck

COVID-19: Everything thing you need to know

Now deemed a Global Pandemic we are learning more day by day about COVID-19. With all the hysteria across the media, it has become difficult to determine what is hype and what is true. From people panic shopping and fighting over toilet paper, the world is going a little bit crazy.

In this post, we will aim to provide you with an overview of accurate up to date information. Following this post, we will discuss strategies on how to combat this issue.

Hysteria:

First of all, I need to address the panic, we all need to calm down……… There is no need to prepare for the end of the world and stock up on supplies like toilet paper and food. Well not in New Zealand at least as we produce all essential supplies (food, toilet paper etc) in New Zealand, we are not reliant on global markets. Even the supermarkets are requesting for everyone to calm down and to shop as normal, there is plenty to go around. 

From a hysteria standpoint, the timing couldn’t be worse for NZ/ southern hemisphere with the changing of seasons and drop in temperature and as we head into flu season. As a result of lack of education and understanding of COVID-19, people that are suffering from common flu are unnecessarily concerned for the worst and stressing our health system which is going to need every spare bed atm. What is the difference between common flu and COVID-19? Stay tuned as we will highlight this below so you can stay informed and rest easy.

Important: COVID-19 is treatable.

 

Stop stressing! 

Don’t forget stress is one of the leading causes of disease (something I have written extensively around) so you are not doing yourself any favours worrying about things you cannot control. Our hope in this article is by sharing the facts we can help in easing any anxiety or stress you may have. Our next post will begin to address what you can do to mitigate this and the anxiety around it.

What is it COVID-19?

Similar to SARS, research points out that the virus also originates from bats. COVID-19 causes respiratory and intestinal infections in animals and humans. 

What happens in the respiratory system and immune system in response to the virus?

  1. Your body will produce mucus in an attempt to contain or trap the virus. 
  2. The infection involves overstimulation of the body’s defences against viral infections. Cytokines, proteins secreted by certain immune cells, signal for more immune cells to enter the picture and try to engulf the virus, resulting in cell death and increased inflammation.
  3. Due to the high replication rate of the coronavirus, it often overwhelms the immune responses leading to local tissue destruction and depletion of infection-fighting cells. Cytokines also can travel via the circulatory system to other organs such as the kidneys, liver, and small intestine. Dramatic increases in cytokines are referred to as a cytokine storm and this appears to be a distinguishing feature of severe respiratory viruses vs lesser viruses like the common cold.

Not all people with the virus will experience all three stages and also in some cases, you may be a carrier of a virus but have no symptoms (meaning you can unsuspectingly pass it on).

How COVID-19  spreads

As a new disease, we are still learning how it spreads but below as of 19th of March the CDC believe these are major methods: 

 

  • Human interaction

 

    • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
    • Passed through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

 

  • Can someone spread the virus without being sick?

 

    • People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (have symptoms)
    • Potentially it is possible before people show symptoms. However, it is not thought to be the main method in which the virus spreads.

 

  • Contaminated surfaces or objects

 

The virus could potentially spread through cross-contamination of surfaces or objects that have the virus on it and a person touching it and then touching the mouth, nose or possibly eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main method for the virus spreading.

 

What happens if you feel sick?

Remember that symptoms of the common cold or seasonal flu can be similar to symptoms of coronavirus, which can make it difficult to determine what might be going on. Especially with New Zealand heading towards flu season. Here is a great chart to review symptoms and determine next steps.

Determine what you are dealing with

We encourage anyone with signs of a respiratory infection or COVID-19 (fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath) to contact their primary care physician for guidance. Ideally where possible connect with your doctor online or by phone to reduce the risk of transmission. 

If you develop severe symptoms or are in the high-risk groups outlined below and develop shortness of breath, call 111 or go to the nearest emergency room after calling ahead for safe arrival instructions. 0800 358 5453

 COVID-19 risk factors:

If you are high- or medium-risk and fall within any of these risk factors below, it is recommended that you self-isolate and practice social distancing for a minimum of 14 days, even if you have no symptoms. 

 

  • Age: 

 

While the overall global mortality rate of COVID-19 is currently estimated to be around 3.4% by the WHO (as of March 3), early reports out of China and a similar pattern identified in Italy (the highest number of coronavirus deaths outside of China) show that the mortality rate increases with age. The mortality rate is highest (14.8%) for those over the age of 80. This most likely due to older individuals often suffer from at least one chronic health condition that stresses their immune system, increasing their risk. 

Children are rarely affected by the disease. 

 

  • Pre-existing conditions

Adults with preexisting conditions like heart disease and diabetes or chronic lung conditions such as asthma, emphysema, COPD have a greater risk of being affected by any virus, including COVID-19 because of decreased ability to fight off infections due to a less robust immune response. In China, coronavirus patients with heart disease had a 10 per cent mortality rate, while those with diabetes had around a 7 per cent mortality rate, far greater than the global average — which WHO estimated at 3.4% on March 3rd.

 

  • Immunocompromised adults 

Immunocompromised means the inability to normally respond to environmental exposures including viruses or bacteria due to a weakened immune system. People who are immunocompromised include those with diabetes, heart disease, hepatitis B, chronic kidney disease, autoimmune conditions, malnutrition, and cancer because those conditions do lessen one’s ability to mount an adequate immune response. 

 

  • Smoking

 

Adults who smoke on a regular basis (cigarettes, cigars, marijuana) are at an increased risk for more severe upper respiratory infections overall. Some Experts believe that this is one of the reasons that men in China died more often than women from coronavirus was because of their smoking habits. 

Social distancing: bell curve

Why should we consider social distancing? 

This is a manageable/treatable disease but if we don’t control the spread we will surpass the health systems capacity and will result in a higher mortality rate as health professionals won’t be able to keep up with demand. The primary goal is to slow the spread of disease, a concept which is being referred to as  “flattening the curve” which you will see depicted down below. Essentially it will provide us the time to manage the disease but more importantly and often forgotten it will also allow the health system the capacity to deal with other business as usual cases eg. trauma, surgeries, chronic diseases etc. If capacity is maxed out COVID-19 patients won’t be the only ones who will suffer the consequences! 

The new research also showed that 97.5% of people who are infected develop symptoms within 11.5 days. About 1% of patients, however, show symptoms after 14 days – outside the window of the CDC’s quarantine guidelines.

Cure

Once again no need to fear. The University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research director Professor David Paterson told news.com.au they have seen two drugs used to treat other conditions (Malaria and HIV) wipe out the virus in test tubes.

Prof Paterson said the medications given to some of the first positive cases of COVID-19 in Australia, had already resulted in “disappearance of the virus” and complete recovery from the infection. 

Another reason for us to flatten the curve and provide scientists like Prof Paterson the time they need to design a cure which could be distributed worldwide.

Keeping safe in the meantime

It is simple, practice good hygiene and social distancing where possible. 

  • Most importantly due to the nature of how it spreads through bodily fluid, if coughing or sneezing do so into your left elbow as many people are now greeting using right elbow touch instead of a handshake (weird I know, but best to be safe than sorry).
  • Wash hands frequently (at minimum 20 sec, see image below) and carry a hand-sanitiser with you and use frequently (if you can find one…).
  •  
  • If you use tissues, do not reuse them, throw out after use.
  • Avoid highly populated areas, where possible.
  • Aim to keep a 1.5m distance between other individuals to prevent spread.
  • Clean and disinfect everything after use.
  • Avoid travel were possible. 

Sick or medium-high risk

  • Self-isolate a minimum of 14days.
  • Wear a mask around other people. You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). 

Future

The news is not all bad. I am one to always look on the bright side and there are plenty of learnings to take away from this outbreak. For example, it will greatly impact our lives in so many ways, some of which we probably haven’t thought about yet. I will touch on some of these in future posts, I will discuss things like the future of the workplace etc.

Next post

Stay tuned for our next post where we will discuss the science and nutrition around prevention and management of COVID-19.

Post Concussion Syndrome Support Document: An Alternative Perspective to Tradition Treatment

“No head injury is too trivial to ignore” -Hippocrates 4th century BC

No doubt you or someone close to you has experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  In New Zealand, 36,000 people suffer TBIs each year. After suffering a serious knock to the head you quickly realise they are nothing like a physical injury. Whether you lose consciousness or not, symptoms can remain from days, weeks, months to even years, this is known as post-concussion syndrome (PCS) when the symptoms last beyond 10 days. Symptoms can include; headaches, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, loss of concentration and memory, nausea, ringing in the ears. All of which can be extremely debilitating. I have suffered many knocks to head from my years of rugby and extreme sports and thankfully concussions with minimal symptoms but after my most recent crash, I now have a new appreciation for the true impact of TBI’s.

It has truly blown me away from the number of people silently suffering with TBI. So many people have come out of the woodworks with unbelievable stories either referring to their own experience or one of their loved ones. Sadly so many people that I know yet I had no idea they were suffering or had suffered. It is truly the silent killer being so debilitating yet nobody sees or understands the true extent of the implications. We all present similar stories, told that there is not much you can do you just need to give it time. I don’t believe this is the case! Following this eye-opening experience into this dark world with little answers it has really driven me to help those in need and offer support as best I can.

Purpose of this Article

With the prevalence of TBI, sadly there is still very little in regards to assessment and treatment protocols. My goal with this article is to provide a resource for those also struggling, I want to keep this as simple and actionable as possible distilling the protocols and strategies I have applied. 

When suffering the last thing you want to be doing is reading literature or doing any kind of thinking at all so I hope this can help in guiding suffers towards finding the right tools and treatments for them. Again with the target of keeping things simple, I have linked in the exact products I have used. The great thing about many of the strategies used they will not only benefit TBI suffers but anyone looking to enhance your brains potential. 

My Goal:

Screw back to baseline, this incident is going to become my launching pad to optimal brain health and performance, surpassing pre-injury status.

Shotgun Approach:

In true scientific fashion, you should really stick to one treatment and track progress before adding another to see it’s effectiveness but at the end of the day who really cares as long as things are improving and moving the dial in the right direction. Plus as an A-Type personality, I don’t want to sit around and wait too long. As I write this I am over 3 months post-TBI and haven’t been able to train since and as an Ironman athlete who trains a couple of times a day this has been extremely tough. Along with this, I have had to pull the pin on my final two peak races for the year Ironman Malaysia & Taupo 70.3 which have now both been and gone. 

Sadly with a head injury, there is no telling how long recovery will take (weeks, months, years or ever…) but I am doing everything I can to create the optimal environment so that my brain can heal and repair itself. It may not be in time to race this season and I will face that as it comes but in the meantime I am going to give my brain/ body every opportunity to bounce back in time. Although, I am hitting this from all angles taking an intensive approach this doesn’t mean I am overdoing it. My key focus is still rest and recovery, keeping my overachieving mindset in check so the majority of strategies are around attaining deeper states of rest and recovery.

Tools & Strategies: Where to start

In my last post, I shared my incident and my initial treatment while still overseas with limited resources, I discussed what is vital in the initial stages post-TBI so if you haven’t read this I highly recommend checking this out. 

In this post, I want to shed light on what I have been implementing since returning to NZ. I will introduce a wide range of tools and strategies, many of which are alternative treatments that are not often suggested or provided to TBI suffers. My hope is that this highlights there is a lot more you can do than the common recommendation of waiting for it out feeling helpless. 

Reframe

With something as debilitating as a TBI it is easy to play the victim card but in doing so you are only crippling your recovery. Your recovery starts here! Shift your perspective from tragedy to opportunity, we are a makeup of how we perceive the world. There is no such thing as a positive or a negative situation, that can only be created from our own personal perception of a given situation. 

For example, it would be easy for me to take the crash negatively as I dedicated so much time, money and effort towards this one race, plus the aftermath to follow of still 3 months no training and missing my A race Ironman Malaysia and a few other smaller races. However, instead, I flipped it as a big believer that everything happens for a reason, this is where I realised first of all this was to teach me to slow down (Previously: Running Taylored Health & Performance, 3x Startup businesses, Studying Masters and Full-time Ironman training) and that I had the perfect foundation with academic background and now a TBI suffer to first help myself but in doing so learn what works and then use my story to help other people suffering from this silent killer.

Attaining this mindset is easier said than done and like any skill takes time to cultivate but is quite possibly the most important skill in the recovery of any injury! I am thankful to have a life coach as a mum so this was ingrained into me early on so lucky this is a great skill of mine. If this is a new skill it will take the time you want to ensure you have a support team to remind and keep you honest in cultivating this mindset. But if done right, I see time and time again in my practice those who frame things in a positive light always bounce back substantially quicker.

Floatation Therapy

I have been asked many times what is the one treatment that I believe is having the most impact. I have found that nothing comes close to floatation therapy especially initially but also ongoing as it puts you into a state of sensory deprivation which provides the perfect environment for your brain to rest and recover due to removal of stimuli (sound, feel, sight). Plus with the high concentration of magnesium in the water (something I discussed in my previous post around initial TBI Treatment) magnesium is not only important for inflammation but will also help you with sleep which is often a struggle with TBI suffers. If you would like to learn more around Floatation Therapy I wrote a dedicated post, please 

Application:

Palming/ Mindfulness

For those that can’t access or afford regular floats, don’t worry you can do your best to replicate at home with a blacked-out room and placing your palms over your eyes, this will remove all eye stimulation and provide them a chance to rest. 

Coupling this with some mindful meditation (discussed in the previous post) will enhance the benefits as you will also impact your parasympathetic nervous system (downregulation system) which will calm your system down and as a result aid in reducing inflammation and heart rate which can be the trigger to worsening symptoms.

Breathwork

Another practice I have been really doubling down on recently is my breathwork practice. I have been doing breathwork for a while now but again with the extra time and the healing power of our breath I put a greater focus on this. 

Lung injury often occurs shortly after brain damage, therefore, anything that helps in regaining or enhancing lung function will be beneficial. Besides this though breathwork is powerful in its ability to tap into the autonomic nervous system (responsible for the control of the bodily functions not consciously directed). The breath is the only autonomic nervous system function under your control. It allows you to either stimulate (Sympathetic nervous system) or down-regulate (Parasympathetic Nervous System). Obviously in the case of recovery and trying to regain control of an overstimulated system we are after the latter. 

Application:

  • A regular morning and evening practice and I also utilised it whenever overstimulated most the time alongside mediation

Sleep

Although floating has been most effective nothing is more important than sleep when it comes to brain recovery. It doesn’t matter what else you are doing if you are not getting the good quality sleep you are crippling your recovery. This is a bit of a double-edged sword as TBI often impacts the ability to sleep especially achieve Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep which is a critical restorative stage of sleep vital to promote recovery. With any injury, sleep should become primary focus but this is even more important for any brain injury because it was recently discovered that as we sleep our brain has a clearing and repairing system (Glymphatic System). Following a TBI your brain will see an influx in beta-amyloid and tau protein these are what will cause the long term impact if not removed because these two are also the key mechanism associated with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. This is why following a TBI your chance of also suffering Alzheimer’s and Dementia skyrockets. This is one reason why TBI recovery is so vital. Therefore, the number one goal in TBI rehab should be to allow the body to do what it does best and flush out these via the glymphatic system while sleeping because if not sleeping the system is unable to work at the same capacity

A recent study shows that deep non-REM sleep, is where both the brain and cardiopulmonary activity slow down, is the perfect sleep stage for the glymphatic system to function properly.  This may be the reason why REM is often harder to achieve post-TBI as you body is naturally requesting more deep sleep to clear and repair the brain, this is just my insertion this is a very new area of science that will need to be validated. 

Application:

Now that I have presented the argument around why sleep is important post-TBI, how do you take charge of your sleep?

  • Prioritise: Nothing is more important
  • Sleep Consistency: Lock in a consistent time aim for a minimum of 8hrs (your brain needs more sleep than normal to repair itself)
  • Prime your sleep: Morning and Evening Routine that primes your circadian rhythm
  • Sleep Sanctuary: Develop a relaxing sleep environment
  • Track: I use: Oura Ring
  • Remove Stimulants:
    • Technology: No 1hr before bed and limit as much as possible elsewhere
    • Bluelight: After Sunset
    • Caffeine & Alcohol: Limit as much as possible, especially close to bedtime

Highly recommend a previous post of mine to explore further:

“The most Restorative Sleep you will ever have”

Cold Immersion

Ice bath at a breath workshop

This is another novel method of treatment although still in the early days of research most of which use a brain cooling device to impact deeper parts of the brain. However, I see it as low hanging fruit in my eyes that can not hurt and is something I have personally found extremely helpful. I have found cold exposure both the whole body and especially directly onto the injury site extremely beneficial. 

Coldwater immersion is nothing new to me I start each day with a cold shower or cold dip due to its physiological effects: 

  • Increase in Mitochondria health (Free energy ;))
  • Increase in weight loss/ management 
  • Reduction in inflammation
  • Improved lymphatic system
  • Improved immune system
  • Improved circulation
  • Mental toughness
  • Temperature regulation

Daily cold plunge while over in the mount

With this knowledge and experience around the impact of cold water immersion, I naturally started playing around with it as it has been pivotal in speeding up previous injuries. Anything that helps with the increase in circulation, decreases in inflammation and promotes mitochondria biogenesis (creation of mitochondria= more energy!) is going to be beneficial to an injury. Since then I have looked further into the research as mentioned early days with TBI specific treatments. However, there seems to be a clear correlation between brain temperature and recovery. Especially in the initial stages which I obviously didn’t address and most likely exacerbated my TBI with completing the remainder of my Half Ironman in hot humid 38degree conditions following my bike crash. In the research they are using specific brain cooling devices that a NASA spacesuit spinoff head-neck cooling technology is engineered to optimize conductive heat exchange with the brain, thereby reducing the physical temperature. Obviously I have not had access to anything like this but everyone has access to cold water so why not try cold water you won’t just be charged with more energy but you may find it helps your overall symptoms.

Application:

  • Daily cold showers: Full body and especially injury site and Ice Baths or winter lake and ocean swims (where possible)

    Work Retreat in Queenstown taking others through the process

Screen Time

Initially and throughout recovery, one of the worst things you can do is stare at a screen which is challenging in this day and age because when you not doing anything that is the first thing you do is pick up a screen and watch something or aimlessly scroll through social media. This was particularly hard for me while still overseas as I was travelling by myself I had to use screens to get around not to mention the unneeded stress of getting around. Regardless, early on you want to provide your brain with the best opportunity to rest so you want to stay clear from screens a much as possible. However, like anything sometimes you can’t avoid them if this is the case the next section is for you.

Application:

  • Avoid as much as possible. Turn down brightness and put on night mode or install a blue-blocking app to reduce stimulation (F.Lux or Iris)

Glasses

Rocking my blue blockers in my Qantas business class PJ’s on my home from Singapore

One of the most simple yet effective things I have implemented has been the application of glasses whether they be sunglass or blue-blocking glasses. I have found them both effective in allowing my eyes to rest. First of all, make sure you have some great polarized sunglasses, cheap glasses will actually make things worse! Take the celebrity look for a spin and wear them inside and outside as it will aid in reducing stimulation to the eyes and as a result your brain. 

As you progress or not keen on looking like a celebrity any more blue-blocking glasses are great for the times you can’t avoid screens or just need to reduce stimulation. You can now get these in clear lenses so you don’t have to stick with the horrific orange lenses anymore but worth getting a pair for when you are at home and things are bad because in my experience the clear lenses are great but the orange are definitely more effective. Added bonus put your blue-blocking glasses on at sunset to aid with you winding down for sleep, Learn more about this hack here

Application:

Get yourself some good quality polarized sunglasses and blue-blocking glasses. When it comes to sunglasses you have endless options but with blue blockers, there is a lot of cheap rip-offs on the market but I can recommend Ra Optics or Felix Gray

Near-infrared light

Although some light is damaging others are healing! I also stopped into Recharge Cryo for clinical-grade light therapy or photobiomodulation therapy (PBM). this is a passive non-invasive treatment which lasts approximately 15min where you lie under a lamp which emits deep penetrating and soothing light which is targeted deep into the skin cells to help heighten their internal functions, increase blood flow and help induce faster healing through the stimulation of ATP (the energy to your cells),

Application: 

  • 15min sessions more always better, I have struggled to find the time to get across town but would like to do 2x/week

Nutrition

Once home, I remained on a similar protocol to while I was in Singapore but now home I could access everything I needed to enhance the recovery. Lucky I had the majority of everything I was after already waiting in my cupboard back at home. 

Initially, I tried to remain as ketogenic as possible with my diet due to the positive impact of being in ketosis as it is the ideal environment for brain repair and performance (same reason I was taking keytone supplements). Although normally easy for me to do, this time it wasn’t! I found my brain was craving carbohydrates and calories and those that follow me know I am all about listening to the body. Instead of stressing my system and restricting carbohydrate I instead did my best to achieve ketosis through diet and time-restricted eating (14-18hrs) without stressing the system any more but when body was craving calories and/ or carbs I would give it what it was asking for. The last thing you want to do when recovering is to starve yourself and be in a calorie deficit as your body won’t be able to recover optimally. However, it is a fine line between boredom eating and actually cravings which has definitely been a struggle for me as I never had so much spare time….

Keytone Supplements:

Once home, I consulted a friend who is an expert in this space Cliff Harvey and he suggested to keep beta-hydroxybutyrate levels (keytones) high throughout the day to provide the required fuel to the brain. But instead of eating keto he suggested taking supplements to upregulate and aid my damaged brain.

Application:

Once home as per cliff suggestion for the initial 3 weeks:

  • MCT oil 3xday (breakfast, lunch, dinner) to aid with slow production of keytones 
  • 1-2x Exogenous keytone supplement (Pruvit) broken out across the day, to achieve deeper states of ketosis to prolong impact. 

I continued this for 5weeks and thanks to Ryan Stag another TBI suffer found Melrose MCT oil combined with DHA (Fish oil) which as mentioned in the previous post is extremely powerful in brain rehab so I began using this as my go-to MCT for this period.

Lions Mane (Mushroom):

You may not have heard about this one but it is something I have a deep knowledge of as I am currently doing my Masters around this amazing mushroom! Due to the high concentration of the Beta-Glucans in this fungus Lion’s mane is known for its neuroprotective and growth potential while reducing reactive oxygen species (ROS) and bringing down the inflammation. Naturally the best thing for me right now! Also another recommendation from Cliff 

Application:

Coenzyme Q10

A naturally occurring antioxidant in the human body and if you recall I discussed the power of antioxidants in my last post. Following TBI Coenzyme Q10 has presented a positive effect on animals and their brian recovery, as it reduces neurodegeneration

(the death of brain cells) and increasing blood supply to the brain. Another supplement that won’t cause any more harm and with potential benefit I absolutely think it is worth taking

Application:

  • 2x BePure10 twice/ day (Morning and afternoon)

I choose to take a reasonable high but if not viable something is always better than nothing!

Exercise:

Throughout this process, I continued to keep active as best I could, which was very light probably better described as a movement not exercise. Lots of walking and stationary bike, however, focusing on staying symptom-free. The rule of thumb post-concussion syndrome rehab is to work at 80% of symptom threshold. This is best achieved by working out with a heart rate strap and working out until you reach symptoms. Once achieved symptoms calculate 80% of heart rate and aim to keep future workouts under this threshold eg. symptoms spike at Heart Rate of 100 beats/min, 80 beats/min is your new threshold. However, this can be challenging and requires regular testing as you recover because the goalposts will keep moving.

I have also used this as an opportunity to focus on areas that often get neglected and focused on more restorative movement practices such as Yin Yoga, and imbalance correction work. Too often when in the mix of intense training it can be hard to find the time and initially I had nothing but time…. However, due to the mental fatigue, I can’t say it always happened but did my best. I have also been putting a greater focus on getting out into nature for my movement due to the therapeutic standpoint as nature promotes so many positive health benefits. 

Application:

  • Don’t exceed 80% HR of symptom threshold. Use additional time to focus on the restorative types of training we often neglect eg imbalance correction and yoga etc 

Professional help

I know all advice up until now is a result of being frustrated by the current limitations of the system but by no means have I gone this alone. Regardless I highly recommend everyone wraps themselves around with practitioners to aid you on your journey. Also, in no way is this an attack on practitioners knowledge or services many of them were amazing! However, the practitioners are fighting an uphill battle especially in concussion treatment as it is a quickly growing body of research (American football is the key driver behind this) and due to the system they work within it often takes time to filter through to practice as it needs to be accepted as the scientific consensus prior to them being able to utilise as a practitioner, this sadly takes time. If they suggest something away from the consensus it is their head on the chopping board so it is in their best interest to stick to the tried and true. I believe it is the model not the practitioner’s fault, they have the patients best interests in heart, just fighting a limited model.

Below I have outlined the reasons behind each practitioner I saw to help guide my recovery:

  • Doctors: 

Saw both initially at the race venue, then at the hospital, to get properly checked out before flying home (ensure no brain bleed as it could be fatal if I flew home.) and GP once home as ACC requested it, too be honest I am not sure why. The doctor had minimal knowledge of concussions and I had just been and seen the sports doctor who specialises in cases like this.

 

  • Osteopath: 

This was extremely important early on in assisting with whiplash, physical injuries plus some osteos can perform cranial work which is minimal movements which is great in aid with releasing tension and taking the pressure off my head. However, Osteopaths can not diagnose post-concussion syndrome so if you think this is the case, you want your practitioner to refer you to someone like a sports doctor.

 

  • Chiropractor:

I also saw a Chiropractor to get some additional support. Personally I never really go to a Chiropractor so this was interesting I found myself and awesome practitioner who approached it from a variety of angles which I believe would be extremely helpful but sadly due to time constraints haven’t made it back yet but will be short to explore this further.

 

  • Sports Doctor 

This is where I obtained my official diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome and actually highlighted the extent of my situation with testing also providing baseline data to see how I my recovery tracks. For anyone suffering I would highly recommend getting here as early as possible, I personally didn’t get there until 1.5months post-crash. Early is important as they can create a claim with ACC and help guide you towards services that will help such as a concussion clinic.

 

  • Occupational Therapist (Concussion Clinic):

The sports doctor sent me to a concussion clinic to wrap some support around my recovery. The first session was with the OT who explored the impact of my injury and help design a plan accordingly. She referred me to the neuro/vestibular physio and neurologist for further testing and treatment and been there to aid me with any questions.

 

  • Physiotherapist (Concussion Clinic): 

Specifically, neuro/vestibular physio who specialises in cases like mine. This involved a lot of additional specific testing such as visual, balance, autonomic nervous system (treadmill test). Through this testing, we identified I had ‘Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo’ (BPPV) 

  • Benign – it is not life-threatening
  • Paroxysmal – it comes in sudden, brief spells
  • Positional – it gets triggered by certain head positions or movements
  • Vertigo – a false sense of rotational movement

BPPV is a mechanical problem in the inner ear that prompts vertigo as your brain is getting sent confusing messages from the inner ear which is often associated with head injuries. The identification of this was a pivotal moment for me as it is a quick treatment of head movements known as the ‘Epley Maneuver’ which corrects this problem. I instantly noticed an improvement in my eye-tracking. Previously my left eye had severe nystagmus “An involuntary eye movement which may cause the eye to rapidly move from side to side, up and down or in a circle, and may slightly blur vision.”- Mayo Clinic. This was cleared immediately after the manoeuvre, taking a lot of stress off my system. Quick note; I have now had the Epley Maneuver twice as when I came back the symptoms had returned. Keep in mind it may take more than one Epley Maneuver.

 

  • Neurologist (Concussion Clinic):

To ensure everything was on track and nothing was being missed I also had a meeting with Neurologist to discuss everything. This involved some further testing and was great from a peace of mind standpoint. I personally enjoyed this session as they have deep mechanistically understanding of what is going on so I could talk at a deeper level to get his perspectives on my recovery strategies etc. Plus I could discuss recovery timelines which were longer than I would have liked.

Thinking outside the box:

 

The next few are not a classical treatment but again I am interested in hitting it from all angles. 

  • Clinical Pharmacist & Mineral Therapist: 

This was fascinating as she discovered I had a potassium deficiency which is common post head injury due to biochemical response. She put me on a specific supplement to aid with this which I believe has been beneficial.

 

  • Auditory/ Visual Therapy: 

As someone who also has dyslexia, this was something I was already looking into and following the crash, it was clearly the right time to explore this. I have only done the testing so far but WOW! It provides powerful data to work with which really highlight my current deficiencies. The only difficulty is with no pre-crash baselines we have to try and determine between what is my dyslexia or a result on my brain injury. A chicken or egg problem but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what caused me to read at a grade 3 age etc (scary right!) I now know the mechanism I now need to train.

What are the specialist telling me now? 

(100+ days post-crash) 

Although I am not back to where I would like to be, the rate of my recovery is continually surprising the specialists. As I write this I saw the neurologist earlier this week and he was impressed about where I am but reminded me I still have a long way to go and said it will be at least another 3months until I am able to race again…. That was a tough pill to swallow! As this means I am only halfway… I will keep this in the back of my mind, however bringing back to my first tip it is all about perspective so I now see this 3-month window as a challenge. What does this mean for me? Keeping myself in check and gradually building over time because anytime I overdo this will just set me back and I don’t have the time for any setbacks. If i don’t beat the 3 months that is fine I will accept that when it comes but in the meantime I keeping things positive. 

Summary

This is only a snapshot of something I have been doing in all honesty but without getting too long in the tooth I wanted to provide what I have so far found the most impactful in my recovery. I hope that in this article you find something that can either help yourself or a loved one. Please if struggle feel free to get in contact as I understand the pain and I am here to help!