INTERVIEW: Towards holistic health

Gihan Shahine , Saturday 2 Nov 2019

In the second of a two-part interview, holistic health coach Dana Dinnawi explains how women can look radiant, take back control of their health, and get over stress and emotional eating

Healthy food

As the world celebrated this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, holistic health coach Dana Dinnawi was keen to do something beyond sharing pink bows and Facebook challenges.

Getting back to causes and changing people’s mindsets about how they eat and live has always been a mission for Dinnawi, who insists that clean eating and adopting a healthy lifestyle have dramatically changed her own life.

Although her programmes may be challenging for many, she never gives up on empowering women and educating them on how food works for and against their bodies. For her, those who can take back control of their bodies and their health will also be able to take back control of their lives in a way that fulfils them every single day.

In the first part of Dinnawi’s interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, she explained the role hormones play in our bodies and how to balance them naturally through healthy eating. In this part, she explains her views regarding different nutritional issues.
During this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, you told your clients that nutrition could be the root cause of the disease. What is the link between cancer and nutrition and what should we or shouldn’t we eat to avoid this disease?
Like any other disease or cancer, breast cancer is caused by two main things: toxicity and deficiency. Toxicity occurs when we take in an overload of toxins, whether through the food we eat, the air we breathe, what we put on our skin, or toxic thoughts and stress. Deficiency occurs when we aren’t taking in enough nutrients and life-force energy to keep our cells well-fed and thriving.

Each cell in the body does three things: it eats, excretes, and has a specific job (there are too many to mention here). The cells live in blood that needs to be slightly alkaline in order for them to be able to perform these three functions.
When the cells are given foods that are too acidic (whether that “food” is physical food or emotional food), they eliminate acidic waste. They become miserable. They can’t perform their functions properly and become sluggish. Instead of operating at their normal speed, they get slower and slower. The acidity also causes them to mutate, and these mutations are then replicated.

Little by little, the body’s built-in cleaning system can’t cope with the resulting acidic blood, and acidity accumulates in the body, leading to disease. How the disease manifests itself differs from person to person and depends on genetic make-up. But the basic process is the same.
So, in addressing breast cancer (or any cancer or ailment), we need to look at alkalising the blood as much as possible to minimise acidity. We need to remove the toxicity and replenish any deficiency so that the cells can thrive again. We need to get back to the root issue.

These are the top toxic foods that need to be removed: wheat, sugar, dairy products, processed foods, and oils like sunflower and corn oil, and alcohol. There are the top foods to add: plenty of fruit and vegetables, specifically broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflowers, cabbages, collard greens and Brussels sprouts). They can safeguard against several forms of cancer, due in large part to their abundance of glucosinolates and other substances that help detoxify carcinogens.

Garlic and other members of the allium family (of onions, leeks, scallions, and chives) all contain a phytochemical that provides protection from cancer. Pomegranates are full of antioxidants and an ingredient called ellagic acid that is believed to inhibit an enzyme that may play a role in the development of breast cancer. Orange fruit and vegetables contain carotenoids, and the higher the level of carotenoids in the bloodstream, the lower the risk for breast cancer.

Berries are considered to have among the highest antioxidant capacity among other fruit and vegetables, and these powerhouses are chock full of a variety of cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Plums and peaches contain a high level of antioxidants that may help kill breast cancer cells. Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, and Swiss chard are excellent sources of carotenoids. Researchers believe that carotenoids prevent cancer by acting as antioxidants, scouring potentially dangerous “free radicals” from the body before they can do harm.

Walnuts contain omega 3s, plenty of antioxidants, and phytosterols that may help slow down or even stop the growth of cancerous cells and tumours. Salmon is full of Vitamin D, which prevents cells from becoming cancerous. Flaxseed contains a component called lignans that may decrease cancer growth. Parsley contains apigenin, a compound that boosts resistance to developing cancerous tumours. Turmeric is also an anti-inflammatory that could help fight tumours.
This is how you can rebalance the body and prevent disease: change how you eat. Change how your family eats. Change how your friends eat. Change how your colleagues eat. Your health is in your hands.
Can you explain why what we put on our skin can also be a source of toxicity?
The average woman uses up to 12 cosmetic products per day, containing anywhere up to 168 toxic ingredients. These make up one of our most-coveted routines -- our morning and evening facial washing rituals -- but these can also be one of the most dangerous if we don’t use the right products. This is because the skin is a “breathing” organ. Up to 60 per cent of what you apply topically on your skin will be absorbed into your bloodstream within 26 seconds. That’s faster than absorption through digestion.

Most cosmetic companies do not list their ingredients, aka toxic chemicals, because they are not required to do so. Several of these toxic chemicals are linked to a host of problems, including allergies, skin rashes, cancer, headaches, fertility and reproductive issues, birth defects, hormone inhibitors, and more. Fortunately, heightened awareness and potential dangers have caused consumers to take a closer look at what they put on their skin and demand safer alternatives.


Take a look at your favourite products and see if you can find some of these toxic chemicals listed:
 - Parabens: Often found in deodorants and moisturisers, these are hormone inhibitors and are believed to accelerate tumour growth.
- Artificial fragrances and colours: These may trigger allergies, asthma, and some colours contain lead and harmful dyes.
- Toulene: This is found in nail polish, hair-colour products, and some fragrances. It has been linked to kidney and liver damage, which may affect fetal growth.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulphate/Sodium Laureth Sulphate: This is a foaming agent found in shampoos and body/facial washes. It dries out the skin and is linked to eczema, hair loss, rashes, and dry and scaly skin.
- Formaldehyde: Used as a preservative, this is known by several different names and should be avoided at all costs, as the side effects are numerous.
- PEG’s: These are found in numerous skin and personal care products. It is anti-freeze and should be used in your car, not on your skin.
- Paraffin/mineral oil/petrolatum: This clogs pores, causing toxic build-up.
- Phthalates: These are found in plastics and are known as hormone disruptors.
- Triclosan: This is a pesticide used in anti-bacterial products. It is harmful to the environment and is a suspected carcinogenic
- Sunscreens: Search some of their ingredients and you will see that they cause possible damage to DNA. Many are known carcinogens.
Of course, there are also more such substances, but you see the point. If you wouldn’t eat it, it doesn’t belong on your skin. But what you do eat is equally as important, if not more so, when it comes to the quality of your skin.
Can proper nutrition help us to look younger and hopefully dispense with toxic skin routines, leading to the use of less or no make-up? Can nutrition fight acne and skin-ageing?
Skin is the largest organ in the body, and it reflects conditions inside the body. The best way to relieve skin problems is to fix the root cause, so that they can be taken care of once and for all. And the root cause (as with all chronic conditions) lies in the gut. Your skin is also the largest detoxifying organ in your body. It is your first line of defence. The minute you ingest something of a chemical nature or an allergen or experience a stressful situation, your skin reacts by breaking out and by trying to expel the toxins, whether they are real poisons or ones emitted by stress hormones. This is when your skin is telling you that you are out of balance, that you are doing things that are not serving you.

Possible causes of skin conditions include poor digestion and absorption, not enough “good” bacteria (gut flora) in the digestive tract, the overgrowth of candida yeast, or a leaky gut. Having cold sores may reflect the fact that the immune system is trying to fight off internal infections, while rashes or hives are an allergic reaction to food or medications. Having a yellowish skin tone may indicate a problem with the liver, while a Vitamin A deficiency produces skin congestion through the over-keratinisation of skin cells. A lack of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract leads to a lowered ability to fight infection.

So, if you who want a youthful, glowing skin that’s a reflection of the healthy you, of healthy intestines, of a healthy and unclogged lymphatic system (your body’s garbage-disposal system), you need to start with a cleanse and do the following:
First, remove or limit all sources of wheat, dairy products, sugar, processed oils, processed foods, caffeine, alcohol and soy. Alcohol dehydrates the skin, and sugar hastens the ageing process. Second, load up on anti-oxidant rich foods that have the capacity to seek out and destroy free radicals, which are unstable molecules that make their way through the body, stealing from healthy cells in an effort to become complete. While they naturally occur in the body to some extent, environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and herbicides can also spawn free radicals. Normally, the body can handle free radicals, but if your diet is lacking in antioxidants or free-radical production becomes excessive, damage can occur. Free radical damage accumulates with age and is a major contributor to wrinkles.

By also making sure your diet is chock full of the following nutrients, you can provide an optimal support of healthy skin:
- Omega-3s -- Cold-water oily fish are loaded with anti-inflammatory EPA and DHA Omega-3s. Look to mackerel, salmon, anchovies, and sardines for the best complexion benefits.
- Vitamin A: Antioxidant-rich Vitamin A is abundant in dark leafy vegetables and dark orange vegetables. Dark leafy greens are also high in fibre, which slows blood sugar production.
- Vitamin C: Antioxidant-rich Vitamin C is found in papayas, peppers, strawberries, broccoli, pineapple, Brussels sprouts, and of course, oranges and grapefruits. Vitamin C is essential for collagen production, which helps to keep the skin supple. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate foods rich in Vitamin C had fewer wrinkles and less age-related dry skin than those who had a diet low in Vitamin C.
- Vitamin E: Antioxidant-rich Vitamin E is found in sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, Swiss chard, dark leafy greens, papayas, asparagus, and peppers. 
- Selenium: Critical in the production of a glutathione, a substance that combats free radicals, selenium is found in tuna, cod, halibut, shrimps, salmon, and turkey and lamb.
- Antioxidants: You can’t go wrong by loading up on berries and purple and deep red such foods as pomegranates, purple carrots, black grapes, and beets. The latter contain anthocyanins, which help promote blood flow to the skin.
- Fibre: Whole grains help combat inflammatory responses in your body that can trigger a breakout. 
- Zinc: Found in oysters, crab, lean meats, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds, zinc helps reduce oil production that can lead to acne.
- Good fats: Look for soothing avocados, coconut oils, coconut milk, and olive oil. These moisturise your skin from the inside out.


To support your digestive system, also eat foods that are rich in prebiotic and probiotics. To reduce the overgrowth of candida yeast, avoid sugar and flour. To manage a leaky gut, investigate possible food intolerance, such as of gluten or lactose. And remember to hydrate. When cells are dehydrated, they lose their plumpness and structure. So, make sure you are drinking at least 33 ml of water per kg of body weight a day --alcohol and caffeinated beverages don’t count, and the latter can move fluid out of the body, worsening any dehydration. 

Look into a poor calcium metabolism: Calcium is a drying mineral, and if it’s not processed properly, it can get dumped into the “wrong places”, including the skin. You can find out more about this by having a hair analysis done. Also look into your thyroid health, as low thyroid hormone levels can cause many symptoms.


Do you also suggest a natural skin-care routine that substitutes for toxic chemical products?
Yes, while you clean up your insides, you should also start to get into a new routine of outer skin care. The oil-cleansing method is one of the safest and easiest ways to clean your face if you want to avoid exposure to the chemicals found in conventional beauty products.

Oil-cleansing provides your skin with pure hydration and nutrition. It is crucial for you to skip commercial moisturisers and the mineral oils that not only clog your skin, but also contribute to great toxicity and endocrine imbalances. What you put on the skin goes inside your body within seconds, getting into the bloodstream and liver. It would almost be better if you ingested these substances through your mouth, allowing at least for the digestive enzymes to jump in and try to save you from the foreign invaders. When absorbed through the skin, your body is defenceless against them, and all those propylene glycols, sulphates, parabens, colours, fragrances, and other unrecognisable chemicals make their way into your liver, corroding it and shortening your lifespan. 


One of the first reactions many women have to the thought of applying oil to their face, especially if they have naturally oily or combination skin, is that it will make their face more oily, or cause more breakouts, pimples, blackheads, or whiteheads. It’s important to remember, however, that oil is naturally occurring. Our skin produces oil because it needs it for lubrication, healing, balancing and protection. And oil dissolves oil. This is very important to remember.
When you use oil to clean an oily face, in this case, castor oil, the oil will break down the excess build-up of oil and rebalance without stripping your skin of its natural moisture.
You say that the body needs both primary and secondary food, the first being the result of a spiritual life. How should we deal with emotional eating?
Primary foods are anything that fills the soul; so, spirituality, the career, passions, hobbies, relationships, social life, exercise and joy are all primary foods. When any one of these areas of our lives is imbalanced, or we’re not giving it the attention it needs, we will (consciously or unconsciously) use food to fill that void. This is what we call “emotional” eating.

But once your soul is filled with a passion, with a job you love to wake up for that inspires you instead of drains you, when you have a relationship that is mutually loving and supportive, and when you move on a regular basis and give your body what it needs, you will find that your need for emotional eating decreases. It takes time and mindfulness, along with clean eating, to replenish physiological deficiencies that lead to cravings, but it works.
You mention stress as one of the causes of toxicity in the body that can lead to a number of health issues and skin problems. Could you explain this?
Stress hormones prepare your body for “flight or fight”. In today’s stressful world, however, our bodies sometimes stay in a constant state of flight, which puts unnecessary stress and strain on the body.

The adrenal glands (which produce adrenaline, a stress hormone produced when you’re feeling a strong emotion) and cortisol (another stress hormone) are needed to respond to stress. But they were designed to deal with stress in small spurts rather than in periods of days or months (or even years), such as what happens with the daily intake of toxic food or being stuck in an unfulfilling career or unsupportive relationship.

If you are exposed to these stressors, the body will produce cortisol in response all the time. And you will be left with elevated cortisol and blood-sugar levels that can lead to a whole host of metabolic imbalances and reactions that diminish immune-system function. Eventually, the adrenals will become fatigued from producing too much cortisol continuously to the point of exhaustion and they will fail to fulfil their other functions (like maintaining blood pressure, helping you sleep properly and producing other key hormones) to meet the basic needs of the body.

If you also regularly consume foods you’re sensitive to, your adrenal glands are again constantly working to maintain elevated cortisol levels, and your body expends more energy than normal trying to combat this inflammatory effect, leaving you with less energy to function. Your adrenal glands (and you) become chronically fatigued.
Can good nutrition really help to improve our mood and fight depression?
Your digestive system is your second brain, and it has the power to influence your mood, mind, and behaviour. As such, nourishing your gut flora through nutrition becomes significant, because each brain, the one inside your head and the one in your abdomen, has its own essential needs. Your brain and your gut work together in a synchronistic dance, and your central nervous system (the brain) is connected to your enteric nervous system (the gut) via the vagus nerve.

As it turns out, the greatest concentration of serotonin, the all-important feel-good neurotransmitter that factors heavily into mood, lives in your second brain, not your “first”. This may account for the fact that researchers keep finding links between an imbalance in gut bacteria and depression, and more and more are using nutrition to treat this condition instead of medication that does nothing to address the root cause of the problem.

Here’s another shocker: 100 trillion bacteria take up residence in your body. That’s more than 10 times the number of cells in your entire body. Ideally, the ratio between the bacteria in your gut is 85 per cent “good” and 15 per cent “bad”. Nourishing your gut flora gives you the best opportunity to optimise serotonin production and protect your mental health.

Your gut bacteria are also especially vulnerable to your lifestyle; for instance, if you eat a lot of processed foods, your gut bacteria will suffer because in general processed foods destroy good microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast. A lack of beneficial bacteria can present in the body as gas, bloating, bad breath, constipation, diarrhoea, intestinal toxicity, poor absorption of nutrients, yeast infections, thrush, toe fungus, dandruff, eczema and psoriasis.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 31 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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