Life on a beautiful island, I didn’t guess that anxiety would be a common theme.
I was lucky enough to be involved with an amazing group of Naturopaths who had been invited to do a little volunteering in the remote areas of Northern Vanuatu.
The islands are breath taking and photos simply did not do it justice. The water is crystal clear, the locals are full of smiles and my professional company, outstanding.
In such a relaxed environment, who would have guessed that I saw a lot of anxiety, stress and sleeping problems.
What did we contribute while we were there?
We would perform health checks on every person. Blood pressure, blood sugar, pulse, breath sounds, heart sounds and full body examination. We had tables to lay them on to palpate their belly, we checked their skin, their mouths, ears, eyes, noses. We asked many questions about how they cooked their food, what they ate, how much water and kava they drank. We asked them about their bowels (which was actually a little hilarious in the beginning.) We covered as much as we could using Pigeon English and I actually y struggled to talk normally after a few days of this. Embarrassingly I revert back to this way of speaking each time I talk about the trip!
What did I expect to see?
I suppose I was under the assumption that in these parts of the world, in a more traditional lifestyle and at a slower pace, anxiety and stress would not be common. After assisting different groups in different areas, I realised that I was wrong.
I expected GIT issues, diabetes, wounds that needed cleaning, parasitic or fungal infections and we certainly saw plenty of this! However considering my love for supporting the stress response and anxiety related symptoms, I asked a few more questions. It turns out that there is plenty of worry going on here too. Family concerns, health related issues, job related issues, it seems there is a universal theme.
There was one thing that could greatly impact their outcomes and we could help with this right away.
Just like us, if our gastrointestinal system is not optimally functioning, we have a whole host of other issues that escalate. Considering that our gut hosts up to 90% of our neurotransmitters, including their role in optimal brain and mood function, this is where we started. Unfortunately the locals have adopted much of the Western culture when it comes to refined food and empty (of nutritional gain) carbohydrates.
Their diets were consisting of rice, bread products and little else. We understood the convenience and cheap prices of such food, however it really is a major contributing factor to their current health concerns. From their pre- diabetic state to their feeling of always being tired, anxious and trouble sleeping.
Diabetes and poor energy.
One of the most common issues that we were noticing was the high blood sugar levels. Some were incredibly alarming and others were a warning. Among other genetic issues, diabetes is on the rise predominantly due to their convenience foods. Gone were the traditional ways of eating off the land, farming and foraging and sharing meat with their village. Now they were sitting down to a bowl or rice, followed by bread and little water.
This type of food meant that they were met with a large spike of insulin to help reduce their blood sugar levels, which was then followed by a dip, leaving them feeling tired, unmotivated and looking for another sugar hit. And that hadn’t even included the ones who were ingesting a large amount of sugar in their diet.
It always comes back to the food!!
Other than talking to them about increasing their movement, they were all directed to get back to their basics and into their island food. Fresh is best, a little protein when it is available and plenty of fresh water. We discussed how they needed little protein to balance out and to regulate their blood sugar levels. We explained how they would have more energy by eating this way and how their bodies were screaming for nutrition.
What I took away
I left the island feeling incredibly humbled and a little emotional at the extent of the help they needed and the limited accessibility to medical care of any type.
It made me want to work harder so that I could get back there and volunteer more of my time and resources.
We risked not entering the country due to the large amounts of supplements, toothbrushes and reading glasses that we were bringing with us. It was pretty clear that we were not there just for a “girls week away”. What I was gifted from each local that I had the privilege of treating was the most moving thank you. They want to touch you, look you deep in the eye and give you their heart felt thank you. It is a feeling that I recall on the days that feel hard.
I have many more stories to share with you about the shenanigans that happened while we were away, but I will leave that for another day. I feel totally blessed and grateful for the opportunity that I have just had and I am grateful for the support I have had to get me there.
Should you feel called to help these beautiful people in any way, I am collecting spare and old reading glasses to ship to the amazing volunteer Dr Alan Profke and his beautiful wife Deb. These amazing people have been volunteering and running their own clinic here for 25 years! What an amazing team. I can not wait to get back!