Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Probiotic “Flu Shot”?

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Every fall, the flu shot PR machine revs up again, advising everyone to get a shot to prevent the flu (or influenza, the word with flu in the middle!). While the shots reduce the incidence of influenza, many people experience side effects or are concerned about the risk of other problems occurring as a result of this vaccine. One of the recurrent concerns is Guillaume-Barre syndrome, a paralyzing neurologic disorder. Researchers are divided on the connection, in part because it is challenging to do a study with a large enough sample size to extrapolate to the millions who get flu shots every year. The association is significant enough that the CDC warns people that have suffered Guillaume-Barre after a flu shot not to get any more flu shots. One group of researchers recently published a study that evaluated a common probiotic organism for its protective value against the flu. What they found was that Lactobacillus gasseri provided effective protection from an influenza virus. The symbiotic organism was able to confer this protection by triggering the genes expressing viral resistance in the host cells-in this case, in mice. This study shows that probiotic organisms can provide resistance against viral infection, and do so by activating gene sequences that interfere with viral replication in the host cell. While this study was performed on mice, it is still validation of The Symbiont Factor concept that symbionts exert control over host systems to provide an adaptive advantage in the face of environmental challenges such as infection! So make sure you take your probiotics today, ok?

Links:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24717726

http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm

 

 

Being Stressed-out is Bad for Gut Bacteria! Stress and the Microbiome:

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Feeling stressed is so common that most people do not seem to realize how bad it really is for our health. Stress is one of the sneaky causes of poor gut bacteria, bacterial dysbiosis and all the health problems that result. Here is one of the mechanisms or pathways from stressful thought to dysfunctional microbiome.

Stress and the microbiome: One of the primary problems that affects our gut bacteria starts in our heads-Stress. When a person feels anger, fear, anxiety, or other forms of stress the autonomic nervous system goes into sympathetic dominance mode. This is also known as “fight or flight mode”. One of the effects of the sympathetic system is to restrict blood flow to the digestive tract and reduce gut activity as well. This slows digestion or may stop it entirely depending on the extent of the stress. What happens in the intestines is that the sensitive lining, where the microvilli provide increased surface area for absorption, begins to slough off cells and lose microvilli. The permeability of the intestinal mucosal lining may change, resulting in absorption of food molecules that are not digested completely. The immune system will then tag these particles with antibodies, causing a food sensitivity and inflammatory response. The loss of the microvilli and the slowing of movement is quite bad for beneficial gut bacteria, and results in overgrowth of non-beneficial or even harmful species. Ironically, this change in bacterial demographics may alter hormonal, neurotransmitter and brain activation in a pattern…that causes more elevated anxiety, depression and stress response. This forms a positive feedback loop and can make stressful thoughts functionally addictive and self-perpetuating!

Autism, ASD, the Brain and the Microbiome

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Autism is a rapidly growing problem, affecting 1 in 68 people today. It affects some people more than others, hence the use of the term “autism spectrum.” Autism and ASD have a “cousin” called Asperger’s syndrome. All of these conditions have several features in common, resulting in problems with social situations, communication, perseveration on thoughts or tasks, issues with expressive or receptive communication verbally or with body language, anxiety or becoming overstimulated/overwhelmed and sometimes self-harming. These are viewed as developmental neurologic problems with some genetic/inherited component. It has been found that the human microbiome plays a critical role in assisting the developing brain. Yes, that’s right, no typographic error!-symbiotic bacteria help build the human brain. If they are not present in sufficient numbers and correct species, functional imbalances can result-problems such as autism. The symbiotic bacteria not only help build the brain, but also to run it properly and keep it tuned up for optimum function. The details, pulled from several research studies, are quite specific. The study of the microbiome has progressed so exponentially in the last few years that some of these conclusions can seem very surprising at times. During the first five years of life, the human brain is a firestorm of remodeling activity, with neurons being pared off if not needed and others branching out to form new synapses. This is the time of the most dramatic plasticity, where the brain learns how to control the body and form intelligence, personality and emotional response. Early damage to the resident microbiome, that population of a trillion-member bacterial colony that runs things from behind the scenes, results in a loss of proper brain development. Some of this damage also results from by-products produced by the non-beneficial bacteria that take up residence in the gut if beneficial bacteria are not present (Propionate, for example, that is in much higher concentrations in autistic individuals and has been implicated in autistic dysfunctions at higher levels). Damage is also caused by loss of immune system control (one of the other systems partly governed by bacteria). Without the symbiont bacteria monitoring and programming the immune system, it can cause an inflammatory response that damages the brain, or even an autoimmune response that targets the brain. This immune dysfunction and resultant neuroinflammation is thought to be one of the causative mechanisms behind autism. Another factor causing autism/asd is a problem with forming serotonin (normally the pleasant/feelgood/happy reward neurotransmitter). Serotonin is made from tryptophan, through conversion to 5-HTP and DHEA-s. In an autistic person, the conversion takes a “left turn at Albequerque” and produces cortisol. This is a bad outcome, as cortisol is toxic to brain cells in this scenario and contributes to the damage from neuroinflammation. Part of why the conversion fails turns out to be microbiome related, as research shows that an absent microbiome causes accumulation of tryptophan and 5-htp and lowered levels of serotonin. Another way the microbiome is implicated is the neurotransmitter GABA. This neurotransmitter is inhibitory and is used in the brain to block out/filter stimulations. When it fails, a normal environment is overwhelmingly stimulating to an ASD sufferer, resulting in stress/anxiety or a behavior such as self-harm (cutting, for example) that helps to block out some of the overstimulation with a simpler stimulation such as pain. In this mechanism, pain brings relief! The microbiome modulates GABA receptor activation in a site-specific manner, such that GABA receptors work more in some parts of the brain and less in others. This permits a type of partial gating of activity through control of receptor activation! The net result is reduced stress and anxiety-two of the very things that autism sufferers experience the most when placed in social situations. Researchers have found that genetics play a role in autism, with some children having a genetic predisposition to the condition. The catch is that genetics are variable; gene sequences can be activated or suppressed through a process called epigenetics. The tremendous genetic resources of the microbiome (estimates are from 100-1000 times the number of genes as there are human genes) indicate that the microbiome is an epigenetic entity itself. Certainly the microbiome plays a role in human epigenetics, with the ability to “turn on” certain gene sequences and cause their expression. It is probable that not every child who is genetically prone to autism will actually express the disease due to this process. If the microbiome is imbalanced and damaged, the genes can more easily be expressed. The mechanisms described show that an imbalanced microbiome early in life is a major risk factor for autism, and furthermore that microbiome imbalances later in life perpetuate the symptoms of the condition. Our modern society has inadvertently created a multi-front assault on the human microbiome through the use of antibiotics, herbicides such as RoundUp, pollution, Caesarian childbirth, interrupted or absent breastfeeding, chlorinated drinking water, sugar-laden foods, and a myriad of harmful chemicals in our food. The demise of the microbiome opens a Pandora’s box of disease possibilities as the body’s immune, endocrine, and digestive systems function in an uncoordinated and destructive manner.
References:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24669209
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21876150
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24286462
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24366270
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24416709
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24466331
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24481190

From Symbiont Central: What’s on Top of Your Fridge? Kombucha Health Benefits

fermentation fridge
With so much being written today about the benefits of fermented foods like kombucha and kefir, some people may wonder how making these at home works out. So, today I thought I would share an image of the top of the refrigerator here at home, aka Symbiont Central. Making kombucha is almost as simple as leaving something out to spoil! The hardest part, as in many things, is just getting started. Kombucha is a fermented sweet tea, and the culture that ferments it is usually known as a scoby. Scoby is short for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. A descriptive name really, but…hey, it’s cute also! Although one of my daughters prefers to call it Kevin. Not sure where that came from! To get started, you must acquire a scoby or some source of the culture to grow one. There are videos on YouTube about using a commercial bottled kombucha as a starter, but the traditional way is that someone gives you one. It’s a pay-it-forward activity for the good of bacterial symbionts, getting good microbial Karma and all. Looking at the image of my ‘fridge, the gallon jar on the left is black tea kombucha, the one to its right is green tea kombucha, the white one is goat milk kefir, and the ugly frightening specimen jar on the right is full of extra scobys. You see, the scoby that ferments the tea is always growing more cellulose to house a bigger colony, and in the process it grows new layers. These can be peeled off and given away, dried for preservation and some people say that they can be stir fried as a meat substitute. I haven’t tried that yet…but am thinking about it. At this point, extra scobys have been put in a jar as spares, awaiting a new home. I have dried some of them for future rehydration as well. The kombucha in the left two jars is a continuous fermentation-some is removed using the hand tap at the bottom of the jar, and periodically more sweet tea is added from the top. This keeps the process perking along nicely. There is not much more to it after it gets started-we just drink some and add more tea from time to time. The first time may take a week to 10 days to get going, depending on how lively or large the first scoby is. Green tea kombucha is a bit more reluctant-I had to use a warming pad to keep it at an optimum 80-something farenheit temperature. It’s the same kind of warming pad used for pet reptile tanks. The kefir is started with granules that can be purchased from online stores such as fermentables.com, or it can be started with a shared scoby from another batch of kefir. This is a different kind of scoby; kefir scobys look a lot like soaked cauliflower dipped in yogurt. Not as unattractive as a kombucha scoby but similar in many ways. This fermentation takes 48 hours at my house. It might be a little different at yours, either due to variations in temperature, scoby activity levels or personal taste. The goat milk does not spoil if left longer, it just becomes more kefir-like until it’s really more like a strong yogurt. There’s probably a limit to how long it should be left out, but it’s much longer than I ever would-I like mine at about 48 hours! Growing your own kefir and kombucha is fascinating, nutritious and tasty. There are many health benefits to both; hundreds of studies support their use. Just as examples, green tea kombucha has been shown to help heal liver cells damaged from alcohol consumption, as well as helping heal Non Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH; “fatty liver”). Kombucha has been recommended, in a peer-reviewed research journal, as a prevention or even cure for diabetes as well as healing both liver and kidneys. Happy fermenting!
Supporting studies:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23221715
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19430612
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23705670
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22591682

Fort Hood shooting 4/2/14: Symbiont Microbiome Implications in Mental Health

As America watches another tragedy unfold, I am saddened by the loss of life as well all are. What I also see is the apparent sluggishness of a healthcare system to rapidly identify/acknowledge/treat brain trauma, PTSD, and the damage that the two cause to symbiont health-and in turn, how damage to the microbiome affects behavior. This post is about understanding those connections and hopefully implementing them into healthcare protocols for PTSD. It would also be helpful if recognizing PTSD and arriving at a diagnosis were done in a more timely and useful fashion; apparently from today’s information this man served in Iraq in 2011 and was still being evaluated for PTSD this year.
There is a well-defined connection between brain health and gut health, such that damage to one results in damage to the other. The gut and brain are functionally linked in what is known as the Gut-Brain axis. The communication between the two occurs through the Vagus nerve as well as indirectly through blood circulation that permits neuropeptides from the gut to arrive at the brain where they act like neurotransmitters. The gut is home to trillions of bacteria known as the microbiome. This vast colony of symbiont bacteria act as an accessory organ and have tremendous influence on neurologic, immune and endocrine functions. When a person is put under extreme stress situations and/or has a brain trauma, (often accompanied by shifts in diet that tend toward pro-inflammatory/allergenic food) there is an immediate response in the gut. This response is not a good one; the autonomic nervous system’s change to fight-or-flight mode (sympathetic mode) causes a loss of activity and reduced circulation in the digestive tract. In the gut, this results in increased intestinal wall permeability combined with death of symbiotic bacteria as their environment becomes dramatically inhospitable. This combination of events can form “a perfect storm” that results in translocation of both food particles and fragments of dead bacteria known as Lipopolysaccharides or LPS. As these are absorbed into the bloodstream, circulating immune system components will respond with an inflammatory cascade that becomes system-wide. This is exacerbated by the partial demise of the symbiont bacteria that, when fully functional, provide immune system modulation and instruction. Without symbiont help, the immune response to the LPS and food molecules creates massive inflammatory change, sensitization to food that results in food sensitivities (and even more inflammation) and behavioral changes. When the wave of inflammation begins to affect the brain, the result is depression and anxiety. These are precisely what the Fort Hood shooter was being evaluated and treated for according to today’s news. Inflammation is so linked to depression and anxiety that some researchers have stated that it could be seen as simply a symptom of inflammation. With the brain’s changes producing a perceptual change, normal environmental and interpersonal activities and interactions can create extreme stress, anxiety and depression. The brain’s shift to a stress mode dominated by stress and anxiety can further drive the autonomic shift to sympathetic dominance, resulting in a positive feedback loop in the gut-brain axis and driving the worsening of these changes.
These changes can be severe enough to make behavior unpredictable (as has been demonstrated at Fort Hood, unfortunately). Behavioral changes would perhaps not seem as unpredictable if the overall mechanism described were better understood and this knowledge implemented by those in charge of the care of soldiers experiencing brain trauma or PTSD. There is sufficient research documenting the causal pathway from brain trauma or PTSD to gut/microbiome dysbiosis and subsequent behavioral instability that this information urgently needs to be better utilized in soldier and patient care. Interventions for successfully interrupting this type of progressive dysfunction are widely available and easily implemented.
Partial Reference List:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24690880
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21832903
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23384445
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23506618
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23910373
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24286462
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24370461
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24422720
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24636517
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24665099
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23981537
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21967891
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24145080
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20113345
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23762997
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23825629
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24096214
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23891039

Snack Time at Symbiont Central

This evening I thought I would share what I had for dessert/evening snack while working on my computer. I made a smoothie, using a Nutri-Bullet. It contained a big handful of organic raw spinach, about a half cup of home made goat milk kefir, half a cup of home made black tea kombucha, half a cup of frozen blueberries, some powdered probiotic supplement (a big sprinkle, really!) a teaspoon of creatine as I had a swim workout tonight, and topped off with organic almond milk and a big sprinkle of cinnamon. Blended up till smooth, this was really tasty and provides a big dose of probiotic bacteria, superfood (blueberry) plus very finely cut fiber, which is like a superfood to gut bacteria. It only took about 5 minutes to put together, without rushing. I sometimes have this for breakfast, only then I add two tablespoons of organic sesame tahini. This provides additional protein and healthy fats, making for a breakfast with enough nutrition to last the morning. Sesame is a rich source of plant lignans, which are converted to mammalian lignans by the gut bacteria. Once converted, lignans possess anti-cancer and anti-hypertensive properties. This provides resistance against breast and prostate cancer as well as high blood pressure. Blueberry plus probiotics has been found to prevent colon cancer and heal liver injuries. Pretty potent health benefit for a tasty breakfast!
Reference: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16549449
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22457771

Probiotic Bacteria Help Prevent Bone Loss, Osteoporosis

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One of the more common problems that happens in many people as they get older is Osteoporosis. This condition results in less mineralization of bones, making the bones weak and at risk of fracture. While many may accept this as a result of the aging process, it is not normal. Bone is a dynamic tissue that is constantly being remodeled in accordance with lines of stress. This principle is named Wolff’s Law, named after Julius Wolff, a German surgeon from the 19th century. What happens is that calcium, phosphorus and other bony matrix minerals are deposited in the bone tissue along lines of physical stress and incorporated into bone by cells called osteoblasts. Bone minerals that are deemed no longer needed (for example, if a person rarely strays too far from the recliner) are resorbed by cells called osteoclasts. The balance of function between osteoblast and osteoclast determines if a person is gaining or losing bone density. Other factors such as availability of minerals such as calcium play a role too. Calcium is best absorbed in an acidic environment, and many people produce less stomach acid as they age. The intestinal microbiome plays a role also, as less stomach acidity results in a poor environment for the microbiome-that huge population of bacteria that live in the human intestine and keep us healthy. Hormones play a role, and reduced estrogen production from aging or surgery will also predispose a woman to osteoporosis. The microbiome affects the production of estrogens, particularly after menopause or in men. Thus, once again the microbiome helps prevent osteoporosis. There is a marked tendency for the aging person to have more difficulty in supporting sufficient bacterial species to accomplish these tasks. Additionally, the beneficial microbiome consumes plant and vegetable fiber, something that may be consumed less by people as they age due to poor dental health or a tendency to eat convenience foods that are low in fiber. These changes result in a reduced population of beneficial bacteria in the intestine. A reduced and imbalanced microbiome has been found to also result in osteoporosis because the microbiome communicates with the bones in what has been described as the gut-bone pathway. The microbiome’s influence on T-cells, in particular T-regulatory cells, also plays a role in the reduced resorption of bone. Conversely, the compete absence of a microbiome results in uncontrolled and abnormally increased bone deposition of minerals, showing that the microbiome in fact controls the bone density through modulation of hormonal and immune factors. It has been found that probiotic supplementation helps to prevent bone loss after the removal of ovaries-a common cause for low estrogen. Considering the many ways that the gut symbionts influence bone density, it is no surprise that adding some of the beneficial bacteria is good for bone density! This reaffirms the importance of maintaining healthy populations of symbiotic bacteria. The human body is not able to function normally without these microscopic symbiotic helpers!
References:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24677054
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23259758
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22407806