Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Just JERF baby!

I started experimenting with diets around the age of 12 - both for ethical as well as health reasons. Over the last 20 years I’ve been vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, vegan, raw food vegan, did a weighed/measured eat every three hours fitness model diet. I tried macrobiotics, eating for my dosha, eating for my blood type, various juices cleanses and green smoothie fasts. Thankfully, six years ago I came across the paleo/primal lifestyle - eating as our ancestors did, way back before supermarkets and takeaway joints. More affectionately known these days as JERFing.

My journey along this particular path hasn’t been as linear as I’d like. But with all the back and forths I’ve come to experience that not only does this concept make sense, it helps give me the potential to heal from my ailments and thrive! Because as much as what we put in our body makes a difference, what we don’t also plays a huge role. I love how Liz Wolfe puts it best:
Filling your daily food requirements with grass fed meats, wild caught fish, organic eggs, good fats and oils, vegetables (organic where possible) and small amounts of fruit is the best way to start. Eventually it will be easy to remove irritating foods such as grains, legumes, sugars, and dairy. Then eliminating all potentially harmful foods such as additives, preservatives and highly processed food stuffs will be second nature. 

Finding the right way to eat can take some trial and error but if these ideas resonant with you I’d highly recommend popping over to Balanced Bites to check out the free charts the very knowledgeable Diane Sanfilippo offers here :-) (On a personal note, totally girl crushing on these ladies! If you want to totally geek out I can't recommend their podcast enough Balanced Bites Podcast). So, I dare you, go get your JERF on for a month and come back and tell me how you feel.


Liz Wolfe
Balanced Bites
Practical Paleo Cheat Sheets
Balanced Bites Podcast
Underground Wellness Radio

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

It Starts in the Gut

As I alluded to in the previous post, I’m big on digestive health. I believe the state of the gut is where the beginning of all health lies. Absorbing nutrients and ridding the body of toxins is something a well-functioning system should be able to do - without causing us any grief. For a few of us however this process is impeded, leaving us with all kinds of disconnected symptoms. Today I’m going to take you on a short tour of the three parts of the digestive system I’m most familiar with: the stomach, the small intestine and the large intestine. Let’s set the scene, *you sit down at the dinner table after preparing a meal, your juices are flowing and you’re ready to eat! You arrange the perfect mouthful on your fork and place it in your mouth. Chew, chew, chew, swallow*

The Stomach

Munched up food meets with acid in the stomach to break it down and kill off any nasty bugs or bacteria that may have hitched a ride on the back of your dinner. It’s churned up into liquid form and nicely prepared to move on to the next step. If your stomach isn’t producing enough acid however, food won’t be broken down properly which can cause problems at the next stages. Parasites and bugs won’t be killed off, enabling them to travel further into your gut. It can also cause acid reflux (caused by too little stomach acid not too much), belching and bloating after meals. Stomach acid production can be affected by bacterial infections such as Helicobacter Pylori, a vegetarian diet which can switch off stomach acid production as well as lifestyle things like lack of sleep and eating when stressed or on the run.

The Small Intestine

This is where your body begins to absorb nutrients and if you’re healthy you receive all the vitamins, minerals and amino acids you need. A glitch in the process can cause many different issues, the obvious one being that you don’t get the nutrients you need. Other issues caused in this area include: food intolerances, bacterial overgrowth, allergies, candida, weakened immune system (more than half your immune cells are actually in your small intestine) and a funky thing called leaky gut. When the gut is leaky, food particles cross through the intestinal wall into the blood stream. The body views these as invaders and starts to attack! Enter joint pain, headaches, depression, allergies, skin problems, foggy head, anxiety, as well as that nagging feeling of always feeling a bit run down - just to name a few. Long term if leaky gut isn’t addressed it can actually develop into an autoimmune disease, where the body begins to forge a war own its on cells. Along with lack of sleep and stress other things that can contribute to a compromised small intestine include: alcohol, caffeine, antibiotics, pain killers, oral contraception, sugar, processed grains, food additives and preservatives… Unfortunately with the way we live leaky gut is very common, and because of the host of symptoms it creates it often goes undiagnosed.

The Large Intestine

This is where the last of the nutrients are absorbed and water is drawn out. The time between food entering your mouth and ending up in the toilet is called transit time, best case scenario this happens within 18-24 hours. If your gut is irritated this will happen much faster than it should, affecting your absorption of nutrients (diarrhoea). If you have a slow transit time waste will sit in your colon longer than it needs to (constipation), often ending up back in the system putting pressure on the liver and skin to get rid of. Neither conditions are ideal and both can be caused by problems upstream, eating foods you’re allergic too, parasites, imbalanced flora (dysbiosis), stress, overuse of laxatives or if you’re really unlucky celiac, crohn’s or colitis (examples of autoimmune disease I mentioned above). These conditions are both painful and uncomfortable and can greatly affect your quality of life – even though we do our best to laugh it off.

As you can see it’s a pretty complex process, there are lots of steps that can go wrong and a whole host of reasons things go haywire. The old adage “you are what you eat” has a good point, but in this instance “you are what you absorb” is much more appropriate. For me personally it took getting really unwell to put all of my symptoms together and take action. Food is such a part of life it’s hard to give some of your favourite things up. Embarking on a gut healing journey also requires a fair amount of patience and dedication. But with all the amazing research that is being done it’s not too hard to find the information and support you need.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Adventures in Digestive Wellness

I remember my first sick day off school when I was 5 years old. I was heavily constipation and bent over in pain. My poor mother was trying to console me and coax me ‘to go’ but nothing was moving. She went to the pharmacy and came back with a suppository. I wasn’t happy about where it had to go but I was reassured it would work. That was the easy part – then my poor Mum had to sit with me while I was begging her to let me go to the bathroom. “You have to wait 10 minutes Kristi or it won’t work sweetheart” she repeated over and over. Finally time was up and I burst towards the bathroom for a small amount of relief. That was my first traumatic experience in what can go wrong.

I’ve always been good about my diet, eating all the things I ‘should’ and more often than not I was the healthiest person anybody knew, yet still the problems persisted. From the age I was old enough to understand pills and supplements up until just recently I’ve always had to take something to calm my stomach and help things move. I used to put it down to a ‘weak’ digestive system and my experiences with an eating disorder at a young age that left my digestive system a bit ‘sensitive’. I told myself that for 20 years.

I was living with a whole host of symptoms that affected me daily when I didn’t need to. I was always at the store finding something new or adding and changing things in my diet. Sometimes it was kind of fun other times not. Like when you’re camping in the bush alone and take a few too many laxatives – not so fun. Or when you are in Thailand trying to find an herb when you can’t express yourself in a second language – pretty risky. Or having to have weekly colonics just to get rid of constant cramping in your gut – expensive. Or not being able to do dinners and lunches with your friends – isolating. But this was the reality I’d gotten used to, I did my best to joke about it but after so many years it really does bring you down.

All the doctors I saw just gave me a new laxative and asked if I was drinking enough water. The naturopaths enquired a little about my diet, never had anything to add then sent me home with a week’s rent worth of supplements. After my health fell apart this year I knew deep down that there was something bigger at the root of my life long suffering. I started the search again, initially getting the same opinions from doctors and naturopaths until I stumbled upon a practitioner who did something useful – he sent me off for a stool test! What came back grossed me out a bit but didn’t surprise me:

- 2 Parasites, 1 being Blastocystis Hominis which is known to be a factor in IBS symptoms
- A bacterial infection, Helicobactor Pylori
- Candida Overgrowth
- Leaky Gut

I’d done a stool test 3 times before with doctors but it was just nowhere comprehensive enough to show anything. I’d also had the Helicobactor Pylori breath test which came back negative (it only shows active action in the stomach). It’s hard to tell which came first but its undeniable that they all had their own little eco system going on and they wanted me to stay out of it! I’ve slowly starting eradicating what I can with antibiotics and then it’s on to mega gut healing protocol with diet, supplements and lifestyle.

My most massive lesson here has been that when the digestive system is out of balance through inappropriate patterns in diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, life enjoyment, career fulfilment, genetic predisposition and relationship satisfaction all manner of things can and usually go wrong… It’s not just what you put in your mouth. Over the next few posts I’ll be exploring these ideas.