Eggshells – a cheap non-dairy source of calcium

If you are going to adhere to a dairy free diet, you are going to need to find another source of calcium. Humans require calcium for muscle contraction, blood clotting, normal heart rhythm, as well as nerve functions. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium is around 1000mg per day. The RDA is elevated to 1,300 milligrams per day during adolescence because this is the life stage with accelerated bone growth.

For women above age fifty and men older than seventy-one, the RDAs are also a bit higher for several reasons including that as we age, calcium absorption in the gut decreases, vitamin D3 activation is reduced, and maintaining adequate blood levels of calcium is important to prevent an acceleration of bone tissue loss (especially during menopause). Results of some large trials found that higher calcium intakes (usually achieved with a supplement) was associated with improved bone density and slightly lower risk of hip fractures.

Now in regards to eggshells – most people probably don’t eat them, but eggshells are an excellent source of calcium. Eggshells are also a natural source of other elements such as strontium and fluorine. Approximately half an eggshell from a 42g egg would provide 750 mg of calcium, which is 75% of the daily recommended value of 1000mg. Clinical and experimental studies showed that eggshell powder has positive effects on bone and cartilage and that it is suitable in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.

How can you eat an eggshell though?

My process is simple – I often eat boiled eggs for breakfast in the morning. Once I peel the egg, I am left with an eggshell that has already been sanitized by boiling (it’s important to sanitize the eggshells due to the possibility of the Salmonella bacteria being on the shell). I then bake the eggshells at a low temperature of 225F in order to dry them. After they cool down, I simply grind the shells into fine powder using a coffee grinder. The powder can be consumed with a spoon, added to smoothies, oatmeal, dough, etc.

My previous mistake when going on a dairy-free diet: too many food restrictions and not enough calcium

I want to describe my mistakes with my previous attempt at going dairy-free. A bit of background – I started experiencing severe abdominal cramps in my 20s, then also I started to have panic attacks, fatigue, and swollen eyelids. I had problems waking up in the morning. I ended up being referred to a psychiatrist, but the medications did not help. Finally an endocrinologist checked my antibodies and found that I had very high levels of thyroid antibodies, so my immune system was attacking and damaging my thyroid. I was put on thyroid medication. I also was referred to a neurologist who then diagnosed me with autoimmune encephalitis (brain inflammation), and I was treated with intravenous steroids (for immunosuppression). At the same time I started reading online a lot about autoimmune diseases and I came across articles about the AIP diet. I was feeling to unwell, so I decided that I had to change my lifestyle, and I started following the AIP diet strictly – no dairy, no gluten, no soy, no grains, no legumes, no nuts, no chocolate, no alcohol. There were a lot of restrictions! You can google this diet, if you are curious.

After the corticosteroid treatment and the diet change, I did start feeling better, I l also lost 20kg, but I still experienced a lot of symptoms such as irritability, leg spasms, feeling of numbness in my fingers, and insomnia. I ended up deciding that there was no scientific evidence for my dietary restrictions, and at some point I went back to eating dairy and gluten, as well as the rest of the foods. I ended up gaining 30kg, and starting to again experiencing paranoia, panic attacks, nightmares, and fatigue.

I recently decided to look into my diet again and instead of going into the extremes – such as the very strict AIP diet, I started with excluding dairy. I also realized that when I was dairy-free the first time, I did not consume any foods with calcium, and that could have been the cause of my muscle cramps and numbness in my hands. This time I looked into non-dairy sources of calcium and calculated how much of those foods I would need to be eating. I have now been dairy free since February, I also went gluten-free and soy-free, as I noticed through multiple observations, that those foods were also causing symptoms for me. I now no longer have any pains in the lower abdomen, I have more energy and was able to attend yoga classes. I have no symptoms of low calcium this time, as I eat canned sardines, canned salmon with bones, and powdered egg shells. I am feeling much better, and I have lost around 22 pounds since February.

Obtaining calcium on a dairy-free diet

I have been on a dairy-free diet since February and for me personally it has been helping with the brain fog issue, scalp eczema, and experiences of fear/panic attacks/existential anxiety. I have tried all sorts of dairy – fermented, non-fermented, lactose-free, goat milk, sheep milk, kefir, yogurt. In the end, I found that I feel better on the days when I do not consume dairy and that the negative effects of it make it not worth it for me to continue consuming it. Some dairy has significant levels of the vitamin B12 and iodine, but those nutrients are not difficult to find elsewhere. Chicken liver, eggs, and salmon contain enough vitamin B12. Eggs also contain iodine and I use iodized salt when cooking. The main element I was concerned about when I stopped eating dairy was calcium. I tried taking calcium supplements for a while but I experienced quite negative side-effects such as frequent urination, constipation, and abdominal bloating. I decided to therefore look for natural sources of calcium that are dairy-free.

It’s possible to obtain enough calcium from fortified plant milks, and that might be the easiest option, if that works for you. I’m not sure though that it would be any different from just taking a calcium supplement, because plant milks are fortified with the same calcium carbonate. I am also not a fan of fortified plant milks as there is some evidence that consuming a lot of extra vitamin B12 and folate, which are added to plant milks in high amounts, can increase the risk of some cancers.

Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 Supplementation and the Risk of Cancer: Long-term Follow-up of the B Vitamins for the Prevention of Osteoporotic Fractures (B-PROOF) Trial

Also I found that fortified plant milks increased my anxiety and occurrence of nightmares, I found the same effects when I was taking a B12 supplement on its own. I consume enough B12 through eggs, meat, and fish, and enough folate through legumes and fruits, therefore my assumption is that the extra vitamins from fortified plant milks had negative effects for me. If you have no problem with vegan substitute products, then you can easily obtain enough calcium without diary by eating fortified vegan plant milks, vegan yogurts, vegan cheese. Tofu also usually has calcium sulfate added to it. Unfortunately I experienced worsening of scalp eczema when eating soy frequently, but if soy is not a problem for you, fortified soy milk and tofu are good sources of calcium.

Since I am currently not consuming a lot of soy products and not consuming plant milks, I had to find other sources of calcium. After looking through nutritional info for various foods, I found that the best way to get enough calcium is to consume bones. Most of the calcium is stored in bones, and only small amounts are found in blood and tissues.
The easiest way to consume bones is by eating canned salmon and canned sardines. You can check the nutrition info on the cans, the salmon needs to be “with skin and bones”, not just the file. The can of salmon that I bought contains in total 363mg of calcium, which is about 30% of daily value (DV). A can of sardines can contain up to 40% of DV of calcium. You can eat the fish right out of the can or add to soup. Another source of calcium is chia seeds, two table spoons contain around 18% of DV. You can add chia seeds to oatmeal in the morning. Another way to eat some bones is by cooking bone broth. There is no evidence that calcium leaks into the actual broth, the amount is very minimal, so you would have to eat the softened bones themselves. I usually cook a broth with chicken or turkey bones for at least an hour, then they are soft enough to actually eat.

Best natural sources of calcium: canned sardines, canned salmon, chicken/turkey bones from bone broth, chia seeds

Why do humans need calcium?

Calcium is required for multiple processes in the human body. 99% of the calcium is stored in bones and only 1% is found in blood and tissues. When there is not enough calcium in the blood, the parathyroid hormone will signal the bones to release calcium. Therefore it’s important to consume enough calcium so that it doesn’t have to keep being released from bones, as you don’t want to weaken your bones. For women especially, it is important to receive enough calcium from diet. In all humans after the age of 30, bone destruction usually exceeds bone products. Women can experience greater bone loss after menopause as the levels of hormones that play a role in building bones become permanently lower.

Calcium is needed for nerves to carry signals between brain and other body parts, it’s also needed for muscles to move. Calcium is required for muscle contraction, blood clotting, regulating heart rate, and cell fluid balance. Not having enough calcium can lead to painful muscle spasms, twitching of muscles, numbness or tingling in feet, hands, and mouth. It can also lead to anxiety, depression, itchy skin, and tiredness.

Simple gluten-free and dairy free breakfast

I have decided to go not only dairy-free, which I have been doing for a while, but also gluten-free again. This has led me to re-planning my meals. When I previously followed a dairy-free and gluten-free diet during 2016-2018, I was able to loose a lot of weight. I can’t be certain that it was specifically the avoidance of gluten and dairy, as I was also taking Cytomel (a synthetic version of the T3 thyroid hormone), and Cytomel is known to possible lead to significant weight loss. I started eating gluten again three years ago, as I was not convinced that there is such a condition as gluten intolerance (without having celiac disease). I am still not convinced that I have gluten intolerance, but being currently quite overweight, and not being able to lose the extra weight, I decided to try the gluten-free diet again. I don’t think that I will miss out on any vitamins by giving up gluten, as my diet is varied enough in order to obtain all the essentials. In any case, I can always return to eating gluten if I will not observe any effects of a gluten-free diet on my weight.

I have been already eating healthy, in my opinion, but now my meals required some re-planning. It’s no longer possible to eat a rye toast with hummus in the morning, or a smoked salmon whole-wheat sandwich for lunch. I also don’t really enjoy cooking and would like this process to be as simple as possible. In the morning I have a small gap of time between the time that the nanny arrives and the time at which I have to start work. Therefore, breakfast preparation has to be especially quick. Below is my idea for a breakfast meal that requires very little cooking or waiting. It also does not contain any refined carbohydrates.

Meal: boiled eggs, a gluten-free tortilla with hummus, oatmeal with coconut milk and berries

Main protein: one or two boiled eggs (depending on how hungry you are)
Start cooking the eggs as the first step, as other items will take a shorter time to prepare.
One egg contains about 7 grams of protein and 1.6 grams of saturated fat, eggs do no contain carbohydrates. One egg has about 0.6 micrograms of B12, which is 25% of the daily value. Therefore by eating two eggs in the morning, I can obtain 50% of my DV of B12! Eggs also contain folate, riboflavin, iodine, and selenium.

Additional protein: hummus with a gluten-free tortilla or toast
Hummus is made out of chickpeas and tahini, chickpeas are relatively high in protein and folate, also B6 and magnesium. I used sweet potato tortillas, which were OK, but any other gluten-free tortillas or bread would do:
https://www.bfreefoods.com/us/products/sweet-potato-wraps/

Starch / carbohydrates: quick steel cut oats
I stumbled upon these oats on Amazon and I found this product pretty useful. The oats can be prepared in a microwave in 2.5 minutes. I mix them with coconut milk power before microwaving.
https://www.amazon.ca/Post-Original-Instant-Oatmeal-Flaxseeds/dp/B08X8HLXSP

Oats are known to contain beta-glucan soluble fiber, which contributes to gut health. Beta-glucan fiber may also prevent sharp increases in blood sugar after meals. Oats are also a source of thiamine, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorous.

Fat: coconut milk powder
Coconut milk contains a type of fat called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs could potentially aid in weight loss and increase insulin sensitivity. Also it is creamy! And since this breakfast idea is dairy free, coconut milk is what makes the oatmeal taste better.

Additional items: add any berries, nuts, dark chocolate chips to your oatmeal
I added strawberries. Strawberries contain high amount of vitamin C and also contain folate and manganese.
Still hungry? Slowly eat a whole celery stick. It is low in calories but can help you feel full. It’s difficult to eat celery quickly, and eating slowly can help pass the time, until your brain finally signals that you are satiated.

Drink: tea or coffee
I do not drink any juices, as most juices have a very high glycemic index.


Health habits – some interesting myths

There are some advice that we hear many times from multiple people, but some common beliefs about health habits are not actually true. Fat was thought to be a cause of obesity, but that is contradictory to the more recent findings that low carb high fat diets can promote weight loss. Low fat products turned out to be high in carbs, and actually less healthy. Unsaturated fats such as olive oil and avocado are now promoted as health foods, and salmon, which contains high levels of fat, is considered to be very nutritious and beneficial for brain health. What are then some of the other myths about health habits?

Hot cocoa before bed can help you sleep – actually the National Sleep Foundation recommends avoiding dark chocolate/cocoa/cacao in the evening. Dark chocolate contains caffeine, therefore a cup of hot cocoa would not be caffeine free. The USDA National Nutrient Database indicates that a cup would contain 7.44 mg caffeine. That’s not a lot, but chocolate also contains theobromine, which increases hearth rate and can cause sleeplessness. Theobromine is an alkaloid, it is found in the cacao plant, the tea plant, and the kola nut. All of these plants are known stimulants. Therefore the combination of caffeine and theobromine for a lot of people would create a state of alertness, and therefore it will not help you sleep. Interesting fact – caffeine is partly metabolized into theobromine in humans. Theobromine is also an antagonist of adenosine receptors, just as caffeine, but weaker. Wakefulness is promoted when adenosine receptors are blocked in the brain.

Coffee increases anxiety – I don’t think there is a yes or no answer to this question, that’s why this statement is not correct. It seems that it varies for people. For some it seems that it does increase cortisol and therefore can contribute to feelings of anxiety and fear. For others it may actually be helpful. Some studies indicate that coffee is beneficial for people with OCD and helped to reduce intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
The roles of arousal and inhibition in the resistance of compulsive cleansing in individuals with high contamination fears

We are better off taking a multivitamin every day – no, we don’t actually know that. Maybe, maybe it makes no difference, maybe worse off. Obtaining vitamins and minerals from food, plus from a multivitamin, may lead to overconsumption. And more, as we know, is definitely not always better. Over consumption of folate may increase the risk of some cancers, overconsumption of iodine may lead to thyroid disorders, too much vitamin A can be harmful, and iron build up in the brain may be associated with declines in thinking and memory.
Folate consumption
Iron and the brain

Mood supplements that are sold over the counter are safer than antidepressants – they are really not. For example, 5-HTP supplement is sold in most pharmacies in Canada and in health stores, that doesn’t make it safer than Prozac. From Wiki: 5-Hydroxytryptophan is a naturally occurring amino acid and chemical precursor as well as a metabolic intermediate in the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter serotonin. So if you consume it, will it just raise your serotonin and make you happier? Not necessarily. If someone is unaware that they are bipolar, taking supplements such as SAMe, 5-HTP, or St. John’s Word could make them manic. These supplements are not mood stabilizers. And since it can affect serotonin levels, it is not without side effects, just as antidepressants are not. Some people experience increased suicidal thoughts when taking medications or supplements that increase serotonin. You can also read user reviews of 5-HTP to see for yourself that it is not completely safe. Some users state experiencing elevated heart rate, vivid nightmares, suicidal thoughts, and insomnia. Be careful with any supplement that you try, observe any changes that happen, read about possible side-effects and contraindications.
https://www.drugs.com/comments/5-hydroxytryptophan/

Red meat and dairy are bad for you – I heard this often, but it’s not what actually recent studies show. I’m sure in some high amounts, daily consumption of red meat and dairy would lead to too much saturated fat, but that does not mean that the optimal amount is zero. A recent article in Nature states that the longest life expectancy in Japan may be related to the balanced diet consisting of a typical Japanese diet food products, as well as Western diet items such as meat and dairy. “The decreasing mortality rates from cerebrovascular disease are thought to reflect the increases in animal foods, milk, and dairy products and consequently in saturated fatty acids and calcium, together with a decrease in salt intake which may have led to a decrease in blood pressure… The typical Japanese diet as characterized by plant food and fish as well as modest Westernized diet such as meat, milk and dairy products might be associated with longevity in Japan.
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41430-020-0677-5

There are also inconclusive results in regards to red meat consumption and mental health. A systematic review of meat abstention and depression, 2020, indicated that “the most rigorous studies demonstrated that the prevalence or risk of depression and/or anxiety were significantly greater in participants who avoided meat consumption.” On the other hand, a cross-sectional study published in 2021 concluded that “after controlling for potential confounders, women in the highest quartile of red meat had a highest prevalence of depressive symptoms.”
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10408398.2020.1741505
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965229920318550

Caffeine experimentation

The take on caffeine is that it’s bad for anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Yet there is research indicating that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of depression. On the other hand caffeine could contribute to a panic attack? Evidence is therefore inconclusive – should you consume caffeine if you have mental problems, and how much?

I know there are diets such as the autoimmune protocol diet (AIP) that eliminate coffee, but I have not found much evidence contraindicating coffee consumption. AIP diet includes eliminating a lot of food groups, including nuts and coffee, but Harvard Health Publishing actually states and nuts and coffee are anti-inflammatory foods. I will trust Harvard on that (as the AIP diet blogs don’t provide any actual evidence that coffee and nuts are inflammatory). From Harvard Health – “studies have also associated nuts with reduced markers of inflammation and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Coffee, which contains polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory compounds, may protect against inflammation, as well.” So here we go – one point for coffee.

The question is though – perhaps coffee drinking in the long-term reduces some inflammation, but what if in the short-run, it increases anxiety in a few hours. Is it really worth it? And does it actually increase anxiety? What do we know so far about what coffee does to the brain? “By blocking adenosine, caffeine actually increases activity in the brain and the release of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine. This reduces tiredness and makes us feel more alert. There are numerous studies showing that caffeine can lead to a short-term boost in brain function, including improved mood, reaction time and general cognitive function.” “Caffeine helps the brain release dopamine into the prefrontal cortex, a brain area important for mood regulation. Caffeine may also help storage of dopamine in the amygdala, another part of the brain important for anxiety regulation.

One recent study with some mice (don’t really know if that is applicable to humans), found that acute caffeine administration also reduced anxiety-related behaviors in mice without significantly altering locomotor activity. I think the researchers had only 12 mice, I guess they weren’t able to get a grant to afford more, so I wouldn’t take the study very seriously.

I have consumed caffeine since childhood, since in Russia black tea is a very common drink.  Coffee I started consuming regularly later on, when I was a teenager. I did quit coffee in 2016 as I was hoping that would help with panic attacks and also I started the AIP diet which eliminates coffee. Later on, in summer of 2017, I did go caffeine free for more than a week, but I noticed that my obsessive thoughts and aggressiveness were only exacerbated. I continued to consume black tea and this week I decided to try and  reintroduce coffee.

Caffeine is the quintessential mimic of a neurochemical called adenosine. While you’re awake, the neurons in your brain fire away and produce a compound called adenosine as a byproduct. Adenosine is constantly monitored by your nervous system through receptors. In the brain adenosine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This means, adenosine can act as a central nervous system depressant. In normal conditions, it promotes sleep and suppresses arousal. When awake the levels of adenosine in the brain rise each hour. Typically, when adenosine levels drop and hit a certain low level in your spinal cord and brain, your body will signal to you to start relaxing to prepare for sleep. Caffeine mimics adenosine’s shape and size, and enter the receptors without activating them. The receptors are then effectively blocked by caffeine (in clinical terms, caffeine is an antagonist of the A1 adenosine receptor). By blocking the receptors caffeine disrupts the nervous system’s monitoring of the adenosine tab. The neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, the brain’s own home-grown stimulants, are freer to do their stimulating work with the adenosine tab on hold. When a substantial amount of caffeine is ingested—such as the typical 100 to 200 milligrams from a strong, eight-ounce cup of coffee, caffeine tricks your body into thinking that it’s not yet time for sleep by acting like adenosine. Generally, caffeine lasts about five to six hours in the body before wearing off.

Research on depression, anxiety, and caffeine is still in its early stages. One study from the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease links moderate caffeine intake (fewer than 6 cups of coffee each day) to a lower risk of suicide. Conversely, in rare cases high doses of caffeine can induce psychotic and manic symptoms, and more commonly, anxiety. Patients with panic disorder and performance social anxiety disorder seem to be particularly sensitive to the anxiogenic effects of caffeine, whereas preliminary evidence suggest that it may be effective for some patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In a small study, seven of twelve patients with OCD saw “immediate improvement” on 300 milligrams of coffee daily. The author suggests that caffeine may work better in one concentrated dose each morning than spaced out throughout the day, and reminds us that caffeine remains a “well-known anxiety producer in many people.”

If all of this research seems a bit contradictory, it is. Like almost anything in science, there’s no conclusive verdict about coffee.

Since my coffee reintroduction experiment starting this Monday, so far mu experiences are more positive than negative. During these past four days, it seems that I had a reduction in obsessive and anxious thoughts. A negative effect was yesterday night, I drank a decaf Americano around 11pm, and then woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare in which I was kidnapped by a serial killer. Today I decided to have just two cups of coffee – in the morning and in the afternoon, and stop caffeine after 5pm. I don’t particularly enjoy participating in serial killer action dreams. I don’t know whether it was the decaf that lead to the nightmare, but there is one study in which Swiss scientists studying caffeine’s effects in a small group of people report markedly elevated blood pressure and increased nervous system activity when occasional coffee drinkers drank a triple espresso, regardless of whether or not it contained caffeine. The results suggest that some unknown ingredient or ingredients in coffee – not caffeine – is responsible for cardiovascular activation, he explains. Coffee contains several hundred different substances.

New Buzz On Coffee: It’s Not The Caffeine That Raises Blood Pressure

I have also come across an article discussing the best times to drink coffee. It states that The peak production of cortisol occurs between 8–9 am (under normal circumstances.) This means that at the time that many people are having their first cup of coffee on the way to work, their bodies are actually “naturally caffeinating” the most effectively.  Cortisol is considered a stress-related hormone and consumption of caffeine has been shown to increase the production of cortisol when timed at periods of peak cortisol levels. An increased tolerance for caffeine can therefore lead to heightened cortisol levels which can disturb circadian rhythms and have other deleterious effects on your health. The article suggests that the times of peak cortisol levels in most people are between 8-9 am, 12-1 pm and 5:30-6:30 pm. Therefore, timing your “coffee breaks” between 9:30am-11:30am and 1:30pm and 5:00pm takes advantage of the dips in your cortisol levels when you need a boost the most.

 

Restarting probiotic foods

So I am restarting probiotic foods. I suppose I had a bad start when I went all in and started consuming everything at once – yougurt, kefir, sourdough, yeast supplements, probiotic capsules. I was also fermenting apples, vegetables, plantains, trying to make my own chickpea tempeh. Home fermentation could go wrong at some point, also I think the supplements were a bad choice. Maybe taking saccharomyces boulardii for a week could improve gut microbiome, but taking the capsules everyday for several months I think for me led to SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, in this case there was also yeast).

I think at first when I started eating goat yougurt and drinking homemade kefir, I felt better. I remember there were several days when I was helping put up posters for a missing person – the man was my close friend’s co-worker. He was last seen at a bar on a Friday night but never made it home. I didn’t personally know the guy, but since I was putting up the posters and was part of a Facebook search group, I’ve learned a lot of details about his girl friend, his parents. A week later his body was found in lake Ontario and it really got to me. I know that this tragic ending of a search for a missing person would be painful for anyone in the search group, but with depression I think such event further triggers a cascade of negative thoughts about your own life. I didn’t know the guy, I didn’t know his parents, nor his girl-friend. It was their loss, this was not about me, but anxiety and depression always find a way to relate events to your own personal issues. I remember feeling overwhelmed with anxiety and physical pain, as if it was me who let something bad happened and now I would be punished for it. I couldn’t let go of the fear of punishment for things that were happening in the world. There was a sense that I had to fix them. Maybe when I was younger I would imagine that I have these feelings because I am a morally better person, but now I know that no, feelings of guilt and fear of punishment is depression showing through.

That weekend coincidentally was also when my first batch of goat kefir was ready. The day when I tried the first cup of kefir, I had continued sense of guilt and fear. I felt guilty for trying to feel well when such tragic things were going on in the world. I have already been through a lot of cognitive behavioural therapy by that point, so logically I understood that I was not obliged to feel unwell or be responsible for the world,  but the feeling was still there. This was more than a year ago, but I do remember feeling more calm the next day after starting goat kefir and letting go of some of the guilt. It wasn’t a complete relief, but I remember  no longer feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of tears.

Studies on probiotics and mental health are inconclusive. “A recent article in Annals of General Psychiatry reviewed the currently available medical literature on using probiotics to treat anxiety and depression. The doctors identified 10 studies that were well done (in other words blinded and placebo-controlled), and looked at each study in depth. All of these studies had relatively small numbers of patients, ranging as from as few as 42 to as many as 124. The results of these studies were mixed; some suggested that there may be mild benefits of taking probiotics if you have anxiety or depression while other studies showed no benefit. Overall, the authors concluded “the clinical effects of probiotics on mental health have yet to be studied comprehensively.” 

Can probiotics help treat depression and anxiety?

Probably just adding kefir to your diet will not cure mental issues, but I do enjoy drinking it, the sour yet creamy taste. It is also a source of calcium and protein. A glass of kefir has less sugar than a glass of milk since the bacteria and yeast from kefir grains break down the milk sugar lactose and convert it into lactic acid. “The only sugar naturally present is milk is lactose (is a sugar composed of galactose and glucose subunits). Most microorganisms lack the enzyme lactase which is required to break lactose into its two component sugars, namely, glucose and galactose. Lactic acid bacteria which do have lactase readily break down lactose and use glucose as an energy source. Lactic acid bacteria, therefore, have a competitive advantage in milk; that is, they are able to out grow other bacteria which are unable to obtain glucose from lactose. Further, some lactic acid bacteria are able to convert galactose to glucose.” Therefore when we drink kefir, the bacteria had already used up glucose and galactose for energy and therefore we don’t get glucose from the drink. When humans drink milk, it contains the sugar lactose. We have a protein named lactase that is produced in our small intestine. Lactose is then broken down by lactase into galactose and glucose, which is then absorbed into bloodstream. Therefore drinking non-fermented milk raises blood sugar more than kefir.

Is it safe to make kefir at home?

The good news is that fermentation of warm milk by lactic acid bacteria reduces milk pH to less than 4.0 and in turn makes the environment unlivable for pathogenic bacteria. Most organisms grow best at pH near physiological pH of 6.8, and not in acidic environments. I assume it would be great though for microbes from Yellowstone National Park acidic pools. these pools are usually of temperature ranging from 65 to 90 degrees Celsius and contain high sulfur contents, either as hydrogen sulfide (H2S(g)) emitted as a volcanic gas, or as elemental sulfur crystals. Who lives there – thermoacidophiles, a unique group of bacteria that are a combination of acidophiles and thermophiles. Thermoacidophiles are characterized by their exclusive ability to live in both highly acidic environments and also high temperatures. The typical conditions these thermoacidophiles live under include pH at around 2 with temperatures ranging from 80 to 90 degrees Celsius.

I am not sure if thermoacidophiles  are likely to contaminate homemade kefir, but I do sterilize my jars by pouring boiling water over them. Then I let the jar cool, place the kefir grains in, pour in milk, and cover with a coffee filter. I ferment my kefir at room temperature for 24 hours. Kefir is a versatile food as it can be drank on its own, used for smoothies, used to make tvorog (quark), syrniki (fried quark pancakes), and oladyi (fritters). Easy breakfast recipe – in the evening combine kefir, sorghum flour, ground oatmeal, egg, salt, and avocado oil in a bowl and let it stand overnight in the fridge. In the morning preheat a frying pan and then use the dough for fritters. Consume with honey and yougurt on top.

Who inhabits kefir?

The kefir grains initiating the fermentation consist of a symbiotic culture of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts embedded in a matrix of proteins, lipids, and polysaccharides. The matrix is formed by microbial activity, with color ranging from white to creamy yellow. Grains can include lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria, and yeasts. During fermentation, changes in the composition of ingredients occur. Lactose, the sugar present in milk, is broken down mostly to lactic acid (25%) by the lactic acid bacteria, which results in acidification of the product. Propionibacteria further break down some of the lactic acid into propionic acid. Other substances that contribute to the flavor of kefir are pyruvic acid, acetic acid, diacetyl and acetoin (both of which contribute a “buttery” flavor), citric acid, acetaldehyde, and amino acids resulting from protein breakdown. The slow-acting yeasts, late in the fermentation process, break lactose down into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Usually ethanol concentrations are 0.2–0.3%, so kefir is not much of an alcoholic beverage.

Probiotic bacteria found in kefir products include: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens, Lactococcus lactis, and Leuconostoc species. Lactobacilli in kefir may exist in concentrations varying from approximately 1 million to 1 billion colony-forming units per milliliter, and are the bacteria responsible for the synthesis of the polysaccharide kefiran. In addition to bacteria, kefir often contains strains of yeast that can metabolize lactose, such as Kluyveromyces marxianus, Kluyveromyces lactis, and Saccharomyces fragilis, as well as strains of yeast that do not metabolize lactose, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Torulaspora delbrueckii, and Kazachstania unispora.

Kefir is made by adding kefir grains to milk typically at a proportion of 2-5% grains-to-milk. The mixture is then placed in a corrosion-resistant container, such as a glass jar, and stored preferably in the dark to prevent degradation of light-sensitive vitamins.

Sourdough for mood and hyperglycemia

Not all carbs are equal. Several months ago I made a discovery of gluten-free sourdough recipes and now I eat it almost daily. I obtained a sourdough starter, and now that I have one, it can live on forever, as long as it gets fed. It can definitely outlive me! Feeding the starter is very simple and requires only two ingredients – brown rice flour and warm water. After being on a strict AIP diet for almost a year (a lot of food group exclusions, including grains), it was very exciting to once again eat bread, burritos, and blueberry muffins. I no longer follow the strict AIP diet since it did not turn out to be a magical cure for me. I did improve a bit, but that does not mean that every food group exclusion contributed to my improvement. One person (me) trying the AIP diet is not a clinical trial with test and control groups.

I do see strong correlation between my psychotic episodes and consumption of gluten/cow’s dairy/corn/chocolate/nightshades (bell peppers are fine, small amounts of tomatoes are also OK)/ high-glycemic foods. I haven’t found issues with eating gluten-free whole grains and also found no evidence that grains are inflammatory. I don’t consider any blog post evidence. If a blog post refers to a research paper, then I will consider their claim. I do agree that anecdotal evidence is also useful, it was other people’s stories that helped me to obtain the right diagnosis after being misdiagnosed with schizophrenia by my psychiatrist. Only we can’t know from anecdotes what actually helped, if someone did the AIP diet and they got better – was it because they eliminated all the foods the diet suggests to exclude, or they could have improved just as well if they only avoided refined carbohydrates?

The evidence that I found so far indicated that whole grains are actually anti-inflammatory. For example, whole grain intake was found to be inversely related with inflammatory protein concentrations, while refined grain intake was positively related with the inflammatory markers. “In summary, whole grain intake was inversely related to PAI-1 and CRP plasma concentrations, but these relationships were attenuated by the addition of metabolic variables to the model. Refined grain intake was positively independently related to plasma PAI-1 concentrations.

Whole and Refined Grain Intakes Are Related to Inflammatory Protein Concentrations in Human Plasma

I introduced whole grains after a year of strict AIP diet with no problem. I find that consumption of whole grains puts me in a more relaxed state of mind, I actually consume half a cup of rolled oats with green banana flour in the evening for better sleep. Sourdough is great because the baked goods end up with a low glycemic index after the fermentation process. I have a glucometer that I use to determine my blood glucose response to different food products. The standard test is a two-hour glucose test. Two slices of gluten-free bread increased my blood sugar to over 11 mmol/L two hours after consumption, which is a sign of high blood sugar. I did the same test with sourdough bread and sourdough muffins and my blood sugar was back to under 6 mmol/L two hours after consumption, which is a big difference. Short grain brown rice is also a high glycemic index food, while long grain brown rice was found to have lower glycemic index.

Sourdough allows me to eat the foods that I missed out on for so long, at the same time it does not cause a blood glucose spike for me. I have used sourdough to make pizza crust, tortillas, bread, and muffins. Currently I am learning to use fermented batter to cook dosas, an Indian dish. Controlling blood sugar for me means also stabilizing my mood. A glucose spike and then crash turns me lethargic and weepy, it takes away my energy, I definitely want to avoid that. Sourdough allows me to have blueberry muffins for breakfast, goat cheese toast, burritos – all without the consequences of an emotional roller coaster. High glycemic foods may also promote inflammation and given my diagnosis of autoimmune encephalitis, that is something that I definitely want to avoid as well.

Hyperglycemia can cause inflammation through varying mechanisms that result in the production of free radicals and pro-inflammatory cytokines (19, 24). Thus, high glycemic index and glycemic load diets may stimulate inflammation. Glycemic index is the blood glucose-raising potential of the carbohydrates in different foods. A more accurate indicator of the relative glycemic response to dietary carbohydrates, however, is glycemic load. Glycemic load incorporates the relative quality of carbohydrates characterized by the glycemic index. Consumption of high-glycemic index foods results in higher and more rapid increases in blood glucose levels than the consumption of low-glycemic index foods. Rapid increases in blood glucose are potent signals to the β-cells of the pancreas to increase insulin secretion, which can cause a sharp decrease in glucose levels and lead to hypoglycemia (25). In contrast, the consumption of low-glycemic index foods results in lower but more sustained increases in blood glucose and lower insulin demands on pancreatic β-cells (26).

Dietary carbohydrates and inflammation

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