Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


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This Little-Known Supplement Improves Sleep

Supplement found to buffer the body against stress and improve sleep.

For a long time probiotics — the so-called ‘good bacteria’ in fermented foods and elsewhere — have been linked to all sorts of physical and psychological benefits.

Now the lesser-known prebiotics are getting in on the act.

Prebiotics are dietary fibres found in foods such as:

  • Onions,
  • leeks,
  • artichokes,
  • and chicory.

Prebiotic fibre — also available as dietary supplements — can improve the health of your gut by helping beneficial bacteria to multiply.

New research has found that prebiotics can help improve sleep and protect the body against stress.

Dr Agnieszka Mika, one of the study’s authors, explained:

“Acute stress can disrupt the gut microbiome, and we wanted to test if a diet rich in prebiotics would increase beneficial bacteria as well as protect gut microbes from stress-induced disruptions.
We also wanted to look at the effects of prebiotics on the recovery of normal sleep patterns, since they tend to be disrupted after stressful events.”

The study, carried out on rats, found that prebiotics increased both major types of sleep (REM and NREM).

The study’s authors write:

“Given that sufficient NREM sleep and proper nutrition can impact brain development and function and that sleep problems are common in early life, it is possible that a diet rich in prebiotics started in early life could help improve sleep, support the gut microbiota and promote optimal brain/psychological health.”

Dr Robert S. Thompson, the lead author of the research, explained that the rats were also stressed:

“The stressor the rats received was the equivalent of a single intense acute stressful episode for humans, such as a car accident or the death of a loved one.
A next set of studies will be looking exactly at that question – can prebiotics help humans to protect and restore their gut microflora and recover normal sleep patterns after a traumatic event?”

Professor Monika Fleshner, another study author, thinks it is too early to recommend prebiotic supplements for sleep problems.

However, Dr Mika said:

“So far no adverse effects from prebiotics have been reported, and they are found widely in many plants, even present in breast milk, and are already commercially available.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience (Thompson et al., 2017).

source:  PsyBlog     MARCH 8, 2017


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Does Your Gut Bacteria Affect Weight Loss? Simplifying The Science

Researchers have learnt so much about our gut bacteria in the last decade.

The potential effects they have on health is quite extraordinary.

Some suspect they may have a strong influence on metabolic diseases, including obesity.

This article looks at how gut bacteria may affect weight, as well as what you can do about it.

The potential effects they have on health is quite extraordinary.

Some suspect they may have a strong influence on metabolic diseases, including obesity.

This article looks at how gut bacteria may affect weight, as well as what you can do about it.

What Are Gut Bacteria?

What are gut bacteria?Gut bacteria refers to the community of micro-organisms that permanently reside inside our intestinal tract (1).

These bacteria are also commonly referred to as gut microflora, gut microbiota, or the gut microbiome.

Studies over the past decade have begun to reveal just how influential these bacteria are on our immune function, metabolism, nutrient absorption, and risk of numerous metabolic diseases.

In fact, the gut microbiome is often considered a hidden or extra “organ” due to the way they can positively or negatively influence our health (34).

Summary: Your gut bacteria is a community of micro-organisms that live in your intestines. They can positively or negatively influence many aspects of health.

Can Gut Bacteria Affect Weight Loss?

If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.

While this is fundamentally true of a positive energy balance, gut bacteria transplant studies indicate it’s not nearly as simple as “calories in calories out”.

The class or type of bacteria in your gut also appears to influence energy balance to some degree.

Studies on rodents found that transplanting the gut bacteria of obese mice into lean mice (fecal transplants) caused the lean mice to gain fat cells rapidly (5).

Since then researchers have found striking differences between the gut bacteria of lean and obese individuals (678).

Faecal sample analyses indicate that relative proportions of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes – both “classes” of bacteria in the gut – can influence energy balance to some degree (5910).

Specifically, human studies found that the ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes was decreased in obese individuals, as was overall diversity of gut bacteria (1112).

In other words, more Firmicutes and fewer Bacteroidetes is not ideal.

Researchers hypothesize that this “obese microbiota” may enhance signals that trigger the amount of energy we harvest from food. This in turn increases the amount of calories absorbed, and therefore weight gain (312).

Summary: Early research suggests the types and proportions of bacteria in our gut may influence likelihood of weight loss or weight gain. This may be due to its influence on mechanisms that affect energy storage and energy balance.

probiotics-prebiotics

Probiotics and Weight Loss

Probiotics are bacteria that we eat specifically for health benefits.

They enter the digestive tract to alter and improve the current makeup of our gut bacterial community.

Researchers are now looking to see if regular probiotic supplementation can influence weight. So far only a handful of human clinical trials have been published, but findings do support the idea that gut bacteria affects weight loss.

From the weight of evidence currently available, Lactobacillus gasseri appears to be the probiotic strain that can best assist weight loss in humans.

Note that some strains of bacteria appear to “protect” from gaining more fat, while others are linked to weight gain (131415).

Summary: Some clinical studies have found that certain probiotic strains can influence weight gain. This supports the idea that our gut bacteria environment influences weight management.

Diet Recommendations to Improve Gut Health

It’s unclear what specific strains of bacteria we need more or less exposure to for improved gut health.

The same goes for promoting weight loss.

Unfortunately, this means specific dietary recommendations are limited.

What we do know is that consuming more probiotic-rich food, as well as nourishing our existing gut bacteria, are fundamental for overall health.

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods naturally contain lots of beneficial bacteria and should become a regular addition to your diet.

Think of them as a kind of natural probiotic supplement that “top up” the bacteria in your gut.

Fermented foods are actually very common in our diet, but healthier options include quark, plain yogurt or kefir, sauerkraut, and other non-pasteurized pickled vegetables.

Prebiotics

In order to nourish existing bacteria, you must regularly eat prebiotic foods (not to be confused with probiotics).

Prebiotics are a form of carbohydrate (mostly fiber) that humans can’t digest. It acts as “food” for the beneficial bacteria in your gut to grow and thrive.

Foods rich in prebiotic fiber include:

  • Oats
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Beans and legumes.
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Asparagus

As though we needed additional reasons to eat more legumes and berries!

Limit Junk Foods

Not only are junk foods high in calories, but high sugar foods appear to promote the growth of potentially harmful bacterial species (1617).

Feeding the wrong bacteria enables them to colonize and grow more rapidly, without as many beneficial bacteria to prevent them from thriving (181920).

The growth of this harmful bacteria may indirectly influence many aspects of health, including weight gain. Individuals who eat a high calorie diet appear to have a poorer ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes, which is associated with absorbing more calories (21).

Summary: To maintain a diverse gut bacteria that promotes health, ensure your diet includes lots of prebiotic foods and fermented foods, and limit junk foods.

Conclusion

Current evidence suggests the balance and diversity of our gut bacteria can influence how easily an individual gains or loses weight.

Until we learn more, the best way to nurture a healthy gut bacteria is by eating a diverse diet rich in prebiotic foods and fermented foods. If this is not possible, probiotic supplementation may be a good option.

It’s also a good idea to limit junk foods, but you knew that already.

 


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How Your Microbiome Controls Your Health

May 17, 2014     By Dr. Mercola

The interconnectedness of your gut, brain, immune, and hormonal systems is impossible to unwind. The past few years has brought a scientific flurry of information about how crucial your microflora is to your genetic expression, immune system, body weight and composition, mental health, memory, and minimizing your risk for numerous diseases, from diabetes to cancer.

Researcher Jeroen Raes, featured in the TED Talk, discovered that you might even belong to one of a few “microflora types”—which are similar to blood types. Research into the human microbiome is in its infancy, and there is much we do not yet understand.

That said, there are some facts of which we are already certain. It is becoming increasingly clear that destroying your gut flora with pharmaceutical drugs, harsh environmental chemicals, and toxic foods is a primary factor in rising disease rates.

Recent research suggests intestinal inflammation may play a critical role in the development of certain cancers. Until we begin to appreciate this complex relationship, we will not be able to prevent or intervene effectively in many of the diseases that are devastating people’s lives today.

In order for true healing and meaningful prevention to occur, you must continuously send your body messages that it is safe, not under attack, and that it is well nourished, supported, and calm. This article will focus on exactly how you can send your body these messages and why caring for your personal microbiome is so critical to every aspect of your health.

How Can You Feel Lonely with 100 Trillion Constant Companions?

The idea that microorganisms are to be “divided and conquered” is now an outdated view of our world. We not only live with them and are surrounded by them, but we depend on them for our very existence. Pamela Weintraub skillfully describes the symbiosis between humans and microorganisms in her June 2013 article in Experience Life magazine.1

Your body is a complex ecosystem made up of more than 100 trillion microbes that must be properly balanced and cared for if you are to be healthy.

This system of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa living on your skin and in your mouth, nose, throat, lungs, gut, and urogenital tract, is referred to as the “human microbiome.” It varies from person to person based on factors such as diet, health history, geographic location, and even ancestry.

When your microbiome falls out of balance, you can become ill. Those organisms perform a multitude of functions in key biological systems, from supplying critical vitamins to fighting pathogens, modulating weight and metabolism.

This army of organisms also makes up 70 percent of your immune system, “talking” directly to your body’s natural killer T-cells so that they can tell apart your “friendlies” from dangerous invaders. Your microbiome also helps control how your genes express themselves. So by optimizing your native flora, you are actually controlling your genes.

microbiome

 

Gut Instincts—Your Second Brain Talking

Your microbiome is closely intertwined with both of your brains—yes, you have TWO! In addition to the brain in your head, embedded in the wall of your gut is your enteric nervous system (ENS), which works both independently of and in conjunction with the brain in your head. According to New Scientist:2, 3

“The ENS is part of the autonomic nervous system, the network of peripheral nerves that control visceral functions. It is also the original nervous system, emerging in the first vertebrates over 500 million years ago and becoming more complex as vertebrates evolved—possibly even giving rise to the brain itself.”

Your ENS is thought to be largely responsible for your “gut instincts,” responding to environmental threats and sending information to your brain that affects your well-being.

I’m sure you’ve experienced various sensations in your gut that accompany strong emotions such as fear, excitement, and stress. Feeling “butterflies” in your stomach is actually the result of blood being diverted away from your gut to your muscles, as part of the fight or flight response.

These gut reactions happen outside of your conscious awareness because they are part of your autonomic nervous system, just like the beating of your heart. Your ENS contains 500 million neurons. Why so many? Because eating is fraught with danger:4

“Like the skin, the gut must stop potentially dangerous invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, from getting inside the body.
If a pathogen should cross the gut lining, immune cells in the gut wall secrete inflammatory substances including histamine, which are detected by neurons in the ENS. The gut brain then either triggers diarrhea or alerts the brain in the head, which may decide to initiate vomiting, or both.”

We now know that this communication between your “two brains” runs both ways and is the pathway for how foods affect your mood. For example, fatty foods make you feel good because fatty acids are detected by cell receptors in the lining of your gut, which then send warm and fuzzy nerve signals to your brain.

Knowing this, you can begin to understand how not only your physical health but also your mental health is deeply influenced by the health of your gut and the microbial zoo that lives there. Your gut microbes affect your overall brain function, from basic mood swings to the development of serious illnesses like autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia.

When It Comes to Inflammation, Your Microbiome Rules

Your gut is the starting point for inflammation—it’s actually the gatekeeper for your inflammatory response. According to Psychoneuroimmunologist Kelly Brogan, your gut’s microorganisms trigger the production of cytokines. Cytokines are involved in regulating your immune system’s response to inflammation and infection. Much like hormones, cytokines are signaling molecules that aid cell-to-cell communication, telling your cells where to go when your inflammatory response is initiated.

Most of the signals between your gut and your brain travel along your vagus nerve—about 90 percent of them.5 Vagus is Latin for “wandering,” aptly named as this long nerve travels from your skull down through your chest and abdomen, branching to multiple organs.6

Cytokine messengers produced in your gut cruise up to your brain along the “vagus nerve highway.” Once in your brain, the cytokines tell your microglia (the immune cells in your brain) to perform certain functions, such as producing neurochemicals. Some of these have negative effects on your mitochondria, which can impact energy production and apoptosis (cell death), as well as adversely impacting the very sensitive feedback system that controls your stress hormones, including cortisol.

So, this inflammatory response that started in your gut travels to your brain, which then builds on it and sends signals to the rest of your body in a complex feedback loop. It isn’t important that you understand all of the physiology here, but the take-away is that your gut flora’s influence is far from local! It significantly affects and controls the health of your entire body.

sources:
1 Experience Life June 2013

2 New Scientist December 17, 2012
3 Neurosciencestuff December 18, 2012
4 New Scientist December 17, 2012
5 American Journal of Physiology December 2002
6 WiseGeek Vagus Nerve


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Prebiotic-packed foods fight adult weight gain, promote better health

For many people, excess weight creeps on slowly. U.S. research, for example, indicates that, after age 20, most Americans put on one or two pounds each year.

Canadians, too, are getting heavier. Over the past 30 years, the number of overweight adults rose by 21 per cent and obesity jumped by 200 per cent, to 18 per cent from 6 per cent.

While the usual culprits – too much food, too little exercise – account for most weight gain, research published earlier this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that a diet lacking prebiotic-packed foods can also contribute to excess pounds over time.

Prebiotics are fibrous, non-digestible carbohydrates that, once consumed, make their way to the colon where they fuel the growth of beneficial, probiotic bacteria (e.g., bifiodobacteria and lactobacilli). Feeding probiotic bacteria in the gut is believed to promote better overall health.

Certain strains of probiotic bacteria are thought to to enhance the immune system, treat traveller’s diarrhea, ease lactose intolerance, reduce the severity of inflammatory bowel disease and, possibly, lower the risk of colorectal cancer.

The idea that gut bacteria also play a role in weight control is being increasingly recognized by scientists.

The most common type of prebiotics are called fructans, carbohydrates found in artichokes, asparagus, bananas, chicory, dandelion root, garlic, jicama, leeks, onions and whole grains (barley, rye, wheat). Inulin, a fructan extracted from chicory root, is added to many food products such as breads, pastas (such as Catelli Smart Pasta), fruit juices and yogurt to boost fibre content.

Another member of the prebiotic family are galacto-oligosaccharides, or GOS, carbohydrates that occur naturally in breast milk and can also be produced from the milk sugar lactose. Fermented dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk and kefir contain GOS prebiotics.

For the new study, Spanish researchers followed 8,569 normal weight adults, average age 37, for an average of nine years to evaluate the link between prebiotic consumption and the risk of becoming overweight.

Participants reported their body weight at the beginning of the study and every two years during the nine-year follow-up. Consumption of fructans and GOS was measured at baseline and at study completion.

People with the highest intake of prebiotics – both fructans and GOS – were significantly less likely to become overweight over time than those who consumed the least, even after adjusting for diet and lifestyle factors related to weight gain. (e.g. physical activity, sleep hours, daily calorie intake, fast food consumption).

This longitudinal study – one of the first to examine prebiotic intake and weight gain – suggests that eating more prebiotic-containing foods can mitigate adult weight gain, presumably by altering the composition of gut bacteria.

The study didn’t collect stool samples from participants and, as a result, could not determine the composition of their gut microbiota, a collective term for the trillions of microbes that reside in our gut.

Even so, these results add to other research findings suggesting a connection between the foods you eat, your gut microbiota and body weight. Studies have shown that eating a diet low in fibre and high in fat and refined carbohydrates disrupts the makeup of gut bacteria in favour of weight gain.

When bacteria feed on prebiotics, compounds called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are formed in the process. Certain SCFAs have been shown to increase the release of appetite-suppressing hormones in the gut and reduce calorie intake.

prebiotics-and-probiotics

 

Studies conducted in obese rodents have demonstrated the ability of SCFAs to increase calorie-burning and improve insulin sensitivity.

Certainly, additional longitudinal studies are needed to confirm the role of prebiotic-rich foods in body-weight regulation. In the meantime, though, there’s no reason not to add these nutritious foods to your diet. (Keep in mind, though, higher intakes of prebiotics may cause bloating and gas in certain people with irritable bowel syndrome, so add these foods gradually.)

Nutrient-dense foods that feed ‘good’ gut bacteria

To keep helpful gut bacteria flourishing, include these prebiotic foods in your diet. (Prebiotics are not destroyed by cooking.)

Asparagus: High in prebiotic carbohydrates called fructans, asparagus delivers plenty of potassium, vitamin A, vitamin K and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. It’s also one of the best food sources of folate, a B vitamin that keeps DNA in cells in good repair. Eight asparagus spears contain almost half a day’s worth of the vitamin (179 mcg). Adults need 400 mcg of folate per day. Add it to stir-fries, pasta dishes, risotto, soups, omelettes, frittatas and vegetable platters.

Jerusalem artichokes: Not truly artichokes, these small brown-skinned tubers are packed with fructans and potassium, a mineral that helps keep blood pressure in check. Prepare Jerusalem artichokes as you would parsnips. Purée roasted artichokes with chicken or vegetable stock to make soup. Or add julienned slices of Jerusalem artichoke to salads and coleslaw.

Jicima: This inulin-containing root vegetable, cultivated in Central and South America, is a good source of fibre and vitamin C. It also offers small amounts of B vitamins and minerals. Pronounced “hee-kuh-muh,” jicama looks a bit like a turnip, although the two vegetables aren’t related. Its mild flavour and crisp texture make raw jicama a good addition to green salads, bean salads, salsas and crudités. It can also be added to stir-fries or sautéed on its own as a side dish.

Kefir: In addition to prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides, Kefir serves up a hefty does of probiotic cultures – typically three times the amount found in yogurt. It’s also a good source of protein and calcium. Drink kefir on its own, pour it over cereal and granola, or blend it with fruit to make a smoothie. Choose an unflavoured product to reduce added sugars.

Leeks: A milder-tasting member of the onion family, leeks deliver prebiotics along with vitamin A, flavonoids and organosulphur compounds, phytochemicals thought to have anti-cancer properties. Toss finely chopped leeks into salads. Add sliced leeks to omelettes and frittatas. Stir sautéed leeks into soups and stews for extra flavour.

Whole grains: Whole wheat (100 per cent), whole-grain rye and hulled (dehulled) barley are good sources of prebiotic fibres, protein, magnesium and manganese, a mineral that’s needed for normal brain and nerve function and to regulate blood sugar. Serve a side of cooked wheat berries, bulgur (a whole grain wheat) or hulled barley as a change from rice or quinoa. When buying rye bread, look for rye berries, whole rye or rye meal on the ingredient list to be sure you’re getting whole-grain rye.

LESLIE BECK     The Globe and Mail     Monday, Nov. 23, 2015

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto.