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