Tag Archives: leaky gut

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If you have a kid in school right now, you know that peanuts are no longer allowed on the property, that fun-zones have been replaced by nut-free-zones, and that probably a quarter of the kids in your child’s classroom has some kind of allergy to nuts, apples, dairy, wheat, shellfish or all of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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Kefir: Foundation Drink No. 3

I KEEP SEEING THIS IN THE STORE

That’s right, you can now buy “kefir” at the store! Liberté Organics has a version in a plastic jug that you can drink, and it’s also flavored with strawberry or blueberry. Try this if you are new to kefir. It’s just super sweet like YOP! Enjoy, preferably last thing at night before bed.

Once you are ready to graduate to the next level, try buying a better commercial version. Here in Ontario we have Pinehedge Farms, which makes a UNHOMOGENIZED WHOLE MILK version in a glass jar. They also have a low fat version but I do not encourage low fat products.

But I put “kefir” in quotes up above for a reason. The commercial “kefir” that you buy is made from a powdered compilation of beneficial bacteria and yeast cultures – usually containing about 9 strains combined. This is “better” than yoghurt, which usually only contains one or two varieties (Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus). Just as an aside, there is a story going around that yoghurt cultures are destroyed in the stomach and never make it to the intestines to flourish, but this study suggests otherwise. The cultures in commercial “kefir” are great, and like the yoghurt cultures, they make it through the digestive tract and live to colonize the intestines. The Pinehedge “kefir” is a fantastic product, thick, creamy and great tasting, and I would be happy if you ate a 1/2 cup every night before bed so that it can colonize you in your sleep.

WHY BOTHER MAKING MY OWN KEFIR THEN?

As much as I love the Pinehedge “kefir” (or similar glass-bottled whole milk unhomogenized products), they probably don’t have more than 10 strains of bacteria in their makeup. Whereas homemade kefir from “grains” contains 29 strains of bacteria and 27 strains of yeast. Want to see the whole list? Though please note that this isn’t a more = better contest. Actually, change that. It most certainly IS A MORE = BETTER CONTEST as far as intestinal bacteria is concerned. I mean, you want more of the “good bacteria” certainly and less of the “bad bacteria”, but what you are especially looking for is diversity. This is like the rainforest – lots of options give you adaptability but a monoculture or fewer species of bacteria limit your immune system’s ability to deal with all the environmental factors you throw at it. But even beyond this great diversity of bacteria and yeasts, homemade kefir from “grains” derived from the Caucasus Mountains have an even more profound advantage. In fact homemade kefir from these grains is such a very special creation that no commercial enterprise has been able to replicate it, though they have certainly tried and tried. Wikipedia calls kefir a unique “symbiotic consortia of bacteria and yeasts”. And what is most special about these Caucasian grains is that when allowed to ferment on the lactose of dairy milk, they create a substance called kefiran. And it’s all about the kefiran.

KEFIRAN

Kefiran is the polysaccharide that holds the “grains” of kefir together, and is created as a result of the unique relationships between kefir’s bacteria and yeasts. Kefiran tested on rats has reduced and eliminated tumors, induced systemic anti-inflammatory response, reduced serum cholesterol levels and suppressed increased blood pressure. In human studies, kefiran had a preventative effect against breast cancer cells without harming the healthy cells,  and it stimulated body cells to produce 14 times more Interferon-beta, a vital glycoprotein excreted by body cells to combat viral infection, and possibly combat cancer cells. Nobody has compiled the research on kefiran better than Kefir Mentor Dom Anfiteatro, who has the most comprehensive guide to kefir that exists, complete with references to every existing study.

But that two-page list of studies is all there is. Are there ongoing large-scale clinical trials on kefiran? Certainly not. There is no money in it as kefiran just cannot be made commercially. It has to be tended, like a pet, and it is very susceptible to changes in temperature, humidity and the ratios of milk to grains. Is this the inexpensive low-tech answer to curing cancer? I don’t know, but it doesn’t cause any harm (unlike all cancer medicines and conventional protocols),  and costs no more than good quality milk, some cool glass jars with flip-tops and a one-time purchase of grains (under $20 unless you can get them from a friend for free).

YEAST, YUK! RIGHT…?

I get it, you just spent  months on a Candida Cleanse to get rid of your yeast overgrowth, which was characterized by sharp pangs in your stomach (intestines) every time you ate too much sugar, and also by an anti-intuitive out of control craving for that same sugar. You cut out sugar, bread, beer, brewer’s yeast, fermented products of all sorts. So how on earth can it be beneficial now to ingest more yeast?

Well the 27 yeasts in kefir are generally “the good yeasts”! And they will fight off “the bad yeasts”(Candida albicons) that are controlling your sugar appetite and leading to yeast overgrowths. For this reason, sometimes when people start taking kefir, the new yeasts cause a die-off of the old yeasts, called a Herxheimer reaction. These dying Candida albicons can produce up to 79 short-term toxins and be kind of unpleasant (headache, fatigue, bloating) until they are all eliminated. One way to avoid this is by initiating your kefir protocol slowly, like a few TBS at night, and then only over a week or two work up to 1/2 cup or more. If you get constipated, you have taken too much too soon.

stovetop kefir

WHAT WILL IT DO FOR ME? BIG PICTURE

People, let’s start with the problems you don’t know you have yet. Consider that all auto-immune diseases start in the gut. Check out the long, long list of auto-immune diseases. You don’t have any yet? Well your mom or your uncle probably does. And I’m sorry to say this but on a Western diet, they’re coming for you. And what about allergies? If your gut health isn’t optimal, meaning if you don’t have the best balance of beneficial bacteria colonizing your intestines, then the walls of your intestines are leaking partially digested foods directly into your blood where they act as toxins. These toxins affect both your psychology and your physiology. There is a name for this occurrence, it’s called the Gut and Psychology (or Physiology) Syndrome – shortened to GAPS, and coined by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.

Haven’t heard of GAPS yet? Have you heard of Leaky Gut Syndrome? It’s not exactly recognized by the conventional medical establishment, but it is understood to be the pre-cursor to every auto-immune system. Leaky Gut Syndrome is not a side effect that the medical establishment can treat with commercial drugs, so it doesn’t seem very interesting to them, and nor is healing the gut. In our system, a drug comes first and then an illness is discovered and marketed to sell the drug. The economic problem here is that it is drugs themselves, especially antibiotics, that create imbalances in the gut and harm it. But all that is an aside.  I am here to tell you that healing the gut is EVERYTHING.

WHAT WILL IT DO FOR ME? SMALLER PICTURE

Kefir is high in tryptophan, so has a tranquilizing effect on the nervous system and can help you get to sleep as well as ease depression and ADHD. It is easily digested, balances and cleanses the intestines with beneficial bacteria and yeasts, and builds up the immune system. The fermentation process creates complete proteins, reduces carbohydrates by pre-digesting sugars and lactose, boosts levels of B Vitamins – especially B12 and folic acid, and in particular creates the important Vitamin K2.

When you take kefir regularly (I prefer at bedtime when it has the best chance of colonizing the intestines) it will reduce gas, promote regular bowel movements and eliminate bloating and other intestinal issues.

ALREADY CONVINCED? WELL TRY MAKING IT

There are so many great sites online that show you how to make kefir. Let me direct you to Dom’s Kefir-Making Site, where he has step by step instructions with photos. If all that info is too much to handle, look at these simpler instructions at Nourished Kitchen.

WHAT I DO

I use 2 glass flip-top jars for the first fermentation and the second fermentation. I use a steel strainer and a wooden spoon. I use raw (unhomogenized organic whole fat) milk that I get in an alley from a cow that I share (thanks for the hassle, Ontario!). I also use lemon peels and sometimes basil leaves for the second fermentation.

FIRST FERMENTATION: WITH KEFIR GRAINS

  1. Before bed, I put a small handful of kefir grains in a flip-top 1 L jar and fill about 3/4 full (3 cups of milk). This is a very high grains to milk ratio, but I have a lot of grains and not a lot of room to store milk.
  2. I put the sealed jar into a dark cupboard, because that is convenient for me. A countertop is fine. When I remember and pass the cupboard, I give the jar a gentle shake.
  3. In the morning, about 12 hours later, I check the kefir. The milk is usually still runny, and it hasn’t thickened or shown signs of “legs” on the glass when shaken.  I put it back in the cupboard.
  4. Usually between 3pm and 6pm, the kefir has started to look like it is thickening up. But I usually don’t have time to deal with it right away. So I move it to the fridge until bedtime, to slow it down.
  5. At bedtime, let’s say 9 or 10pm, I take the kefir out of the fridge and check again to make sure it is ready. Usually the fridge seems to thicken it a bit more, I think because a different form of bacteria is allowed to propagate at the cooler temperature.
  6. At this point if it is ready (has legs, is thick) I pour it through a strainer into a bowl, stirring with a spoon to separate the grains from the kefir.
  7. I put the kefir grains back into the same flip-top jar without rinsing them or the jar (I rinse the jar every 3 or 4 turns), and fill back up with milk, then put the jar back into the cupboard to repeat at step 2 above. This jar is called THE FIRST FERMENT.

THE SECOND FERMENTATION: WITHOUT KEFIR GRAINS

  1. I pour the freshly strained kefir from the bowl into a second glass 1L flip-top jar, and add about a 1/4 of a lemon peel. Sometimes I add a basil leaf as well, or bee pollen and royal jelly. This jar is called THE SECOND FERMENT.
  2. I seal up this jar and put it into the cupboard next to the first ferment. And then I go to sleep.
  3. In the morning, I check both jars and maybe shake them a bit. I am checking for thickness, legs, or separation.
  4. Usually between 3pm -6pm, both the first ferment and the second ferment are ready or almost ready, so I put them both in the fridge. Again, the fridge just makes them a little more drinkable to me, a little smoother and creamier.
  5. At bedtime, I take out the second ferment and check it for doneness. Now is a great time to drink it! It should be bubbly like champagne, slightly tart from the sourness of the milk, zesty from the lemon and/or basil, and mild (to my taste anyway). It should not taste or smell revolting or overly sour. It should definitely not taste or smell like rancid milk.
  6. At this point I usually rinse or don’t rinse the second ferment jar, and pour the strained kefir from the first ferment into it. Etc.

grainsIt’s great when it all works like this, because I like to be able to drink my kefir at night, and do all the work at the same time. However sometimes it’s just not ready in time, and I have to wait until morning. Sometimes I wait until morning and then it has gone too far – characterized by separating into curds and whey. (If this happens, you can then strain the kefir through a cheesecloth and make cream cheese from the curds and drink the whey separately). Sometimes if it has only separated a little, you can put the jar in the fridge and it will sort of “come back together”. The fridge seems to smooth out a lot of human error, I find.

A NOTE ON JARS

You can do this in mason jars, so long as you don’t make them too tight. The fermentation process produces CO2 which can cause the jar to explode. But the problem with a loose mason jar lid is that it also lets random yeasts and bacterias in, which changes the final product (can make it extra sour etc.). The best results happen in an air-lock jar where the carbon dioxide can get out but nothing can get in. You can see every method of jar tested here, on 28-day sauerkraut. Even better results happen when there is a bit of pressure on the jar, but not enough to burst it. Which means you don’t have to spend big money on a fancy Pickl-it jar, as any old Fido or European brand of glass flip-top jars will do. Ikea jars, not so sure. Let’s leave the Chinese glass in China.

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