Monthly Archives: June 2013

Luckily I Had Worms

That’s what my mother keeps telling everyone at cocktail parties. She seems to think that as guests are sipping their Opus One bordeaux and nibbling on canapés that they also want to hear about how I got intestinal pinworms not once, but twice as a child. Their eyes say stop talking, but my mother persists because she really wants everyone to know how lucky I am that I had worms.

In Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases, the author Moises Velasquez-Manoff explains, among other things, that a childhood infection with pinworms can protect you from developing allergies and autoimmune diseases.

SO I SCORED THE BIG ONE!

epidemic of absence

If you have a kid in school right now, you know that peanuts are no longer allowed on the property, that fun-zones have been replaced by nut-free-zones, and that probably a quarter of the kids in your child’s classroom has some kind of allergy to nuts, apples, dairy, wheat, shellfish or all of the above. And you might also remember that in your day, these allergies were extremely rare. And that in your mom’s day, they were completely unheard of. And so you’re probably wondering, like I was, what gives?

A lot of people have jumped on the foods themselves: maybe peanuts are different than they used to be, more prone to aflotoxins and full of concentrated pesticides or genetically modified to some shady degree or other. These factors could all be true, but they don’t explain why some children react to modern peanuts and some children don’t. In Epidemic of Absence, Vlasquez-Manoff attempts to get to the bottom of this discrepancy.

There are probably three ways a person can become allergic to peanuts, for example. The first is if they are introduced to the peanut protein through the skin, in a baby cream let’s say, before the protein is introduced orally. There is a reason babies put everything in their mouths – they are introducing proteins and foreign bodies in the correct order, so that their digestive system can file it away as what it is. When the order of introduction is backwards, the filing goes awry and when a peanut is ingested it will trigger an autoimmune response or allergy. This is why some doctors are now suggesting peanuts should be introduced earlier, not later, to babies and toddlers – revising the introduction time from 2 years to 7 months.

The second way a person can become allergic to peanuts, or anything really, is if their gut lining is compromised and allows proteins to “leak” through the lining into the bloodstream where they act as toxins to both the body and brain. A gut lining becomes compromised when good bacteria is minimized or eradicated by antibiotics or a diet high in carbohydrates or excessive fiber.

The common denominator in allergies and autoimmune diseases is the gut. Not just the health of the gut, the bacterial balance in the gut or the nutritional inputs into the gut – but also the residents of the gut like parasites, helminths and worms. We have co-evolved with these little guys for hundreds of thousands, say millions, of years. And it has only been extremely recently that we decided to get aggressive about expelling them from our guts for good. And yet in every case where well-meaning philanthropic foundations went into poor countries and eradicated their parasites and worms, it only took about five years for autoimmune diseases and allergies to appear for the first time.

I’m not just talking about some gentle sneezing and watery eyes. I mean suddenly children were coming down with multiple sclerosis, type-1 diabetes, lupus, Crohn’s disease and autism in populations that had never seen these diseases before. It’s worth reading Velasquez-Manoff’s book just for the incredible research into these parallels.

His thesis is that when we get a parasite or worm, it wakes up our immune system and forces it to develop. If your immune system doesn’t wake up and strengthen, the parasite will make you very sick and probably kill you (weeding those weak genes from the pool). But for all of those that are up to developing their immune systems and learning to keep their parasites at bay, and to live with a very low level of symptoms, those immune systems are better for it. These parasitically-infested people will live to become adults, reproduce and pass their genes along to the next generation. In a land of parasites and worms, you definitely want those fighter genes, and you want to epigenetically turn them on with your own parasite infestation.

But in a land without parasites and worms, having those fighter genes with nothing to fight leaves them untrained, fidgety and aggressive. Those fighter genes cause your immune system to attack innocent inputs like peanuts, or pollen, or even immunization shots, which will then present as a host of symptoms of autoimmune diseases.

Our autoimmune diseases and allergies are essentially adaptations to parasites that have gone awry in the absence of parasites.

So our third most probable way of developing a simple peanut allergy is by inheriting an immune system that is really well adapted to parasites, but has not been exposed to them. The immune system is hot on the trigger to attack a parasite, but in the absence of parasites, attacks a simple peanut protein.

Now if you are lucky enough to be on “rabbit cage cleaning duty” and the hand sink is really really far away, chances are you might come in contact with some pinworm eggs on the rabbit fur, unknowingly lodge them under your fingernails, chew on them later that night, and finally welcome them into your body. The pinworm eggs travel through the digestive system until they reach the duodenum at the entrance to the small intestine. After about 2 – 8 weeks, the eggs hatch into larvae, which grow rapidly, moult twice and migrate to the colon. The adults mate over the next few weeks. The males die and the females attach themselves to the intestinal wall to feed. When full, the females make their way to the rectum because their growing eggs need oxygen to fully mature. So they start wiggling their way out of your body, and then when you scratch at them, they release their eggs all over you. The eggs can live in virtually any environment for up to 3 weeks. Now you know all about my childhood, and if you catch my mom at cocktails she’ll tell you the rest.

These crawl out your bum

These crawl out your bum

USE IT OR LOSE IT

The thing about the immune system is that it is like a muscle or a brain neuron – if you don’t use it, you lose it. The body is a merciless pruner so that it can provide you with the exact body and mind you essentially order up through environmental inputs. If you are a Polynesian pearl diver from a young age, your eyes will develop the ability to see clearly underwater simply because your repeated actions of diving deep underwater and straining to see have told your body what you need. Our body is miraculous in what it will respond to. But as far as the immune system goes, if you encounter parasites your body will jump to the challenge to develop a stronger support system against the parasite, and eventually to live peacefully with the parasite. We have co-evolved for so long and are so co-dependent with parasites, that not having them is like missing an organ.

Does that mean we all have parasites, even here in the big city in my modern house? Probably we are all living with a very, very low level of pretty benign parasites. Go for a colonic at The Fenomen Clinic in Toronto and Tamara will probably show you a few parasites in your feces. Good times. The traditional perspective of colonic hydrotherapy is that it’s preferable to get rid of your parasites. Now we know better, so let’s bring them on.

REALLY, BRING ON THE PARASITES?

No, not really. I mean, if you are already weak and sick (with something other than autoimmune disease, like cancer or heart disease) or have some other problems, parasites might not be for you. However the author of Epidemic of Absence travels down to Mexico to infect himself with black-market hookworms, in hopes of healing his autoimmune alopecia and allergies. It’s a remarkable story, worth reading for yourself.

My takeaway is that there are definitely some risks involved with purposely exposing an adult immune system to parasites and worms. But that if you don’t mind taking that risk, and potentially feeling like you have the flu for 6 months to a year while worms course through your organs reproducing and feeding – you could be cured to some degree, if not totally. There are a ton of people trying this right now, with mixed results. But you will have to read their individual stories on the internet and decide for yourself. It will be years and years (or never) before any kind of clinical trial comes out on this. It’s not a medicine, after all – this cure is just a naturally occurring parasite which you can basically acquire by walking barefoot in Africa (which is how the black-market hookworms were originally smuggled back to Mexico).

EMBRACE BACTERIA

But my more general takeaway is that we all need to look at bacteria differently. It is who we are. Using anti-bacterial sprays and soaps is like using anti-human sprays and soaps. If they were labelled that way, would you still use them?

We need to be very careful with our use of antibiotics. That means not just avoiding prescriptions whenever possible, but also avoiding factory meat which is loaded with them even if it says it’s not. By law, commercial meat can state that it is “antibiotic-free” if antibiotics haven’t been administered for the two weeks prior to slaughter. That’s not enough, and there are tons of studies showing those antibiotics are still present in our food supply. Not to mention our water supply – full of antibiotics because of the huge doses given to factory animals. Basically you can do us all a favor by rejecting factory farming.

For your children and yourselves, the act of waiting out a fever, cough or cold is actually the work that the body and the immune system need to do to develop. By constantly curing our maladies and nipping them in the bud, we don’t let our immune system learn to do its job. And if we don’t use it, we lose it.

If you have to take antibiotics, at least get your fill of probiotics to replenish your gut. Go for kefir, unsweetened whole fat yoghurts, Bio-K, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and those acidophilus pills. Build yourself back up every way you can.

But let your kids be sick, let them play in dirt and barnyards, let them attend crowded sickly nursery schools, let them be slobbered all over by pets, and let them get pinworms and whatever. I mean, don’t let it get so bad that they end up in the hospital or worse. But lay off on all the worrying and the wiping and the cleaning. Humans evolved rolling around in dirt for the first year of their lives and ingesting crazy amounts of bacteria. Indoor plumbing is still a super new adaptation for us. I’m not saying I want to return to using a chamber pot and dumping it out my window every day, and then walking barefoot in it a few minutes later – but it’s worth recognizing that when we had those low levels of sanitation, autoimmune diseases and allergies were virtually non-existent.

The most important time to be exposed to bacteria, saprophytes, and parasites is probably while you are pregnant, for the sake of your fetus. The next most important time is passing through the birth canal, then the next six months to a few years or so of nursing, and then finally all through early childhood. If you weren’t able to be exposed to a birthing canal, breastfeeding, a farm, raw milk, forests or other stables of endotoxins and bacteria at those crucial stages in utero and in early childhood – then chances are extremely high that you suffer from allergies or autoimmune disease. Sorry about that. Let me know how your helminth therapy works out.

There is so much information in this book that just thinking about it makes me want to go back and re-read the whole thing again. I have barely summarized it, and I really hope you read this book over the summer. It’s not too late to change our behavior about microbes, bacteria and our gut – and epigenetics has left us a window to modify our genetic destiny. Even if you are riddled with autoimmune diseases and allergies, and your children are going the same way – there are still modifications you can make to ease their symptoms and more importantly to revise the genes they pass on.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MY WORMS?

I’m so glad you asked. Both times I acquired the pinworms, I was able to get to a doctor within a week of their exit strategy and started taking de-worming medicine. I feel for anyone who can’t get de-worming medicine, because they would most certainly reinfect themselves over and over again. If my worms weren’t completely gone, I would know about it. It was an itchy hell. But even though they are gone, my immune system benefited immensely by our time together. Whether the full life cycle was four weeks or ten weeks, their pinwormy presence in my gut alerted my immune system to wake up and start fighting. I don’t know if that brief romance was enough to keep autoimmune disease and allergies at bay for good, so I will also do my best to absorb bacteria from the environment wherever I can. This summer I’m considering drinking water straight from the lake all season for a handy dose of free saprophytes.

My daughter is going to be so excited about all the fun plans I have.

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What He Said: Macronutrient Breakdown

Sometimes you read a post that is just so succinct and perfect that you want to shout it from the rooftops. That’s how I felt about Chris Kessler’s breakdown and thorough explanation of macronutrients. It’s readable, supported by additional documentation, and nowhere close to what your doctor will recommend!

If you are at all confused about what fats, carbohydrates and proteins you should be eating, this will help you a lot. Give it a bookmark already!

Beyond Paleo: Nourish Your Body

Need a teaser to get you to click on the link? Well how about this…

  • Chicken skin: good or bad?
  • Saturated fat: in or out? Is there a limit to how much we should eat?
  • Coconut oil: my doctor said it was a saturated fat and I should avoid it? What gives?
  • Nuts: healthy snack, or rancid treat? Are walnuts and flax really a good source of Omega 3?

Right? These are compelling questions keeping you up at night. The answers are just a link away. You’re welcome.

* I do not have any information about, experience with or ties to Chris Kessler’s program, The Paleo Code. I just think his information is well-written and helpful.

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How To Eat More Butter

butter

Our whole lives (or at least mine, born in the ’70s) we have been taught to be sparing with our butter, or even to substitute it with something else like lemon juice or soy sauce. But now all of a sudden I am trying out LCHF (Low Carbohydrate High Fat diet) and searching for ways to increase my butter intake. This is a weird turn of events.

Of course it’s easy enough to load butter onto cooked green beans, asparagus, peas, fiddleheads, broccoli and the like. But let’s face it, these vegetables are all a little slippery and just don’t hold a lot of butter.

Unfortunately the things I most strongly associate with butter eating – bread, potatoes and popcorn – are now out of my diet due to their high level of carbohydrates. Technically summer corn on the cob should be out of my diet too, but come on! Summer corn? That’s like the best thing in the world. So I’m still going to enjoy summer corn when the time comes, and I’m going to load it up with grass-fed butter and sea salt.

There have always been a few vegetables where using scant butter seemed to ruin them. In particular, I am talking about boiled artichokes and mushrooms.

When I used to boil artichokes, I would serve them with a sauce of butter cut with lemon juice, and then I would just barely dip each leaf in the sauce. It was an agonizing exercise in restraint. Well now it’s a different story. Now I am really slopping the artichoke leaves around in the butter to intentionally absorb as much as I can. Last night my daughter and I managed to eat 1 TBS melted butter each on our artichokes. Wow, right?

morelsDon’t you find when you cook mushrooms that they get incredibly dry? And that adding water or broth just makes them taste, well, watery? Well literally the only thing that can fix this problem is adding more butter. But until discovering LCHF, I wouldn’t dare. Now I am sautéeing 2 cups of mushrooms (about 5g carbohydrate) with at least 2 TBS grass-fed butter. If the mushrooms get dry, I just ADD MORE BUTTER! This works especially well with morel mushrooms, which are a wonderful treat in spring.

Cauliflower (about 5g carbohydrate per cup) is such a versatile vegetable because it can be roasted whole, it can be boiled, it can be “riced” with a ricer, grater or food processor, or it can be mashed. If you mash it, you can add crazy amounts of butter and also cream cheese, whipping cream or sour cream.

LET’S TALK ABOUT BUTTER SOME MORE

To be clear, I am talking about using grass-fed butter. I don’t really care if it is certified organic, because the process of pasture-raising cattle usually indicates that a different standard of farming is at play. Of course, organic is preferred. However I approve of Kerrygold butter from Ireland, which is not organic – nor is Smjör from Iceland. Incidentally, on the Smjör website they claim that the Icelandic people used to consume about 1700g of butter per person per week – which is about 3 3/4 pounds of butter. Let’s keep breaking that down. That’s just over 2 “sticks” of butter per person EACH DAY, or half a pound.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED?

I don’t think I could stomach it.

2 sticks of butter is equivalent to 16 TBS (that’s 1760 calories and 192g of fat!) . On a good day, I can have 2 TBS in my coffee or other hot beverage, another 2 TBS on 2 cups of vegetables, and then possibly another TBS or so in some grain-free baking or melted into a sauce. And that’s only 6 TBS of butter, still 2 TBS short of a stick! (I don’t think I’ve ever actually been able to eat that much in a day, and incidentally, that’s 660 calories and 72g of fat). There really isn’t a limit to how much butter you can consume for health – it will be how much you can stand. Butter and fat are really going to stimulate your bowels, possibly make you feel nauseous at high levels, and generally take some adjusting to. It is really, really hard to eat “too much” butter accidentally.

If you want to do these same fantastic butter conversions, use this online butter calculator and knock yourself out!

BUT SERIOUSLY, WHY BUTTER?

There are so many fats to choose from if you are attempting LCHF. I think coconut oil or Medium Chain Triglyceride oil would be the most important fat because those oils tend to coax your metabolism into ketosis or fat-burning more than any other fat. However butter is important for so many other reasons.

The best reason to eat grass-fed butter is that it contains the magic trifecta of Vitamins A, D and K2 in perfect harmony. Vitamin K2 is going to help you move calcium from your soft tissues into your bones, and reverse plaque-related heart disease. Vitamin D helps the calcium to take orders from the K2, and Vitamin A again helps with the absorption of calcium. I mean, this trifecta does so much more – protects against osteoporosis, fights tooth decay, helps control cell division and gene expression, nourishes the mucous membranes, protects against cancers – but trying to figure it out in supplement form will always mean that one is out-dosing another. The best way to get your fat-soluble vitamins is from a natural, traditional food like grass-fed butter that contains all three in a golden proportion.

The next best reason is that grass-fed butter is full of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). We initially get it in breast milk and we make a little bit of CLA in our gut, but the best source is kangaroo meat and pastured animal products like butter. Grass-fed ruminants can have as much as 5 times more CLA in their end products as grain-fed ruminants. CLA is concentrated in the fats of animals, so butter is especially potent. CLA has anti-tumor properties that fight all three stages of cancer – initiation, promotion and progression, in addition to being able to dampen the effects of carcinogens on cell mutations. CLA also boosts your immunity, lowers insulin resistance, builds muscle mass and reduces body fat. I would hate to skip out on butter and miss all that.

Butter is also a great source of antioxidants from Vitamins A and E, and structurally insulating cholesterol which nourishes the brain.

There are a million other reasons. Just google it. If you don’t want to smuggle grass-fed butter over the border into Canada, you can do everybody a favor and buy a share in a small local dairy farm. That way you can access your own grass-fed milk, cream and butter to your heart’s content, and simultaneously support local independent farmers. Go to the website realmilk.com and search around until you find your country and city. I would recommend a small farm with less than 20 Jersey or Guernsey cows because they are more likely to carry the beneficial A2 gene. Avoid Holsteins. Make some phone calls, visit the farm, take responsibility and ownership of your food supply. If you aren’t ready to trust raw milk per se, you can always buy it and boil it yourself.

My point here is not to waste your time with conventional butter and dairy. Not when real food is so close at hand.

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LCHF: Forking it Swedish Style

LCHF: Forking it Swedish Style

LCHF stands for “Low Carbohydrate High Fat” diet, something that 25% of Swedes are into. There are at least four LCHF print magazines in Sweden (printed in Swedish, of course) and literally hundreds of websites and blogs in Swedish about this phenomenon. Here is one edition translated into English. These Swedish sites are a great resource for recipes if you are looking for a way to increase your fat and decrease your carbohydrates.

What makes the Swedish LCHF different from Paleo and Primal diets is that LCHF promotes even higher fat, and even lower carbohydrate – but includes full fat dairy. The Swedes love whole fat raw dairy and so do I. They have had a long time to evolve with it; you may or may not be as lucky as the Swedes.

What do I love about the Kingdom of Sweden? The Economist calls Sweden the best governed country in the world. Income equality is incredibly fair (though actual wealth distribution is much less fair – thanks Ikea!). Sweden has given us Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking author!), hotties Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman, the Nobel Prize and the superior Celcius temperature system, Acne clothing, ABBA, Ace of Base, Avicii and Stieg Larsson. I’m sure they’ve done some other things, but honestly, isn’t that enough?

Let’s just say these people are smart and tough, they endure some of the highest taxes in the world, they enjoy socialized health care and yet 1 in 4 citizens of the Kingdom of Sweden have still taken the responsibility of their own health into their own hands – by embracing LCHF.

 BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN EXACTLY?

  1. Eat the recommended amount of protein for your body size. See this post on protein ceilings for a reminder of how to calculate yours. I should be eating between 40-50g of protein a day.
  2. Limit your carbohydrates to 10g per 100g of food consumed. If it is too complicated to weigh out your food, try using a calorie counter app like MyNetDiary and keep your carbohydrates under 10% of calories. I try to eat less than 20g of carbohydrates every day. But I’m still not getting it. I usually end up at around 60g and scratch my head. (The culprit is usually dairy: yoghurt, kefir or milk in a latte. Or chocolate. Or wine. Or who’s kidding who, my dad left an open bag of chips on the counter and stuff happened).
  3.  Eat some green vegetables, or vegetables that grow above the ground. You don’t need to eat your whole crisper drawer – better to eat a smaller amount of nutritionally dense foods than huge salads. When you can opt for “wild” type plants like fiddleheads, wild leeks, scallions, arugula – go for it. Small, bitter greens and herbs have more nutrition than modern vegetables, which have largely had the nutrition bred out of them in exchange for bigger size, cosmetics and durability. Always add butter or olive oil or some kind of fat to your greens to optimize your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients (avocado would also work).
  4. The rest of your calories or grams need to come from fat. We’re talking a lot of fat. It’s not LCMediumFat, it’s LCHighFat. Using that same calorie counter app, at least 50% of your calories should come from fat at first, and as soon as you can handle it, try for 70%. For me this looks like a TBS of butter and a TBS of coconut oil in my morning coffee. Then the same amount in a mid-morning Crazy Hot Chocolate Drink. Then if I have a salad at lunch, I include half an avocado and a lot of olive oil. I might also have an oily fish at lunch, like 4oz of wild salmon or some sardines. For dinner I might have a small portion of lamb chops and will eat all the fat off of them, and some asparagus with lots of butter melted on top.

A sample day like this gives me 50g of protein, over 100g of fat and about 25g of carbohydrates. And I haven’t even made room for a cup of kefir (13g carbs), a single Lindt chocolate ball (5g carbs), let alone a butter tart (45g carbs). So you can see how difficult this is. For me in this sample, I am already at my protein ceiling, so I can’t snack on protein. (Remember once you hit your protein ceiling, the excess protein will probably convert to glucose, which if unused will get converted to fat storage – so it’s the same as eating sugar). I am already beyond the classic LCHF 10% of calories from carbohydrates or 10g carbohydrates per 100g food. So if I’m still hungry…

THE ONLY THING LEFT TO SNACK ON IS FAT

Which is a problem because it’s not really a normal thing, and certainly not an acceptable thing, to just snack on straight fat.

The most basic option is to have a tablespoon of coconut oil, fresh from the jar. This honestly isn’t so bad. I mean, I sort of like it a lot. But everybody is not like me. This repulses both of my sisters and literally makes them gag.

Some people just eat butter straight. That’s not for me; not yet anyway. However one great option is to find hot drinks to emulsify fat into, like a hot chai tea (unsweetened, from a teabag) blended with grass-fed ghee, butter or coconut oil. I also enjoy melting some coconut cream into a matcha tea as if it’s a latté.

At the very least, you’ve got to tell me that you’re intrigued. I mean, the Swedes are jumping all over this!

What is even more interesting is that there is a small group of American fertility doctors who are counseling their patients to adopt a strict LCHF or even a NoCarbHighFat diet, and finding that while 50-60% of their patients used to need to go on to IVF and further procedures – now only 5% need that next step. The LCHF protocol is literally ramping up their fertility within a matter of months.

The craziest part of all is that this can have profound health benefits – on fertility, diabetes, Alzheimer’s (type 3 diabetes), dementia, Parkinson’s, cancer, metabolic syndromes etc. – and yet it doesn’t cost a thing in medicines or treatments, lasts a lifetime and has no negative side effects.

Just a warning – obviously you need to eat the “right” fats if you are going to do LCHF. Here is a list of great fats to choose from:

  • virgin cold-pressed coconut oil
  • grass-fed butter (raw and organic if possible)
  • fats from pastured, grass-fed ruminants (including tallow)
  • fats from wild, cold-water small fish like salmon and sardines
  • egg yolks (but go ahead and eat the whole egg, one has less than 0.5g carbs)
  • olive oil (only for cold applications)
  • avocado (one whole has 15g carbohydrates)
  • walnuts (1/2 cup has 8g carbohydrates)
  • fats from organic, traditionally raised pigs and chickens in moderation (including lard)
  • duck fat in moderation
  • other nuts in moderation (always preferably soaked to remove anti-nutrients)

Go ahead and research how these appropriate fats are actually nourishing for the brain, the heart and all your organs and your system as a whole. The research is trickling in against the wave of opposite and conventional advice. In the meantime, you can enjoy insanely hydrated skin, stronger hair and nails, an increase in lean muscle mass and a decrease in stored fat (without exercise).

Your jaw is going to freaking drop when you see how easily this works.

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FURTHER READING

Read my post on How to Eat More Butter

Learn how to make a Big Fat Coffee with butter and coconut oil, and why to drink it

Read about the implications of the LCHF diet on tumor regression

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