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Why This Cardiologist Recommends Probiotics For Heart Health

There’s no doubt that when the hottest topics in medicine for 2014 are compiled, the microbiome will be on everybody’s short list. This mass of bacteria has fascinated the nation and filled headlines. The fact that we have perhaps 100 trillion bacteria living in our bodies, estimated to be 10 times the number of cells in our body; the fact that our bacteria weigh at least 5 pounds; the fact that the Human Microbiome Project is completing an analysis of every bacteria in test subjects; all have become almost matter of fact.

For most of my years of practice, the gut and the heart seemed remote. However, the view that systems of the body don’t function alone, but interact in a complex, interconnected web — the foundation of functional medicine — has gained favor. In the last few years I’ve recommended foods and supplements containing probiotics to my heart patients, and the science is demonstrating important benefits to support this.

Here are seven conditions probiotics may help improve:

1. Congestive heart failure

In a study about to be published, 20 patients with this serious disorder were treated with S. boulardii-containing supplements or placebo. Improvements in heart function and a reduction in cholesterol and inflammatory markers were seen in the group treated with probiotics.

2. High cholesterol levels

A number of studies indicate that one of the benefits of a healthier GI tract is a lower blood cholesterol level. A recent analysis of the published data found important support for this observation, and I’ve seen similar improvements in patients I have treated.

yogurt

3. Low vitamin D levels

A benefit of probiotic therapy and a healthier gut is an increase in vitamin D levels in the serum, which has proven essential in heart function.

4. Blood pressure

An analysis of nine studies using probiotics found a reduction in blood pressure compared to placebo. This was particularly true when therapy was continued for over eight weeks with more potent preparations.

5. Diabetes mellitus

Although more studies are needed, improved glucose control and lower measures of inflammation have been seen when probiotics are administered to patients with diabetes.

6. Anxiety

I spend a fair amount of time counseling cardiac patients on measures to manage anxiety and use adaptogens and other nutraceuticals. Data are highlighting the role of the gut in neural pathways to the brain impacting mood and psychological state. Preliminary studies indicate improved mood in subjects given probiotics.

7. Obesity

I see the obesity epidemic in my clinic every day, and excess weight identifies individuals at higher risk for diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Early work suggests that probiotics may make weight loss and management more successful.

It has long been said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and that somewhat dated truth may be prophetic. The updated version is “through his or her microbiome.”

It’s becoming clear that optimal heart health requires optimal GI health, with avoidance of unnecessary antibiotics by prescription and from food sources, along with avoiding excesses of alcohol, sugar, trans fats, and perhaps genetically modified foods. Leighton Meester offered the advice to “Follow your gut and your heart. You’ll almost always make the right choice.” In my cardiology clinic it now appears that the advice is pretty much the same.

by Dr. Joel Kahn   December 24, 2014 


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Probiotics Primer

By Nora Simmons

Probiotic, prebiotic; good bugs, bad bugs. Every time we turn around, another study champions the benefits of these gut-friendly supplements. But what are they? What do they do? Why should we take them? We asked Angelica S. Vrablic, PhD, a leading expert in nutrition research and a probiotic guru, to give us the lowdown. Here’s what we learned:

1. Probiotics are non-pathogenic (not capable of causing harm) bacteria that naturally live in our gut.

2. Probiotics help keep our intestines healthy and our digestive and urinary tracts running smoothly. These immunity boosters keep infection-causing bacteria (think salmonella and ulcer-inducing H. pylori) from thriving in our intestinal tracts by crowding them out and producing proteins that kill them.

3. The body doesn’t make probiotics on its own; we have to supply them, either by eating fermented food or taking supplements. Back in the good ol’ days, when Grandma pickled her garden-grown cucumbers, fermented the cabbage patch into sauerkraut, and cultured her own yogurt, our diets supplied all the healthy flora we needed. But now almost all fermented foods (even those found in natural grocery stores) contain added sugars and have undergone pasteurization, which kills the good bacteria along with the bad. “If you can find unpasteurized fermented foods (kimchi, pickles, and sauerkraut), buy pasteurized yogurt to which the probiotics have been added back, and eat plenty of prebiotics, you don’t need to supplement,” says Vrablic. But if you’re like most of us—and be honest—you need to supplement.


4. And you should. Every day. Especially after you’ve taken antibiotics. “Antibiotics kill bacteria, and because probiotics are bacterial cultures, they can’t survive. Your gut will desperately need to recolonize its healthy flora,” says Vrablic. “But wait until you finish your antibiotics before starting your probiotic supplements.” As long as you’re not on antibiotics currently, you can take probiotics at any time of the day, with or without food. And they’re totally safe; even a first-time probiotic user can confidently take the recommended dose every day.

5. So what is a prebiotic? Simply put, a prebiotic is food—a complex carb (fiber)—for your probiotic bacteria. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus feed on the lactose from milk; they then produce lactic acid and thus yogurt. Common prebiotics include inulin (carb from chicory), pectin fiber (from citrus fruit), and almonds. Many probiotic supplements will contain a prebiotic formula too.

6. You can find formulas that specifically target different digestive issues: Lactobacillus acidophilus for gassy stomachs and lactose intolerance; bifidobacteria for intestinal problems and deeper digestive issues; or Lactobacillus rhamnosus for general gut and immune support. But Vrablic recommends finding a good all-around daily supplement that includes several strains so that you cover all your bases.

7. When you choose a supplement, remember: Any probiotic you take should contain at least 1 billion to 5 billion colony-forming units (CFUs). Probiotics come in liquid form (most concentrated), capsules, or chewable wafers (popular with kids). Many need to be refrigerated, but you can also find freeze-dried varieties that are stable at room temperature.