Thursday, April 18, 2013

Kefirkraut Update

If you are wondering how the kefirkraut turned out, it was great! See?

It is half gone already. The flavor is great! The only thing I would do differently next time is NOT to layer the spices in the middle, but only put them on the bottom. They are annoying when you get to the middle... Oh, well. Live and learn.

Why Animal Fat is THE BEST! And How to Get It for Free

So, I have this really cool deal worked out with the meat department at Whole Foods where they save me some grassfed beef fat and bones for free every Thursday morning when they do their trimming. You might be thinking, "What in the world is she going to do with fat and bones?!" Why, make bone broth and lard, of course! Both highly called for on the GAPS diet, though apparently completely undervalued by the Western culture at large. In fact, I'm rendering 5 lbs of pastured beef fat as we speak (AKA - put it in the crock pot and wait for it to melt). How awesome is that?

But, don't we all know that animal fat is highly saturated and is supposed to be bad for our hearts and arteries and things? Think again. Dr. Natasha does a great job in her chapter on fats explaining the faulty science that started the saturated fat scare and why animal fat is actually the preferred source of energy for the human body.

Dr. Natasha says that the anti-saturated fat craze is "a result of the relentless efforts made by the food industry to fight their competition. What is their competition? The natural fats, of course. There is not much profit to be made from natural fats..." (ah-hem, excuse my interruption, but my free grass-fed beef fat is a case in point) "...while processed oils and fats bring very good profits" (Campbell-McBride, 2004, 2010). Dr. Natasha goes on to explain that "real science" is, and has always been, telling us that processed, hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils are the real heart-killers and that saturated fats are the real heart protectors.

Reasons animal fat is the best:
  1. It tastes great (can I hear an amen?!)
  2. Animal fat is the closest in fat composition to human breast milk, which, by the way, is comprised of a surprising 48% saturated fat, 33% monounsaturated fat, and 16% polyunsaturated fat. Humans thrive on saturated fat (Campbell-McBride, 2004, 2010).
  3. Eating fat does not make you fat. Dr. Natasha says, rather, "Consuming processed carbohydrates causes obesity. Dietary fats go into the structure of your body: your brain, bones, muscles, immune system, etc. - every cell in the body is made out of fats to a large degree" (Campbell-McBride, 2004, 2010). We can see that animal fats are the #1 choice of your body for providing the building blocks of brain cells, hormones, and performing many other functions.
  4.  Certain animal fats (like caviar, cod liver oil, egg yolks, butter, cold water fish, and lard) provide us with rich sources of cholesterol. Bad? Nope! Dr. Natasha explains, "The truth is that we humans cannot live without cholesterol... Cholesterol is an integral and very important part of our cell membranes... In many cells, almost half of the cell wall is made from cholesterol... The human brain is particularly rich in cholesterol: 25% of all body cholesterol is taken by the brain... Myelin coats every nerve cell and every nerve fiber... 20% of myelin is cholesterol... People who start losing their myelin develop a condition called multiple sclerosis. In my clinical experience, foods with high cholesterol and high animal fat content are an essential medicine for people with GAPS and multiple sclerosis... After the brain the organs hungriest for cholesterol are our endocrine glands: adrenals and sex glands." Wow! So my brain fog, adrenal stress, and PMS could all be partially a lack of lard in my diet. I can fix that!
Well, Dr. Natasha has a lot more to say about fats, but I can't repeat it all here. You will have to buy the book for yourself here.

So check with your local grocery's meat department to see if you can arrange your own fat deal with them. Bring it home and throw it in your own Brothpot or else put it in a large roaster in the oven at about 250 degrees fahrenheit for a few hours. When all the fat has turned to liquid, strain it through some cheesecloth, pour in a glass jar, and store in the fridge. It will keep for a long time.

Gotta love that "No Charge" in the upper right corner!

In the Brothpot and ready to be rendered!

After one hour on "high" and 1-2 hours on "low." Making progress.

Campbell-McBride, Natasha, M.D. (2004, 2010). Gut and Psychology Syndrome. Cambridge, UK: Medinform Publishing.  p. 255-276.

Kombucha Upgraded

So I'm loving my kombucha! It is awesome! It tastes sweet and tangy and smooth. It is my personal favorite to water kefir.

I added some dried wild huckleberries to my 75% rooibos/25% CO2 decaffinated black tea last week, and it cultured fine. Added a touch of tart berry undertones to it. However, after increasing my batch from a quart to half a gallon last time, it still doesn't make nearly enough to last me until the next batch is ready. And I'm only drinking maybe 4-6 oz. total per day still, and my husband maybe 2 oz. So I moved my mushroom into a one-gallon jar this week. I used an empty old giant pickle jar that I swiped from my mother-in-law. The kind that you can get at wholesale bulk food stores like Costco or Sam's Club. It's a perfect size - for now anyway.

Some of my mushrooms are starting to meld together into weird shapes. In short, it looks pretty odd and very cool. And so easy. Just steep, add sugar, cool, place in jar and forget about it for a week. Repeat. How great is that!

New gallon-sized "baby" forming on top

Monday, April 15, 2013

Waiting - WEEK 4/Introduction Diet Stage 2 - 2.5

We stuck mainly with stage two of the intro diet this past week. However, after adding kefirkraut juices to our soups for a week, I did start adding some kefirkraut to my meals with success (an element of stage three). My husband tried, but it seems to aggravate his symptoms still, so he is waiting a little longer to introduce it. We have been persevering with soups, broths, stews, and oven "casseroles" (by which Dr. Natasha means mean and vegetables boiled in a casserole dish in the oven instead of in a pot on the stove).

We have been adding raw egg yolks and cooked egg white to our soups as well. I tried to make soft-boiled eggs like Dr. Natasha says, but frankly, they are just beastly to peel and it is impossible not to waste part of the egg. So I came up with my own method:

  • Separate the yolk and white. 
  • Put the yolk in your empty soup bowl. 
  • Bring your soup to a boil in a pot on the stove. 
  • Pour the egg white to the soup in one rapid stream to the center of the pot. Turn off the heat and let the soup sit with the egg white for a couple minutes (I don't time it). Of course, if you like egg-drop-style soup, you can just mix the white into the soup broth well as you slowly and steadily pour it in.
  • Dish out the soup with cooked egg white (it should be cooked all in one big glob) into your bowl over the raw yolk.

We have also been adding a teaspoon of homemade ghee (clarified butter) to each bowl of soup. Other than that, it has been a pretty boring week on the food front. We are ready and waiting for stage three!

As for symptoms, my husband's bleeding is still gone, but his stools are still often a 5-6 on the Bristol Stool Chart (BSC). However, he has less frequent bowel movements, and now experiences a BSC 3 or 4 about half the time. My abdominal pain, bloating, and gas are still better. I have had occasional loose stools, but mostly 3-4 on the BSC. And this improvement is in spite of having to temporarily suspend our probiotic supplement for a week or so in the midst of this (due to advice from our alternative doctor that we should finish our parasite cleanse before starting the probiotic supplements).

It is slow going, but already it is worth it, and we are encouraged at our progress.

Juice: The Good and the Bad

In "the book," Dr. Natasha explains why we should stay away from juices we can buy at the grocery store. She gives four reasons:

  1. They are pasteurized, denaturing the enzymes and destroying the good nutrients. 
  2. At the same time, pasteurization turns the natural fructose sugar in the fruit into a source of concentrated sugar.
  3. Commercial juices can to be mislabeled, not informing the consumer of certain preservatives and added sweeteners.
  4. They tend to have molds and fungi which are irritating to GAPS patients.
Dr. Natasha recommends using only freshly home-pressed raw juices. For now, I have still been using a little bit of commercially available organic juice to flavor my water kefir. I add about 1/2 cup (4 oz.) of juice per quart/liter of water kefir. After adding the juice, I let the water kefir undergo a second fermentation for 24 hours to ensure that I am consuming as little of the sugars from the juice as possible in the finished beverage. I have not noticed any particularly bad effects from this; however, it does seem like I feel better when I drink the kombucha than when I drink the water kefir. No particular symptoms, it just "feels better" to me as soon as it hits my tongue. Could that have something to do with the fact that I don't add any juice to my kombucha?  Hmm. I'm not sure.

Hopefully, I won't have to worry about this much longer, as I just purchased a Vitamix. I hope to be able to make my own freshly pressed juices to add to the water kefir soon. I'll let you know how that goes!

Campbell-McBride, Natasha, M.D. (2004, 2010). Gut and Psychology Syndrome. Cambridge, UK: Medinform Publishing.  p. 139-140.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Languishing & Laughing - WEEK 3/Intro Diet Stage 1-2

We just completed our third week on the introduction diet. We've seen considerable improvement in our gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. My husband can no longer detect any blood in his stool, and he is only having one bowel movement per day instead of 3-6 per day. His stools are more solid about half of the time now. I have started adding some ghee and egg to the diet, but I'm waiting for my husband's stool to become normal about 75% of the time before moving on to the next stage. 

At this point, we are pretty eager for some "real food." Soups do get tiresome after three weeks. My husband is still experiencing severe carb cravings and hunger; he's somewhat languishing at this point. I am feeling quite good since I had already gotten over my carb and sugar cravings five months ago when I cut them out of my diet at that time. I actually feel more energetic since we started the GAPS protocol and don't have any low blood sugar, cravings, or hunger. 

I'm hoping that next week I can report our progress to the next stage... But I don't want to rush it either.

Spring Walks

Plenty of outdoor exercise and sunshine are prescribed by Dr. Natasha for the GAPS patient (and for anyone, I hope!). Here are a few things I've enjoyed on my walks this spring.


Local kite festival.
Wood violet


 Blooming tree (maple I think?)

Don't forget this part of the program or you're missing out!

My First Batch of Kombucha

My first quart of kombucha turned out pretty good, I think. I cultured it in 25% CO2 decaffinated English Breakfast tea and 75% red rooibos tea for about 9-10 days, then added 1/2 cup of pomegranate juice and did a second fermentation for 24 hours longer. It had a sweet, sour, full-bodied vinegary flavor that I found pretty pleasant; but it will be an acquired taste for my husband, I think. Floaters, like in this picture, are common and normal. Chains of dead yeast cells form as the culture matures, and they are supposed to be full of B vitamins; but I haven't had the guts to swallow the big ones yet.

An Explosion in My Kitchen

So it's not just a rumor... It's actually true. If you cork your water kefir and don't let the air out occasionally, it will explode. This is why it is best NOT to use screw caps unless you loosen the cap very regularly. 

I was doing dishes at the sink a couple days ago and heard a sudden loud "POP" behind me, like a gunshot or champaigne bottle being uncorked. I turned around to see one of my bottles of water kefir foaming over profusely. The pressure from the carbonation actually busted the cork cap in half as it shot it across the room. It hit the ceiling before landing on the floor.

It almost happened again today when I uncorked a bottle of water kefir that had been in its second fermentation for about 24 hours. It foamed over and made an absolute mess all over the counter and floor (of course, like a dork, I wasn't smart enough to unplug it over the sink)! 

I didn't quite make it in time to get a picture of the real action. Here is the after shot with the broken cork cap.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Which Doctor Do You Trust?

This is a very difficult question, and one which I intermittently get stymied by as I continue our GAPS journey. This week we began to have some competing advice given to us by our alternative doctor regarding when to start probiotics and what foods we should eat at this stage of our diet. Whose advice do I follow? Dr. Natasha? Or Dr. 'Alternative'? Hmm. I'm just not sure. There are so many competing voices out there today in the healthcare realm, and even as a trained nurse, it can get really difficult to decipher accurate information from mistaken information. Particularly when both options have medically plausible reasoning or physiological explanations behind them. The only recommendation I can give to those in our type of situation (those with a condition not typically addressed or cured within traditional Western medicine) is to do your research and make the best educated choice you can. Don't be afraid to intelligently 'tweak' a certain doctor's treatment plan if you have good reason not to follow their advice on a certain aspect of their care. Also don't be afraid to add something that you have good reason to think your doctor may be missing but that could have a benefit for you. No doctor knows everything. No one person's care plan is "the answer" to your problem. We live in a world of finite human knowledge, and the more I learn about the human body, the more I realize how much 'we,' humanity, don't know about ourselves. 

How do you determine when you have "good reason" to do this tweaking? Here's a few thoughts I've come up with so far:

  1. Is there medical research to back it up? Scientific controlled studies? This is the best and easiest way for the average person to find out if a certain treatment recommendation is legitimate or not.
  2. Is it based on commonly agreed upon medical knowledge of human anatomy and physiology/pathophysiology (I realize this one is a bit more difficult to discern for those without any healthcare training)?
  3. Is it natural? What I mean by this is that our world and our bodies are uniquely and amazingly created to operate under normal conditions without unnatural human interference. For instance, scientists have tried to replicate many of the designs seen in nature, but without the same success, and sometimes even to our detriment. One example of this are the hundreds of synthetically produced vitamins and supplements on the market today that are supposed to boost our health; but as Dr. Natasha points out, our bodies have been designed to recognize natural vitamins and minerals in natural food form. So most supplements are actually never absorbed, and even if they are, our body doesn't know what to do with them in an unnatural form, so they get excreted in our urine as waste products. This makes sense, because we and our food are uniquely created and designed to work together, and these processes are so complex that they can't be adequately duplicated by scientists, even with all of our modern medical knowledge. There is simply too much we still don't know. So when evaluating health care options, I often ask myself, "How close to nature is this?" In general, the more uninvasive and natural it is, the more it makes medical sense.
Campbell-McBride, Natasha, M.D. (2004, 2010). Gut and Psychology Syndrome. Cambridge, UK: Medinform Publishing.  p. 109.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"I'm Getting Overwhelmed and I Haven't Even Started Yet!"

That's what one of my friends said to me recently about the GAPS diet. It really can be overwhelming to try and take in all the information and acquire all the new kitchen skills at one time. That's why I suggest not taking it in all at once, but gradually. Master one concept or aspect of the diet and incorporate it before moving on to the next. Once you feel you have gotten the main things down, you can begin the introduction protocol in earnest. 


This is a common nursing adage regarding medication dosage, particularly when first starting a new medication for an elderly or immune-compromised patient. I think it can be applied to nutritional protocols as well. Starting "low and slow" with the GAPS diet has a great benefit: it can be really overwhelming not only mentally, but physically to start the introduction diet cold turkey. Particularly for the person who has eaten an average Western diet for their whole life. Even if you eat comparatively healthy, it can still be a bit of a shock, and your body will experience withdrawal symptoms from cutting out all your grains and sugars and dairy. So why not ease into it? It might be easier on you - mind, body, and soul.

As a first step toward implementing the diet, why not cut out all gluten? Give your body a couple weeks or even a month to adjust. Then, cut out all dairy. As you remove food items one at a time, this will give you the time needed to learn how to adjust your cooking, recipes, kitchen skills and supplies accordingly. Next, remove all sugars - white sugar, artificial sugar, natural sugars like maple syrup and honey - all of it. When you feel ready, cut out the gluten-free grains and fruit. Remember, as you cut out your carbs, your body will need more fats to metabolize properly. Don't be afraid to add them! Natural fats from animal bones and soft tissues, cold-pressed olive and coconut oils, and organic butter or ghee are good sources.

Now you are essentially on the full GAPS diet (minus honey). When you feel that this is somewhat manageable and your withdrawal symptoms (like severe sugar and carb cravings, low blood sugar, and constant hunger) have abated, you can transition to the introduction protocol.

For example, I think the two most overwhelming aspects of the diet are the homemade broths and fermented foods. How about starting out by getting into a broth-making routine. Find out your best local source of chicken, beef, and fish bones. Get a "broth-pot" set up in your kitchen. Add a cup of homemade broth to your meals. 

When you no longer feel overwhelmed by broths, start making a probiotic beverage like raw milk kefir, water kefir, or kombucha (or all three!). Find cultures, aquire the needed supplies (jars, bottles, funnel, plastic strainer, etc) at your leisure, and experiment until you have it down the way you like it. Start incorporating it into your diet a little bit at a time, starting with a tablespoon a day and working up to several ounces (or more if you can tolerate it) with every meal. Next, try some sauerkraut or kefirkraut. 

When you are no longer overwhelmed by some basic fermented foods, there's not much left to do! Stock the fridge with lots of meat and veggies (it already should be by this time anyway) and pull together a few of your favorite simple soup recipes. Plan a good time to start the introduction diet. Maybe over the weekend if you work full-time. Or when you have some time off. You will be spending a significant portion of your day in the kitchen for a while, especially if you are doing the diet as a family.

Don't get discouraged if it takes you a while to get things going. I spent about 6 months on a modified diet before I actually began the full introduction diet. My body is pretty sensitive to changes right now, but I didn't experience any significant withdrawal symptoms or cravings when I transitioned to the introduction diet. It just felt good, because my taste buds were already largely re-oriented to a healthy diet. 

As always when beginning a new nutritional protocol or lifestyle change, discuss your plans with your doctor and make sure that it is safe for you to make the planned changes. I am not a doctor. Do not use this site as a replacement for primary medical care. 

Enjoy the adventure!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My LOOONNG Story (For Those Who REALLY Want to Know)


My health started declining gradually about three years ago after we moved from the west coast to the east coast. 

I began experiencing more and more frequent symptoms of "nervousness" that didn't seem to be connected with any mental anxiety. I became more and more fatigued. I began noticing outbreaks of acne on my back where I had once had perfect skin. I had continual itchiness to my back and upper arms, and my skin developed hives at the mildest provocation. I developed urinary frequency and urgency. I gradually ate more and more and became less and less satisfied by my food. I felt hungry and a little weak all the time. I began waking up in the middle of the night to pee every night. This gradually turned into two, three, or four times every night. I began to have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and being refreshed by sleep. I experienced tremors. I noticed that small wounds (like a mosquito bite to the leg) took longer to heal than they used to, and left scars. I bruised easily. My brain felt more and more "foggy" and "muddled." I noticed my memory wasn't what it used to be. I would forget simple vocabulary or nursing knowledge that I used to know well. I couldn't articulate myself as well as I used to, even if I could form the thoughts in my mind - they wouldn't come out. I developed some mild dyslexia - for instance, I would invert letters or numbers when writing, even though I was thinking them in the correct order in my head. I developed worsening chronic dark circles under my eyes, and my face began to look more sallow and my complexion pasty. I had some acid reflux after meals - something I had never experienced at all before. Eventually, I developed generalized discomfort in my abdomen and intermittent pains in my ileocecal area. I developed a large mass on my thyroid - something I had had as a child, but that had been gone for over 15 years. 


After a year or two, my symptoms got to the point that I felt I needed to seriously seek medical care. I had always been healthy, and disliked going to doctors, but it got to the point where I couldn't ignore it anymore. I went to my primary doctor at the time, a D.O (Doc #1). He was kind, and spent some time listening to me describe my symptoms and the strange feelings of "nervousness." I asked him about checking me for adrenal problems. He ran a few labs, checked my AM serum cortisol, and my IgE. The cortisol came back normal, the IgE was slightly elevated, but he said he wasn't concerned (this was allergy country after all). He asked if I was an "anxious" person. I said, "No." I asked him about doing saliva testing for my adrenal hormones. He didn't do it in his office, but thankfully, he had heard about it and referred me to a chiropractor who could do the test.

I went to the chiropractor (Doc #2), who also incorporated some other alternative medicine principles into her practice. Via neuromuscular stress testing, she told me I had adrenal stress, blood sugar handling problems, parasites, bacteria, and viruses. We did the adrenal panel saliva test, and it confirmed her diagnosis. My cortisol was off the charts high in the morning, explaining why I was waking up with the "jitters" and "nervous energy." It bottomed out during the day, explaining why I felt so fatigued from about 11am onward. It began increasing again in the evening, explaining why I was having difficulty sleeping. So far so good. I decided to try her treatment plan and made the dietary changes and took the supplements she recommended to me. After about 4-5 months, she assured me my adrenals and pancreas were improving and my parasites and bacterial infections were gone, but I was still feeling lousy. About this time, we made a move to another city, so I said goodbye to her and looked for another alternative doctor.

I went to another chiropractor (Doc #3) who ran a bunch of bloodwork and found some more problems for me: my protein was low, I had vitamin D insufficiency, and I was functionally hypoglycemic. His protocol: take some more supplements, take all carbs and sugars out of your diet, and keep coming to him for chiropractic adjustments. I agreed with taking something for my vitamin D and made the dietary changes he recommended for my blood sugar control, but I was feeling much worse after three weeks on my meat-and-veggies-only diet, and I was skeptical that my mildly low fasting blood glucose was really the root of all my problems... So I went in search of another doctor.

This time I went to an integrationist (Doc #4). She was very kind, took two hours to listen to my story at my first visit, and affirmed the diet changes I had made. However, since I was feeling so badly, she suggested I gradually add some foods back into my diet, such as brown rice, almonds and apples. I asked her if we could check for heavy metal poisoning, and she agreed. We also checked my stool for routine parasites. I found out I had some mild lead poisoning and began chelation therapy for that. After a couple months of the chelation, I was sleeping a little better (meaning, I only woke up 1-2 times per night instead of 3-4). I continued dietary changes and began feeling slightly less weak and chronically hypoglycemic, although I was still having to eat about 5 meals per day to keep up. 

A couple months later, some good friends recommended their alternative doctor whom they felt had helped them a lot (Doc #5). At my first visit, he diagnosed me with leaky gut, adrenal stress, parasites, black mold, mild mercury poisoning, Lyme's, and candida. We began nutritional, supplemental, and detoxification treatments for these problems. 

At about this time, we got some bad news about my husband's health: he had a colonoscopy for rectal bleeding and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The GI doctor who did his colonoscopy told him there was no cure for this disease, and that they still don't know for sure what causes it. He said no dietary measures could cure or help. He said the only treatment for it was Asacol, an anti-inflammatory drug that my husband was recommended to take for the rest of his life. As I nurse, I knew that this was not an answer to the problem. I had seen people who's oral anti-inflammatory meds were no longer effective and who had to be regularly hospitalized for their colitis. I knew that the next step was Remicade, a very strong anti-inflammatory drug that has many negative side effects, including suppression of the immune system (of which, 80% is located in the gut wall!!). When all else fails, these people have their whole colon removed and, eventually, they die. This was definitely not the route my husband and I wanted him to take. We discussed the problem with my alternative doc (Doc #5), and he told us that the assertion that there are no dietary or nutritional measures that can help is not true. He claims he has cured many patients with ulcerative colitis throughout the 30+ years of his practice. He recommended immediately removing all dairy, grains, and sugars from my husband's diet. He also diagnosed him with parasites as well (not a surprise, since spouses tend to share these critters) and started him on a parasite cleanse with me.

Meanwhile, I went back to my integrationist (Doc #4) for some further testing, and she did a Western Blot test (for Lyme's) and checked some other bloodwork. The Western Blot came back negative; however, it is not always accurate, and has been known to have false negatives. The jury is still out on that one. My vitamin D levels were improving, but not yet normal. The biggest "discovery" was my IgA, which was quite low. She diagnosed me with protein-losing gastroenteropathy, or severe leaky gut. This confirmed the primary diagnosis and treatment plan of my alternative doctor (Doc #5).

About this time, I also discovered the GAPS diet and began reading and researching it for the treatment of both my husband's ulcerative colitis and my protein-losing gastroenteropathy. I was amazed at the medical evidence for nutritional treatment of GI-related health problems, and the connections between gut health and so many other physical and mental health problems. Research, scientific studies, and published work was available on the topic, and yet it was completely absent from my traditional healthcare training as a nurse. I was hooked and have been voraciously eating up all the info I can get on the topic. 

My husband and I both started the GAPS protocol about three weeks ago now, and we continue to see our alternative doctor (Doc #5) for nutritional, supplemental, and detoxification guidance. We have already noticed some small improvements. But, we know we have a long way to go. There will be no quick fix if we want to fully recover our health. It will take time, discipline, and patience. But the alternative is continually declining health and the prospect of serious medical limitations before we are even in our forties.

So here we go! Pass me more of the soup, please!