Tag Archives: beneficial gut bacteria

Sharing Probiotics with my Cats

I am not saying that you need to share your probiotics with your cats. But Moonpie, Bois D’arc, and I have been enjoying this morning ritual, and it had me thinking again about the nature of different probiotics.

Moonpie and Bois D'arc

Moonpie and Bois D’arc

Here is what I have been doing. When I am feeding the cats in the morning, I sprinkle about ¼ of a capsule of my probiotic on each serving of cat food. Then I dump the rest of the contents of the capsule into my mouth. Most probiotics are very mild tasting so the cats and I don’t mind the flavor at all. A few probiotic brands add fruit, vegetable, or herbal extracts, which can make the taste sour or bitter, so I can’t say the same about every brand.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help with gastrointestinal symptoms, immune function, detoxification, and maybe even healthy weight loss. Moonpie had to take a round of antibiotics recently, and I always follow antibiotics with at least 2 weeks of probiotics to help restore the normal balance of gut bacteria.

The particular brand I am using right now is Culturelle. It contains a single strain of probiotic known as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. There are a few unique things about this strain.

It is resistant to stomach acid. That is why I am not worried about dumping the contents of the capsule straight in my mouth. For conditions like sinus issues or heartburn, you might get more benefit from the probiotics by putting the powder in your mouth. For instance with heartburn, some studies show that the wrong organisms are living in the esophagus. We are not sure if this is a cause of the problem or a consequence of the symptoms, but probiotics seems to be a helpful part of the solution for many. I have my patients with heartburn take their probiotics this way so the organisms are getting to the esophagus and stomach.

At other times when I am taking strains that are not resistant to stomach acid, I look for products that are enteric coated. This means the capsules are designed to release only after they past the stomach. With this type of capsules, our stomach acid doesn’t destroy other important organisms, like Bifidobacteria for the large intestines.

Another unique thing about Lactobacillus GG is that organism grows particularly robustly in our upper GI tract when we are taking it regularly. This gives it the potential to outcompete harmful microorganisms, particularly in the small intestines and stomach. Because of this, I would particularly choose a product like this for travelling abroad.

When we stop taking Lactobacillus GG, this protective barrier might start to disappear. This is a good time to make sure you are replacing them with other healthy bacteria so the bad guys don’t have a chance. Choose probiotic rich foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kim chi. Add to this some prebiotic foods to help feed the beneficial organisms. Prebiotics are found in foods like garlic, beans, carrots, onions, honey, rye, asparagus, banana, maple syrup, oats, and Jerusalem artichoke.

We don’t have to take probiotics all the time, nor do our cats. But since these beneficial organisms boost our health in so many different ways, it is important to make sure we are maintaining a helpful population of gut bacteria. Once the body is in balance, you can emphasize the probiotic and prebiotic rich foods in your diet.

P.S. No, I am not just writing about my cats because cats rule the Internet.

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Probiotics for Weight Loss

Every year I find myself wanting to write another blog about probiotics, but you can’t blame me. There is a huge amount of research going on right now about the microbiome, a term referring to the complex community of abundant microorganisms that live in and on our bodies. Several recent studies are showing connections between these beneficial bacteria and maintaining a healthy body weight.

One study demonstrated a possible link between antibiotic use in children and a tendency toward weight gain. The study showed that especially boys tended to gain excess weight if given antibiotics in the first year of life. The authors suggested that doctors be more selective about giving antibiotics to infants and toddlers. Many parents push the doctors for antibiotics even for viral infection like colds that will not be helped by the antibiotics. Other times it is appropriate or even critical for antibiotics to be used. For these instances, it would be appropriate to take probiotics afterward even though studies have not been done yet to show if can help prevent weight gain after antibiotic use.

Previous studies have shown that obese people tend to have less diversity of bacteria living it the gut. To explore whether this was a cause of obesity or the effect of it, another research team gave mice the bacteria from sets of twins where one was obese and the other was lean. The mice that got the bacteria from the obese people gained weight, while mice that received bacteria from the lean people didn’t. The mice that gained weight didn’t eat more than their leaner companions. Later, those obese mice were given the bacteria from the lean people and lost weight. This benefit only occurred when the mice were also given a low-fat, high fiber diet. Without the fiber and other nutrients, the bacteria that support healthy weight seem to not flourish.

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Lactobacillus gasseri is one probiotic that is of particular interest for weight loss. A 2013 study had 210 overweight participants consume fermented milk that either contained no Lactobacillus gasseri, a moderate amount of Lactobacillus gasseri, or a large amount of it. After 12 weeks, both groups getting the Lactobacillus gasseri lost belly fat while the control group saw no change. Lactobacillus gasseri is available in probiotic capsules such as Kyo-Dophilus.

There are numerous health benefits from having a healthy population of bacteria living in our digestive tracts and helping us to maintain healthy weight is just one of them. Likewise, taking probiotics is just one component of maintaining healthy weight. Eating high fiber and nutrient rich foods helps the good bacteria thrives and provides our bodies with balanced nutrition to help us thrive too.

The Power of Probiotics

We have billions of microorganisms living in our guts and the balance of species of these organisms has a powerful effect on our overall health. Imbalances in gut flora are common due to antibiotics, disease, stress, or diets high in meat and saturated fats. The wrong population of bacteria in our guts can contribute to digestive distress, but they can also contribute to less obvious issues. An imbalance of gut bacteria can deactivate digestive enzymes, stimulate dysfunctional immune responses, activate carcinogens, and contribute to migraines. On the other hand, beneficial bacteria help optimize digestion, stimulate immune function, improve the intestinal barrier, and prevent colonization of the gut by pathogens. In addition, they can break down certain toxins and synthesize some of our vitamins like vitamin K. Beneficial bacteria may also help prevent colon cancer by lowering intestinal pH.

Recent research is suggesting additional benefits to having a healthy population of gut flora. A new analysis of the causes of diverticular disease of the colon shows that there is an inflammatory component to this condition. This inflammation in impacting the neuromuscular functioning of the gut in a way that contributes to the symptoms of this disease. One avenue being considered to help address this problem is the use of probiotic supplements to help reduce inflammation in the gut. Beneficial bacteria work to fight inflammation by enhancing immune function, producing compounds that nourish the cells lining the colon, and improving intestinal barrier function.

We are also increasingly becoming aware of the connection between the gut, brain, and our mood. In an initial study, women given a daily probiotic showed decreased emotional reactivity when presented with negative stimuli. Brain scan done in conjunction with this study revealed decreased activity in areas of the brain associated with fear and other strong emotions. Though this was just a preliminary study, it reminds us of the immense importance digestive health has on our overall wellbeing.

Resveratrol: What is good for the gut is good for the heart

Many of you will have heard about the concept known as the French paradox, specifically how the French consume more fat than Americans but have lower cholesterol levels. While I don’t think there is a simple answer to this paradox, it is widely agreed that a major factor is the consumption of red wine. Red wine contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that is also found in grape skins, raisins, mulberries, nuts, peanuts, and Japanese Knotweed. Japanese Knotweed is actually the richest sources of resveratrol, and most resveratrol supplements are now made from this herb instead of wine grapes. In addition to being an antioxidant, resveratrol is anti-inflammatory and can play a role in reducing cholesterol and other fats in the blood. Both of these attributes have earned resveratrol a reputation for helping protect the heart, especially since inflammation is now known to be a major risk contributor for heart disease.

Besides these effects on cardiovascular health, new research is revealing other health benefits for resveratrol. Consumption of resveratrol has been shown to support the health of the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut. It seems to feed beneficial gut flora like bifidobacterium, an organism often found in probiotic supplements. Resveratrol was also shown to reduce the populations of some harmful bacteria that can inhabit the gut.  In fact, these changes in gut bacteria were correlated with reductions in cholesterol and inflammation, suggesting the changes in gut flora health may contribute to these other benefits. Additionally, resveratrol may help us fight viruses. Resveratrol may be able to send a message to cells to stop replicating viruses that have invaded them. Resveratrol also seems to have other attributes to help prevent cancer that are independent of its antioxidant properties.

I actually used to have massive amounts of Japanese Knotweed growing in my neighborhood in Seattle. Unfortunately since it was invasive there, it was being sprayed by the city and I couldn’t use it as a resveratrol source. If only we had a program to harvest the many useful invasive plants like this for medicine. Maybe we could all be healthier and our environment too.

Japanese Knotweed