The Key to Kefir


A few months ago I realised that a lot of my health issues were a result of problems with ‘leaky gut’ or intestinal permeability to give it its medical name. The gut is our first line of defence against the many dangers presented by the outside world. It has to figure out what to let in and what to keep out. When there are holes in this defence, as there is with leaky gut, then unwelcome guests can bypass the normal security screening and cause havoc inside the body. This is obviously a simplified version of what actually happens but it serves to illustrate the need for a strong secure and robust intestinal wall as an essential first line of defence and a critical prerequisite to good health. Mine was damaged and needed fixing and this is where kefir came in.

The gut biota is made up of billions of microbes, a kind of internal jungle, with a vast array of different species. Unfortunately, over the years my gut had been repeatedly napalmed by antibiotics and this had rendered large parts of it barren and weak. This had ultimately led to my leaky gut and my subsequent health issues. I needed to fix it and one of the best ways of doing this I discovered was to drink a probiotic called kefir, a kind of milky yoghurty drink containing billions of friendly microbes.

Kefir was available to buy online and was available in some big city shops, however I also noticed that it was possible to make the stuff at home, something practiced by millions of Turks where kefir is a daily essential. Anyway, I chose the homemade option and placed an order for ‘kefir grains’ with a supplier on Amazon.

The grains arrived in a small plastic bag which I duly stored away in a kitchen cupboard and forgot about!! Three days later I remembered to get them out and read the accompanying instructions, the first of which was to add the grains to milk on receipt! Oops!!

I decided to go ahead and see if I could revive them. As instructed I put the grains in a jar with a half pint of whole milk and left them in a dry warm cupboard. The following day I noticed some activity so I was encouraged they were still alive at the very least. The following day there was an unpleasant smell coming from the jar. I stirred the contents as instructed and put them back in the cupboard. The day after the smell was worse and there was frothing on the surface. I decided to ditch the batch, sieve out and clean the grains and start again.

The second batch looked and smelled much better so I ventured to taste the solution. Unfortunately, it was too sour and smelly for my liking so I ended up ditching it again. As I’d read that kefir could be made with coconut milk I decided to give it a try. After two days I tasted the solution and was delighted at the result: it was very slightly sour, it was pleasantly aerated and the strong coconut flavour had been reduced to something far more subtle; yes, I had finally made my first batch of kefir! I poured it into small individual containers and stored them away in the fridge. Over the next few days I happily consumed each one of them.

I went on to make another two batches of coconut kefir, however, having done additional research  I realised that I would have to return the grains to milk at some point to ensure they remained vigorous and strong. I duly complied. After two days the grains did their job and this time the result was a very slightly soured kefir with a lovely smooth aerated texture. I’d struck gold, this time I had made my first proper batch of milk kefir!

So what difference has the kefir made? I used to suffer irregular bouts of itchy inflamed skin and after taking kefir this has now gone away. I don’t remember any stomach upsets and I’ve been as regular as clockwork. Joint pains which I’ve endured for years have subsided significantly. All in all I definitely feel better drinking kefir every day.

I like taking kefir as opposed to popping pills as it just feels so natural. If I take my earlier analogy of the gut biota as a jungle then it feels like I am feeding it both the compost and the fauna that it needs in order for its flora to flourish and multiply. Apart from anything else it tastes good and adds welcome variety to my daily diet. I also take great satisfaction in  making something myself rather than buying it in. The venture has definitely paid off and although its early days my big hope is that one day my gut will develop into a kind of personal ‘Avatar’ one which sustains and feeds my good health and well being.

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Dealing with Inflammation

Inflammation

Over the past four years I’ve indulged my passion for cycling without causing too much undue stress on my joints although since the end of July 2016 I’ve been unable to do any long rides because of problems with my knees! As far back as my mid-thirties I’ve suffered with joint pain and I always thought that it was somehow mechanical in nature and due to overuse. On my Dad’s side there’s a history of arthritis so for a long time I’ve simply accepted my ‘fate’ as a combination of genetics and overuse. But, I asked myself, what if there is more to it than this and the joint pain is actually a reflection of something more acute, and that whatever it is can be treated by simple dietary and lifestyle changes?

More than anything I want to get back to the enjoyment of my long bike rides so as a consequence I’ve been hard at work researching as much as I possibly can about the possible causes of joint pain and inflammation. As a result of what I’ve learnt I’ve made changes that have reduced my joint pain to the point where I am now back to doing long rides. I’ve not managed to rid myself of the joint pain completely, however, I’ve managed to significantly reduce it. I’ve enjoyed other benefits too and gained a greater understanding of my own personal well being. I thought it would be useful to share with you what I’ve learnt in the hope there may be ideas or clues to helping you deal with your own niggling aches and pains.

Inflammation can manifest itself in many different ways, some obvious like eczema, skin irritation, IBS, sneezing, muscle and joint pain, etc and some less obvious like fatigue, poor mood, irritability, poor sleep, bloating, etc, etc. I have found that both a short and long term response has worked best for me. Here are some things worth exploring including links to some great videos that provide more scientific evidence in support of a given approach.
Short term

  1. Get into a regular sleep pattern and try to get at least 8 hours every night – this will be your biggest weapon in fighting inflammation. It’s during sleep when your body is optimised for ‘repair and maintenance’. Sleep and TRF
  2. Eliminate foods that your body has a negative response to. How do you do this? Well, it’s a process of trial and error but a good approach is to initially eliminate common allergens such as dairy, nuts & seeds, gluten, nightshade vegetables, starchy carbs such as potatoes, pasta and rice, etc and then reintroduce each food category one at a time and assess the response. When you reintroduce foods, lets say after two weeks of abstinence your body will be far more sensitive to them and if there is an intolerance of any kind you’ll get a clear signal. In my case I found I had a strong reaction to oats, grains, potatoes, nuts and seeds which invariably caused severe itching, indigestion, irritability and mood swings. Since I cut them out I have noticed a big reduction in my joint pain.Paleo Autoimmune Protocol
  3. Ketones mediate the production of antioxidants to fight inflammation so raise them by removing starchy carbs and sugars from the diet. Check this video out for more information. Keto-adaptation by Jeff Volek
  4. 70% of the immune response originates from the gut so a healthy gut = a stronger functioning immune response. To feed your gut biome eat a large variety of fibre-rich foods and add fermented foods and probiotics to broaden and strengthen the mix of your gut biota.The Gut Microbiome
  5. Reduce the stress on your metabolism by eating less often (no snacking), by eating less carbs (produce less insulin), and by restricting your eating window to 12 hours or less per day. Check this video out for more information Time-restricted feeding
  6. Consume bone broths to restore ideal electrolyte balance and to help build strength in muscle, bones, connective tissues and myelin sheaths (insulate neurons)
  7. Review your total exercise – focus on lowering your volume and increasing the quality and intensity. If you’re having a hard time at work or at home, lay off the high intensity exercise – in so doing you’ll be helping your body by reducing total overall stress.
  8. Get into a daily routine of stretching especially the hamstrings, lower back, shoulders and hip flexors.
  9. Take a daily vitamin D/K2 supplement to build musculoskeletal strength – don’t forget we don’t get any skin-synthesised vitamin D in this country between October and April! There aren’t many rich natural sources of vitamin D so take a supplement.

Long term

  1. Relax! Listen to music, meditate, do yoga, read a book, do more of what makes you slow down and relax.
  2. Take Omega 3 supplements – a higher omega 3: omega 6 ratio will address both acute and chronic inflammation. Reduce your intake of omega 6 fats which are commonly found in vegetable oils. Replace these with butter, avocado oil, lard, ghee, duck fat, olive oil.
  3. Start including weight resistance as a part of your exercise programme and build muscle and connective tissue to build overall strength, reduce pressure on the spine, and process insulin/glycogen more quickly.
  4. Every two to three months use a 5-Day Fasting Mimicking Diet (reduced calories day 1: 50% kcals, days 2-5: 30% kcals). The fast will clear out damaged cells and the re-feed will stimulate new growth and repair damage.Check out this great video for more insight. The Fasting Mimicking Diet
  5. Finally, undertake your own research and self-experimentation into the possible causes and solutions of symptoms you may suffer from. Don’t simply rely on the advice of ‘professionals’. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn.

 

My path to better health continues. At the end of February I will have been following my ketogenic diet for a year. My health has definitely improved in that time, however, there is still a lot I don’t understand. I’ve seen other people adopt the diet too with fantastic results. What I and they have learnt is that we are all unique and we respond to diet and lifestyle in different ways. Finding out what works best for you is a fascinating and rewarding journey and if you need any support or guidance please check out my blog or get in contact, I’d be more than happy to help.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and rewarding 2017!

Bernie