Sipping Your Way Through Flu Season

Winter’s very slowly sneezing and coughing its way out. Staying healthy with seasonal flu and colds circulating and recirculating can be tough. This year seems particularly fraught with heavy colds that keep coming back. Take care of the basics: make sure you get enough exercise (keep that lymphatic system moving!) and sleep, watch your sugar consumption, and remain well hydrated. Moonshine Mama’s Turmeric Tonic is well worth a try if you want to treat yourself to something delicious and fortifying. And here are some more immune-boosting beverages you can make yourself that might help get you through the season.

2017januarykvassBeet Kvass

Why drink it? Fermented beverages benefit your microbiome and overall health. A happy digestive tract makes for a better functioning immune system. And I really like this version of kvass, as it’s quite like sauerkraut.

How to take it? A small glass a couple of times a day, alternating with other lacto-fermented beverages (kefir, water kefir, kombucha etc) will give your gut the variety it needs.

Ingredients

2-3 medium beets, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
¼ cabbage, chopped
½ onion, chopped
2 tbsp sea salt2016aug21kvassday01
¼ cup whey or 1 tbsp starter culture, optional
filtered water to cover

Directions

  1. Add onion and cabbage to a 2 quart glass jar.
  2. Add the beets to the onion and cabbage.
  3. Add salt and optional whey.
  4. Cover with filtered water, leaving an inch between the water and the jar lid.
  5. Close the jar and leave in a cool dark place. The mixture will deepen in colour to a rich ruby red.
  6. Start tasting it after 3 days and if it’s too salty or not sour enough, let it ferment until you like the taste.
  7. When you’re happy with it, strain into bottles and transfer to the fridge; it will keep for months.
  8. The vegetables can be used to make a second batch, depending on how long you’ve had to ferment to get the taste you want, but the results of the second batch will be weaker, so you may wish to augment with a little more of each ingredient.

2017januaryfireciderYarrow Willard’s Fire Cider

At the talk where I was first introduced to this concoction, Willard made the excellent point that his fire cider ingredients are easily found in most supermarkets, a boon for ailing travellers (as long as you pack a blender I guess!) He says it’s kept his family healthy through many a flu season.

Why drink it? It contains alliums – onion and garlic – particularly high in the valuable flavonoid quercetin, and containing various other polyphenols and sulfur, so have multiple health benefits. Horseradish too is believed to boost the immune system due to its antioxidant qualities. Cayenne is an antioxidant, high in vitamin A, and contains capsaicin, which is garnering much research attention for its circulatory-system benefits and antimicrobial properties. Ginger is a well known medicinal spice, soothing and stimulating as a tea, and discussed further in the context of Chris Kresser’s very gingery drink below.

How to drink it? Take a few tablespoons in a glass of water or a daily shot during flu season.

Ingredients

⅛ tsp cayenne
1 small onion or ½ a big one
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp fresh ginger
½ tbsp horseradish
1 cup apple cider vinegar (not pasteurized)
1 cup water

Directions:

Blend for 30 seconds. Store in a jar in your fridge; keeps for months! Makes about 2 cups.

Chris Kresser’s Immune-boosting Ginger Juice

Why to drink it? Fresh (not dried) ginger is a well known anti-inflammatory and antiviral herb, widely used for digestive issues, which has been found effective in treating respiratory viral infections common in childhood. It is a known bile stimulant, so avoid it if you are experiencing  gallbladder or bile duct disorders. As it can also act as a blood sugar modulator, consult your doctor before taking if you are taking diabetic treatments. Honey has antiviral and antimicrobial properties, and is also an expectorant and decongestant and really soothing for cough and the lungs. Cayenne‘s fiery capsaicin content is also helpful in clearing congestion.

How to drink it? This is an intense beverage which Kresser recommends you mix up and then sip away at throughout the day, at the first signs of flu. He recommends juicing or straining blended ginger; I like the chewy bits and leave them in for a bit of extra fibre.

Ingredients:

Sufficient ginger, juiced (or peeled, blended and/or strained) to make 1/2 cup ginger juice
Juice of 1/4 lime or lemon
1 tbsp honey
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

Stir ingredients together, dilute to taste with hot water, and sip throughout the day.

 

Gutsy bacteria

Missing MicrobesThe human microbiome is hot stuff these days. Hard to imagine we have only gained some understanding of its existence and importance since the Human Microbiome Project kicked off in 2008. Beneficial gut bacteria, it turns out, are very hard to study because they live an anaerobic (oxygen-free) life in our intestinal tract. It was only when their DNA could be studied (metagenomics) that we began to understand how big a deal they were in human health. A very big deal indeed, as they are thought to number in the trillions. Our understanding of their diverse identities can barely be described as sketchy.

I’ve been browsing my way through Missing Microbes. I love this book. Its author, Martin Blaser, is an MD who has been researching a much discussed bacterium, Heliobacter Pylori, for over 30 years. H. pylori, which has colonized the human gut for more than 50,000 years, was determined by the winners of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology to be the cause of peptic ulcers which had previously been ascribed to stress. The bacterium has also been associated with stomach cancer.

But Blaser also believes H. pylori plays an important immunological role, and that our all-out antibiotic assault on it may be costing us in more ways than the increasing rates of antibiotic resistance which the Nobel winners had also predicted. Blaser and others speculate that since its loss in Western populations correlates to increases in autoimmune disorders, there may be more to this ancient bacterium that has for so long co-existed in the human gut. Adults who lack H. pylori may also be more susceptible to reflux (GERD) and heartburn that can themselves lead to esophageal cancers. And there is some evidence that it protects against allergies and asthma in childhood.

Blaser has a lot to say about antibiotic use in modern medicine as well as modern farming, and how these have contributed to making the modern microbiome a biological desert, and landed humans in a completely new and dangerous medical landscape.

As his book’s subtitle suggests, Blaser believes that antibiotic use has contributed to many of our modern ills.  His work on antibiotics and obesity suggested that antibiotics administered in childhood may have the same effect farmers look for in their meat animals: accelerated growth, making them taller and fatter.

North American children are typically exposed to around 17 courses of antibiotics by the time they are 20, and another 13 by the time they are in their 30s. This doesn’t include the antibiotics they may receive from their mother through the placenta or breast milk, nor those consumed in drinking water, milk and meat. Children born of C-sections are also deprived of protective maternal bacteria from vaginal birth, and subject to direct or indirect antibiotics.

We don’t know yet what will be the long term effects of so many antibiotics on a developing brain and immune system in children, nor on public health as a whole. There are a lot of troubling correlations: people who used antibiotics in the month before a salmonella outbreak in Chicago got sicker than those who didn’t. Exposure of children to broad-spectrum antibiotics in the first two years of life (notably –mycin drugs) is associated with lifetime obesity. A Swedish study found a clear association between celiac disease onset following antibiotic use. Antibiotics impair our ability to excrete estrogen, leading to the modern ills of estrogen dominance (which affects men and children as well as women). Even short courses of antibiotics may permanently change our unique, personal microbiome, and there is no known way to permanently reinstate what’s been lost – even if we knew what that was.

Not all beneficial bacteria – or, like H. pylori, those that demonstrate amphibiosis, being sometimes beneficial and other times not – can be re-colonized into the human gut over the long term. H. pylori, for example, which is not just one but a family of microbes, is acquired in infancy and childhood in conditions that typically no longer exist in the Western world. (Blaser stresses replacing the term “infection” with “colonization” when speaking of our microbes. Since we have co-existed with some – like H. pylori – for millennia, the only thing we know for sure is that we don’t fully understand our biological history with them.)

Meanwhile, says Blaser, we can start by avoiding antibiotics wherever possible, particularly broad-spectrum ones that cause too much collateral damage. Avoiding c-section births except in medical emergencies, and re-evaluating the prophylactic use of antibiotics where c-sections are required would help protect children. Discussing with a pediatrician whether antibiotics are the appropriate first course of treatment for childhood ailments  is crucial. Lobby for policies preventing the use of antibiotics in farming and meanwhile avoid conventionally raised meat and dairy. He’s lukewarm on probiotic supplements, prebiotics, and their hybrid synbiotics, mainly because we simply don’t know which bacteria are crucial, and there is little research and no standards for production. Fecal transplants are helpful for some conditions (but not DIY versions where the donor has not been screened for medical risks to the recipient).

Meanwhile, the research into this essential biological mystery is exploding in the scientific world. Let’s hope we can get enough scientific leverage on political will to reverse some of the excesses of antibiotics before we’ve killed off all that aids us.

New Frontiers in Fibre

New Frontiers in FibreI spent Thursday afternoon at at St Thomas’ Hospital, attending #BNFNewFibre, a British Nutrition Foundation half day seminar on dietary fibre research. In four short hours we heard from eight nutrition academics and researchers studying new uses for fibre.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has deemed specific forms of fibre may be recommended for maintaining cholesterol levels, maintaining normal bowel function, reducing post-prandial glycemic levels, increasing fecal bulk and reducing intestinal transit time.

It is the term “fibre” that is problematic, though: soluble vs insoluble; dietary vs functional; whole food sources vs manufactured, extracted and refined, and so on. Since many health claims do not specify the precise type of fibre they are talking about, it is difficult to make sweeping conclusions about intake and effect.

And of course, we are each biochemically unique, the health of our microbiome affected by many factors (age, genetics, pregnancy, lactation, environment, dietary habits, medical conditions and interventions, antibiotic use, etc) not all of which we can control or even identify. These same factors determine our need for fibre, which feeds the hundreds of different strains of beneficial bacteria throughout the length of our digestive system.

We have only identified some 200 unique strains, and 600,000 unique microbial genes, so we have barely begun to learn the position and role these play within our metabolism.

We don’t yet have a good understanding of how fibre works in the microbiome to protect against cardiovascular disease or increase calcium uptake (to protect against osteoporosis), or how it may interact with bile acids, in gene expression or in immune support. Research suggests it may increase satiety, leading to weight loss or protecting against obesity.

Fibre is often included in health advice (either avoiding or adding to the diet) for treatment or prevention of a whole array of medical conditions (colorectal cancers, enteral feeding, irritable bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, radiation toxicity, constipation..)

The speakers whirled through dozens of studies in these areas – published and in process – and left us with the unsurprising conclusion that fibre studies are maddeningly difficult to do with accuracy and consistency (humans being maddeningly diverse in their habits and behaviour, subjects being less than numerous in many studies due most likely to the expense of dietary research, and the very nature of fibre which differs greatly in its chemical composition and effects in the body). And that much more needs to be known.

All this was discussed in the context of last year’s daunting Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommendations which propose raising the already unattained 18g recommended daily fibre consumption to 30g/day for British adults (in Canada it’s 38g for men under 50 or 25 for women).