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Monday, September 12, 2016

The Best Antacid You Will Ever Buy!

Understanding the importance of an Acid/Alkaline Balance in your stomach can seem complex, especially the way it was explained in the last article. But today I am going to make this really simple because it is simple and extremely helpful. As I mentioned before, I rely on a book called The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide (by Dr. Susan Brown and Larry Trivieri Jr.) to help me get through some the super-sour-stomach days. It is a simple to follow guide of what foods are acidic and what foods are alkaline (acid-neutralizing).

I discovered this guide when I was pregnant with my first child. As any pregnant woman knows, the heartburn can be overwhelming. To add insult to injury, I would need to eat late and get up during the night to eat again, which would give me horrendous heartburn by morning. I was desperate to figure out what foods I could eat during the night that would not make the heartburn worse. I got this guide, and highlighted all the foods that were the most alkaline...what appears is a colorful list of almost all fresh fruits and veggies. They are the most alkaline of all foods. I made sure to have fresh or frozen berries and apples on hand for those late night hunger-pangs. What most people will tell you, OBGYNs included, is to eat saltine crackers. I found those to cause even more heartburn, and when I checked the guide, sure enough, saltines are one of the highest foods on the acid scale (most flours/grains are).

This helpful pregnancy-habit has carried over and improved my current day to day life. Whenever I have a sour or overly-acidic stomach, I make sure to grab some fruit and/or veggies. Whenever I am super hungry before bed, I can thumb through my guide and choose something that will not cause heartburn by morning. Whenever I know I am going to eat a really acid meal (which I can determine by studying this guide), I try to balance the meal with lots of veggies (which incidentally, is good for you anyway). This book has been an irreplaceable tool in eliminating my GERD almost entirely through diet and lifestyle changes. Check it out! It is a good read and the best antacid you will ever buy.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Whole Food Supplements

It is widely know that people should take a daily multivitamin. Why? Because our diets no longer contain all the nutrients that we need, therefore we must supplement. Since the best nutrients are found naturally in food, shouldn't our supplements be natural also? What many people do not realize is that your multivitamin may contain an admirable list of vitamins and minerals, but may not even be helpful; in fact, some are even harmful.

When selecting a multivitamin or supplemental blend of any kind, the phrase you must look for is Whole Food. Whole food supplements are blends of concentrated and dehydrated whole foods (usually plants) with all the original nutrients contained therein intact. In order for a nutrient to be metabolized and absorbed properly, it must be accompanied by various complimentary vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, etc.. They all work synergistically. Plants were created for our consumption as a way to deliver nutrients in a package that that is designed to be metabolized, absorbed and generally enjoyed by the human body. Plants are the best source.

When a vitamin or mineral is isolated (synthetic), it is removed from its original source and looses the benefit of being consumed with the other nutrients. The body will either not be able to absorb it (leading to a deficiency) or will view it as a foreign substance (leading to countless other issues). Oftentimes, harsh chemicals are needed to isolate a specific nutrient, so why add one more chemical to your body as well? The best metaphor I have heard to explain this dynamic is look at the complexity of a car. There are countless moving and coordinating parts necessary for it to run. Taking an isolated or synthetic vitamin would be the same as removing the driver's seat, setting it in the road, calling it a car, and expecting it to function like a car. Without the other parts, it is useless, and sitting in a seat in the middle of the road is dangerous.

While selecting a whole food multivitamin is an integral part of a healthy routine, consider one more bit of advice: try to find an organic one as well. If the goal is to choose the best quality supplements, buying organic guarantees that you will not be consuming additional pesticides, herbicides, or any other chemicals traditionally used in agriculture. One of my favorite multivitamins is New Chapter: perfect prenatal MULTIVITAMIN. It is an organic whole food supplement with additional herbs and probiotics. As a woman (who is not currently pregnant), I prefer the prenatal vitamins because of the extra nutrients they contain. It is good practice to take a prenatal long before you even become pregnant to make sure your body's nutrient supply is stocked and ready for pregnancy.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Acid-Alkaline Balance

It is pretty apparent that some foods are acidic and other foods are more neutral, but is it important to understand the difference?...YES! I found myself searching for acid neutralizing foods to help relieve heartburn and/acid reflux and discovered this amazing book entitled The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide by Dr. Susan Brown and Larry Trivieri, Jr.. This excerpt from their book eloquently explains the importance of acid-alkaline balance:

"Albert Szent-Gyogyi, Noble Laureate and the discoverer of vitamin C, once noted, 'The body is alkaline by design, but acidic by function.' He was referring to the fact that each minute of each day, the body's metabolic processes produce enormous quantities of acid even though, in order to do their jobs properly, the cells and tissues require a slightly alkaline environment. Therefore, in order to maintain its health, the body must neutralize or excrete the vast majority of acids that it produces on a minute-to-minute basis... Proper acid-alkaline balance is one of the most essential elements of optimal health, while imbalances...are certain signs that the body is in danger of becoming unhealthy and increasingly susceptable to disease." (109-110)

The term pH (which literally means "potential for hydrogen") is the measurement by which we determine somethings acidity or alkalinity. The scale goes from 0 to 14 with 7 being neutral. Anything under 7 is acidic (zero being most acidic), and anything over 7 is alkaline. The body is actively balancing the pH levels of each and every system every moment. Many systems in the body can function normally with a minor fluctuation of pH, but others allow for a very narrow range. For example, blood pH must remain strictly between 7.365 and 7.45. Any fluctuation outside of that range will result in death, therefore, the body views this as a priority above all other pH levels. The body can lower acid by one of two ways: 1. drawing from alkaline sources throughout out the body, or 2. eliminating the excess acid wherever possible. The three most proficient acid eliminators are:
  1. Kidneys: eliminate solid acids through urination
  2. Lungs: eliminate gas-formed acids (carbon monoxide) through breathing 
  3. Skin: excrete acid through sweat glands (perspiration)
By this point you might be asking, "What does this have to do with digestion?" EVERYTHING! The foods and beverages we consume determine our pH levels. A leading contributor to the downfall of society's health today is that the typical western diet is acidogenic, or consists mainly of foods that lower pH levels (and acidify the body). Alkaline foods can be consumed in order to regain proper pH balance. 

Throughout history, there have been a few methods used to determine the metabolic effects of foods (their effect after being digested including pH levels). Dr. Brown analyzes metabolic effect taking into account a food's chemical and nutrient compounds and has compiled those findings into an extensive list of foods and beverages in her book The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide. The book is a valuable guide when choosing which foods will create a healthy diet and maintain a healthy pH. Quite simply, I rely on Dr. Brown's food tables to help me choose foods that will neutralize stomach acid and avoid over-acidifying my digestive tract. It helped immensely while I was experiencing chronic GERD, and when I was pregnant and needed late night snacks that would not give me heartburn. The food table is simple to follow and a staple on my bookshelf.

Notes:
Brown, Dr. Susan E., Larry Trivieri, Jr. The Acid-Alkaline Guide. New York: Square One Publishers, 2006: 109-110 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Antibiotic Impact

I recently read an article about the lasting physical effects of antibiotic use (and overuse) on the human body. The material was interesting enough to read the actual study from which they pulled their information. It was not only complex, but throughly fascinating!

This study was published in November of 2015 and conducted in Sweden (at The Karolinska Institute) and the United Kingdom (at Helperby Therapeutics Ltd.). Sixty-six healthy adults participated in this two-centered randomized placebo controlled clinical trial. It was designed to give new insight to the short term and long term affects that antibiotic use has on the gut microbiota.

Here's a quick biology lesson: Microorganisms are the microscopic organisms that live throughout the entire human body, and their specialty, quantity and complexity is vast. Gut microbiota (or gut flora) is the collective community of microorganisms that reside in specific areas of the digestive tract. These gut microbiota are crucial for digestive function, as well as immune health.

The goal of the researchers was to analyze the negative affects and the apparent risks involved with antibiotic use, "especially in a (diseased) population with an already (impaired) microbiome." It is easy to say that antibiotics are hard on your gut, but I appreciate the depth to which this study goes to explain WHY. I am going to focus on 4 main observations from this study.

1. Taking even just one of the four antibiotics administered inhibits basic digestive function such as metabolizing diary products and encouraging a probiotic-rich environment. As the study explains, "Lactose-arabinose metabolism and fermentative butyrate-producing pathways were amongst the most significantly reduced functions" observed in this clinical trial. Lactose-arabinose metabolism is the breakdown of lactose, which was severely undermined a month after taking these drugs. Butyrate is incredibly important because as this study reveals, "production of butyrate has been associated with positive effects on gastrointestinal health by butyrate functioning as an energy source for (colon cells) and by inhibiting inflammation, carcinogenesis, and oxidative stress on the gut." It is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that is responsible for energy, increased cholesterol synthesis, reducing serum lipids (which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease), nourishing the colon mucosa (which reduces the risk of colon cancer and treats colitis), and other accolades. This corresponds with a "severe and long term impact on the health-associated butyrate-producing microbial community of the gut," or in other words, those microbial responsibly for producing butyrate had significantly reduced numbers after one-time antibiotic use.

2. "Excessive and incorrect use of antibiotics results in the emergence of both specific-drug-resistant and multidrug-resistant bacterial strains, also known as 'superbugs.'" These superbugs are emerging already resistant to many of the most commonly prescribed broad spectrum antibiotics, such as the ones dispensed in this clinical trial.

3. This study goes on to explain how "exposure to different antibiotics result(s) in an increased abundance of genes associated with antibiotic resistance." Along with the increase in superbugs, there is an noticeable increase in the cases of ectopic diseases such as asthma, eczema, and inflammatory bowel disease. What is also interesting is that the "United Kingdom population had a higher antibiotic resistant gene load at the beginning of the study," which was apparent in their findings because the United Kingdom study volunteers had a higher antibiotic resistant gene load than the Swedish volunteers. This is believed to be accredited to an intentional decline in the number of antibiotics used and prescribed in Sweden over the last twenty years. I would be curious to see if there is also a measurable difference in the number of ectopic diseases in Sweden versus the United Kingdom as a result of their initiative to reduce antibiotic use.

4. Of the four antibiotics administered in this study, the "long term microbial shift" is evident 1, 4, and even 12 months after taking just one. While the actual medication may only be taken for up to 10 days, the effects last up to a year. It is no wonder that society is seeing such an increase in antibiotic related digestive issues given the fact that most people will take more than one dose of antibiotics within a 12 month period of time, and the body is not allowed time to recover.

Upon the advent of antibiotics, mankind has benefited immensely and found a greater sense of peace and quality of life due to their existence. It is important to not get too comfortable in overusing them to the point where there is no longer a benefit, and worse, we are creating more devastating monsters then the ones they originally sought to destroy. If an antibiotic is truly necessary, and it oftentimes is, there are ways to at least help the body recover. Remember: Probiotics...the Benefits are Endless and vital in helping the digestive tract to rebalance after antibiotics.

This study is well worth reading and can be viewed in its entirety (in PDF form) at
bio.asm.org/ResponsesToAntibiotics

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Understanding Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE)

In the few years that I have known about Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE), I have personally seen an increase in the number of people diagnosed within my circle of friends and family. Unfortunately, this spike in the number of cases has been seen across the country.

Advances in medical science was thought to be the reason for the sudden increase in the number of EoE diagnoses. It was also once thought to be caused by GERD. Now that EoE has been identified an chronic immune system disease, is it no surprise that its increasing numbers parallels the increase in asthma and allergy related conditions.

Here's a quick lesson: Eosinophilic (ee-uh-sin-uh-fil-ik) Esophagitis, better known as EoE, is caused when there is an overabundance of eosinophils present in the esophagus. Eosinophils are white blood cells that travel throughout the body fighting infection and protecting the body from potentially harmful substances/allergens by creating an allergic reaction. They are not normally present in the esophagus but will accumulate there after exposure to an allergen (usually food or pollen). A buildup of these white blood cells causes inflammation and can damage esophageal tissue. Esophagitis is simply defined as inflammation of the esophagus.


The most common symptoms in adults and adolescents include:
  • persistant heartburn
  • GERD (unresponsive to traditional acid reducing/suppressing medications)
  • difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • food getting stuck (impaction)
  • regurgitation
  • chest and upper abdominal pain

The most common symptoms in small children include:
  • difficulty feeding and/or an aversion to food
  • vomiting after meals
  • GERD (unresponsive to traditional acid reducing/suppressing medications)
  • difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • food getting stuck (impaction)
  • Abdominal pain
  • failure to thrive

For more information on diagnosing and treating EoE, please read Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE)-What Now?. This is a very serious condition, and if you suspect you or someone you know may have it, please seek immediate medical attention.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Do You Speak the Language of Your Children's Health?

In my last post entitled Do You Speak the Language of Health?, I discussed how important it is too learn the language that your own body speaks. I spent the better part of a year trying to figure out why I was getting heartburn and chronic loose-stool. I knew my body enough to be sure that it was not a biological problem or an illness, it was an external factor. Something I was putting in my mouth was upsetting my body, and it was going to speak louder and louder with harsher symptoms until I figured it out. It turned out to be one single ingredient in my multivitamin. Once the ingredient was removed, my body was happy again.

This concept got me pondering my four year old son's tummy trouble. He was experiencing a gradually worsening degree of loose stool and unrelenting gas. This riddle was a lot easier to solve simply because I had plenty of information from my own detective work. My husband and I are lactose intolerant, so examining dairy was a logical starting place. Sure enough, after 24 hours without dairy, the loose stool began to firm up and the gas stopped completely.

After a few days on a dairy free diet, my son exhibited another amazing side effect that we had not anticipated: his eczema cleared up as well. He has had mild to moderate eczema since birth, and we have always viewed it as an external condition to treat by changing his external environment, such as changing all soaps, lotions, detergents, and chemicals. While those changes certainly helped, the eczema always returned periodically. His pediatrician liked to treat it with steroid creams, but in my heart I always felt that we were simply placing a bandaid over a bigger problem. I would never want anyone to suffer with eczema their whole life, especially my own baby.

Being that your skin is your largest organ, it speaks to you with visible signs of distress. Dryness, rashes, urticaria, and eczema can be symptoms of an internal issue. It had never occurred to me that a food intolerance could be the cause of my son's chronic eczema. Looking back, I had eczema my entire life also. As an adult, I developed an unmistakable lactose intolerance, and once I went dairy-free, I never saw the eczema again. Coincidence? Obviously not!

If I had not assumed the role of detective in order to learn the language of my son's health, he would have spent a lifetime using steroids to quiet the voice of his digestive tract, which would have continued to yell, "I DON'T LIKE MILK, AND I WON'T STOP SCREAMING UNTIL YOU LISTEN!" Months later, his digestive tract and skin are calm and happy. Sherlock Holmes would be proud.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Do You Speak the Language of Health?

The human body is very vocal in its likes and dislikes...the important question is-do you speak the language? When a person's body is not functioning properly, they are usually reliant on a doctor to tell them exactly what is wrong and how to fix it. It would be unfair to think that a doctor would know every little nuance about every patient's body. With all the variables in each person's life, piecing together the right puzzle is difficult.

The human body was designed to inform you when it is struggling or when you have given it something it does not tolerate. If you pay attention and learn to read the cues, you can understand the language your body is speaking. The simplest and most obvious vocalization is in the form of a rash. If you place something on the skin that it does not like, it will result in some form of visual irritation to let you know.

The digestive tract speaks a much more complicated and subtle language because quite frankly, sometimes it all blends together to sound like gibberish. Most digestive distresses and/or disorders present what seems like the same symptoms, so you have to pay extra close attention to exactly what you are feeling and what you did to get that feeling.

I have a perfectly frustrating example. I have experienced frequent and super loose stool for about a year now. I'm sorry for the yucky details, but it was the consistency of soft serve ice cream. By the end of a year, I added severe heartburn to my symptoms. I started with all the obvious triggers such as dairy (because I'm lactose intolerant), bacterial infections, new food intolerances in my diet, low fiber intake, etc. I removed dairy entirely from my diet, boosted my probiotic intake considerably, added digestive enzymes to try to digest food better, and increased my fiber intake. Nothing worked. And what was more confusing is that I had no other symptoms to indicate a particular illness or disorder. I felt fine except for the yucky bowel movement up to five times a day and some heartburn in the evening. I knew my body enough to know that is was not a biological problem, but something external that I was consuming.

In my trial and error, one thing I tried was to stop taking all of my vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements. I was taking quite a lot and some were fairly new to my routine. Within 24 hours, the loose stool became normal again-Bingo! I played with reintroducing each supplement to try to replicate the loose stool and in effect, identify the perpetrator. It took a few weeks, but after a year of frustration, I was able to narrow the cause of my problems to 2 supplements: my multivitamin (which I had started a year ago) and a digestive enzyme (that I had started recently but immediately made my symptoms worse).

The only thing that these two supplements had in common was the ingredient Betaine HCl. This is a stomach acid that aids in digestion when the stomach struggles to produce enough on its own. It is added to supplements because many nutrients require this acid to to be properly digested and absorbed. Some manufacturers assume that the consumer will need the boost, and in some case they do. I absolutely did NOT need more stomach acid. The excess acid caused my system to digest food too fast and pass so quickly throughly digestive tract that I was not fully digesting it and not absorbing the nutrients either. The buildup of extra stomach acid over time also resulted in the a steady increase of heartburn to a very painful degree.

The moment I removed that one ingredient, my digestive tract as able to relax and resume normal function. I knew that based on my symptoms (and lack of symptoms) that this was not a sever enough situation for which to see a doctor. If I had, thy would have sent me away with a prescription for extra fiber, anti-diarrhea and acid reducing medications. I would be taking what was prescribed and also continuing to take the Betaine HCl...my body would have gotten louder and louder in its attempt to inform me that it was in distress, and I would have desperately gone back to the doctor expecting him or her to diagnose me. That doctor would never have been able to pinpoint something as simple as an ingredient in a multitude of supplements.

I have spent the better portion of the last decade trying to learn my body's unique language, and it has served me well. It tells me when it is unhappy with simple and sometimes subtle symptoms of distress, and I lovingly try to translate those symptoms into solutions that benefit my body and ultimately benefit me. In reality, you are the one who needs to decide whether or not your symptoms are sever enough to seek medical assistance. Thankfully, I was able to find a simple solution for a simple problem instead of letting a doctor guess and compound the problem (or make new ones).