A Big Day for the Biome Buzz!

Ok…I am a little googly-eyed today.  Not a screaming and fainting at the sight of the Beatles kind of hysteria –a more a refined, intellectual, only-slightly-girly kind of fandom.  🙂

So here is my embarrassing confession for the day: only once in my life have I ever written fan-mail and that  was to Dr. William Parker, the researcher at Duke University who is studying (among other things) the immunological effects of helminths.  In October 2010, I came across William’s online article, Reconstituting the Depleted Biome to Prevent Immune Disorders[i] and thought, “This guy totally gets it!”  I couldn’t resist – I wrote to him telling him (in so many words) that he rocks on with his bad self.  (William has subsequently become a friend but no, I have never asked him if he read that letter! Ugh.)

However, back on January 19th I kind of wrote a sorta fan-letter blog post about Dr. Derrick MacFabe, a researcher at the Cumming School of Medicine in Canada.  As I told you, I have been a huge admirer of Dr. M’s research for many years.  In the dark and dismal world of autism research (which, as you readers know, I pretty much regard as an oxymoron), he has been one of the few shining lights.  So you can imagine how thrilled I was this morning to see his positive comment on the post this morning!  Holy cow!  Dr.  MacFabe actually read the Biome Buzz!

Dr. MacFabe heads up a multi-disciplinary research group that studies “…how metabolic products of the gut microbiome control brain function and behavior in autism, and also related neuropsychiatric conditions, such as obsessive compulsive, anxiety, movement, eating and learning disorders. We are particularly interested in the role of short fatty acid metabolites of gut bacteria and their role in autism and the development of novel clinical biomarkers and therapies to prevent, identify, screen and treat the disorder.”  The website he provides us in his comment contains copious amounts of research, and videos for you visual types.

I was skimming through Dr. M’s research on the website and came across a paper that I’ll write about in my next post:  Enteric ecosystem disruption in autism spectrum disorder: can the microbiota and macrobiota be restored?

“Many lines of scientific research suggest that Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) may be associated with alterations in the enteric ecosystem, including alterations of the enteric macrobiome (i.e. helminths and fauna) and changes in predominant microbiome species, particularly a reduction in microbiome species diversity.”[ii]

Their conclusion:  “If these theoretical models prove to be valid, they may lead to the development of practical interventions which could decrease ASD prevalence and/or morbidity.”  Yes, for scientists this is all still theoretical.  For us in the real world – not so much.  Based upon 21 years of experience in the autism world, my observations of the kids I’ve worked with (including my own son) and my experience with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, probiotics, prebiotics and helminths…there’s a 100% certainty that these interventions work. But obviously, we need to know a whole lot more.  Alex is a hell of a lot better but he’s still profoundly autistic and sick.  So I am very grateful (more than I can say) to have researchers like William and Dr. MacFabe out there.

Thanks again, Dr.  M.

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[i] https://evmedreview.com/reconstituting-the-depleted-biome-to-prevent-immune-disorders/

[ii] Slattery, J, MacFabe, DF, Kahler, SG, Frye, RE. Enteric ecosystem disruption in autism spectrum disorder: can the microbiota and macrobiota be restored?  Current Pharmaceutical Design. 2016;22(40)6107-6121.

New Research on the Microbiome and IBD

I recently spotted this article[i] on research coming out of the University of North Carolina:  “UNC cancer researchers find potential treatment for inflammatory bowel diseases.”  (Now, not that I am obsessing on Dr. Mercola’s article from last week or anything but I admit, this particular quote from one of the researchers did strike a nerve:  “At this point we have limited treatment options and no cure for people with inflammatory bowel disease.”…as opposed to Dr. Mercola’s dismissal of the use of therapeutic helminths because, “there are already many proven ways to treat inflammatory bowel disease… very effectively.”)

Humph.

Still brooding over here. (I did warn you in my last post that I was pit bull when it comes to not letting go of things!)
Back to this UNC paper[ii]: the researchers found that inflammation in the gut can go unchecked if an inflammation-inhibitor protein called NLRP12 is missing. (I’m not sure I fully understand why someone would be deficient in the protein, but it appears that it may be a genetic fragility.) This out-of-control inflammation, in turn, affects the balance of bacteria in the gut.  (Another example of how everything in the body is more than a two- way street. An increase in bad bacteria causes inflammation – and inflammation causes an increase in bad bacteria.)  The researchers found that certain types of pro-inflammatory bacteria were more abundant, along with lower levels of anti-inflammatory bacteria, when NLRP12 is absent.

The researchers call NLRP12 a “checkpoint” for the immune system.  What they suggest causes the devastation in IBD is not just the absence of the protein but also, its subsequent missing interaction with the gut flora.  Adding beneficial bacteria back into the gut can end this vicious cycle.  “We could potentially screen people for reduced expression of NLRP12, or who have this bacterial signature. Could this be a relatively simple fix for people who have this signature of the disease? At least, it appears to be the case in animals,” says one of the lead researchers.

You do have to wonder if this is not a factor in the development of autism, considering its relationship to gut pathologies (i.e. autistic enterocolitis) and altered gut flora?

Logically, then – genetic fragility of not – keeping your biome in good health (via diet, helminths, probiotics, prebiotics, minimal use of antibiotics, etc.) may ward off the development of IBD.

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[i] https://lifesciencedaily.com/academic-research/20640-unc-cancer-researchers-find-potential-treatment-inflammatory-bowel-diseases/

[ii] Chen, L, et. al. NLRP12 attenuates colon inflammation by maintaining colonic microbial diversity and promoting protective commensal bacterial growth. Nature Immunology. 2017:doi:10.1038/ni.2690.

March 22: A Day for More Brooding

I have always been a brooder.  My brain pretty much never shuts down anyway, and once I latch onto something that upsets me, I’m like a pit bull – I don’t let go.  So what am I still contemplating?  (Actually, better said…fuming over?)  Yes, it’s that post (1) by Dr. Mercola last week.  Specifically, this comment of his:  “Although worm therapy may be touted as the best new therapy for inflammation, there are already many proven ways to treat inflammatory bowel disease and some of the other illnesses and disorders very effectively without resorting to deliberately introducing parasites into your system.”

“Some of the other illnesses and disorders.” So, how about the others, like autism (and ALS, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s…), for which there are NO accepted treatments?

Forgive me for more crankiness. Tomorrow is the 21st anniversary of my son’s diagnosis.  I remember nearly every minute of that terrible day.  What did the doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital here in New York tell me?  Firstly, that my beautiful baby had an incurable and devastating developmental disorder.  Secondly, that he may not be finished regressing and we may lose more skills (which indeed happened) and nothing could be done.  And third – that medical science had zero answers for me.

And 21 years later…medical science has zero answers for me.

Sure, it is at least now somewhat accepted that many children on the spectrum have GI involvement and yes, there’s some grasp of the fact that the gut biome is altered and the immune system is involved.  (But then again…at my first meeting with Dr. Sid Baker, 19 years ago, he already told me that autism is the result of abnormalities in the gut-brain-immune axis….)  However, in terms of accepted treatments for autism, there is still nothing.

Also, how about Dr. Mercola’s assertion that there are “…many proven ways to treat IBD some of the other illnesses and disorders very effectively”?! Many people do not respond to these treatments.  As one helminth user shared:

“I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease aged 16, have had all major pharmaceutical treatments with little to no sustainable impact, and subsequently had a colostomy procedure in my mid-20s as a result. I was one of the first 20 patients in the world to receive helminthic therapy, and have found through weekly dosages …I have achieved remission with no lasting side-effects.  Auto-immune disorders affect your nervous system, and regardless of all the other horrible symptoms, leave you feeling constantly tense and anxious. To be able to be free from that sensation after 17 years or more is an emotion that cannot be fully understood, unless you have experienced it yourself.”

Like this gentleman Alex’s colitis did not respond to prednisone, 6MP, colazal, pentasa, Gastrocrom and/or Nexium.  It did respond to the “unproven” treatments of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and helminths.  Alex is completely symptom free now, and off all special diets.

Those of us dealing with situations outside medical knowledge are simply not in a position to summarily dismiss anything that is not yet accepted by the medical establishment.  My conclusion is that holding to my mantra remains the best course of action: “When faced with prolonged scientific uncertainty, use your best judgement.”

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  1. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/03/13/helminth-therapy.aspx

ALS, Icebuckets and the Gut Biome

Several years ago, my Dad had a co-worker die of ALS:  he was only 42 or so.  My Dad tried to talk him into trying helminths.  After all, what did he have to lose?  And there is some speculation there that ALS may have an autoimmune component.  But the man’s doctor objected:  after all, helminths might kill him.  Wait…WHAT?!  (You can’t make this stuff up.)

The poor man, father of two little girls, was dead in less than 2 years.

Every time I read articles about ALS, I think of my Dad’s friend.  I never met him personally, but my Dad was fond of him…and how can anyone not be affected by the tragic death of someone so young?

My big brother also has a very dear friend who developed ALS a couple of years ago.  I first met her 30 or more years ago.  I think about her every day and my heart literally aches every time.  She is so unbelievably sick now – it’s unbearable.  Back in January, I spotted an article[i] out of the University of Illinois, “Rebalancing gut microbiome lengthens survival in mouse model of ALS.”  Believe it or not, the research was actually paid for by the famous Ice Bucket Challenge.

“Sun and her colleagues studied transgenic mice that were engineered to carry human genes known to contribute to certain forms of ALS. The mice were found to have an abnormal microbiome, along with damaged junctions between the cells of the intestinal lining. Poorly functioning junctions can cause the tissue to become leaky, and have been found to be associated with the onset of ALS in humans.

When the researchers fed the ALS-prone mice butyrate in their water, starting when the mice were 35 to 42 days old, the mice showed a restored gut microbiome profile and improved gut integrity. Butyrate-treated mice also showed improved neuromuscular function and delayed onset of ALS symptoms. Treated mice showed symptoms at 150 days old compared to control mice at about 110 days. Treated mice also lived an average 38 days longer than mice not given butyrate.”

Butyrate is a natural byproduct of normal intestinal bacteria.  Feeding it to the mice restored the equilibrium to the intestinal bacteria and improved lesions in the gut wall.

By the way, I had already read previously that gut bacteria play a role in ALS (as well as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, which you already know from previous posts).  Research out of the University of Louisville[ii] discovered that the misfolding of proteins in the brain that characterize these diseases can be initiated by proteins produced by gut bacteria.  One of the researchers concluded, “These new studies in two different animals show that proteins made by bacteria harbored in the gut may be an initiating factor in the disease process of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and ALS.”

I know my brother sent the information on to his friend.  She can read, but she cannot talk – she has to use some kind of special computer. He visits her regularly – I hope he can convince her. My Dad will always regret that Rob could not be convinced.  Of course, I have absolutely no idea if working on her gut biome at this stage can help but…it can’t hurt either, can it?   And as I said a few weeks back, talking about my Grandmother and Alzheimer’s, let’s all “not go gentle into that good night…”

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[i] https://news.uic.edu/rebalancing-gut-microbiome-lengthens-survival-in-mouse-model-of-als

[ii] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161006092015.htm

Uh oh…I’m in a Mood Again!

Sometimes I am 100% convinced that the world has gone crazy.  (Actually, every day I am convinced of that.  But some days it just boils over for me…)

Now, you may think that someone who finds intestinal organisms utterly fascinating is a big one to talk but honestly, at least there is logic behind my madness.

[Spoiler Alert: I am not going to get through this post without sarcasm, so if you aren’t in the mood, read no further.]

Those of us in the industrialized world are suffering from continually increasing rates of chronic immune-mediated disorders.  Those living in non-industrialized places are not.  These people have native helminth populations, which humans have had for all of their evolutionary history…until the last few decades.  When people from non-industrialized countries move to the industrialized world and lose their helminths, they develop allergies, etc.  Helminths modulate the immune system by boosting levels of regulatory cytokines.  Helminths improve the quality of the microbiome, shifting it from pro-inflammatory species to anti-inflammatory ones.  Helminths seem to have beneficial effects on boosting humoral immunity.  This is all in the medical literature in hundreds and hundreds of articles.

Almost 20 years of research supports the idea of restoring our natural biomes with helminths, and researchers who are actually involved in helminth research – like Dr. William Parker, at Duke – state in the medical literature, “Principle among these consequences [of post-industrial modernization] is depletion of important components, particularly helminths, from the ecosystem of the human body…”[i]

Or how about this one from researchers at the University of Iowa, including Dr. Joel Weinstock, one of the great pioneers in this field, ““Immune-mediated diseases (e.g. inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, multiple sclerosis and autoimmune diabetes) are increasing in prevalence and emerge as populations adopt meticulously hygienic lifestyles…Loss of natural helminth exposure removes a previously universal Th2 and regulatory immune biasing imparted by these organisms….”[ii]

And yet, an article[iii] came out today by Dr. Mercola on his website, which – while acknowledging, for example, the Duke University/University of Central Arkansas study, showing fairly dramatic results in those self-treating – he concludes that there are better ways of dealing with all this:  nutrients and soap.

Yes, Dr. M – I am sure that avoiding anti-bacterial soaps, letting children play in the dirt, eating cultured foods and taking our vitamin D will most certainly rid us all of autism, allergies, autoimmune diseases, and many mental illnesses, including depression.

Is it me?!  I mean, either I am over-complicating this whole problem big time or he is rather astronomically under-complicating it.

According to Dr. Mercola, we should completely discount biome restoration with helminths.  Why?

  1. Some kinds of helminths are dangerous.  (Of course, not the ones people are using to restore their biomes in the doses they are using…)  Ok, Dr. M – I think we should make berries illegal, because some kinds of berries are poisonous.  For that matter, some kinds of bacteria are deadly so let’s bag probiotics while we’re at it.
  2. Stay away from helminths because there are already heaps of treatments for inflammatory bowel disease. Do I actually need to comment on this one?  Ok – well, just one comment because I can’t stop myself.  I DEFINITELY think using chemotherapy agents like 6MP which knock your white blood cells down to nothing and open you up to get cancer…or methotrexate, with its black box warning about how it can be potentially fatal, as just two examples of all those fab treatments that are out there, are WAY better ways to go.  (I AM restraining myself.  I haven’t said a word here about the TNF-alpha inhibitors!)
  3. He claims that “many inflammatory diseases can be either prevented or remedied with good nutrition — that is, eating what’s good for you, and staying away from what isn’t, such as genetically engineered foods, grains and sugars, and making sure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals that are so critical to your health, such as vitamin D and those found in fermented foods.” Firstly, no one is claiming helminths are the cure-all and without a doubt, a healthy diet is mandatory.  But honest to God…how naïve is this man, if he actually believes that all we need to do to get rid of these epidemics of autism, allergies, etc. are improve our diets and use regular soap?

Dr. M’s article is…well…it’s almost childish.  In fact, so much so that I almost believe he is being purposefully obtuse. For a doctor who is known for promoting natural health, and  “Exposing corporate, government, and mass media hype that diverts you away from what is truly best for your health and often to a path that leads straight into an early grave” – and who supports so many worthy  causes – it is very strange to me that he would so readily discount something that has helped so many thousands of desperate people who have been failed by traditional medicine.

I really hope he rethinks his position at some point.  Maybe talk to some of the people who have found relief through helminths.  Maybe talk to some of the practitioners recommending them or some of the researchers studying them. We could use a guy like Dr. M on our team.  And the truth is, we are all too damn sick to simply write off something that many other doctors, researchers and patients deem to be so absolutely critical.

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[i] Bilbo, SD, John P. Jones, JP,  Parker, W. Is Autism a Member of a Family of Diseases Resulting from Genetic/Cultural Mismatches? Implications for Treatment and Prevention,” Autism Research and Treatment, vol. 2012: Article ID 910946, 11 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/910946.

[ii] Elliott,  DE, Summers, RW, Weinstock, JV.  Helminths as Governors of Immune-Mediated Inflammation. International Journal of Parasitology. Volume 37, Issue 5, April 2007: 457–464

[iii] http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/03/13/helminth-therapy.aspx

Interesting Bits and Pieces about the Mycobiome

I found a new article[i] yesterday on the mycobiome (yeast).  To sum it up – we know next-to-nothing about what comprises a healthy one.  🙂

There were a few very interesting items in it that deserve mention:

  1. I already knew that there were differences in the bacterial microbiome between babies fed formula versus breast-fed, in large part because of the prebiotic elements (the oligosaccharides) and immune proteins found in breast milk  Breast-fed babies have more beneficial bacteria  including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacill  Interestingly, in vitro studies show that these prebiotics also impact the virulence of yeast infections, preventing Candida (C.albicans) from invading intestinal epithelial cells.  This has yet to be studied in actual humans yet, however.
  2. Antibiotics do not only affect the bacterial microbiome, but the mycobiome as well. One longitudinal study over the first 3 years of life showed that antibiotics cause an immediate change in the bacteria of the intestine, and while they do not directly affect the fungi, their use results in  “…increased rates of fungal colonization, fungal overgrowth and changes in fungal community…”  (Any woman who has developed a vaginal yeast infection after a course of antibiotics is only too familiar with this phenomenon.)  It was the proposed mechanisms of action that I found interesting, including the fact that bacteria actually produce anti-fungal molecules.  Killing them off then allows more fungi to grow.
  3. And vice versa: “…fungi affect bacterial colonization is also true,” as studies in which animals are colonized with candida show an altered bacterial repopulation.
  4. Thus, just like we know the macrobiome (helminths) and microbiome have a bi-directional relationship, so does the bacterial microbiome and the mycobiome. (It’s probably safe to assume then that since the presence of helminths positively affects the bacterial microbiome, their presence would also help keep fungal overgrowth in check.  I do wonder if there’s not also a direct relationship…but that research is probably decades away.)
  5. The fecal mycobiomes of obese versus lean children and adults differ. Administration of Saccromyces boulardii (a probiotic yeast) has been shown to reduce obesity in humans and animals.
  6. It looks like the fungi of the intestines play a role in the development or prevention of allergy. I wonder then if this isn’t part of the reason that antibiotics given in the first two years of life is highly associated with allergies later on.
  7. There is a clear fungal signature in pediatric patients who develop inflammatory bowel disease. Whether or not this is a cause or effect of the diseases is not yet known.

Considering how all these biomes work together as a whole, I have to believe that improving the quality of the bacterial microbiome and supplementing a macrobiome would lead to an improved mycobiome.

In the autism community, antifungals are often used for years at a time.  While a minority of children are positively affected, it is still a large number, and there was always some question about why they worked.  Reading this, I have to believe that it’s not just the direct effect of potentially reducing yeast overgrowth in these immune compromised children but also, the indirect effect on the bacterial microbiome, which we know for certain is a part of the disorder.

Interesting stuff!

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[i] Ward, TL, Knights, D, Gale, CA. Infant fungal communities: current knowledge and research opportunities. BMC Medicine. 2017:15:30.

Loads More Research on the Microbiome and the Brain

There have been a few amazing articles on the biome and health in the last few days.

A new study[i] just came out of Canada on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  They were looking to see whether or not the gut bacteria from humans with IBS “carry” the disease.  That is, if you take the gut bacteria from someone with IBS and implant it into another living animal, will that induce the disease?  Since ethically you can’t purposely make a human sicker in a study, the researchers used germ-free mice.  They found that yes, aspects of IBS did transfer, including gastrointestinal transit time (how long it takes for food to move from the stomach through the intestines), intestinal barrier dysfunction (that is, the health of the lining of the intestines), low grade inflammation and anxiety-like behavior.  The researchers emphasize that not only does the intestinal bacteria influence physical symptoms, but mental ones as well. Thus, their study “…adds to evidence suggesting that the intestinal microbiota may play some role in the spectrum of brain disorders ranging from mood or anxiety to other problems that may include autism, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.”

Funny they should mention Parkinson’s.  You will remember I wrote about the gut biome and Parkinson’s back in December.  There’s now another new study[ii] out of the University of Alabama, showing that Parkinson’s, and medications used to treat it, seem to have distinct effects on the bacterial microbiome. The researchers acknowledge that they don’t know which comes first:  that is, does the disease alter the gut bacteria or does the gut bacteria lead to the disease?  However, what is known is that the first symptoms of Parkinson’s are often gastrointestinal, and considering other research in this area, and the pretty-much-daily growing list of diseases associated with biome alterations, my guess is the latter.

A good article[iii] appeared this week in The Atlantic, summarizing some really interesting work on the gut-brain axis.  “Scientists have found evidence that this assemblage [the microbiome]…could play a crucial role in autism, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.” I particularly liked one of the studies cited, in which one group of people ate yogurt twice a day – the rest did not. All the participants were then given brain scans while viewing a series of images of facial expressions.  The researchers were surprised to learn that those who ate yogurt responded more calmly to the images.  One of the researchers is quoted saying, ““The contrast was clear…This was not what we expected, that eating a yogurt twice a day for a few weeks would do something to your brain.”

Just as I was about to post this, I came across yet another article[iv] on this very topic.  (I’m telling you – new information comes out daily at this point!  My blog and I are the ultimate in trending.)  Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine reversed depression in a mouse model, using Lactobacillus probiotics. “The big hope for this kind of research is that we won’t need to bother with complex drugs and side-effects when we can just play with the microbiome…It would be magical just to change your diet, to change the bacteria you take, and fix your health – and your mood.”[v]

None of this comes as a surprise to me.  After all, I have witnessed with my own eyes, many times, what improving and enriching the biome can do!

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[i] “Transplantation of fecal microbiota from patients with irritable bowel syndrome alters gut function and behavior in recipient mice,” Science Translational Medicine, stm.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/scitranslmed.aaf6397

[ii] Erin M. Hill-Burns, Justine W. Debelius, James T. Morton, William T. Wissemann, Matthew R. Lewis, Zachary D. Wallen, Shyamal D. Peddada, Stewart A. Factor, Eric Molho, Cyrus P. Zabetian, Rob Knight, Haydeh Payami. Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s disease medications have distinct signatures of the gut microbiome. Movement Disorders, 2017; DOI: 10.1002/mds.26942

[iii] https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/06/gut-bacteria-on-the-brain/395918/

[iv] Ioana A. Marin et al. Microbiota alteration is associated with the development of stress-induced despair behavior, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/srep43859

[v] https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-03-reversing-depression-symptoms-mice-probiotics.html#jCp

 

More on Alzheimer’s…because I so don’t want anyone to get it

I have written before about the evils of a diet high in sugar, and right now, I guess with my Grandmother’s birthday last week bringing her so often to mind, I’m on a dementia roll. So,  following on the heels of my recent post about Alzheimer’s, I thought I’d write about recent research[i] out of England which has definitively connected high blood sugar levels with Alzheimer’s.

It was already known that patients with diabetes have a greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s, and one would suspect that inflammation – which is involved in both disease processes – would play a big part.  It turns out that this is indeed the case.

Glucose and its break-down products can damage proteins in cells through a process called glycation.  Scientists have now discovered the exact molecule (MIF = macrophage migration inhibitory factor) which is damaged by glycation.  This molecule is a part of the normal immune response and insulin regulation.  Damage to this molecule by excessive glycation (from high glucose), which makes it not work optimally, can lead to the development of the brain plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Omar Kassaar, one of the researchers involved in this study, said: “Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity, but this potential link with Alzheimer’s disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets.”[ii]

Sugar is just bad.  It’s bad for our microbiomes: and an unhealthy microbiome is linked to a myriad of diseases, as you know from reading this blog.  Sugar is linked to obesity, metabolic syndrome, cancer, hypertension, depression, headaches and fatigue.  According to a 2012 article[iii] in Forbes, Americans now consume 765 grams of sugar every 5 days.  Compare that to the early 1800s, when we consumed 45 grams.  Around 1900, we were eating about 20 pounds of sugar per year – now we’re eating over 130 pounds.  We average about 3 pounds of sugar per week!

So call me crazy but…limiting your intake of refined sugar is probably a really good idea.
By the way, just before I went to post this, I spotted an article[iv] on Medpage Today, describing a new study also out of England, which demonstrates that patients with autoimmune disease are markedly (20%) more likely to develop dementia.  “”There are suggestions that Alzheimer’s disease may have an autoimmune component, and that autoimmune and inflammatory mechanisms may play a role in the development of dementia,” Wotton and Goldacre wrote.”

Time to boost those regulatory cytokines.

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[i] Omar Kassaar et al, Macrophage Migration Inhibitory Factor is subjected to glucose modification and oxidation in Alzheimer’s Disease, Scientific Reports (2017).

[ii] From: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-02-sugar-link-alzheimer-disease-revealed.html#jCp

[iii] From: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2012/08/30/how-much-sugar-are-americans-eating-infographic/#8dfe2cf4ee74

[iv] From: https://www.medpagetoday.com/rheumatology/generalrheumatology/63498

The Importance of Prebiotics

Many years ago, when I started Alex on SCD (2003), prebiotics were “illegal,” as Elaine Gottschall feared that feeding gut bacteria would worsen their overgrowth.  We devoted SCDers avoided them like the plague.

Sometime around 2010 though, well after Elaine had passed away, I began to read more and more articles about the benefits of prebiotics.  First, let me define a prebiotic for you:  these are non-digestible fibers that feed beneficial gut bacteria.  (Some better known prebiotics are FOS and inulin.  You may have seen these combined with your probiotics in fact.  A combination product is called a symbiotic.)

I know, I know.  Several times in the last couple of weeks I’ve referred you back to my post on the crucial importance of fiber in your diet.  I realize that I’m starting to sound like a broken record.  But…just today I read yet another study that I’ll share with you in my next post. It’s just so important that I can’t help myself from harping!

Anyway, that one word – BENEFICIAL – changed my feelings about using prebiotics, especially since the accumulating research proved that it not only boosts levels of good bacteria, but also decreases levels of harmful ones.

Here’s a great summary of how it all works:

“Once FOS reach the colon, anaerobic bacteria ferment them to obtain energy and carbon for their own growth. During this process, these bacteria also generate short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which reduce pH in the gut creating a less favorable environment for harmful bacteria. As a result of the fermentation, there is an increase in the concentration of beneficial bacteria (bifidobacteria) in the large intestine, an increase in calcium absorption, an increase in fecal weight, and a shortening of gastrointestinal transit time, all of which help normalize bowel function….The production of SCFAs, like butyric acid, serves as the primary fuel for the cells of the large intestine and helps maintain their health and integrity, which can become damaged by C.diff toxins. Bifidobacteria are beneficial because they stimulate the immune system, increase resistance to infection and diarrheal disease, and enhance overall gut health.”[i]

A few years ago, I came across a double-blind 6-month-long study[ii]  of 30 patients with chronic diarrhea or abdominal pain who had been diagnosed with SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth).  All patients were treated with antibiotics for 3 weeks.  Then, half the patients received a symbiotic formula (probiotics + prebiotics) for half the month and antibiotics the 2nd half, while the control group only received the antibiotics.  After 6 months, the symbiotics group had significantly better reductions in pain, bloating, belching and diarrhea and, in fact, this group had a complete resolution of abdominal pain – while only half those in the antibiotic group reported the pain being gone.  I was pretty impressed with that.

Yesterday morning I read an interesting article[iii] describing recent research, expanding on what we know about the benefits of prebiotics.  In an animal model, prebiotics improved sleep (non-REM sleep (NREM), which is restful and restorative).  “’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,’ state the researchers.”

As a parent of a young man with autism, with a history of inflammatory bowel disease and with a history of monstrous sleep problems (every day of his life)…well, you can imagine that caught my interest.

Back to this study: after stressing the rats, the researchers also found that those on prebiotics had better REM sleep as well, which is crucial for promoting recovery from stress.  (Apparently, those who get more REM sleep after a trauma are less likely to develop PTSD.)

Many foods are rich in prebiotics (like onions, garlic, jicama, avocados, and peas to name a few).  You can also buy prebiotics in supplement form.  (Just be aware though that it’s always a good idea to increase fiber intake slowly to give your body time to adjust.  Too much too quickly can lead to bloating and flatulence.)

One more thing I picked up yesterday, reading through some literature on prebiotics in preparation for writing this:  bifido bacteria levels apparently go down as we age.  As you know from my last post, I’m very anti-aging!  Prebiotics can make a difference.  So Mom and Dad…looks like it may be time for another supplement!  🙂 Whoopa!

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[i] Sallit J. C. diff Prevention and Adjunctive Therapy with Prebiotics & Probiotics. Connections newsletter, Dietetics in Healthcare Communities, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Fall 2010; 35,2:1-8.

[ii] Khalighi AR, Khalighi MR, Behdani R, Jamali J, Khosravi A, Kouhestani SH, et al. Evaluating the efficacy of probiotic on treatment in patients with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)-A pilot study. Indian J Med Res. 2014;140:604–8.

[iii] From:  https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-02-dietary-prebiotics-buffer-impacts-stress.html#jCp

Alzheimer’s and the Biome

Over a decade ago, my grandmother died of dementia.  As if it’s not bad enough that someone you love so deeply doesn’t recognize you, doesn’t remember all the wonderful moments of their life – your life with them… it was even worse for me because Grandma May was one of the most youthful, vigorous, alive people I’ve ever known.  (I think the reason I became so rapidly and profoundly attached to Elaine Gottschall (read my post about her here) was that, in so many ways, she reminded me of my grandmother.)  Grandma was one of my best friends on this earth.  And then…she was alive, but she wasn’t.

Never again.  I could not bear to see anyone else I love go through that.  I don’t laugh when people talk about “senior moments,” and in fact, always feel a bit panicked whenever anyone talks about memory lapses.  I’m on top of my parents like white on rice, watching their diets, their supplements: I am their Biome Babysitter.

So it is a very personal thing to me, when I read articles like this one that came out yesterday in the Huffington Post, “Targeting Gut Bacteria May Be the Key to Preventing Alzheimer’s.”[i]   The article describes research that’s just come out of Sweden which demonstrates that unhealthy gut flora can accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s.

The research involved colonizing germ-free mice with the gut bacteria of mice with Alzheimer’s.  They began developing many of the brain plaques which are a hallmark of the disease.  (These plaques disrupt signaling in the brain and lead to the gradual death of nerve cells.) However, when germ-free mice were colonized with bacteria from healthy rodents, they developed significantly fewer of these plaques.

While the exact mechanism by which gut bacteria cause Alzheimer’s is unknown, the researchers suspect that bacteria affect regulatory cytokines:  those same regulatory t-cells that I’ve been writing about, which turn off the body’s inflammatory system when it’s no longer needed.

One of the researchers is quoted as saying, “Alzheimer’s is a preventable disease and in the near future we will likely be able to give advice on what to eat to prevent it.  Take care of your gut bacteria by eating lots of whole-grains, fruits and vegetables.”  (See my post about the crucial importance of fiber in your diet.)

I cannot begin to count the number of times in my life people have made comments about cognitive decline being an “accepted”  and “expected” part of aging.  NO!  I do not accept it, and neither should you.  Eat right.  Get adequate sleep.  Exercise both your body and your brain.  Supplement your omega 3s. And work on the health of your biome.

Live, as I do, by the words of the great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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[i] From: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gut-bacteria-alzheimers_us_589e0e09e4b03df370d628be