Category Archives: Other Issues

Reset Days

Sometimes a weekend gets away from you when there are birthdays and holiday parties to host and attend. I’m talking excessive wine and champagne, buttercream cakes, croissants, scalloped potatoes, chips and crackers, candy and chocolate. Well that was my weekend anyway. No big thing, let’s do a reset.

Today I’m going to eat a moderate amount of nutrient-dense food (let’s say 1400 calories for my body size and activity level), and I’m going to consume my proteins and carbohydrates exclusively during an 8-hour window, between noon and 8pm. But I can eat fats in the morning to give me energy and bowel motility for the day ahead. This plan is specifically tailored as an LCHF (Low Carbohydrate High Fat) day to reset my fat burning potential and redirect my body into an appropriate state of ketosis.

START OF THE DAY

I’m going to start with a “Butter Coffee”. I brew a long espresso over a Tbsp of organic, pasture butter and a Tbsp of coconut oil. You could also add some boiling water if your espresso isn’t “long” enough. Then I shake in some organic cinnamon and a few drops of vanilla or a few shakes of vanilla bean powder. Then I dump this oily mess into my Vitamix or blender, and blend on high for about 10 seconds to really emulsify the fats. My long espresso turns from black to creamy caramel. I pour it into my favourite mug and enjoy.

This gives me a lot of energy for my morning, and also gets my bowel motility going pretty rapidly. I’m sharing that because I know you want to know. But I am adjusted to this amount of fat, which is an important detail. Sometimes I do 2 Tbsp of butter and 2 Tbsp of coconut oil. Sometimes I’m just that kooky. If you are not used to eating this much fat, try starting with just 1/2 Tbsp of coconut oil. Maybe the next day add 1/2 Tbsp of butter, and then work up from there. Too much fat too soon can literally make you feel nauseous, especially coconut oil. But if you are adjusted to it, it makes you feel great: alert, energized and moisturized!

Butter Coffee 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp coconut oil: 25g of fat and about 220 calories

BREAKING THE FAST: LUNCHTIME

At noon, or closer to 1pm if convenient, I’m going to eat a pretty easy lunch of a can of sardines packed in olive oil or water (not soybean or canola oil), and a parsley salad.

The can of sardines I have handy (Open Seas Portugese sardines) has 11g of fat and 15g of protein.

parsley saladThe parsley salad is a revelation that I discovered in Istanbul. It’s basically tabouli without the couscous. I take 2 bunches of washed flat-leaf parsley and 1 bunch of washed mint and chop them in a food processor with some cucumber. You can also add some lemon peel, lemon juice, garlic and scallions. Then I add some grape tomatoes and a dressing of olive oil and white balsamic vinegar, a touch of dijon mustard and fresh garlic.

Why this salad is a revelation is that parsley is off the charts with nutrient density. 1 serving of this salad is worth about 2 cups of parsley, which gives you 303% of your Vitamin A for the day, 213% of your Vitamin C, 41% of your iron and 17% of your Calcium – not to mention over 2000% of your Vitamin K1, 46% of your Folate, 19% of your Manganese and 10%o four Phosporous. There’s more to parsley, but the numbers are starting to get boring and smaller.

And as far as macronutrients go, 2 cups of parsley has 1g of fat, 8g of carbohydrates and 4g of protein. This is a salad winner. Add some olive oil and vinegar dressing as the fats and acids will help your body metabolize the nutrients in the salad.

lunchSNACKING

First of all I’m going to drink a lot of tea today, specifically nettle tea. Nettles do a million great things, including stimulating the lymph system and boosting the immune system – great at this time of year.

If I feel like a snack today, I’m going to have some high quality olives. 10 large olives have about 5g of fat and 3g of carbohydrates. In addition to their blood pressure lowering properties (due to high monounsaturated oil content), olives are packed with phytonutrients like phenols and terpenes that specifically interrupt the life cycle of breast cancer and gastric cancer cells, and also protect DNA from oxidative damage.

GET READY FOR DINNER

As I’m calling this a “reset day”, these meals are going to be quick and easy.  I’m going to have a 3-egg omelette for dinner with 1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese inside. The whole thing will be cooked in butter. I might add some scallions and hot sauce if I feel like it.

I might have a few radishes on the side as a garnish, or a little scoop of fermented carrots and beets as an additional condiment.

DESSERT

Okay it’s not fair to call this dessert. But it’s the most “carby” item of the day, so it sort of fits into this category. After I’ve digested dinner but before my “8 hour window” is done, I’m going to have 1 cup of home-made whole milk kefir. You could have a little bowl of yoghurt or some whole milk kefir (unflavored) from the store. I really like to finish my day with some heavy duty probiotics like this, so that they can get to work on my digestive system overnight. Also, the sugar and the fat in the milk will keep me from getting at all hungry over the night, and will help guide me to sleep.

LET’S LOOK AT THIS 1400 CALORIE DAY

I think I should just re-state that I don’t “count calories”, but that they are still a handy marker for how much food I have eaten. When I am adjusted to eating more fat, I tend to consume less calories overall and yet feel more satiated.

Today’s meals and condiments break down to a ratio of calories from 70% fat, 11% carbohydrates and 19% protein.

Stated another way: 117g fat (51g saturated), 45g carbs (15g sugar) and 70g protein.

I will also have eaten over 1000% of my daily Vitamin A, over 400% of my Vitamin C, 122% of my Calcium, 84% of my iron, 40% of my Vitamin D, over 3000% of my Vitamin K1, etc.

My Vitamin D from today’s foods is a little low, so I will take my cod liver oil supplements like I always do to compensate. My B vitamins are also a little low (only meeting about 60% of required B6, B12 and Folate), so I will supplement with a topical Vitamin B cream, which is designed to bypass digestion and get right into my cells. I’m also only hitting about 50% of my Magnesium requirements, so I’m going to use a topical Magnesium gel and an Epsom salts bath. And as Vitamin K2 is either not measured in our foods or not present, I am always going to take a K2 supplement (mine comes with Vitamin D as well).

This is a pretty good reset day. Probably a little higher in protein for me than necessary, but basically a good day.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

This week I’m going to do the Butter Coffee regime every morning. For lunch I’ll switch it up with a kale salad and some boiled eggs. For dinner I’ll have lamb chops or wild salmon with some broccoli or leeks. I’ll try to finish off every day with some kefir.

I’ll let you know how long this lasts before I accidentally eat a bag of chips.

SOME FURTHER READING

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Get Your Mag On

Mg12

Photo from the helpful Periodic Table

I’ve talked before about how I recommend using topical magnesium oil as a better method of supporting the body’s magnesium needs (see the “Start Here” link under “Home” in the menu bar). But let me break down my recommendations again:

  1. Rub an almond-sized dollop of topical MAGNESIUM OIL on yourself every night about half an hour before bedtime. Magnesium oil makes your skin a bit itchy, like how you feel after getting out of an intensely salty sea. I rub the oil on my stomach and the leftover on my legs. After half an hour, if the itchiness is still irritating me – I wipe it off. All the magnesium should have been absorbed through my skin by that time.
  2. Take epsom salt baths. There are other kinds of salt baths – like Dead Sea Salts, Brittany Fine Sea Salts, Himalayan Salts etc. All of these are great, and I love to alternate. But if it’s magnesium you are after, epsom salts have the most. Epsom salts are also by far the least expensive. I buy huge tubs of it at Whole Foods in the bulk section for about $2.
  3. Consider taking a magnesium supplement, especially if you are prone to constipation, arteriosclerosis or kidney stones. Magnesium chlorate might be best for you, possibly in powder form – but others are also good. But skip magnesium oxide – it doesn’t absorb very well at all.  This should be taken ideally in the morning and then again at bedtime. You need to pace it out. The problem with oral magnesium is that if you take too much, you can get diarrhea. So at least you always have an easy and relatively harmless way of knowing if you have taken too much. The topical magnesium oil above bypasses the digestive system, so will never give you diarrhea. Hooray for that.

A TELLING EXPERIMENT

Take an ounce of water. You know: a shot glass. Now crush up a calcium pill and try to dissolve that in the water. You will see that it doesn’t dissolve very well and leaves some chalky bits suspended in the water. Now crush up a magnesium pill and add that to the same glass. Suddenly the calcium starts disappearing. The magnesium helps keep the calcium dissolved in solution.

/END OF EXPERIMENT

When you take calcium or even just get a lot of it from your diet – without enough magnesium – this is what can happen to calcium in your body: Calcium will precipitate out of solution and form nasty things like kidney stones, stiff cell walls and arterial plaques.

So first of all, never, ever, ever take calcium supplements on their own. I don’t want you to take them at all, not for any reason. But if you absolutely must because of some deep belief or fear – then please, please take a calcium/magnesium combo. And of course make sure you are also taking Vitamin K2, which also directs calcium to your bones and teeth and away from soft tissues. Please see my book review of “K2 and the Calcium Paradox” under the “Books” tab in the “Home” menu above. (I will provide a direct link below.)

Magnesium won’t reverse arterial calcification on its own; only Vitamin K2 can do that. However to reap the full benefits of Vitamin K2 (and A and D), you will need magnesium for the maximum vitamin metabolism.

magnesium miracle

THE MAGNESIUM MIRACLE

I learned about this easy-to-visualize experiment from a book by Carolyn Dean, MD, ND called “The Magnesium Miracle”. If you want to get hot and heavy on magnesium, this is a great place to start. She promotes a very specific pico-ionic magnesium which is apparently absorbed “100% at the cellular level”! So maybe if you are not seeing profound enough effects with the above recommendations after 3 months, these crazy blue bottles are the way to go. I will link to the product at the bottom of this post, though I haven’t used it.

FOODS THAT ARE HIGH IN MAGNESIUM

  • Wild nettles
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Brazil nuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sea salt

I am going to skip right over grains. That’s because although grains have incredibly high levels of magnesium, the magnesium is bound up with the grain’s high phytic acid content – so it is unavailable. Furthermore, the phytic acid can bind with the magnesium in your body and further deplete you. It is a total misunderstanding and marketing ploy to indicate that you can get magnesium from modern grain products. A caveat: if you soak your grains (at least overnight in an acidic solution), you can reduce the phytic acid content and make the magnesium more bioavailable. This is the case with traditional, whole grain sourdough bread. But come on people, we’ve come so far… Just skip the grains altogether!

Likewise legumes, which have the same phytic acid business going on.

BACK UP. REMIND ME ABOUT THIS PHYTIC ACID BUSINESS AGAIN?

Okay listen up. Phytic acid is a storage form of phosphorous which is bound up with grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to prevent them from sprouting. This is why you can store grains, legumes, nuts and seeds for so long without them growing into plants or rotting. Phytic acid does this by “locking down” these minerals: calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc (and others). Locked up means you can’t get them! Not for you!

So if you want to source fresh organic wheat berries grown on magnesium-rich soil, stone-grind them at home for freshness and to prevent oxidizing the fatty acids, then soak the ground flour overnight in a solution of water and apple cider vinegar or whey, and then pour off the phytic acid-rich water and make a sourdough with an extended rise over a couple of days – like, go for it. You can probably get a good dose of minerals from this effort.

What I do is split the difference. I buy raw, organic almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds – which are all rich in phytic acid – and I soak them overnight with a little bit of apple cider vinegar. In the morning, I rinse them all and then put them in a dehydrator at 105F to keep the seeds “alive”. You can also use a low oven setting (ideally 140F or less) for a day or so. If you don’t dry out the nuts, they will go rancid pretty quickly.

Alternatively, you can do the super Ayurvedic thing and soak just 10 almonds overnight, and maybe 2 Brazil nuts, and then eat them “wet” the next day.

Nuts and seeds have more nutritional density and less effect on insulin than grains and legumes.

MORE BORING PROBLEMS: OXALATES

Green leafy vegetables are also rich in magnesium (and other minerals), BUT WAIT! They are also high in oxalic acid, which works just like phytic acid to bind minerals and make them unavailable to you.

Now of course there is a bit of natural buffering going on, but essentially what this means is that if you are trying to do yourself a favor by eating a lot of raw spinach, Swiss chard, and even kale to a lesser extent – you are inadvertently depleting your body of minerals. Which is pretty ironic because spinach, Swiss chard and kale are pretty packed with minerals.

SO HOW DO YOU WIN AT THIS INFURIATING GAME?

This part is easy. COOK your dark leafy greens. Swiss chard, which is particularly rich in oxalic acid, should be boiled, for a long time (!), and then drained of its oxalic acid-rich water.

I know there is a big movement afoot to eat raw vegetables for all of their fabulous enzymes. But the fact is that minerals trump enzymes. Why? Because enzyme action is driven by minerals. Not enough minerals? No enzyme action. Minerals are the chicken that comes before the enzyme egg.

So you should eat the majority of your vegetables (ALL VEGETABLES) cooked. It’s not my fault that we evolved this way.

SOME RAW IS PERFECTLY FINE!

Oxalic acid is not all bad. It’s also a fine antioxidant. So don’t freak out so much.

QUICK SAMPLE LIST OF MAGNESIUM-DEFICIENT SYMPTOMS

  • migraines, pain and insomnia
  • strokes, brain problems
  • cholesterol and hypertension, heart disease
  • obesity and diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia
  • PMS, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • infertility, pregnancy, preeclampsia, cerebral palsy
  • osteoporosis, kidney stones and tooth decay
  • anxiety and depression
  • chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, asthma

WHY DID I EVOLVE TO NEED THIS MUCH MAGNESIUM BUT I’M NOT GETTING IT NOW?

It’s our industrialized food system, stupid! Growing food on depleted soil means no minerals. That’s why they add fertilizers like Potash, which is essentially a cheap potassium solution. Potassium is great! But it pushes out the magnesium. Now it’s not available in your crops! Those cheap crops are fed to your “protein sources” like factory-farmed cows, chickens and farmed fish. Are you getting it? What you’re not getting is magnesium.

OTHER THAN SUPPLEMENTING, WHAT CAN I DO?

Buy your vegetables from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group or farmers’ market, and check in on their farming practices. You’re looking for some biodynamics going on – crops fertilized with cow and chicken manure either from the same farm or a local neighbor. You’re looking for naturally mineral-rich soils, or soils that are supplemented with balanced minerals (like Redmond Clay).

Eat pastured meats (grass-fed, grass-finished) like lamb and beef, and true free-range poultry – animals that can absorb the minerals from the soil in the grasses they eat. Use these mineral-rich bones to make stock!

Eat brains and hearts! Brains and hearts are super concentrated with magnesium. Choose young lamb brains and hearts from a butcher you trust.

THE MAGIC OF ROCKS

Did you know that having rocks in a field used to signify mineral-rich and fertile soil? But now we think rocks in a field means the farmer is too poor to remove them and buy himself a tractor. That’s because rocks mess up tractors – from tilling to seeding to harvesting, so we have developed a bias against them. Industrial farmers have to remove the rocks from their fields.  But the rocks were the sweet naturally slow-releasing mineral depositories. Now they have to replace those lost (free) minerals with purchased fertilizers and nutrients. That’s an expensive proposition, and besides, a lot of the fertilizers just get leached away when it rains… Which then accumulate in wetlands and create salty, acidic, life-averse environments. So on every front: bummer.

The CSA I buy my vegetables from uses horses to plow their fields. I’m serious! There are rocks everywhere!

THE VERY BOTTOM LINE

Magnesium is deficient in almost everyone. The Recommended Dietary Allowance is between 300 – 400 mg for adults. Any overdose is self-correcting (you will get diarrhea if you ever take too much). It improves the body’s ability to metabolize other minerals and vitamins. There’s not much magnesium doesn’t help with, and it doesn’t cause any harm.

FURTHER READING

The Magnesium Miracle” by Carolyn Dean, MD, ND

ReMag Pico-Ionic Magnesium drops

Ancient Minerals Magnesium oil, available at Smith’s Pharmacy on Yonge Street in Toronto

My book review of “K2 and the Calcium Paradox”

Arteriosclerosis linked to magnesium deficiency.

Migraines and magnesium

Diabetes and magnesium

Plowshare Organic Farm CSA outside of Toronto that uses Sally and Milly, two fine work horses to plow

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sending Out An S.O.B. (Save Our Brains)

We are all worrying about it. We have all noticed changes in our our memory, our attention and our behavior. I’m talking about what “the internet” is doing to our brains.

I took my worry to a book, because it is still my opinion that long-form authors can contemplate the strongest research and compose the deepest arguments. There are at least ten books on this topic to choose from now; I read some book reviews (online!) and chose “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr.

Okay if this is a book review, then here’s my review: great book. But this isn’t really the place for a formal book review; this is a blog, and you are reading it online, so what you are really doing is just skimming the screen in an “F” pattern looking for BOLDED INFORMATION and being distracted by hyperlinks and flashing ads. Turns out even though I’ve tried to keep it simple and engaging, you’re probably not even reading any of my posts from beginning to end, as I have logically expected you to.

BUT IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT

It’s the fault of our limited human short-term memory. Carr uses a fabulous metaphor that transferring new information from our short-term memory into our long-term memory is a slow and limited process, much like trying to fill a bathtub with a thimble. The bathtub is our long-term memory – and it is actually infinitely fillable, theoretically. But the bathtub can only be filled with a thimble. There’s a serious bottleneck of information at that thimble, and adding more information doesn’t help it transfer to our long-term memory. Making the thimble bigger might help, but that is not what the information age is doing, and I don’t have any specific ideas on how to hack the brain to increase this transfer rate.

APPLYING THE METAPHOR TO THE SCREEN

When we read a page online, the information is frequently surrounded by other distractions: there are the friendly icons at the bottom of our home screen, there are the indicators on your mail and text icons that you have a new message, there is a warning light on your reminders icon or equivalent that you still have things to complete today; on a specific webpage, there are sometimes ads on the sidebars or at the bottom which are helpfully targeted precisely to your needs, there are hyperlinks embedded within the text to help you define tricky words or pop culture references, or to direct you to further information or a buying opportunity.

We may think that we have the self-restraint to push forward through these distractions, and it may help on some level if we do practice the discipline of maintaining focus on the task at hand (reading through this page, for example). However the real problem is that in our unconscious mind, we are being distracted by the ads and hyperlinks because we are unconsciously trying to make decisions about whether or not to click on a link. Trying to make all these, albeit unconscious, decisions taxes our working memory. It uses up some of the thimble. Now if we are also consciously regarding the hyperlinks and ads and consciously trying to decide whether to click on a link or an ad, then we are using even more of the thimble. There is not much room left in the thimble, or in our working memory, to transfer any information into the bathtub or long-term memory. The result is a shallow, at best, retention of the information.

THE THIMBLE IS SHRINKING

Now there are many references to research by legit organizations (Stanford etc) which show that test subjects retain information from a printed page better than from a screen. Hands down. You can go and read the book and look up the research, or you can just take my word for it.

You will remember the details and context in a news article better if you read it in a printed newspaper than if you read it online. This is easy to test for so go ahead and design an experiment at home with your family, and see the results for yourself. Comprehension and retention are impeded by reading online. The distractions and choices inherent in online reading and surfing tax working memory and make the thimble smaller.

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO

Well I’m certainly not going to tell you to stop reading online, to cancel your internet account or to look down your nose at the incredible advantages that the internet information age has brought us. But I am going to offer you some behaviors that you can adopt to mitigate the changes in your brain from our ubiquitous web surfing.

  1. Read paper books. Books are not obsolete. The physicality of books still has a relevant function. Paper books allow the brain to gently relax into a state of deep reading and thinking. Books do not overtax the working memory (except for certain hyper-footnoted books – anything by David Foster Wallace comes to mind). Books are a great way to move information from short-term memory into long-term memory. I especially like to underline and make notations in books – adding a physical component to my visual exercise helps me remember. This is not distracting, this is enhanced learning. Neurons that fire together wire together.
  2. Read physical, long-form journalism. Most magazines are simply excuses for selling ads. If you want to protect your brain, read magazines with limited ads that are truly maintained through subscriptions and foundations. My favorite example is Harpers Magazine, which is consistently excellent. I also love reading The New Yorker and The Utne Reader. I can admit that The Economist bores me to tears, but it would be a great contender for long-form journalism. The Atlantic Monthly is alternatively filled with astounding articles and pandering infogendas. Read these in their physical manifestations. Only go online to look up out-of-print articles, then print those out and read them.
  3. Listen to long-form radio productions. NPR and the CBC usually have a story longer than 5 minutes every day. I’m not talking about a talk show. Howard Stern is not there to enrich your long-term memory. Our most ancient style of learning is obviously auditory; hearing the different voices and textures of life is similarly an enriching learning experience, which fills the thimble efficiently and lets you transfer information to long-term memory. Alternately, attend lectures that hopefully aren’t full of soul-sucking powerpoint presentations.
  4. Practice mindfulness. This is a very basic and non-denominational method of stilling your mind chatter. In addition to formal meditation practice, it is useful to engage in mindful listening, mindful eating etc. Even when you are at your computer, try to engage fully in one task at a time. (That means don’t talk on the phone while also checking your email, reviewing your calendar, dreaming of a holiday, buying school supplies online and drinking your coffee. Ease up already!)

ELITIST? HELL YA

Are these mitigating suggestions elitist because it costs money to buy books and magazines, attend lectures and hire a mindfulness coach, but the internet is free? Sort of. But there are libraries, for now, where books and magazines can be freely borrowed. You can listen to radio documentaries and probably learn mindfulness from a book or a friend. The fact is, good information has to be paid for. Good information has to be researched, fact-checked, edited, crafted by experience and presented in an intellectually and aesthetically compelling manner. That has never come free, does not come free and will never come free. If that offends you, then support a library so that people less fortunate than you can also read journalism and fiction.

I would like to be among the few who still has room in my working memory to transfer information to my long-term memory. I would like to retain a richness of memories and experiences to draw from so that I can think deeply about ideas, form considered opinions and have wisdom in my old age. I do not want to erode this process because of my addiction to technology and end up a listless, shallow shell of a human – someone who is easily distracted by bright colors and baubles. Let that happen to everyone else. They will be easier to care for and sell to, after all.

NO MORE HYPERLINKS EMBEDDED IN BODY OF TEXT

So for my small part, I made a decision not to imbed hyperlinks into the body of my text anymore. Instead, if I think a link is going to be helpful, I will submit it at the bottom of my post.

WHY BLOG AT ALL

Writing this blog was really my own form of mitigating forgetfulness. I read so many books and plow through so much information, but find it difficult to retain it all. One of my best strategies for learning was to make sure someone else was reading a certain book at the same time as me, and then engage in long conversations about the book. These conversations would force me to go back to the book and make references, and to reconsider my point of view based on the other reader’s impressions – behaviors that deepen learning. Usually these conversations would raise even more questions and I would seek out another book for further answers. This was imminently helpful. But I ran out of humans that could be interested in reading books at the exact same time and with the same intensity as me. What a betrayal that people have different interests than mine! My mom is the only one who keeps pace with me nearly book for book, and I try to keep pace with her books in return.

Writing these posts is really just a chance for me to process the books and information that I have been reading, either in the absence of long conversations or in addition to them. This is my way of extending the time this information is in my working memory, so that my little thimble has more of a chance to transfer information into my long-term memory. In addition, once the information has been posted, I can refer back to it at any time when my long-term memory fails me, giving the thimble another opportunity to fill the bathtub. I can re-read the posts whenever I need to deepen my memories of it.

NOW YOU CAN GET CLICKING AGAIN

The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains” by Nicholas Carr

Harper’s Magazine

The Utne Reader

The New Yorker

Petition to save Toronto’s Public Libraries

Wiki site on Mindfulness

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Onion Skin Is Not Normal At Any Time of the Month

OnionThis post is for women. Men: skip this one unless you are a doctor or a widower dad with a daughter. Seriously! I’m going to talk about menstruation and stuff and this is just not for you.

For some reason I have no trouble talking about fecal transplants and how many times I’ve contracted pinworms in my life, but when it comes to menstruation I still feel a powerful and shameful urge to keep quiet.  Well here I am, working through it, because it’s time to talk about how different today’s sanitary pads and tampons are from the ones we grew up with. And it’s not like I grew up in a Little House on the Prairie; I grew up in the 80s.

LET’S GET TO IT THEN

I was one of those people who started using OB cotton tampons during my very first menstrual cycle. I liked the limited packaging, the small amount of waste, and the suggestion that they were 100% cotton, and I feel like they advertised in Ms Magazine and Mother Jones, which was cool. I also disliked the bulkiness and imagined mess of using sanitary pads, so I mainly avoided them. In addition, in 2000 I learned from a New Yorker article how to “skip” my period altogether by taking a series of low-dose birth control pills “straight through” for three months at a time, so that I only had to menstruate about 4 times a year instead of 12. By gaming the system this way, I potentially caused some long term issues but also potentially reduced my risk of breast and ovarian cancer by limiting the circulating estrogen and other hormonal surges that accompany menses. But that’s a lot of theory, and not something I would recommend again to anyone, ever (though it was super duper convenient). There are so many more complications with using the birth control pill that we now know about, but this post is not about the pill. The 90s and 2000s were a time when we were really excited about the convenience of prescriptions that could cure every perceived illness, discomfort or anxiety. This decade we supposedly know better.

SOME BIG MOTHERS

The thing is, you can’t go your whole life without sanitary pads. If you have a baby or sadly a miscarriage, you are going to need them for like a month afterwards. And not just regular ones, you are going to need some big mothers. In addition, when you are over 35, your Chinese fertility doctor is going to urge you not to use tampons anymore for one of those abstract reasons like that it blocks your chi. But on another level he might be worried about the dioxins and plasticizers in tampons now, and doesn’t want those things all up in your sensitive and permeable membranes interfering with your hormones and fertility.

I FEEL FOR TEENAGERS TODAY

Because I only ever used the mostly cotton OB tampons or the Natracare 100% organic cotton variety, I never had any issues. But a quick internet search will show you that teenagers today are freaking out over dry, peeling skin both inside their vaginal canal and on the labia. When they go to the doctor, they are told they just have sensitive skin and need to remember to rinse off their body wash better. Basically they are told they are stupid and should be ashamed of themselves. Doctors aren’t thinking about what is in these super engineered tampons these days – mainly, materials that are chemically manufactured to wick moisture away at any cost. Not just the “moisture” of menstruation, but all of it.

And so a lot of these girls give up on tampons and go back to menstrual pads with the same results. In particular, the Always brand menstrual pads are so highly engineered with moisture-wicking properties and an absorbent petrochemical gel interior that they can effectively suck the moisture out of your delicate skin until it is as dry and papery as an onion skin and peels off the same way. This peeling happens not just because the skin is dry, but also because it is reacting to the intensity of chemicals, plasticizers, and dioxins and so “sheds” the exterior skin to protect its deeper layers.  This is a chemical burn.

TALKING TO THE INTERNET INSTEAD OF OUR MOMS

It’s just the way of the world now that it is faster, more convenient and less embarrassing to ask the internet or Siri about our body issues instead of our moms or doctors. So that’s what teenagers are doing. Back in my day, we saved embarrassment by consulting our worn copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. But because products are changing at an alarming rate, problems are changing. You might actually get more relevant answers from the internet than from your mom. Sanitary pads and tampons used to be made of cotton and were generally benign. Not so anymore, and your mom and your doctor might not realize how much these products have changed.

The brightest, shiniest products in the feminine care aisle that are being marketed to our daughters (and ourselves) are the ones most likely to leave us with chemical burns. There is no reason for a teenager to complain of peeling skin and vaginal dryness during and right after their menstruation, and it is downright horrifying that teenagers today think that chemical burns and dryness are just part of their monthly period.

FUN EXPERIMENT

If you’re not convinced, why don’t you take an Always sanitary pad and put it against the inside skin of your mouth for 2 hours. Not only will you absorb dioxins, plasticizers and petrochemicals through your permeable mouth membrane, but the skin will dry up and peel a few days later. If it sounds unappealing to put these engineered products in your mouth, then don’t put them in or near your freaking vagina.

BUT I CAN’T RETIRE TO A HUT FOR THE WEEK

The alternative is using the $30 Diva Cup or similar product. It is a flexible silicone “cup” that you insert in the morning and remove at night (and then reinsert at night and remove in the morning if you want). Unlike tampons, there is no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. There is also no waste, no burden on your pipes, nothing to throw away at all. You just wash the cup and buy a new one every ten years.

You will be required to have a familiarity with your vaginal region and its canal. It’s the total opposite of those applicator tampons that come with a disposable ten foot pole so that you can essentially close your eyes and pretend the tampon is not really going inside of you.

But even with a silicone cup, you are going to need some kind of backup barrier. Natracare makes organic cotton menstrual pads and panty liners, which are fine. Manufacturers aren’t required to disclose the ingredients in tampons and sanitary napkins, so be wary. Opt for an organic or at least 100% cotton claim if it’s going to be against your membranes or inside you. Again, if you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it in your underwear either.

It might also be time to check out the reusable menstrual pad arena: Lunapads, GladRags etc. There is also a whole contingent on Etsy making these for your comfort and convenience. Why not support a person instead of a multinational?

After taking all this in, it might also be time to consider how different today’s diapers are from the ones we grew up with. Again, diaper manufacturers are not required to disclose the petrochemicals, dioxins, plasticizers and hormone disrupters that they make their huggy pampering portable toilets out of. If you’re going to use disposable diapers, use ones that are organic or at least suggested to be cotton against the skin. Don’t use anything with those super-absorbant petrochemical gels inside them. You could also try using the hybrid diapers that have cloth bases and flushable or disposable inserts made of fully biodegradable (and disclosed) ingredients. My favorite was the gDiaper system.

Hopefully by the time I am old and infirm there will be a great hybrid adult diaper too. Here’s to dreaming big.

FURTHER READING

Article on the hazardous chemicals in feminine care products, so you know I didn’t just make this up

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fiber: So Over It

Fiber: So Over It

That’s right, I’m going against the trusted medical advice of every frigging doctor, research hospital and medical treatment center out there. I’m standing out here alone to deliver this important message to you: Fiber is not all it’s cracked up to be. In fact fiber is addictive, harmful to your intestines, and destructive to the microflora in your gut. Fiber is a short-term remedy that leads to long-term dependence and chronic illness.

I started going down this path when several of my acquaintances were complaining about constipation after switching abruptly to what they considered a no/low grains diet. In each case, the acquaintance told me they would have it under control as soon as they started taking fiber supplements. For some reason this didn’t sit right with me at all, and I needed to find out why.

The conventional dietary advice is eat a low fat, high fiber diet from “healthy whole grains” and plenty of fruit and vegetables. It is a low fat, high carbohydrate diet. And if you are going to eat a low fat diet, you will notice your bowel movements grind to a halt without fiber. Why? Because fat is the key factor that induces the peristaltic reflex and actually makes your bowels move. Not protein, not carbohydrates, not fiber. So if you are on a fat restricted diet, you are unknowingly limiting your intestinal efficiency. Which means that you are going to need to come up with a substitute for fat in order to get your feces out of your damn colon.

Everyone is going to tell you to either increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables (soluble fiber with carbohydrates), increase your consumption of whole grains (insoluble fiber loaded with carbohydrates) or else tell you to take a fiber supplement (insoluble fiber in the form of powders and pills).

I’m going to tell you why all of these ideas are flat out crazy, but in order to do that I’m going to have to talk about feces.

ARE YOU READY TO TALK ABOUT FECES?

By dry weight, feces is supposed to be made up of about 50% bacteria. Bacteria is the bulking agent, which also holds the water content. So bacteria gives feces substance and moisture. Fat is the motility agent. The remaining weight is pure waste products, undigested carbohydrates and fiber, and denatured proteins.

Chances are high that YOUR feces is NOT made up of 50% bacteria, because either you were a C-Section baby, you have had a lot of antibiotics and medicines in your life, you’re addicted to hand sanitizer and antibacterial soaps, you live under unusually stressful conditions or you eat a lot of carbohydrates. As I know at least one of these five conditions is true for you, I can guarantee that your intestinal flora is not up to the job. You need to fix this and I’m talking about right now!

So the conventional advice would be to start taking a probiotic. I’m going to go one further and tell you to take it at night on an empty stomach so that it can really get in there and do its job.

But unfortunately this is just not going to work – not if you are still hellbent on eating all those carbohydrates and sugar and fructose. Because those carbohydrates are going to feed the sugar-loving “bad” bacteria in your large intestine, which will kill off all that good bacteria you were trying to grow from the probiotic supplements. So don’t waste your time and money on probiotics if you are still a sugar junkie. Hurry up and deal with that issue and then get back to me.

GREAT.

So since the previous paragraph you’ve removed simple sugars from your life like juice, candy, baked goods and pasteurized milk. Then you even removed complex carbohydrates like fruit, bread, pasta, grains, beans, lentils, legumes, pulses and root vegetables. Wow, you are serious. Thanks for getting on board so quickly so that I can continue with this post.

If you need help remembering what to eat, I don’t blame you. Go here.

Now that you are officially on a Low Carb diet (less than 50g carbs/day or even way less), that probiotic is finally going to start working! You should try everything you can think of at this time to increase your microflora: kefir, yoghurt, fermented vegetables and condiments, kombucha, gardening, hanging out with pets and farm animals, spending time in a nursery school during the winter months, infesting yourself with parasites, worms or other helminths. Do whatever it takes. Yes, I’m talking fecotherapy people. Google it!

Now let’s get back to the conventional advice to either increase your fruits and vegetables (increase your soluble fiber with carbohydrates), increase your whole grains (increase soluble fiber with serious carbohydrates) or else to take a fiber supplement (increase your insoluble fiber with powders and pills).

If you go backwards and increase your soluble fiber with fruits, first of all you are going to have a whole insulin reaction to deal with – not to mention that fructose is going to ferment in the colon creating bloating, gas and an overly acidic state that will kill off your beneficial bacteria. Now, vegetables are not so bad – they are low in carbohydrates and contain soluble fiber that the intestinal bacteria will ferment into helpful short-chain fatty acids like butyrate (remember it from grass-fed butter?) and proprionate. Butyrate mitigates colonic inflammatory response and harmful metabolic effects, detoxes ammonia and other neurotoxins, and can cause cancer cells to mature into normal cells, while proprionate lowers lipogenesis, serum cholesterol levels and carcinogenesis in other tissues. So while I’m not telling you to gorge on insoluble fiber, I am saying that the soluble fiber from low-GI vegetables can be a very good thing. But you just need a regular amount, and by regular I mean go easy people.

Now if you choose to increase your insoluble fiber with whole grains, the huge carbohydrate load will also actively feed the wrong, harmful bacteria in your intestines that love sugar. You will create a profound imbalance that will just kill off all that healthy intestinal flora you worked so hard on propagating. You are heading down the road to Candida, my friend.

So what if you try the more measured approach of simply taking a fiber supplement like Metamucil, Benefil or just plain old psyllium seed husks? I mean, the old people on TV sure think it’s a great idea. Well these insoluble fibers by nature cannot be digested, that’s the point. So they will travel through your stomach and small intestine, absorbing water and bulking and eventually creating an initially useful plunger effect in your large intestine. You will probably be able to push out any plugged material. But here’s the catch. You are pushing it out with another, even bulkier plug. Now you will need even more fiber to push out that plug. And so on. Eventually the comical bulkiness of your feces is going to distend and distort your large intestine so that it looks like this:

Colon Problems

GROSS

And your colon will have pinched bits where feces is permanently impacted. Trust me, it’s going to suck.

And yes, I am trying to scare the bulky, dry, fibrous crap out of you.

As if this isn’t bad enough, fiber supplements are rough and abrasive. Somehow this is marketed as a good thing, like our intestines are made of copper piping that need to be scoured with a wire brush. But our intestines are less like copper piping and more like wet tissue. They just tear and leak when abraded, which leads to undigested food particles getting into the bloodstream and causing all sorts of “leaky gut” and “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” issues. In other words, if you have ANY sort of auto-immune issue, you want to be as gentle on your intestines as possible.

To add insult to injury, insoluble fiber finally ends up still undigested in the large intestine as a plug, and the bacteria in the large intestine attempts to ferment and digest it. This creates an environment of unusually high acidity which kills off the beneficial bacteria. So if you were getting close to 50% bacteria in your feces, you are now killing it off again and will need to use fiber to bulk up instead.

USING FIBER LEADS TO USING MORE FIBER

So why does everyone tell us we need so much fiber? Because everyone assumes that we are eating a low fat, high carbohydrate diet (plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains), which will kill our good bacteria with both an overgrowth of bad bacteria and with an overly acidic state. And if you don’t have beneficial bacteria in your gut, your feces is missing 50% of its volume by dry weight. And without the bacteria, your feces can’t stay moist. So you need to replace the bacteria with something that can sort of do both those jobs.

I think the most logical replacement for lost bacteria would be more bacteria. But that would require cutting down on your sugar and carbohydrates and then beefing up your probiotics/kefir/gardening/outside time. Too many steps for most people!

That’s why everyone tells you to use fiber as the replacement. And it will work for a while, which will be good enough to convince you they were right. But in the medium and long term, fiber is going to distend your bowels, bind to essential minerals and prevent their absorption into your body, abrade the lining of your intestines, inhibit pancreatic enzyme activity and protein digestion in the gut, and create a profound dependence on ever more fiber.

I GET IT, YOU JUST WANT TO KNOW WHAT TO DO

  1. Switch to a low carb diet, as described above.
  2. Increase your probiotics from supplements, kefir, yoghurt, fermented vegetables and condiments, and access to bacteria (gardening, the outdoors and animals).
  3. Increase your fat intake, as it will trigger the peristaltic reflex and start moving your bowels along again. You will not “get fat” from eating a high fat diet so long as you are also eating low carbohydrates.
  4. Make sure you are not drinking too much water, which will wash away important minerals like potassium which directly control moisture in feces. Drinking water won’t make your stool moist, it will dry it out. Try to only drink when thirsty.

HELP ME THIS STILL ISN’T WORKING

Okay you might have made your adjustments too quickly. I should have mentioned that the body needs time to adapt.

There’s nothing worse than having something stuck inside you. If you are already dependent on fiber and fiber supplements and need an easy way off, you could try using apple pectin supplements. While this is a fiber supplement and I have just trashed the whole idea of fiber supplements – at least apple pectin is an insoluble fiber that will feed the healthy bacteria in your gut, which in turn will bulk up the volume and moisture of your feces. It’s not easy to come off of fiber supplements, so this might help so long as you know it is just a transitional step.

If you are just having a bad bout of constipation that can be explained by stress or travel, for example, you can try the age old method of Milk of Magnesia. This is safe on the body and works by concentrating salts in your large intestine, which then pull water from your body by osmosis and flush everything out like a waterfall.

If you are too lazy to go to the store and buy Milk of Magnesia, you can try a Salt Water Flush which will have a similar effect. Just put 2 TBS of good sea salt in a liter of water and drink it all down. Stay near a bathroom for about two hours, because the tide is going to turn and you need to be ready.

Obviously don’t use either the Salt Water Flush or the Milk of Magnesia all the time. It will seriously deplete your potassium and lead to drier, harder stools in the future. But if you have a difficult case once a month, this would be an okay remedy. If you start using it all the time you are going to flush out all your minerals and basically become malnourished. What’s the point in that.

fiber menaceONCE A DAY

Adult humans should be able to have a bowel movement at least once a day, probably in the morning. If this isn’t true for you, reexamine your diet. Maybe you have started eating more carbohydrates than you thought you were. Maybe you forgot about fermented vegetables for a while. Maybe you stopped eating so much fat. Maybe you are going crazy on the water.

You have the ability to fix this with your own eating and drinking habits. So don’t get fooled again by the fiber con.

If you want to read more about this, good luck. You can try ordering this out of print Russian book called “Fiber Menace: The Truth About The Leading Role of Fiber in Diet Failure, Constipation, Hemorrhoids, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease and Colon Cancer” by Konstantin Monastyrsky. It probably doesn’t get more extreme than this. He is super mad at fiber.

But more than likely all the headlines and all the research you come across from very established and accredited organizations are going to tell you the opposite advice: eat more fiber, eat more carbohydrates, get into the medical system and stay there.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

What About Scurvy???

What About Scurvy???

We all know the story, or at least we think we know it. Some early sailors got scurvy – showing up as spongy gums, loose teeth, skin lesions, bone pain and lethargy – which then led to some two million sailor deaths between 1500 and 1800. Who knew there were even two million people sailing around back then? Luckily Admiral Sir Richard Dawkins discovered that drinking orange and lemon juice prevented the disease. Subsequently British sailors became known around the world as Limeys because they were always eating limes (which were cheaper but less effective than oranges and lemons) to ward off the dreaded scurvy.

This account is generally correct and has been translated into a rigid belief that if citrus fruits and specifically vitamin C can cure scurvy, then the cause of scurvy must be a lack of vitamin C. This is essentially true, but it is not the whole story.

You may have even wondered to yourself, if you are from a Northern latitude, how on earth your forebears managed to get enough Vitamin C from fresh vegetables and fruits during the long winter, when they didn’t have daily deliveries from California and Florida?  Considering our Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) is from 40mg/day (UK) to 90mg/day (Canada), how were we possibly getting enough back then? One easy answer is that 2 cups of traditionally lacto-fermented sauerkraut contain about 80% of the daily RDI. So possibly our northern ancestors knew to eat an awful lot of preserved cabbage and other winter vegetables. Possibly they did as the Indians did and made themselves pine needle or cedar tips tea, or they harvested the dry red flower of the sumach bush and made “Indian lemonade”, which is similarly high in Vitamin C.  We’ve also heard the story about settlers being saved from scurvy by rose hip tea.

I’ll come back to a defining dietary similarity between the sailors and the settlers in a moment. First I want to return to a culture that never had access to fruits and vegetables and yet did not develop scurvy.

THE TRADITIONAL INUIT: NO SCURVY IN SIGHT

It would be too easy to just say that the Inuit peoples of the Arctic only ate fat and meat and didn’t get scurvy. The fact is, they ate most of their meat and seafood raw, and in their raw forms, these foods are relatively high in Vitamin C. They also ate a staple of muktuk, which is the high Vitamin C skin of the Beluga whale.  In addition, it has been suggested that the Inuit enjoyed eating the fermented vegetal contents of caribou stomachs, which were similarly high in Vitamin C. The fatty adrenal glands of animals are also usually full of Vitamin C. We’re not talking thousands of milligrams, but nearly enough to make the suggested RDI.  They probably also made teas out of herbs that were full of ascorbic acid. Simple enough explanation.

But that doesn’t explain Vilhjalmur Stefansson and Karsen Anderson’s 1928 year-long experiment at New York’s Bellevue Hospital where they consumed only fatty meat and organs (like brains, liver, kidneys) and yet did not develop scurvy. They did not consume muktuk, fermented caribou stomachs or herbal teas. The whole point of their experiment was that they exclusively ate meat and fat. And furthermore, they ate all of their meat and fat cooked; they did not follow the Inuit protocol of consuming most of it raw. This is not a magic trick, but it does illuminate the key limiting factor in the body’s ability to absorb Vitamin C.

COMPETING FOR CELL RECEPTORS

The scoop is: both Vitamin C and glucose compete for the same receptors to enter the cell membrane, and those receptors favor glucose. The GLUT-1 receptor is activated by insulin, and pairs with the similarly structured Vitamin C and glucose molecules to allow them to enter the cell. But what that means plainly is that if you have a lot of glucose in your diet in the form of carbohydrates, the glucose is going to enter your cell membranes instead of the Vitamin C. So most of your ingested Vitamin C is going to be wasted, and you are going to have to supplement with quite a lot in order to get any past the GLUT-1 receptor gates and into your cells. However if you just keep on, keep on supplementing with Vitamin C, eventually some will get through to those receptors, and you will not get scurvy.

This fact leads to the belief that not only does Vitamin C prevent scurvy, but that a lack of Vitamin C causes scurvy. The first statement is true, the second statement is merely correlated.

A more correct way of looking at scurvy is that it is a deficiency disease caused by excessive carbohydrates.

SCURVY IS CAUSED BY EXCESSIVE CARBOHYDRATES

I really had to make that a heading, to let it sink in.

So it’s a win if you happen to be in the business of selling Vitamin C, because people on a high carbohydrate diet are going to need to buy a lot of it for basic functioning and also to prevent scurvy.

Now I want to return to the defining dietary similarity between sailors and early settlers. What unites them is that they largely lived on rations that were heavy in carbohydrates. In the sailors’ case, their diet consisted of salted preserved meat and hardtack, which is also known as a “sea biscuit”. This was an inexpensive and long-lasting flat brick of flour, water and sometimes salt. The large ratio of hardtack (and sugary rum for that matter) in the sailors’ diets meant that glucose from carbohydrates were getting to their cell receptors before any scarce Vitamin C from their salted meat rations could get close. Hence: scurvy. Similarly settlers used flour and bread as their energy staple, which inhibited Vitamin C absorption. Take away the hardtack, rum, flour and bread – and you take away the scurvy.

SO HOW MUCH VITAMIN C DO WE NEED?

Here’s the rub. On a fat and meat diet, you only need about 10mg of Vitamin C/day. But that kind of diet is not really affordable, necessary, or in any way sustainable these days. However the fact remains that if you restrict your carbohydrates, you do not need the huge amounts of Vitamin C that are recommended by the governments of the world.

However, the governments of the world would generally like to support not only their farmers (yeah, right) but their commodities markets of sugar, wheat, soy and grains. So in order to recommend a high carbohydrate diet to the people, it is absolutely necessary to simultaneously recommend a high Vitamin C supplementation.

I just need to say this one more time: Vitamin C is not the cure for scurvy, it is the cure for a diet high in carbohydrates.

This is the reason why the supplement section doesn’t even carry Vitamin C pills lower than 500mg/pill – and that most of them are at least 1000mg/pill. Why would we need ten times our RDI of Vitamin C? Maybe because our carbohydrate consumption tends to be ten times higher than our bodies have evolved to manage.

STILL THERE?

Why not read Stefansson’s first-hand account that he wrote up for Harper’s magazine in 1935?

Or read a 316-page pdf of Stefansson’s 1946 book “Not By Bread Alone”, renamed “The Fat of the Land“. You will really learn a lot about pemmican!

Maybe you also want more details about the relationship between Vitamin C, glucose and insulin receptors.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Managing Stomach Acid? This Is For You

Managing Stomach Acid: This Is For You

“Let food by thy medicine and medicine by thy food,” sayeth the great old Hippocrates. And while I couldn’t agree more, what if that food is not being digested properly? Or if the healing foods are giving you so much acid reflux that you feel like you are just biding your time until esophageal cancer strikes?

I ordered this book, Why Stomach Acid Is Good For You: Natural Relief from Heartburn, Indigestion, Reflux & GERD, because I can’t believe how many people I know – friends and family, young and old – who are taking daily antacids or acid-blocker medication due to mild or very serious acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). I wanted to know if there was an alternative to the party line being pumped out by pharmaceutical companies and well-meaning doctors alike.

What a surprise: there is! And not only that, but the remedy for acid reflux is – wait for it – THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what every single doctor or advertisement is telling you to do.

Obviously this is contrarian advice, and that is why I am drawn to it. But if I was suffering from this condition, I would not wait another minute before reading this book. This is the real “second opinion” that you need to get for yourself and your best health.

The cause of acid reflux, where stomach acid leaks up through the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) and burns the delicate lining of the esophagus, is not an overabundance of stomach acid. Instead it is an underperforming LES due to low stomach acid. When the stomach acid is too low, it lets the LES be lazy – which allows leaks. When stomach acid is high, the LES must be on guard and stay strong and tight, because it knows its job is to protect the esophagus from acid. If it doesn’t detect much acid, it doesn’t bother doing its job. Chronic low stomach acid leads to a very lazy underperforming LES. This can be remedied by increasing the acidity of the stomach acid through time-tested methods like ingesting bitters before meals, or with stronger medical interventions like capsules of hydrochloric acid.

Now before you start mowing down on hydrochloric acid, maybe you should take this book to a doctor or some kind of healer. Let’s not get all your information from an untrained but enthusiastic hobbyist from the internet, please.

Also, some conditions are herniated – which means the LES is not located right in the diaphragm where it should be, but has been squeezed up above where it cannot benefit from the muscles of the diaphragm to help keep it closed. These conditions probably need surgery to fix, or else can remedy on their own by losing a tremendous amount of weight. (This is what happens in pregnancy – the LES is squeezed above the diaphragm and then acts leaky until the baby is delivered and the LES has room again to gravitate back to the diaphragm. Most cases of pregnancy reflux completely disappear the minute the baby is born.)

What is so interesting is that the conventional medical response to reflux is to prescribe antacids to lower stomach acidity or acid-blockers to block acid production completely.

Creating a low-acid environment in the stomach is going to lead to a lazy LES, which will not solve the problem of acid getting into the esophagus. All it will do is neutralize the digestive juices. Which means you will not be able to properly digest food. And that just doesn’t make a lot of sense. The stomach acid is there for a reason; it’s not just some bothersome pool of corrosive liquid that you are meant to destroy.

If you remove your ability to properly digest food, and all its enzymes, vitamins, minerals, macro- and micro-nutrients, what are you left with?

A low level of health.

If this is all news to you, and you want to read more about it, please check out Chris Kessler’s great five-part series online: What Everybody Ought To Know (But Doesn’t) About Heartburn and GERD. You can thank me later.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Books: Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox

There are thousands of books about what to eat, and while so many of them are essential reading, I think this one pulls it all together into a simple yet mind-blowing concept.

Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox

This book is written by an Ontario (shout-out for local) naturopath, Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue, who became fascinated by the x-factor of Vitamin K2 and the way it has eluded our modern foods and created a huge nutritional deficit and misunderstanding.

For starters, most books about building bone density (for example let me cite “The Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones: A Holistic Approach” by Annemarie Colbin) will talk about Vitamin K1 and totally miss or misunderstand Vitamin K2, which is completely different. These books will tell you to get your Vitamin K1 from leafy greens like kale and spinach. This is great advice on the surface, because our intestinal bacteria can convert Vitamin K1 into Vitamin K2 – so long as our intestinal bacteria is in tip-top condition (rare) and so long as we eat mountains and mountains of kale and spinach, which is probably going to degrade and disorganize our intestinal bacteria. In other words, we are not ruminants. We do not have the kind of stomachs and digestive systems that can efficiently create the amount of K2 that we need for optimal nutrition.

Now I want to step back for a moment because I hate the idea that there is a supplement out there or a specific vitamin that we “need” to fix everything going on inside us. I’m more of the school that if we start loading up on one vitamin, it is just going to throw our other vitamins and minerals out of whack and cause greater problems. So in general, I want all of my nourishment to come from whole foods, and not from supplements. And NEVER from synthetic vitamins and supplements, which studies have shown over and over to cause more harm than good.

SO WHY AM I SO ENAMORED WITH THIS BOOK, AND WITH K2?

Because Vitamin K2 is something that has been systematically (and let’s say accidentally) bred out of our food system by industrialization. And when we don’t get Vitamin K2 in our system, we have no way of sending calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin A to their proper locations where they can do the most good. Vitamin K2 is the organizer, the director, and without it, calcium binds to our soft tissues instead of our bones and causes heart disease. Whereas getting K2 back into the diet literally REVERSES heart disease.

Consider what conventional health protocols have us do: take calcium and vitamin D supplements every day of our lives. Without any consideration for Vitamin K2, all this does is increase our risk of heart disease, and actually increase our risk of brittle bones, fractures and osteoporosis. The conventional advice does the exact opposite of what it intends. The conventional protocol is outright dangerous and wrong.

HOW DID WE GET VITAMIN K2 BEFORE INDUSTRIALIZATION?

There are two factors that have contributed to removing K2 from our food supply. The first is factory farming, and the second is the advent of refrigeration. Because of the efficiencies of factory farming, our livestock is treated like a commodity and eats commodity corn and grains in order to grow bigger and fatter in a shorter period of time. The resulting fats from these animals do not contain Vitamin K2. Whereas if you can get your hands on pastured ruminants and pastured eggs (the animals need to literally eat grass from weaning to slaughter, or peck at insects in the field and feel actual sunshine on their backs), you will be getting a dose of Vitamin K2 in the fats and yolks.

Another point is that when we eat conventional animal foods, we are (correctly) advised to eat the lean protein and avoid the fat. This makes sense but not because of the “message” you have been hearing: not because saturated fats are bad for you or because they will make you fat. You must avoid these fats because conventional GMO grain-fed animals have to be saturated with antibiotics and other medicines to keep them alive until slaughter on a diet that fills them with disease – all those toxins are concentrated in the animals’ fat. If you eat that fat, you are getting a dose of the worst of the worst. Whereas the fat of a pastured animal, presumably (you’ve got to take responsibility and research your own food from the specific farm and area you are from) is free of antibiotics, toxins and GMOs and is rich in Vitamin K2, the best source of Vitamin A and a good source of Vitamin D. Amazing what a difference a little natural farming can make.

My second point was about refrigeration. Obviously we all love our fridge and it has created a million conveniences for us, and even scores of nutritional benefits. However because of these efficiencies, we no longer need to culture or ferment food to keep it from spoiling. But as it happens, culturing and traditionally fermenting food is a great way to increase access to locked nutrients in our foods, such as Vitamin K2 and a host of B Vitamins.

However it depends on the ferment and the culture. Some cheeses don’t contain any Vitamin K2, some contain lots (Dutch Gouda). Fermented or coagulated tofu made from soybeans doesn’t contain any Vitamin K2, whereas soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis creates Natto, and contains the highest amounts of K2. (The best K2 “supplements” you can buy are whole-food versions derived from Natto).

This book is so important I’m going to go all-caps and bold and call it a FOUNDATION BOOK. This will subvert your understanding of calcium supplementation, Vitamin D supplementation, saturated fats, fermented foods and even vegetable loading, to a degree. This book will show you how the conventional nutritional guidelines are leading us down the path to disease, and how a traditional approach to eating can actually reverse the damage done.

The great news is that the body wants to heal itself, and all we have to do is feed it human-appropriate food and get out of its way.

My mother and I found this book in the spring of 2012, and read it in tandem. Almost every day we were calling each other exclaiming, Did you read the part about the something or other?! Hopefully you will have the same thrill when you read this with all your friends and relatives… (!)

Jenny McGruther at Nourished Kitchen has put together some great resources about these concepts, as well as an interview with Dr. Rheume-Bleue. You can find out next-level info like making your own K2-rich cheese at home.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,