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

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).

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Deprivation vs. Moderation

Deprivation and Moderation seem like two very dirty words in most people's minds. There is a big difference between the two, and the important thing to ponder is that one needs to be destroyed and one needs to be liberated.

Let's put an end to deprivation and begin to embrace moderation again. Often times, we are told to remove a certain food or food group from our diet entirely (deprivation). These foods, as long as they are in their natural state, were created for our consumption, and it has been that way since man has been placed on this earth. How is it that people in history were able to avoid all the food-born issues that we experience today such as obesity, diabetes, food allergies, IBS, IBD, and on and on? It is not as if they didn't have what we are eating now. They drank coffee, ate sweets, and even drank alcohol.

Alcohol is the best example of a legal consumable item that when you have had "too much," there is a clear and immediate consequence to your health. It is easier for an individual to identify their limit without the advice of others or even legislation. For everything else we need to reengage our God-given common sense and understand that too much of something is indeed a bad thing. Two hundred years ago societies did not have access to large quantities of sugar and thus did not suffer from rampant obesity. We have unlimited access to sugar now, and are happy to insert sugar into any food we come in contact with in spite of all the sugar-related issues from which we suffer. We all know that too much sugar is a bad thing, and yet we place responsibility squarely on the shoulders of food manufacturers and lawmakers to dictate to us just how much sugar is "too much."

It is wrong for society to disengage our "moderation" switch entirely. Being told to moderate our lives feels the same as being restrained. Instead of understanding there are limits, we wait for others to dictate what those limits are. We have had plenty of time to ascertain that too much caffeine has a negative effect on the body. Drinking caffeine in itself is NOT a bad thing...regularly drinking obscene amounts of caffeine laced with food coloring and swimming in sugar IS a bad thing. Don't allow your favorite things to become a bad thing. Moderate them before someone tells you to eliminate them.

Empowering individuals to make better choices will improve society's health as a whole. Enjoy your coffee! Enjoy your tea! Throw in a few glasses of water and feel no guilt!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Apple Cider Vinegar: It's More Than Just a Salad Dressing

Very few foods offer the same powerhouse benefits of apple cider vinegar (or ACV for short) when it comes to digestive health. We all eat troublesome foods from time to time, but we can now eat those foods with less consequence and boost the health of our digestive tract all at the same time.

At the mention of apple cider vinegar my mind automatically envisions a delicious salad with crisp greens, avocados, cucumbers, and all manner of yummy toppings. Little did I know that the dressing I was making at home with oil, apple cider vinegar, and spices was helping me digest not only the salad it was dressing but everything I ate.

My stomach does not digest food very fast, and as a result, the food sits for an extra few hours. While my stomach is struggling to produce enough acid to break down its contents, the food is fermenting as it sits, producing gas that causes intestinal discomfort and rises up as heartburn. When food cannot even be digested properly at the beginning of the digestive tract, the body will oftentimes struggle with the whole process. 

Apple cider vinegar mimics stomach acid to help the stomach digest food, nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. By adding a natural acid to your diet, the stomach is not overtaxed with the burden of producing excess acid to digest a particularly dense, protein rich, carb-packed, sugar laden meal. Apple cider vinegar also helps to balance healthy blood sugar levels by blocking some starches that would raise blood sugar levels, and those calories are blocked as well. Its antioxidant content also helps to lower LDL cholesterol with regular consumption.

Not only does apple cider vinegar’s natural acidity help to kill germs, but it goes one step further by providing vital living nutrients such as enzymes, probiotics and prebiotics (food for probiotics) to maintain healthy flora in the gut. This helps with clearing out bacterial infections that can lead to diarrhea and overgrowth of yeast that leads to yeast infections. It is also wonderful for calming an irregular bowel. Whether you suffer from chronic diarrhea or chronic constipation, ACV can help to balance healthy bowel function, which not only improves your mood, but improves your body’s ability to filter toxins and absorb nutrients. 

When purchasing apple cider vinegar, use these three magic words: RAW ORGANIC UNFILTERED. Over processing and filtering the vinegar actually damages and removes the beneficial enzymes, probiotics, and antioxidants it contains. Raw and unfiltered vinegar will have a cloudy appearance and the sediment (floaty bits) that will settle to the bottom of the bottle is called “the mother of vinegar,” and that is where the living nutrients are found. Buying organic is equally important because non-organic apples absorb the poisonous pesticides that they are relentlessly sprayed with.

The simplest way to incorporate ACV into your diet is to cook with it and use it in dressings and marinades. For more long term digestive maintenance or severe digestive and/or bowel disorders, incorporate it into your daily routine by mixing ½ teaspoon ACV with approximately a ¼ cup of water. Drink this mixture after EVERY meal and snack. For portability, add ½ teaspoon to every ¼ cup of water in a water bottle to take to work, dinner, or when you know you will be eating away from home. (For example, for a 2 cup or 16 oz. water bottle, add 4 teaspoons ACV) It is not recommended that you drink your mixture on an empty stomach because introducing extra acid into an empty acidic stomach will leave you with a sour feeling.

I discovered apple cider vinegar after suffering with GERD and chronic constipation for 5 years. This switched to 3 months of unrelenting diarrhea after a traumatic life event. My digestive tract was weak and nonfunctioning and western medical doctors had failed me, so I sought the advice of natural practitioners. My blessed Doctor Glen told me about the ½ teaspoon method. To my surprise and delight, the diarrhea stopped after 24 hours. To this day, I suffer fewer digestive issues and fewer yeast infections. I am also able to enjoy on occasion the problem foods that I had begrudgingly given up. My body is better able to absorb nutrients and remove toxins, and I accredit much of my digestive success to apple cider vinegar.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Aloe Vera: Nature's Wonder Plant (How to Buy)

I have talked a lot about the countless benefits of Aloe Vera Juice, but I feel I need to elaborate on the information needed to purchase the highest quality juice. It's almost like shopping for a diamond. Remember CCC: cut, consistency, and content.

Let us start with cut: When purchasing aloe vera juice, it is important to make sure that the juice is made from inner leaf gel only. Many manufacturers state on the label that theirs is "whole leaf" juice. This statement can be misleading because naturally most people assume that "whole leaf" juice must contain more nutrients that "inner leaf gel only" juice. The error with this assumption is that using the whole leaf in manufacturing includes processing the outer skin (or rind). The outer skin contains toxins that protect the plant from being eaten in the wild. It is more cost-effective to process the whole leaf and filter the toxins out than it is to remove the skin at the beginning. An added disadvantage to this method is that while the toxins are being filtered out, so are the vast majority of the nutrients that make the aloe vera so beneficial.

Any time the aloe vera plant is over-processed (which includes boiling, freeze-drying, concentrating, and making capsules or tablets) a huge amount of nutrients is lost, and the water naturally contained in the gel that aids in the absorption of those nutrients is removed as well. Good quality aloe vera juice does not need to be filtered, and pasteurization is not necessary when it is handled and processed in sanitary conditions.

Now, let us talk about consistency: The consistency of high quality aloe vera juice should be very similar to the consistency of freshly squeezed citrus juice (floating particles included). The taste is hard to describe because it is so unique, but it is strong and oftentimes tart.

Finally, let us talk about content: Always check the label. I believe this is a good habit to acquire when purchasing any food or beverage.  When purchasing aloe vera juice, make sure the first ingredient is aloe. If the first ingredient is water then obviously it has been watered down or made from a concentrate. Do NOT be fooled by products that say "100% Aloe Vera Juice" because that can only be achieved by using fresh-squeezed juice that is sold in a refrigerator with an expiration date of only a few days. Otherwise, it must contain preservatives, which is fine, as long as they are listed on the label.

A very helpful purchasing aid is The International Aloe Science Council Seal for Content and Purity. Companies can earn the right to carry this seal. Unfortunately consumers need to visit www.iasc.org to verify that the company has been approved to carry this seal because some companies will falsely display this seal on their products (without receiving approval). Keep in mind, the IASC seal does not indicate quality, it is there to monitor and guarantee accurate labeling.

Lastly, when purchasing aloe vera juice it is important to avoid the anthraquinones (powerful laxatives) naturally present in aloe. These include: Aloe-emodin, aloin, and aloe latex. These laxatives have to be filtered out during processing. I understand the hypocrisy of this statement because I have told you to avoid filtered juice, but the benefits of filtering out these laxatives well outnumber the negatives of removing some other nutrients. The International Aloe Science Council's standard is less than 10 ppm aloin for oral consumption. (Unfiltered aloe contains approximately 10,000 ppm aloin)

I have personally purchased aloe vera juice sold by Lily of the Desert. It is organic, carries the IASC seal, and sells both whole leaf and inner fillet juice.

To sum it all up, make sure your aloe vera juice is:
  1. Made from inner leaf gel 
  2. The consistency of fresh squeezed citrus juice (including floating particles)
  3. Labeled properly (Aloe is the first ingredient)
  4. Certified by The International Aloe Science Council
  5. Filtered for Aloe-emodin, aloin, and aloe latex
For additional information on Nature's Wonder Plant, please check out this four part series to learn all about Aloe's benefits, uses, side effects, and dosages: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.