Gut Bacteria

Bacteria is everywhere. We are hyper-aware of the dangers of E. coli, Staphylococcus, Listeria, and Salmonella, so we try to make our world as healthy as possible by sanitizing and bleaching them away.

However, bacteria doesn’t only exist in the world around us; it’s inside of us all. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

From birth, every one of us will acquire more than 1000 unique species of bacteria in our gastrointestinal systems, or guts. We get our personal mix of gut bacteria from vaginal vs. caesarian section births; breast milk vs. formula; the bacteria on our family members and in our homes, schools, parks, etc.; and the foods we eat. Basically, we gather our gut bacteria from the world around us. Though most people share some of the same organisms, each one of us has a unique cocktail of gut bacteria that can work for and against our personal health throughout our lives. (1, 2)

The Good and the Bad

Our good bacteria is a wondrous thing. At its most basic function, bacteria aids in food digestion, produces vitamins B and K, and acts as a barrier in the immune system to boost health. (1, 3)

Ninety-five percent of the serotonin in our bodies is produced in the gut, keeping an open line of communication with the brain. Pain, anxiety, mood, hunger, and illness are among the things constantly communicated between brain and gut via serotonin. (4, 5)

Gut bacteria is also seen to have an impact on weight. Recent evidence has shown that the gut bacteria in people of a healthy weight is more varied than that of obese people. A study performed on mice shed a bit more light on the phenomenon: Gut bacteria from sets of human twins with one obese and one lean twin were given to baby mice. When the mice were in separate cages and eating the same diet, those with the obese twin’s bacteria gained more weight. However, when the mice were placed in a cage together, the obese mice began to lose weight as they ingested the lean mice’s feces and acquired their beneficial gut bacteria. (6)

Healthy Gut

The best way to have a healthy gut is to promote a wide variety of bacteria… but how?

Fiber. A great way to boost healthy bacteria in your gut is to eat foods with lots of fiber, which can be digested by certain gut bacteria, causing them to reproduce. High-fiber foods to include in your diet could include raspberries, bananas, pears, whole wheats, barley, bran, split peas, lentils, a variety of beans, artichokes, green peas, and turnip greens. (7) Bonus: Eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies can halt the growth of some bad bacteria. (8)

PRObiotics. Probiotics are the good guys! We can feed our guts the good bacteria through probiotic-rich foods as well as with over-the-counter supplements. Some probiotic-rich foods are kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt and other fermented dairy products, and pickles. (9)

PREbiotic Foods. Prebiotics are “selectively fermented” foods that can boost healthy gut bacteria. (10) Basically, prebiotics feed probiotics so that they can multiply in your gut. Some prebiotic foods are Jerusalem artichokes; dandelion greens; raw garlic, onion, and leeks; avocadoes; peas; and apple cider vinegar. (11)

Feed Your Bacteria. We’ve seen that certain foods, like fiber-rich foods and prebiotics, are better at promoting good bacteria because or bodies don’t digest them. But eating these foods, we are feeding the good bacteria in our guts. Alternatively, when we eat foods that are easily digested by our bodies, we are starving our gut bacteria and they need to find other things to eat… like the lining of our guts, which can lead to inflammation and discomfort. Foods to avoid include sugars, simple carbohydrates, and processed foods. (12)

 

References:

  1. http://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/en/about-gut-microbiota-info/
  2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-gut-bacteria-help-make-us-fat-and-thin/
  3. http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/news/20140820/your-gut-bacteria#1
  4. http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/health/digestive-system-health/
  5. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=5468
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3829625/
  7. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/high-fiber-foods/art-20050948
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26757793
  9. http://www.drperlmutter.com/learn/resources/probiotics-five-core-species/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17311983
  11. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-18746/18-prebiotic-rich-foods-for-a-gut-friendly-diet.html
  12. http://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/therese-borchard-sanity-break/ways-cultivate-good-gut-bacteria-reduce-depression/

Fascinating Fascia

A Google image search for “musculoskeletal system” will provide seemingly endless drawings of skeletons and pink muscles.

But what holds our muscles together? What connects them to each other, to organs, and to bones?

Picture an orange. When the skin is torn away, we see the white fibrous material that holds skin to flesh. We also see the segments of the orange are encased in a membrane-like sac and connected by the same white material. Furthermore, when we break open a segment, we see that it is comprised of many tiny sacs, all stuck together.

Like the orange, the muscles and organs in our bodies are both divided and connected by fascia. Fascia runs through us: a web of connective tissue beneath our skin that attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and groups of muscles and organs. (1, 2)

 When our fascia isn’t healthy, we feel it throughout our bodies.

Chronic strain and pain in our muscles and nerves can be caused by unhealthy fascia. Injuries, stress, age, habitual movement patterns (such as poor posture), as well as over- and misuse of body structures and long periods of inactivity are just some of the factors leading to unhealthy fascia, which is dehydrated, glue-like, hard, and tight. Unhealthy fascia can feel stiff and can be the cause of chronic pain and tension. (2, 34)

 Healthy fascia feels GOOD.

Healthy fascia is hydrated, smooth and slippery, elastic and pliable. (4, 5) Healthy fascia is painless and fluid: no stiff muscles, no pinched nerves, no tension.

So, how do we keep our fascia healthy? Here are three simple things you can do:

Hydrate. It’s not only important to drink plenty of water, but also to get the water to your thirsty fascia. Try yoga, Pilates, a roller, or cardio to get your blood pumping!

Varied Movement. Yoga, Pilates, and cardio are also great because they offer a variety of movement. Repetitive movement strains fascia over time; it’s better to change it up as often as possible. If you use exercise machines, make sure to change tempo or weight from time to time and mix in some other activities such as barre or cycling. Also, make sure to give your fascia a rest from time to time.

Relax and De-stress. Massage, acupuncture, a walk in the park; anything that relieves stress and tension will promote healthy fascia. (6)

References:

  1. http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/fascia\
  2. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-17936/understanding-fascia-what-it-is-why-you-should-care.html
  3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eva-norlyk-smith-phd/fascia_b_1207768.html
  4. http://structuralintegration.massagetherapy.com/what-is-fascia-and-how-does-it-work
  5. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-4283/Metaphors-in-Motion-Freeing-the-Fascia.html
  6. http://mobilitymastery.com/how-diet-affects-fascia-3-best-foods-for-healthy-connective-tissue/

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are creating a lot of positive buzz lately. It seems everyone is touting their benefits, but how can we tell if the fermented foods craze is more than just a fad?

Foods like dairy, fruit, and vegetables can be preserved by fermentation, which is the chemical process that breaks down glucose molecules when the foods are exposed to bacteria and yeasts. Beneficial microorganisms feed on the carbohydrates in the foods and reproduce and kill off harmful bacteria. The carbon dioxide gas given off during this process causes the frothing usually associated with fermentation, as in beer. (1, 2)

Some common fermented foods are:

  • Yogurt is essentially milk fermented with bacteria; the word means “tart, thick milk” in Turkish. (3) Cottage cheese, kefir, and sour cream are also fermented milk products.
  • Unpasteurized, “Raw” Sauerkraut is cabbage that has traditionally been fermented by salting and leaving in a de-oxygenated environment for several weeks. (4)
  • Kimchi is a Korean dish made primarily of fermented cabbage, but can also include radish, cucumber, lettuce, and mustard leaves. Most varieties are spicy. (5)
  • Some coffees can be fermented if processed through the “washed process”, wherein coffee beans are fermented in tanks of water. (6)
  • Chocolate and Vanilla are both fermented. To make chocolate, cocoa beans are stored together so that the pulp around the beans can be fermented. The beans can be wrapped in plantain or banana leaves, or stored in wooden boxes, for 5-7 days. (7)

Unpasteurized vinegar can be made from carbohydrate-rich foods such as grapes, apples, and rice. (9)

  • Sourdough bread is fermented with a “starter” (the base for sourdough bread created through a fermentation process in order to cultivate wild yeast from flour) for 12-15 hours, which breaks down gluten in the flour. (10, 15)
  • SOME “Pickles” are fermented, while others aren’t. As long as the foods are preserved through fermentation, rather than simply brined in vinegar. (11)

What health benefits can they provide?

Fermented foods are a great source of vitamins such as K2, which distributes calcium throughout your body, and B vitamins, which help to convert food into fuel. Additionally, the good bacteria in fermented foods help detoxify our bodies. (12, 16)

Fermented foods are also a great natural source of healthy bacteria and contain up to 100 times the probiotics as an over-the-counter probiotic supplement. Strains of good bacteria in fermented foods have been seen to destroy or inhibit the growth of bad bacteria: Lactic acid found in sourdough bread by German scientists was observed to kill microbes that are resistant to most antibiotics. (12, 13)

Too much of a good thing?

While there are many benefits to eating fermented foods, we should always look for the risks. In a 2011 study, researchers found that eating fermented soy products lead to a higher rate gastric cancer while unfermented soy contributed to a reduced rate of the same disease. (14)

People who do their own fermentation should also be aware of the threat of botulism from contaminated food. (14)

Here are a few ways to include fermented foods in your diet:

https://www.fermentedfoodlab.com/apple-cider-vinegar-and-honey-drink/

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/kefir-oats-nuts-maple-breakfast-jar

http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/recipe/lacto-fermentation-recipes/lacto-fermented-kosher-dill-pickles/

Fermented Food
A set of fermented food great for gut health – cucumber pickles, coconut milk yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, red beets, apple cider vinegar

References

  1. https://www.chowhound.com/food-news/54958/that-coffees-rotten/
  2. https://www.britannica.com/science/fermentation
  3. http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/yogurt/what-is-yogurt-history/
  4. http://pickledplanet.com/faqs
  5. https://cultureglaze.com/what-is-kimchi-fadfa73fe5cd
  6. http://www.thekitchn.com/yes-coffee-is-a-fermented-food-208726
  7. https://www.icco.org/faq/59-fermentation-a-drying/132-how-does-the-fermentation-process-work-on-the-cocoa-bean-and-how-long-does-it-take.html
  8. https://paleoleap.com/what-about-vinegar/
  9. http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-your-own-sourdough-starter-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-47337
  10. http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/the-crucial-difference-between-pickled-and-fermented/
  11. http://articles.mercola.com/fermented-foods.aspx
  12. https://www.drdavidwilliams.com/gut-health-and-the-benefits-of-traditional-fermented-foods
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21070479
  14. http://www.dietnutritionadvisor.com/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-fermented-foods
  15. http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/cooking-tips/article/long-fermented-breads-for-the-gluten-sensitive-taste-great
  16. https://authoritynutrition.com/vitamin-k2/

 

Health Benefits of the Golden Spice: Turmeric

It sounds almost like something a witch in a fairy tale would instruct: Just eat this spice and it will cure all manner of ailments! Add it to your food or drink it as a tincture, rub the extract onto your skin, rinse your mouth with it, even use it in an enema — Turmeric, “the golden spice,” will cure what ails you.

Turmeric is a golden yellow spice in the ginger family and is well-known as the main flavor in curry (1). Native to southern Asia, turmeric has been used for thousands of years in cooking (2). In India, use of turmeric in Ayurvedic medicine goes back more than 4500 years, where it was thought to alleviate congestion, wounds, and even diseases like smallpox and chickenpox (3). Today, India produces nearly 90% of the world’s turmeric (4).

Curcumin (not to be confused with cumin) is the active chemical in turmeric that may decrease swelling, making it a useful treatment for conditions related to inflammation (1). Reports suggest that turmeric may aid in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, assist in balancing blood sugar and boosting kidney function, soothe indigestion, help people with ulcerative colitis stay in remission, and lessen the severity of certain forms of arthritis (2,5). Turmeric may also be a natural liver detoxifier, reduce the effects of some forms of heart disease, help wounds to heal, lessen aches and discomfort, and kill bacteria and viruses (5,6,7). Interestingly, studies have shown that turmeric may boost some chemo medicines and may also make cancer cells more vulnerable to chemo and radiotherapy (7). Furthermore, turmeric has been shown to slow the growth and spread of cancers such as melanoma (7) and to help prevent prostate, breast, colon, stomach, and skin cancers in rats exposed to carcinogens (5,8).

Turmeric is natural and has no toxic effects on the body, so it is generally considered to be safe. However, turmeric may interfere with drugs that reduce stomach acid and may cause stomach upset and GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) (1,5).  Turmeric may also strengthen diabetes medication, which increases the risk of low blood sugar (5). Gallbladder problems could be exacerbated by the use of turmeric, large amounts of turmeric may reduce iron absorption, and blood clotting may be slowed, so doctors recommend that patients stop use of turmeric two weeks before surgery(1). Men who take turmeric may have lowered testosterone levels and sperm count, which reduces fertility (1).

Take advantage of the health benefits of turmeric! Try some delicious and healthy recipes featuring “the golden spice” and see how it works for you.

Salmon with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce and Carrot Salad 
Turmeric Masala Curry
Turmeric Tea

 

 

References

  1. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-662-turmeric.aspx?activeingred ientid=662
  2. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78
  3. http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/turmeric-history/
  4. http://www.turmeric.co.in/turmeric_spice.htm
  5. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/turmeric
  6. http://www.globalhealingcom/natural-health/8-impressive-health-benefits-turmeric/
  7. http://www.mindbodygcom/0-6873/25-Reasons-Why-Turmeric-Can-Heal-You.html
  8. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/turmeric