Tag Archives: 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.

Stevia Beats Artificial Sweeteners For Blood Sugar

When I learned that artificial sweeteners are contributing to blood sugar problems, I decided that I needed to review the research on stevia to see how it compared. It turns out the news is good on stevia.

A recent and very thorough study on artificial sweeteners demonstrated that they are contributing to higher blood sugar levels after meals. The study showed that people consuming artificial sweeteners have different bacteria living in their gut. Then, healthy people who didn’t use artificial sweeteners were given saccharin for 6 days. Four out of the seven developed high blood sugar. The researchers used mice to determine that changes in gut bacteria were the cause. These new bacteria contributed to the absorption of some of the carbohydrates we don’t normally absorb. These new bacteria seem to make it as if we had eaten a higher carbohydrate meal. In studies on rats, saccharin, sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet) were all shown to have equal negative effects on gut bacteria and blood sugar. The researchers are suggesting that these artificial sweeteners are contributing to both diabetes and obesity.

Stevia

Stevia

So this left me with the question of whether stevia might do the same thing. Stevia is a plant from South America that is now popular as a natural non-caloric sugar alternative. But unlike the artificial sweeteners, stevia holds promise of helping people with blood sugar problems. Participants eating stevia-sweetened foods before a meal showed lower blood sugar and insulin levels after the meal compared to participants given aspartame or sugar-sweetened foods. The study also showed that eating stevia before a meal didn’t lead to increased calorie consumption during the meal. Many other studies are pointing to stevia as an agent that may help with insulin resistance, the issue responsible for most cases of diabetes.

Stevia is very sweet and can have an aftertaste somewhat similar to artificial sweeteners. I find it helpful to use a little bit less than I think I need so that my food is not overly sweet. This cuts down on the aftertaste too. I am also a big fan of the flavored stevia liquids, such as the cinnamon flavored on I like to put in my tea. To read more about stevia and xylitol, the other sugar alternative I use sometimes, here is a great article from LifeExtension.

What is the Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics?

We have billions of microorganisms living in our guts, and having the right organisms in our bodies can have a powerful effect on our overall health. Imbalanced gut flora is 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.

Probiotics are normal, healthy bacteria that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. These are the organisms like the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species you see in most probiotic supplements used to restore and repopulate normal intestinal flora. Some of my favorite probiotic supplements also include prebiotics. These are medium length carbohydrates that feed our good bacteria. The most common prebiotic in supplements is fructooligosaccharide, also know as FOS. Food sources of prebiotics like FOS include garlic, beans, carrots, onions, honey, beer, rye, asparagus, banana, maple sugar, oats, and my favorite Jerusalem artichoke. Eating high fiber foods is another way to support proper gut bacteria. So feed your good bacteria so they can in turn support your health.

Garlic

Detoxification Support Part 3: Kidneys and Bowels

I work hard at reducing my exposure to toxic substances. I eat clean organic food, drink filtered water, and use all natural body care products and household cleaners. But I know that despite my efforts, toxins are so prevalent in the modern world that my body still has a toxin burden. This is why we need a plan to get toxins out of the body on a regular basis to keep them from interfering with our health. Many chronic conditions can be caused or made worse by toxic exposures. Even weight gain has been associated with certain toxins that are being categorized as obesogens, chemicals in the environment that are altering our metabolism. This doesn’t mean that detoxification by itself can cause weight loss of more than a few pounds, but it can remove a potential obstacle so that proper diet and exercise are more likely to work.

When beginning a detoxification plan, the most important step is to make sure the kidneys are bowels are working optimally. Adequate fiber is crucial for both bowel health and for binding toxins. Eating high fiber foods and taking additional supplemental fiber can reduce the absorption of both ingested toxins and those recently neutralized by the liver. Additionally, take probiotics because these friendly bacteria out compete bad bacteria, which are known to reactivate already neutralized toxins. Additionally, bowel-cleansing herbs are sometimes added to speed up elimination. These range from mildly laxative herbs like burdock to stronger laxatives like cascara sagrada.

To support kidney function, emphasizetaraxacum-officinale-14 water intake and use nourishing diuretic herbs like nettles and/or dandelion leaves. These are known as nourishing diuretics because they provide valuable minerals like potassium while gently stimulating increased urinary flow. In the past, a urinary cleanse was done by gradually eating more juniper berries over the course of the detoxification. Juniper berries are known as a stimulating diuretic because they cause the kidneys to produce more urine by irritating them. Because of this irritation, most people find that they cannot tolerate this type of kidney cleanse. Our kidneys are probably overtaxed by toxins and food additives and might be more easily irritated. So while I do sometimes include a stimulating diuretic like parsley or juniper, I will only eat one or two juniper berries instead of the 30 that were worked up to in the past.

Stayed tuned for next week’s blog where I will discuss liver support for detoxification.

Detoxification Support Part 1: Dietary guide to aid detox

Many popular New Year’s resolutions involve being healthier, and lots of people kick this off by doing a whole body cleanse. Because we live in such a toxic world, I want to encourage these efforts by writing a series of blogs this month about detoxification support. This week I am starting with the basics: dietary changes to assist with detoxification.

While there are many different dietary approaches to detoxification, I am going to emphasize the essentials that apply to nearly everyone. Of course, some people with specific health conditions will need to modify these suggestions for themselves. The following diet promotes detoxification by minimizing toxins in, keeping the pathways of elimination free to deal with toxins leaving the body.

  • Eat regularly, three times daily with snacks as desired, so your blood sugar doesn’t drop.
  • Eat organic foods, if possible. Do not eat products that are canned, packaged or contain artificial colorings, preservatives, additives, or other chemicals.
  • Eat lots of vegetables and some fruits; try for 4-5 packed cups each day.  Veggies and fruits are full of antioxidants and fiber that are helpful in detoxification. Eat a variety of different types of veggies to get the full range of antioxidants, but especially emphasize the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and arugula.
  • Eat less meat and dairy and more vegan proteins, such as beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, nut butters, and seed butters.  If you eat fish (small salmon, cod, herring, sardines only) take 1000mg Chlorella with the meal; this will along with fiber reduces mercury absorption.  If you eat meat, try to eat low-fat cuts from free range grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free animals or wild game.
  • Eat lots of fiber. It is a great detoxifier as it binds fats, hormones, chemicals, metals and other undesirables in the intestines.  Fiber is found in beans/legumes (the best!), apples, peaches, pears, berries, crunchy vegetables, and whole grains.  Eat two to three of these fiber sources at every meal.
  • Have good quality oils like extra virgin olive oil, flax, fish, walnut, or Omega 3-6-9 blends. Have at least 1 Tablespoon 1-3 times per day.
  • Support friendly bowel bacteria by eating cultured foods: miso, kim chi, real sauerkraut, kvass, and kombucha.
  • At least once daily, eat foods stimulating to liver function and bile flow such as lemon, 1360960_21026592lime, beet, carrot, parsnips, chlorophyll, artichoke, fresh rosemary, caraway, dill seeds, burdock and dandelion roots.
  • Have no refined or concentrated sugar, sweets, caffeine, alcohol, fried or deep-fried food.
  • Drink lots of filtered water – 2-4 quarts per day or more if you are exercising or sweating.

And remember because toxins are such a challenge for us these days, try to apply principles like these to your diet all year round.

 

Probiotics for Women’s Health

Most of the time when I am discussing probiotics with my patients, we are talking about them in connection with their many benefits for gut health. While the formulas I recommend for gut health will often also benefit urogenital health, emerging research is showing that different organisms work better for different parts of our bodies. Some beneficial bacteria are best at colonizing the small intestines, but we should chose different ones for the mouth, colon or urogenital tract. It can even come down to a particular strain of beneficial bacteria. For instance, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (sold as Culturelle) has been shown to grow very well in the small intestines, but a very closely related strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 is superior in many recent studies for colonizing the vaginal mucosa, even when taken orally. Most of these studies are using a formula that also contains Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14.

This probiotic combination of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and L. reuteri RC-14 is featured in several recent studies on improving urogenital health in women. For instance, postmenopausal women who had been suffering from recurrent urinary tract infections took daily either a prophylactic antibiotic or these two beneficial bacteria. At the end of a year, the rate of infections had been reduced by half in both groups, demonstrating that the probiotics were just as effective as the preventative antibiotic. In a study on women with Candida infections, all women took an antifungal medication, but half of the women were given this probiotic duo and the other half received a placebo. Of the women taking the beneficial bacteria, 90% had a complete elimination of symptoms compared to 62% in the women who got the placebo pills. This increased success rate is due to the ability of these particular strains to out competing the bad organisms, partially by producing growth inhibitors against pathogenic organisms like Candida.

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.

Probiotics

Because it is such an important foundation of our wellbeing, I emphasize digestive health in my practice. A key component of digestive health is having the correct balance of bacteria living in our gut. There are trillions of bacteria in the human gut with Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum being the most important species for maintaining the dynamic balance of bacteria. 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 cause 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.

When we have reason to be concerned about our gut health, probiotics and fermented foods are important allies. For general health, eat a fermented food on a daily basis, choosing from yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, kim chi, and sauerkraut. When we need to evoke a stronger change, we turn to the more potent probiotic supplements. I look for ones that have at least 5 billion active bacteria per serving. Probiotics containing Lactobacillus have been shown to significantly reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea and ease some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. But the benefits of probiotics can extend beyond the digestive tract. Lactobacillus acidophilus has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of seasonal allergies. Pregnant women and nursing mothers taking probiotics have children with lower rates of eczema and asthma. These studies used Lactobacillus GG, a specific strain of beneficial bacteria that appears to be particularly potent.