MCT Oil a wonder-supplement?

MCT Oil for performance enhancement
MCT oil is used in sport as a performance enhancer

MCT oil is something of a wonder-aid in some circles.  It has been used medically for years as extraordinary nutrition for ill patients, including infants with malabsorption issues.  It bypasses your gall-bladder, so you don’t need bile salts to process it.  Instead it goes straight to your liver for processing, which means people usually tolerate it better than other fats.  It also means that it converts to ketones faster, which is a form of fat-energy, so it boosts your brain and your muscles.  Athletes use it at Olympic level as a legitimate performance enhancer, and the Navy Seals use it as one of their tools for intense body-stress situations where they have to be physically and mentally alert in extreme training or war conditions.

What makes MCTs different?

MCT stands for Medium Chain Triglycerides, and that’s a specific type of fatty chain.  For some conditions, it’s the goldilocks chain, not too short and not too long, just right.  It doesn’t occur naturally in nature, and I‘ve come to believe there’s a reason for that.  Just as the gelatine in meat counters the inflammatory effects of the other parts, I wouldn’t be surprised if the other chains the MCT oils are packaged with also have balancing functions of their own.  As yet, there’s no answer to how they balance each other.

MCT oils only are a by-product of separating out the lauric acid from pine kernel or coconut oil.  Lauric acid is a large part of why coconut oil has so many benefits.  It’s also technically an medium chain, but it converts in your system like a long chain, so it doesn’t pass through your liver quickly.  That means it’s energy isn’t as readily available for you.

Separating the different components of the oil to these separate products means they are no longer foods.  MCT oil (or powder) is now as much a supplement as the Vitamin C tablet you take in the morning.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have benefits, but possibly approach it with some caution.

MCT Oil as a supplement

That said, it does have real value.  You might choose to use it as a supplement to reach certain goals.  All of those goals would involve your body converting it to ketone energy. I’m going to list the benefits, but please don’t skip the cons and the how-tos after.

Benefits

  1. Weight loss: Ketones raise your energy levels, speed your metabolism and encourage your body to burn its fat stores.  After some weeks of use many report weight loss and shrinking abdominal fat.
  2. It allows you to enter ketosis still eating higher carbs than a traditional ketotic diet. That is a big deal when you’re using it for a health condition like epilepsy or neurological conditions.
  3. It quickly converts and crosses the blood brain barrier, feeding your brain on ketones. The result is often a decrease brain fog.
  4. Once your body has adapted to it, it allows your muscles to work more efficiently with their oxygen stores, so your performance is improved.
  5. It helps balance your blood sugar, which also minimises energy crashes and food cravings. This also helps with weight loss over time.

Brain performance on ketones

Cons or issues to be aware of

  1. You need to build up your levels slowly.  Adapting to fats as fuel is a change for your body.  (Usual disclaimer about speaking to your doctor …)  If you take too much too quickly, you’ll be spending some quality-time on your toilet with the runs.
  2. Even though it isn’t supposed to affect your gall bladder, too many people experience a pain in their right upper chest quadrant when they take it, a bit like a stitch in your stomach area. That’s a shouting gall bladder, so build up a tolerance, don’t rush in.
  3. Ketones are the only things besides glucose that can cross a healthy blood brain barrier. They can also act like envelopes and carry other, unwanted critters like heavy metals across, so choose a high-quality oil and don’t use it without knowing the dangers.  The ultimate responsibility is yours if your brain is inflamed.  By the same token, if your glucose pathways aren’t working well and you do have brain fog despite working on your diet to eliminate other factors, then MCT oils present valuable alternatives.  As a logical progression then, if I were taking MCT oil, I would ensure I ate a clean diet and had healthy detox systems that could express toxins.  By extension, I wouldn’t take MCT oil during a detox because then your fat cells express their contents into your blood stream, and that includes toxins.
Avoid toxins if you take MCT oil
Avoid toxins if you take MCT oil

MCT oil and cholesterol

MCT could raise your cholesterol, but your immune system is far more complex than our simplistic phraseology of good and bad cholesterol.  In essence cholesterol is good and all our body functions are dependent on it.  LDL carries cholesterol to the cells where they are used to build cell membranes and t make hormones.  The problem is that it can be used to plaster a damaged artery wall, but only if the artery is damaged.  HDL then carries cholesterol back to the liver to be recycled or for excess to be excreted.  A system this complex means we need the cholesterol, and it’s not so much the quantity that’s the problem because we have a system to eliminate excess, it’s the quality of it that’s the issue.  Read Mark Sisson’s Definitive Guide to Cholesterol – it’s an eye opener.  A question to ponder: is it better to lower your overall health risk and slightly raise your cholesterol by losing weight, or is it better to have cholesterol within norms and be overweight?

MCT and Alzheimers

There is debate about whether MCT should be used for Alzheimers patients, or should they rather be given coconut oil because it has more overall health benefits. It seems like an absolutely inane argument.  The benefits of coconut oil are huge, but are those benefits all relevant to the overwhelming presenting symptom of memory loss?  Use whatever helps that person cope best as a supplement.  Cook with coconut oil anyway as a food.  The benefit of MCT oil for treating Alzheimers is that it’s tasteless and comes in both powder and oil form so it can be incorporated into food without creating resistance.  Coconut has  definite flavour and texture that makes it harder to stomach larger quantities for many.  And coconut oil only has about 15% of medium chains that quickly convert to ketones because the other MCTs don’t behave like MCTS.  If it were my loved one I would incorporate both, but I’d start with a much heavier hand on MCT.

 

How to take MCT oil

Build up from a teaspoon with every meal to at most a tablespoon at every meal.  Anything over that should be judiciously thought through because you do need other fats in your diet

Personally, I would never consider using MCT oil to cook with.  It is a supplement, not a food.  It doesn’t have the heat stable benefits of coconut oil, so rather cook with coconut oil.  Besides that you could add either the oil or the powder to your food, but remember that you need healthy fat sources to fuel your chemistry, not just supplements.

MCT oil can be a lifesaver if used correctly

 

 

MCT can make a real difference if used correctly.

 

 

Raising young adults as a health conscious mother

Health conscious mother and her growing young adult

I’m a bit of a control-freak in some things, so raising kids has been a lesson in flexibility and humility.  I must admit I didn’t always get it right.  I consciously used to work at not laying down my rules when we did crafts together so that it could be a creative, bonding process for them and not an extension of school.  That wasn’t easy for me.  But that isn’t a patch on being health conscious and watching them as young adults manage their own diets.

Soda*  They know the health buzz-words and the philosophies …

*    They’ve seen the power of diet completely eradicate depression in our own home …

*   They see the influence pre-and-post gluten ingestion on a gluten sensitive child (huge!) …

But pop culture and convenience are drivers that often outweigh that knowledge.

I try to keep in mind that there is a small picture and a big picture.  The small picture is what I’m seeing now, a carbon copy of the SAD (Standard American Diet) that I so dislike.  The bigger picture is that I trust it’s a passing phase and they’ll draw themselves back to a place where they nurture their bodies properly again.  But I admit freely that it is beyond me to completely let it go.  Here’s a conversation I just had with one of my teach-mommy-flexibility-children:

Me:  “My lovie, now that classes are starting tomorrow again, maybe you should be paying more attention to your diet.  Is there anything I can do to help you?”

Young-adult:  “I’m eating healthily now.”

Me (because I’ve been a mommy for a long time and I’ve learnt more than flexibility on the way):  “Since when?”

Young adult (with a guilty smile because she didn’t really think she’d sneak it past me): “Since today.”

Me:  “So what does eating healthy mean?  What are you going to do to make it work for you? You know sugar is an issue for you, what tips and tricks will you use to manage that?“  Aside: Please note that I didn’t lecture on what is and isn’t healthy!

Young adult:  “I can eat Low Carb?  And no sugar.  And no dairy or gluten.”  Poor girl!  That’s a huge bunch of rules to live by.

Me: “That’s a whole lot of rules, and low carb is an unforgiving diet.  You can’t break it easily.  If you eat high fat and then eat a lot of carbs it’ll make you fat.  Especially if the carbs you eat are fast food carbs.”

Young adult: “I want to eat healthily but I don’t want to diet.”

Me: “Then don’t.  Don’t have a whole bunch of rules, jut do simple, sustainable tweaks. But set it up so you can live like that.”

We discussed her breakfast.  I make a good breakfast for us every day with a vegetable, a protein and some healthy fat as a boost-for-the-day for us, so we agreed to stick to that. (That’s the one life-win I have, my children think breakfast cereals are a dessert you have on holiday.)  She was going to do a meal replacement shake for supper, but has agreed to have supper with the family, not because it’s the best time of day to eat a meal, but because it’s the only meal of the day she’ll get that variety of vegetables and the only way she’ll eat enough protein.  Lunch is in her court.

I stopped there,  proud that I could be flexible and not nag more than I admittedly did (hey – that’s a big achievement for me!).  I’m glad that our relationship is good enough that even though it was a nag, she was still prepared to have the conversation with me.  I’m sure she knows how hard it is for me not to interfere more so I left feeling we’d both been respectful of one another.  In the bigger picture, that’s the biggest win of all.  It’s easier to do because I don’t believe she’ll be making these choices forever, and she has the right to test her wings.  My nutri-angel wings didn’t grow until well into adulthood either.  Okay, they haven’t fully grown yet, but they will … eventually!

EaEarning my nutri-angel wings

 

I showed her this before posting.  She reckons she’ll have her nutritional angel wings before I ever get mine 😊

 

Don’t let me fool you – there’s no such thing as perfect nutrition.  There’s just cleverly listening to your body’s signals and rebalancing.  Your needs change as you age, adjust with it intuitively.

Natural, healthy appetite suppressant

Natural appetite suppressant

Only the uninformed or supremely arrogant (in other words people who’ve never had to battle weight issues) still believe that losing weight is a matter of self-control.  Weight loss is complex and multi-factorial, so no one-size-fits-all approach will work for everyone.  Weight loss isn’t calories in calories out like we used to think it was, it’s a biological and chemical process where calories count less than the quality and the balance of nutrients.  Appetite and cravings are key drivers in this process, and not always in your favour.

Your body’s response to weight loss

When you start losing weight, your body think it’s starving and it sends out an all-systems alarm to make sure it retains nutrients.  Your obvious defense against that is to make sure your diet is  healthily balanced so that you still get all the nutrients you need.  If all the nutrients are there, and you just cut out the bad stuff, your body’s response should only be a few days worth of sugar withdrawal.

But …

If your body senses in any way that it is going to be deprived of nutrients, this response changes.  It’s defense mechanisms are sneaky, and you can’t defeat them with logic, so you have to be sneaky too.  One of the tools it uses to fight you when you try to cut back on it’s Willy Wonka existence is by stimulating a raging appetite and cravings.  This false-appetite might push you in the direction of things you know you shouldn’t be eating by simulating cravings, or it might make you so hungry that you overeat and still feel like you can eat an hour later.  You feel as if your appetite doesn’t have an off switch.  The hunger or cravings don’t feel like a false signal either, they feel all too real.

This imbalanced appetite can be a failure button for you because you’re being chemically manipulated to obsess about food.  Your naggingly present ‘appetite-craving’ is so consistent that it becomes overwhelming and you’re eventually going to give in.  Will-power isn’t a practical tool to rely on here because its chemistry at work against you, not your character.

Use chemistry to fight chemistryWhat’s the answer?

Fight chemistry with chemistry!

We’ve all heard “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.”  This is the same.  Use your commitment to success to be sneaky and first manage your chemistry.  After that your will-power can help you to successful weight loss.

How to suppress appetite?

Protein or fat, and to a lesser extent fibre are all useful in managing appetite.  That’s why you can lose weight on so many different types of diets.  Protein has a small advantage over fat and fibre in that it balances blood sugar and it stimulates hormones that suppress your appetite.  Of course, fat and fibre both have other advantages too.

You could eat a higher protein diet, but despite the pros, that also has cons.  The simpler solution if you don’t want to change your macronutrients is to add gelatine to your food and drink.  Gelatine is a protein, in fact, it’s an almost complete protein.  It has a lot of protein’s benefits, and it’s cheap, portable and has limited calories.  The idea is that you eat normal, healthy, balanced portions at meal times and use gelatine to manage hunger and cravings in between.  Add a teaspoon of  gelatine to a cup of hot water, tea or coffee and sip away as normal.  It has little flavour, and, at worst, will be slightly sticky if you add too much.  You can add gelatine to your food as well if you need the boost.

Your false hunger and craving signals are now naturally suppressed.  See other and more detailed advantages of gelatine here.

Chemicals in control – what’s next?

 

Gelatine in teaNow you can start talking about planning, focus, will-power and all the other, good strategies you need because you’ve leveled the playing field.

Tip: If you still crave foods or have a raging appetite as described after a reasonable adjustment period, there might be something else going on.  Maybe you have an underlying bio-chemical or bacterial issue?  The same could be true if you’re doing everything right and still struggling on your own to lose weight.  Then get help from someone trained to change your status quo.

I personally prefer a specialised nutritionist health consultant or a naturopathic or functional medicine practitioner because they understand the underlying systems and mechanisms.  If you choose practitioners who advise regular use of chemicals like sweeteners and appetite suppressants to assist you, you’re possibly setting yourself up on a path to yo-yo dieting.  (Get an insight into why here.)  Studies prove that yo-yo dieting irrevocably lowers your metabolic rate and only targetted intervention can raise it again.  Don’t go there in the first place, or stop the cycle now.

Fresh approach to weight loss

Be fair to yourself.  The world wouldn’t be getting fatter if the old recipes worked.  Try a fresh approach.

 

 

Gelatine for more than just joints

Gelatine is a protein derived from collagen that provides structure and strength to joints, skin, muscles and all connective tissue.  It also does a lot more than we realise.  With a bit more knowledge, you can use this humble ingredient to achieve a lot of health benefits – and avoid some serious pitfalls.

 

Let’s start with the benefits

Joints and bones
Joints, bones and connective tissue
Joints, bones and connective tissue

Long-term, regular use of gelatine is associated with less pain in joint-related diseases, including osteoarthritis, which is the age-related wear and tear of joints.  It seems to encourage the development of new cartilage in the joints, which means it naturally reduces pain.  It also provides matrix and structure for bones, tendons, skin and ligaments.

Basically, gelatine is a combination of amino acids that occur in a specific form or pattern.  This particular pattern makes it important in maintaining our structure of bones, joints, muscles and connective tissue. Anyone who puts high demands on their structure should consider regular gelatine use (after understanding the cons below).

Gut health

This is new and interesting.  Gelatine has three important functions in our guts:

  • It actively protects it from damage.  Considering the extremely high incidence of leaky gut in our society, that’s a huge plus.
  • It absorbs water and keeps it in the digestive tract which makes for healthy bowel movements, and is a good tool against both constipation and diarrhoea. After all, constipation is where the stool passes so slowly that all the liquid gets absorbed through the bowel before it can be passed, making passing difficult.  Diarrhoea is the opposite – it passes too quickly and not enough liquid is absorbed from the bowel.
  • It increases gastric acid secretion which most of us are slightly deficient in, particularly as we age. See Are you making your heartburn worse?  to understand the mechanisms.
Blood glucose, appetite and inflammation

Gelatine amino acids (probably mostly the glycine), drive down inflammation and keep blood sugar balanced over the medium to long term.   The blood sugar balancing isn’t such a surprise because we know proteins balance our blood sugar.  Protein is also well-known for encouraging hormones that produce satiety, so it’s also not a big surprise that gelatine has an appetite-curbing function.

What is a surprise is how this particular balance of amino acids drives down inflammation.

Gelatine comes from the parts of the animals that western society doesn’t really eat anymore: the soft cartilage tissue, the bones (e.g. soft fish bones). This might also explain studies finding that red meat consumption drives up inflammation – because we don’t eat the whole animal, so we don’t eat the methionine counter-balancing gelatine.

Skin and hair
Skin and hair quality improves with gelatine

Hair and nails becomes stronger and less brittle.  Hair loss (alopecia) is also minimised with gelatine use.

Skin retains more moisture and collagen structure improves.

We know we need exposure to the sun for Vitamin D, anti-depression and for a more robust microbiome, but we are also told to avoid sun damage and that suntan lotion contains bad chemicals.  Gelatine helps by making us more resilient to sun damage.

Sleep
Sleep tight!

Eating one to two tablespoons of gelatine at night promotes better sleep and helps you fall asleep more easily.  This is probably due to the glycine in the gelatine.

Other benefits

It’s still being tested, but gelatine might help reverse liver damage.  It is also beneficial for brain function in ways we’re only starting to understand.  It acts as a calming neurotransmitter, so it could assist with panic and anxiety, and might be beneficial in conditions like OCD and schizophrenia.

Gelatine isn’t a quick win, but it supports you from the inside out.  EXCEPT (sorry, it’s an imperfect world, there has to be an “except”…)

When gelatine isn’t good for you

If you are prone to calcium oxalate kidney stones, then adding gelatine to your diet could make it worse.

Also, if you are sensitive to oxalates in general, watch for negative effects.  The glyphosate (pesticides) on foods that the animals eat get stored in fat, cartilage etc, so it is also present in gelatine, and it converts to oxalates.

How to eat more gelatine

Nutrients in food are naturally packaged in little bundles of sub-nutrients that belong together.  These are nicely delivered for our biological use in labelled ‘envelopes’ that our chemistry interprets and efficiently delivers to where they belongs.  Its a fascinating, complex system that we don’t understand.  Reducing it to an individual component like just supplementing with glycine rather than gelatine is too simplistic.  Even reducing collagen to gelatine or meat to collagen is reducing the whole and losing the benefits of the packaging.

Labelled for efficient delivery
Labelled for efficient delivery

Given that, the very best place to get your gelatine is by eating cartilage, soft bones and good bone broth (there are lots of recipes on the net, bone broth is popular).

In addition, or if you can’t manage to eat enough in your diet, then you can supplement with gelatine.  I use the sheets because the ones I buy aren’t preserved, but you need about 4 sheets to equal one teaspoon of powder for gelatine content.  It would be even better if you can find organic gelatine because it shouldn’t have glyphosates.

You can make gelatine-moulded salads, or simply add gelatine to your tea or coffee – it’s practically tasteless and you can add it to anything liquid that you eat or drink.

angled and useless
Tangled and useless

Supplementing with only glycine isn’t recommended.  It’s like giving someone who can’t knit wool when they need a jersey.  It has some value, but it’s more likely to trip them up or become a ball of knots than it is to ever become a jersey.

 

No one food is a miracle for everyone, so always be open minded and trust your body’s reaction to foods (and medicines).  There are solid genetic and biomic reasons why you react differently to even your twin sibling, so trust yourself.

Trust your body's reaction
Trust your body’s reaction

 

 

 

Health Tip #1: Sour and bitter

Giphy.com – sour reaction

That moment when your cheeks cramp together so that your jaw aches, your salivary glands spurt in shock, your face scrunches involuntarily and your whole body focusses on the taste in your mouth.

It doesn’t look like it’s good for you, but it is.  Your whole digestive system and it’s complementary functions are being instantaneously kickstarted into action.

We’ve unlearnt the ability to enjoy certain tastes as we have ‘civilised’ our palates.  It’s a loss that our digestive system mourns because it was built for it.

Sour and bitter tastes are digestives.  Think of the practise of drinking a herb liqueur like Jägermeister or Underberg (Magenbitter aka stomach bitters) after a heavy meal to settle your stomach.  It might be a fun social practise, or an excuse to toss another down the hatch, but the principles behind it are solid.

 What are the mechanisms?

How do we work?

Sweet and sour foods stimulate your production of enzymes and bile juices so that you digest your food better. That means you break it down more easily into the correct size particles for your body to be able to deal with.  This allows you to process your food better, so you have less issues with bloating and digestive smells.  It also means you absorb more nutrients from your food.

A recent study adds a new dimension to this.  Adding something sour to your food slows down the transit time, so it has less of a spike effect on your blood glucose levels and insulin response.  That means less energy spikes and falls.  The take-away from that is that we should eat something sour at each meal.

Apple cider vinegar also breaks down in your digestive system in such a way that it alkalises your system.

Think it’s not an option for you because of heartburn?  Think again – have a look at Are you making your heartburn worse?

Quality matters

A large-scale manufactured-vinegar will have some of this effect on your digestion, but a good raw vinegar or a naturally fermented foods add a robustness and probiotic extras that by definition make them better quality.

For the bitter edge, try adding rocket, dandelion leaves, grapefruit and juniper berries to your diet.  For more sour, try rhubarb or citrus… but no sour worms!!!

Sugar vs sour and bitter

Grapefruit

Our taste has adapted from regularly eating bitter and sour foods to preferring sweet and more subtle flavours.  We sprinkle sugar on grapefruit and eat rhubarb cooked with it’s equivalent weight in sugar.  These are habits we have to teach ourselves to change.

How about a little change to start with? Have a salad before each meal with either rocket or dandelion leaves and have a home-made vinaigrette with that made with raw apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice.  That’s an easy tweak.  You can start experimenting with other sour and bitter flavours once you’ve got that settled as a new habit?

Before your taste-buds adjust, take some sour and bitter selfies …

Selfie

 

Aspartame by another name

Aspartame, aminosweet - devil in disguise
Aspartame in disguise is still the devil

A rose by any other name … ?  Aspartame never was a rose, and the smell around it’s use has never been close to as sweet as it’s taste.  It’s an artificial sweetener, there’s nothing real or fresh about it.

Now it’s being marketed under a new brand name.  What does  that mean for you? In a nutshell, you have to be more careful because marketing around sweeteners in general is becoming more refined.

All sweeteners, natural or not, have an echo effect on your body.  In other words, they come back to bite you, so you have to remain informed and vigilant.

 

Sugar as a sweetener

Sugar, and its various derivatives and forms, stimulate your brain’s pleasure centres so they’re as addictive as any drug.  If you try to give it up, you’ll quickly find the truth of that.  It also has a nasty effect on your blood glucose, causing spikes in insulin. Eventually that leads your cells to ignore your insulin messages because they have a glut of glucose in them already and insulin keeps on trying to pack more in.  That condition is called pre-diabetes or insulin resistance. Guess what follows … not a pretty picture.

Diabetes

Fructose

Fructose is only good in whole foods.  Fruit juice and fructose powder (like dextrose) are one of those marketing evils where the food it’s derived from is used to market this refined end-product as something wholesome. Fructose is not the same as fruit!  Some doctors recommending FODMAP diets might even suggest fructose as an alternative.  It’s true, fructose isn’t a FODMAP, but it is bad for your liver.  This includes products like honey and agave.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners and how they bite you

Are they a viable alternative? They don’t raise blood glucose so they won’t stimulate insulin either, right?  The problem is that they actually do raise blood glucose , just not immediately.  It seems we’re more complex than a simple stimulus – response model.  We might not have the chemical glucose signalling the chemical insulin to respond when we use these sweeteners, but our nose has smelt the sweet, our mouth has tasted the sweet, and our body is prepared for the glucose.  When none comes, despite the smell and taste, it stops trusting its own sensors. That means your body does a loop-de-loop on you; it gets a bit messed up.  Be fair, you kind of deserved it for trying to cheat your own protective mechanisms.  Now it doesn’t trust it’s responses when you do eat real sugar either, so your metabolic reactions then are no longer effective.  Boom!  You’re in a negative cycle.  Long term use of sweeteners actually make you gain weight and can cause diabetes!

While the sweeteners are causing this complete jumble of your body’s chemical responses, there are also other things happening to your organs.  When you eat artificial sweeteners, you’re not eating food, but unknown chemicals, so you have to detox them.  That means these sweeteners put your liver and kidneys under added pressure, and can cause kidney damage.  Some also are excitotoxins – like aspartame.  That means they can influence anxiety and cause changes in your brain, potentially even brain damage in some.  Fatal heart conditions and grand mal seizures are also potential side effects.

My family call sweeteners poison sugars and we actively avoid them.  I rather suggest real sugar, and taper that to nothing than recommending artificial sweeteners.  The only sweet thing that is possibly good for you is nature’s candy –  unprocessed fruit.  Fructose in fruit is buffered by the fibre and other phytonutrients in the whole package, which makes it easier on your liver.

Whole fruit ice lollies

Aspartame

So what’s aspartame’s new brand name? Aminosweet.  Sounds innocuous, even healthy, doesn’t it, because we all need amino acids.  But it is an artificial sweetener, and it’s new disguise doesn’t alter its devilish function on your chemistry.  Aspartame is also marketed under the brands Nutrisweet or Equal and will state it has the ingredient phenylalanine.

Artificial Intelligence vs artificial chemicals

Artificial intelligence … and artificial chemicals?

Why is it that we’re so careful of the influence of Artificial Intelligence on our lives and culture-systems (our macrocosm), but we thinking nothing of subsisting more and more on artificial foods, and don’t consider that they could wreak the same potential hazards on our body-systems (our microcosms).  We need to manage and protect both.

 

Food for thought

A thought about food

Here’s a thought.   If you choose a health practitioner, are you going to choose someone who advises you to use artificial ingredients?

I highly advise pre-screening any type of therapist you allow to tamper with your mind or body chemistry.  You should understand their philosophy and it should agree with yours before you enter into a partnership that influences you making critical health adjustments.

My bottom line:  real, whole foods for real, whole health.

 

Marital debate: the purpose of food

A discussion .. debate ... beans ... purpose
Marital debate: checkmate

She saysHer:  The latest is not soaking beans anymore because it compromises the flavour – they don’t taste as good if they’re pre-soaked.

He says   Him:  [groan] Not another pendulum swing.

She saysHer:  But that’s not why we soak beans. We soak them to neutralise some of the phytic acid.  The taste isn’t as important as neutralising the anti-nutrients.

He says   Him:  But that’s the purpose of food – to taste good.

She says Her:  No, the purpose of food is nutritional, to give our bodies what we need to function well.  Tasting good is a bonus.  In fact, if it didn’t taste so good, we’d probably eat less.

He says  Him:   And that’s why I  do the cooking!

27 years of marriage – our way

Doing it their way
Marital bliss

Poo pals: Dealing differently with disastrous digestion

Poo Pals

We’ve learnt a lot about our microbiome, the bacteria that live everywhere, in us and on us.  They do much more for our digestion than we ever guessed.  They digest the fibre we eat and make some of the nutrients that are essential to us.  Little bacterial critters also form the bulk of our poo.  Think logically, it would be a complete waste of food to excrete that much in our faeces, so it makes sense that it is mostly not food that we excrete.

But what happens when things go wrong?  We all have good and bad bacteria, and they keep each other in balance in a healthy system.  If one of the two goes out of balance, the results can be bad.  An out-of-balance digestive biome (set of bacteria) will cause symptoms like gas, cramping, nausea, fever, diarrhea and vomiting.  These symptoms can be severe, even life-threatening.

The trigger for upsetting your microbiome could be something like food poisoning or taking an extended course of antibiotics.  The result is long-term digestive problems that don’t respond well to treatment. Conditions like IBS and SIBO and eventually even autoimmune conditions result from this imbalance.   These are the people who are prepared to look outside the box and maybe even inside the potty for their answers.

First steps to reversing digestive problems

Some bacteria can be eradicated and rebalanced.  Often, eating a healthy diet with enough fibre as food for the bacteria, and eating whole and fermented foods or taking good  probiotics, can rebalance your digestive biome over time.  Obviously that and more common IBS interventions like a FODMAP diet are where you start if your digestive system needs help.

Monster tummy bacteria

But what do you do when nothing works? This is especially likely with bacterial invasions like C. difficile which are notoriously difficult to eradicate and can be life-threatening.  People infected like that, or with severe IBS or Crohn’s Disease are turning to recycling excreted bacteria into their gut to rebalance their microbiota.  In short, they’re using other people’s poo,  so they’re getting faeces from poo pals and inserting those into their own colon. Faecal transplants (FMT) are performed either by getting a doctor to transfer it into their bowel or by doing a DIY transfer.

There are doctors who offer faecal transplants as a treatment option, but it’s new and frankly not well studied, so they are rightly cautious.  In some cases faecal transplants have literally saved lives of people with severe problems.  Other cases have seen a reversal of symptoms and then, after months or even years, the problems have reasserted themselves despite continued faecal transplants.  The behaviour of the microbiome is  not properly understood yet, so we don’t know why these treatment outcomes are different or what  the long term side effects of faecal transplants could be.  Some people are too sick to wait, so they accept the unknown risk versus their immediate pain.

New studies in weight loss suggest that one of the causes of yo-yo dieting is because your microbiome changes as your diet and exercise patterns change, but over time your microbiome reasserts itself, so your weight does as well.  That would also explain why faecal transplants might initially be successful, but then the improvement regresses.

Choosing your donor

Choose your poo donor carefully

If you’re going to do it, partner with a doctor.  If your own doctor doesn’t support FMT, find one who will.  You’ll have to find a donor – a poo pal (I should patent that name).  There are banks in the USA that offer screened faeces, but not in South Africa.

Some say you should choose someone with a healthy lifestyle of your own sex and age as a poo pal.  If I were doing it, I would choose a toddler who’s had minimal exposure to antibiotics or parasites etc.  Either way, before you start popping their poo, it’s really, really important to have it tested for hidden infections.  That’s one of the reasons why you need a doctor.

 

Faecal transplants and your weight

There are currently a lot of studies being conducted about the interaction between the gut microbiome and weight.  They know that there are certain bacteria that, if injected from obese mice into thin mice will cause the thin mice to become obese.  These trials are not complete in humans and not all studies are clear on outcomes.  (The fact that one of them was tampered with by fraudulent scientists and recalled doesn’t help make anything clearer for us either.)  Bottom line is don’t pop someone else’s poo just yet to lose weight, we need to learn more.  The reverse is also true: don’t choose poo from an obese donor.  You don’t want to gain weight on top of your other problems.

That’s not a reason to find an obese donor if you’re struggling to gain weight.  it’s still a very good reason to find a healthy weight donor with healthy lifestyle habits.

 

How does a faecal microbiota transplant (FMT) help?

So your poo pal – either an anonymous donor medically arranged for you, or someone known that you have chosen for a healthy lifestyle, and whose poo your doctor has had screen for unwanted viruses and parasites – has donated their bacteria-rich excrement.  You now need to get that delivered to the right place in your colon so that the diverse bacteria there can take up home in your colon.  As they do so they will battle your overgrown bacteria for space and hopefully come out victorious in a new diversity in your gut.

Diversity is critical for balanced bacteria

Transplant methods

Swallowing a capsule is the least gross of the options, but it MUST be a medically prepared capsule.  Gelatin capsules which are available for home use will dissolve faster; the medically prepared one will only release the bacteria into your large intestine which is where you need it.  Your stomach is supposed to be clear of bacteria.  Releasing faeces into it could start an overgrowth there that could be disastrous for your health.

The other transplant option is doing a rectal transfer.  That involves mixing the faeces with saline and inserting it as high into your colon as you can enema-style.  This is the preferred method for a DIY and many medical transplants. A word of warning though, your gut is extremely thin and easily damaged.  Even having a doctor do this procedure under medical conditions is not without dangers.

A final option is a feeding tube.  It’s the most invasive and it needs to reach the large colon past the stomach and small intestine.

After the transplant

Is there anything you can do to retain a richer, more diverse gut bacteria to avoid swapping poo again?  Definitely.  Exercise shifts the microbiome, so does eating fibre rich whole foods.  Eating live-culture fermented foods adds to the diversity.  These are all changes that have to be maintained in order to maintain the biome shift.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can make a difference.

 

De-mystifying fat

how to choose fats wiselyEveryone’s debating fat with an awful lot of conviction: should it be low carb high fat with lots of animal fat, or high carb low fat with lots of plant fats or …?  You’ve heard it, maybe you’ve even joined the debate?  You know what Noakes says, you know what some dietitians say.  But that’s really irrelevant.  What you do need to know is what will work best for your body, not what’s working well for other people.

Fat digestion, like everything, is individual.  There are general rules of thumb, but we all have our very own genetic pattern, so you have to be open to discovering your own truth.  Understanding the stats and chemistry around fat digestion helps, but you’ll need to do some experimentation and listen to your body to know your truth.  This blog post provides you information so that you can strip away the ideology and work with facts.

What are the good fats?

Eating naturally occurring fats as close to their original state as possible is always the best.  That includes raw nuts, seeds, olives, fatty fish e.g. salmon and trout, and avocados.  Meat and eggs are fat in its natural state, but all the growth hormones and antibiotics fed to the animals are stored in their fat cells, so it’s a good argument for organic eggs, meat or maybe swapping to venison.

Balancing good fats takes some awareness.  We should have equal amounts of Omega 3 and Omega 6 in our diet, but western diets have skewed us to about one Omega 3 for every twenty Omega 6s.  The result is that we’re Omega 6 heavy.  Don’t stress too much about the Omega 6s, you do still need them, but make sure you get lots of Omega 3 sources in your diet, including salmon, trout, sardines, marine algae, walnuts, soaked chia seeds and ground flax seeds.  Don’t get too hyped on rules, just be sure to include liberal amounts of these in your diet.

 

What are bad fats?

These broken-chain fats will eventually damage your health.

Anything that says hydrogenated or trans-fat is very bad.  Anything that doesn’t say extra-virgin is very bad.  That’s because they are broken fats.

Fat free and low fat foods are bad if they normally have fat.  They’ve been messed with chemically and they’ve got other additives.  [Snide aside:  If something is naturally fat free and the marketers still stick a fat free label on it, you should rate their bank account as high as they rate your IQ and give their product a miss.]

Supermarket-shelf mass-produced oils have been heated or chemically treated to extract them, which means their fatty acid bonds have been broken.  They’re damaged.  If they don’t say “extra virgin”, avoid them like the plague.

Any fat that has been messed with chemically is damaged.  De-flavoured coconut oil has been treated with bleach and other chemicals, so it’s broken.

The difficult ones to differentiate are flavoured virgin oils because we don’t know what process was followed in their infusion.  Maybe it’s safest there to infuse your own?  I must admit that I adore Willow Creek’s Persian Lime Flavoured olive oil – it tastes like pudding.

Best practice tips

Any fats exposed to air get damaged by oxygen and light very quickly, so there are some best practice tips to follow to keep fats fresh and undamaged.

  1. Keep nuts and seeds in the freezer until you use them.
  2. Grind seeds or nuts freshly before use rather than buying them ground.
  3. Buy oils in dark bottles that protect them from the light.
  4. Saturated fats are more heat stable, but frying does damage fat bonds.  The higher the heat and the longer the exposure, the more broken the fatty chain bonds will be.
  5. Dairy is pasteurised, which means it’s heated, so all dairy products, including butter, potentially contain some broken fats.  On the other hand butter is relatively heat stable and fares well in anti-inflammatory panels, maybe because of butyrate?

You’ll see more below to explain why, but the very best sources of fats to include in your diet are avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and oily fish.  

 

 

You and your genes

What fats should feed your genes?

The fats that you eat support your body’s chemical processes right down to genetic level.  Give it some thought: what type of fats do you want supporting your genes?

Conversely, your genes also interact with the way you process fats and what fats are better for you, and it is very different from one person to another.  In the longer term, it’s worthwhile getting genetic tests done if you are serious about managing your health.  If you do that, it’s important to understand that our genes are our foundation, but our practices, how we live and what we eat determine what kind of house we build on that foundation.  In other words, our lifestyle choices can have a very big impact on how our genes work. That’s a new, emerging science called epigenetics.

A genetic risk factor for a disease is just that, a risk.  Your lifestyle, stress, nutritional status and other factors all play a critical role in how that risk is realised.  The other side of the coin is that understanding how genes can change individual responses does help you understand how very individual we are.  It also helps you see why any studies that report on how much fat is good or bad for you is going to have a wide spectrum of results, so they’re not useful for you as an individual. Listen to your body and follow its cues – don’t let anyone bias you by telling you what’s healthy besides the obvious. Broken fats can’t be good and avoid them because they will make everyone sick, but the rest is individual.

Diving deeper into genetics

Your choices manage your DNA!

 

APOE genes influence how your fat is packed up and transported around your body.  The size of these transporters affect the types of fats that they best transport – polyunsaturated, monounsaturated or saturated.  All this changes depending on your combination of APOE alleles.

E2 is the rarest form and the best to have because it protects enormously against lifestyle diseases like heart problems, obesity and Alzheimer’s.

  • Disease protective
  • Manages high level fats – up to 50%
  • Good with all types of fats, vegetable and animal

E3 is the most common and more neutral in that it doesn’t seem to affect lifestyle diseases either way.

  • It manages moderate fat – up to 30%
  • Dietary emphasis best on a mostly pesce-vegetarian diet, but is flexible

E4 is the problematic allele for lifestyle diseases

  • Raises risk of lifestyle diseases
  • Manages lower fat – 15 to 20%
  • Dietary emphasis is best on a pesce-vegetarian diet, with lower high-carbohydrate foods and avoidance of alcohol

 

Best Diet from a genetic perspective?

Looking at fats from a genetic perspective, given current knowledge (and it is being constantly refined because nutri-genomics is a relatively new science), it seems the best general diet to follow could be a Mediterranean style diet, with lots of fish and veg, but possibly lighter on the intense carbohydrates like rice. I would start testing fat percentages at between 20 or 30% of your macronutrient intake.   Great sources of fats to include for all alleles are avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and oily fish.

Signs to look out for as you test your body’s response to fats
  • clarity of thinking and brain energy vs brain fog;
  • general everyday energy vs feeling sluggish, moist vs dry skin.

If you can’t work out how much fat best suits you, then fat as 20% of your diet seems to be safe for all.  It’s the upper limit of what works for the more the risk genotype E4, and the lowest for the protected alleles E2.  It’s close to the middle of E3 which is the most common.

The best protection you can have against damage from fats, especially if you are E4/E4, is to avoid broken fats and make choices that help you avoid hypertension and diabetes.  That means that an overall moderate lifestyle based on real foods, around 8 hours of sleep and good exercise is still the golden rule.

 

Your digestion of fats

Your genes are the blueprint for what fats work better for you, but life also happens.  We get older and produce less enzymes or we lose our gall bladder.  What should you do when you struggle to digest fats?  You need them for so many chemical processes in your body and your brain, so you can’t stop eating them.

If you can use apple cider vinegar, then have a tablespoon in half a glass of water thirty minutes before you eat.  The apple cider vinegar will stimulate your body to produce more enzymes.

You can also take enzyme supplements with a meal that is heavy in fat.  It must have lipase in to help digest fats.  Have a look at this Heartburn blog post because it has more information about digesting proteins and using enzymes.

Coconut oil passes through a different metabolic process to other oils which bypasses your gall bladder, so use more coconut oil if you can easily tolerate more saturated fats.

Stable when heated
Coconut oil – saturated fat; stable when heated

Is this the final answer?

No! It’s a guide, it’s a starting place.  There are also other things that influence our fat metabolism, like our physical structure, our microbiome and other genes, so there will still be an interplay between these.  What this is, is an empirical point of departure where you can start to understand what the influencers are and accept your individuality.

 

 

 

 

 

Are you making your heartburn worse?

Heartburn: fix the root cause
Heart attach or heartburn?

Heartburn is humbling.  Bad heartburn is even crippling: it feels like a heart attack in process.  Living with that day after day is not a good recipe for quality of life.  It would be awful to be making it worse because you think you’re doing the right things.

Managing the causes of heartburn is often counter-intuitive.  That’s why you manage the symptoms, because that seems intuitively right until you understand the process.  That also why the heartburn doesn’t go away and you have to keep on managing the symptoms, because the cause is still there, messing with you.

 

Follow the logic – why do you have heartburn?

If you have a physical problem like a hernia or a collapsed valve, your treatment will have to be more ‘mechanical’, but that is only true for a small percentage of people.  In most cases heartburn can be resolved back to your chemistry: enzymes or allergens. Because correct enzyme management seems counter-intuitive, keep some logical facts in mind so that you understand why the answer to normal heartburn is not popping antacids.  You need to take a step back to what happens in your body before the burning feeling.

Heartburn feels like you’re dealing with excessive acidity, but actually what you’re probably dealing with is lower acidity.  As you age, the enzymes that form your stomach acid decrease, so your stomach acid decreases.  That’s bad because you need that acidity to digest and, by extension, absorb your food.

# Logic check 1

Logically, our stomach acid is unlikely to increase because our enzymes decrease as we age.  If it does increase, it is probably because we are eating something we don’t tolerate which causes the acidic reaction.  First step then is to determine whether the cause of your pain is your stomach acid levels, or, by exclusion, something you are eating.

# Logic check 2

The next question you’ll be asking is why does it burn if I have too little acid?  The answer is in your digestive process.  When we chew our food, the starch starts breaking down in our mouth – only the starch.  Starch continues to digest until it reaches the higher acidity in our stomach, then those enzymes are neutralised.  The more acidic enzymes now start breaking down the protein molecules.  There is a signalling process between stomach acid and your lower oesophageal valve which is where you feel the burn.  As soon as there is enough acid in your stomach to digest your food, it sends a signal to the lower oesophageal valve to close.  Not enough acid, and that valve doesn’t close.  The open valve allows food mixed with extremely acidic hydrochloric acid to escape back up into it your oesophagus and burn it. It is not built to cope with acidity, and long term acid exposure could cause serious health problems.

Stomach acid test

Not sure you have low stomach acid?  Try one or both of these tests.

Bicarbonate of soda test

Drink a ¼ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda first thing in the morning for 4 days.  Then time yourself until you burp.  If you burp within three minutes, then your acidity seems to be good.  Burping within five minutes means your acidity could tend towards the low side.  Continue for the next 3 days to ensure there aren’t fluctuations.  If you’re good for the four days, then your stomach acid seems fine, and you’ll need to investigate dietary related causes for your heartburn as your next step.  Excessive burping in the beginning might mean higher stomach acid.

Betaine HCl (Betaine Hydrochloride) test

Buy Betaine HCl with pepsin in it.  Have a meal of only meat, and take a Betaine HCl pill in the middle of your meal.  Keep a note of your symptoms for the next hour or so after your meal.  If you feel normal, you probably needed the Betaine HCl to digest the protein in your food.  If you feel discomfort, like burning heaviness or a flush, then you might not need it as your acidity level is adequate.  Either way, repeat the test once or twice to be sure.  If you do feel bad after the Betaine HCl, you can neutralise the feeling by drinking the bicarbonate of soda mix recipe from the Bicarbonate of Soda  acid test above.

Choosing your next step

If your stomach acid is low or borderline according to these home tests, you have 3 options:

  1. Decide to confirm your test(s) and ask your doctor to test your stomach acid pH;
  2. Accept you’re probably low in stomach acid and make the tweaks to your lifestyle to see if they work;
  3. Ignore it all, but know that you are only addressing the symptoms of your heartburn. Your absorption of nutrients will be doubly compromised, first by potentially lower stomach acid and secondly by the inhibitory effect of the antacids on nutrient absorption.

Simple steps to improving your stomach acid levels

  1. Take good quality enzymes daily.  It should contain Betaine HCl and, if you aren’t vegetarian, Ox Bile.  (The one Solgar Digestive Enzyme has both, but check the label.)  Build up slowly, or you could easily have a reaction.  Start with a quarter to a third of a tablet before meals and build up to the full recommended dose.  If you still have some heartburn, you can even take it a little higher.  If you do have a reaction like a flush, then lower your dose down to where your body is comfortable.  Your body has to learn how to deal with adequate enzymes again.  The idea is to taper your antacids as you build healthier stomach acid levels, not to leave them cold turkey at the beginning.  There are contraindications for taking Betaine HCl, so it’s best to work with a good therapist or coach when doing this.
  2. Apple Cider Vinegar is also a good tool to use to stimulate your own production of enzymes. You can use it with the Digestive Enzyme supplement for maximum effect.  Have anything from a teaspoon to a tablespoon in a quarter glass of water half an hour before you eat.  Try to find raw apple cider vinegar because then it has a probiotic benefit as well.  Again, build up slowly and read your body’s reactions.  If you get a flush or a burn, take it down a little and build up gradually.
  3. Avoid drinking water or cold drinks with meals – they will further dilute your stomach acid, and you can’t afford that.
  4. You will achieve success faster if you can manage your heartburn with some apple cider vinegar in water rather than with an antacid.

You can perform your Bicarbonate of Soda or Betaine HCl home test for low stomach acid every few weeks to check that you are still improving and to guide you in adjusting your dosage.

Contra-indications for taking Betaine HCl supplements
  1. Betaine HCl is highly corrosive.  Use it with respectful caution. A good therapist with an in-depth understanding of nutritional and enzyme therapy guiding you is always better;
  2. Certain medications contra-indicate HCl, so check really carefully both online and with your prescribing doctor;
  3. Betaine HCl digests proteins, so if you are having a vegetarian meal or one with very little protein, reduce your amount dramatically.
  4. Too much Betaine HCl is worse than too little – proceed with caution.
Caution with Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)

When not to take apple cider vinegar?

If you have a known histamine problem, then moderate your use of ACV.  It could increase your symptoms as it is a fermented product.

If you have a perfectionist, overachiever type personality with a touch of OCD, watch for signs that apple cider might not be a good tool for you.  This personality type often has an underlying DNA level chemistry called under-methylation, and the acetyl-CoA in apple cider vinegar competes with your methyl compounds at DNA level, meaning you could become even less methylated.  This is supported by this study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21359531

Taking ACV if you are under-methylated might influence your mood, response to seasonal allergies or other OCD or addiction type symptoms you might experience. For anyone else, apple cider vinegar is likely to relieve other pains like joint pains as well as digestive discomfort.

Taking good health choices a step further

If things are going your way, eating a healthy diet and supporting your enzymes as above might be all you need to resolve your stomach acid problem.  You might naturally start producing enzymes adequately on your own again.

If not, you should consider taking another step in supporting your health and chemistry.  Taking pills for digestion, even enzymes, means you still have a path to go to discover the real cause of your lack of enzymes.  There you need a practitioner guide.  Each enzyme has a production process.  It needs certain chemicals to be readily available for it to build itself, and it follows a certain build process.  If you are missing nutrients in your food, or if you have a production pathway that’s blocked, you’re not going to be able to produce those enzymes as effectively as you need to.  This is moving to a more complex nutritional level, but it’s still one that can be addressed and resolved with some refined bio-detection work.