Friday, February 11, 2011

Tummy Rumbling with Excitement...Gastro Girl is Back!

No I didn't fall in the toilet. Nor did I succumb to digestive distress (thankfully.) I took some time off to gain even more digestive health knowledge and re-focus my thoughts about how this blog can empower you to take charge of your health..and live well. In the interest of full-disclosure, I have been working with the American College of Gastroenterology in a communications capactity. It's given me a wonderful opportunity to gain deeper understanding of digestive health, engage with and learn from top gastroenterologists and other health experts, discover new medical resources and have access to groundbreaking clinical science that I cannot wait to share with you.  It's important to note that everything I write on this blog is my personal view and does not represent the ACG, or any other association or organization in any way. The College also does not endorse this blog. I am writing soley as an individual, on my own time, who is passionate about health and wellness, particulary the role digestive health plays in our overall health.

I know it will take some time to build up my Gastro Groupie following again, but I am devoted to my original mission as Gastro Girl,  to put a humorous but educational spin on all-things related to digestive health.

So yes, my tummy is rumbling with excitement. Remember my previous post on the mind-gut connection? The stomach is the second brain, baby. And my brains are both churning and burning just thinking about all the gut things I have planned for you. Stay tuned!

By the way, did you know that March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month? -Well it's coming soon.

Please check out these resources:

Colon Cancer Alliance Dress In Blue Day which is March 4 (Blue Star above is symbol of hope for colon cancer.)

Prevent Cancer 2011 "Super Colon" Schedule  (see if the "Super Colon" is coming to city near you!)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hold the Worms: Can Sushi Really Make Me Sick?

I love sushi. Not sure if it's really the taste, texture and wasabi that I get cravings for or the longing for the ritual of eating daintily with chopsticks off of cool, Asian pottery that makes me drool. But I do know this my sushi days may be over after I read a recent report that warns that eating raw or undercooked seafood--such as sushi and sashimi--increases my risk of infection by parasitic worm larvae.

Eew. I just lost my appetite for anything edible.

Of course there is always a risk getting sick when you eat anything raw--but I'm a little freaked out after hearing that there may be little worm eggs in my sushi that could cause severe stomach and intestinal problems such as diarrhea, cramping and vomiting--symptoms so bad that could land me in a hospital emergency room.

Raw or undercooked seafood can contain larvae of a parasitic worm called Anisakis (round worm). While the worm itself can't survive in humans, the larvae can attach to the tissues lining the stomach and intestines, resulting in severe abdominal symptoms, Japanese researchers said.

Here is a photo of raw grouper with the larvae:

Ok, so the researchers say that in most cases, the larvae eventually die, and the symptoms usually resolve on their own. But some people may experience small bowel obstruction.

If anisakiasis is in your stomach doctors can easily diagnose this by endoscopy, but it's much more difficult to diagnose if it's in your small intestine, according to the Japanese study.

It's important to note that Anisakiasis symptoms can mimic those of other digestive problems and may be misdiagnosed as appendicitis, stomach ulcers, or peritonitis, according to the researchers.

So should you avoid sushi? Well, that's up to you. The study didn't say not to eat sushi or sashimi--but as for me, it may not be anytime soon.

Source: Science Daily

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Natural Resistant Starch: Does This Old Fiber Have Modern Health Benefits?

I came across a study published in Nutrition Today that suggested we may be overlooking the potential health benefits of natural resistant starch. I thought to myself, what is this stuff anyway? And it certainly doesn't sound very appetizing either. I breathed relief when I learned that natural resistant starch is a type of dietary fiber that is consumed in a variety of carbohydrate-rich foods such as beans, bananas and cold potatoes--and even my favorite legume--lentils.

Curious, I did some exploring and found that a recent conference, "The New Fiber Story: Natural Resistant Starch," brought together top experts from around the world who touted the health benefits of natural resistant starch that somehow ferments in the large intestine. And guess what? They say this dietary fiber could help with weight control, diabetes management and digestive health.

"The key to these benefits is the way resistant starch is digested, said Dr. David Topping a senior scientist, CSIRO National Research Flagships, Australia. While most starches are digested in the small intestine and absorbed as sugar, resistant starch gets its name because it resists digestion until it reaches the large intestine. There, through fermentation, it takes on many of the roles of other undigested carbohydrates long recognized as dietary fiber -- while providing some unique additional benefits, " according to an October 16 press release.

Constipation, colorectal cancer, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease are emerging as serious issues in developing countries as their levels of prosperity rise, as well as in affluent westernized countries, according to Topping, adding that fiber is the key to lowering the risk of these diseases. "It is no secret that we need much more fiber in our diet but it is the type of fiber that can make real improvements in our health."

Here are some highlights from the conference, according to the press release:

Dr. Janine Higgins, Assistant Professor, Center for Human Nutrition, University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, reviewed research showing how resistant starch lowers the post-prandial glucose and insulin impact of foods, improves insulin sensitivity and may increase satiety -- all important factors in reducing weight gain and risk for diabetes. She presented research indicating that consuming resistant starch makes the body prioritize fat metabolism over carbohydrate metabolism. This "fat burning" effect of resistant starch could result in lower body fat in humans, which has been seen in animal studies, if consumed over the long-run. Dr. Higgins also shared new research demonstrating that resistant starch prevented weight re-gain after weight loss almost as much as exercise in animals.

Dr. Michael Keenan, Associate Professor, Division of Human Nutrition and Food, Louisiana State University AgCenter, demonstrated how natural RS is fermented by the bacteria in the large intestine where they produce short-chain fatty acids. Dr. Keenan's research shows that these fatty acids turn on the production of two gut hormones, Peptide YY ("PYY") and Glucagon-like peptide-1 ("GLP-1") that play an important role in signaling our bodies to start or stop eating. Surprisingly, cellulose, another dietary fiber that provides bulking but is not fermented, did not have the same effect. According to Dr. Keenan, gastric bypass surgery also results in increased levels of these two hormones. Dr. Keenan shared new research demonstrating that high levels of dietary fat interfere with the fermentation of natural RS and prevents the increase in GLP-1 and PYY that is seen with low and moderate fat diets. This indicates that the fermentation process may be even more important than caloric intake.

Dr. Topping also explained how dietary consumption of resistant starch may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and other colonic diseases. African Americans have high rates of large bowel disease, but native populations, such as in South Africa, that consume traditional diets high in unrefined grains have very low rates of these diseases. It had been believed that the traditional diets were high in fiber, but they are actually not -- they are high in resistant starch. The fermentation of this naturally occurring resistant starch may be responsible for the reduced rate of disease.

Should I eat more natural resistant starch?

No, we don't need to start gorging ourselves on beans, pasta, rice and bananas. Instead, we need to set "doable goals," about eating more resistant starch, according to Hope Warshaw, an author and diabetes expert. She said that it's important to make small behavior changes that could lead to big impacts on health.

Warshaw and Oldways, a small food-related think tank that sponsored the recent conference, are calling for Americans to start by simply doubling their resistant starch intake.

"Americans consume just less than 5 grams of resistant starch daily, on average, while scientists suggest 15-20 grams or more may be optimum for health. In countries where rice and pasta are diet staples, resistant starch intake is more than double our national average, and in China it is almost 3 times greater, said K. Dun Gifford, president, Oldways in the October 16 press release. "Consumers can double their current resistant starch intake easily by enjoying beans or bananas, or cold potatoes, rice and pasta which all contain naturally-occurring resistant starch."

Now, I know from personal experience that some of these resistant startches, like beans and pasta, really bother me. And for those who have Celiac Disease, eating pasta that isn't gluten free is a no-no. So even though the latest news about the possibility of the health benefits of resistant starches are too important to ignore, not all foods will work for everyone. That's why it's important to understand your body and how it reacts to the foods you eat. It's helpful to keep a food journal so you can see how you feel after you eat certain foods.

And if you're experiencing ongoing bouts of constipation, bloating, gas, abdominal pain and/or diarrhea--you should see your doctor. It may be helpful to ask your doctor, nutritionist or other health provider if you should or how you can work these resistant statches into your diet, especially if you have diabetes or another health condition, or are trying to control your weight.

Here is a good Q & A on Resistant Starch that I found on

All the best,

Gastro Girl

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready: Rock Star Life and Crohn's Don't Mix

Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, who has battled Crohn's disease for 20 years, says the rock star life and Crohn's don't mix.

Crohn's disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), is a condition in which the lining of your digestive tract becomes inflamed, causing severe diarrhea and abdominal pain. The inflammation often spreads deep into the layers of affected tissue. Like ulcerative colitis, another common IBD, Crohn's disease can be both painful and debilitating and sometimes may lead to life-threatening complications.

In a live and very candid online interview on October 9,2007 McCready told Healthtalk listeners how he's managed his Crohn's disease--a journey that wasn't always easy. This journey was one that forced the talented musician to take a hard look at his lifestyle and how it affected his body, which at times failed him at the most in opportune times--including when he was traveling on a tour bus, onstage in front of thousands of fans and even driving around Seattle in his car.

What I found particularly interesting, was McCready's openness. He admitted to self medicating with marijuana, valium vicodin to quell the pain and escape from the reality of Crohn's.

"I was self-medicating because of the burden of dealing with Crohn's," McCready said. "I wanted to do drugs to feel better about having Crohn's." Ironically, his behavior made his symptoms worse, as did smoking, which he says is the "worst thing for someone with Crohn's."

"I could tell my Crohn's was 10 times worse when I smoked--I could feel it in my intestines as soon a I took a hit."

But he eventually realized his self-destructive ways were not only making his Crohn's disease worse, it was hurting his family and friends, who finally intervened.

Breaking his bad habits

McCready quit smoking cold turkey and entered a rehab and medical detox program. In his interview, McCready couldn't stress enough how crucial it is for young Crohn's patients to listen to their doctors and not try to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, like he did. As a self-proclaimed advocate for Crohn's disease (he has even inspired his fans to raise money for Crohn's reaserch, summer camps and awareness) and as a spokesperson for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, McCready says he is most excited about helping others live better with the disease, especially young people.

He mentioned a book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle, which he credits as a jump-start to his remission. Although, it is a very strict diet, eliminating all starches and refined sugars, McCready said it was a great way to undertsand how diet plays a significant role in managing Crohn's disease.

Now, McCready says his diet is mostly a lot of fish and rice, not a lot of sauces starches or refined sugars. After trying a vareity of meds over the years, including Remicade and Prednisone, McCready is now managing his disease with weekly self-injections of Humira. He also takes probiotics which he says help him have firmer bowel movements.

McCready says he's been in remission for two years, the longest period of time he gone without any flare-ups. But he's still concerned and appalled at the way insurance companies treat Crohn's patients, requiring them to first pay for meds out of pocket to see if they work--before the insurance company will pay.

"I've had to go through this prior-authorization twice--and I have a big problem with this. It should be about helping people who are sick and it's all about the bottom line. If this happens to me and I can afford it, I can only imagine what poor people and kids have to go through."

As for his best and worst moments living with Crohn's, McCready says his best is getting to talk about the disease, meeting people, especially kids, who are living with Crohn's.

The worst?

McCready says he's had lots of those, and yes, he's been onstage, in extreme pain with no other choice but to soil his pants right there in front of his band (who he says know all about his condition and are extremely supportive) and thousands of fans.

But opening for his favorite band of all time, the Rolling Stones, takes the cake.

"We were opening up for Rolling Stones in Oakland and a minute before we had to go on I had a Crohn's attack...I'm about to lose it and I told Eddie [Veder] to open with "Sometimes" since I'm not really in it. I ditch and go find a bathroom. So there I am in the a porta-potty listening to us [Pearl Jam] open for the Rolling Stones.

Want more?

Listen to Mike McCready's full interview at Heathtalk

What you need to know:

Signs & Symptoms of Crohn's disease

IBS and IBD: Q & A

Crohn's Diagnosis Not Always Easy: Read Jill's Story

Get Support

Join Patient Advocate Jill Sklar's Crohn's and Colitis Support Group

Read Living With Crohn's

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Gastro Girl's 10-day Yoplait Yo-Plus Challenge

Probiotics are becoming the hippest food enhancer since fiber. And for me this isn't a bad thing--if it helps keep my digestive system on track. So I was flattered when the thoughtful folks at Yoplait asked me if I'd like to try their new yogurt, Yo-Plus. The company must have read my mind (or my digestive system) as I've been struggling to keep things moving and grooving for some time. Like a lot of you, I'm trying to manage IBS symptoms including gas and bloating and the inability to stay regular, which have caused me great discomfort over the years.

So you can imagine my excitement when the Yoplait representative generously sent me a ten-day supply of Yo-Plus after I volunteered to take this 10-day challenge.

I'll admit I was a bit skeptical, as I really wondered if a yogurt, specifically formulated to help my digestive system could really do the job.

But when I saw the cups of strawberry and vanilla yogurt (two of my favorite yogurt flavors of all time), I put my objective journalism cap on and began the challenge two weeks ago.

So does it taste good?

Let me just say that I've always been a fan of Yoplait yogurt, as I find this brand to be among the creamiest, even the low-fat versions. Yes, I had expectations for the company's latest yogurt. And boy was my mouth rockin' after one spoonful of Yo-Plus. Yea, baby--the creamy, texture of Yo-Plus did not disappoint this Yoplait groupie. I dived into the strawberry version first and it was delicious--full of fabulous fruity fun.

You would never know this yogurt was packed with probiotics, prebiotics, including three grams of fiber. A yogurt full of fiber? This is a Gastro Girl's digestive dream come true.

And after I tasted the heavenly vanilla version the following day, I knew my 10-day Yo-Plus challenge would be delicious. And if it really helped make my gut happy, well that would be a bonus. By the way, Yo-Plus also comes in cherry and peach.

What's in Yo-Plus that makes it's so special?

The unique Yo-plus blend of probiotics and prebiotics, including three grams of fiber is called Optibalance.

Now probiotics are the good, friendly bacteria that your body needs to stay healthy and prebiotics are the fiber that helps sustain the growth of the friendly bacteria in your digestive tract. We need these two to keep the bad bugs out of our system.

Have more questions? Check out the FAQs on the Yo-Plus site.

Bottom line: Did Yo-Plus help my digestive system?

I will admit that for 10 days, I looked forward to starting my day with the 4 oz. cup of Yo-Plus. Some days, I even had another Yo-Plus in the afternoon. I did notice a difference about day three--I felt a little less bloated, and my gut felt calmer. Now, I didn't conduct a controlled trial or make any significant diet changes. So of course my assessment of whether or not Yo-Plus actually helped my digestive system is totally subjective. Placebo effect? Who knows.

But it's been past the 10-day challenge now, and I'm still getting my daily Yo-Plus on. I liked Yo-Plus so much I went out and bought more--including the Peach flavor, which was every bit as good as the other flavors I'd tried.

For me the serving size was perfect. Additonally, each serving has only 110 calories, and 1.5 grams of fat. Another big plus for me, was that Yo-Plus contains no artificial sweetners--which for some people aggravate their digestive system. Yes, Yo-Plus contains sugar--but with proper exercise and a balanced diet I'm not worried about the sugar!

I agree with Yoplait, that Yo-Plus can help my body to regulate its digestive health naturally. But, as Yoplait states on it's website, "Yo-Plus is not a treatment or cure for any medical disorder or disease. If you're experiencing any difficulty or discomfort with your digestive system, you should contact a healthcare professional immediately."

Yo-Plus gets Gastro Girl's Good for Your Gut approval!

Note: Gastro Girl and Revolution Health were not paid to endorse this product. All opinions expressed here are based on Gastro Girl's independent taste-test and do not represent Revolution Health.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Top Ten Gassiest Dogs: Why Are They So Stinky?

The pet lover in me couldn't skip over a recent AkPharma, Inc. survey that named the "Top Ten Gassiest Dogs." Of course I immediately scanned the list to see if my beloved Bearded Collies made the list. And yes, I breathed relief when I didn't see that breed on the list. I didn't think Bearded Collies would be among the "gassiest" because my Beardie boys, Jester and Oscar, who eat a raw food diet (no grains), don't seem to have a problem with gas, thank goodness. Now they may fall into another category, "The top ten nuttiest dogs," but that's not really related to the digestive system. (If I do find a link, I will let you know!)

So who made the list?

Top ten gassiest dogs

1. German Shepherd
2. Mutt

3.Labrador Retriever

4. Boxer
5. Doberman Pinscher
7.Cocker Spaniel
10. Dalmation

About the survey

The recent survey of dog-lovers was conducted on AkPharma's toll-free CurTail Hotline.

"This list of gassiest dogs humorously reveals which breeds are the most renowned for their ability to emit unpleasant pet gas," says Alan Kligerman, C.E.O. at AkPharma Inc.

Now is this not the best CEO quote you've seen in a while? I sure got a laugh out of it.

It's important to note that AkPharma, the creator of Beano and Lactaid (these brands now belong to other companies)and Prerelief (for heartburn), also makes CurTail Drops, a pet food enzyme that is supposed to help make your pet's food easier to digest.

"Pet gas is definitely a problem that most pet owners encounter and frequently it's the result of a pet's inability to properly digest the ingredients in pet food," Kligerman says. "CurTail Drops will prevent pet gas associated with most types of food, from generic store brands to gourmet special diet formulas."

Now, from my own experience with my Beardies and after much research reading and talking with veterinarians and pet nutrition experts, I've learned that our what our pets eat affects their digestive system in much the same way as food affects ours. So just as certain foods may cause us digestive woes like gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea--certain things our pet eat may cause them to suffer with similar symptoms. Other pets are quite obsese. Think about all the times you've had to pick up after a dog whose stools are consistently loose? Many of us accept this as normal--but just as it isn't "normal" for us to have consistently loose stools, neither should our pets.

So while the "top ten gassiest pets" list is funny, the larger and more serious issue for me is what are we feeding our pets to make them so stinky?

While the reality is not everyone thinks about the ingredients in their pet's food that may be causing the gas and therfore a product like Curtail could help, I want pet owners to know that just as we are what we eat, so are our pets.

In the FAQs on the Curtail site, we learn that the very reason for this product is because of what is lurking in pet food.

I've included this from the Curtail site for your info:

"Why does my pet need CurTail Drops?
Many pet foods contain soy or whole grains. Unfortunately, these ingredients contain complex sugars that your pet can't always digest. After a meal, these sugars ferment in your pet's intestine - producing unpleasant gas. And you know what usually happens next! CurTail contains a natural - source food enzyme that aids in the digestion of the complex sugars found in pet foods. This enzyme acts on the sugars before they become a problem."

My question: if ingredients like soy, corn, wheat glutens and other grains and fillers are included in pet foods and they are not always easily digestable, why do we continue feeding our pets this food?

While I will say that removing grains from my dogs' diet has had major health benefits for both of them, a raw food diet may not be the right diet for every pet. There are some high-quality pet foods such as the food made by Innova that are dry, and some of them do not contain any grain such as EVO. Yes, a raw diet costs more than other types of pet food, but I save on veterinary bills. Jester and Oscar visit the vet pretty much once a year.

Until I swtiched his diet, Jester had major digestive issues and I was in the vet's every other week for the first two years of his life So I urge you to learn all you can about pet foods and understand what you are really feeding your pet. All dogs are not created equally--and neither is the food they eat. And cats too--they need high-protien diets--not diets filled with carbs and sugar. It's not natural for their digestive systems--so it's no wonder they have trouble digesting at times (if you have cats, you've likely seen kitty vomit in weird places in the house.) Ever wonder why? What about all the uriniary tract issues some cats have? It's likely what they're eating.

Anyway, I hope you found this insightful and are thinking about what you will feed you pet.

Here are some resources I've found helpful:

What's really in pet food

Guidelines for healthier pets

Pet food labels: a misnomer?

Reducing canine obesity

Evolutionary nutrition

All the best for you and your pets!

Gastro Girl

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lentils Rule: Show the Little Legume Some Love

If you know me, you know I'm a loyal lentil fan. Despite constant barbs over the years from co-workers, friends and even family members, who think my insatiable desire for lentil soup is a bit weird, I've never given up my love for the little legume. And yes, I make a great lentil soup! E-mail me and I'll send you Gastro Girl's "secret" lentil soup recipe.

The latest jab came a few weeks ago when our group here was deciding the theme of our monthly "iron-chef pot-luck lunch." Sometimes it’s based on a single ingredient--so of course I suggested lentils. You would have thought I doing stand-up or something the way my co-workers simultaneously busted out laughing and groaning. Needless to say nobody wanted to tackle a disk with lentils. Although I did have my revenge when the pot-luck subject was "salads." I seized the moment to dazzle them with a french lentil and feta salad I whipped it to impress the naysayers. Yes, it was gobbled up to rave reviews and I took home an empty dish!

Still I've felt alone in my lentil loyalty; a member of underground club privy to its nutritional and overall health benefits.

Until today.

Co-worker G passed around a link to a Science Daily diddy giving major props to the lovely luscious lentil. Among the health benefits: you have a greater chance of losing weight if you eat a diet that is high in foods like lentils.

See, these foods release energy slowly once you've eaten them, which means they have a low glycemic index. Lentils, by the way, pack a protein punch and are a great substitute for meat.

Lentils are also very high in fiber, which is great for your digestive health. However, some fiber-filled foods may not be so gastro-friendly for people living with a digestive condition like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Celiac disease (where wheat, barley and rye are a problem.)

“When foods are eaten the body breaks them down into their components, and one component will be sugar. Different foods break down at different rates. Lentils, for instance, generate a long, gentle release of sugars, while foods like white bread send a sudden rush of sugar into the blood stream. Foods that release sugars rapidly are said to have a high glycemic index -- those that release it slowly have a low glycemic index," according to the Science Daily article.

A team of Cochrane Researchers found that people eating low glycemic index diets lost a mean of one kilogram more than those on similar energy high glycemic index diets.

"Low glycemic index diets appear to be particularly effective for people who are obese," says lead author Dr Diana Thomas, the Scientific Director of the Center for Evidence Based Pediatrics Gastroenterology and Nutrition, in Westmead, Australia. "It may be easier to adhere to a low glycemic index diet than a conventional weight loss diet, since there is less need to restrict the intake of food so long as the carbohydrates consumed have a low glycemic index," says Thomas. Source: Science Daily.

Need inspiration?

Try out these lentil recipes:

Simple lentils

Mediterranean lentil salad

Spinach and lentils

Lentil rice salad

Peggy's curried lentil soup

Grandma's red lentil soup

Alton Brown's lentil salad

Lukewarm pasta salad with lentils

Scottish spicy lentil soup

Half-assed lentil soup

Lentil soup with lemon and spinach