Sunday, November 24, 2013

Your Farts and Poop are Talking to You

And no, not just in a stinky air that clears the room or warns others to not come in after you.

We don't talk about poop and farts nearly enough in this country. It is taboo and grotty and awkward, so we all just pretend it doesn't exist and that we all don't do it, but the reality is, if we don't talk, we don't know. We don't know what is normal, what is OK, and more importantly what isn't OK. We need to be more comfortable talking about bowel movements so that we know what ours are saying to us and what is means. 

Ever notice how animals poop and then immediately check the poop. They smell it, they are checking if everything is OK. Do you ever check your poop? Poop is an immediate indication of what is going on internally. Poop is the excrement of what we eat and what is not absorbed by our bodies, and yes there is a difference between good poop and bad poop. Poop is an immediate indicator of how your digestive tract is working, or not working, for that matter.

Farting is the prelude to a bowel movement, to some extent. Farting simply is your intestines, colon and rectum releasing air. Farting to a certain extent is normal (and yes, girls fart too!), with peristalsis and contraction/release of the intestines and colon comes air, hence farts. But there are other farts that are worth noticing. Ever notice how after you eat something you immediately fart every time you eat it? Or if you eat too fast, you fart? Or are you farting unknowingly and not noticing patterns, well maybe now you will (and yes there are patterns to your farting that are worth noticing).

Eating too fast, we all do it! We eat on the go. We cram in lunch during our busy work day. We eat watching TV. We eat so hurriedly that we still feel hungry after clearing the plate. Did you know on average it takes 20 minutes for the body to even know it is consuming food? How often you do you finish a whole meal in under 20 minutes? Often, I would imagine, we all do. Eating is a whole process that involves your brain, your mouth, teeth, tongue, esophagus, stomach, intestines, colon and rectum. You need every portion of that tract to properly digest food and when you disengage a certain connection your body does not properly digest. Women in particular digest slower. It is only at the 20 minute mark that your body identifies food being consumed at which point neurons fire telling your stomach it is getting food, which subsequently tells your brain when to trigger the satiated feeling. If you rush through the entire digestive process, never engaging your brain or your stomach, to the point where they are speaking to each other, then your conception of hunger, satiation and digestion will all be off. Also eating processed food that block these receptors can cause a disconnect in your digestive system.

Eating too fast makes you intake large amounts of air while eating, this too, can add air to the digestive tract.

Assuming you are eating consciously and healthfully at a slower pace, yet still are particularly gassy, then maybe it what you are eating. We all know the typical foods that cause gas: beans, cruciferous veggies, like broccoli and cauliflower, which have sugars that when broken down cause air in the intestines. Also there are soluble fibers in many vegetables and legumes that as being digested cause addition digestive gasses to be produced. Eating slower and limiting these foods in your diet can be helpful. Or if you are like me and love both, adding papaya extract enzymes to the end of each meal will greatly aide in reducing the gassiness that comes with such foods.

The other foods that cause gas are dairy and gluten, gas produced by consuming these items might be an indication of an intolerance and are worth taking note. Dairy intolerance is the inability to properly digest lactose which is the sugar found in milk products. Lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency of the enzyme lactase, which is produced by the cells lining the small intestine. Lactase breaks down lactose into two simpler forms of sugar called glucose and galactose. Gas from lactose intolerance is often painful and extremely smelly and happens almost immediately with consuming a milk product. If you recognize this gassiness often after consuming dairy, you might want to consider removing dairy from your diet. If you continue to consume lactose it could lead to diarrhea as well.

Gluten intolerance often causes more severe digestive issues such as diarrhea or constipation, so farting would be a mild indicator of gluten intolerance. If you are able to recognize discomfort to gluten with gas (good for you!) because of your awareness of your digestive system, then possibly you could catch a gluten issue before your get regular diarrhea or constipation. Should you not identify the gas as an indicator and continue to eat gluten the villi and microvilli of your small intestine deteriorate over time with gluten consumption creating an autoimmune reaction each time you consume gluten. The gluten is not properly broken down during assimilation allowing particles to slip through your intestines, which your body identifies as an invader, causing an inflammatory reaction to thwart off the invading gluten intruder. If you didn't notice the preemptive gas, but notice the diarrhea and/or constipation after consuming gluten, your body is telling you it is not happy.

Poop, the good the bad and the down right stinky-ugly. What is considered normal should be medium brown in color, low odor, solidly formed, but not hard to pass, easily cleaned up and should happen 1-2 times per day everyday often around the same time. I have learned over time, very few of us have this regularity, and if you do, good for you, you are eating well and either have gotten a handle on your food allergies or you have none (in which case you suck, jk).

But then there is a multitude of other poops to be aware of. Your poop will fluctuate to a certain extent, inevitably because few of us eat the same thing everyday, but the fluctuations, especially extreme, matter, and should be closely paid attention to:

  • If your poop varies in color, but is generally solidly formed, showing you what you recently ate, then you are have some digestive issues and your poop indicates mild food intolerance. 
  • You could have runny, unformed stool, but not completely diarrhea, but looser than should be "normal," this is your body's "everybody out" mechanism indicating whatever you most recently ate did not digest well. 
  • Next is dark in color, and pellet-like, meaning your gut flora (your happy gut enzymes) are not so happy, you might be dehydrated, stressed or not eating enough fiber. 
  • The last two are an indication that your digestive system is mad and whatever you have been eating for a while is not working well for you. If you do not poop on a daily basis or when you do it is very dark in color, very sticky, hard to cleanup and even greenish-yellow in color you are eating way to many processed, non-whole foods, and your digestive tract is screaming at you to make some serious changes now. Increase your real food intake, it should be alive and colorful and fresh; fresh veggies, fresh antibiotic-hormone free meats and take into serious consideration potential food allergies such as gluten and lactose intolerance. 
If you continue to ignore your stinky-smelly, irregularly, sticky poops, you are asking for many serious health complications down the road, see So What I Love Gluten post for a list of health issues that come if you chose to not address your unhappy digestive tract. Your poop is telling you something. Poop shouldn't be gross. It should be simple, quick and easy to pass and easy to cleanup. 

I guarantee you, you won't think poop is so gross when you understand why it is so gross now and implement what you can do to fix it. Pooping shouldn't be gross, and if it is, that is a red flag for you. And if you happen to have a irregular poop from time to time, use that as a barometer for you to know to check in with your eating habits and remind yourself to come back to center.

Happy pooping! No shame, no embarrassment, no more not talking about it, because your guts are talking to you, and you better listen!

Side Note: I am not implying that if you have irregular bowel movements it means you have food allergies. While irregular bowel movements are part of life (as we eat differently day to day and some days we drink too much, or go out with friends and indulge) the number of commercials showing lately, about "cleaning up" and "having that fresh-clean feeling" or the most recent, "poop perfume" (I know I was a little baffled too) leads to me to believe many people are having messy, irregular bowels and are concerned more about the clean-up and cover-up than the intake. So if your bowels are irregular, particularly stinky and/or sticky, think about your eating habits. Are you eating well? And clean? And fresh? Then maybe this end of your digestion should be considered first, not just the disgust at the excrement. 

A great resource for your digestive tract balance and a Guide to your Poo see Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and Whole-Foods lifestyle by Diane Sanfilippo, BS, NC, page 75. The different types of poops are detailed and explained with great reference in her book with ways to solve your pooping problems with a Paleo diet (should that work for you). 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"So what? I Love Wheat/Bread/Pasta (Gluten)!"

I have had the following conversation before with a handful of people, often with piles of glutenous foods being forced in my face:

Me: Oh thank you, but I can't have that I am gluten intolerant.

Gluten-loving (GL) "can't-live-without-wheat/bread/pasta (gluten)" looking person says: What is gluten?

Me: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, you know bread, pasta, cookies...

GL person cutting me off:....Oh that must suck!!! Gosh I can't imagine!! ::pause:: What do you eat??

Me: It really isn't that bad. I actually would rather feel better than eat something that makes me feel horrible. I eat lots of things, fruits, veggies, gluten free grains....

GL person: ....So you eat like a rabbit? Well I feel great! And I eat bread, pasta, cookies, all that stuff, all the time! I love those things!

::perplexed GL pause::

GL: Why don't you just live a little!?

Me: ::smile::
(With a very long commentary in my head about said GL person "really" feeling all that "great" and how much they are really living "more" than me eating their beloved gluten)

GL person: Well what if I were gluten.....whatever the word is, intolerant, right, so what, who cares, it is not like it matters! Besides it tastes too good I couldn't and wouldn't ever stop eating it!

Me: ::smile uncomfortably::

And here is the response I so rarely verbalize, but have learned along the way, and feel, that any GL (but looks like their body is gluten hating) should hear.

Continuing to eat a diet of anything your body is having a reaction to is actually perpetually making yourself sick. Just a little hint, if you are perpetually sick or can't ever seem not to catch the office cold, then you might be gluten intolerant (i). You might not know it, or even notice it, but I believe if you have any of the symptoms listed in How Do I Know I Have Food Allergies than you most likely have a food allergy.

You can choose to ignore it, many do, and others unknowingly go undiagnosed on average of 7-10 years.

Should you be the first group and choose to ignore your gluten intolerance your future health is in major jeopardy. And if you are knowingly gluten intolerant or sensitive, and if you use "sensitive" to make it seem less of a real issue to you and others, and eat "mostly gluten free," but have cheat days, listen up!

Consuming gluten when you are allergic could kill you. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with undiagnosed and latent celiac disease or gluten sensitivity have a higher risk of death, mostly from heart disease and cancer (i). Furthermore, by not completely removing gluten from your diet you are at risk of anemia, osteoporosis, arthritis, malnutrition, rickets, lymphedema (localized fluid retention and tissue swelling caused by a compromised lymphatic system), bowel/rectal cancer, peripheral neuropathy (damage involving nerves, which may affect sensation, movement, gland or organ function), seizures, thyroid disease (ii), and the list keeps growing as more and more research is being done on gluten intolerance/sensitivity/celiac disease.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association findings there is a 39% increased risk of death in those with celiac disease, 72% increased risk in those with gut inflammation related to gluten, and 35% increased risk in those with gluten sensitivity (i). So regardless of what "degree" of gluten intolerance you think/know you may or may not have, you are dramatically increasing your chance of death by not completely eradicating gluten from your life.

So, "so what, you love your gluten" person, here's what! You can ignore the possibility that you are part of the 20 million undiagnosed gluten-eating, but gluten-body-hating Americans and increase your chance of death by up to 72%! Or maybe you could put down your beloved gluten product and remove it all from your life now. And subsequently live a longer, healthier, happier you in that life.

(i) Gluten: What You Don't Know Might Kill You, by Dr. Mark Hyman
(ii) Gluten is My Bitch, by April Peveteaux

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"How Do I Know I Have Food Allergies?"

I think this question is inevitable to ask yourself at some point, especially given the media coverage and often talked about world of food allergies.

The problem is people look for a one size fits all answer and that is just not the case.

Food allergies effect people differently. In all the people I have talked to about their food allergies, specifically gluten intolerance, not one has had the same symptoms and issues as me, expect for my Mom; which further makes me believe that gluten intolerance is hereditary, or as some recent research is finding, potentially an autoimmune disorder.

I have read many books, blogs, news related articles and spoken with many people who have food allergies and each has a different approach and plan of attack, because all have different symptoms. Some gluten and lactose intolerant people have respiratory issues, others have elimination issues, irritable/irregular bowel issues, achy joints, pain doing activities that don't normally cause pain, overall irritability, difficulty sleeping, tired no matter how much sleep you get, lethargy, regularly sick with a common cold, hungry right after eating, not wanting to eat, constantly ravenous, dark under eye circles, skin irritations such as rashes and dandruff, stomach distension, constipation, diarrhea, explosive diarrhea, horrendously painful gas, horrendously smelly gas, gaining weight, losing weight....and this list keeps growing, just Google it, of which I am sure you have, the list of symptoms is astronomical.

On any given bad day, week, during your period, PMS, you slept like crap, stressful work week, I am sure you can have all, if not a least some of the above mentioned symptoms, and all of a sudden you would think you have a food allergy. While I am not saying all people have food allergies, although I think far more people do than know it or acknowledge it. Research shows that an estimated 2 million are gluten intolerant unknowingly and undiagnosed.* How do you differentiate between a bad day or a crappy week to having a food allergy or sensitivity?

My belief is that if you have been uncomfortable, whatever that means to you, either by saying yes to some of the symptoms listed above or any other definition of uncomfortable, for any period of significant time that you can't shake, then maybe you have a food allergy. If you can think back to a time when you didn't feel like shit or weren't uncomfortable, tired, lethargic and cranky all the time, maybe it is time to assess your diet. Furthermore, if you are active and think you eat a well-balanced, pretty clean diet and still feel like crap most days than not, you most likely have a food allergy. And lastly, if you just feel "off" on a consistent basis I would highly recommend thinking about how your body reacts to food.

So now what, right? You have been shaking your head all along, thinking yep that's me, and I am uncomfortable more often than not. Again the approach is not the same for everyone and everyone's allergy issues are all different. You have two options in my mind.

Option 1 - Seek the help of professionals. I would suggest seeing an allergy specialist to identify the exact things you are allergic to. As well as see a nutritionist or alternative practitioner that will ask you about your diet and eating habits and recommend a course of action for you. Your regular doc will not ask, if ever, about your eating habits and diet. Doctors are not required to have any nutrition background, except for a basic 101 class as undergrads as a pre-req. for a pre-med degree. I also think this is why there are so many conflicting responses to food allergies and further why people go much longer than is necessary, on average 7-10 years, without having their food allergy diagnosed. Seeking out the help from people who know diet, nutrition and allergies are going to definitely get you headed down the right path to happy insides.

Option 2
- Do it yourself. Use your body as your own guinea pig, which is what I did, because honestly I figured I couldn't feel any worse. I figured anything would be better than being miserable all the time. If you want to start out easy and aren't that uncomfortable I would recommend starting with a food journal. Write down everything you eat and how it made you feel during consumption, after, 1 hr. up to 4 hrs. later and also the next day, sometimes it takes a whole day for food to move through you if your digestive tract is angry. Also write down your pooping cycle and the type of poop: easy, hard, runny, etc. Do this for a minimum of a 1 month. You will start to notice patterns in your eating habits and how you feel/how you poop. And read, read, read, (see suggested list below) more information is better because ultimately you will know enough to identify your body patterns. A food journal will also help you be more aware of your body and eventually you will see the foods that consistently give you discomfort, making it clear which foods to remove/lessen in your diet.

If you want to jump in like I did and get to the root of the problem, start with an Elimination Diet.The Elimination Diet removes all typical food allergy triggers like milk, eggs, nuts, wheat, and soy from your diet. You can also eliminate some extra foods that you are suspicious of, for me that was stone fruits, additional grains like oats, millet; beans and legumes; the nightshade family: tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers of all kinds, except black pepper, tomatillos, paprika and cayenne. I chose to remove these additional foods for concern of inflammation. Not knowing if it was food allergies or just a mean case of seasonal allergies I wanted to consume as few triggers as possible (see Horrendous Allergy Season for more on my philosophy of inflammatory foods and seasonal allergies). You eat an Elimination Diet for 1 month. After a month on 4 day cycles you slowly introduce potential allergy causing foods back into your diet, 1 at time. You pick a trigger-food, I started with eggs, because I had never had a problem before with eggs. Eat 1 egg. And wait 4 days. If you do not have any adverse reaction than you are fine. Wait an additional 4 days on the elimination diet without the new introduced food and then introduce another trigger-food, like nuts. Wait 4 days. No reaction. Wait 4 more days, introduce another trigger-food. You do this until you get through the typical trigger-foods: milk, eggs, nuts, wheat, and soy. If you go as extreme as I did, you will want to include your suspicious foods in your 4 day re-introduction cycle. The theory is that once you go through all the trigger-foods, you will eventually bump into those that give you adverse reactions. With your digestive system being so calmed down due to the stripped down diet, the slightest adverse effect to any food will be very easily identifiable. After the whole Elimination Diet process, which does take some time and lots of discipline (but trust me you will be so much happier on the other side) you will know your food allergy.

Or you can take the most direct approach, which if you think you are allergic to something, ie gluten, completely remove it from your diet, cold turkey and see how you feel. I know plenty of people who did this. They just stopped eating gluten or lactose and within weeks they felt completely better.

Everything about identifying a food allergy is learning to tune in and listen to your body. So often we take our body for granted and think that it will work for us even when it is giving us clear signs that things are working inside. Symptoms, like all the above, are your body's way of saying hey things are not OK inside it is angry in here. And you better listen up. Whatever method works for you, if you are miserable consider tuning into your discomfort and maybe you can find the cause of the the discomfort, and then you will end up on the other side wondering why you spent so much time being uncomfortable.

Suggested Reading List:
*Gluten is My Bitch, April Peveteaux - for quick and funny just-starting gluten intolerance journey info

Practical Paleo, Diane Sanfilippos, BS, NC - not so much for the paleo diet, but for the identification of individual digestional issues along with some very intuitive, practical info. I found the Guide to: Your Poop! extremely helpful

The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, Michael Murray, ND and Joseph and Lara Pizzorno, ND, MA, LMT - a wealth of info. Look up any food to know more about it. A regular reference in my repertoire.

Paleo Cooking from Elena's Pantry, Elana Amsterdam - good recipes and a simple approach, with not lots of folderol for cooking gf

Lastly, an important thing to ALWAYS remember:
"Modern medicine, for all its advances, knows less than 10% of what the body knows instinctively." Depak Chopra. So tune in and listen to your instinct.