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Probiotics with a Purpose

September 24, 2018 - 11:58am

Probiotics are classically defined as a “preparation of, or a product containing viable, defined microorganisms in sufficient numbers, which alter the microbiota in a compartment of the host, and exert beneficial health effects in the host”. Their use can be traced back 10,000 years ago even before the awareness of probiotic microorganisms through the widespread availability of fermented foods such as beer, bread, wine, kefir and cheese. 

More recently, probiotics are used to influence the microbial balance specifically in the gastrointestinal tract, which is host to billions of diverse and metabolically active organisms. These microorganisms have been found to influence metabolic function, inform the immune system, protect against pathogens, affect brain function and even steer genetic expression through epigenetic mechanisms. Probiotics have played a key role in the competitive inhibition mechanism where the “good bacteria” outweigh the “bad bacteria,” and theoretically shift the microbial balance towards benefiting the host’s overall health.

6 Foods that Foster the Microbiome

September 18, 2018 - 1:06pm

“We are what we eat” should actually say, “We are what our microbes eat.” In fact, what we eat immediately and profoundly influences our gut microbiome, which then determines our health.

With trillions of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa, taking residence in our guts, it’s no surprise they play significant and precise roles in our overall health. Research reveals a number of disease states linked to the landscape of the microbiome. IBD patients, for example, tend to have less bacterial diversity than normal. They also have a lower quantity of butyrate-producing bacteria. A recent study showed that the bacteria in our guts can also produce amyloid and lipopolysaccharides, both instrumental in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Interest in pioneering into the microbiome’s influence on our health piqued when the two most predominant bacterial groups – gram positive Firmucutes and gram negative Bacteroidetes – were found to play a role in obesity. In short, when the ratio between the two bacteria shifted towards a higher abundance of Firmicutes, a subject was found to be more prone to obesity. Research took that knowledge a step further, transplanting the “obese” bacteria into a host, only to discover the host also became obese, which propelled our journey into gut microbiome engineering.

DHA Pathway to the Brain

September 11, 2018 - 2:16pm

The health benefits of two omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), seem indisputable and range from improved cardiovascular risk factors and body composition to promotion of healthy inflammatory pathways. Lately, however, DHA has received a brighter spotlight of attention in the news due to its ability to influence the structure, function, and signaling of the brain. This impact results in a positive effect on memory and the nervous system, appealing to an aging population concerned about cognitive decline.

Numerous studies have been conducted with confirmation that those who consume more fish and fish products had better cognitive performance and slower decline in mental function. And research has also indicated that APOE4 is the strongest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) due to its role in DHA metabolism and cognitive outcomes. DHA promotes healthy brain function that is lacking in AD. However, there appears to be more to this story than just the popular APOE4 gene, a poor diet or failure to properly supplement with fish oils.

L-Glutamine - Old Dog, New Tricks

September 4, 2018 - 4:00pm

L-glutamine – not the new shiny supplement to wow the nutrition world, but a tried-and-true amino acid that continues to impress us with its relevance and potency as a healing ingredient.

For years, we’ve known about the importance of L-glutamine in athletic recovery, maintaining lean muscle mass, restoring gut health, and supporting the nervous system, and healthy inflammation and immune responses.  Also, by regulating nitric oxide synthesis, it helps maintain blood vessel tone and support healthy inflammation in the blood vessel walls, key to supporting cardiovascular health.

Add to L-glutamine’s impressive resume – lowering the risk of mortality.

Fishing for Omega-3 Solutions in Pregnancy

August 29, 2018 - 12:36pm

Hosting a baby as an expectant mother is a challenge these days, with what can endearingly be called the “Food Fear Factor”. Talk of GMOs and toxins have the average person running scared from the grocery store, never mind the mom who has total and complete responsibility for the welfare of another growing human. As the flux of the food landscape changes, so do our guidelines for what pregnant women should and should not eat. Unfortunately, the “should not” eat list seems to be growing, and if a pregnant mom isn’t eating something, neither is her baby.

Pregnant women are oftentimes given conflicting information such as, “This food is very good for you and your baby’s health, but be careful eating it.” One food at the center of such controversy is fish, replete with nutrients and benefits for the baby, but caught and sold with warning labels.

Astrocytes, Star of the Glial Show

August 21, 2018 - 1:50pm

The brain is truly an amazing organ that takes all the credit for man’s ingenuity. From the mastery of daunting foreign languages, to the ability to solve complex problems in multi-variable physics, the brain’s ability to excite and amaze is limitless.

Behind all of these amazing processes, though, are various groups of cells, closely connected together and always communicating. These cells constantly send updates to one another about the state of body parts, the environment and even the brain itself.

In an attempt to understand how the brain works, neuroscience research historically has focused on the neurons, with the assumption that these were the most important cells in the brain. However, more recent studies have revealed that other brain cell types, such as the glial cells, (astrocytes and oligodendrocytes) are just as important. 

CoQ10 and Oral Health

August 14, 2018 - 6:55am

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a natural antioxidant synthesized in the body and known to enhance energy, has recently received the spotlight for oral health. With its ability to generate cell energy, CoQ10 may be able to provide faster healing and better tissue repair within the gums. 

Create Calm with Adaptogens

August 7, 2018 - 9:19am

At some point in our lives, we all experience some degree of anxiety or stress. It seems almost inevitable. Because stress can be at the root of many health issues, its management or alleviation is critical. Intuitively, people know that being in a calm state is the best foundation for a healthy life and, throughout history, people have turned to adaptogenic herbs to help ease tension and offer neuroprotective effects. Two such adaptogenic herbs include Ashwagandha and Rhodioloa.

Ashwagandha is derived from a small shrub found in India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. This exotic herb contains biologically-active compounds including alkaloids, steroidal lactones, saponins, sitoindosides and acylsterylglucosides, which may provide anxiolytic effects. Some studies show Ashwagandha does this by suppressing cortisol levels to calm the nervous system. For example, according to the Department of Neuropsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry, a prospective, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was used to evaluate the effects of Ashwagandha on reducing stress and anxiety---and improving the general well-being of adults under stress. The study evaluated 64 subjects all with a history of chronic stress, and measured serum cortisol levels combined with a standard stress-assessment questionnaire. The group was divided into a placebo control and a “treatment” group that received 300 mg of high-concentration Ashwagandha root twice a day for 60 days. The group given the high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root displayed a significant reduction in scores that pertained to all stress-assessment scales on Day 60 relative to the placebo group. In addition, the serum cortisol levels were significantly reduced in the Ashwagandha group compared to the placebo group. They concluded that high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha root extract provided significant anxiolytic effects.

King of Antioxidants: Glutathione

July 31, 2018 - 10:34am

Antioxidants are defined as substances that inhibit oxidation, which left unchecked produces free radicals triggering a number of chain reactions that lead to cellular damage. Luckily, our bodies produce these built-in defense mechanisms, but if mounting reactive oxygen species (ROS) cannot be neutralized (picture a small fire that grows out of control when gassed with oxygen), damage ensues.

To further expound on the fire metaphor, the result of not being able to neutralize the effects of ROS, is damage and, also, inflammation (literally the body is in “flames”). The good news is that there are antioxidants to the rescue, and one such antioxidant is glutathione. Although discovered in 1889, glutathione’s antioxidant activity is a hot topic in today’s research.

Weighing in on Keto

July 24, 2018 - 11:50am

In spite of a continued surge in online reading and interest in the ketogenic diet, exactly where are we with this dietary pendulum swing from the fat-eating fears of the 1980s?

People seem obsessed with the latest diet fads and trends in order to maintain a healthy weight and promote general health. Long-standing research has shown statistics regarding prevalence and outcomes of dieting. Notably, the National Weight Control Registry houses information about this type of ongoing research. More than half of participants of the various studies represented there have used some sort of diet program or plan to aid in their weight loss and maintenance. There are annual reports listing the top diets: The Top 5 Diets to Try in 2018, According to Experts, published by Time magazine, is just one example. The article claims experts have ranked the DASH Diet #1, followed by the Mediterranean Diet, Weight Watchers, the MIND diet, the TLC Diet and Volumetrics as the top diets to try this year. Interestingly, the report comments on the ketogenic diet as being one of the lowest-ranked diets. No details are provided about this diet, but the consensus seemed to be it is difficult to follow.

Botanicals for a Better Sleep

July 17, 2018 - 10:57am

Imagine waking up fully rested, ready to tackle any challenge and embrace all the pleasures of the world with gratitude. We all know what a good night’s sleep feels like, but how often do we get it? In this hectic, hyper-stimulated, nerve-wracking world, it is challenging to create a sleep routine that our bodies and brains need to function optimally.

Good sleep hygiene and use of natural herbs and botanicals can help promote a healthy amount of sleep. The result could mean an improvement in problem solving and work performance, weight management, and prevention of chronic disease such as diabetes, depression and cardiovascular disease.

There are multitudes of products and advice in this arena of sleep. An article from 2016 suggested Americans spent over $41 billion on sleep remedies, with an expected increase to upwards of $52 billion by the year 2020.

Andropause: Life Stage or End of Manhood?

July 10, 2018 - 2:04pm

In the past, short of erectile dysfunction, male reproductive and endocrine issues were rarely discussed. With the advent of the internet, however, and a sudden interest in the repercussions of diminishing testosterone levels, the conversation is happening.

Just as with female hormone production, male hormone production also wanes with age. This time of hormonal decline is most commonly referred to as andropause. Other terms are interchanged in literature, articles and texts and include hypogonadism, late-onset hypogonadism, male menopause, male climacteric, androclise, androgen decline in aging male and aging male syndrome. For women, menopause means a halt in menses, which signals a departure from childbearing years, and the beginning of a new life phase. In Greek, “andras” means human male, and “pause” means cessation. So, andropause literally means “human male cessation”. Reduced testosterone levels have been associated with night sweats, decreased libido, dry hair and skin, trouble concentrating, muscle loss, insomnia, anxiety and/or irritability, reduced bone integrity and insulin resistance. In summary, these symptoms add up to what may feel like “human male cessation”.

Berberine: The Gut-Brain-Heart Connection

July 3, 2018 - 10:21am

Most of us have heard about the gut-brain connection, how nearly 90% of the body’s serotonin is actually made in the digestive tract, and how the gut-brain axis is the missing link in depression. Gut health and the landscape of the gut microbiota influence many aspects of our health, so it is no surprise that the gut’s connection with chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases is also very strong.

Berberine, a centuries-old compound found in medicinal herbs throughout various traditional therapies also positively affects and connects the gut and heart. Berberine is an isoquinoline derivative alkaloid found in a number of herbs. While these berberine-containing herbs are not traditionally used in food preparations, the active component has been identified and can be isolated from many plant sources including: Coptis chinensis (Coptis or Goldthread), Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal), Berberis aquifolium (Oregon grape), Berberis aristata (Tree Turmeric), Berberis vulgaris (Barberry), and Arcangelisia flava.

Coffee…Harmful or Healthy?

June 26, 2018 - 12:04pm

With coffee shops popping up on every street corner, the debate over coffee’s health benefits rages on. While some studies pronounce coffee’s extraordinary benefits in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s Disease, as well as associating high coffee consumption with an 8-15% reduction in risk of death, others warn of coffee’s detriment. We’ve even seen the World Health organization and the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee change their tune from coffee being harmful to coffee being a health food, going so far as recommending 3-5 cups per day for a healthy lifestyle.

A Golden Gem for Brain Health

June 19, 2018 - 10:56am

We are constantly stressed with deadlines and pressured to produce tasks faster and with more efficiency. In today’s workforce, our mental clarity plays a major role in delivering quality work.  Practices to help think more clearly may include better sleep, controlled anxiety, and brain supplements. One such “brain supplement” with research bragging rights is curcumin, the active ingredient found in turmeric. Known for its antioxidant properties and support of healthy inflammatory pathways, this powerful herb can also improve cognition and mood. One particular group that has seen a significant impact is the elderly population.

A Roller Coaster in the Bloodstream

June 12, 2018 - 4:28pm

Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels can be complex and unyielding. In addition to food and beverages, our blood glucose levels fluctuate in response to a variety of other factors. Exercise, emotional stress, the previous night’s rest, and genetics all play a role in the body’s attempt to tightly regulate the levels of glucose circulating in the blood. Also, regardless of whether or not someone has a blood sugar dysregulation issue or full-blown diabetes, that morning meal we call breakfast really sets the stage for the day. What’s often termed “Dawn Phenomenon” occurs between 4:00 AM - 8:00 AM when the body produces sufficient amounts of glucagon, cortisol and epinephrine to raise blood glucose in preparation for waking. And science has got the backs of those preaching a hearty breakfast in the morning. One study that monitored the glucose profiles of healthy people throughout the day found the largest increase in blood glucose occurs right after breakfast. Just about every nutritionist, dietitian and endocrinologist around recommends a high-protein breakfast in order to control the naturally-occurring spike in sugar in the morning. As mentioned, the subsequent foods, interactions, stressors and other factors will dictate the variation in blood sugar levels throughout the day, which directly impacts how the body functions and a person’s overall sense of well-being.