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Hashimoto's

Does Biotin Work? Or is it a Scam?

I’m sure that you’ll have noticed that biotin is rife within products that purport to support hair growth, but does biotin work? It’s also known as Vitamin B7 and is a water soluble vitamin that isn’t stored in the body. It’s main role is the activation of enzymes called carboxylases. The majority of people obtain enough biotin from their diet, plus your gut microbiota also makes it. The RDA for biotin is 30 mcg daily. Most people in developed countries consume 35 mcg to 75 mcg per day plus an additional amount is manufactured in the gut.

How does biotin work?

Biotin is associated with hair growth as it’s fundamental to producing keratin which is the protein that comprises the majority of the hair shaft.

Good food sources of biotin include: beef liver, cooked whole egg, salmon, pork chop, roasted sunflower seeds, sweet potato, roasted almonds.

Supplement for hair growth

So why is biotin always included in hair supplements? The unlikely but not unsurprising answer is Marketing. It’s as if supplement companies are adding 2+2 and reaching 5 rather than 4. However they don’t let that stop them as that would have a negative impact on sales.

While there are a small minority of people who have a deficiency of biotinidase (that’s the enzyme that helps to recycle biotin to enable it to be reused by the body). The deficiency occurs when this enzyme isn’t working properly. Biotinidase deficiency (BTD) is caused by genetic mutations in the BTD gene. Other health problems caused by BTD include: seizures, developmental delays, problems controlling movement and with vision and hearing. It can also have an impact on skin (eczema) and  hair (alopecia).

Rare Disease

While BTD is a rare disease it can be treated with supplemental biotin. Interestingly there are two categories of BTD: profound and partial. Those in the profound group tend to have more severe symptoms earlier in life. It’s estimated that 1 in 60,000 people are impacted by BTD. This small group of people are the ones who would benefit from a biotin supplement and will need that supplement for life.

In the US newborns are screened for BTD, although it’s always worth double-checking the exact procedure in your state. For example my children were born in New York and Connecticut and were tested at birth for this and many other genetic disorders. The UK elects not to screen for BTD due to cost and the low incidence rate. Here’s a link for some more information:  https://bimdg.org.uk/site/about.asp

You might be thinking that this woman’s just a Functional Health Coach what does she know? Fair point! Clearly I’m not a medical professional or scientist. I help people to change their daily behaviours to improve their health. However I’m incredibly passionate about regrowing hair as I know the impact that this can have on all of the other areas of your life. I find that people suffering from hair loss can easily fall victim to sales scams for shampoos or supplements.

Medical literature

Let’s take a look at the medical studies. A 2017 review of eighteen biotin studies showed that biotin supplementation did improve hair growth! https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5582478/ Wait, what? Let’s take a deeper look… Fourteen of those studies were on patients with an underlying genetic condition (like BTD), so yes given what we already know we’d expect their hair growth to improve. The remaining four studies were focused on low biotin levels and brittle nails, i.e these subjects were not presenting with hair loss. All eighteen studies were on babies and young children.

More recently in 2020 a study on biotin deficiency and telogen effluvium found that biotin levels were optimal for all 80 subjects (20 of whom were the control group with no hair loss). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7159307/ The group had equal representation of men and women and concluded that there were no statistical differences between biotin levels and people with telogen effluvium and the control group.

Who’s at risk of biotin deficiency?

That said, certain groups of people are more likely to suffer from a deficiency. For example, risk factors include chronic alcoholism, chronic antibiotic use, gastrointestinal issues (impairing absorption) and Accutane use. In the US up to half of all pregnant women might be suffering from a mild biotin deficiency which has the potential to contribute to birth defects.

One other thing to watch out for is raw eggs. There’s a protein in raw egg whites called avidin which binds biotin. Eating large amounts of raw egg whites will significantly increase your risk of biotin deficiency. Cooking the egg whites decreases the amount of avidin although some will remain.

Negative impact

Finally biotin supplementation can have a negative impact on your health. While there’s not a known toxic amount it can create false test results for thyroid screening. Just because it’s possible to buy a product over the counter with no prescription doesn’t mean that it’s safe, even a 10mg dose is enough to create a misdiagnosis. Given the intense marketing efforts by supplementation companies and the ubiquitous appearance of biotin, it’s easy to see why vulnerable consumers are being conned. Don’t even get me started on biotin shampoos!!!

So does biotin work?

To conclude from the information available, I’d say it works for specific cases where there’s an actual deficiency which could have multiple underlying causes. In my experience of working with clients biotin hasn’t been part of the solution. After all, how simple would that be?

If you’re ready to address your health and make changes to improve it in a scam free setting then let’s talk. https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/work-with-me

How to manage an autoimmune flare

What can you do when you’re in the middle of an autoimmune flare? Depending on the AI disease(s) that you’re managing this could appear in many different ways. For example it could mean a recurrence of hair loss for alopecia, or fatigue and brain fog for Hashimoto’s.

These are steps that I’d recommend taking to manage an autoimmune flare:

Time

Look at your To-do list or schedule for the next few days, what can you drop or move to next week?

Sleep

Prioritise sleep. This means maintaining good sleep hygiene, for example, make sure that you get outside (the earlier the better to support your circadian rhythm), avoid blue light in the evening and keep your bedroom cool and dark.

Food

Prioritise nutrient dense whole food. This isn’t the time to think that you feel like rubbish so might as well attack the chocolate, crisps and booze as it can’t do any more harm as you already feel terrible.

Instead focus on meat/chicken stock rather than the longer cooked bone broth, healthy snacks like nuts and seeds, and foods containing healthy fats (particularly omega 3s). Here’s a link to some nutrient dense, gut supporting foods. https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/foods-to-regrow-your-hair/

Have a think about what food you really want to eat right now and follow that instinct with the aim of healthing it up if it’s not already healthy. For example, if you really want to eat chicken wings, then eat chicken wings but have them baked rather than fried. I love this recipe from Dr Anna Cabeca. https://drannacabeca.com/blogs/recipes/chicken-wings-with-buffalo-sauce

Maintain hydration by drinking warm water rather than cold or hot.

Self-care

Be kind to yourself! Don’t beat yourself up for the things that you’re not able to do. Trust me, I know it’s frustrating but being annoyed with yourself isn’t going to help.

Have a bath, add a cup of Epsom salts. The magnesium in the salts is absorbed via your skin and supports over 300 of your body’s biochemical reactions.

Try some gentle exercise. It could be a walk, it could be some yin yoga. This is not the time for HIIT or pushing your heart rate up with a run.

Meditate

Meditate, just 10 minutes a day will make a difference. Use an app with a guided meditation to help you, or if you’re a seasoned meditator make sure that you continue to carve out the time for yourself.

Medications

Check your medications with your doctor, are they still at the right dose? The same thing goes with your supplements are you up-to-date and taking what you need to?

Find joy

What would you love to do? What can you schedule for yourself that will put a great big smile on your face? Whatever it is, plan to do it over the next few days.

Even if you’re in the middle of an autoimmune flare there’s always something that you can do to help yourself. If you’re looking for more support you can book time in my calendar here: https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min

Which foods can help to regrow your hair?

If you’re interested in which foods can help to regrow your hair, you’re in luck! It’s the New Year and we’re all keen (I think…) to improve our eating habits after the last few months.  In the UK walking around a supermarket from September onwards is literally a battle of temptation and nostalgia for Christmas eating. We’ve emerged on the other side only to be met by creme eggs, but they can be safely ignored until April this year.

Not ready for AIP or Paleo?

While you might be happy to plunge full-on into the AIP diet or a Paleo reset, equally you might not. If you’re in the latter category but also want to ramp up your healthy eating a little these are the foods that will support hair growth. They’re in no particular order, and you should aim to consume foods from a couple of different categories daily:

Fats: Avocado, MCT oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Flaxseed oil and Coconut oil.

Protein: Fatty fish rich in omega 3 like wild salmon, mackerel and sardines, chicken liver, calf’s liver.

Vegetables (starchy): Sweet potatoes, beetroot and parsnips

Vegetables (non-starchy): Cruciferous veg like broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy. Spinach, asparagus, onions, organic seaweed.

Fruits: Berries, Cherries, Pomegranates and apples.

Grains: Gluten free grains only!

Nuts and seeds: Flaxseeds, Walnuts and chia seeds.

Herbs and spices: Basil, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, ginger, oregano, parsley, rosemary, turmeric and sage.

Full disclosure: I’m not a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist, I’m a Functional Health Coach who has had success with these foods in regrowing hair!

With this quick post on which foods can help to regrow your hair I’m trying to keep it simple and give you a steer towards foods which will support hair growth once you’ve ruled out any intolerances that you may have and have started to improve your gut health. I haven’t even mentioned bone broth… which is brilliant as long as it doesn’t trigger a histamine response. This is a great article on that very topic: https://chriskresser.com/could-your-histamine-intolerance-really-be-mast-cell-activation-disorder/?fbclid=IwAR1xoK18j19vpjaMFjCkGI280zqfT0NPdNrK5jsAW2nX6bVDo9JVHEouLew

If you’d like to find out if I can help you, book some time in my calendar. https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min

Trying the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP diet)

Before we embarked on the AIP diet I considered that my family’s lifestyle was pretty healthy. We don’t eat takeaways (okay, we’ll have fish and chips every three or four months), we don’t eat fast food, we don’t eat out in pubs or restaurants often. We are all involved in team sports and go to the gym. I started making my own baked goods when the children were small because it was easier to bake than bundle up three kids into the car, drive and navigate a shop with them. I’ve baked sourdough bread for the last decade, switching to gluten free in 2014. If we have pizza it’s homemade. As a family we cook from scratch 90% of the time, and all of the kids who are now teenagers can cook.

Prescription: AIP diet

So when a Functional Medicine doctor prescribed the AIP for my son to address his alopecia I thought that it sounded interesting and was keen to try it. In fact, we started the very next day. There was none of this phased approach, we dived straight in. It seemed to make sense for the whole family to go on the diet as three out of the five of us were dealing with autoimmune conditions, and I figured that it would be easier to cook one meal for everyone than multiple meals for the two without AI conditions.

My supermarket shopping reduced dramatically as when you’re only buying meat, fish, veg and fruit there are literally two aisles in the whole shop which are of interest. I became a label reading expert. Why, oh why do food makers take a perfectly healthy food like organic olives, and then add industrially processed sunflower seed oil? Oh, cost, that’s why. I found some great dairy free milks that weren’t full of thickeners and gums. But probably the most interesting part was getting pushed out of my comfort zone to try foods that I’d not eaten much before like plantain and cassava flour.

Will it fix everything?

I know that many people hold out the AIP diet as a panacea to fix any AI issue, but that wasn’t my experience. I found the constant shopping, prepping, cooking and cleaning up to be really time-consuming and tedious. It was also expensive. My shopping habits changed… before AIP I’d visit the same one or two supermarkets each week, I started to visit my local butcher and greengrocer each week. I’d also have an organic veg box delivered. I’d buy fish from the market on the weekend. Plus trekking down to the local ethnic store… Like I say it was time-consuming.

I used the Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook as the basis for our meals. It was fine. Some dishes were better than others! We were trying the diet in the Summer so lots of the soups and stews just weren’t appealing. It was very easy to keep making the same dishes. I reached the point where I couldn’t even look at another sweet potato. Our experiment was further compromised by a trip to France which coincided with our final week on the elimination diet. We were self-catering but our food bill went through the roof. The kids were not enjoying the food at all and couldn’t wait to start the re-introductions.

Reintroductions

After a month we started to reintroduce the foods that we’d been excluding. It’s really funny how much you miss different things, for example eggs. I never thought that I had such a close relationship with eggs until they went away. So what happened to our various AI diseases? Well it was only a month after all… there was no improvement to my daughter’s ulcerative colitis, my Hashimoto’s felt the same and with regards to alopecia Harrison didn’t lose his eyebrows during that month. So that’s sort of a positive, but as we reintroduced foods (still avoiding gluten and dairy), his eyebrows did slowly fall out too.

Recommend it?

Would I recommend trying the AIP to people with AI diseases? Yes, but… only if you have a LOT of time to invest. I found that the stress of the experience likely mitigated any positive effects. I found that I was having to think about food all of the time which I didn’t enjoy. (It reminded me of when I lived in a converted garage in the South of France with no kitchen – I lasted just over a week before moving). Plus my kids were complaining about being hungry, and they weren’t enjoying the food flavours. Every time we sat down to eat someone would be unhappy, it didn’t make for a relaxing eating experience. AIP just felt too extreme and I feel that it would be extremely triggering to anyone who has a less than great relationship with food already. If you’re just cooking for one person and enjoy meal planning and batch cooking then it’s probably worth a try.

My kids and I fondly remember those plantain waffles, to be honest I should maybe try those again. They had a unique flavour (in a good way!) When I hear about people who eat this way long-term it sets off alarm bells because it’s so limiting. The whole point is to start making reintroductions to see what you’re able to tolerate. There’s a danger that the diet starts to define people and it’s quite easy to fall down a rabbit hole with it. If you’re trying it as an elimination protocol I’d start with 30 days and if you feel good after those 30 days then start the reintroductions. If your autoimmune symptoms are still apparent you could perhaps extend an additional month and then check in and perhaps start reintroductions at that point.

Do you need a coach for the AIP diet?

In my experience I’ve found that adopting a paleo template to eating is much less extreme and gives comparable benefits. I also found it considerably less stressful than AIP. I’ve written about it here https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/thirty-day-paleo-reset/ If you’re looking for support with AIP there are coaching programs out there, but there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be able to manage this diet by yourself. The paleo template that I use is modified for autoimmune conditions and has been a proven route to managing multiple autoimmune diseases within my family. I have a Hashimoto’s diagnosis that is in remission, my daughter’s ulcerative colitis is no longer flaring and my son is having amazing hair regrowth (without loss) despite having previously lost all of his hair. Another positive is that meal times are no longer traumatic, and I’m able to spend time on other things apart from just food shopping/prepping/cooking and cleaning.

If you’d like to get your autoimmune condition under control then let’s talk. Here’s a link to my calendar https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min.

Getting to the Root Cause of Hair Loss

One of the areas that I work on with clients is getting to the bottom of the root cause of hair loss. Once we figure out what the cause is we can address it and support your hair regrowth. It could be caused by an autoimmune disease, poor nutrition/absorption, infections, chronic stress, a traumatic event, hormones or histamine intolerance. And that’s just for starters! Clearly you are not going to get the bottom of this in a 12 minute GP appointment, or just by using a topical steroid prescribed by a dermatologist.

Genes load the gun…

If we acknowledge the widely accepted concept that genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger with regards to disease, then it makes sense to start here. Let’s put it another way, if we both have the same autoimmune condition e.g. Hashimoto’s, mine could have been caused by extreme stress which kept the body in fight or flight mode for sustained periods of time. While yours could have been created by inadequate sleep and eating foods that your body doesn’t tolerate well.

We have the same disease with (potentially) an identical impact on our thyroid functions causing hair loss among other symptoms. Our doctors will likely have prescribed the same dose of thyroid hormone. However, our treatment strategies to resolve the root cause of disease would be completely different. Mine would include stress management techniques, yours would incorporate a sleep hygiene protocol and a food diary to track the impact of the food that you’re eating.

Root Cause of Hair Loss

If we look at the root cause for alopecia any of the below list could be a trigger:

  • A car accident
  • An infection
  • A hormonal imbalance (e.g. pregnancy)
  • Chronic stress
  • Environmental toxicity (e.g. mold, heavy metals)
  • Histamine intolerance

This could be compounded with gut dysbiosis and/or leaky gut. As you can see all of these triggers are completely different and yet create the same end result of hair loss.

Alopecia

I’m frequently asked about the root cause for my son’s alopecia. I’ve concluded the following:

  • Genetics: We have a family history (both maternal and paternal) of AI disease.
  • Gut problems: Intolerance to dairy leading to leaky gut AND antibiotics wiping out gut bacteria
  • Triggers:
    • Underlying Stress – Moving internationally and attending 3 schools in 3 years
    • Trauma – 2016, Broken leg (nasty spiral fracture), 2017 Broken arm, 2018 Broken finger
    • Mindset – All of the breaks occurred while playing rugby, each recovery necessitated not playing rugby (which he loves) for between 6-15 weeks. I think that this had a negative impact on mental health.

I hope you can see that this particular scenario is unique to my son, just as your root cause will be completely unique to you.

It takes time to get to the bottom of the reasons for your hair loss, and it’s highly likely to be multi-factorial. Your hair is not a separate part of your body, it’s all connected. For example, if your nutrition/absorption is poor your body will prioritise your essential organs over your skin (the body’s largest organ) and hair.

I hope that this brief article has provided an insight into how figuring out your root cause can help you to regrow your hair. My program is naturally tailored to your precise circumstances because one size does not fit all.

If you’d like to find out how I can help you please book a call following this link: https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min

How can Vitamin D support your immune system?

While talking with some of my Functional Health Coach chums, I asked what their favourite vitamin was. After the initial shock, this question is a bit like asking who your favourite child is… more than 70% of those asked for my highly unscientific poll agreed on vitamin D. We then delved into minerals, but that’s a whole other story.

Unless you live under a very large rock with no access to the outside world you’ll have seen that vitamin D has been in the news recently. This is due to the first randomised controlled trial which showed that administering vitamin D almost completely removed the risk of needing admission to the ICU for patients who’d tested positive for Coronavirus. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960076020302764?via%3Dihub This is obviously fantastic, although more research is needed as the study was small.

However, that’s not why this vitamin would always be top of my vitamin charts. Firstly, most people know of its role in supporting calcium absorption. It also helps to prevent rickets, osteoporosis and stress fractures. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and death from all causes. While these are all great reasons to optimize your vitamin D levels, my interest lies in the immunomodulatory effects of the vitamin.

Immunomodulatory impact

Part of the conclusion from The Implication of Vitamin D and autoimmunity: A Comprehensive Review states:

“Due to its unique capability to bind to VDR* and serve as a transcriptional factor, vitamin D can regulate gene expression and further exert its immunomodulatory effects on immune cells.”

*Vitamin D receptor

It goes on to state that additional studies are required to fully understand the potential capacity of vitamin D to prevent and ameliorate autoimmunity. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23359064/

So what does this mean for those of us who are living with an autoimmune disease? Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that clients report hair regrowth after the Summer when they’ve tended to be outside more, or been on holiday to a sunny place. That said given that vitamin D is toxic at high levels the answer isn’t just to  take a supplement. First you need to understand what your levels actually are, and retest after 3 to 4 months. You can ask your GP to run the test or use one of the private companies to get this information. I like Medichecks or Tiny Tests.

Sunshine is simplest

The easiest (and cheapest) way to obtain vitamin D is from sunlight, but in the UK that’s only possible between the end of March and September. I like the Dminder app which helps you to track depending on your location, your skin colour and amount of exposed skin. The image below is from September 22nd 2020 in North West England. We only have a few more weeks remaining after which time you’ll need to look for other sources until late March/early April 2021 when it becomes available from the sun again.

Snapshot from Dminder app

Food

Good sources are cod livers and cod liver oil. Other fatty fish include herring, fatty tuna, rainbow trout, salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Other good food sources are egg yolks with free range eggs containing more (approx 4-6 times more) than eggs produced by chickens without access to pasture.

Supplement

While you could argue that cod liver oil is a supplement. Here I’m talking about the ones which are not food-based. Ideally you’re looking for an over the counter supplement which also contains vitamin K2 as they work together synergistically.

Toxic

As stated earlier too much can be toxic so don’t start to supplement without first knowing what your personal level is. There’s a fair amount of debate regarding what optimal levels are. Generally in the Functional Medicine Community 50ng/ml is regarded as optimal, but that doesn’t mean that would be the perfect level for you.

To wrap up I make sure that I obtain vitamin D from sunlight in the first instance, and then food. Given the risk of toxicity I don’t think this is a supplement that you should take without medical advice. If you’re interested to find out more take a look at this article by Chris Kresser. https://chriskresser.com/vitamin-d-more-is-not-better/

How to improve your gut health

A key focus of mine as a Functional Medicine Health Coach is to support my clients to improve their gut health. We know that 70-80% of our immune system resides in the gut, and I work primarily with clients who are living with autoimmune diseases. It’s an area that fascinates me, so  I was delighted to catch up (in a socially distanced way) with Emma Cronin aka Wild Pickle to talk about all things related to gut health. Emma’s been running her fermenting business since 2015. She’s literally a walking-talking advert for fermenting because she herself looks so healthy!

The first time that you speak to Emma you are immediately struck by both her deep passion for fermenting, and her incredibly wide knowledge. Unlike some people who have spent years immersing themselves in a subject and live deep in the weeds of the technical details, Emma makes it easy for a first-time fermenter to understand the process. I attended two Wild Pickle workshops in 2019 and came away armed with huge amounts of knowledge, and perhaps more importantly the confidence that I wasn’t going to food poison myself!

What led you to first become interested in fermented foods?

My daughter was suffering from gluten and dairy intolerances from her early years. While I was fatigued and suffering from low mood and digestive problems. I started to look at our diet and lifestyle overall to improve our health and I was introduced to sauerkraut, milk kefir and kombucha. I started to work on cooking everything from scratch and eating the kind of food our great grandma ate  (no processed foods). Then I attended a sauerkraut making workshop. When you make everything from scratch, being able to make a fermented tomato ketchup that tasted amazing and lasted 2-3 months for a little one was like hitting the jackpot for me!

Foraged food ready to be fermented
Foraged from the hedgerow, ready to be fermented. Photo: Wild Pickle

What differences have you noticed in your own health since becoming a committed fermenter?

There’s been so many positive changes: social anxiety lessened; mental health improved; skin condition and colour improved; my hair stopped falling out as much as it was; stronger nails; digestive health recovered; hardly any colds in the winter; enhanced immunity and overall better gut health and I really appreciated feeling an increased vitality in everyday life.

What’s your favourite food/drink to make and why?

Kimchi has to be one of my favourite ferments to make. I enjoy the making process of chopping the vegetables, brining them and making the paste. It is therapeutic and I take my time. I love the Korean phrase “Son Mat” meaning the taste of one’s hands, in my case this translates as made by hand with love and awareness. It slows me down. Kimchi ferments in such a short time of 1-3 days. I then leave it for a couple of months in the cold and when it is brought out the depths of the flavours… are totally different from the beginning. They are complex and superb and I love that all the alchemy of the bacteria is working in kimchi to create the pungency and umami flavours that we love. Giving time and patience is worth it.

Fermented foods. Photo: Wild Pickle

If someone is completely new to fermented foods, where do you suggest they start?

I would recommend that with fermented foods you start with something you enjoy, whether it is gherkins, kimchi, sauerkraut or kombucha. In all cases I would recommend trying small amounts and paying attention to how your body reacts. I would then recommend trying a wide variety of live, unpasteurised fermented foods.

I think that the easiest introduction to making fermented foods is sauerkraut. It is simple and does not need much in the form of ingredients or utensils to get going. It’s great as you can control how tangy it gets and what ingredients go into it. It is a powerhouse of goodness for not very much outlay and effort.

That said, sauerkraut is not always everyone’s cup of tea. So sometimes Kombucha, a sweetened fermented tea is a good gateway into fermented foods and maybe try that first. I think that Kombucha was the first fermented food that we tried. Again, we had to get used to drinking it and had it in small quantities to begin with but we loved it!

What plans do you have for the future of Wild Pickle?

Wild Pickle is moving to online workshops. It’s exciting to be able to reach out and share the fermenting fun with many more people than I could reach locally. The workshops are teaching sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, milk kefir, condiments, salsas and looking at incorporating more wild foraged foods.

I’m starting with smaller workshops (less than 10 people) in order to give all attendees focused attention. In addition to the workshops I also teach groups of friends who are keen to host a kombucha/sauerkraut making virtual party. Plus, I’m also offering bespoke and tailored one to one sessions which will really explore the flavours that you particularly enjoy.

We have a small commercial test kitchen based on a farm in the heart of Staffordshire countryside. We’re also busy creating a workshop there which will provide additional teaching space, but given the current environment that will be ready in 2021.

Fermentation is an increasingly important part of supporting our gut health and immunity. But let’s not forget the other roles that it fills. It’s a tool to help in minimising waste, it focuses our attention to use what we have available, it helps us to get away from the use of plastic, it preserves seasonal food at its best, and makes it easier to store food without the relying on refrigeration.

Fermentation of food creates such complex and amazing flavours that cannot be achieved by other means. What’s incredible is that you can easily make this at home with no fancy equipment. It’s too exciting and too delicious not to share!

How can people get in touch with you?

I’m on both Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WildPickle/ and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/wild.pickle/ or you can email me at info@wildpickle.co.uk

How to make gluten free sourdough starter

There has literally never been a better time to start making sourdough bread. Literally. Never. After a couple of months of trying the keto diet, I could feel homemade carbs calling my name. I always keep a small stash of gluten free sourdough starter in the freezer to be used in case of emergencies. I feel that current times classify as such.

So why bother making your own sourdough? Well, you don’t have to go to the shops for bread, you don’t need to keep a stock of yeast, you’re saving yourself from all of the mystery ingredients in supermarket bread and let’s face it most of us are at home with extra time on our hands. (I’ve gained around three hours every day due to not having the school run and after school sports activities).

“Think of your starter as a low-maintenance pet…” Yes, I’m actually quoting myself. Who does that?! It’s from my book The Twice as Nice Guide: Gluten Free and Dairy Free Baking. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Twice-Nice-Guide-Winning-Recipes/dp/1912009978/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=twice+as+nice+guide+gluten+free&qid=1584978302&sr=8-1

There are many different ways to begin making a starter. This is an updated version from my book. Did I mention my book yet?

Ingredients:

500g millet/sorghum/teff/buckwheat flour (use whichever gluten free wholegrain flour you have to hand)

500g white and brown rice flour by Dove’s Farm

1 litre bottled water

Kit:

Freezer bags (the kind that close like Ziploc) Medium size

Large thermos flask (I like to use an Easiyo yoghurt making container)

Instructions – Day 1:

Measure 25g of the wholegrain flour and 25g of the rice flour into a freezer bag. Add 120g of water, and mix well. Seal the bag. Mix again. Open and release any air. Reseal.

Place this bag into a second bag, seal, release any air and reseal.

Fill your flask three quarters full with hand hot water, and place the double-bagged flour and water into it. Seal the flask. Check it every few hours and make sure that the water stays warm.

24 hours later:

Fish out your flour and water bag from the flask. There may be a few bubbles, and maybe some yeasty aromas. Carefully open the bag, add 25g of the wholegrain flour, 25g of the rice flour and 80g of bottled water.

Mix, seal the bag, mix some more. Let out any air. Reseal. Return to the second bag, seal, let out any excess air from the second bag.

Refill your flask with hand hot water. Place the double-bagged flour mix into the flask, and periodically check to make sure that it stays warm.

24 hours later:

Weigh the flour mix, discard half. Put the remaining half into a clean (not sanitised – it’s not jam) lidded container. I like to use a Kilner jar without the rubber seal.

Add 25g wholegrain flour, 25g rice flour and 50g bottled water mix using a wooden spoon.

Close the lid and leave on the kitchen counter for an additional 24 hours. Do not use the locking mechanism.

Your starter is now ready to bake with! If you’re going to be using it regularly it’s fine to leave it on the kitchen counter. Every day remove a tablespoon of starter, and add a tablespoon of flour and water each day. If you know that you won’t be using it for a while place it in the fridge with the lid loose. Each week discard a couple of spoonfuls of the starter and add a couple of flour and water.

Keep using the flour mix of 50% wholegrain and 50% rice flour. After about a month it’s okay to move to tap water.

I find it helpful to freeze a couple of tablespoonfuls of starter in case something happens to it. You can then just defrost it and two tablespoons of the flour mix, and two tablespoons of water to kick it off again.

You’re now ready to bake which is where the fun starts. Please do message me with any questions.

Which vitamins support your immune system?

I’m lucky enough to have two parents in their 70s. My Dad, in particular, is part of the at risk group for coronavirus, as he used to smoke 40+ a day for 40+ years and my Mum was exposed to all of that second-hand smoke. Right now no-one in my immediate family is taking an immunosuppressant which would increase their risk of picking up any cold or virus going. So which vitamins and minerals support your immune system?

This is how we’re staying as healthy as possible. In addition to the common sense steps recommended by the WHO (not THE WHO) https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses we’re taking the following vitamins. While ordinarily I’d recommend a food first approach, I’m using these vitamins as back-up in case of a lack of access to fresh food.

Vitamin A: Supports cell growth, it acts as an antioxidant and is critical in maintaining the structure of mucosal cells (like those which line your respiratory and GI tracts). A lack of this vitamin results in poor night vision, keratosis pilaris aka ‘chicken skin’ that appears on the back of arms, dry skin, dry eyes, eczema, psoriasis, hypothyroidism, autoimmune disease and infertility. 

Best food source: Liver (from cows, sheep, chickens, geese, turkeys or fish) followed by egg yolks, it’s a fat soluble compound so requires fat to be absorbed.

Note: Taking Vitamin A along with Vitamins D and K2 significantly reduces the potential risk of vitamin A toxicity.

Vitamin D: Increases intestinal absorption of calcium and is a known immune modulator. If your levels of Vitamin D are outside of the optimal range then your immunity can be compromised which increases your risk of infections. You can find this vitamin in food, sun and supplements. I like the dminder app which calculates how much Vitamin D you’re being exposed to depending on your skin type, location and clothes. This article by Chris Kresser will give you more info on Vitamin D https://chriskresser.com/vitamin-d-the-new-super-nutrient/.

Best food source: Cod liver oil, fish, shellfish, grass-fed meat.

Vitamin K2: Works in synergy with Vitamins A and D. It may prevent toxicity from these other two fat-soluble vitamins.

Best food source: Natto (Japanese fermented soy product), Gouda, Brie, Poultry liver

Vitamin C: Probably the best known vitamin for supporting the immune system. It’s an antioxidant and a cofactor for many enzymatic reactions like producing collagen and neurotransmitters. It’s not stored in the body so we have to obtain it from our diet or supplements as we can’t produce it ourselves. A deficiency results in poor wound healing and fatigue. Good levels of Vitamin C reduces all causes mortality risk. That said, there’s some controversial evidence that large doses of this vitamin can block the actions of anticoagulant drugs. I prefer to take liposomal Vitamin C, but given the cost of purchasing this form I’m choosing to alternate with other types.

Best food source: Red peppers, citrus fruits, kiwis, strawberries, grapefruit.

Vitamin E: Another fat soluble vitamin that’s needed to maintain proper immune function. Are you seeing a theme here?

Best food source: Avocados, olives, nuts and seeds.

Zinc: This mineral is necessary for both the development and function of immune cells. It functions as a cofactor for over 300 enzymes and chemical reactions. Like Vitamin C it can’t be stored in the body and so you need to make sure that you’re consuming it regularly or supplementing. Zinc is a cofactor that helps to convert Vitamin A to its active form.

Best food source: Oysters, red meat, cheese, crab, turkey.

While I would always prefer to obtain these vitamins from food which increases their bio-availability, I’m trying to cover my bases by having them on hand in case of drastic measures such as isolation. You can see that the majority of best food sources come from animal products, so veggies and vegans should be ready to start supplementation. These vitamins and minerals are necessary to support your immune system.

Gut friendly Paleo Pancakes

These gut friendly paleo pancakes are a great way to start your day! They pack almost 20g of protein per serving, along with good fat, zero added sweeteners and a hefty portion of Vitamin A, D and Selenium (>20% of your RDA).

One serving which is approximately 4 pancakes will give you a little over 5g of fibre. The combination of protein, fat and fibre will keep you full until lunch-time. They’re naturally gluten-free, and don’t feel like you’re eating ‘diet’ food.

If you have 10 minutes in the morning, then you have time to make these.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

100g ground almonds

25g dried, unsweetened coconut

1 tsp gluten free baking powder

0.5 tsp salt

0.5 tsp psyillium husk (optional, makes them a little easier to flip)

2 large eggs

125ml milk or mylk (I like Good Hemp, Creamy Seed Milk)

1T ghee or butter for frying pan

Optional add-ins to mixed batter:

1 tsp cinnamon or 1 tsp vanilla extract or 1 T dried blueberry powder

Method

Mix dry ingredients together. Then mix wet ingredients together. Or, throw caution to the wind and mix all in one bowl. Put frying pan on the stove with ghee on medium heat.

Spoon/pour the mixture into the pan. Leave undisturbed for 3 minutes, then flip and cook for another 2/3 minutes.

Keep first batch warm, while you repeat with remaining batter.

Serve with kefir, almond butter, berries and a sprinkle of flaxseed*.

*I’m currently using Waitrose’s Milled golden flaxseed with maca, cacao and chicory inulin. This is a gut friendly product as it contains prebiotics and insoluble fibre.

Thirty Day Paleo Reset

After embarking upon a rigorous course with the Kresser Institute to study and train to be an ADAPT Health Coach, I decided to put myself in my prospective client’s shoes and begin a Thirty Day Reset diet following a Paleo template (sometimes called ancestral health diet). Typically a client would be prescribed a diet protocol by a Functional Medicine doctor, a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist to address their health concerns.

In fact, last year my family and I were placed on the Auto-Immune Protocol (AIP) by a Functional Medicine doctor and I found that to be very challenging. The Thirty Day Paleo Reset is quite similar in approach with some subtle differences, e.g. unlike AIP it includes nuts and seeds in moderation, and excludes natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey completely.  I wanted to understand the challenges that clients would be dealing with when faced with a prescription or protocol that you can’t just hand in to the pharmacy to fill.

Let me start by saying that the Thirty Day Reset was a lot more straightforward than last year’s AIP. This was due at least in part to the fact that I’d already made so many lifestyle changes over the last 12 months. I felt overwhelmed by the AIP because it was a huge amount of food shopping, cooking and preparation. As soon as one meal was finished and I’d cleaned up, I’d start to prep the next as we’re a family of 5, with 3 of us battling auto-immune diseases. I remember walking into the supermarket and thinking ‘this will be quick!’ as only the first aisle had the fish, meat, vegetables and fruit that were part of our ‘new’ diet. I found the supermarket incredibly expensive and soon turned to my local butcher, fruit and veg stall, fish man and egg lady who not only provided a wider and better priced array of local produce, but could also vouch for the provenance.

A key difference with my AIP experience was that this time it was just me, and not my entire family. This meant that I didn’t have to spend time preparing food, then more time talking people into eating it, teenagers don’t tend to like hot smoked mackerel salad. Surprisingly I still had the caffeine withdrawal symptoms on Day 2, but this was less severe and more short-lived than before. One of the worst days was Day 5 which was the first Friday night. Typically my husband and I will have a glass of wine or a G&T to mark the start of the weekend. This ritual effectively disappeared as a glass of San Pellegrino with a slice doesn’t really cut it.

Another challenge was going out to dinner with friends. I was driving so not having an alcoholic drink wasn’t a problem. However, I became that person, you know the one who asks for the salad, but then proceeds to ask for half of the ingredients listed on the menu to be excluded. My three friends had ordered their complicated tapas dishes in the time that it took to figure out my amended salad.

How did it go? Well, I feel fantastic. My sleep has improved, my skin is clearer, my thoughts are sharper and I’m much less tired than before. I’m waiting on blood test results to see if my auto-immune disease has been pushed into remission. Was it easy? Yes, because this time around I knew what to expect and I had a far greater insight into the science behind the diet because of my Health Coach training. Was I hungry? No, although I did have some cravings for sweet food. Did I lose weight? Yes, I lost 3 kilos over the month which was an unintended benefit.

The most important thing is that I feel more like myself and have so much more energy. Now the fun starts with the food reintroductions, I’m going to take it slowly and carefully monitor any side-effects. By the time that I’m finished I’ll have created a personal paleo template that will be the perfect diet for me at this time in my life. For more info, take a look at The Paleo Cure by Chris Kresser or e info, take a look at The Paleo Cure by Chris Kresser or https://chriskresser.com/