Wednesday, June 6, 2007

. . . . and shoved in

Never stray from the walkway in flip flops. It sounds like an ancient proverb of sorts, but in my neighborhood where the postage-stamp park behind my apartment building is just fragrant enough to cause every dog within radius to reflexively hunch it's hindquarters and leave an offering to the God of Defecation, it's wise to tread lightly. And honestly, their worship timetable matches Mecca until even the best canine noses get hopelessly confused by all the markings (human noses are impacted differently). Every now and then I see some Newb* sprawled out in the fertilized grass of septic central and I wince (these are the same fresh-faces who haven't learned to Tow-Zone jockey the illegal parking after the last meter maid rolls through).

Given my convenient location - except when I'm downwind - I wonder if I should get a dog but then, I can't even keep intestinal flora alive and for me, healthy bacteria would make a better pet. Think Sea Monkeys. Certainly a more useful infestation than the one that is now on the bottom of my soiled flip flop - so much for the walkway theory.

My digestive tract has always been an underperformer. For some reason, boyfriends have always been intrigued and eager to tinker with my transit times (we're not talking bus schedules here - and, if we were, let's just say I'm on a Sunday schedule). Frankly, unless you know me REALLY well, you should stay out of my medicine cabinet and my bowels. That said, it is true that the root of most of my maladies begins in my gut. I had ulcers when I was 21.

Since I've always suspected that the stress of various food allergies caused a bacterial genocide, I often call in reinforcements in the form of probiotics. And, no, I have no idea if this actually works. I may be sending the little buggers in to be slaughtered D-Day style by my angry intestinal mucosa or to die of exposure while stuck to the gum I swallowed in elementary school. I spent the last week trying to answer that question but the studies provided little help other than a darn good sleep aid. I believe the way I explained it to Stacey, my sister, was that it allowed me to effectively drool between my keyboard keys and perhaps nullify my warranty.

I think 'Protection against gastrointestinal diseases--present facts and future developments' from Kasper H of University Hospital, Clinic of Internal Medicine, W├╝rzburg, Germany, sums it all up rather nicely:

"The importance of the intestinal microflora and, more specifically its composition, in physiological and pathophysiological processes in the human GIT is becoming more evident. Examples of such processes are translocation, the production and resorption of endotoxins, immune-modulation, and colonic motility. This leads to new possibilities for prevention and therapy of diseases, mainly of the gastrointestinal organs. New discoveries are specifically related to the beneficial effects of lactobacilli which have been discussed for decades. It is possible to increase the proportion of lactobacilli in the gastrointestinal microflora by consumption of fermented dairy products or by oral administration of specific non-digestible substrates such as oligofructose. Results from clinical trials and scientific studies have confirmed the preventive and therapeutic effects of selected strains of lactobacilli in viral- and bacterial-induced intestinal infections, in positively influencing immunological parameters, in normalizing the intestinal motility, and in inhibiting metabolic events in the gut lumen which promote colonic carcinogenesis. Nevertheless, there are still unresolved issues which can only be answered by well designed and well controlled clinical trials.

Cleared that right up, huh? You're welcome. No, clearly the 'experts' aren't clear at all. Maddening.

I started the research knowing that I didn't know anything. What I concluded was neither does anyone else. I was a little disappointed because I believed 'they' did 'studies that show' and that all the positive affects had been proven. I just needed to look polished and point Vanna White style at all the pretty data. Apparently, my intestinal tract is Area 51 - all kinds of folks think something is going on there but the 'proof' is often just nutty speculation - or not.

And then in walks Sara and inspiration. Sara is my secret handshake client. Back in the day when I worked for Corporate Colossus, I couldn't give any useful advice or information even when my trigger finger was damn itchy. I 'pssst' Sara a couple of times only to discover that she was well-informed and a secret nutritional ninja. I remembered that we talked about making coconut milk kefir - purposely fermented, not like the compost I'm making in my fridge - and that she was giving it to her kids. Gasp!

So, our conversation went something like this. Well, exactly like this, I e-mailed her the questions:

CG: I'm writing a blog entry about probiotics and prebiotics and I need to know more about your Coconut Milk Kefir. What made you decide to try this?

S: So technically it is young coconut water, not the oh-so-sexy coconut milk. I started it mostly because it was recommended by the nutritionist we were seeing in Philly as a way to get probiotics into my kids easily w/o dairy. Also because I love scary food experiments.

CG: Why did you start feeding it to your kids?

S: Started feeding it to Theo because he has a brain injury and food allergies. So if the belly is considered the second brain, we obviously need to heal his gut. Both for his physical health, but also to support healing his brain. Most people agree that his food “allergies” (which are technically sensitivities because they don’t include an immediate and severe reaction) are a symptom of a leaky gut. The Body Ecology Diet (which is the best book I’ve seen at putting all the random nutrition theories and factoids together into one almost workable theory) suggests a variety of steps to heal the gut

Eliminate reactive foods until the body can handle them
Eliminate hard to digest foods (think wheat, soy, dairy)
Enhance digestion using food combining (so various digestive enzymes don’t essentially cancel each other out), adding in appropriate digestive enzymes and actually taking small bites and chewing the food!
Crowd out the bad bacteria and yeast by adding in lots and lots of the good
Stop feeding the bad belly bugs (no sugar, no half digested foods making it into the intestines)

CG: What were your expectations and how did you manage to dodge CPS?

S: My expectation was that the kids would enjoy the experience of making it, groove on the taste of it and consume about 1 cup/day. Didn’t work. They loved the experiment, hated the taste of it. I found it hard to kefir the young coconut milk, either it was bitter and harsh or really dull and yeasty tasting. Sadly, I do have a printout by my front door with the title “The Social Worker at Your Door: 10 helpful hints.”

CG: What have you found that works?

S: Jennifer Adler suggested kefiring juice. I hesitated a bit because I don’t feed my kids juice – you know the drill – too much sugar too many empty calories. But, we tried it and the kids LOVE it. So now I easily get the probiotics into them. I think (without any science behind me) that the bacteria feed on the sugar thereby reduce the total sugar buzz. Using juice instead of the coconut water reduces the lovely nutritional impact, but it has removed the power struggle. And because I’m focused on a holistically healthy child, I’m choosing slightly reduced nutrition over emotional scarring!

CG: What differences do/did you notice when this was/is part of your diet?

S: Honestly, we throw so many changes at Theo at once it is hard to say what real changes this one thing makes. That said, I think it has improved Theo’s digestion. In the risk of TMI, for him this means less time spent on the toilet both passing stool and feeling “finished” and less smelly poop. Two giant bonuses when you’re in the bathroom at Costco.

CG: How did you go about selected an OTC brand?

S: I bought the brand that the Body Ecology site sells because I didn’t want to spend tons of time researching just the right kefir granules along with the 20 other changes I was trying to make. Their info says you can use one packet for about 7 batches. I started kefiring juice with one of those packets and we’ve done about 15 batches so far. I’ve also split it twice to share with friends.

CG: Have you ever been in a Turkish Prison (you're married to Bill - don't say you don't know 'Airplane' references)?

S: You know how they say you marry your father? My dad, my brother, my high school sweetheart and my hubby all LOVE Airplane. Subsequently, I have a mental block to all such references and I no longer hear any of them. La la la la la la la la.

*Newb: short for 'newbie'. This vocab word courtesy of my newphew, Dustin. He never called me a Newb of course because, as aunts go, I'm pretty cool. But maybe he just humors me 'cause he knows I'll sweep a leg all Karate Kid style.