Micaela’s Story – Her Fight With IBS (IBS Part 6)

Mic2Micaela’s recovery from illness is one I want to share. She had a condition called “gut dysbiosis” which means that the normal microbes in the gut are having a hard time. Due to the unpleasant and varying effects of dysbiosis, the condition has been called “Irritable Bowel Syndrome”, “Food sensitivities”, “Spastic Colon”, “Chronic Constipation”  and more, but the fact is, that in 99% of cases, it is Gut Dysbiosis.

Micaela had most of these labels with a few more conditions thrown in, including depression. This is her story in her words and how we treated her and I am very grateful to her for allowing me to tell it.

Micaela – “Back in 1985 I had my appendix removed. The operation went OK and I was given antibiotics afterwards. I seemed to make a complete recovery, although when I look back it was around that time that I started to suffer from a lot of wind, bloating and constipation. I was a single mum trying to raise my boys alone and working in a fast food restaurant and didn’t have a very good diet. It was just one of those minor niggles you learn to live with.

“Over the next few years I took a considerable amount of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers.”

Ten years on I started to suffer a lot of back pain. I was born with a congenital deformity of the spine and age and hard work had taken their toll on my back.  Over the next few years I took a considerable dose of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers.  I started to suffer constipation and diarrhoea and a sort of empty rumbling in my gut.  I often used to crave toast and butter and it seemed to settle things for a while.
At this stage it had developed from a minor niggle to something that was becoming a bit irritating.

Early 1999 I had some gynae problems. I was prescribed hormonal treatment for about six months which did settle things down.  By the middle of 1999 I had my first ever migraine. That marked a major downturn in my life. I started to have migraines about every two weeks to begin with; they steadily got worse until at their worst point, I only had about 3 days in any one month where I didn’t have a terrible headache. I’d spend days in bed often battling the most terrible pain.  Doctors thought it was hormonal and want to do a hysterectomy, but I felt this was wrong I was sure it was something I was eating. I tried cutting different foods out for a while but never made much headway.

“I ..cut out fruit and sugars and thought I had beaten it”

In 2002 I had a food intolerance test, which came back positive for milk, eggs and yeast. I cut these foods out of my diet and although I felt a little better, I never made any real progress back to full health. The possibility of Candida was mentioned at this time, so I also cut out fruit and sugars and thought I had beaten it.  Some time after changing my diet I started to suffer from constant diarrhoea – 8-10 times a day.  It was so bad I didn’t want to go out anywhere.  I was trying to eat soda bread & homemade Cornish pasties, so as to avoid the yeast.
In 2005 I saw a gastroenterologist who put me on a gluten free diet and for a little while I seemed a little better.  It was short lived and things started to deteriorate rapidly.
I was put on an exclusion diet which started with lamb, carrots, rice and pears.  I never really made it much past 12 foods and once I brought in any kind of fats I had the most terrible headache.  At last I felt I had worked out a connection between food and the headaches.

Since this time I have lived mainly on rice, not fats at all and occasionally small pieces of rice(1)chicken and pineapple.  I gradually grew  sicker and sicker suffering from constant fatigue, brain fog, memory loss, got up tired and went to bed exhausted, stomach pain, cramping in my gut, constipation, diarrhoea, bladder problems, aching joints, depression, numbness in my fingers, earache, pain behind the eyes, nausea – need I go on? I could see life slipping away, everything I tried to eat apart from rice caused me problems of some kind. I’d seen numerous doctors and had many tests but no one could get to the bottom of the problems with my health.”

A desperate appeal for help went out in the Metro newspaper.


Treatment of illness this severe, often means that the sufferer has to suffer a bit more before healing can begin. Gut problems are almost exclusively due to gut-dysbiosis and this is regardless of the diagnosis. Because of this, treatment has to be similar in all cases.

With the emphasis being on “the absorption of the correct nutrients as quickly as treatment allows”, as priority, easily absorbed foods must be used. These foods have to be the ones that good bacteria and microbes thrive on – and it is no coincidence that these very foods are the very ones that nourish us too. They don’t nourish the microbes that have moved in, set up home and become pathogenic – the ones causing the illness.

All life forms eat, drink and excrete. Not in quite the same way perhaps but the microbes that are supposed to be in our gut, help us with their excretions or “metabolytes”. They produce vitamins and enzymes and help digest the food we eat. Those that have overtaken do far more damage than than just hinder this process! They have to be brought under control and largely be killed off.It is this that causes the worsening symptoms at the beginning of treatment. When pathogenic microbes die, their toxins can overwhelm the body and they have to be removed – whichever way.. Think – diarrhoea, foul breath, body odour and rashes accompanied with headaches and gut pain from intestinal spasm.

Once the bad boys under control then it is imperative to replace with the microbes that naturally live in our guts. Once they are established, more foods can be added gradually. Gut healing is a very long process of trial and error, but determination does pay.

When  Micaela reported back to the papers after only three weeks of treatment when she was eating around forty different foods, I was delighted that she felt well enough to do this. However, I was concerned that she felt she was almost “cured”. It had taken many years for her insides to make her as sick and malnourished as she was – and true recovery would take much, much longer. The first six months were extremely difficult, but it was a year before she felt she had the confidence to go it alone. She would have been fine without support after six months, but long-term illness saps confidence and so we still kept in touch frequently for this time.

I am very happy to report that right now (August 2014), Micaela has several part-time jobs, both at home and outside. When I met her she weighed 48 kilos and she is now 60 kilos. She is happy, healthy and living her life.

Here is a report of Micaela’s progress barely three weeks later.
..and 6 months later, looking forward to Christmas dinner

Here is a short audio on Micaela’s recovery:

 

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The “Buzzword” Vitamin

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When I started my nursing career in 1973, I was taught very little about nutrition. Vitamin D was to help calcium into the bones for growth and strength and really, it had very little other use. Also – it was called vitamin D only – not D2 or D3 as you may have heard more recently.

This is yet again, the problem with science – it seems helpful until the next bit of science comes along and changes everything. So at this time we are aware that there are two forms of vitamin D that have some importance for us as humans – D2 and D3. D2 is present in plants and not as bio-available to us as D3, which is obtained from animal sources and the sun. Another recent discovery is that in order for vitamin D3 to be used properly, vitamin K2 needs to be present. And vitamin A. And several minerals..

I named my business “Your Good Health – Naturally” for a very specific reason which I am sure you can guess. If we eat the diet we are programmed for and emulate (impossible to live the exact same life) the lifestyle we evolved with, we get what we need for life, health and reproduction. And this is in spite of the constantly changing “evidence” that science brings us.

I suspect that over the next decade, we will see vitamin D split into other analogues. New science is already showing that vitamin D from the sun is water soluble and can travel easily in the blood, but vitamin D from food is fat-soluble and in fact, needs fat for its absorption if it is contained in non fatty sources (eg. vegetables). I wonder how long it will take before science shows us that it is also used differently in the body!

It wasn’t so long ago in our history that we spent a great deal more time outside. Children played outside in all weathers. When I was young, we had two TV channels and no computers to keep us indoors. We saw the sun at all times of the day and no sun-screen was applied, since it hadn’t been invented. Sun-tan lotion (to attract the sun to make tanning quicker) was around in the 1960s as I remember and we were encouraged to be in the sun as it gave us vitamin D. What on Earth has gone wrong? People of the western world are now vitamin D deficient – to epidemic proportions.  If we are to remain disease-free, things have to change.

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So why do we need vitamin D? Before I address that, I must first emphasise that nutrients work together, not in isolation. The trouble is, when we hear that something is good for us, we then overdo it – “if some is good, more must be better”. We often buy supplements. but please, get professional help with this if you intend to take them. Vitamin D3 on its own can be harmful. Vitamin D3 helps the absorption of calcium but is is vitamin K2 that directs it to bones and teeth – away from arteries where it causes damage.

We now know that vitamin D3 (which is the form our bodies use easily) is needed for countless processes in the body. In fact, the bottom line is that we cannot live without proper levels of vitamin D.

(The UK RDA for vitamin D will protect against bone diseases but we need far more than this for optimum health. If half an hour in the sun can produce 20,000 units of vitamin D in our skin, the UK RDA, at a mere 2-400 units, is woefully inadequate.)

Children and babies have died from this deficiency and adults become ill and die from the diseases that are associated with the deficiency – but their conditions are rarely attributed to it as blood levels of vitamin D are not routinely tested. Due to all the known processes in the body where vitamin D3 takes a part, it is not difficult to imagine what might happen if it is not present in the needed amounts.

Immunity is compromised along with all that this entails: pathogenic infections are not effectively fought; potentially cancerous cells may not be destroyed; asthma and eczema are more prevalent as are other allergies; incidences of gut problems such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are more evident as are the symptoms in established disease.
Interestingly, the incidence of malignant melanomas (which some authorities believe to be due to the sun’s rays) are less common in those with optimum levels. There are about twenty different types of cancer that are known to have a connection with vitamin D deficiency.

Bone density is severely compromised without adequate levels of vitamin D.  Rickets is the name for this condition in children and osteomalacia in adults. Babies have been known to be born with the condition and their bones remain fragile instead of being strengthened by mineral deposits. This condition at its worst is incompatible with life. The condition is evident as the legs become bowed in children and adults. Osteoporosis is also a bone thinning disease where vitamin D deficiency may at least in part, be implicated. Don’t forget the K2 too!

It is now thought that vitamin D3 is involved with cholesterol regulation, the occurrence of mental disturbances such as dementia and depression, heart disease and the onset and progression of multiple sclerosis.

Such terrible consequences from a deficiency that is entirely preventable – for free. In Britain, during the months of April to September the sun rises high enough in the sky for the UVB rays (which are the ones needed to form vitamin D3 in our skin) to reach us here in the Northern Hemisphere. UVB rays are short in comparison to UVA rays – which are available from dawn to dusk. The easiest way to gauge if the sun is right is to look at your shadow. If it is shorter than you are tall, the UVB rays are present and you can strip off! Be sensible here – if your skin is fair, five minutes a side is sufficient. If you have black skin, you must start with about thirty minutes a side. Unfortunately, black-skinned people suffer the most in the Western world as it takes that much longer for the UVB rays to penetrate. It is none-the-less, absolutely vital they sunbathe if they are to stay healthy. The amount of sunshine needed to be effective, also depends where you are. The more northerly the position, the longer it will take and if you are on holiday in the Med, less time will be needed. Your skin should be slightly pink, not red. Do NOT go to sleep in the sun – you are very likely to burn! After this time, it is best to cover up or sit in shade but if you must, use a sunscreen that is as natural as possible. The usual sun-screens have many unpleasant and damaging chemicals in them. Your skin will quite happily absorb these into your body where they have absolutely no place. (Best to use water only for showering after sun exposure, to prevent washing away those precious skin oils.)

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If your ancestors were from the Northern Hemisphere, you are adequately equipped for life here. The fact that our livers can store huge amounts of vitamin D means that even though there is no UVB sunlight during the winter months, we will be fine if we have adequate stores. If we haven’t, maybe a D3 and K2 supplement would be useful for a few months. Please seek advice regarding this.
People whose ancestry is nearer the Equator should take extra care. The storage space for vitamin D may not be the same as people from more northerly climes, due to the intensity, frequency and duration of sunlight in equatorial countries.  Nature doesn’t change what it does very quickly, meaning that we have to.

There are many foods that contain vitamin D. D2 is present in leafy green vegetables but some people have trouble converting it to the D3 that is needed for humans and some other mammals. To maximise the absorption of D3 from plants, serve vegetables with a knob of butter or in a creamy sauce. Animal foods that are rich in D3 – eggs, full-fat dairy, offal, shellfish and other surface swimming fish. Meat (and especially offal) that has the highest levels of D3 will be from animals that are reared outside on pasture where they can eat grass and weeds that contain abundant D2 which they will convert to D3. These are foods that are nutrient-dense all round and should be included in our diet anyway.

In 2012 we had a lousy summer. During the winter of that year, I dropped my “no supplements” rule and took a D3/K2 supplement until April. Maybe there are some occasions when it is a good idea, as the above, but also you might want to do this if you have dark skin or if you have not been able to sunbathe much when the sun was out. To me though, ”naturally” is always the best.

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The Importance of Digestion (From Top to Bottom!)

file3011257997439 In my view, even if you smoke or are obese, the food you put into your mouth is the most important factor to determine your overall health. If you eat well your health improves; if you eat badly, your health deteriorates. Simple.

 

 

Well it should be simple but food and nutrition have become complicated over the last century. When we “process” food it can become difficult or impossible to digest. Add to that these other factors – we now eat foods that are not from our evolutionary diet, foods are often genetically modified, traditional food preparation has been replaced with super-fast methods and in many instances, cookery skills have been lost. Probably the most important is learning to cook from scratch using tried and trusted traditional methods and starting with the best ingredients, preferably organically produced.

We eat because we need nutrients which our bodies convert to compounds which are used in the hundreds of body processes that go on every second of our lives. Even if the food is the best, we still have to absorb and utilize these nutrients – and therein lies the rub!

Nutrition is not just filling our stomachs with any old food or a few vitamin tablets. Nutrition encompasses all of the following – the correct food being chewed, swallowed, digested (see below) absorbed and utilized. When any of these stages are omitted either within our control or without it, proper nutrition is forfeited. Let me explain.

When we anticipate or smell food, already our bodies begin preparation for digestion. We salivate, our stomachs rumble which indicates that the digestive juices are being produced. This enables various digestive enzymes to do their work before the next stage can commence.

Chewing food begins the digestion of carbohydrates and it is made more liquid. giant_panda_eatingThis is necessary if all nutrients are to be extracted. Swallowing begins the muscular wave (peristalsis) throughout the intestines to push food to the next stage of digestion. When food enters the stomach, protein is broken down by the hydrochloric acid contained in the digestive juices. The enzymes present continue the digestion of carbohydrates and begin the break-down of fats and proteins. When this is achieved, the small intestine continues the process using bile from the gall bladder and enzymes from the pancreas. Providing there is no disease in the small intestine, many nutrients and water are absorbed here. As the process continues into the large intestine, more fluid is absorbed and some of the B vitamins are created. The end of the scenario is a trip to the loo! This removes that which cannot be digested and other unneeded substances.

As you can see, there are many stages to digestion – which means that there are many ways for things to go awry. The food you eat makes the enzymes, saliva and gastric juices, so if your diet is poor, the situation moves from bad to worse.

Addressing the stages -
In the mouth:  If teeth are bad, the mouth is sore, dentures are poorly fitting, food may be poorly chewed or even avoided altogether.
In the stomach: Too little acid, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), ulceration of the stomach lining, frequent heartburn or a hiatus hernia and many more conditions can interfere with the initial break down of foods. This is especially true of vitamin B12.
In the small intestine: Food insufficiently digested in the stomach will be problematic, poor microbial mix or insufficient beneficial bacteria, Crohn’s and celiac disease, duodenal ulceration, poor bile and pancreatic enzyme production and other diseases  and insufficiencies will produce incomplete digestion here.
The large intestine: Diseases such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis (IBD), poor muscle tone (from years of the wrong diet), insufficient good bacteria, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) will all disrupt the final stages of digestion.

There are all sorts of ways that we can become mal-nourished, even in our land of plenty. Of course, if there was nothing you could do about it, I wouldn’t be writing this! There is plenty you can do to optimise your nutrition.

  1. Choose the best food you can afford and learn how to cook it. (This book is an excellent start!) I won’t go into the minutiae of as there is lots of advice in my other blogs.
  2. Ensure your teeth are in good condition.
  3. Eat slowly. Chew thoroughly and don’t drink much with food as this dilutes the needed acid in the stomach. People who suffer indigestion and GERD should not drink half an hour before or an hour after meals.
  4. Eat fermented foods sometimes – sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kefir, yogurt.
  5. Practice relaxation. Stress is very damaging on the digestive system at every stage.
  6. Ensure that meal times are just that. Make time to sit down and enjoy your food. I absolutely believe in chatting over a meal as this slows things down and is conducive to good digestion and not overeating.
  7. When you first feel the urge to go to the loo, please go!  Putting it off is damaging to the muscle tone of the bladder and the rectum.

There has to be at least one thing you can do to improve your digestion. One step at a time..

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The “Wise Traditions” Conference Part 2

Beverly Rubik PhD is a US doctor whose main interest is research into the subtle energies of living systems, including the human energy field and whole-person health and healing.

I found her talk “Health Under the Microscope” absolutely fascinating. She has spent much time looking at human blood microscopically and how it changes with the diet taken. She showed us slides of blood taken from people eating the standard “healthy” organic diet. This meant that their diet was largely composed low fat meats, bread, cereals, margarine and other refined vegetable oils, soya and other beans, fruit and vegetables. Not bad you might think considering this food was organically produced.

file931348057842The second set of slides showed the blood from largely organic foods as recommended by the Weston A. Price Foundation. Broadly, this means the diets consisted of eggs, natural meat with its fat and organs from animals that have been pasture fed, raw dairy including butter, fresh fruits and vegetables in season,  nuts, seeds and grains that have been properly prepared.

The people that were studied were split into the two groups as above and the ages in each ranged from young adults to early old age. All participants had been on their diets for several months to many years. The results were startling.  From the Weston A. Price style diet, slide after slide showed – in Dr. Rubik’s words – perfect blood – even the older participants. The different cells could be seen clearly and there was no clumping.  There was also a rather strange – and as yet unidentified – cell which is thought to be a beneficial microbe of some sort. This was very odd as up until now we have believed that our beneficial microbes do not live in the blood stream, but in our gut and on our skin.

In the group consuming the standard healthy, organic diet, the blood slides were very different. The cells appeared sticky and they clumped together. It is thought that this is not in any way beneficial to our health and as well as in the obvious problems within the blood stream there will be knock-on effects in other body systems. Interestingly, there were microbes in the blood of these people too, but they have been identified as pathogenic not probiotic. There is more on this research here.

I have seen Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride speak at several conferences diet and her enthusiasm never wavers. She is the doctor who devised the GAPS diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome). The diet has become very popular as it works. Very basically, she has determined that dysbiosis  (the wrong mix of gut microbes) in the gut affects our mental and physical health. At this conference she spoke about GAPS but also about immunity.

Our immune systems are determined at birth and during child hood. Dr. McBride outlined the importance of the childhood illnesses – to allow a child to develop fevers is to educate the immune system. Babies can often be sickly after birth as they become a dumping ground for toxins that a mother has in her body! Maybe this is why some babies develop skin rashes for no apparent reason. Autistic children are often the first-born in the family and it could be partly due to this phenomena. During pregnancy, the hormone progesterone suppresses immunity so that the baby is not rejected, but it too has a suppressed immune system making it vulnerable to infective agents. Coupled with the toxins from the mother’s body (from hair dye, make-up, household cleaning products, showering/bathing products) creates problems for new-borns. Some of the chemicals present in these products can attach themselves to tissues in the body causing the typical symptoms of diseases such as Ehlers Danlos syndrome (joint hypermobility) and this is very common amongst autistic children.

Children living in “unhygieneic”  surroundings are usually more robust that those file0002010398688children living in “germ-free” surroundings . Gut parasites are part of our normal gut flora and are important. Whilst our immune systems are busy controlling pathogens, they are far less likely to attack healthy tissues as in some auto-immune diseases such as Crohn’s disease. Candida is a yeast that is found in the human gut where it belongs. It provides a great service to us – absorbing mercury which can be toxic to humans. Too much mercury being ingested, invites candida to overgrow and create problems such as IBS. Mercury is a component of dental amalgam fillings and in some people the mercury can leak into the gut causing gut (and other) disturbances. So much of that which we take for granted can be detrimental to our immunity.

Another thing I learned, is that the appendix is a vital part of our immune system. For years it has been taught that the appendix is a “left-over” from when we were herbivores but modern research shows that it is a “bank” for beneficial microbes. This sounds reasonable to me. If we are affected by a holiday-tummy bug, much of the gut microbiota will have been flushed out. The appendix then releases a new colony and you get better! The body is an amazing thing and has a trick up its sleeve for all eventualities.

In her closing talk, Sally Fallon gave us her personal health tips. She believes in eating regularly, three times daily. This is how it used to be! Grazing is a current fad – no doubt born from our “on-the-hoof” lifestyles. In my view, there are few people who would benefit from a grazing diet and it can contribute to insulin sensitivity. She also outlined the importance of a big breakfast – not just a piece of toast or a bowl of nutrient-poor cereal. Meats must be eaten with their natural fats, we should consume broths made from meat bones and natural salt is very important for many functions in the body. (Himalayan crystal salt or Celtic grey salt are both good.)

I hope at least some of this makes sense. It has been rather a difficult task trying to decipher the hieroglyphics I managed to scribble down during the talks!

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B12 – The Finicky Vitamin

Along with the other B vitamins, B12 is responsible for releasing energy from food, healthy nerves, the formation of blood and other cells, mental health and much more. Deficiency at its worst causes pernicious anaemia, (possibly) contributing to Alzheimer’s disease, psychoses and heart disease. The symptoms that often present initially are mood swings, insomnia, lacking energy and tingling in the hands and feet.

1426234_63077721It is very easy to become vitamin B12 deficient today. Life is so very different to how it was one hundred or even fifty years ago when home cooking was all that was available and nothing as wasted. We are a “fast” society now and everything has to be pronto – many don’t cook anymore – preferring microwave meals. We eat on the hoof just to fill our stomachs quickly with scant regard for the food’s nutritional value or whether we will digest it properly. It is incredible to me that people complain about the cost of food whilst buying ready meals and takeaways and it will contribute to becoming B12 deficient in our modern times.

Even if you care about your health, it is possible to become deficient in this vitamin. Those who are vegetarian through choice could be at risk. Likewise those who are vegetarian or vegan for religious or other reasons often miss out on this essential nutrient.

Some illnesses prevent B12 being utilised. The reason I call this the “finicky” vitamin is due to its metabolism. Simply, a protein called “intrinsic factor” found in the stomach juices binds itself to B12 to allow absorption. Most foods are digested and absorbed during the long journey through the small intestine. Not B12 though! There is a small area between the small and large intestines reserved for just this purpose. Because of this rather complicated process, illnesses affecting the gut can disrupt it at all stages.

  • Fast foods; even if any B12 is present, they are consumed quickly with minimal mastication and washed down with a drink of some sort. If foods are not chewed thoroughly, they cannot be digested effectively in the stomach. When food is accompanied by large quantities of fluid, the stomach acid is diluted and therefore, the intrinsic factor will be also. This can lead to the use of…
  • Antacids, reflux and ulcer medicines; these lower the acidity in the stomach making the digestion of B12-containing proteins difficult to digest thereby preventing its release from the food.
  • Ageing; stomach acid naturally reduces as we age leading to a similar situation as above.
  • Gut disorders; people who suffer the diseases that cause ulceration of the gut lining and diarrhoea are at risk. This includes sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (IBD).
  • Other drugs; diabetes medications, statins, birth control pills and antibiotics. There is a more comprehensive list and lots more information here.

So what can we do to maximise our chances of maintaining optimum levels of B12? It 736236_94991508would be far too easy for me to say that those people suffering from illnesses should seek to become well again (and some of the diseases I have named here are reversible) but nonetheless, action has to be taken one way or another! The best way to supplement B12 is by injection thus bypassing the complicated metabolic process. Or by sub-lingual drops. This is necessary for vegans too, as useful B12 is only present and available in animal foods. For vegetarians – kefir, organic cheeses and eggs are essential. The best sources for the rest of us are organic offal meats, shellfish as well as the above. To improve the uptake of B12 chew food thoroughly, don’t drink too much with meals so as not to dilute stomach acid and eat slowly. To stimulate stomach acid, eat fresh sauerkraut as a part of your meals, or a spoonful just a few minutes before a meal. Apple cider vinegar can be used too.

Above all, if you don’t or can’t cook please do something about it. The health of families starts in kitchens!

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Micaela Stafford – The Lady Whose Body Rejected Everything

One day back in May 2011, I was shown an article in a newspaper about a lady who was very unwell.  She had been searching for years to find a solution to her illness and even though some things she tried helped a little, the relief was short-lived. The only food her body would tolerate at this time was rice. Everything else made her feel ill – migraines, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, nausea and more. She weighed 7 1/2 stones. Food sensitivities were ruling her life.

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Her efforts to find a cure led her to many general doctors, gut specialists, nutritionists and dieticians – to no avail. Such was her determination to regain her health she then approached newspapers and radio stations to widen her search.

I felt that treating her was worth trying as it was possible that the core problem had been missed. The term “gut dysbiosis” is a relatively new one and not one to have entered mainstream medicine yet. It is very often the case that until a condition is accurately named – in other words, one which truly describes what is happening – that treatment can be wrongly advised.

Take irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. This is the diagnosis which is often returned when all else has been excluded. (These tests of course have to be performed as IBS has similar symptoms to other gut disorders.) The problem is that IBS merely encompasses a set of symptoms – it does not address the root cause, but “gut dysbiosis”, does. It succinctly describes the condition of microbial life in the gut being out of balance. So when I was faced with Micaela’s illness, I knew that before she could benefit from the nutrients in food, her gut microbes needed normalising.

When we met, I was shocked at how thin and drawn Micaela looked. The specialists that she had consulted, once they had determined that (from their point of view) there was nothing to be done, advised her that is was “all in her head”. It most certainly was not, all in her head – it was very real. However, over many, many years, her mind had been affected by being chronically ill and she was in a bad place by the time she came to me. With hindsight, it would have been most helpful to have had specialist input to help her manage this. Also, I suspect that her recovery would have been quicker if her mind was being treated at the same time. Stress is counterproductive due to the constant release of stress hormones – which long-term, damage the body physically.

Micaela had to take a huge leap of faith as here was someone, (me!) telling her something completely different to all the other professionals from whom she had sought help. To be frank, I had never treated a gut condition this severe and whilst I had confidence in the theory, I could not be confident of the outcome as treatment would be incredibly difficult for Micaela. In fact I could never have predicted how tough it would end up being.

Most of Micaela’s life had been blighted with ill health and she had to undergo many forms of treatment for her ailments. The history she recounted to me showed clearly that there were many opportunities for undesirable microbes to colonise in her gut. At the point where we met, I suspected that the only reason that she was able to tolerate rice, was that these microbes were using it as fuel. (To test this, add cooked rice to warm water and yeast. The yeast will digest the rice by turning it to sugar – its preferred energy source. The mixture will bubble until the rice has almost all been used up.) The main offender was Candida. I cannot know this as a certainty as it was never proved and I don’t perform tests as they can be unreliable. However, treatment which just involved nutritious food would only benefit her no matter which organisms were to blame.

Where to start though!  As Micaela could only tolerate rice – what would I give her? The important thing to start with was to rid her of the pathogenic organisms. To this end, she had to undergo a two day broth fast. This was just the liquid from boiled chicken bones, vegetables and herbs. This is not only very easily absorbed but definitely not a favourite of Candida or its friends! The problem for Micaela was the “die off” reaction – all the symptoms of IBS but even worse. It was a very, very hard time for her and this was just the start of treatment.

The only way to tackle gut dysbiosis is -
1) Clear the gut of pathogenic microbes.
2) Heal the gut (which has been damaged by these microbes).
3) Replace the beneficial microbes (with probiotics).
3) Introduce absorbable nutrition as quickly as is practical.

This is the treatment that Micaela needed to heal her insides and ultimately – herself. She had endured years of poor nourishment as her gut would not absorb it – even when she occasionally tried something other than rice. In other words, she was suffering from malnutrition – and then everything is wrong.

At three weeks of treatment, with the inclusion of about forty foods that she could eat and enjoy, she thought she was well again and there was another news item in her local paper. We were both very excited that she was eating so well, but I feared that it was very early days to be celebrating – and my hunch was right – she was far from completely recovered. There were still hard times to be overcome. For six months foods were added or added and removed until finally that year, Micaela enjoyed a Christmas dinner.

The last few years have been a steep learning curve for both of us and we’re still climbing! Eating out is not a problem for Micaela now – there is always something she can have and enjoy without any adverse symptoms.  From my point of view, I have achieved my aim, which is the same for all.
“To ensure that all the body’s nutritional requirements are met as quickly as possible, in the most acceptable way to the person being treated.”

Fortunately, although Micaela’s condition is not completely unique, most IBS sufferers can recover more easily than she did. Fortunate indeed as there are not too many people with Micaela’s amazing determination to succeed.

The picture at the top, is of Micaela now, at 9 1/2 stones and happy.

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Candida Albicans – The Main Cause of IBS? (IBS Part 5)

We live with yeasts. There are yeasts in the air we breathe, on the food we eat and living happily in our intestines. It is impossible to avoid them but fortunately, the healthy body has systems in place to keep yeast infections under control. Candida Albicans is the opportunist microbe and overgrows prolifically given the chance.

As I discussed before, medications and illnesses will deplete the beneficial gut bacteria and this allows the undesirables to proliferate and this can happen very quickly, especially if the diet is high in sugars and other carbohydrates. This is called dysbiosis – literally meaning , difficult life.

All yeasts have similar needs. If you have ever made bread or beer you know that mixing water, yeast and sugar in a warm place creates lots of bubbles. (Actually, if you used a spoonful of flour the effect would be the same.) This reaction is the result of yeasts feeding on sugar and multiplying. For Candida, the gut provides an ideal environment to set up home and have a big family. Friends will also be invited, but friends of Candida, not of us!

beerWhen bread or beer is made, the gases easily escape into the atmosphere but what happens if this fermentation goes on inside us? There is no immediate escape so gases build up causing much noise and often severe cramping pains. Eventually gas escapes as very smelly wind accompanied by acute embarrassment. Sometimes the gas does not escape easily and becomes trapped causing more pain and bloating. A story I hear often is that a bloated abdomen becomes apparent over the day and goes down overnight no doubt escaping during sleep.

So why the diarrhoea that often typifies IBS? When the yeast Candida colonises in the gut is becomes less of a yeast and more of a fungus. The organisms join forces and start to line the gut wall, anchoring with minute rootlets into the intestines. When this happens, there is little room for the good guys to colonise which means the delicate lining becomes eroded as there is no protection. Food cannot be digested and absorbed properly which means it leaves the body rapidly and barely altered from when it was eaten. Another likely scenario is that instead of being absorbed as nutrients, other unwanted microbes cause the food to putrefy adding to the toxic load. Whilst these effects are going to cause much discomfort and distress, another very troublesome situation is occurring – malnutrition.

This is the disaster that will almost certainly perpetuate or worsen the illness. We take for granted that our food will be digested once eaten but it is an extremely complex process – one which is dependent upon all areas of the gut doing their bit before the food is moved on to the next stage. With IBS these stages can be inadequate or missed out altogether. The end result is that nutrients are not absorbed and the body’s digesting fluids and enzymes cannot be created. Many other processes cannot be instigated. The vicious circle continues and we get sicker.

Next time, I will tell you the story of Micaela Stafford. This was a lady I met a few years ago who had the most severe form of gut dysbiosis I have ever witnessed. She has allowed me to tell her story.

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IBS – Host to a Host of Undesirables (IBS Part 4)

It is my belief that our gut microbes have a great deal to do with who we are as people. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Let me tell you how I see it.

We are literally heaving with microbes! We have trillions more microbes in our gut than we do cells that make up our bodies and they can weigh more than a kilo. We are not entirely  human!

As far as we are concerned, they come in three types:
1) The ones we need for our health.
2) The ones “passing by” (in quantity, some of these may also make us ill).
3) The ones that make us sick – the opportunists.

Now, if we have enough of the ones we need for health, they will ensure that the microbes in the other two categories don’t do us much harm.

The microbes needed for health help with many functions – including the digestion of food, protection of our gut wall and keeping all other microbes in check. In return, we feed them – a truly symbiotic relationship.

bacteriaAll living things need to take in some form of energy and as this is used up, waste products are created which have to be released. The waste products (or metabolites) of the “good guys” in our intestines are things we need such as B vitamins and enzymes. The metabolites of the passers-by are of no consequence in small quantities but then we come to the bully-boys. The metabolites of these can really make us ill – substances similar to opiates and others related to the tetanus toxin, production of horrendous gases such as hydrogen sulphide (the rotten eggs smell) are just a few of the effects that affect our health. Regrettably, our modern diets nourish these pathogens, perpetuating the problem.

Very often, these pathogenic organisms are left to dominate when we have been subjected to poor health over a period of time, repeated use of antibiotics, chemotherapy treatment for cancers and other continuous drug treatments for chronic illness. In order to colonise, some of these microbes have the ability to “anchor” themselves to the intestinal wall thus creating microscopic fissures in the delicate single-celled lining. This allows them, their metabolites and minuscule particles of undigested food into the blood stream. What happens then is another story but just consider what opiate-like substances might do to the brain if this can happen.

The most common opportunist microbe to invade the gut when conditions are right is candida albicans. This yeast acts as a fungus when allowed to overgrow. It needs another blog to describe the effects and this will be the subject for next time.

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IBS – The Unkempt Garden (IBS Part 3)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is, for whatever reason, a condition in which the gut microbes have become unbalanced.

We have trillions of good, bad and on-the-fence microbes on and in us. In a healthy person these live in harmony, with the good guys calling the shots. In a less than healthy person they live in conflict. In someone with IBS there has been an all out war where the good guys have been beaten into submission. This causes all the miserable symptoms now called irritable bowel syndrome.

Often you can’t tolerate the very foods needed to keep you healthy. Everything will now be out of sync. Your gastric juices, enzyme and bile production vitamin manufacture, liver function, immunity and lots more cannot work until your gut microbes are normalized.

I will use an analogy to illustrate the steps that are required to normalize your insides because when nature finds a good way of doing something it is repeated often where a variety of life forms dwell together. I will use a garden for my example, but I could just have easily used a pond, a forest or even a compost heap!

overgrownImagine you have to make an overgrown garden into a tidy one with attractive flowers and productive plants and of course you will want to attract birds and insects which will ensure a good harvest.

Will you straight away go and buy the plants and stick them in where you can? Tidy Garden_nNo of course you won’t – you have hard work to do first! The overgrowth has to be removed or severely cut back and the weeds must be uprooted. Nutrients must be replaced and then you can you start replanting. Eventually, you have a garden which will become almost self sufficient, needing only minor attention from you. Everything will be balanced.

If you have IBS, the only way to tackle it is from the “ground” up. You can only benefit from good microbes and nutrients when the bad guys have been evicted to make room on the gut wall for colonization and absorption. When this has been achieved, with a little TLC your gut will look after your health forever. This also takes TIME!

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“Why Do Some People Suffer Gut Problems More Than Others?” (IBS Part 2)

This post starts to answer some of the questions I posed last time. Everything hangs on your immunity. It really is the be-all and end-all of wellness or illness. Let me tell you a story, a bit scary in places but it all ends happily ever after.

When you were developing in your mother’s womb, your gut was sterile. When you were born, you were covered with the bacteria and other microbes that were in your mother’s vagina – the same ones that were in her colon. (Told you it was scary!)

Walking BarefootYou were put to the breast where you and your brand new gut microbes were nourished and you all thrived. As you grew you were given a good diet of eggs, meat, healthy fats, vegetables, fruit and quality dairy products. Playing was fun and you crawled around the garden in the sunshine, tasting the worms and making mud pies. (Well I did!)
Childhood illnesses were encountered and fought off and even when antibiotics were necessary, you were quick to recover on your nutrient-dense diet. The status quo is maintained and you continued your healthy lifestyle. As an adult, you are healthy and wellness is easy.

 

Now another even more scary story which does not end so happily.

When you were developing in your mother’s womb, your gut was sterile. When you were born, it had to be by Caesarian section as your mother was in difficulties and you had to go straight into an incubator. You had not picked up your dose of mum’s gut microbes but you got a little of everyone else’s flora from being handled. As your mother was unwell for a while, you were fed formula milk and you and your new – but unbalanced – gut microbes were nourished.

French FriesYour diet was mostly quick and easy foods as your mother went back to work and you play time was mostly indoors at the nursery. You suffered all the childhood illnesses going around at the time, and needed several courses of antibiotics which upset your tummy. As an adolescent you settled on a high carbohydrate diet as the government advised.

You had a holiday abroad, got a stomach bug from which you partially recovered but ever since, your stomach has been a problem. Foods you were able to eat become ones you now can’t tolerate. You suffer gas, diarrhoea, stomach cramps  gurgling and more. As an adult, you don’t really know what wellness is.These symptoms can be due to IBS, but may progress to being celiac disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease (IBD). All these diseases are autoimmune conditions.

I have made these stories simple but there are lots of other factors that contribute to how you will fare health-wise. Vaccinations, household cleaning products, exposure to sunlight, accessible good quality food etc. – if/how/when these are done will all impact on your immunity.  The problems encountered in the second story can be overcome as long as the very basics are observed – nurture of the immune system.

Next time I will give you a “close up” of what is happening in a gut suffering “dysbiosis” – microbial life at war!

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