Monthly Archives: July 2015

Is Organically Grown, Grass-fed Meat Healthier?

So, you’re walking about in the grocery store, carrying on that inner dialog about what to purchase…when you notice the meat counter. You have a choice now: do you purchase the Angus ground beef, the grass fed beef, or the organically grown grass fed beef? The Angus is less expensive and its high saturated fat content means your grilled burgers will stay moist, but you’ve been wondering if there is any health benefit to the organically raised meat. Sound familiar? Today, I’m going to present a point of view based on the available facts that researchers have shown us, using concepts from my book The Symbiont Factor. And, I’ll try to make it as practical as possible!

A study was just published about the prevalence of the phylum Proteobacteria being a direct indicator of gut and general health. More Proteobacteria is a bad thing, in other words. Why is it bad? This phylum includes the notorious microbial outlaws Helicobacter (ulcers, anyone?), Vibrio, Salmonella, E. coli (all causing gastrointestinal distress) and Yersinia (plague…) How would you know your own levels of Proteobacteria? A simple uBiome test can provide a percentage measurement that correlates with the Shin study mentioned above. How would your Proteobacteria get elevated, you might ask? Well, two major factors that we are aware of: antibiotic exposure and high fat/sugar diet (aka “the Western Diet”, which is the laboratory standard for creating disease).

Going back to your choice of ground meat, some guidelines for a choice are now apparent. Grass-fed beef is much leaner, though this will also require a slightly different cooking method to have it palatable. It tends to have more flavor, which some people call “gamey-ness”, though from my point of view it is how beef should taste as cattle should eat grass and not grain. Wild meat such as venison has even more flavor. When accustomed to it, grain-fed beef is utterly bland. So, the reduction in fat content in the grass-fed beef is less likely to promote an overgrowth of Proteobacteria. Because of the effect of higher fat content, the choice for this reason would be grass-fed. In addition, the fatty acid profile of grass-fed beef promotes less inflammation, as the meat has a higher percentage of Omega-3 and DHA fats.

The second item to consider would be antibiotics. Meat that is not organic has antibiotic residues that, when consumed, exert an antibiotic effect on the human. Antibiotic exposure has been found to promote overgrowth of Proteobacteria, so this is bad! In addition, antibiotic exposure promotes the development of antibiotic resistant species, which is a further health risk. Overgrowth of Proteobacteria causes a suppression of beneficial bacteria as well, creating a disease-prone condition.

At this point the only remaining factor is cost. The healthier product costs more, though now even Hardee’s and Carl’s are advertising a grass-fed organic hamburger-an obvious example of the power that consumers wield. Don’t jump to conclusions, though, as prepared “the fast food way” it will likely still have a high enough fat and calorie content to make it a not-healthy choice. Still, it’s a step in the right direction and will be healthier than the regular burgers they serve!

The easiest way to balance the cost-vs.-health equation is to either buy a sufficiently smaller quantity of the grass-fed meat that your budget is unaffected, or view the extra cost as the cost of health and disease prevention. After all, the doctor bills that occur in later life certainly can outweigh the added cost of the healthier meat choice! The benefits in quality of life, however, are priceless.

References:

http://tinyurl.com/ntyt267

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26129950

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26210164

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24472126

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24018274

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26011307

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22863420

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25633846

http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/12/10/carls-jr-grass-fed-hamburgers

http://www.organicauthority.com/carls-jr-adds-grass-fed-burgers-to-its-menu/

http://www.hardees.com/

In Search of the Perfect Microbiome: What to eat for more Akkermansia!

Thanks for visiting my blog! First, a brief bit of news: In the next series of blog posts, I will be focusing less on theory and more on practical information about what to do. This signifies a shift that goes along with my working on my next book! And, now you know more about the next book-it will be quite a bit more how-to, still backed up by peer reviewed research but of a more practical nature than The Symbiont Factor is.

Ok, the first thing to cover? There is apparently no perfect universal microbiome. There is, however, an optimum microbiome for each particular individual, at least in theory. There are patterns that researchers have revealed, however, and these can serve as a guide to improving our own microbiome and health.

Last week a research study was published indicating that pomegranate consumption boosted the levels of Akkermansia mucinophilia, one of the (usually) beneficial healthy bacteria. Akkermansia has been the subject of many recent articles, as it has been found to reduce body fat accumulation and helps build more lean muscle while reducing inflammation. Using prebiotics to preferentially nourish desirable organisms can be a vital part of your symbiont strategy.

Pomegranate is available in many forms; it is available as a juice, it is available in capsule form and of course as a pomegranate fruit. For long-term use I recommend capsules. The study was 4 weeks in length, and resulted in a 47-fold increase in Akkermansia so it is important to consume it regularly for best results.

Of course, Pomegranate has many other health benefits, but its prebiotic tendency to improve the microbiome is very significant. The microbial by-products of metabolizing pomegranate have powerful anti-cancer effects as well!

References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26189645

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26180600

http://progressivelabs.com/product.php?productid=16981&cat=0&page=1 

(remember to register as a patient on Progressive Labs, and specify me, Dr. Richard Matthews, as the person who referred you there. Thanks!)

ADHD and the Microbiome: Any useful connections?

ADHD

Life sometimes keeps us quite busy, doesn’t it? I apologize to you, my readers, for the scarce blog posts. I’ve been in the process of pulling off an epic home move of about 1700 miles! So, I write this post while in a campground in Lamoine, Maine USA where I’ve been hunting up a new home for my family and I.

I did quite a bit of research reading about ADHD recently, and thought I would share a few thoughts about it.  Most of these thoughts are summarized in the flow chart drawing I created; refer to it when reading this blog post and you’ll see what I mean. What can be learned from a simple uBiome stool sample that can help with ADHD? Well, it turns out that there is quite a bit to look at there! As usual, this isn’t meant to replace your physician’s advice, and it is an example-which may not exactly describe your situation. You should consider using uBiome to run your (or your child’s) sample to see what your particular situation consists of.

The first thing to consider is the imbalance that frequently occurs in a microbiome. You see, it isn’t just about how many species of bacteria live in your gut, it is also about the relative numbers of those species. uBiome, after processing your sample, shows this in the simplest way by clicking on Taxonomy tree. In this format, the larger circles indicate larger populations while the smaller ones indicate, well, smaller. Clicking on each allows one to expand the data down from the phylum level all the way down to the genus level (remember, all life is cataloged by Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. We usually use Genus, Species to identify organisms, such as Homo sapiens or Helicobacter pylori.) When expanding these circles, often there is an obvious imbalance. At this point, I’m going to share some very specific information, and some or all of it may not apply to you or your child. It is an example of how a uBiome analysis can correlate with a condition and symptoms, directing some interventions. One recent patient case was a good example; the only large circles were Firmicutes, which is not such a bad thing. Opening that led to Clostridia being dominant, while Bacilli was minimal. This is meaningful because Bacilli includes Lactobacillus-one of the definite “good guys” that keep things working well. The phylum Actinobacteria was also minimal, significant because it includes another desirable genus, Bifidobacterium. This organism is an initial colonizer of the gut, tames the immune system, and also works with Lactobacillus to produce BDNF.

BDNF stands for Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, and it is necessary for the brain to develop new connections and grow/adapt to the life an individual leads. It is needed for plasticity, that ability of the brain to learn and adapt as needed. Low levels of BDNF are associated with ADHD. Your microbiome helps your brain to produce BDNF. Remember that a big part of what your brain learns to do as you grow up is actually blocking things out, not paying attention to more of them. It is a learning process, and in order to concentrate to accomplish tasks we must learn to attenuate non-essential information. This is also necessary for the brain to conserve fuel, because having a neural response to every incoming signal would burn a lot of fuel-in fact, enough to run out in some areas and cause Oxidative Stress.

Oxidative stress can result from depressed levels of antioxidant reserves or from too much stimulation. When nerve cells get overstimulated, they build up waste products and the energy-producing mitochondria become damaged. This is a “cellular death spiral”, because as soon as the mitochondria become damaged, the cell’s capability to metabolize fuel and produce energy is compromised, leading to more oxidative stress and further damage. This has been identified as part of the disease process in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as well as ADHD and Autism. One of the problems that can promote Oxidative Stress is Inflammation.

Inflammation occurs when the immune system become too reactive and begins to attack tissue that is “self” and not “intruder/enemy”. Bifidobacteria are known for helping to dampen the immune inflammatory response, and a deficiency of Bifido contributes to inflammation. Again, inflammation is a key building block of…yes, all the same neurologic diseases. Low levels of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus are also significant because these organisms produce a neurotransmitter called Gamma Amino Butyric Acid or GABA.

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, and calming drugs or herbs often boost GABA levels. Valerian root or Valium (copycat drug companies, you know?) are good examples as is Kava Kava. Low levels of Lacto and Bifido gut bacteria result in low levels of GABA at the brain. Low levels of GABA at the brain result in less inhibition…ergo, more stimulation! And, the process continues in a positive feedback loop.

It is interesting to note that one intervention that helps elevate GABA and BDNF is exercise. Kids with ADHD are known for often being hyperkinetic, so if you wondered why, it is their brain’s way of balancing the equation to save nerve cells! When kids are reprimanded by teachers and parents are shamed into medicating their children’s “high energy”, it can be detrimental to the developmental process for this reason. This doesn’t mean that doing nothing is better, as a child must be able to focus in order to be able to learn. It just means that medicating their energy level down does not address the root causes of the problem.

So, what would be some natural interventions? First, improved nutrition. Any food that is causing more inflammation needs to be removed from the diet. Often that is sweets (note that Clostridia like sweets) and sometimes specific items such as gluten containing foods. Adding probiotics that contain the Lacto and Bifido organisms (in this patient example) can of course be helpful, but more so if they are also fed the prebiotic fibers that they need to survive (again, ideally this is case-specific). Both can be added to a fruit and vegetable smoothie that is tasty. Neuroprotective supplements such as N-Acetylcysteine will help to minimize the neuronal damage that is occurring. Also DHA/Omega-3 oils are neuroprotective and have been shown to help with ADHD. Curcumin can also reduce the neuroinflammation and is protective as well. It can also help settle gut function and heal the membranes of the intestines if they were inflamed too. Eating less processed food and more fresh (organic as possible) fruits and vegetables helps.

All of these steps are best carried out after having a stool sample analyzed for gut bacteria. Only after seeing the “bacterial census” is it possible to be extremely specific. A different patient’s samples could result in different recommendations! Please contact me for more details should you wish to find out more or schedule an analysis. This does not have to be done locally, as I only need the data from uBiome and a patient questionnaire to determine recommendations. Some of the supplements recommended are not case-specific, such as NAC, DHA/Omega and Curcumin as these will help most types of situations as will a healthier diet. The probiotic formulation is ideally case-specific, as is the prebiotic fibers and these will preferentially feed some categories of organisms more than others.

With proper lab work and specific interventions, it is possible for many individuals with ADHD to control and manage their situation more effectively. For some, it will be more of a cure, with no medication needed. For others, it may mean less medication is needed or the medication works more effectively. It is important to realize that we are all different, and our situations are also different!

Sources for supplements: http://progressivelabs.com/   You’ll have to register to order from them, and it requires specifying who referred you. Please feel free to put my name on that line, and then you will be able to receive your supplements directly from the same manufacturer I use!

References:

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