2650 + 400 / 12

2650+ 400 / 12?

No, that’s not a math equation, it’s how many miles I’ve driven in the past 12 days. 2,650 miles from Michigan to Florida and back in a 10 day period and a 400 mile round trip for a birthday get away to a cabin “up north” for 2 days.

From 90 degrees, humid and buggy on the Bay in Florida at a posh hotel for a business conference to 40 degrees in the backwoods with no running water and an outdoor toilet.

I’m adaptable that’s for sure. I loved being in each element but felt much less stress in the Michigan woods. That feels like “home” to me. The tree’s colors traveling north were gorgeous. I was afraid I’d miss the peak when I was gone on business.

Sunset over Tampa Bay

Above: October Sunset over Tampa Bay

Below: October Moonrise over Michigan trees in autumn color.

DSC_0143

Traveling that many miles is stressful. Did you know there’s good stress and bad stress? Stress is really any change your body has to adapt to. Good stress is the exciting stuff and bad stress is the survival moments – I felt some of those anxious moments driving through Cincinnati, Atlanta and Nashville. Plus traveling offers a lot of changes in routines, food, sleep, and bathrooms.

A lot of people don’t talk about it, but many experience bowel problems while traveling and that can make you feel awful. Why does that happen? It’s the vagus nerve and the stress response. Under stress, whether it’s fighting a mugger in the alley or fighting rush hour traffic the body enters sympathetic nervous system arousal and the vagus nerve shuts down it’s parasympathetic branches which go to the organs, immune system and the bowels.

Under severe stress, the first reaction would be that your bowels may evacuate urgently but under ongoing stress, bowel movements tend to shut down i.e. constipation.

Here is a quip about bowel movements and stress from Dr. Axe: “Natural laxatives, in the form of certain foods and herbs, have been used for health purposes for over 2,000 years. People have always known that bowel movements are necessary for good health, but in today’s fast-paced society, a poor diet, stress or frequent traveling can get in the way of you and good digestion — so pooping regularly can suddenly become tough!”

I’m no different than anyone else, stress affects me the same way. Or at least it use to. I couldn’t travel without bringing along laxatives and suppositories. TMI right?! But something has changed for me in the past few months. And it’s been so slow in occurring, I might have missed it. I did take along the needed supplies for this trip but I never had to use them. That’s NEVER happened before!

What was different? The biggest change that I can account for in this past year has been probiotics and fiber. I’m using Kefir, fruit and wheat grass powder every day in a green drink smoothie. Nutrition is the one thing that’s different. Or maybe it’s all the small things I’ve been doing along with the smoothie that has added up – the essential oils for stress relief, the ongoing bodywork, the detoxing by using natural toothpaste, deodorant, and shampoos.

Whatever it is, it didn’t happen suddenly, this change is like reaping a harvest of benefits in the fall, long after the spring planting was over. And I like it!

Kefir

Is there a gut-brain connection?

Yes, it’s the vagus nerve.

Is the gut considered a “nervous system?”

Yes, it’s called the enteric nervous system. Both the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system were created out of the same tissue during fetal development.

Can gut bacteria (the good kind) help brain issues such as stress, anxiety or depression?

Yes! And Pubmed has the research to prove it! The authors concluded: “Together, these findings highlight the important role of bacteria in the bidirectional communication of the gut-brain axis and suggest that certain organisms may prove to be useful therapeutic adjuncts in stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression.”

Here is another research piece that is technical but interesting regarding killing off good gut bacteria via antibiotics causing problems – “Likewise, the intriguing finding that long-term administration of common antibiotics for routine infections not only may favor PPA-producing bacteria but also may impair colonocyte function and directly inhibits gut carnitine transport, leading to an acquired mitochondrial encephalopathy, should certainly be investigated as a key factor in ASD (autism) regression.”

Where do we get the good gut bacteria to keep us happy and healthy and repopulate our gut after a course of antibiotics?

Kefir!

Kefir is a simply homemade culture similar to yogurt that anyone can do.

Kefir Culture

Here is my jar of kefir. It’s a wide mouth quart sized canning jar with paper towel on top instead of a lid. In the jar is 1 1/2 to 2 cups of milk. Just regular milk from the grocery store. I use 2%. And then there are 2 kefir grains placed inside. I bought mine from the Kefir Lady. I let the jar sit on my counter (room temperature) and every 24 hours I remove the kefir milk, make a smoothie with it and then replace fresh milk into the jar and put the kefir grains back in. Simple right!

Overnight, the kefir grains do their magic and create a yogurt type of drink. It’s thicker and sour. If I’m not in the mood for a smoothie, I strain the kefir in a couple of coffee filter and let the whey come out and have a nice cream cheese left in the filter!

It’s been a fun project and I want to try it with goat’s milk and also with coconut milk – both of which are suppose to work great!

But what is so healthy about kefir?

I found this source to help explain it:

“Types of Bacteria Present in Kefir vs. Yogurt”

“Yogurt and milk kefir contain different types of bacteria, each of which performs different tasks. The beneficial bacteria found in yogurt help keep the digestive tract clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria found in a healthy gut. They pass through the digestive tract and are called transient bacteria. This chart lists the bacteria strains found in each of our yogurt starters. The bacteria in milk kefir, on the other hand, can actually colonize the intestinal tract. Kefir also contains a lot larger range of bacteria, as well as yeasts. For more information, this article lists two researchers’ findings on the bacteria and yeast strains comprising milk kefir grains.

I believe there are many more health benefits to good gut bacteria. Because your gut is open to the world on both ends, from mouth to anus, there is a large amount of your immune system dedicated to this area. It only seems like common sense that a healthy gut also equates to a healthy immune system.

It’s not out of reach to see how a healthy gut supporting your immune system can help improve allergies and reduce sickness too. The research articles mentioned in the beginning of this article and these type of connections to the immune system got me curious enough to try my own home experiment with kefir. And I can heartily recommend it!

Sunsets

SunSet In GrassLake

I love fall weather and all the spectacular colors too. It’s getting darker, I was on my way home from work and took this photo at the end of my exit. It was a spectacular sunset that I had the privilege to enjoy for several miles while driving westward.

I heard something profound about sunsets the other day and wanted to share it with you. Particularly if you are feeling depressed or experiencing loss or another type of difficult situation. I heard a person giving another person a “prescription” to watch the sunset at least 3 times each week for the next month.

Why? Because it builds trust in the world when trust seems to be eroding away. How? Because the sun is faithful and always rises the next morning after the dark time.

I don’t know about you, but I love something simple like that. Something natural. I’m going to make the effort to notice when the sun is setting, to pay attention even if it’s only for a few seconds. I can do that. I do need to build trust and I can give a few seconds each week and be mindful of sunsets. Are you willing to give it a go too?