We Were Meant to Ferment!

Kombucha tea (left) and milk kefir grains (right). Two cheap and simple ways to get healthy flora into your gut. Another way is porridge made from oats. Yep, studies prove that eating oat porridge increases good bacteria as does consuming more fibre generally. So add a spoonful of psyllium husks to your oatmeal and increase the amount of plant-food in your diet generally. There’s no need to spend loads of money!

Yoga and ayurveda are ancient holistic health sciences. Although we don’t know exactly how old, there is some evidence suggesting things go as far back as 5000 years. The reason it is all still relevant is because what these ancients appeared to know was amazing. Ayurveda and yogic science have always maintained that every illness was an issue that had the guts at its source. And finally, (yet) slowly it seems, some of those involved in modern medicine are getting it.

Doh, the more we thought we knew…

In the Western World particularly, we have become obsessed with cleanliness – and in some situations this is rightly so. But some of the things we do these days in the name of hygiene have also become detrimental to our health. Unfortunately, our efforts to stop the spread of harmful bacteria has also prevented the production of good bacteria – and this has also become a serious problem. Not enough “good” gut bacteria is thought to be at the heart of many auto-immune diseases (which includes allergies – life-threatening as well as non-serious).

Nutrition is an on-going science. Just when we think we have sussed one thing, what we thought we knew changes again. But one thing is clear; our modern life and diet – which tends to include lots of dairy, meat and processed foods instead of emphasising fresh fruit and vegetables – plus the use of medication to manage subsequent problems (such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes type 2 etc) has contributed to changes in gut flora. Many people struggle with digestion – whether it’s the ability to digest life issues or food. This undigested food, starts to ferment, creating toxins in the blood and eventually leading to dis-ease.

None of our “body parts” work independently of another

One of my relatives has recently been diagnosed with a serious auto-immune (life-shortening) illness that affects the liver. She is in her early 40s. Her specialist initially told her there was no dietary link because her digestive system did not appear to be affected. I find myself feeling incredibly cross when I hear things like this because it isn’t rare for some (not all) doctors to disregard the link between diet and some diseases when, truth be told, they actually don’t really know. After all, it is just as possible to end up with a skin rash or even a distinctive mood change as it is to end up with a stomach ache if we eat something that does not agree with our system. It is fair to say that since most doctors do not study much about nutrition at all as part of their medical degree, chances are that the majority understand less than a person who is interested and has made their business to be aware.  In this instance, further investigation showed the beginnings of Crohns – a serious bowel disease that certainly does affect the digestive system and spirals from there. I absolutely don’t doubt the knowledge of the medical specialist when it comes to managing the illness with medication, but as there is no science available right now to determine what might cause the illness, surely it is always better that a doctor encourage a patient to improve their diet because it can’t hurt!

Taking Control of Our Health

Not for one minute am I “dissing” modern medicine, but I do believe there is an expectation sometimes that the medical profession can help us with everything and has all the answers. Unfortunately, though, when it comes to chronic, on-going illnesses and conditions, of course we must listen to our doctor but we must also become a little more pro-active. We need to accept that it is our body and we must play an active role in managing and understanding our health. We can do this by improving our diet, increasing our healthy gut flora and by making some lifestyle changes that include relaxation as well as exercise.

Increasing Good Gut Bacteria CHEAPLY!

Kombucha Tea

Around 20 or so years ago, pre yoga days, I was an incredibly anxious and stressed person who suffered terribly with irritable bowel symptoms. Quite possibly because of this, I also suffered from pimples and skin problems. At the time, I was living in Bondi, the face of which was changing, and an overseas visitor, seeing a Kombucha mushroom for sale in one of the recently opened health shops, implored me to buy it, telling me it would save my skin and give me tons of energy. I had never heard of kombucha before this but discovered a kombucha mushroom could be used to make a fermented tea. A tea that has been consumed as a health tonic for thousands of years around the globe. Amazingly, he was right. There was a lot more work to come but the pimples did disappear and my digestion also started to improve. The best thing about kombucha is that once you have a “mother”, you just keep growing extra babies each time you brew so the cost is negligible.

Keffir & Pasteurisation

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey….”

So what was Ms Muffet eating? Quite possibly it was fermented keffir grains. Although expensive in Australia, keffir is available from supermarkets in many parts of the world and is a way of fermenting milk to “activate” it. In other words, to replace or to increase the good bacteria which these days, is destroyed by the pasteurisation and homogenisation processes. “Pasteurisation” – heating the milk to a high temperature to kill germs – became de riguer in about the 1800s and was named after a scientist called Louis Pasteur. Louis was initially trying to work out ways to keep wine from going off due to over-fermentation. Later he applied his theories to the onset of illnesses and hence ended up developing the “germ theory of fermentation”. Historically, when TB was prevalent, the disease was also carried by milk and so the pasteurisation process sought to halt this. While it is unlikely these days because many of these diseases have been eradicated (as well as the fact that we have greatly improved hygiene measures), non-pasteurisation of milk is illegal these days. This means that shop-bought, heat-treated cows’ milk contains no good bacteria of any kind. And if the truth be told, it is really only raw cows’ milk that has any health benefits at all.

Just like kombucha, keffir is simple to make and while I personally don’t enjoy it “raw”, my kids will happily drink it made into a smoothie with bananas, berries and honey. Again, the cost is negligible because each time you make keffir, you end up with a few more grains (the “grains” are similar to cottage cheese lumps). Ideally, we should be aiming to consume as many different strains of “good” bacteria as we can to improve our gut health and hence as many fermented foods as possible. It’s just another ingredient missing these days from our modern diet – and to our detriment.