supplements

Allergy testing and Leaky Gut

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!

Get into the habit of regularly eating your fermented vegetables.

Get into the habit of regularly eating your fermented vegetables.

Why I stopped buying collagen

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.

Bone broth is a great source of collagen when you need it, like when healing a leaky gut.

Bone broth is a great source of collagen when you need it, like when healing a leaky gut.

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.

Fish Oil

EPA + DHA

Let’s all agree that humans need Omega 3’s for optimal health, they are essential fatty acids that the body itself can’t make. We need them for brain health, inflammation response, and cardiovascular health. But everywhere you look now there are fish oil Omega 3 supplements; at supermarkets, at drugstores, on the internet. Countless brands are touting and selling these capsules and liquids. No wonder that it is a billion dollar industry.

The problem with fish oil 

The problem with fish oil is that Omega 3 fats are polyunsaturated which means they are the most fragile. They are easily damaged by heat, light and processing. A study completed in New Zealand showed that “almost all” of the fish oil supplements that were available on the NZ market were tested and showed they were highly oxidised. They also found that levels of EPA and DHA (the two key Omega 3 fatty acids) were markedly lower than stated on the label. If you think this won’t affect you because the product you have is considered high quality, think again. The researchers found that “best-before date, cost, country of origin and exclusivity were all poor markers of supplement quality”.
 

In the past few years I have consumed many bottles of Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil & Butter oil blend, but this was for the fat-soluble vitamins not so much EPA and DHA. I recently tested really well for adding some essential fatty acids to my life so decided to jump into the deep end with fish oil. I went with a product that came highly recommended to me, Wiley’s Finest Wild Alaskan Fish Oil - 1000mg EPA + DHA. The fish used is guaranteed sustainable and the processing used ensures that the product is not contaminated with heavy metals. It is also free of GMO additives.  

Whichever EPA & DHA supplement you go with, just remember to do some research and go with a trusted source because the risk of those capsules containing a rancid oxidised polyunsaturated fat which could be more damaging than good is very high. Or play it safe and stick to whole food sources of these key fatty acids like eating sardines and wild salmon a few times a week.

Update November 2018: How do we know if the fish oil you are taking has gone rancid during processing or in the capsule? The easiest way is to crack the capsule in your mouth between your teeth and taste the oil. It should taste like fish and not fish thats gone bad. These days I crack the capsule in my mouth every time I take one and have it with food. Why? Digestion begins in the mouth so I want to mix the oil with the enzymes in my saliva and make sure I’m really getting the most out of the supplement I’ve spent good money on. I take it with food so my stomach is already acidic enough to digest food which kicks off the digestion cascade and makes sure I’m releasing bile to digest these essential fats.

Do I get fish burps from this process? I’ll answer this question because it’s a common complaint from taking fish oil supplements. No, I don’t burp up fish smell. One thing is I taste the supplement and it doesn’t smell or taste any stronger than eating a piece of salmon. If you are plagued with fish burps make sure you are breaking the capsule in your mouth for optimal digestion, if it tastes bad then don’t take it because it’s probably gone off despite what the best before date says.

On that note let me mention the fermented cod liver oil I used to take. Everyone who’s taken it knows it doesn’t smell or taste anywhere near delicious, in fact when I started taking it I would gag. Now that I know what I know, I won’t take it again. You can’t ferment an oil, which seems so obvious to me now but back when I first started taking it fermented was such a buzz word and the product was so highly recommended it clouded my judgement and it seems like the judgment of many other people. Polyunsaturated oils go rancid within hours of being exposed to heat, light and air. If you’ve ever smelled or tasted the unflavoured product then you know the word that comes to mind is rancid.

Fear not, there are great cod liver oil options out there that are not fermented! Check out this post from Cheeseslave to find out more. Side note: I started reading her blog when I first discovered the book Nourishing Traditions nearly 10 years ago.

 

References

https://www.nature.com/articles/srep07928#t1

http://ajpregu.physiology.org/content/ajpregu/early/2016/07/06/ajpregu.00005.2016.full.pdf

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1205409

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fish-oil-friend-or-foe-201307126467




 

Supplements 101

How to get a picture liked on Instagram? Show a hand holding a bottle of supplements. If you haven’t noticed, then you haven't been paying attention. Everyone seems obsessed. What’s the latest fix-all? Or what’s the latest brand with a big social media budget?

Magic potions for a quick fix.

I think our obsession with supplements stems from our quick-fix culture. Yes, I have been guilty of this too! The dream is that we don’t have to fix our lifestyle, eating habits, mindset but could just pop a pill or mix a powder into our coffee and get on with our day.

Before you spend your hard earned money and order the latest pill, drink, detox ask yourself if you actually have a problem that may get fixed by this product. Were you already actively seeking out a solution to an issue you have? Or did this product find you and very indirectly told you that you may have an issue that it can fix?

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It's raining pills and powders

Before you purchase - check that there isn't an equal product that you could buy for a lot less because it doesn't have the huge marketing budget. But I do suggest steering well clear of bargain basement cheap supermarket brands that probably don't even contain what it says on the label. Before you buy it, do some reading. Does this product only promise to work if you take it daily for years? Are you willing to commit to the cost of that? Is it worth the cost? Maybe you could spend that same money on grass-fed organic pasture raised meats or local organic produce or eggs that you couldn't afford before and see bigger results in your health.

Listen to your body

So, you bought the thing? Cool, cool. Consume it, but pay attention. Is it doing what it said it would? Are you seeing or feeling marked changes? Do you have any evidence that it’s doing something? Don’t keep buying it out of habit when it maybe isn't doing anything for you. Also maybe it worked for your sister, coworker, second cousin. That doesn't mean that it’s going to work for you. We are all bio-individual with different needs. If someone else praises the product for moving mountains but you saw no changes then it’s simple, don’t buy it again.

Drink your greens

Greens Greens Greens

I’ve been taking this green powdered drink on and off for probably 5 years. I recently got another bottle and remember why I love it and go back to it over and over. It really helps with digestion and energy. It's a great booster for days I'm lacking on green vegetables, especially in the winter months when there are fewer greens available or they have to be trucked in from far away so may not be as nutritionally dense as when they were first harvested.

 It contains powdered greens, sea vegetables, probiotics and digestive enzymes. What it doesn’t have are fillers that many other powdered greens companies add like fruit, grains or seeds. There’s nothing wrong with those things but when I am paying for a quality product I don’t want it diluted, I want a potent combination of greens, superfoods and nothing extra.

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Alkalising, Energising, Nutrient Dense

 I really love this product so I always end up going back to it since I trust the quality. I just mix it in shaker bottle of water and drink up.

Taste is important too!

 A note on taste, when I gave it to my sister she said it tastes like dirt but I love this earthy drink. If you're not accustomed to vegetable only juices or not-sweet smoothies I suggest blending it with water into a smoothie with cucumber, peeled lemon chunks and half an apple, preferably granny smith. Add any other additional greens if you want. To the ingredients listed, I have added spinach, lettuce, parsley and cilantro to the mix, depending what I have had on hand. This blend is great if you don’t like the taste of greens on their own.

I think the body reacts strongly to taste. If you are gulping something down, gagging on a taste you don't find agreeable then your body probably won't do a great job digesting the food or drink. Find a way to make eating and drinking greens work for your tastes. Start small with half a teaspoon in plenty of water and work your way up. It's surprising how quickly you might start to love the taste. 

The serving mentioned on the bottle is quite large, I usually have a big heaped teaspoon of powder in a big glass of water or a shaker bottle.

When to drink it?

 Regarding timing, I don’t drink it close to any caffeinated beverages because it can inhibit the absorption of iron from the sea vegetables and I always need extra iron. Personally I think this drink is great any time of the day as long as you take it! Sure it might be optimal on an empty stomach first thing in the morning but if that doesn't fit your day then why bother? I used to take it first thing in the morning but these days I have it right before lunch or dinner or between meals with lots of water.

Digestion

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

Digestive enzymes

Betaine HCL

Fennel

Peppermint tea

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.