Probiotics & Fermented Foods: The Good, The Bad, The Delicious

Probiotics & Fermented Foods:  The Good, The Bad, The Delicious

PROBIOTICS ARE VITAL TO GOOD HEALTH

     Why are probiotics so important to our health?  It is easier to appreciate their significance if we understand what they are.  Basically, probiotics are health promoting bacteria in our intestines and other areas of our body.  In addition to bacteria, there are also probiotic yeasts.  We can think of them as good bacteria or good yeasts.  Good bacteria help break down food to make nutrients more accessible.  They also convert vitamins into forms that our body can utilize.  But they are essential to our health not only for the role they play in digestion.  Recent research has discovered that the good bacteria are also necessary in order to keep our immune system in balance.

     Science has discovered that the bacteria in our gut actually communicate with our immune system cells through chemical messengers that exchange information.  It’s a kind of language, the way they “talk” to each other.  When we don’t have enough good bacteria in our digestive system, primarily our intestines, it’s not only our digestion that can become compromised.  It’s our immune system as well. 

     The immune system’s function is to attack bacteria and yeasts (the bad ones) and viruses that can cause disease.  If it is not strong enough, it can’t do a good job of fighting them off.  So in addition to problems such as constipation, we might also be susceptible to frequent sickness.  That’s why when people have repeated courses of antibiotics without replacing the good bacteria, they can become more vulnerable to getting repeated infections in the future.

     Another problem with an imbalanced immune system is that it can attack things it’s not supposed to attack.  For example, with certain allergies, the immune system could be attacking food, pollen, dog or cat hair, or dust mites, which results in people getting allergy symptoms.  If the symptoms are serious, temporary relief may be called for.  But if the immune system can be better regulated, the allergy symptoms may not be as severe, which can reduce the need for medication.  The ultimate goal, of course, is to eliminate the allergic response altogether.

     The immune system is made up of particular kinds of white blood cells made mostly by our bone marrow.  They travel around the body through the blood and the lymph system.  The white blood cells attack the “bad guys” (disease-causing bacteria, viruses or yeast) and either destroy them at the site of the infection or carry them via the lymph system to the lymph nodes.  There the immune system works to destroy the “bad guys”. 

WHERE DO WE GET PROBIOTICS?

     Long before there were natural food stores with shelves full of probiotic supplements or grocery stores with probiotic beverages, our ancestors got theirs the old fashioned way, through their diet.  They ate fermented foods, and every culture had their own.  It was one way they preserved food before refrigeration.  Some examples are yogurt, sauerkraut, sour poi, kimchi (and other fermented vegetables), miso, tempeh, kefir, and kombucha.

      There are alternatives to kefir made from cow’s milk, including coconut water kefir and water kefir.  In addition, there are non-dairy yogurts:  coconut milk yogurt, almond milk yogurt, and soy yogurt.  With kombucha, which is typically made from black tea, most of the caffeine is consumed in the fermentation process.

     Vinegar can also be a fermented food, depending on how it’s produced and how long it’s fermented.  Tsukemono and pickles can be a source of probiotics, again, depending on how long they’re fermented and as long as preservatives are not added to them.  Most commercial products are not fermented long enough to produce probiotic benefits. Beer, wine, and liquor are also fermented, but the alcohol inhibits the growth of good bacteria.

WHICH PROBIOTICS ARE BEST?

     If you choose a food for its probiotic benefit, be sure to read the label carefully.  Preservatives such as sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, and others are often added because they prevent bad bacteria from growing.  However, they also keep the good bacteria from growing as well.   Commercial products typically add chemical preservatives as a safeguard to extend shelf life.  But fermented foods don’t need preservatives to do that. That’s why they were fermented in the first place.  For example, I have never found preservative-free sauerkraut in regular grocery stores, but many health food stores do carry it.

     I think it is important to use both probiotic supplements and fermented foods.  Why not just take a supplement?  Many different species of good bacteria and good yeast die as soon as they are exposed to oxygen.  That makes it next to impossible to get them into a supplement because of the manufacturing and processing.  No supplements have those types of good bacteria, but they are available in fermented foods, where they are protected from oxygen within the food or the liquid.

     For treatment purposes, specific kinds of probiotics can be better for particular conditions.  In that case, supplements are helpful because a person might need a certain dose of a particular type of probiotic.  For example, C. diff is an infection in the intestines caused by a bad bacteria and there is one kind of good yeast that has been found to be helpful in its treatment, saccharomyces boulardii.

ADVICE FOR GETTING FERMENTED FOODS INTO PICKY EATERS

        Most picky eaters will eat yogurt.  Avoid commercial yogurts with added sugar, stick to organic plain whole milk yogurt, and then add your own fruit, honey, or 100% pure maple syrup.  If you or your child cannot have dairy, try coconut milk or almond milk yogurts and add fruits ornatural sweeteners.  If your child won’t eat that, you can spoon some yogurt into a small amount of sorbet or coconut milk ice cream. 

     Try coconut water kefir (e.g. Kevita) available at Safeway and health food stores – this is naturally carbonated and can be a replacement for soda.  If your child won’t drink it, you can dilute a teaspoon of the coconut water kefir in juice or a large amount of water.  Also, some parents have had success pureeing small amounts of sauerkraut or fermented beets or carrots (available at health food stores), and mixing small amounts into spaghetti sauce, soup, or stew after it’s cooked, so the heat doesn’t destroy the good bacteria.

FINAL THOUGHTS

     Some final words of advice when it comes to probiotics:  If you have sensitivity to dairy, choose non-dairy fermented foods.  If you aren’t currently eating many fermented foods in your diet, add them to your diet gradually – suddenly consuming high amounts of fermented foods can cause temporary loose stool as your body adjusts to the good bacteria.  If you have acid reflux, be careful about spicy fermented foods like kimchi. 

     If you have high blood pressure, you should use caution with salty fermented foods like sauerkraut.  If you have yeast/Candida overgrowth, limit kombucha to 1-2 times a week, as excessive consumption can sometimes aggravate bad yeast overgrowth.  Please be sure to check with your doctor.  And do eat a variety of probiotics rather than for example, just eating yogurt every day.  Each food has certain types of good bacteria, and we need a balance. 

Do You Need To Be Gluten Free?

Do You Need To Be Gluten Free?

     I have worked with many patients who have problems with gluten.  It can be potentially a serious medical issue.  Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that can attack the intestines and other tissues in response to eating foods with gluten.  In addition, some people have gluten sensitivity without the diagnosis of Celiac disease.

     There may be many people with celiac disease who are unaware they have it.  The condition can bring on vague and confusing symptoms including abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea or constipation, fatigue, muscle cramps, even bone fractures.  The disorder can remain unknown for many years, allowing damage to occur that can have lifelong negative health effects.

     Millions of Americans are adopting gluten free diets without knowing whether or not they have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.  While many report feeling better, there can be a serious medical downside.  If people have not been tested and do not know they actually have the condition, they tend to be less motivated to maintain a rigorous gluten-free diet.  That can put them at risk for the disease continuing to progress.  Also, if they are not under a doctor’s care they may develop other medical problems, including a heightened risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

     I also see many patients who have gluten sensitivity without Celiac disease.  Some of the most common conditions that seem to have a higher incidence of non-Celiac gluten sensitivity include autism, ADHD and autoimmune diseases (e.g. lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Sjogren’s syndrome, type 1 diabetes, etc.).  There are other tests available to screen for non-Celiac gluten sensitivity that I use on a regular basis.  Some people have issues with only non-organic genetically modified wheat, which uses high amounts of herbicides and other chemicals.  

     Also many people think that because an item is marked gluten free, that means it is a healthier choice – this is not necessarily the case!  I definitely agree with the comment in the article that a gluten-free diet is not necessarily a healthy diet. Most commercial gluten free products contain a lot of corn and white rice flours that are high in simple sugars and often genetically modified.  There are all kinds of processed gluten free foods that are not healthy.  While these can be helpful transition foods for children starting on a gluten free diet, I generally recommend that people on a gluten free diet try to avoid processed gluten free foods and instead opt mostly for foods that are naturally gluten free, including vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, fish and meat.  You can click on the photo or here to read the article.

     If you or a family member have questions about whether you should be gluten free, please call our office at 808-783-0361.  We offer a no-charge phone consultation (an $88 value).  Mahalo!

Yes, ADHD Can Be Successfully Treated Without Pharmaceutical Medication

Kathryn Taketa-Wong professional pic

     Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the least understood conditions of modern society.  First recognized in 1980, it is now seen as having three main aspects:  inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.  Inattention involves difficulty staying focused, wandering off task, and being disorganized.  Hyperactivity is expressed by the need to move around constantly, even in situations where it is not appropriate.  Impulsivity is where the individual is acting without thinking of the consequences, having little control over delayed gratification, interrupting others.  These behaviors are not due to defiance or lack of comprehension, but are beyond the individual’s ability to control.

      The causes of ADHD can be difficult to pin down:  brain chemicals, lack of discipline, too much TV, genetic disorder, pesticides, food additives?  In addition, studies show that a fetus exposed to alcohol and tobacco is 2.4 times more likely to develop ADHD.  Diet has also been implicated.  Adolescents with diets high in fat, refined sugar, and sodium are two times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as other kids.  Additional studies have also linked ADHD to diets deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain development and function.

     There is also the issue of over-diagnosis.  There are at least fifty medical conditions that can mimic ADHD symptoms.  Here are a few of the main ones:  low blood sugar, food allergies, learning disorders, hypo or hyperthyroidism, adrenal imbalances, metabolic disorders, sleep problems, iron and/or vitamin deficiencies.  Without a thorough review of the other possible causes of the ADHD symptoms, a child can be put on medication unnecessarily.  That’s why when I treat a child with those symptoms, I begin by looking for underlying medical conditions to be certain we are actually dealing with ADHD.

     Sometimes, pressure to start a child on medication comes from teachers, who are struggling with a disruptive student.  This is often because the child may have trouble focusing, doing homework, or staying on task.  The all-too-typical situation is the parent then talking to a pediatrician about the situation and the doctor handing them a prescription for a stimulant medication on the spot.  This is because in ADHD, individuals tend to produce inadequate amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine, brain chemicals that help to regulate mood, attention, and focus.  They also tend to fidget a lot because the movement and stimulation cause the body to produce more dopamine and norepinephrine.  Many of them like video games because they provide constant auditory and visual stimulation.  ADHD medications provide stimulation to the brain, which is why individuals with ADHD don’t feel the constant need to fidget and move all the time.  This why stimulants can have the paradoxical effect of calming a hyperactive child. 

     While putting children on medication can make a difference for some, many parents are concerned because of the potential side effects and also because they worry about their child having to take a stimulant drug for the rest of their lives once they start on it.  The most common side effects I see in children is a decrease in appetite.  Their hunger diminishes and they tend to lose weight, so they don’t get enough nutrients for a developing body and brain.  Stimulants also increase heart rate and blood pressure and can cause problems with sleep.  Some children also get moody and irritable.  Others can experience a rebound after the medication wears off and wind up worse than they were.

     When it comes to treatment, I first look for underlying medical conditions to rule them out as the causes of the ADHD symptoms.  If testing reveals those to be normal, we then move to working with the family on a natural approach.  I have many families that come to me because their child is on an ADHD medication and they want to decrease their dose or wean their child off of it.  I have seen many children improve just with a change in the diet that moves them away from artificial flavors, dyes, preservatives, pesticides, and other chemicals.  I also may recommend certain supplements that have a similar effect on the brain as pharmaceuticals but without the side effects.

     It definitely takes a commitment from the parents, because giving medication is easier.  But the easy way isn’t necessarily the best or most healthful one.  Fortunately, when the family is dedicated to giving the natural approach enough time to work, they are usually very happy with the results.  Many have been successful in reducing the dosage of ADHD medication or weaning their child off of it altogether.

 

New Understanding: How to Successfully Treat Autoimmune Diseases

New Understanding: How to Successfully Treat Autoimmune Diseases

      Autoimmune disease rates have been escalating dramatically over the past 30 years, some by up to 23%.  These diseases occur when the immune system, which is supposed to attack invaders like bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeast instead attacks one’s own body.  The medical and scientific community does not know exactly what causes autoimmune conditions like type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease. (More than 100 autoimmune diseases have been identified). 

     The immune system is comprised of white blood cells, lymph nodes and the whole lymph system, the spleen, tonsils, and bone marrow (which makes white blood cells).  It also makes certain types of chemical messengers, while some types of white blood cells make proteins called antibodies.

     The immune system can send out cells that act like Pac-Man, gobbling up bacteria and viruses. It also makes free radicals, which act like miniature bombs to blow up the invaders. Essentially, the whole process is designed to create inflammation in the body that is targeted at killing bacteria, viruses, yeast, and other things that can cause disease.

     For example, with rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks joint tissue, which can cause very bad pain and disfigured joints.  With lupus, the skin, joints, and internal organs are affected.  In multiple sclerosis, the immune system eats away at the protective coating around the nerves, preventing them from functioning properly.

     Fortunately, there are a few pharmaceutical medications that disrupt specific aspects of the autoimmune process, but for the most part, the conventional approach is usually either steroids or other medications that suppress the entire immune system.  These drugs aren’t specific, and because they affect the whole immune system, not just the area of the disease, the immune system as a whole is weaker than it should be.  This can result in the person being more susceptible to infections.

     While we don’t know exactly what causes autoimmune diseases, a critical part of treating them is healing the digestive system.  Every patient I’ve seen with an autoimmune disease has been helped to some extent by adopting a specific diet to heal the gut.  Some patients who undertook very restrictive diets, like the Autoimmune Protocol Diet, enjoyed dramatic improvement.  This is because new research is finding that the gut is very important in regulating the immune system.  Good bacteria in the gut actually communicate with the immune system cells there by exchanging chemical messages.  When the gut gets balanced and there is no inflammation there, the immune system benefits regardless of what part of the body is affected by an autoimmune disease.

     For example, researchers in Israel and Germany have noted that the increases in autoimmune diseases have occurred in too short a time to be caused by genetic changes.  Focusing instead on other causes, they discovered a strong correlation between the skyrocketing use of industrial food additives in processed food and the increase in autoimmune diseases.  The studies revealed that processed foods damage the intestinal lining, increasing the likelihood of developing an autoimmune disease.

     Other stressors on the immune system include pollution, exposure to toxins, and lack of sleep.  People who work night shifts long term have a higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases and cancer, as well.  When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies are missing out on a major time when it repairs damaged cells or fixes mutations in DNA.

     While I have found that pharmaceutical medications are often still needed in managing autoimmune diseases, using diet and natural remedies to regulate the immune system  can bring major improvements and in some cases even lead to remission.  I typically focus on working with patients to develop a healing diet as a foundation.  I will also recommend certain types of probiotics and natural remedies to help heal the gut and regulate the immune system, along with regular acupuncture.  The acupuncture helps reduce pain and inflammation and strengthens the internal organs.  Over time, patients with an autoimmune condition are usually able to live healthier, happier lives with less dependence on medication.

 

To Avoid Colds, Get Enough Sleep

To Avoid Colds, Get Enough Sleep

     Beginning in the eighties, sleep started getting a bad rap, as if it was something to avoid.  People didn’t want to miss out on anything.  The “anything” was likely to be work, as that decade saw the beginnings of the communication revolution in business and the impetus to “do it now”.  It started with pagers, evolved to fax machines and then cell phones.  By the mid-nineties, dial-up Internet came on the scene, and the pace of life has only sped up since then with the advent of smart phones.    

     Recently, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco conducted the first sleep study of its kind, using special technology to measure actual sleep time.  They established base lines for the study’s participants and then administered a cold virus.  Those with less than 6 hours sleep the week before were 4.2 times more likely to come down with a cold.

     While technology has certainly altered our lifestyles dramatically, our bodies haven’t changed in tens of thousands of years.  We need sleep.  It is not a luxury, but a necessity.  Sleeping less than 7 hours a night is associated with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, weight gain, and depression.  It is also linked to weakened immune function, increased pain, more errors, and greater risk of accidents. 

    Along with good food and sufficient exercise, getting enough sleep is essential to good health.  It sounds easy enough, but I have many patients who have trouble sleeping.  Work schedules, family commitments, commuting time, certain illnesses or conditions, stress, emotional difficulties, all can contribute to insufficient sleep.  If this sounds like you, I invite you to call my office at 808-783-0361 and request a no-charge phone consultation.  There are many things I can do to help.  Find the article here.

Heartburn Medicine Can Do More Harm Than Good

Heartburn Medicine Can Do More Harm Than Good

     As they say on TV, “Talk to your doctor….”  Only talk about getting OFF heartburn medication.  Heartburn medicine is one of the most widespread examples of the conventional approach to disease.  None of the drugs cure the condition and continued use can actually harm the body, sometimes seriously.  Yet, apparently, 15 million Americans would rather take the medication than change their ways.

     The class of drugs is called proton pump inhibitors, or P.P.I.s.  They are prescribed for acid reflux, which is a serious disorder involving corrosive stomach acid reaching the soft tissues of the esophagus.  The constant irritation can cause serious damage and even lead to esophageal cancer, which is frequently fatal.  In addition to heartburn, it can cause a persistent dry cough, sore throat, frequent throat clearing, bloating, difficulty swallowing, and more.

     While the acid reflux requires treatment, the medications are linked to side effects and complications including nutrient deficiencies, joint pain and infections, bone fractures, heart attacks, and dementia.  Certainly, the treatment should not be worse than the disease.  Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be.  There are any number of lifestyle changes that can help.

     Eliminating acidic foods and adding high-fiber foods is very helpful one-two improvement.  Fiber improves digestion and reduces pressure on the lower region of the esophagus.  A combination of raw and cooked vegetables will support healing.  A wide selection of raw fruits should be enjoyed daily.  These changes assist in losing weight where necessary while returning the body to a healthier state.  Developing a regular exercise routine will increase circulation of lymph, which helps to remove toxins from the body.

     If all those measures don’t eliminate acid reflux, it should at the least allow for the lowest possible dose of a P.P.I.  The condition is serious and important to get under control, so, as they say on TV, talk to your doctor about getting off your heartburn medication.  Read the article here.

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