The Epigenetics of Endo

Ep-i-gen-et-ics: the study of changes in organisms (people) caused by changes in gene expression rather than the genetic code itself.

Epigenetics is a seriously cool area of scientific study that’s helping humans reframe the question of why we get sick— amongst many other things of course. In simplistic terms, it’s the study of our genetic software: if genes are the computer, epigenetics program them how to behave. It’s the study of why some genes get turned on or off based on environmental factors leading to things like, well, disease. That's why epigenetics is soooo cool for us endo girls (or anyone with a chronic illness) because it shows us why we're not the unlucky winner of a genetic lottery, how our genes express themselves, and why we can't "cure" endo but we can heal it into remission. 

This new information is rewriting the health conversation we’ve all heard, that women like us lost the genetic lottery when in comes to health... heck, it's the realization there's no "lottery" at all. It's the science that's showing it wasn't our genes that made us “the sick kid”, or that we got endo since it "runs in the family", it's showing us that our genes are expressing the way they are (painful, awful endometriosis) because of real life factors, not unlucky mutations.

How is that different exactly? It takes the randomness away from disease development and allows us to take back the reigns of improving our health. Take a very simple example of bad teeth. If your grandma had bad teeth, and your mom had bad teeth, it's not written in genetic stone you'll have bad teeth. It all depends on how your genes are fed. If you eat like they do, there's a high probably you will develop bad teeth, yes. But if you eat a balanced, very nutrient-rich diet, you probably won’t (and I’m not talking about more veggies, I’m talking more butter and liver). It goes for bad teeth and flat faces without cheekbones, all the way to cancer, and chronic diseases. Just as we get sick when we don’t take care of ourselves, epigenetics shows us that so too can our genes.

But epigenetics is more than food. Researchers studying epigenetics have looked at how everything we do — think, eat, breathe, stress about — affects our genes. Indeed, all of these things do affect their performance in some way. Initial studies of Holocaust survivors grandchildren are showing the immense stress faced by their grandparents two generations before have increased epigenetics markers for their own stress disorders today. Pretty trippy.

The body is resilient though, and even if many of your negative epigenetic markers were inherited and compounded by your own lifestyle, your genes can be retrained to pick up the slack! It's the reason more and more children with severe autism are being healed with intense diets, and why a person like Dr. Terry Wahls could reverse her advanced, wheel-chair-bound multiple sclerosis to now be living a healthy, vibrant life. It’s why a sickly person like me who dealt with severe endo, autoimmune, chronic illness, and joint issues is now healthier at 32 than at 16. It shows that even if you inherited a line of weak epigenetic markers, if you give of your genes an abundance of what they need/crave/are dying for, they will start expressing correctly again.

How Lifestyle Makes your Genes Sick

THIS IMAGE FROM HARVARD IS A MAP OF THE KNOWN METABOLIC PATHWAYS IN THE HUMAN BODY. each pathway requires tons of nutrients.DID YOUR BRAIN EXPLODE A LITTLE? TALK ABOUT NUTRIENT NEEDS! (click to enlarge)

Epigenetics examines both toxins (stress, chemicals, etc) and nutrition to see how they program your genetic expression. You could summarize this as all your "inputs", and your body needs a lot of the good kind.

Every cell in your beautiful body has a function and a specific nutritional need. Think for a second about just how much your body does. If, for example, you eat and then walk, your body will simultaneously be digesting that food while moving the rest of the food you ate in the past 24 hours through your entire digestive system, absorbing nutrients and channeling them to their appropriate places, fending off foreign invaders, and making waste products. Simultaneously, it will be sending blood to all the muscle groups involved with your walk, will be absorbing oxygen from your breath and sending waste materials out, pumping your lymph system, all the while your brain not only views the terrain and keeps you balanced but also is thinking up all those thoughts that fill your head. There’s tons more of course, going on during this walk, but think about all the nutrients that are needed to fuel these processes alone. Lots!

If that nutrient quota isn’t met today, that’s okay, the body will survive. But if it’s not met over a lifetime (or the lifetimes before you) then your genes will start expressing themselves differently. Without enough inputs, your body will have to start prioritizing what it does to keep you alive in the now. To conserve energy, certain genes in your body will start to “turn off” (usually the reproductive tract turns off first because the body has no extras for procreation during this time of “famine”), while your body might steal vitamins or minerals from other storage units in order to function at this very moment — like stealing calcium from your bones in order to power your muscles for your walk. 

This is a big reason why you might be dealing with chronic debilitating fatigue. Or lack of “spoons”. Because your body has absolutely nothing in reserves. This too, is how genes can go haywire and autoimmune diseases turned on.

Why aren’t your genes getting enough nutrients? 

IT'S EASY TO BE NUTRIENT STARVED IF YOU FOLLOW THE USDA FOOD PYRAMID. 6-11 SERVINGS OF HIGHLY PROCESSED CARBS?? PUH-LEEZE.

IT'S EASY TO BE NUTRIENT STARVED IF YOU FOLLOW THE USDA FOOD PYRAMID. 6-11 SERVINGS OF HIGHLY PROCESSED CARBS?? PUH-LEEZE.

Many reasons, one being the enormous amount of processed foods we’ve normalized in our diets. The USDA estimates about 50% of the calories we consume are in the form of vegetable oils and sugar … this is akin to 1/2 of your calories come from cardboard. But worse. Literally worse than cardboard. The amount of sugar consumed is also pretty wild. There’s a figure that in 1700 the average bloke ate 4 lbs of sugar a year. Now the average American eats around 170 lbs per year.

Beyond that, it also comes from the demonization of fats — how we see fat as the enemy rather than a nutritional powerhouse (when it’s the right kind of fat, of course). It comes from the government powers that condemned cholesterol and encouraged margarine and veggie oils over nourishing grass-fed butter and lard. It also comes from factory farms that created sick and sad animals, eggs, and milk with no nutrient content, the enormous corporate farms that thump out veggies from soils so depleted there’s little else beyond fiber and water, and the awful relationship many women have with food, thinking the less they eat the more they’re worth.

As for toxic inputs? We’re stressed to the max, and not just those of us with high power jobs, this includes the elderly, the rich, the poor, teenagers, and even children these days. The expectations we feel we have to live up to, the never ending “to do” list, the unforgiving self, it all ads up. Stress is one of the most potent environmental toxins around, and when we have heaps of it every day it’s like living in a backed up sewer system. We compete with others in our community, we’re afraid of failure, we tell ourselves mean things about ourselves, things so mean we wouldn’t even say it to someone we hated. Not to mention the 80,000 chemicals we face every day.

No wonder our genes started expressing themselves differently!

It's not too late: How changing your lifestyle now can make your genes healthy

“You can’t cure endometriosis” This is a phrase I detest more than anything. ANYTHING. Ugh, seriously, I wish it be struck from the earth. Why? Well, ok yes, because it is technically true. Like other autoimmune diseases and their relatives, once you get your genes here “turned on”, there’s not yet a known way to turn them back off. The reason I detest it so, so very much — even though it’s true — is because it makes us sufferers think there is nothing we can do to change our trajectory. No matter what, we will be sick, tired, and chronically ill. The end.

THIS IS RANDOM GENETIC DOOM, no amount of nutrition will help these poor soldiers now. this is NOT the same for YOUR ENDOMETRIOSIS.

THIS IS RANDOM GENETIC DOOM, no amount of nutrition will help these poor soldiers now. this is NOT the same for YOUR ENDOMETRIOSIS.

Which is why I love epigenetics :) Epigenetics allows us to see there was a pathway to the formation of our sickness, and therefore a pathway to healing -- rather than being the random genetic lottery winner of doom. A random doomed winner would be a person near a nuclear bomb. No matter what they did in their lifetime to keep their genes healthy, their body would most likely develop severe cancer. As for chronic disease? According to epigenetics, the genes haven't been changed by a random event, and can therefore be retrained with the right inputs. Let me repeat that again: cells can be retrained. Cells respond directly to the diet and lifestyle communique we send them, and thanks to the resilience of our genes, they will respond quite nicely if they receive nice inputs. So with a series of lifestyle overhauls we an actually rebuild our genetic wealth and improve the health of every gene and cell in our body. Oh, and for our children.

Want proof? A great example of this is Terry Wahls, who is one of my personal role models. She’s a professor who reversed her progressive multiple sclerosis through diet and lifestyle (after failing miserably following the pharmaceutical path). I mean, she was in a wheel chair for heaven sakes! And now she flits around the globe helping others with autoimmune through her Walhs Protocol healing diet. She may not be able to cure M.S., but she discovered a way to heal from it.

More proof would be, well, me. My endo was life crushing, stemming from weak epigenetic inheritance, a lifetime of nutrient restriction, lots and lots of unrealized stress and self-pressure, and movement deficiency. I was told there was no cure, prescribed pain meds and surgeries as bandaids, and even just a few years ago was told I should have a hysterectomy. But with two solid years of epigenetic healing - diet, movement, and mind - I'm now vibrantly healthy. So healthy I could finally do what the doctors said I never could do on my own: conceive a child.

But, for all you nagging endo-sisters, I still admit that even though I'm healthy and can say I’ve healed my endometriosis, I still can’t say I’ve cured it. This is true of anyone you’ve heard that’s healed their auto-immune issues through targeted lifestyle changes: they’re healed but not cured. Who cares, I say?! For me it doesn’t matter what word I use if my body is back to healthy. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck… Yes, of course it’s a shame we can’t cure our disease, but by living a new (better, funner, healthier, more creative) life, you can help ensure the other genes are happy and vibrant, meaning they’ll pick up the slack for the ones not working right.

This is why even though there’s no cure (don’t repeat that to yourself, btw), with the correct approach you can heal your body and reclaim your life. You can heal your epigenetic expression in many ways like you can heal from the flu … it just takes a little longer and lot more work since instead of one flu you have, like, a trillion cells. 

Epigenetics and Diet: Your Heal Endo Diet Will Look Different Than Mine ... or Hers

If you’re reading this saying “But Katie, I tried the 'endo diet' and it did NOTHING for me!” please hear me out. Dr. Catherine Shanahan writes in her book Deep Nutrition, “By simply replenishing your body with the nourishment that facilitates optimal gene expression, it’s possible to eliminate genetic malfunction… No matter what genes you were born with, I know that eating right can help reprogram them”. So the question is, what is eating right, and how does eating right look different for me and you?

IF THESE 3 WOMEN ALL HAVE ENDO, ALL THREE WOULD HAVE A DIFFERENT HEALING PROTOCOL DUE TO A) THE REASONS THEY DEVELOPED IT, AND B) THEIR EPIGENETIC HERITAGE. THIS MAY BE WHY DIETS YOU'VE TRIED BEFORE DIDN'T FLOAT YOUR GENETIC BOAT.

IF THESE 3 WOMEN ALL HAVE ENDO, ALL THREE WOULD HAVE A DIFFERENT HEALING PROTOCOL DUE TO A) THE REASONS THEY DEVELOPED IT, AND B) THEIR EPIGENETIC HERITAGE. THIS MAY BE WHY DIETS YOU'VE TRIED BEFORE DIDN'T FLOAT YOUR GENETIC BOAT.

First of all, across the board we can agree that every endo girl needs to give their extremely malnourished body a big infusion of nutrients to regroup and heal. It means eating way more than we imagined, the produce should be local and organic, the animal products from happy, grass fed animals and, if you’re not digesting properly, that’s of upmost importance to fix asap so you can absorb it all. The foods you need include the epigenetic powerhouses listed below:

  • grass-fed meat and organs

  • raw grass-fed milk, kefir, cheese, or yogurt

  • pastured eggs, especially the yolk

  • bone broths

  • fermented foods

  • large variety of veggies including - if you’re doing the Wahls Protocol at least 9 cups a day, 3 cups each - sulfur rich veggies, brightly colored veggies, and dark leafy greens.

  • lots and lots of ancestral, nutrient dense fats in the form of pastured butter, lard, coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, and cold pressed flax, hemp, pumpkin, and more.

The uniqueness of your own diet will lie in how you feel eating certain ways because of your ancestral heritage. If you’re asian you may not be able to tolerate dairy products at all, some women with European heritage, like me, will relish raw milk and have it be a key to their healing protocol. Some women will heal exceptionally well with lots of cold water fish, others with grass-fed red meat. Some women will feel best eating a high percentage of fats and low carbs, while others may really need grains in their diet. Some of you may not feel anything until you finally address the deep-set stress and anxiety that plagues your genes every second of every day. This is all unique, based on your heritage of how your ancestors best performed the past 200,000 years (that’s a long time) and why no issue of Cosmo will ever spell out which diet works best for you.

The last generation of women in your family that regularly ate like this was, depending on your age, your grandmother,  great-grandmother, or great-great grandmother. In a time before vitamins, rampant antibiotics, or an ER around the corner, health was as important as gold, and these women ate what their ancestors did before them to ensure generations of healthy genetic expression. The goal of the diet wasn’t to look hot on the beach, but a diet that ensured full body and reproductive health, health of self and health of offspring. Though they were probably pretty hot too, since this diet will make your body vibrant with health ;)

Which is why I look at the old “endo diet” and wonder how it’s still in existence with all the nutritional knowledge that exists. As a diet that cuts out gluten, soy, dairy, meat, sugar, and caffeine without saying what to replace them with is a diet that can be one of the most nutritionally void on the planet. I’m not saying it definitively is, but without the correct knowledge, food prep, and nutrition understanding it can be. It certainly was for gluten-free toast and cereal me.

GLUTEN FREE CEREAL WITH STORE BOUGHT ALMOND MILK? ENDO DIET FRIENDLY, BUT GENETIC WEALTH UNFRIENDLY.

GLUTEN FREE CEREAL WITH STORE BOUGHT ALMOND MILK? ENDO DIET FRIENDLY, BUT GENETIC WEALTH UNFRIENDLY.

The longer term problem arises when a nutrient deprived body is deprived of even more nutrients, not to mention add a slew of nutrient robbing pharmaceuticals in to the picture. Many women who adopt this diet continue eating quite a bit of processed foods, including gluten free pastas, breads, and refined grains. Then there’s the highly processed and refined dairy-free products, highly refined nut milks, highly refined snack foods and “healthy” vegan shake powders, not to mention all the highly refined VEGETABLE OIL (insert scary scream of death!). This oil is like pouring free-radicals over every healthy thing you eat. 

And remember, most of this stuff was invented about 40 years ago. Invented, not discovered. This is not what your great grandmother or any of your ancestors were eating for fertility and health. Read all about it HERE.

Which is why it’s just as important to heal your relationship with food as much as heal your relationship with your genes. Too often women to bring their fear of food with them during this healing journey — small portions, low fat, calorie counting, a potential desire to be vegan. Indeed the highly restrictive endo diet could potentially look like a low-fat diet from the 80’s. I wish I could beat society up for this, for what they do to us women and our relationship with food. You can’t escape it! From our mothers insulting their own “thunder thighs” in front of us from a young age to our respected women role models always following the latest fad diet, oh yah, and the media telling us our self worth is directly correlated to our dress size. Is it really any wonder we grow up to demonize food? 

Click the image to read the article - Pretty interesting stuff! also may help you understand where some of your epigenetic issues stem from if you mother was part of this extreme low fat diet group.

Click the image to read the article - Pretty interesting stuff! also may help you understand where some of your epigenetic issues stem from if you mother was part of this extreme low fat diet group.

Indeed this was even one of my own biggest hurdles after I finished my gut healing protocol — not the endo itself but the mental gate I had to tear down as I was forcing myself to eat as many nutrient dense foods I possibly could. I looked at the Weston Price Fertility Diet and the Wahls Protocol and wondered, how the hell am I going to eat that much food?? A big breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including 9 cups of veggies, 4 cups of raw kefir, lots of eggs, organ meats, bone broth. coconut oil, fermented veggies, and 4 tablespoons grass-fed BUTTER? I was used to taking supplements, not eating TONS of real food.

It turns out that it wasn’t the fact I couldn’t eat this much, it was my mind telling myself “that’s too much food for you”. I didn’t have an eating disorder, but it’s obvious my eating was disordered from being raised in a calorie counting world that had me thinking I knew my caloric limits. But nope, my body figured it out real quick ;) My genes were ravenous and I was amazed how much nourishing food I could throw back. And as I forced myself to eat more than I was mentally comfortable with, my body came back alive. I was finally feeding my sleepy genes what they needed to turn back on and support my sick genes.

Remember, your genes need a lot of nutrients, so let's start feeding them :) Let's eat to evict our endo, and pass on a legacy of strong genetics to our children and the generations after.

 

Raw, Grass-Fed Dairy

I don’t know if there’s anything more contentious in the endo community than dairy, and I can’t think of a more controversial dinner party topic than raw dairy. There are so many competing trains of thought on these two issues, from vegan and paleo circles staunchly opposed to dairy in general, to the USDA recommending it full throttle. And raw dairy? Most of us only think of how dangerous it is, if at all. That’s okay, because we need to talk about both. 

The truth about dairy is it’s a great option for some bodies, yet still not for every body. We’re all unique and, if you can tolerate it, the right types of dairy products can offer a perfect balance of fat, protein, and carbs, gut healing probiotics and butyrate, CLA (anti inflammatory fat), vitamin A, beta carotene, and even omega-3’s. Believe it or not, it can even help reverse chronic allergies, gut infections, and give energy to peoples with liver and gall bladder issues. But because most of us have only been introduced to the bad stuff (think Safeway refrigerated section), we often have never experienced the potentially healing factors of real, raw, grass-fed, milk products. 

That’s why I ask you to at least hear me out, even if right now you think dairy is going to knock you dead with pain, if raw dairy doesn't kill you first. The types of healing dairy products I speak of aren’t the ones you see in the Got Milk ads; they’re the ones we evolved to eat. Ok, I know-- that’s not fully agreed upon, considering the often thrown around fact that hunter gatherers didn’t evolve drinking milk. Technically that’s true, but many of our recent ancestors did. How recent? Not too recent at all, really…. try 9,000 years! In the story of human evolution that may seem like a drop in the pond, but that’s still some 200 generations of peoples consuming liberal amounts of milk products - all of it raw, of course - and living healthy, fruitful lives.

Drinking milk: An ancient practice of cultivating nourishing foods.

Drinking milk: An ancient practice of cultivating nourishing foods.

9,000 years is also enough time for some of our human genes to physically evolve to consume milk products, with some 30-40% of us now being able to properly digest lactose past breastfeeding years (and that number being closer to 100% for the European/cool climate decedents). For those who didn’t develop the lactose-digesting ability (those mainly being peoples from warmer climates), it doesn’t mean your ancestors didn’t also thrive on milk products. In warmer climates where fresh milk would quickly sour, cultures instead consumed their dairy fermented. This is especially true for areas all over Africa, India, and the Middle East, whose many herding cultures relied on animals for both milk and meat.

Even in America it was widely agreed until recently that milk was purely beneficial for health! This was a time when people weren’t plagued with heart disease, obesity, auto-immune disorders, cancer, or endometriosis, and also a time when Americans consumed liberal amounts of butter, cream, and raw milk. Neither germ-phobia nor fat-phobia had yet caught on to the masses, and dairy products were revered as an enzyme and mineral rich way to get nourishment.

But the truth is, nearly all women with endo deal with severe stomach issues stemming from gut permeability, leading to a strong reaction to dairy in some way. That is potentially why you felt better going dairy free — it certainly was my case many years ago! That’s also why dairy should be approached very carefully, with full respect to where your body is in its healing process, knowing that you may or may not be able to tolerate the wide spectrum of dairy products either now or even after a gut-healing journey. Either way, I here hope to dispel a few myths about dairy, reinforce the benefits that are real, and help you see if some types of dairy can fit into your life as a healing agent. Like meat, there’s no black and white here, and you’re going to have to discover for yourself what’s good, bad, or even a exceptional partner in your healing journey.

Ancestral Fats

"The concept that fat is the best of foods has been universal in all lands and climates. When Christianity spread northward beyond the Mediterranean, the Biblical phrase "to live on the fat of the land" was readily understood in Greece, Italy, and France, in Britain Sweden, and up among the Lapps. In English speech, fat food was called rich food, which was the highest praise. The fattest was best among men and gods, in most religions and in all countries" (Vilhjalmur Stefansson)

Ancestral fats have been the basis of human health for millions of years, a source of nutrients and energy that was revered and worshiped across cultures, literature, and religions. Our ancestors knew the value of these foods: healthy fats that acted as a delivery sources of fat-soluble vitamins to fill you up with nutrients, offer slow burning energy to regulate your blood sugar, grow healthy children, and offer the foundational building block to each cell in your body. Now they're known to help heal your endo.

So what are ancestral fats? Easy, it’s the fats and oils peoples have relied on for millennia. They include items like butter, ghee, lard, tallow, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, nuts and seeds and their cold-pressed oils. Food sources include egg yolks, cream, the fatty cuts of meat, drippings from roasts, oily fish and fish eggs. Do any of these give you the heeby jeeby’s? Hopefully they won’t by the end of this :)

Modern, industrial oils, on the other hand, are incredibly damaging to your body. They include the obvious trans-fats, but also the lesser realized refined vegetable oils like canola, soy, corn, grape seed, safflower, sunflower, or plain old vegetable oil. If you’ve heard these are good for you, that's intentional on behalf of these companies: their marketing arm is incredible, with a lobbying force to be reckoned with! Unfortunately like many other industries with huge marketing campaigns (processed grains, processed milk, vegetable oil), these guys should be in your trash by the end of this post.

The truth is: fat is absolutely necessary to the diet, as long as it's the right kind of fat. Your body was made to run on fat as your majority fuel, and doing so will immediately help bring your cortisol levels down. Moreover, your body has trillions of cells, and they’re all coated in something called a lipid-protein bilayer. It’s a fatty coating with some protein mixed in, and your cells depend it being made from really high quality fats in order for your cells to function properly. If there’s a fat shortage in your diet, or a poor-quality fat source, your cells will directly suffer (imagine legos being made of powdery chalk). Not to mention your skin, your energy, your brain function, and your overall quality of life.

So hang with me while we talk about fat! I’ll take you through the good, the bad, the ugly, and the truly healing. I want to help you understand that fat on your lips is not fat on your hips — it can actually be the opposite with the right approach, that saturated fats are not going to cause heart disease, that cholesterol will not clog your arteries, and that despite all those government recommendations you’ve heard for 5 decades, science is now way ahead of the US Government's food recommendations and is in agreement with what our ancestors knew all along: eat the fat.

 

 

Pastured Eggs

Happy egg co.jpg

Eggs aren’t detested in the endo community like meat and dairy are, but there’s still a good amount of misinformation out there to make us wonder about their impact on our pain and health. That’s because some books — like Recipes and Diet Advice for Endometriosis by Carolyn Levett — recommend using egg replacers in the place of eggs, saying eggs cause inflammation, while the vegan documentary What the Health comes along and tells us eating one egg a day is akin to smoking 5 cigarettes.

Hold on a second, is this all true?

endometriosis-edometriosisdiet-eggs-antiinflammatory.png

The answer is a resounding no: not eggs from healthy, pastured chickens. You know, the real bug eating, sun bathing, grass scratching kind of chickens. These eggs are some of the most nutrient dense of any food in the world, especially the yolks which house an assortment of nutrients so many of us endo girls are utterly deficient of: omega 3’s, choline, B vitamins, vitamin A, E, D, K,  calcium, iron, phosphorus, folate, and pantothenic acid. It’s like a delicious multi-vitamin in a shell that your body can actually absorb. These eggs are listed as a top healing food on this site for a reason!

And sorry, it’s still not true that eating any egg is akin to smoking 5 cigarettes. Who comes up with this stuff?? The truth is, just like all the other items I recommend, egg consumption and health isn’t black and white, and some eggs can lead to inflammation, and some eggs do have contamination. It just depends on the source of your egg, as well as your body. 

Still, eggs can potentially cause inflammation or reactions for a few real reasons. One is if they’re from factory farmed birds fed an atrocious diet that sets their omega 6:3 balance askew, leading to inflammation in your body. They also won’t offer the nutritional benefits of their outdoor sisters who eat bugs, greens, and sunbathe, so what you get instead is a nutritionally void egg that upsets your omega balance and can indeed lead to more pain.

The other reason why eggs might do your body harm is because you have gut permeability, and have thus developed an allergy or sensitivity to them. Being uber sensitive to eggs can also (potentially) be a sign of liver and gallbladder malfunction. That means no eggs for you until you heal and seal your precious gut, and then hopefully you’ll be able to incorporate this nutrient dense food back into your life. Indeed eggs yolks themselves are one of the most tolerable foods to eat, since they're one of the very first foods allowed during the re-introductory phase of gut healing.

Overall, eggs are one of the most nutritious foods you can eat when they're sourced well from pastured chickens, and can fill up your nutrient stores in ways you never imagined! So if you were previously scared, fear no more. I’ll go through the good eggs, the bad eggs, and how to know if you can tolerate them at all.

 

 

Fermented Foods

kraut

Fermented Foods

“Fermentation is the transformation of food by various bacteria, fungi, and the enzymes they produce. People harness this transformative power in order to produce alcohol, to preserve food, and to make it more digestible, less toxic, and/or more delicious. By some estimates, more than 1/3 of all food eaten by human beings worldwide is fermented … Fermentation has played an instrumental role in human cultural evolution.” - Sandor Katz, The Art of Fermentation

Take a step back from your modern life and lets move back in time. Not far, just 200 years - when canned foods were invented and before refrigerators became the norm. Canning was invented in 1810 and allowed the folks abandoning their farms for cities during the industrial revolution to quickly eat “fresh” food after long shifts, packed in salt and/or vinegar to preserve. Enter the personal refrigerator in 1913, and our food system was revolutionized so much that it changed our entire food culture! Refrigeration now allows us to move produce on a mass scale from, say, Chile to Hawaii, and then allow us to store this globally grown food for long periods at home before finally consuming it. These two modern technologies together, combined with germaphobia and a fast-food nation, have more or less destroyed our human culture of fermentation.

preserving like our ancestors: with salt and time

preserving like our ancestors: with salt and time

200 years may sound like a long time, but it’s only 1/10,000 of our human existence. A drop in the pond. So what did we do before these modern conveniences? How did we prepare and store fresh foods? We fermented them. Meat was stuffed into sausage casings and cured (i.e. fermented) and smoked to keep without rot. Milk was clabbered, turned into kefir or yogurt, strained into sour cream, or made into cheese for long journeys. Vegetables were made into all sorts of things, from krauts to kimchees to pickles. These could provide ample vitamin C all winter winter long.

And, of course, we always fermented our grains, beans, and nuts. This an important technique, since the fermentation of these foods pre-digests the phytic acid inherent in all seeds as well as many starches. It additionally eats the excess startches which, when eaten in abundance, mess up our gut bacteria and turn into sugars. With modern grain growing and milling, rare is a store bought bread that is actually fermented. And who at home grew up soaking and sprouting their rice, quinoa, beans, or oatmeal overnight before throwing it in a pot? These methods are old fashioned, yet ingrained in every culture across the globe for a reason: health and prosperity.

Nowadays in America, nearly all our fermented food traditions are dead. Literally. They’re processed and “pickled”, and dead on the shelf. Think of everything we used to eat that was alive and fermented:  cheese, bread, wine, beer, soy, sparkling beverages, salsa, grains, ketchup, mustard, pickles, olives, vinegar, etc. All of these were properly fermented not too long ago, meaning they were still a living food. This is why you’re always recommended a probiotic by your doc, because today we don’t eat many - if any - probiotic rich foods, although we know that gut health is invaluable.

What about yogurt (or another living, fermented food here you eat, like kombucha). Well yes, this is a food that has beneficial bacteria in it, but it’s one strain of many. If you imagine your gut, it should contain around 3 entire pounds of bacteria alone, beneficial little microbes that make your body function optimally. It’s where your immune system is housed, where your toxins are filtered, where your nutrients are absorbed. You want this ecosystem to be like the Amazon rainforest: fantastically diverse. Eating yogurt or kombucha or taking a probiotic pill is akin to mowing the amazon and planting a mahogany forest yet still expecting it to still maintain the same abundance of life… Enter endo belly. And chronic disease too. 

Time to Heal the Amazon: Your Gut

So how do we heal thy gut and begin to re-plant the Amazon?? You have to eat fermented foods every single day. And a variety of them. Luckily for the time-starved, more and more awesome companies are selling actually fermented products in the grocery store refrigerated sections, and lucky for the foodies, making ferments at home is freaking easy and really cheap.

For most people, fermentation is really intimidating at first. We’re all really scared of doing it wrong and dying from bad bacteria! I was … I think it took me about a year building up courage to finally try fermenting my first batch of cabbage. But the truth is, fermentation is really easy, like really-really easy. Often the first few times will take longer as you figure it out, but then it becomes second nature. That’s why I recommend for everyone to just start with one thing, one ferment to wrap your head around and get the hang of it. After you master one, your confidence will build and you can try another. For me, I usually stick with three ferments that I make consistently (mine are kefir, lacto-fermented vegetables, and beet kvass), then add in extras when I feel like it (like ketchup, kombucha, soda, mead, or whatever else). Oh, and always soak your grains.

And if it’s bad, you’ll know! It’s not like your delicious homemade sauerkraut is secretly hiding bad bacteria, it’s more like you open your sauerkraut lid to see black or rainbow colored mold combined with a nasty, horrible smell. You know the difference, the difference between a rotten food and one that smells kind of sour like vinegar. Listen to your primal instincts and you’ll be okay :)

So get ready to delve into the beauty of ferments! Learning how to properly prepare grains will greatly improve your health, especially if you eat grains on the regular. Adding fermented veggies to your meals, making your own fermented condiments, and drinking new fermented beverages will start to repopulate your gut the way you imagined that super-expensive-little-bitty-probiotic-pill was supposed to do. And if you take my advice and make this a hobby, you’ll find yourself more connected to your food sources and health than ever before. These are the big guns of nutrition, and they’re here to save your gut, your health, and your life.

 

 

Local, Organic Vegetables

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It occurred to me, that I should get my long list of nutrients from food [rather than supplements]. That if I did that, I would probably get hundreds and maybe thousands of other compounds that science had yet to name, that would be helpful to my brain and my mitochondria.”- Dr. Terry Wahls

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Finally, something all endo girls from all walks of life can agree on: eat your veggies! The question is, what does eating veggies look like if you want to heal from endometriosis? For those of us who grew up counting baked beans and white potatoes as our veggies, it's harder to understand just what to eat to impact our health. Lucky for us, there's a formula.

To answer this question we look to Dr. Terry Wahls, creator of the Wahls Protocol and self-healer of the Multiple Sclerosis that had left her wheelchair bound. She’s a scientist, so Dr. Wahls ended up using her medical background to understand that we can’t even begin to unlock the secrets of nutrient content from real, whole foods, so we might as well heal with the real thing rather than supplements. Her mitochondria healing diet is known to heal everything from autoimmune to leaky gut to chronic fatigue to, well, endometriosis. And a big big big part of it is a large serving of vegetables every-damn day.

What are mitochondria and how do they become sick? 

Mitochondria are the tiny factories within each cell that turns the food and air we intake into energy. They’re so big they take up about 40% of your cellular space! Now imagine just how many mitochondria we have in our bodies: trillions. So keeping these guys healthy and functioning directly translates to us being healthy and functioning. Simple enough.

The mitochondria stay healthy the same way you do: nutrition and exercise. The more micronutrients you feed these buggers, the happier they’ll be. And, the more you exercise — i.e. the more you use your muscles and bring blood, nutrients, and oxygen to them — the more mitochondria you’ll grow. That’s right, you can increase the amount of mitochondria you actually have in your body! This is the reason why you end up having more energy throughout the day the more fit you are, because you’ve built up a larger supply of mitochondria.

One of the main things that erode our lovely mitochondria is the fact we eat a surplus of poor-quality foods, and a deficit of the good kind. Empty calories like improperly prepared grains, bread, processed foods, refined flours, sugar, trans-fats, and vegetable oils, all build up in our system and burn out our energy factories. End result? Body falls apart. Sound familiar? What the mitochondria need besides quality movement is micronutrients, think vitamins and minerals. Lots of them, and a variety of them.

How to take care of your mitochondria:

Feed them! Through years of personal study, Dr. Wahls identified 31 micro-nutrients that your mitochondria need to function. She then learned which foods provide those nutrients and came up with her “9 Cups Daily” protocol (her full protocol also includes ancestral fats, bone broths, and organ meats, fyi) which supply essential nutrients we can't get elsewhere. Per day, your allotment would look like this:

3 cups of leafy green vegetables, such as kale, collards, chard, spinach or lettuce, which provide vitamins A, B, C and K. That's about one heaping plateful, much less if steamed or blended in smoothies. Why? For the tons of minerals and micronutrients condensed in these buggers.

3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, mushrooms and asparagus, because they support the removal of toxins from the body. Why? For their sulfur rich compounds, which directly support our livers' ability to detox. If you're avoiding goitrogens for a thyroid issue, you should be okay as long as you make sure to eat these types of veggies cooked, never raw.

3 cups of colorful vegetables and fruits (ideally three different colors each day), because they’re full of antioxidants. They have to be colored all the way through, so apples and bananas don’t count as colored, but berries, citrus, beets, red cabbage, peppers, and carrots do. If choosing fruit then no more than 1 pc per day. Why? For their antioxidants, which attack the free radicals that cause inflammation in your body. Plus the micronutrients of course :)

Oh my, that’s a lot of vegetables...

It's true that 9 cups may seem like a lot, especially if you’re a little lady! Dr. Wahls recommends 9 cups/day for a tall woman, but agrees a petite woman might be able to make due with 6 cups/day. If 9 seems like an unreachable goal, simply start with 6, 2 cups of each. However, if it's the fact the 9 cups seems like a lot because you're filling up on other, less nutrient-dense fare (gluten free toast, pasta, and rice) it's time to start substituting by cutting out the crap ;)

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The veggies will then end up taking the place of processed foods since you might otherwise eat, since in order to meet your veggie-allotment you won’t be able to fill up so easily on processed foods. That might mean cutting out your avocado toast for breakfast and replacing it with a veggie-egg scramble with avo on top. Or removing the cup of quinoa at lunch for a heaping serving of sauteed veggies. Taking the gluten free noodles for dinner and replacing them with steamed broccoli or cauliflower, with lots of sauce and butter on top. It's taking the fillers out of your meals, and replacing them with 3 cups of 3 varieties of veggies. 

If this is still too much, smoothies can easily be your friend, as long as you stay away from sweet smoothies and stick to nutrient-packed options that include fats, lots of greens, and a few berries. And remember to always eat your veggies with ancestral fats for best absorption of nutrients.

Looking for inspo? Grab The Wahls Protocol Cooking For Life Cookbook!

What about fruit?

we are sooooo addicted to sugar.

we are sooooo addicted to sugar.

Fruit is neat: it has anti-oxidents, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and water. Everything that veggies do except that it also has sugar. Lots of it. At the turn of the century average fructose consumption (fruit sugar) was about 15/g/day. That's akin to 1 piece of fruit per day. Now, with globalization, we can get fruit all the time, even in the dead of winter! And for many girls who are addicted to sugar yet trying to eat healthy, fruit seems like a great option at first. Sorry to say, too much sugar is still too much sugar.

Are you addicted to sugar? Imagine going an entire day or two without it ... and I mean all of it: ketchup, honey, refined flour products like pastas and breads, sweet drinks, fruit, alcohol. If you just freaked out, you're addicted ;)

That's why I recommend limiting fruits to no more than 1 pc/day, but getting all the same benefits of anti-oxidents, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and water (without the sugar) from veggies! This piece of advice seems to make some people angry (those who have been told their whole lives to eat a lot of fruit). If you feel angry about this right now, it's okay :) Take a deep breath, and just let yourself mull this one over for a while. Just try to remember: a fruit is similar to a vegetable, but with sugar in it.

The importance of local and organic: more nutrients, more probiotics

I am a HUGE proponent of farmers markets and buying local. Not only is this a much more affordable option for organic foods, but it also gets you in touch with your local food system - supporting farmers instead of corporations - plus it also allows you to buy veggies that are often more nutrient dense. That's because most small-scale, organic farms tend the soil like it should be cared for, with an emphasis on plant health and vibrancy, rather than enormous mono-cropped fields of organic broccoli from China that care only for profit.

Buying local will also force you to switch up your diet so you don't get stuck eating the same 10 foods all year long, plus it will allow you to add much more soil based probiotics (SBOs) into your diet. Yup, that's right, dirty farm-fresh plants will benefit your gut health.  According to The Candida Diet website: “Soil-based organisms are ‘endospore-forming’ bacteria, which are naturally hardier and better able to withstand the challenging environment of the stomach. These means that soil-based probiotics differ from regular probiotics in two important ways:

  1. They are much more likely to make it to the small intestine intact.
    This means that a soil-based probiotic supplement needs to contain much fewer colony forming units (CFUs) than a lactic acid-based supplement. It also eliminates the need for special coatings or manufacturing techniques that are used to deliver lactic acid-based bacteria.

  2. They colonize the gut more effectively.
    This enables us to reduce our dosage to ‘maintenance’ levels much sooner, without worrying that the health benefits of the probiotics will disappear.
    (source: The Candida Diet)

Still, if you must buy produce at the local market, the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list is helpful for anyone on a budget! It helps us understand which conventional produce is the most toxic, and what we can let slide if we're budgeting. It's important because some of the produce on the shelves has been sprayed innumerable times, with some of the most toxic components on the planet! 

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Recipes

 

Truth be told, creating delicious recipes and taking freaking amazing pictures is a career in itself, and I so respect the women doing this from all over the world. Here are some of my favorite corners of the world, super-Heal-Endo-approved meals, ideas, recipes, and inspo! Go check out these pages and have fun making food :)

 
 

Want Meal Plans, not just recipes?

Realplans.com is the best meal planning software I know! That’s because they partner with key bloggers, nutritional therapists, and experts to tailor your plan to your own specific dietary needs. You can even import your favorite recipes from home so that your shopping lists are always accurate.