HEALTHY HOLIDAY GIFT CHOCOLATES: 3 EASY INGREDIENTS

I’m squeezing in one more blog article before the holiday season, in case you are like me, and love to give food as HOLIDAY GIFTS. Chocolate is always a holiday favourite, and it’s possible for it to be healthy too! So here is a recipe that is easy to make, that you can package up to give away, or that you can finish off a special meal with. You can feel great about gifting this healthy version!

 I tucked freeze dried strawberries or pineapple into a few of these chocolates! Candied ginger is also a nice treat to find inside.

I tucked freeze dried strawberries or pineapple into a few of these chocolates! Candied ginger is also a nice treat to find inside.

This recipe uses 3 ingredients: raw cacao paste, raw cocoa butter, and yacon syrup. Cacao paste is the least processed form of the cocoa bean next to the bean itself (which you can purchase as whole beans or cacao nibs). It is rich in magnesium, potassium, iron and other minerals, and is a good source of polyphenols, which have antioxidant activity (1). Cocoa butter is the fat extracted from the cocoa bean. Yacon syrup is made from yacon root, which is a root vegetable grown in South America. The syrup’s sweetness is derived from fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which is a prebiotic that feeds beneficial bacteria in the gut. We can’t digest these carbohydrates, so they stay in our gut and are used by our bacteria instead. Since we can’t digest FOS, there are no sugars that enter the blood stream, making this a possible option for people with diabetes (2). FOS would not be suitable for someone with IBS or SIBO as it can aggravate symptoms in individuals with these conditions. Caution should be used for anyone with digestive symptoms such as bloating, cramping or abdominal pain. I’m including a variation for those who don’t tolerate FOS.

REASONS TO GIFT CHOCOLATE

If the taste of chocolate isn’t enough to tempt you, there are also numerous health benefits that can result from consuming chocolate, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, support for the immune system, cancer protection, and as already mentioned, there are antioxidant benefits (3).

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RECIPE

140g raw cacao paste
140g raw cocoa butter
1/2-2/3 cup yacon syrup (depending on how sweet you like it)

DIRECTIONS

Place cacao paste and cocoa butter over a double boiler, and melt.  Once melted, remove the top section and mix in the syrup.  Spoon the liquid mixture into candy molds, and place into the refrigerator or freezer until hard.  It only takes about 10 minutes in the freezer.  Once it has solidified, remove pieces from the molds, and put them into a container, or gift bag.

Candy molds can be found at Amazon or various stores such as Michael’s. The variety of shapes you can find is amazing! You can customize your chocolate shapes to fit the person you are gifting to. This recipe should fill 4 trays.

VARIATION

You can replace the syrup with honey. This version is just as tasty, but the honey doesn’t emulsify into the mixture as well as yacon syrup, so you’ll need to keep stirring the mixture as it goes into the molds, and the chocolates need to be kept refrigerated. I make this a lot, and love it, but for gift giving it’s nice not to have to refrigerate the chocolates.

Add the 3 ingredients to your shopping list, and put “chocolate making” on your list of things to do! If you don’t have candy molds, the easiest thing to do is order them online, or make a chocolate bark instead by adding your favourite nuts, seeds or dried fruit, and pouring the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with a silicon mat.

What’s your favourite way to use chocolate?

Happy, Healthy Eating and Gifting!
Best Wishes for the Holidays!
Tracey

THE MICROBIOME BREAKTHROUGH: Harness the Power of Your Gut Bacteria to Boost Your Mood and Heal Your Body

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Raphael Kellman, MD, is the founder of the Kellman Center for Functional and Integrative Medicine in New York City.  He is the author of Matrix Healing, Gut Reactions and The Microbiome Diet, and is considered to be a pioneer in the field of “Microbiome Medicine”.  So you can imagine just how excited I was when the publishers contacted me to ask if I would review his latest book entitled The Microbiome Breakthrough: Harness the Power of Your Gut Bacteria to Boost Your Mood and Heal Your Body.

In this book, Dr Kellman offers an approach that is backed by research to heal depression, anxiety, memory loss and brain disorders.  He does this by focusing on the “whole brain” – the gut, the microbiome, the thyroid and of course the brain.

He lays out a simple 4-week, 4-Step Program to help you gain back your health that includes meal plans and recipes.  He also guides you through working with your doctor, so you know what tests you should be asking your doctor for, to help you identify underlying factors that may have been overlooked in the past.

Anyone who knows me knows how excited I get when I start talking about the microbiome and gut health. The more excited I am, the faster I start talking, until I’m stumbling over my words, and no one can really catch what I’m saying.  So here are some of the ideas Dr Kellman discusses that really excited me (and have the potential to make me stumble over my words):

  • How to support your brain by viewing your body as an ecology where every aspect and system of your body affects the others and is interconnected

  • How you can change the way your genes affect you

  • The importance of your microbial genes

  • How your brain, gut and microbiome should be considered one system

  • Bacterial intelligence

  • How the microbiome talks to the brain

  • The vicious cycle between stress and the microbiome

These are some of my favorite topics!!!  It’s great to see that someone is putting them into a book in a way that is easy for everyone to understand.  One of the things I liked the best about this book was that Dr Kellman includes a section on specific strains of probiotics for specific symptoms, including gut symptoms, depression and anxiety, brain fog and cognitive decline.  Doing so allows you to take a very targeted approach in your probiotic supplementation.

I do have a couple of points of concern with this book.  Dr Kellman keeps gluten-free grains, and legumes in his protocol.  When the microbiome is imbalanced, keeping these in the diet may not be enough to shift microbial health for some individuals. Dr Kellman also discusses SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).  He outlines a dietary approach, but neglects support for the migrating motor complex, which is an important step in dealing with SIBO.

Who Should Buy This Book

Anyone suffering from a mood disorder

Anyone who wants a better understanding of their own mental health

Anyone who wants to learn some really cool information about the microbiome

With Christmas right around the corner, this is the perfect gift for someone who is suffering from a mood disorder, anyone working in the field of wellness, or people like me who just like to geek out about the gut.

Where to Get the Book

Amazon
Indigo

 Happy, Healthy Reading!
Tracey


 

 

THE GUT WELLNESS GUIDE The Power of Breath, Touch and Awareness to Reduce Stress, Aid Digestion, and Reclaim Whole-Body Health

Do you love reading a good book on gut-health?  Already bored?  Don’t be! I read a lot about gut-health, and quite frankly I was getting bored until I read The Gut Wellness Guide.  The Gut Wellness Guide offers a fresh perspective on pain, gas, bloating, and other digestive symptoms, but it is also much more than that.  Allison Post and Stephen Cavaliere recognize the importance of your stress response to gut health, and utilize incredibly simple techniques that include breathing and touch to help you connect to the nervous system in your gut (your second brain).  The title suggests a gut focus, but the contents take you well beyond your gut to help you understand your whole body.   This book is a whole-body wellness guide.

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The Gut Wellness Guide takes you step-by-step through simple techniques that anyone can do.  There is a freedom to these techniques that goes beyond practices such as yoga, or massage.  You learn to use your own intuition and awareness to help you calm and soothe your nervous system’s stress response. In short, you learn how to break the gut-stress cycle that is part of so many chronic health problems.  The most amazing aspect of these techniques is how uncomplicated they are.  

One of the things I love most about this book is how it ties together many aspects of wellness in a way that is understandable and personal.  It helps tie together gut and microbial health to a wide variety of health problems.  The techniques it teaches bring together visceral manipulation, breathing, and a mindfulness of your own body that you can only gain through self-exploration. I’ve been using these techniques for a couple of weeks, and thoroughly enjoy how simple and soothing they are. I know stress is currently having a huge impact on my health, so am thankful to have something this simple that I can easily build into my day.

This book as an absolute must if you are already using diet and supplements to repair your gut health.  It is also a must if you want to gain more insight into your own body and manage stress. Maybe stress management is the missing piece to your recovery! Allison Post and Stephen Cavaliere have accomplished much with this book.  There is something to learn for everyone from gut-health novice to experienced practitioner, and they have managed to do this in an easy, enjoyable read.

Where to Get the Book

Amazon.ca has Kindle and paperback versions.

Indigo has paperback and Kobo e-read versions.

Happy, Healthy Reading!
Tracey

BECAUSE AN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DIET JUST ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH

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There is a lot written about anti-inflammatory diets, and there is a ton of research looking at the anti-inflammatory effects of foods and supplements.  Fish oil and tumeric are examples of supplements that have been extensively researched.  Take a minute and google 'anti-inflammatory diet', or 'top anti-inflammatory foods', and you'll see just how much information is out there.  Dietary approaches that are anti-inflammatory emphasize vegetables, fruit, healthy fats such as olive oil and the omega-3 oils found in fish, and nuts and seeds.  At the same time they eliminate foods that contribute to inflammation such as refined grains, sugars, and deep-fried foods.  The Mediterranean Diet is a good example of a well researched anti-inflammatory diet.

People can experience some great benefits when they make changes to their existing food choices that include more anti-inflammatory foods.  There is a dilemma with this approach though.  The problem is that an anti-inflammatory diet just manages inflammation.  It does not address why there is inflammation in the first place.  It can be a bit like trying to put out a fire that is still being fed fuel at the same time.  Imagine a fire that is being sprayed with water, while at the same time gasoline is also being continually added.  A similar thing can happen in your body.  You can be feeding it anti-inflammatory foods, but if the inflammation is still being fuelled, then the inflammation might diminish, but will never go away.  If you have an ongoing health condition, then this is likely the case.

WHAT IS FUELLING MY INFLAMMATION?

All chronic health conditions have an inflammatory component.  Whether you have a skin condition, a brain condition, an autoimmune condition, heart disease, digestive struggles or any other ongoing health issues, inflammation will be part of that condition.  Inflammation is a normal part of your body's healing cascade.  It is a part of your immune system's response to fix whatever is wrong in your body.  When a health problem becomes chronic, you need to ask yourself "what's fuelling my inflammation?"

HOW DO I FIGURE OUT WHERE MY INFLAMMATION IS COMING FROM?

To understand what is fuelling your fire, it is important to start digging into possible contributing factors.  Here are some steps you can take to help determine where your inflammation is starting.

1.  Visit your family doctor and request some blood work.  Good markers of inflammation include:
- CRP (C-reactive protein) - this test is a good indicator of overall inflammation
- Fasting insulin and Hemoglobin A1C - these tests will provide a good picture of blood sugar imbalances, which can help you determine if this imbalance is fuelling your fire

2.  Visit a naturopathic or functional doctor.  There are some private lab tests that will help you figure out where your inflammation is stemming from.
- Urine Element Analysis - this test identifies heavy metal toxicity.  Heavy metals can include mercury, aluminum, cadmium, arsenic, lead, and thallium.  If you have worked with any of these substances in your job, if you wear lipstick (many contain lead), if you eat a lot of predatory fish such as tuna, shark or swordfish or if you have received vaccinations, then you may have accumulated some of these metals in your body.  These can be inflammatory, and your doctor can help support safe removal of these from your body.
- Environmental Toxicity - in addition to heavy metals, we are constantly being exposed to other toxins through the air we breathe, the body care products we use, the cleaning products we use, the pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on our food etc.  As with heavy metals, these can accumulate in some individuals and contribute to inflammation.
- Food sensitivity testing (IgG and IgA) - these tests measure whether or not certain foods are causing an immune reaction.  Any immune reaction involves inflammation.  If you are reacting to foods, then there is something deeper going on, so you'll still need to go one step further to figure out the origins of your inflammation, such as testing for leaky gut.
- Leaky gut - there are a variety of tests available to test if your intestines are permeable.  Intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) allows a variety of molecules (including food molecules that trigger an IgG response) to leak through the intestinal barrier into your body.  When this happens your immune system reacts, resulting in inflammation.
- Comprehensive Stool Analysis - this test gives you a general picture of what is going on with your gut microbiome.  Your microbiome plays a large role in modulating and regulating your immune system, so if something shows up with this test (an overgrowth or an insufficiency) it can directly or indirectly impact inflammation.  Food sensitivities can result when your microbiome is imbalanced.  This test can also help determine if you have a parasitic infection.
- Organic Acids Test (OATS) - sometimes metabolic products resulting from your body's own processes, or those produced by your gut microbiome can contribute to inflammation.  This test will show you if some of your metabolites are outside of the normal range.  I find this test useful when you have had some of the other tests done, and have addressed those aspects of your inflammation, but are still struggling with ongoing inflammation.
- Infections - infections can be bacterial, fungal, parasitic or viral.  Acute infections are easy to identify, but low-grade chronic infections can be harder to figure out, and might be fuelling your inflammation.  The kind of testing you do will be based on a doctor's evaluation, but might include the amount and type of antibodies found in your blood, white blood cell counts, or testing for something specific like H. pylori.  It's important to work with your doctor to figure out if any type of infection is present.

A DIET THAT ADDRESSES INFLAMMATION

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There are dietary approaches that address the root causes of your inflammation.  A Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet, and Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) are all designed to address leaky gut, and feed your microbiome in a way that supports beneficial species and starves out pathogenic ones.  An AIP diet also addresses many of the most common food sensitivities, but SCD and GAPS can also be customized to address these. All three of these protocols can be considered Paleo or ancestral types of diets that are gut-healthy.

Once you have explored possible sources of toxicity or low-grade infection, then the option exists to pursue various treatment options through your naturopathic or functional doctor, and you can support those treatments with dietary recommendations specific to your area of concern.

If you are eating a lot of anti-inflammatory foods, then keep up the good work!  You are already  well on your way!  

 If you are still struggling with your symptoms, then maybe its time to start digging a bit deeper, and ask yourself where your inflammation is coming from.  Start by scheduling an appointment with your family doctor.

What is fuelling your fire?

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey
PS - I'll be taking a break for the summer, so you won't see a blog article until the fall.

 

 

BEER FOR YOUR GUT AND BRAIN???

Is beer your perfect drink?  Ever wondered if it could be part of a gut-healthy lifestyle?  Or what about for your brain health?  The effects of alcohol on the microbiome and the brain are well recognized to be detrimental, but here are some reasons to drink beer to support them both.    

BRAINY REASONS TO DRINK BEER

Beer is made from barley, hops, water and yeast.  The hops used to make beer contain a protective polyphenol called xanthohumol, which has been shown to be neuroprotective (Source). 

Beer is rich in B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folate, B6 and B12.  B vitamins are important to brain health in several ways.  Deficiencies in B vitamins can lead to high homocysteine levels, which are associated with cognitive decline, so ensuring adequate intake is important to maintain a healthy brain.  Additionally, B vitamins are involved in brain function, and in the development of the brain, nerves, and myelin sheath (the protective sheath on nerves).

 HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY

HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY

GUTSY REASONS TO DRINK BEER

Beer is a fermented beverage, which typically means it has probiotics.  The problem with commercial beers is that they have been pasteurized, which destroys any living probiotics.  Probiotics need to be living for us to confer their health benefits.  If you make your own beer, or have access to craft beer, then the luck of St. Patty is with you, and you’ll be getting those beneficial organisms.  These beers are sometimes referred to as “bottle-conditioned” or “non pasteurized”.  Probiotic organisms interact with the brain through the microbiota-gut-brain axis, so eating foods rich in probiotics can have a beneficial impact not just on your gut, but on your brain health too.

Some of Calgary’s unpasteurized, live beers include The Dandy Brewing Company, Big Rock,  and High Line Brewing.

Last year a research team at the National University of Singapore, created a probiotic beer using a strain of probiotic that regulates the human immune system, so keep your eyes open for it to appear on the consumer market.  

Another good option is a gluten-free beer.  Gluten-free beers can include rice, millet, or buckwheat instead of barley and wheat. Gluten causes the protein zonulin to be produced in the intestine, which directly causes leaky gut.  Once the intestines become leaky, then a cascade of events happens that have an effect on the blood-brain barrier and neurological health.  In the same way that consuming probiotics can help the brain, gluten can have a negative impact through the same gut-brain axis.

The number of gluten-free beers is growing as more and more people recognize that gluten is a problem for them, whether it’s celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

So, if you know you'll be indulging in beer this St. Patrick's Day, then enjoy an unpasteurized or gluten-free beer!  And remember to drink responsibly. Regular beer consumption remains questionable for gut and brain health, but we all need to indulge in things we enjoy sometimes, so hopefully this article will help you make better gut and brain beer choices.

Do you have a favourite unpasteurized or gluten-free beer?  If you find a beer that is both, let me know.  If beer isn't your thing, then toast St. Patty's with a glass of kombucha instead!  It can be a great beer replacement.

Happy, Healthy Drinking!
Tracey

Further Reading:  to find out more about gluten and conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s read Is Gluten Killing Your Brain 

 

 

 

 

BECAUSE YOUR BRAIN MATTERS: THE 9 POINT BRAIN PLASTICITY CHECKLIST

You know your brain is important, but do you know how to take care of it?

There are some simple steps you can take to ensure your brain stays healthy and to make sure your brain plasticity isn’t compromised.

WHAT IS BRAIN PLASTICITY?

Plasticity is defined as changes in neural (brain) pathways and synapses due to changes in the environment, which allows for changes in mental and motor function to occur.  A simple definition of plasticity is that it is the brain's ability to change itself.  Whether you know it or not, you want good plasticity, and there is a lot you can do to support it.

WHY YOUR BRAIN MATTERS?

If you want to develop a new skill, prevent mental decline as you age, or keep learning throughout your life, then you want a plastic brain.  Learning requires brain plasticity.

Brain plasticity has far reaching implications.  There are a growing number of fascinating therapies that utilize brain plasticity.  These therapies challenge the brain in areas where there are weaknesses, such as with learning disorders, or developmental delays.  There are therapies to help stroke victims regain the function lost in the damaged area of the brain such as movement, vision or speech.  People with Alzheimer’s can gain lost cognitive function using specialized computer games.  Plasticity is being utilized increasingly in neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis where movement may be compromised, and there are even applications for regaining movement after a spinal cord injury. 

If you want to find out more about some of the therapies that can help your brain regain lost or missing skills, then I would highly recommend Norman Doidge’s books The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing.

WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW!

Here’s a 9 point checklist you can use to make sure your brain has everything it needs to be primed for learning or to get the most out of rehab therapies.

1.  Vitamin D:  Make sure your vitamin D levels are good.  Ask your doctor to do a blood test to check your levels.  Supplement if your levels are low.  Get plenty of sunshine too – when the sunshine hits your skin, your body makes vitamin D.

2.  Omega 3:  Like vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids are an important nutrient for brain plasticity.  Eat wild, cold-water fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines regularly, or supplement with a fish oil.  My favorite is cod liver oil, because it contains vitamin D as well.

3.  Biomarkers:  Go to your doctor and request blood tests for homocysteine, fasting insulin and CRP (c-reactive protein).  If these aren’t in the normal range it could be affecting your brain.  Diet, exercise and supplementation can help improve these biomarkers.

4.  Hormones:  Hormonal balance is important to brain health, so while you are getting other biomarkers tested, you might as well ask your doc for a full hormone panel that includes estradiol and testosterone. There are different ways to bring your hormones back into balance.  If you have eliminated toxins, are eating organic food, managing your stress and exercising (see below) and your hormones are still out of balance you can talk to your doctor or naturopathic doctor about options.

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5.  Exercise:  Do whatever you enjoy to get yourself moving.  Exercise promotes BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which is a necessary protein in the body that stimulates brain growth, and is necessary to support plasticity.

6.  Sleep: Most people don’t get adequate sleep. If you don’t wake up feeling refreshed then it could be a sign that you are getting too little sleep or your sleep is interrupted.  Your brain takes a “bath” when you are asleep to clear out metabolic debris and detox itself.

7.  Stress:  Finding ways to reduce or manage stress can be challenging for many people, but it is extremely important.  Ask yourself if you have enough time to do the things you love, spend time with the people who make you happy or to just be lazy.  If not, then it’s time to simplify life or start implementing some strategies to manage stress such as restorative exercise such as yoga, deep breathing or whatever works to calm you.  Sometimes counseling or additional support may be needed.

8.  Toxins:  Your brain is very susceptible to toxins, so take a look at some of the toxins you expose yourself to daily and try to reduce them.  Start with your body care products (shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant etc) and look for a natural ingredient list free of chemicals.  Do the same thing for your household cleaners and laundry products.  Health food stores are great places to find natural body care and cleaning products.  Is the air you are breathing clean?  If not get an air filter.  Is the food you eat clean or is it sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides?  Start eating more organically grown foods.

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9.  Good nutrition:  Eating to support your brain goes a little deeper than just healthy eating.  If your biomarkers showed problems with homocysteine, blood sugar levels or inflammation, then diet can be customized to help bring test results back into a healthy range.  Eating to support plasticity also involves getting the nutrients the brain needs, as well as providing the building blocks for nerves and neurotransmitter production.  Eating to feed your gut microbiome is also important.  The organisms that live in your gut communicate a lot of information to your brain via the microbiota-gut-brain axis.

Wondering how your brain is doing?  Visit  Food For the Brain  and do their Cognitive Function Test.  Whether your score isn't as high as you'd like, or you just want to do everything you can to keep your brain at its best, then follow these 9 points.
Start by scheduling a doctor's appointment to get biomarkers tested, including vitamin D and hormones.  Then decide what your next step will be.

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

 

I HAVE THE GENETIC MARKER FOR ALZHEIMER'S! HERE'S WHY I'M NOT WORRIED.

Ever wonder if you are going to get a dreaded disease that you have a family history of?  That was the case for me with Parkinson's disease.  My grandfather had Parkinson's, and sometimes I wondered if I had the same genetic markers that predisposed my grandpa to getting the disease. About a month ago I got an email from 23andme letting me know that they were going to be changing their website, and that if I wanted access to locked genetic information, I would have to access it before those changes came.  The locked information included genetic markers for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and breast cancer.  I had previously decided to keep that information locked, because I know that diet, exercise and stress management are key factors involved in gene expression.  As a nutritional consultant I'm pretty confident that my diet is good, I exercise regularly, and while my life can be pretty stressful, I do have regular practices that I use to manage it.  

I changed my mind though when I realized I would lose access to that information.  I gave a huge sigh of relief when I found out that I don't have any of the known Parkinson's markers, but was surprised to find that I have the APOE 4 gene.  APOE 4 carriers are prone to high LDL cholesterol and Alzheimer's.  The reason the E4 variation is associated with higher risk for high LDL is because the Apolipoprotein E (the protein produced by the gene) binds with VLDL, which reduces the clearance of LDL from the blood, resulting in higher blood levels of LDL.  Ideally you want low LDL, so having a genetic variation that predisposes you to higher LDL increases your risk for certain diseases, such as cardiovascular disease.  The connection between APOE 4 and Alzheimer's is not well understood at this time.

WHY I'M NOT WORRIED

1. Known risk factors:
There are many known risk factors for Alzheimer's including family history, having the APOE 4 gene, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, stroke, depression, smoking and traumatic brain injury (Source).  
Besides the genetic marker, I have no other risk factors for Alzheimer's.  A good reason not to worry.

2.  A healthy gut microbiome:
Research into the area of the microbiota-gut-brain axis has exploded in recent years, and includes the effects of the microbiome on Alzheimer's (Source).  Since my area of specialization as a nutritional consultant is teaching people how to eat to support a healthy microbiome, I feel pretty confident that I'm addressing my microbiome.  I eat a Paleo, gut-healthy diet that includes animal proteins, lots of vegetables, some fruit, healthy fats like fats from grass-fed animals, coconut oil and olive oil, as well as some nuts and seeds, and fermented foods.  

3.  Occasional ketosis as prevention:
A 2008 study showed that glucose transport across the blood brain barrier is impaired in an Alzheimer's brain (Source).  When brain cells are deprived of glucose they need another fuel source, which can be obtained from ketone bodies.  There are different ways for the brain to get ketones.  One is to eat a very low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat diet (also known as a ketogenic diet), which will cause your body to shift from glucose metabolism to fat metabolism.  When you metabolize fat, you start producing ketones, which are a great fuel for brain cells.  The other way is to supplement with medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which rapidly get metabolized into ketones. A double blind, placebo controlled study has shown that MCT supplementation improves memory in Alzheimer's patients (Source).  It's important to note that no dietary changes were made in the study, but that the changes happened with supplementation alone.

A ketogenic diet that is high in saturated fat could be problematic for someone like me who has the APOE 4 gene variation.  I never recommend a diet low in fats, but at the same time I don't necessarily want to eat a high fat diet if I can't metabolize fats well. I decided on a modified ketogenic diet with MCT supplementation.  Right now I'm eating a very low-carbohydrate diet, moderate protein, moderate fat with the addition of MCT oil supplementation daily.

My long-term plan is to go back to a Paleo, gut-healthy diet, with occasional periods of ketosis.  Some of those periods might look like the one I'm in right now that uses a modified ketogenic diet, but some of those periods might be a 3-4 day fast, which also induces ketosis.

Have you considered a preventative approach to your brain health?  Have you reversed symptoms of a neurological condition using diet?  What has worked for you? Or what hasn't?

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey


 

4 REASONS TO GARDEN YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE THOUGHT OF

Every year I plant a small vegetable garden, as well as fill several large planter pots with herbs.  We have a small backyard, so it's not much of a vegetable garden in terms of size, but each family member's favourite vegetable gets planted, a variety of leafy greens go in, and then there is a bit of space for experimentation.  This year's experiment is peppers.  Last year's was cauliflower, and they were so big and beautiful that I'm planting them again.

 Last year I had several beautiful, enormous heads of cauliflower in my small garden.

Last year I had several beautiful, enormous heads of cauliflower in my small garden.

There are so many benefits to growing your own food, with organic and fresh picked being at the top.  Nothing rivals the taste of a sun-warmed tomato fresh from the vine, or pulling a carrot straight out of the soil and biting into its crispy flesh.  But there are other important reasons to consider gardening.

1.  ADDING TO YOUR GUT MICROBIOME
When you pull that carrot straight from your garden and give it a quick wash, some of the soil microbes are still on that carrot.  Adding soil-based organisms to your gut increases the microbial diversity of your own gut microbiome, and greater diversity is associated with greater health.  Each plant has its own microbiome, but when vegetables get picked and power washed in preparation for store shelves, that microbiome gets washed away.  Exceptions would include things like cabbage, where the leaves are tightly packed and water doesn't get past the outer layer of leaves, leaving the microbes inside the cabbage safe and sound.  To maximize your own gut microbial diversity, you want to ingest both the microbes from the plants and from the soil they grow in.  I should point out that you want to be growing in soil that hasn't had chemicals sprayed on it.

Jeff Leach, who cofounded the American Gut Project,  has studied the Hadza population in Africa, specifically in relation to their gut microbiomes.  Jeff believes that high fibre content is one of the contributing factors to the Hadza's microbial diversity (Source).  The fibre in vegetables from your garden feed all those great organisms, ensuring that they can thrive.

2.  STRESS RELIEF
Gardening can be a great way to take your mind off daily stressors.  Regular watering and pulling the occasional weed might just be what your busy brain needs to switch gears at the end of a hectic day.  The initial stage of gardening requires some effort.  You might add compost, organic fertilizer or other nutrients to create good soil, and then you have to plant your seeds or plantings.  However, once that has been done, then all your garden asks of you is watering and weeding.  It can be incredibly calming and rewarding to take a few moments each day or two to provide your garden with the water it needs, pull a few errant weeds, and to witness shoots emerging from the earth and eventually flourishing to a full sized plant that bears edible roots, leaves or fruits.

3.  SOCIAL CONNECTION
Planting a garden is a great thing for parents and children to do together, or for grandparents to do with grandchildren.  Not only does it teach a young child where the food that they eat comes from, but it is an opportunity to spend meaningful time together.  

Other opportunities for connection include involvement in a community garden or a CSA(Community Supported Agriculture).  While having a share in a CSA doesn't actually involve you spending time in the garden, it is a great way to connect with your local farmers.  Having a share typically means that each week you meet with a farmer at a designated drop off location (often a farmer's market) to pick up your share of the harvest.

Whether you grow your own food, spend time with loved ones while gardening, or connect with local growers, one of the best ways to connect with loved ones is by sharing a meal made with fresh, local ingredients.  Preparing a meal with fresh, local ingredients is a great way to show your love for friends and family - it nourishes bodies and nourishes connections.  I like nothing better than a potluck with friends or family where everyone has contributed a wholesome dish to share.
 

4.  GROUNDING
Grounding refers to skin contact with the surface of the earth.  Walking barefoot and gardening are great ways to get that contact with the earth.  I like to do my gardening barefoot, which means my feet are always dirty, but I always feel like I've been emotionally restored after time spent barefoot on the grass or in the dirt.  

The basic idea behind grounding is that the negative ions from the earth counteract positive electrons in the form of free radicals. Free radicals are a normally occurring metabolic product in our bodies, but in high numbers they damage body tissue and contribute to aging, so having strategies to counteract their effects is important to good health.

Research shows that grounding has a positive effect in reducing inflammation and supporting wound healing. (Source)

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Stop by a garden store and pick up some plants or seeds to start your own vegetable or herb garden.  Prepare to get your hands and feet dirty.
At the end of the summer, enjoy amazing food that you grew, and that is adding diversity to your gut microbiome.

What is your favourite thing to grow?

Happy, Healthy Gardening!
Tracey

 

THE EVILS OF ERYTHRITOL!

Ever done an online search and had a hard time finding the information you needed?  A couple of months ago I started wondering if erythritol would be a safe sugar alcohol to use in a gut-healthy diet, and I've had a hard time finding relevant research.  My interest in this sweetener started when I realized it was the preferred sweetener used by people on ketogenic diets. After plugging away at it for a while I'm starting to find what I was looking for.

Erythritol is a sweetener that is used in many low carbohydrate and low calorie products, and it's considered to be diabetes friendly.  Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, which puts it in the same category as other sweeteners such as mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol.  These can all be found in our food supply as sugar replacements in sugar-free foods such as sugar-free gum, chocolates, flavoured drinks, candies, jams, protein bars and packaged goods.  Swerve is one of the common brands you'll find on store shelves, and is the brand recommended by many ketogenic diet cookbooks.  Swerve has the benefit of being non-GMO (genetically modified organisms), which makes it a better choice than many erythritol sources that are GMO.

At first glance it looks like a great product:  low calorie, doesn't affect blood sugar levels, doesn't contribute to tooth decay, and very little makes its way to the large intestine, so it can't feed organisms like Candida.

THE GUT PERSPECTIVE:  Is Erythritol Gut-Healthy?

Many people experience digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea when consuming sugar alcohols, but erythritol is often used specifically because it causes less digestive upset than other sugar alcohols, and is often well tolerated.

One study found that "consumption of 20 and 35 g erythritol by healthy volunteers, in a liquid, is tolerated well, without any symptoms. At the highest level of erythritol intake (50 g), only a significant increase in borborygmi and nausea was observed..."

I think the key words in that quote are "healthy volunteers".  If you are already experiencing digestive symptoms, then adding erythritol into the mix can make things worse.  Erythritol and other sugar alcohols are also known as polyols.  Polyols are usually associated with FODMAPs (Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols), which are known to be problematic for people who suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).  So if you suffer from IBS, SIBO or are having a lot of unexplained  digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating, then erythritol should NOT be a part of your diet.

ALTERNATIVES

Gut-healthy sweeteners include honey, and dried fruit, and if you are trying to stay really low-carb then see how you tolerate monk fruit (also known as Luo Han Guo).  All of these should be used in moderation, and if they contribute to your digestive issues then they should be avoided. Sweeteners can be really problematic if you have IBS, SIBO or digestive symptoms so use caution, and figure out what works best for you.

 I also added a bit of vanilla powder the these.  YUM!

I also added a bit of vanilla powder the these.  YUM!

Try mixing up 1 cup of softened butter or coconut oil with 1/2 cup of honey.  Place dollops of this mixture on a lined baking sheet and put it into the freezer.  I call these treats Freezer Candy, and it is an indulgence to let one melt on your tongue.

What has your experience with erythritol been?

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

AGH! WORSE THAN CHILD BIRTH! KIDNEY STONES & HOW TO PREVENT THEM

Ever passed a kidney stone?  If you have, then you know the extreme pain that goes with passing a stone.  Symptoms can begin with nausea, vomiting, and can also include fever and chills.  Pain on your side and back below your ribs can be intense.  The pain can fluctuate and spread throughout the entire abdomen as the stone makes its way through the ureter (tube from the  kidney to the bladder).   Urination becomes difficult as smaller amounts are passed and the need for frequent urination increases.  Urine can become foul smelling, cloudy, and bloody, and be painful to pass.  The pain of passing a stone is often described as being worse than childbirth by people who have experienced both.  Want to avoid this?

Unfortunately, some people are more likely to form stones, so if you've already experienced the passing of a stone, or if an ultrasound has revealed that you have stones in your kidneys then you might want to take some preventative measures.

1.  Supplement with magnesium:
Kidney stones can be a sign that you are deficient in magnesium.  Magnesium is needed to remove oxalic acid from the body, but when there isn't enough magnesium to perform this function, then calcium gets used instead.  When calcium gets used then the result can be calcium oxalate stones (the most common type of stone).  Making sure your kidneys have the magnesium they need to do their job without complications is a simple preventative measure.  To get magnesium in your diet make sure to eat dark leafy greens daily.  A large salad at lunch will do, or maybe you prefer to add greens to a stir-fry.  You can also add magnesium citrate as a supplement, especially initially when you are trying to bring levels up in your body.

2.  Restore the gut microbiome:
One small study showed that the gut microbiome of kidney stone formers was different to that of people without kidney stones.  Research has also identified that the absence of Oxalobacter formigenes, a bacteria that lives in the gut, is correlated with kidney stone formation.  This species helps to break down oxalates, so when it is absent then oxalates can't get broken down and can contribute to calcium oxalate stones.  These studies tell us that gut health is compromised in individuals with kidney stones, so working to restore gut health is the next step.  Eating fermented foods that contain probiotics is an important step.  Increase you intake of unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi, add yogurts that contain live cultures, or add kombucha to your day.  Increasing your vegetable intake will add prebiotics to help feed the probiotics you are eating, so fill your plate with raw, roasted, steamed, pureed or sautéed vegetables.  

3.  Reduce oxalates in your diet:
A low oxalate diet is sometimes recommended to help prevent kidney stones.  The problem with this type of diet is that it can be very low in fibre and requires the removal of some nutrient dense foods.  A good compromise is to avoid some of the worst offenders such as spinach, beans (all types), rhubarb and cocoa while you work on restoring gut health.  Go easy on nuts and seeds too.  If you are increasing leafy greens to get your magnesium levels higher, just make sure that spinach isn't one of the greens.  Instead try lettuce, dino kale, mustard greens or bok choy.

4.  Drink a lot of water:
This is a bit of a no-brainer.  Keeping the kidneys flushed will help prevent stones from forming.  Make sure to stay well hydrated throughout the day by drinking filtered water or herbal teas.  Start your day with a large glass of water as soon as you get up.  If you forget to hydrate throughout the day, try setting your phone alarm to go off mid-morning and mid-afternoon to remind you to drink up what is in your water bottle or tea pot, and then make sure to refill those containers.

Add magnesium citrate, low-oxalate greens and some fermented foods to your shopping list.
Need help managing your microbiome?  I'm here to help.

Happy, Healthy Eating and Hydrating!
Tracey

 

SIBO - A MASKED VILLAIN

Comic book villains are the evil characters that negatively influence other characters in a story, and cause havoc to society.  I love watching the Marvel movies with my kids, and my 14 year old daughter is always attracted to the bad guys.  She loves Loki in the Thor movies, and we have just finished watching Daredevil (Season 1) and she liked the character Fisk who plays the protagonist.  It's her attraction to the duality of these characters that has made me pay more attention to the villains.  In your gut story, SIBO could be that evil villain.

SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) is a lot like those villains .  Villains typically have two personas:  the one they show to the world at large, and the one that is the criminal or evil persona that only gets shown to some people or gets hidden behind a mask.  Catwoman is the perfect example of a masked villain.  By day she is a shy, mild mannered woman, but as Catwoman she is lithe and lethal.  SIBO is like the masked villain.  The masked persona shows up as IBS, Fibromyalgia, Rosacea or symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, nausea, acne, eczema, chronic joint pain, or depression.

Unmasked, SIBO is revealed to be exactly what it says it is - an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine.  Bacterial growth in the small intestine is normal and when that bacteria is in a healthy balance it has several benefits for the body including the production of vitamin K and some of the B vitamins, as well as a role in digestion and absorption of nutrients.  When multiple species, or when all species reach a state of overgrowth, then damage occurs to the cells that line the intestinal barrier, and leaky gut occurs.  Leaky gut (also known as intestinal permeability) allows large food molecules and toxins to leak into the body, and is a significant factor in food sensitivities, inflammation and autoimmune conditions (Source).  SIBO can also result in malnutrition due to an impaired ability to absorb nutrients (Source).

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE SIBO? (aka HOW DO I REVEAL THE VILLAIN?)

Do you suffer from bloating, belching, diarrhea, constipation, nausea and/or abdominal pain, and you have had little or no success with treatment options?

Have you been diagnosed with IBS, fibromyalgia or rosacea?

Do probiotic supplements make your symptoms worse?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then it is worth getting tested for SIBO.

A functional doctor or naturopathic doctor can do a SIBO test for you.  If the test comes back positive, then a dietary approach along with an anti-microbial protocol can be used to bring the overgrowth back to a normal state.  Some practitioners also use antibiotics, but people are becoming increasingly reluctant to take antibiotics, and there is a high rate of SIBO recurrence with antibiotics (Source).

UNMASK YOUR SIBO

If you have been suffering from chronic health problems, and answered yes to any of the questions above, then it's time to take the next step in understanding who the villain behind your symptoms is.

Happy, Healthy Unmasking!

Tracey

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF GUT REPAIR WITH DETOXIFICATION

Which came first?  The chicken or the egg?  We can ask the same of leaky gut and toxicity.  Which came first?  Leaky gut or toxicity?

To understand that question, you need to understand a bit about gut health and also where toxins come from.  

GUT HEALTH

Gut health involves two components:  the health of the gut microbiome and the health of the intestinal cells that line the small intestine.  The microbiome and the intestinal cells have a codependent relationship, so the health of one affects the health of the other.  If the health of either of these two pieces is compromised, then eventually the health of the other will become compromised as well.  I'll provide an example to help illustrate this point.  

Most people are familiar with the impact that antibiotics have on the gut organisms.  Antibiotics typically kill off all species of bacteria, including the beneficial ones that live in our guts.  When those species are killed off then that leaves organisms such as yeasts, fungi, parasites and viruses to propagate.  These organisms are always present, but in small numbers.  When the bacteria get killed off by antibiotics, then the opportunity exists for organisms that are usually present in small numbers to expand.  When this happens it is referred to as dysbiosis, meaning that the balance of organisms has shifted into an unhealthy state.  

As mentioned previously, the health of the microbiome affects the health of the cells in the small intestine, so once dysbiosis exists, then the intestinal cell's life cycle is altered.  With this alteration in the life cycle, these cells are no longer capable of consistently producing tight junctions.  Tight junctions are what hold the cells together to create a barrier.  When those tight junctions aren't formed, then a condition known as leaky gut develops.  Without those tight junctions, the cells are unable to create a barrier, so various particles start to leak through.  To understand the barrier, imagine a brick wall.  A brick wall is very strong, and doesn't allow anything to get through.  Now imagine that the mortar used to build that wall has deteriorated significantly.  With  crumbling mortar, water leaks through the wall, insects can crawl through, and plants might even take root and start growing through the cracks, further breaking down the mortar.  The same thing happens in your gut.  The loss of tight junctions is like the crumbling mortar.  Undigested food molecules leak through, undesirable organisms get through, and some of our opportunistic gut organisms can burrow in and take root.  The other thing that leaks through are metabolic products from our own gut microbiome.  Each species that lives in our gut, metabolized the food you eat, and produces different end-products known as metabolites.  These metabolites can be TOXIC.  Normally these metabolites would get excreted with your fecal matter, but if your gut is leaking, then these metabolites leak through.

Toxic metabolites add to your body's burden.  Your liver has the job of clearing hormones, neurotransmitters, cell waste and toxins, so when metabolites are leaking through the gut, it just increases the work load of the liver, and when the liver can't keep up, then toxicity results.

So gut health has a huge role to play in toxicity.  What about the role of toxicity on gut health?

  Small intestinal cells:  Without the tight junctions, leaky gut develops.

Small intestinal cells:  Without the tight junctions, leaky gut develops.

TOXICITY

Whether you like it or not, we take in toxins on an ongoing basis.  We breathe toxins in, we ingest them from our food supply, and we absorb them through our skin.  Unfortunately, we have created a world in which we have surrounded ourselves with toxins.  These toxins have huge implications on the health of our guts.  Toxins can act directly on either the gut microbiome or on the intestinal cells.

Let's look at our food supply as an example.  Crops typically get sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and desiccants. When ingested, these products upset our gut microbiome negatively.  Just like the pests that get killed in the field, the organisms in your gut are affected as well.  As we've already discussed, once the gut microbiome is disrupted, the the intestinal cells are affected, and leaky gut results.  Once leaky gut is present, all those chemicals we unintentionally eat have a greater chance of getting into our bodies.  

WHICH CAME FIRST?

The answer to the question, "Which came first, leaky gut or toxicity?" will differ from person to person (and is not very clear cut, as you'll see).

If you have been on repeated courses of antibiotics, or a long course then leaky gut will likely have occurred first.  Leaky gut then increases your toxicity.

If you have been on pharmaceuticals then it's very likely that leaky gut and toxicity were happening side by side.  Many pharmaceuticals impact either the microbiome or the intestinal cells, while adding to what the liver has to metabolize.

If you consume conventionally raised vegetables, fruits, grains and animal products, then it's also possible that leaky gut and toxicity were happening side by side for the same reasons as pharmaceutical use.

If you've had job exposure to chemicals, then it's likely that toxicity happened first.  The toxic exposure likely altered your gut microbiome.

THE IMPORTANCE OF GUT REPAIR

Regardless of which came first, fixing leaky gut is a vital step in supporting your body to detoxify.  You can take measures to support your liver, or to help clear toxins from your body, but unless you fix leaky gut, toxins will continue to have easy access to your body, and toxins that are normally excreted through your digestive tract will have the opportunity to re-enter your body.

Have you done a detox with only short-term results?
Have you done a detox and not seen the results you'd hoped for?
If you answered "yes", then maybe repairing your gut is the next step.

Happy, Healthy Eating (and repairing)!

Tracey

LOCAL GROWERS AND PRODUCERS THAT MY GUT LOVES

It's easy to get depressed or angry when you start dwelling on all the chemicals that get sprayed on our food supply.  Food is meant to nourish us, but when herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides get sprayed on our food crops it means that we can't help but eat these toxic chemicals.  When plants get sprayed they absorb these chemicals through their leaves and root systems, which means that the chemicals become systemic in the plants and are throughout the foods we harvest.  It's easy to think that washing your vegetables and fruits with specially designed cleaners will remove chemicals, but those products can only help remove what is on the outside of your foods, not what is inside.

When we look at how these chemicals affect our bodies, we need to look at how they affect our gut microbiomes (all those wonderful organisms in our guts).  Glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup has been well researched and is known to be detrimental to our microbiome (Source).  Roundup is extensively used on corn, soy, canola and wheat crops.  Have a look at the ingredient lists on the foods you buy - corn, soy, canola and wheat show up in the most unlikely places.

But the great news is that more people are becoming aware of the damaging affects of chemicals in our food supply, and more importantly, farmers are changing their farming methods and transitioning to organic practices that don't include the use of damaging chemicals.

Here are some Calgary and area growers and producers that my gut loves:
GreenBerry:  This great company is run by a Calgary couple that grows the most amazing pea and sunflower shoots.  Incredibly nutrient-dense and very easy to digest.  Pea shoots are a natural source of Diamine Oxidase, which is an enzyme that metabolizes histamines.  A lot of people with gut issues are low in this enzyme.  Daniel sells their products at the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmer's Market

Osso Bueno:  Laureen is the proud owner of this company that specializes in bone broths.  Her bison broth is a favourite.  Bone broths support digestive health and can help restore leaky gut.  Laureen is at a variety of farmer's markets and grocery stores.

The Naked Leaf:  Jonathan has a passion for tea.  He carries a variety of organic, loose-leaf teas and supports small, sustainable tea plantations.  Ask him which teas will help support your digestion.  He has a wealth of knowledge.

Truebuch:  Calgary is lucky enough to have a Kombucha brewery.  Conrad and Louisa source their teas from The Naked Leaf and use local, non-GMO ingredients.  Kombucha is teaming with gut healthy probiotics.  Even better, they sell their draughts on tap, so you get to reuse your bottle.  They sell at a variety of locations throughout Calgary.

Grazed Right:  Ben and Steph raise cattle ethically on a small farm outside of Calgary.  They practice true stewardship of the land and take great pride in their pasture-raised animals.   Your gut will thank you for meat that is free of hormones and antibiotics.

This list is by no means exhaustive.  These just happen to be some of my favourites.  Don't live in or near Calgary?  Don't worry - local growers and producers are everywhere.  Growers and producers love talking about what they do, so go chat with them and ask if their crops or products are chemical free.

What are your favourites?  I love hearing stories about local communities, so let me know.

Happy, Healthy Eating!

Tracey

 

 

MICROBIAL DIVERSITY FOR GOOD HEALTH

Did you know that good health depends on microbial diversity in your gut?  The microbes that make your digestive tract their home play a key role in every aspect of your health.  Your relationship with those organisms is a codependent one - you provide a dark, temperature-regulated home that has a constant food supply, and in exchange the microbes regulate every metabolic process in your body including things like immune function, blood pressure, fat storage, hormone function and blood sugar regulation.

Given that your microbes have such an important role, understanding microbial diversity in relationship to disease has been an area of focus in research in recent years.  One area of research has looked at mapping the diversity of traditional societies, and comparing that to modern societies.  Traditional hunter-gatherer societies have been shown to have a greater diversity than city dwellers.  Sadly, with urbanization, we have lost some of that diversity (Source).

Many researchers have speculated that this loss of diversity plays a role in our modern health problems. When we start to compare the gut microbial community of healthy individuals with those of people suffering from chronic conditions such as autoimmune and neurological conditions, we see clear measurable differences.  If you suffer from multiple sclerosis then you likely have reduced Clostridia clusters XIVa and IV (Source), or if you have been diagnosed with Parkinson's then we know that your gut microbes differ from those of healthy individuals (Source).  To find out if your health condition has been researched, do a search with the name of your diagnosis and the word microbiome.

Unfortunately these studies only show us the imbalances that exist in gut microbes with disease, but don't give us any indication as to whether or not a loss of diversity has contributed to the disease.  In order to understand how loss of diversity has affected us, all we can do is go back to the few remaining societies that still have diversity, and look at the kinds of health conditions these groups of people suffer from, and compare them to Westernized  or urbanized societies.  Research into this area, is still in the early stages, but warrants further exploration.

How To Get Gut Microbial Diversity

Jeff Leach, who cofounded the American Gut Project,  has studied the Hadza population in Africa, specifically in relation to their gut microbiomes.  Jeff believes that high fiber content is one of the contributing factors to the Hadza's microbial diversity (Source).

Another of the biggest contributing factors to diversity is your environment.  The greater the diversity of organisms in your environment, the greater the diversity in your gut.  Modern homes and buildings don't provide ideal environments for diversity (Source).

So these factors can provide two important steps to increasing your gut microbial diversity:
1)  Eat a diet rich in plant-based fiber.  Follow the Hudza example and eat a diet that consists mostly of vegetables and fruit.  I usually recommend that 3/4 of any meal should be vegetables or fruit.
2)  Spend time outdoors in a variety of settings.  Here in Calgary we have the mountains at our doorstep.  Closer to home, we have great city parks.  Even closer is your own backyard.  Being outdoors exposes you to a greater variety of microbes.  Open your windows regularly!  It's a simple step that will change the diversity inside your home.

Happy, Healthy Eating (and diversifying)!

Tracey

 

SHOULD WE BE CONSIDERING VACCINES IN THE HEALTH OF OUR MICROBIOME?

I’m going to start by telling you about my typical client.  The type of person who typically comes to see me is incredibly educated, has done a lot of research, and usually is already eating an organic, whole foods diet, and living a clean lifestyle.

So today I visited with good friends that embody my typical client, but wanted to talk to me about vaccinations for their beautiful baby girl.  As I said, my clients are educated and do a lot of research, and this couple was no exception.  They had scheduled their first appointment for the 2-month vaccinations, were in the car getting ready to go when they suddenly had doubts.  They decided to listen to their gut instinct, went back inside and cancelled their appointment.

Why did they have doubts?  They had doubts because in doing their research they got caught up in the web of controversy over vaccinations.  The controversy is there for good reason, as any controversy is.  Do the benefits of vaccinations outweigh the risks?  The benefits include immunization to life-threatening illnesses.  The risks involve injury and sometimes death.  The website www.vaccinechoicecanada.com  outlines the risks of vaccines and contraindications.  It’s important to know the contraindications, because there are infants who should never be receiving vaccinations.  Most doctors will tell you the risks associated with vaccines are rare, but what if it’s your child that happens to be that rare individual?  Is the risk of death, epilepsy or neurological problems worth it?

As usual, I look at things through a Gut-biased lens, so the question for me is how do vaccinations tie in to gut health?   Researchers have considered the relationship between the microbiome and vaccinations, but from the opposite angle that I’m interested in.  Research has focused on how effective vaccinations are in populations with healthy microbiomes verses populations with unhealthy microbiomes.  I want to know if the vaccinations are altering our microbiomes. Since the health of the microbiome is instrumental to the development of an infant’s immune system, we need to be asking ourselves if vaccinating our children before the microbiome is fully established is wise. 

To date there is little research available.  One study demonstrates that oral rotavirus vaccination did not change the microbiome, but the sample size of the study was 3 infants (Source), which is too small to be conclusive.  Other people are asking the same question though (Source), so hopefully in time more researchers will delve into this area.

So what advice did I give these new parents that want the best for their amazing little baby girl?  I had to tell them the choice is theirs.  It’s important for people to realize this.  Vaccination isn’t mandatory.  I suggested they delay vaccinations until their daughter’s immune and detoxification systems are more mature, around age 2, but again, the choice is theirs.  If they begin vaccinations, then they should separate them as much as possible, and allow 6 months between vaccinations to allow their daughter’s body to detoxify the additives (aluminum and formaldehyde) that are in the vaccines.

In the end I’m not sure I added any new information to the research this couple had done, but they found comfort in being able to discuss their concerns.  The comforting went both ways.  While I’ll never know if vaccinations were a contributing factor for my adopted son, I do know what it’s like to live with a child that suffers from severe neurological problems, so I get a bit emotional when discussing the possible neurological risks associated with vaccinations.

I’d like to be able to end this post with something more conclusive about whether or not vaccines affect our microbiome, but the information isn’t available yet.

All I can suggest is be like my typical clients:  do your research, delve into your family history, look at the contraindications and risks, and make the best choice for your child.

Happy, Healthy Researching!

Tracey

 

 

ORGAN TRANSPLANTS! WHAT ABOUT POOP TRANSPLANTS?

You are likely aware of organ donation, and may have even signed up on a registry, or if you are like me, and live in Alberta, you may have checked off the organ donor boxes on the back of your provincial health care card.

Or maybe you donate blood, because there is a need for blood and you know you are helping someone by donating.

But have you ever thought of donating your poop?  Not likely.  Why on earth would you donate your poop?  Or more importantly, why would you get a poop transplant?

Fecal Transplants

 Healthy fecal matter (poop) is needed for fecal transplants.  Fecal transplantation is exactly what it sounds like.  The fecal matter of a healthy individual is transplanted into the colon of an unhealthy individual.  Grossed out?  Don’t be.

Fecal transplantation has enormous potential in restoring the health of individuals where the gut microbiome is not in a healthy state.  If you’ve ever chatted with me, or been to my Gut Health = Good Health Support Group, then you know just how many health conditions are affected by our microbiome.  Fecal transplants provide a way for a healthy gut microbiome to be transplanted into an individual with a health condition.

While research has exploded in the area of the microbiome, not a lot of research has been done on fecal transplants.  You can easily do your own on-line search, but some of the health conditions that have been correlated to either excessive or deficient amounts of specific species of gut organisms include Parkinson’s, autism, MS, and heart disease. 

One area where the use of fecal transplants is widely accepted is with Clostridia Difficile (C. diff) infections that are antibiotic resistant.  If a person has C. diff and has not responded to antibiotics, then fecal transplants offer a very successful treatment option.  This procedure has been around since the early 1950s for C. diff, and is used in a growing number of hospitals.

If you are still grossed out, then think of fecal transplants as microbiome transplants.   By the time processing is complete for transplantation the end product doesn’t resemble poop anymore.

Broader Applications

 It’s time to broaden the application of fecal transplants.  Research has been done on fecal transplants in the areas of autism and Parkinson’s, and it is very promising.  Clinically it has also been used for multiple sclerosis (and likely a few other conditions as well), but I haven’t seen any research studies.

Donors have to be carefully screened, and it can be a bit challenging to find an appropriate donor.  Once a donor is found and they provide their fecal matter, then the poop goes through a process to make it viable for transplantation.

When Should Fecal Transplants Be Considered?

My clinical practice is built on teaching people how to eat to restore their microbiome.  Diet should almost always be the first approach used to bring the microbiome back to a healthy state.  The primary reason for this is to create an environment in the gut for the microbiome to be able to colonize.  For some people, there are also genetic reasons that make them more susceptible to microbial imbalances, so then it is especially important that the gut be in the best state it can be to accept a new, healthy microbiome.

For some people, diet alone can bring about huge changes.  In situations where a person’s health or quality of life has reached a critical stage where more drastic measures are needed, or when someone’s life is at risk (such as with C. diff), then fecal transplants can offer hope. 

Need More Information?

Send me an email with your questions.   mail@traceyreed.ca

Happy, Healthy Pooping

Tracey

 

FUT2's ROLE IN GUT HEALTH

Ever heard of FUT2?  Most people haven’t.  If you know my work, you know I’m passionate about gut health, and it turns out FUT2 matters for gut health.

FUT2 stands for Fucosyltransferase 2, which is an enzyme that regulates the expression of your blood type antigens on the surfaces of epithelial cells and body fluids.  If you’ve ever donated blood, then you likely know if you are type A, B, AB or O, or maybe you remember studying blood typing in high school biology class. About 80% of people secrete their blood type antigens into their body fluids and others don’t.  If you do, then you fall into the category of a secretor, and if you don’t you are a non-secretor.  If you don’t have a functioning FUT2 genotype then you are a non-secretor.   

 What does all of this have to do with the gut?  There are 2 ways that I’ve found that FUT2 impacts our guts.

Microbiome Impact

When I first heard about secretory status, it was in relationship to blood typing, and some of the health implications associated with being a non-secretor.  I was intrigued, but completely overwhelmed (maybe you’re feeling like that right now).  The only thing I remembered was that non-secretors were more likely to have autoimmune conditions.

I’m going to digress a bit, but here’s how my brain tends to work.  I sometimes wake up at night, maybe because I’m too hot or I have to pee.  After adjusting the blankets or going to the bathroom I’ll be lying in bed, and this is often when I have an ah-ha! moment.  So I’m lying in bed, and my thought train goes something like this:  FUT2 is correlated to autoimmunity - autoimmunity has leaky gut and dysbiosis as a contributing factor – what’s the connection between FUT2 and gut health?  

It turns out that FUT2 genotypes plays a role in microbiome composition with non-secretors having an altered intestinal microbiome compared to secretors(Source). Specifically they have a higher incidence of bacterial species that are associated with IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)  (Source).  Secretors in contrast, have higher levels of bifidobacteria.  According to Dr D’Adamo non-secretors are also more likely to have Candida infections (Source).

It turns out that having those blood type antigens in your gut mucosa provides a food source to colonizing organisms.  The organisms in your gut get a meal by cleaving off a carbohydrate that’s part of the antigen.  So if you are a non-secretor you got the short end of the stick when it comes to colonizing your gut, and when it comes to health conditions associated with the gut.

Here’s a quote from one research paper that sums things up nicely,

“the FUT2 genotype explains substantial differences in community composition, diversity, and structure, and we identified several bacterial species displaying disease-by-genotype associations. These findings indicate that alterations in resident microbial communities may in part explain the variety of host susceptibilities surrounding nonsecretor status and that FUT2 is an important genetic factor influencing host–microbial diversity.
(Source)

Methylation

When I next started looking into FUT2, I was looking at its role in methylation.  Methylation is a metabolic process that happens in our bodies 1 billion times per second.  Anything that happens that often has to be important.  Methylation is involved in cell regeneration, so if your methylation is impaired your body will have problems in areas where there is high cell regeneration.  As it turns out, your small intestine is one of the areas where there is high cell regeneration, so if you have impaired methylation then you are more likely to suffer from leaky gut (known as intestinal permeability in the medical community).  Due to the methylation problems, your cells can’t regenerate quickly enough to have a strong intestinal barrier.  Imagine a castle wall that is constantly under attack, and there aren’t enough workers to keep rebuilding it.  Your small intestine has a wall made of cells, but these are constantly being sloughed off.  Without good methylation it can’t continually be rebuilt.

One of the vitamins needed for good methylation is B12.  It turns out that the FUT2 enzyme has a role in how well B12 can be absorbed and utilized, so it’s possible that even if you are consuming a lot of B12 in food and supplements, you won’t be able to bring it into your body.  Low B12 levels mean methylation is impaired, which in turn means you are more likely to have leaky gut.

So, why am I even bringing up this gene?  Sometimes I have clients coming to me and wanting to get genetic testing done to see if they have the MTHFR gene.  This is another gene that has an effect on methylation and it has gotten a lot of media attention, so many people know about it.  The reality is that looking at how genes affect your health is complicated, and you can’t just look at MTHFR.  I had looked at a variety of methylation markers for my youngest son, and it wasn’t until I looked at FUT2 that I understood that he had impaired methylation.

If you have been doing everything you can to restore the health of your gut, and you aren’t seeing the results you want, then understanding your FUT2 genotype can provide you with one of the puzzle pieces that fit into your overall health puzzle. 

To find out your secretory status you can get genetic testing done through 23andme.  Once you have your raw data, look up FUT2 rs601338.  If you have the A/A allele, then you are a non-secretor.  To find out about your B12 levels, look up FUT2 rs606662.  The G/G allele indicates low enzyme function and low B12 plasma levels.

NOTE:  as I write this, Canada does not have any laws to protect individuals against insurance companies requesting genetic testing results.  Bill S-201 (the Genetic Non-discrimination Act) is currently before Senate.  Some people are intentionally NOT getting genetic testing done, because they don’t want to risk discrimination, or risk high insurance costs.  The decision is yours, but I want you to be informed.  Hopefully by the time you read this, Bill S-201 will have been passed.

 

HOW HUMAN ARE WE?

Did you know your body is host to 100 trillion organisms?  These organisms are made up of bacteria, yeasts, and fungi, and sometimes there are parasitic organisms as well.  These organisms live all over our skin and in all of our orifices with an amazing 95% of them living in our guts.  Collectively they weigh about 4 pounds.

If you compare the number of cells in your body to the number of organisms living in your body, those critters living in you would outnumber your cells by 10:1.  Dig a little deeper, and compare your DNA to that of your organisms, and their DNA outnumbers yours by 100:1.

Think about that for a minute.  More organisms than human cells!  Vastly more microbial DNA than human DNA!!

So, how human are you?  You are just as human as you’ve always been, but our perspective on what makes us human has evolved in recent years.  The reality is that we can’t exist alone.  We have a co-dependent relationship with the organisms that inhabit us.  They need us to live, and we need them to live.  They influence every single metabolic process that occurs in our bodies.

Collectively these organisms are called the microbiome.  Keep your eyes open because the human microbiome is a hot topic these days, and research is helping us to understand exactly how it affects our health.

What’s really exciting is that what we eat and how we live our lives has a profound impact on the health of our microbiome.  A healthy microbiome in turn means a healthy body.

So next time you sit down to eat it’s worth contemplating if that mouthful of food is meant for the human in you or for the little critters living in your gut.

Want to learn how to eat to feed YOUR microbiome?  Contact me!