Milky words

“Lactis” is Latin for milk and Lact is the root of many words:

Lactose, lactase, lactate and lactation, lactic acid, lactobacillus, and the list goes on!  Words that stem from “milk” but have different meanings!

Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk. Lactose has a more complex chemistry compared to other sugars. Some people cannot digest it, meaning they are lactose-intolerant.  The enzyme that digests lactose is lactase – the“ase” suffix tells you it is an enzyme.  If you are lactose-intolerant you may have tried “Lactade®” – a registered trademark for oral lactase so you can eat things like ice-cream!

Another lact word is lactate! Mammals who are females “lactate” which means that they secrete milk for their infants. Us, our dogs, the friendly mouse in the kitchen, elephants, whales and more are all mammals and they all lactate milk to feed their young. However, not all uses of the word “lactate” are so clearly related to milk.  

Lactate” is also the alkaline, or non-acid form, of lactic acid.  The acid/base pair, lactic acid—lactate, is the fuel of muscle energy.  And what is its connection to milk?  Almost accidental – the fermentation process of milk that makes cheese converts lactose into lactic acid, which has the same name as the lactic acid fueling your muscles!  

That is where the name arises, but most of the lactic acid/lactate action in your body is far removed food.  When your muscles are sore and burning after you exercise it is because there is more lactic acid in your blood than the oxygen needed to neutralize it.

Another lact is lactobacillus, which plays a big role in fermenting milk and a big part of the microbiome. In 1856, Louis Pasteur discovered Lactobacillus and its role in the making of lactic acid.  Lactobacilli are the major component in the recently popular probiotics and we do need probiotics!  But, the problem with supplements is that they pass through the stomach acid with little protection and so they are destroyed.  That is why I often encourage my patients to rely on naturally fermented foods for their probiotics in take.

The biggest “lact” of all has much to do with outer space, not nutrition.  Have you ever been far away enough from city lights to see the milky way? That glorious band of millions of stars, the closest edge of our own galaxy has seemed for thousands of years like a splash of milk across the heavens.  Older than Latin’s “lactis”, the ancient Greek word for milk is “galact.” Galact is the root word for “galaxy” and “intergalactic” – words that spark images of outer-space that we know intimately from popular films like Starwars.

Contemplate the vastness of our universe and the multiplicity of meaning each word can have; it inspires reverence, an emotion for adults as healthy as milk.

Comments or questions? Write to   Nicole Constant is a registered Doctor of Naturopathy.   Her website is:  www.IndividualCare.CA.


Micro-biome basics

The media is promoting the “good bacteria” in our guts – it is a great selling point for yoghurt however does not apply to most factory yoghurt.  Still, “good bacteria” is important.

Besides all the organisms you can see, from fruit flies to elephants, there are thousands too small to see.  These, the micro-organisms, are bacteria, protozoa, viruses, yeasts, and so on. They are one-celled creatures and fully alive:  they absorb nutrition, expel waste, and grow and reproduce according to their own internal DNA. Micro-organisms are essential to us.  They make all our fermented foods like wine, beer, cheese, yoghurt and more, and they make our bread rise.

They also live on us and inside us; they help digest food and make vitamins.  If you are healthy, about ten pounds of your weight is actually your micro-biome, (also called “biota”) the collection of millions of invisible (to the naked eye) micro-organisms that call your body home.  Most of them are in your gut or on your skin. You can’t be healthy without them.

They were first discovered in the 1600’s when the microscope was invented.  Recently, our knowledge about the micro-biome has been exploding.

Now, what is your gut?  The digestive tract or ‘alimentary tract’ is essentially a long tube – around 30 feet long if you straightened it out. It starts with the mouth and includes the esophagus (in the throat), stomach, small intestine, large intestine, colon, and rectum.  Like the hole in a doughnut or a bagel, it goes through but actually not into. The surface of the outside continues as the surface of the tube. In fact, the skin and the gut are formed from the same type of cell—epithelial cells. They both offer hospitality to micro-organisms.  

Of course, these are not all good.  “Germs” are disease-causing biota, and when our immune system can not control them, we use “antibiotics.”   When we support the immune system, we can minimize our dependence on antibiotics. That is best because otherwise the germs adapt to survive and antibiotics also kill friendly essential bacteria.   Sometimes yoghurt is recommended after a series of antibiotics to repair the microbiome. Most commercial yoghurt has no live bacteria plus added sugar; that stuff won’t help you much.

The good microbes on your skin help keep disease out.  I seriously question those hand “sanitizers” that are everywhere now because some studies suggest that instead of protecting us, they do more harm by killing good bacteria.  

The micro-biome and our relationship with it are huge topics.  Maybe keep this introduction handy for further explorations. How we replenish it (probiotics), how we nourish it (prebiotics), its role in physical and mental health and chronic illness. For those interested, my workshop on micro-biome in January is at Torrance Health in Markham, far from Downsview, but it’s free and you are welcome. The date is not confirmed – please email me if you want details.

Comments or questions? Write to   Nicole Constant is a registered Doctor of Naturopathy.   Her website is:  www.IndividualCare.CA.

Bruise news – potatoes

I think we are all familiar with bruises, especially on our knees and on our kids.  On our bodies, bruises show the rupture of the tiny blood vessels called “capillaries” due to injury.  The bruise fits right into the body’s self-repair project, which includes temporary blood clots and reconstruction.  Usually, there is nothing to worry about and not much to do. An ice pack early in the injury can move the process along.

It is not exactly the same with bruised potatoes (or apples, etc.).  A potato, once bruised, does not heal. Although there is some slow movement of fluids inside a vegetable, there is no blood and no repair mechanism.  A plant can seal off the injured area and just work around the injury. A bruised potato gets a black spot and before we eat the potato, we instinctively cut the bruise off.   

And that’s the smart thing to do.  Although the bruise does not make the potato sick, eating the bruise could make you sick.  The bruised spot on the potato collects toxins and pathogens (germs). They are bacteria feasting on the injured potato tissue, and you don’t want to eat that or them.

Dr. Caius Rommens, Ph. D., is a scientist who was working in genetic engineering (GMO) with a company in Idaho –  Idaho is famous for American potatoes like PEI for Canadian potatoes. He is my hero today. Dr. Rommens blew the whistle and quit his job.  His team created a potato that does not change color when bruised. The bruise stays white—but it still collects the toxins and pathogens. The company, called Simplot, sells these potatoes as “bruise-resistant” or “russet-white.”  However, they are not bruise resistant:  they just conceal the toxins so you are more likely to consume the pathogens.  

In an interview, Dr. Rommens explained how good scientists get involved in bad work and why the government approval process fails to intervene.  You can read it at .  He wrote a book about these issues, Pandora’s Potatoes: The Worst GMO’s.

I am fully convinced that we should avoid GMO foods.  They do not solve any problems. The evidence of their harm is increasing.

Comments or questions? Write to Nicole Constant is a registered Doctor of Naturopathy.   Her website is:  www.IndividualCare.CA.