Another Player in the Game: Mitochondria

Now, mitochondria recently came up in a Twitter discussion of obesity. In order to burn fat, it’s not YOU that does the work, it’s your MITOCHONDRIA. That’s great, but what about those of us who don’t need to burn fat? To explore this, we must first as the question:

What does our mitochondria do for us?

Mitochondria are basically the digestive systems of our cells, creating cellular energy. Just like if our guts aren’t working properly, we won’t get enough nutrition, if our mitochondria aren’t working properly, our cells won’t have energy to do their jobs.

I’m wondering now if the kind of tiredness best described as “I’m fatigued but not sleepy” is related to mitochondria, because it never feels like it’s ME that’s tired.

In order to kick-start mitochondrial biogenesis, you need to create a short-term energy shortage. In other words, you need to “trick” your body into thinking it’s out of energy so that it will create more mitochondria, and therefore more energy.

How to jump-start your mitochondria

+ (High-intensity) exercise

+ Intermittent fasting

+ Low-carb diet

Funnily enough, this list dovetails perfectly with the paleo/primal lifestyle. It also (at least on the surface) explains why exercising gives you more energy.

Personally, exercise is the hardest thing to incorporate into my health routine, but I always have this nagging feeling that it will “fix everything” (even though I know that’s not true).

What’s your favorite way to jump-start your mitochondria?

More reasons to avoid food additives

Looks like titanium dioxide (yes, that stuff in sunscreen–they also put it into food) should be added to the list of stuff to keep out of our food. Science Daily reports on a new study that shows that:

  • Titanium dioxide crosses the intestinal barrier and passes into the bloodstream
  • Titanium dioxide alters intestinal and systemic immune response
  • Chronic oral exposure to titanium dioxide plays a role in initiating and promoting early stages of colorectal carcinogenesis (read: eating a lot of titanium dioxide can lead to a higher risk of colon cancer)

Now. Anyone who is on the Paleo/Specific Carbohydrate Diet/low-FODMAP/etc. bandwagon already realizes that food additives are at best problematic. But it is nice to get some confirmation, especially on some of the more out-there parts of the theory.

Bear in mind that this is a study on rats, not humans, but frankly that’s good enough for me.

Fiber: Friend or Foe?

When you’re diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and having a hard time, your doctor will often put you on a low-fiber or low-residue diet. Same difference, really. Basically, eat soft, mushy, bland food – and lots of carbohydrates. Rice! Toast! Don’t eat a lot of vegetables!

And honestly, this works. Pre-digesting your food as much as possible helps your gut to rest. Cook your food. Chew your food. (And not in the gross mama bird-baby bird way, eww.)

For me, as I’ve navigated the SIBO/low-FODMAP diet oceans, I’ve sometimes doubled down on this idea, drifting into days when I ate very little plant matter at all. Just meat and fat, and maybe a little fruit or something on the side. It’s very easy to do when the wrong type of sugar sends your gut into a tailspin of gassy diarrhea.

But lest you think I’m going to do an about-face and preach the gospel of high fiber (or even worse, the RAW FOOD DIET), it turns out that eating less fiber is actually better for you. Too much fiber means such things as straining when you poop (no bueno), screwing around with your Nutrient Density QuotientTM, damaging your gut wall, and buying in to poorly-research nutritional theories (and nobody wants to do that now, do they?). TL;DR eat real, whole foods and you’ll get enough fiber.

However, let’s back up to “damaging your gut wall,” Or, as it is called by researchers1, “mechanical stress.” AKA: maybe why our guts hurt so bad after we eat food.

What this means is that fiber damages the cells in your gut, which in turn respond by producing more mucous. This might be good, if more mucous automatically meant better health, but that is unlikely since a common tell for poor gut function is an abundance of mucous in the toilet.

Moreover,

The scientists aren’t certain how many times cells can take a hit, but they suspect turnover is so high because of the constant injury. Potentially caustic substances, such as alcohol and aspirin, can produce so much damage that natural recovery mechanisms can’t keep up. But they doubt a roughage overdose is possible.

My gut can tell you that a roughage overdose is indeed possible. So can my coworkers, based on the day after I ate a raw kale salad with dried cranberries.

Also interesting is that aspirin–banned by my first GI–and alcohol–self-imposed ban due to its gut-destroying properties–are just as bad.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. Let Dr. Eades tell you the whole story.

 


1 Full study at PLOS Biology

4 Ways to Move Fluid Around Your Body that Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You

There’s a lot of things that your doctor can’t teach you during your 15 minutes together.

One lesson that I never had with my gastroenterologist is this: you body is a dynamic system.

Not static. Not stagnant. Dynamic.

It’s meant to be moving, always. Breathing, in and out. Blood pumping. Lymphatic fluid circulating.

Food being digested and moved into the bloodstream.

Blood moving oxygen and nutrients into cells.

Waste being whisked away.

That movement helps our bodies function. If the movement slows, or breaks down, there will be consequences to the rest of our bodies.

Instead of staying stagnant ourselves, making our bodies work harder to pump blood and lymph and everything else around, we can help out. Here are a few ways to do that:

1. Exercise (duh)

This is a complete no-brainer. We all know that exercise is good for us. When you’re super-sick, it doesn’t even have to be hard exercise–get up and move a little. At my worst, I would stand up and walk a few times around the house.

So get up, take a walk or do some yoga or bounce on a trampoline or whatever you want to do.

2. Contrast showers

These are simple in theory, but less-than-fun in practice. Start your shower with hot water, then blast yourself with cold water for at least 30 seconds.  It’ll get your blood zinging to the surface of your skin in no time.

I end every shower with a cold rinse (plus a compulsive dance with a chant that goes something like “ooh cold cold cold”). It’s a great way to convince my body that it’s time to wake up and start the day.

Bonus points if you alternate between hot and could for a few cycles.

3. Warming socks

This one is similar to the cold showers, just for your feet. In a nutshell, you soak your feet in warm water, then dry them off and put on cold, wet socks, plus wool socks on top. Hop into bed and sleep like a baby.

Yes, it sounds disgusting. But here’s the thing: you can’t feel the wet socks. The warm/cold contrast boosts circulation, drawing blood away from your brain. You feel sleepy immediately, and I’ve always slept really well when I do this treatment.

The downside is there’s some prep involved. It’s easy if you have a bathtub…which I don’t.

4. Castor oil

Rub some onto your belly before you go to sleep at night. Done!

Oh–and wear a tee shirt that you don’t mind getting greasy. By morning, your skin will have absorb the oil and there will be better flow of lymph throughout your body.

 


FYI: I am not a doctor, or an oracle, or your own brain. This post is intended to let you know about what’s out there…not to diagnose or treat illness. Don’t be an idiot, but do make your own decisions about your health. If you’re unsure about how something will affect you, consult your doctor.

In which my approach to diet is turned on its head

My introduction to the microbiome (otherwise known as gut bacteria) came through Elaine Gottschall’s Breaking the Vicious Cycle, the book that unleashed the Specific Carbohydrate Diet on the world. Elaine’s research and writings focus on the biochemistry of how food digests in the gut, and mainly focuses on reducing any undigested food that would feed the “bad bacteria” in our guts.

When I started working on my small-intestine bacterial overgrowth issues, I also started following the low-FODMAP diet as well, which is also concerned with what foods may or may not feed gut bacteria.

Both of these diets are mainly focused on the food/bacteria interaction, and so that’s what I always focused on, too. When you eat according to these strict diets for so long, following them becomes second nature and I kind of stopped questioning the “why” behind them. They were mostly working, so what’s there to question?

Not much, or so I thought…until I sat in on a lecture on TNF-alpha and inflammation pathways related to cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. Two of the lecturer’s comments stuck out to me:

  1. Microbiome research is mostly correlative, and
  2. The experiments this guy was running with TNF-alpha performed exactly the same with or without interaction from the microbiome.

If scientists don’t know that much about microbiome–gut wall–immune system interactions, that means that it’s entirely possible that these diets are based on partial (or even wrong) information. They work for some people, sure, but does that mean we know the reasons why? Maybe not.

I am very responsive to TNF-alpha blockers, so I would wager that the inflammation caused by TNF-alpha plays a big part in my disease. And if experiments with TNF-alpha gave the same data with or without the presence of a microbiome, that makes me wonder if the inflammation is a bigger deal than the gut bacteria1.

All along, I’ve been approaching diet from the angle that food helps or hurts gut bacteria, which then helps or hurts my own gut and causes inflammation.

Now, I’m now wondering if I have it completely backwards. What if the inflammation comes first? If there’s too much inflammation, that could cause problems with gut-bacteria-interactions, especially if my gut’s layer of mucus was affected.

If that’s true, then I should be working on inflammation first, and microbiome health second.

I will be looking into this.

More to come.

 


1 At least for me and the other 20% of Crohn’s people who respond well to Remicade and other TNF-alpha blockers.

Why I Started this Blog

 

Hippocrates, one of the founding fathers of medicine, said this:

All disease begins in the gut.

For a long time, I didn’t believe him. There are plenty of other places in the body that disease can strike. Eye disease, birth defects, infections, cancer of any body part, the list goes on. I’m sure there’s even a disease for your hair. (There is.)

The gut is only ONE part of your entire body, and there’s no way that only one part would control all the possible illnesses, cancers, and malfunctions that can go wrong in the human body. Our bodies are made of billions of cells, teeming with bacteria and mitochondria, thousands of parallel systems all running together to keep us alive.

There’s no possible way that only the gut makes us sick.

Or so I thought.

I even held on to this idea when I was fighting Crohn’s disease–a disease of the gut.

My own gut was trying to kill me, and yet I poo-poo’d the thought that my gut was the source of my disease. I would describe Crohn’s as a “battlefield inside my intestines,” but surely that didn’t apply to bronchitis and seasonal allergies and warts and whatever.

I viewed my gut disease as a separate entity, something inside of me that wasn’t connected with any other parts. Boy, was I wrong about that.

For a long time, I and my doctors targeted my gut for treatment, without regard for the rest of my body. Massive doses of immunosuppressants, steroids…if you’ve been to a modern doctor for any major illness, you know the drill.

But what I didn’t realize is that while my symptoms were subsiding in my gut, the rest of my body was falling apart. My immune system ceased to function correctly, and caused all sorts of bacterial overgrowth throughout my body. Because of that, inflammation set its insidious claws into my skin, my sinuses, my throat.

My body was a mess.

Hey, but I didn’t have any symptoms.

Counts as a win, right?

Wrong. I felt terrible, even without symptoms. I knew I could do better–knew that there was some type of treatment or approach or something that could make me feel better.

I had a dream that I could get off those high-powered drugs that were killing me slowly with side effects.

When I finally made the leap to treatments outside the realm of modern, Western medicine, I discovered a few things:

  1. There’s no such thing as a quick fix
  2. The right answer doesn’t exist
  3. It’s all about gut health

The more I explored with diet, and the more I talked with my naturopath about my treatment options, the more I tested options and went with what worked, the more I realized that it was all about the gut.

What I ate, how I showered, how much sleep I got…all of it.

Our bodies are a vastly complex network of systems that are all entirely depended on the building blocks that our gut absorbs from food. Without good building blocks, our bodies will break down.

And a broken down body won’t help me lead the life that I want to live.

Which brings me to this blog. I started this blog with the aim of sharing everything I’ve learned about living with a chronic illness. Millions of people around the world are living with diseases like Crohn’s, and more are diagnosed every day.

If I can give you a shortcut to finding ways of living–and medical treatments–that work for you, then I’ve fulfilled my mission.

And most of that is by starting with first principles: all disease begins in the gut.