Interview with Nutritional Therapy Practitioner Sam Johnson about her personal experience dealing with digestive issues, self care and her health non-negotiables.
So many new services for allergy and food sensitivity testing are out there right now, pin-prick blood tests that can be mailed in from home are being marketed to us through advertising and sponsored social media posts.
A true allergy can only be to a protein, a sensitivity can be to anything.
Many people get their test back and see that they are allergic to many common foods, specifically foods they eat on a daily basis. Does this mean you can never have those foods again? Just cut them all out and carry on with life?
Being sensitive to foods that are being eaten frequently indicates a leaky gut. The wall of the intestines is our barrier between inside the body and the outside world, in some places, this barrier is one cell thick. A leaky gut happens when the cell membrane becomes permeable, small gaps form between cells where they used to be tightly joined. Anything floating around in the intestines can drift through these small openings with no regulation from the body. These undigested particles enter the bloodstream and the body's immune system reacts to these foreign invaders.
So let’s say you eat chicken, coffee and bananas almost every day. These are the things that will most frequently make it through the small gaps in the intestine and set off your immune system. If we just remove the three foods that were flagged as sensitivities but don’t heal the intestines a short while later your sensitivities will just change to whatever you replaced those foods with.
Heal leaky gut
Remove the items that were flagged as sensitivities, for now. These can be added back in one at a time after going through the below steps successfully.
Support digestion by making sure you have adequate stomach acid, digestive enzymes, gallbladder function. Ginger and apple cider vinegar are two gentle options for digestive support. If you have candida overgrowth which can cause leaky gut, you may need to take something additional like oil of oregano. Enzymedica is my personal favourite for digestive enzymes.
Add in probiotics to add back in healthy bacteria, supplement quality is key here because there are countless probiotic supplements out there and not all are great. Here is one I recommend but there are other practitioner options too. Incorporate fermented foods like cultured vegetables and kefir or yoghurt if you tolerate dairy.
Support your body to heal the intestinal lining. A diet of whole properly prepared foods is key here, soups and stews based on bone broth are calming, warming and healing to the body. Bone broth contains collagen that can help to heal the intestinal lining. The amino acid L-glutamine, marshmallow root can help soothe and repair the lining.
Be positive and know that your body only wants to be healthy, it's perfectly capable of healing itself!
Alcohol is quite the controversial subject sometimes. We hate to admit that maybe it’s not good for us. Or that maybe it forms a crutch to relax or be social.
I know it was a crutch for me for the years of my late teens and early 20’s. I drank to excess, I drunk to be social, to feel accepted, to bond with friends, to have a good time. I definitely drunk to feel happy since my emotions could be a roller coaster, not realising that maybe it was negatively affecting my moods.
Alcohol is a depressant, after a big night the low’s hit hard. It was so ingrained in my life it became part of my identity. Working part-time in a nightclub enabled me to keep drinking to excess, even on nights I wanted to stay home. Things began to change when I started running to get fit. Obviously, my old pursuits didn’t gel with my new one. Training to run marathons was a big turning point. Not only was I too tired from doing a weekend long run to consider going out, I didn't want to feel like crap the day after drinking. Slowly my idea of a good time changed, I guess my tastes and hobbies matured with me and I no longer felt like I fit in out late at the bars.
Alcohol and me now
In the present, for me, discipline is choosing between what I want now and what I want most. I keep this in mind when faced with the option of having a drink. If what I want most is to be fit, healthy and I’m working towards a fitness goal, I prefer to say no. Or if I know I’ve indulged in other ways, lots of desserts and not enough vegetables, I know that having a beer isn't going to get me back on track. We’ve all heard that there are antioxidants in red wine, sure. But if we compare it to say, broccoli or blueberries it probably doesn't stack up too well.
Alcohol increases appetite
When we drink these empty calories not only are they devoid of any nutrition, it’s also too easy to overdo. Especially when you take into account the effect alcohol can have on our food choices. One or two glasses of wine deep, it’s not hard to convince me to get the fries and the pizza and the dessert. Then because your body is busy processing the alcohol out of our systems, which is it’s number one priority other bodily functions are put on the back burner. Research shows alcohol consumption can impair the metabolism of carbs, protein and fat. Our metabolism slows down, we stop burning fat and repairing muscle so that we won’t reap the rewards of that workout earlier in the day. It also puts normal detoxification processes that are going on in your body on the back burner. Then the next day the dehydration from drinking will impact our performance in the gym or on the hike or just in our regular day.
Alcohol reduces perfomance and recovery
Ok, I too have seen athletes or trainers posting pictures of them guzzling beer. Or that person we all know who can drink alcohol several times a week but still stay in great shape. Yes, life isn't fair. I have had to stop comparing myself and listen to my own body. I know that I don’t feel great the next day after having some drinks. My sleep is usually affected, it feels not as deep while my body is still trying to metabolize the alcohol. The next day I’m usually in a sluggish and lazy mood even if I didn’t drink enough to be truly hungover. One too many nights in a row and I start feeling soft around the middle. I don’t want to be sweating it out at the gym just to undo my hard work in a few drinks.
In the end, moderation is key for all things. If we truly want to indulge in a drink, do it in a deliberate way. Making the conscious decision that this is what you really want and then enjoy the experience and time to bond with friends or family. Make sure to eat something and drink water to counteract the effects of alcohol, have fun and then move on with your life.
The collagen trend has really picked up speed in the last year or two and doesn't seem to be slowing down. Why would it? Brightly coloured packaging promising beautiful hair, nails and skin sound like a dream come true. Brands really hit the nail on the head with marketing because improving appearance sells, it’s just much more glamorous than saying it will repair your mucosal lining in your digestive tract which you can’t really see anyway.
Then the biggest buy-in with collagen peptides is that people just add it to their daily cup of coffee or matcha. No nasty pills or liquids to forget to take. You just carry on as you were but add the powder to an existing habit of a hot daily drink. As someone who has looked into how habits form, this is key because linking something new with an existing habit is significant for successfully forming that new habit. Add to that you have to take it for a long time to see a difference and hey-presto there are your return customers.
Have you heard of a collagen deficiency? Me neither.
So the marketing ingenuity isn't why I stopped taking it. I just assessed how much money it costs vs the benefit I was getting. Yes, my hair and nails grew a little faster but honestly, my hair and nails didn't bother me before the collagen. I also thought it could help improve fine lines and wrinkles too but I didn't really see any difference there. Was I going to commit to taking this for the rest of my life? The truth is no I wasn't, there are better supplements and things that will improve my health than collagen.
But you do have brittle nails and hair you might tell me. So would you still benefit from taking it daily? My answer is always maybe, we are all bio-individual. But if those are your symptoms I would first direct you to work on your digestion. Nail and hair health can be a big sign that you are not digesting and absorbing nutrients very well. So inundating your body with collagen might give you a boost but you could achieve the same result as well as other benefits by working out the root of your symptoms because collagen deficiency is unheard of.
I usually prefer to make my own collagen-rich bone broth, the easiest way is with a slow cooker or InstantPot/pressure cooker if you have one. If you need a recipe, there are millions available at your fingertips via google - but here is one for "Better than Botox" bone broth.
One of the biggest mistakes someone can make in their health is waiting until it’s too late to do something positive. Waiting until a doctor diagnoses us with a condition or a disease is leaving things too late. The many years leading up to an event like this is where prevention can happen. These years could have been filled with symptoms that were brushed off as not important. Like trouble falling or staying asleep, difficult digestion, irregular elimination, low energy, mood swings, bloating, gas, constantly runny nose, anxiety, fatigue, or an energy roller coaster of highs and lows that you can’t get off.
One of the hardest things to learn in our modern lives is how to slow down and listen to the body. It's trying to tell us what we need if only we would listen.
We all want to improve digestion, healing the gut is a hot topic. We might reach for the ginger, apple cider vinegar, digestive enzymes or HCL supplement. We rarely think that the first thing we should be looking at is water.
Making sure we are hydrated by consuming pure clean water daily - depending on weight, activity and climate should be the first priority. For me, I try to drink at least two litres of plain water daily. Digestion is a water-intensive process. Water is needed for saliva, Hydrochloric acid, bile, pancreatic enzymes. All of these substances that get shuttled to different parts of our GI tract at different times to digest food require water.
The mucus lining in our entire GI tract also requires water to be able to protect the sensitive tissue from potent digestive juices and chemicals, the mucus basically stops us digesting ourselves. When we are dehydrated, water in the body may be prioritised away from digestion and the mucus lining may become dry. This can lead to poorly digested food and an inability to absorb nutrition from what we eat. A dried up mucus lining may lead to irritation, GI or stomach pain and even ulcers.
Water is the most common nutritional deficiency.
We spend plenty of time discussing food quality, sourcing and organics. We probably spend too much time discussing the latest supplements. But we can only survive for a couple of days without water. After air, it is our second key nutrient. We are made of water and it is used in countless processes and reactions within the body.
For optimal digestion, it should be the first thing to focus on. Water should be the first thing we have in the morning and then sipped on throughout the day. It is also important to avoid having large amounts of water with meals because it will dilute stomach acid and enzymes. Another point to be mindful of is diuretics, we all love coffee and tea but they may sap water from our bodies. So let’s focus on hydration as the first step in healing our digestion and maybe the outcome will surprise us.
In my opinion the digestive tract and its function to be the single most important body component determining health and disease. The food/drinks we consume and make their way through our GI tract are the single sources of the building blocks required by our body for energy, healing, and daily function. Can we take that in to really appreciate what digestion does for us? When body cells repair, organs function, body systems keep us alive it is only from the nutrition we consume daily.
When digestion isn't working optimally the whole body can be affected. Science is still uncovering the impact of impaired digestion, the effects are as varying as there are people on this planet. Mood, fatigue, adrenal health, blood sugar dysregulation, immune system, allergies, hair, skin and nail health, vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
How do you know if you are having digestive issues?
Bloating, belching, gas, heartburn are the obvious signs. Fingernails chipping, peeling or breaking. Experiencing hives, pulse speeds up after eating, chronic stuffy nose, constipation and diarrhoea.
A classic sign I have been seeing recently in the internet sphere are blood tests for allergies. Most people are surprised that the results come back with sensitivities to all of the foods they eat most or at least have been recently. Avocado, chicken, coffee, vegetables. What is left to eat? What a test like this really means is that most likely there are some digestive problems going on. Maybe the gut lining is inflamed and some undigested food particles are squeezing through the intestinal lining causing sensitivities. If we just cut out the foods that registered a sensitivity without addressing digestion we will find ourselves back at that same place but with sensitivities to more or other foods.
Luckily for us, the cells in the GI lining are some of the fastest replaced in the body. So removing the offending foods and then working to heal the gut lining can be relatively fast depending on severity. Working with an NTP or holistic nutritionist can lead to the fastest results.
Here are a few things that can help digestion:
Cutting out foods you are sensitive to for at least 30 days
Ginger - has been shown to reduce risk of inflammation in the digestive tract
Apple cider vinegar in water before meals
Bone broth - especially broth that gels
Collagen Peptides or gelatin
Beet juice or beet kvass
Fermented vegetables or fermented vegetable juice
Pre and probiotics - find ones that work for you
Our modern life, unfortunately, is geared towards throwing off our digestion. Excessive sugar and refined foods, antacids, overeating, excess alcohol and one of the biggest ones for me - stress.
Writing this I realise that this information is just scratching the surface of digestion as a topic. There is so much more to cover and I plan to do that. Digestion plays a crucial role in our health and healing overall. There is a growing amount of good and bad information out there so speak to a professional if you are dealing with chronic digestive issues as you may not be aware how much impact they could be having on the body as a whole.