Monthly Archives: February 2016

Bone Broth – A Real Superfood

I posted before on the importance of eating the whole animal.  This post is related in that broth goes a long way towards that goal, even if you can’t stomach the idea of liver.  In fact, broth is so important, I decided to give it a whole post of its own!  It’s difficult to find hard science to back up its healing power, likely due to a lack of funds for research on whole food rather than pharmaceutical remedies.  However, we do have two things.  First, humans have a long history of consuming it – an important point given the ancestral approach of Original Wellness.  Second, we know the components that make up bone broth, we know their functions and we know our bodies need them.

History of Broth

In the Stone Age, hot stones from the fire were placed in the abdominal pouches of butchered animals.  Water, herbs and wild grains were added, which resulted in a broth of meat, fat, bones and herbs.  Native Americans lined baskets with clay so they could boil bones in them.  In pre-modern kitchens, a cauldron was often kept simmering over the fire or on the stove.  Ingredients were frequently added and people ate from it regularly.  In the 9th and 10th centuries, Magyar warriors in Europe boiled beef until it fell apart, then chopped and dried it to bring with them on their travels.  With the addition of hot water, the beef turned into soup again.  And, finally, Lewis and Clark are reported to have gone over budget to supply themselves with ample ‘portable soup’ – a dried version of broth similar to what the Magyar warriors used.  The use of portable soups continues today, however, they now come in the form of bouillon, which resembles meat, but is often full of MSG and artificial flavorings, with very little resemblance to real broth. (1)

Broth Provides Balance to an Ancestral Diet

The main reason broth is so healing is the collagen content.  Collagen is what breaks down into gelatin when cooked.  It contains many amino acids, most notably glycine.  You may remember glycine from a previous post and I’ll apply the same explanation here, in a shorter version.  When we eat lean meat, we get a lot of the amino acid, methionine.  Without a balance of glycine, this may be damaging to our health.  However, if we balance our intake, we can reap the benefit of including nutrient-dense meat in our diets while avoiding any potential pitfalls of including it. (2) While our bodies do synthesize some of our own glycine, it is considered conditionally essential, meaning in times of stress or disease, we cannot make enough to meet our demands.  In our modern world, I think we can all agree these times happen more often than we would like!

Broth Improves Sleep

Collagen is good for more than just a dietary balancing act, it has also been shown to improve sleep quality in those with insomniac tendencies.  (3) This is likely due its ability to lower the body’s core temperature and increase peripheral blood flow. (4)  Interestingly, it’s been speculated that a drop in core temperature played a large role in determining our ancestor’s sleep patterns.  It is less likely that they went to bed and got up with the sun than it is that they went to bed when it was cooler and got up as it got warmer. (5)

Broth Keeps Skin Looking Younger

Collagen is also found in our skin and is vital for it to remain supple.  This is because it is actually part of the structure of our skin, and because it is necessary for the constant renewal of skin cells.   Studies have shown collagen to reduce wrinkles (6) and to increase elasticity of the skin (7).  Anecdotal evidence also supports the idea that broth could help to improve cellulite.

Broth Decreases Joint Pain

Like collagen, chondroitin sulfate is also found in the cartilage of animals.  Both collagen and chondroitin sulfate have been shown to have beneficial effects on joint health.  Chondroitin sulfate is an effective treatment for osteoarthritis (8) and collagen has been shown to decrease joint pain in athletes (9).

Broth Improves Bone Density

When we think of bone health, most of us immediately think of calcium.  But, if that were the whole story, wouldn’t we have eradicated osteoporosis through calcium supplementation?  Collagen (along with vitamin D and K2, but we’ll get to that in another post!) may be another necessary component.  We know that it is a major structural component of bone (10), and supplementation has been shown to improve bone mineral density (11).

Broth Heals the Gut

Broth is a major component of successful gut-healing protocols, such as the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet and the AIP (Auto-immune Paleo) diet. Collagen has been shown to cure existing gastric ulcers, as well as protect against future ones (12).  Our intestinal barrier is of utmost importance in determining our overall health and a permeable lining has been linked to a wide spectrum of disease including, but not limited to seasonal allergies, autism, ADHD, multiple sclerosis, mood disorders and skin health.

Making Your Own Bone Broth

Broth sold in stores doesn’t come close to the stuff you make at home.  And, once you’re in the habit of doing it, it’s really very easy.  The most basic of basic broths only needs to include a carcass (including skins, joints, heads or feet if you have them), water and a little bit of vinegar.  It won’t be an amazing culinary experience, but it’s easy and it’s just as full of nutrients as a fancier recipe!  I use it whenever I make soups or sauces, or when I cook rice.  If you’re looking for gourmet, or for a broth you can drink as is, you can check out online recipes (for example, here for beef broth, here for chicken and fish).

I would love to hear from you if you have your own tips or tricks to make bone broth, or if you’ve experienced health benefits from incorporating it into your diet!

Homemade, Organic Baby Formula

Why We Avoided Commercial Formula

Conventional wisdom recommends breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months, followed by a combination of breastfeeding and solid foods for at least 1 year.

My twins never really nursed.  My son would projectile vomit everything back up if it weren’t thickened with avocado.  My daughter had a more silent version of reflux and she would just pass out (a condition that eventually led to the placement of a pacemaker).  I pumped religiously for 9 months, but that was all I managed.  We were preparing to use commercial formula when our avocado smoothies came to the rescue once again.  (For background on the avocado smoothies, click here).  In this case, the smoothies didn’t just help solve a problem, they provided a clear comparison of commercial formula vs breast milk.  And, the formula certainly didn’t come away from that one looking good!  When the smoothie was made with avocado and breast milk, the edges of the drink, where it came in contact with the air turned slightly brown from the oxidation of the avocado.  The rest of the smoothie, however, remained green all day long.  In fact, it was still a mild color even when it came back up (yes, my son did still vomit frequently, even after the introduction of avocado to his milk)!  Our first smoothie we made with commercial formula wasn’t nearly so pretty.  The whole smoothie turned brown before the day was through.  When it came back up, it was black and stained everything it touched.  My interpretation – the breast milk is full of anti-oxidants that keep the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown.  The formula, on the other hand, seemed to offer no protection at best and acted as a pro-oxidant at worst.  I really couldn’t feed my babies the black sludge.  Had it not been for our avocado smoothies, I may not have been quite so motivated to seek alternative nourishment.

I consider ourselves lucky to have had such a dramatic visual representation of the quality of infant formula, but there is also research showing less desirable outcomes for infants fed commercial formula.  Formula fed infants may have a higher risk of obesity later in life (1),  lower cognitive ability than breastfed infants (2), increased risk of infection (3 and 4), and demonstrate altered metabolic and gut microbiome development compared to breastfed infants (5).

Support for a New Approach to Formula

Pumping enough milk for both twins was no longer an option.  Feeding them formula-turned-black-sludge was also not an option.  So, what next?  We turned to homemade baby formula.  The studies referenced above compare formula fed infants to breastfed infants so they don’t offer direct support for homemade formula.  So, we turn to what we do have.  It has been shown that infant formulas containing prebiotics improve levels of bifidobacteria (bacteria found in healthy infant’s guts) (6).  Early supplementation with pre- and pro-biotics may improve infant symptoms such as excessive fussing and crying (7).  And, supplementing infant formula with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids may improve visual acuity at 1 year, as well as increase cognitive processing speed (8 and 9).

So, there is precedent for adding to the commercial infant formula and research supporting benefits of this practice.

Before I go further, I want to stress that, whenever possible, breastfeeding is best.  The recipe linked to in the following paragraph should never be used in place of breast milk.  However, I do believe it can be a wonderful alternative to processed formula.

Homemade Baby Formula

The Weston A. Price Foundation is a non-profit organization focused on nutrition education.  Its recommendations are based on Dr. Weston A. Price’s findings in the early 1900’s.  He was a dentist who traveled the world examining the health and diets of traditional peoples.  He found that those following traditional diets enjoyed the greatest health.  The foundation has published multiple recipes for homemade infant formula, including versions based on raw cow’s milk, raw goat’s milk, as well as a liver-based recipe.  We used the liver-based formula.  If you are unable to prepare the entire formula, the foundation also provides a recipe for Fortified Commercial Formula to be used in a pinch.

I would love to hear from anyone who has used one of the WAPF formula recipes for their babies!

DISCLAIMER: I am a licensed nutritionist, not an MD.  I do not diagnose or treat disease.  My recommendations are based on my best clinical judgement and you should always consult a physician before making dietary or supplement changes with your infant.

Naturally Treating Infant Acid Reflux

WHAT IS ACID-REFLUX?

Acid reflux is a condition in which food comes back up the esophagus.  It can progress to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is often painful because our esophagus is not protected from acid the way our stomach is. It can happen when the valve between the stomach and esophagus relaxes or when the pressure below the valve increases. Symptoms are reported in 67% of infants aged 4 months. They often resolve by 1 year of age, but they can be severe while they last (1). Reflux in babies may have immediate consequences such as poor appetite, failure to thrive and just an overall miserable feeding experience for parent and child. It may also have long-term effects such as chronic respiratory disease and recurrent pneumonia. (2) It’s no wonder so many parents seek help from doctors!

CONVENTIONAL TREATMENT

Conservative treatment is often recommended first – frequent small meals, holding the baby upright for 30 minutes following a meal, and thickening the formula or breastmilk. If this doesn’t work, drugs may be prescribed. Acid-suppressing drugs (PPIs) haven’t been approved by the FDA for use in infants AND randomized controlled trials have not demonstrated that they work in infants with GERD. Still, the use of these drugs increased 11-fold from 2002 and 2009. Prescriptions were given to 145,000 children nationwide in 2009. (3) And this, despite known side effects such as poor nutrient absorption and increased risk of bone fractures.

So, infant reflux often resolves on its own AND drugs that don’t work come with some pretty serious side effects. Parents need other options.

OUR STORY WITH INFANT ACID REFLUX

Let me share a bit of our story. My son had terrible reflux when he came home from the hospital. He projectile vomited EVERYTHING. We fed him tiny meals of just a few ml and he still vomited. We tried eliminating potential triggers in my diet (soy and dairy) and we even tried acid suppressing medications (gasp!!).   But, he still wasn’t gaining weight and he continued to resist the bottle. The GI doctor suggested a feeding tube as the next step. Lucky for us, our pediatrician recommended one more thing first – avocado!

D green bottle

My son with his (very small bottle of) green milk. He has already put some weight on in this pic!

Here’s what we did. I had already been pumping rather than nursing, and this actually made our next step easier. We turned the pumped milk into an avocado smoothie. For every 100mL of breast milk, we blended in 16g of avocado. We then strained it to make it extra-smooth. We switched to a larger nipple on the bottle (we used Dr. Brown’s level 2) to allow the thicker liquid through. Almost immediately, our son stopped refusing the bottle, started gaining weight and didn’t throw up (as much). We didn’t have to feed him as often and he was more comfortable. This meant he got to sleep more. You can easily adjust the thickness of the smoothie and the nipple you use to make it just right for your baby. Not only did the avocado provide healthy fats for my son’s developing brain, but it thickened the milk, making it less likely to come back up.

A note on the use of avocado – fat has been targeted as a trigger for GERD because it slows the emptying of the stomach, potentially leading to increased pressure and resultant regurgitation. However, while many people control their GERD symptoms with a low-fat diet, many also experience long-lasting relief from low-carbohydrate diets.   So why do people get relief from the low-carb approach? The most likely explanation is that the increased pressure pushing food back up the esophagus is actually caused by an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut. These bacteria ferment the carbs in our diet and produce gas, leading to increased pressure and acid reflux. So, while the conventional advice to avoid fatty foods may help to control acute symptoms, it does nothing to address the underlying causes.

With this in mind, consider adding a probiotic such as Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic Infant Formula to the bottle.

SUMMARY – HOW TO TREAT INFANT REFLUX NATURALLY

My son was an infant over 4 years ago now and, since then, I’ve learned a lot! If I had a baby today suffering from acid-reflux, I would still use the avocado smoothies if needed, but I would try these things too:

  1. Feed small meals and hold baby upright for at least 30 minutes following a meal.
  2. Add a probiotic. If the infant is bottle feeding, add it directly to the bottle. If the infant is exclusively breastfeeding, put some probiotic powder around the nipple before the infant nurses.
  3. Eliminate foods from mom’s diet: dairy, eggs and nightshades, citrus, FODMAPs. The way you do this is up to you. You can eliminate all of them at once, then, if it helps, add them back in one by one to determine the culprit. Or, you can start with the dairy and, if that doesn’t help, move down the list, with FODMAPs being the last elimination.
  4. Once the baby is older and eating solid food, focus on gut health by continuing with pre- and pro-biotics and eating fermented foods, such as real sauerkraut and pickles.

Has anyone else come across an unconventional natural treatment for infant reflux? Let me know in the comments section!

DISCLAIMER: I am a licensed nutritionist, not an MD. I do not diagnose or treat disease. These recommendations are generalized and meant to be used as a guide.  You should always consult a physician before making dietary or supplement changes with your infant.