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Common Probiotic Myths Debunked

The amount of information found online about probiotics can be mind boggling. Search “should I take probiotics,” for instance, and you’ll likely close your browser none the wiser. There’s a lot of credible information, and there’s equally loads of erroneous information, including “experts” who have extrapolated data from research studies and made umbrella statements that are just plain … wrong.

For instance, many people believe that probiotics are like seeds that plant themselves in the gut and that they are supposed to grow and flourish. In fact, studies show that most probiotics pass through our digestive tract in about 6 weeks. Bloggers, experts and the media picked up this information and, suddenly, a buzz was created that probiotics were useless. This is not true!

Here’s what we know: 

Over 100 trillion microbes live in your digestive tract. Most of them are “good” bacteria, but there’s always some “bad” bacteria that live in your gut ecosystem (like weeds in your inner garden), always looking for an opportunity to overgrow and cause an imbalance. 

There are about 500 different strains of these microbes (estimates range from 300-1000) and when you take probiotics, you are ingesting just a few of the strains that have been well studied and found to be beneficial to your health.  You can eat probiotic foods, such as cultured (yogurt) food or fermented vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut), or you can take a probiotic supplement, with many different types that vary by the dose and the number of strains that they contain. 

What’s most important is that you think about probiotics as influencers on your gut ecosystem.  While you take them, they are exerting a tremendous influence without needing them to “plant and grow”.  Here’s what we know.

How Probiotics Help You

GUT

Many studies have shown that taking probiotics can alleviate myriad gastrointestinal symptoms, including reducing bloat, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.  While the exact mechanism for how they do this has still to be completely worked out, we do know that probiotics help improve the overall balance of the good:bad bacteria, and help heal the intestinal lining.  This really matters because a damaged microbiome can give rise to many chronic health conditions, including inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, mental health issues, obesity, increased infections and lowered resistance to viruses. 

Here’s the good news:  If you have a “leaky”gut (increased permeability of the digestive tract lining), or dysbiosis (too many bad bacteria), probiotic supplements can help restore your gut barrier as they are passing through.  They can also help improve the number and function of your own good gut bacteria, and inhibit the growth of the “bad” bacteria. This ability to influence the overall health and functioning of your gut highlights why taking probiotics helps so many people, and why probiotic foods have been around for hundreds of years in many different cultures around the world.  Pretty important stuff, right?

INFLAMMATION

Probiotics also play a huge role in helping treat inflammatory conditions like arthritis, and immune system imbalances like autoimmune disease. Think of any condition with -itis at the end — gastritis, colitis, bursitis, diverticulitis, rhinitis, dermatitis — these are all inflammatory conditions. Many of these conditions are related to a damaged microbiome, and leaky gut, where microbes and toxins are leaking through the digestive tract lining into the bloodstream. Yeah, not good, as this triggers a system-wide immune response … inflammation. 

Susan Blum, MD, reports in her latest book, Healing Arthritis, that researchers have studied the use of probiotic supplements to treat the dysbiosis (overgrowth of “bad” bacteria) of inflammatory arthritis and found that probiotics improve symptoms in arthritis sufferers. Generally speaking, when it comes to arthritis, probiotics are thought to improve all the functions of your own good flora, including helping T regulator immune cells work better and live longer, turning off inflammation and repairing the gut lining and tight junctions. Because probiotics help treat a leaky gut, and because of the gut-arthritis connection, it follows that they would also treat systemic inflammation and arthritis, and they do!  

Probiotics help reduce inflammation by helping the immune system block pro-inflammatory responses that trigger inflammation over time. In other words, probiotics are a must for any one who has an inflammatory condition, and are beneficial for anyone trying to keep inflammation at bay. 

IMMUNITY

Did you know that the majority of your immune system resides in your gut? In fact, about 80% of your immune system lives in your digestive tract. With your gut playing such an important role in your body’s ability to defend itself against infection, it’s imperative that your gut microbiome be in tip-top shape. 

Your immune system has an innate response and an adaptive response. Innate immunity is an immediate inflammatory response — a signal that your body needs to defend itself from an invader, such as an allergen. Adaptive immunity takes longer to come to fruition. It is the body’s way of developing antibodies to pathogens — for example this is the way a vaccination works. When you consume probiotics, you are directly tuning up your gut-immune system, because the probiotics “talk” to your immune cells as they are passing through.  This is like arming your gut to protect you from foreign invaders!

CHOLESTEROL

Studies show that certain probiotics, particularly Lactobacilli, can help reduce cholesterol. They do this by preventing cholesterol from being absorbed, as well by helping to break it down. Evidently, probiotics can bind with cholesterol in the intestines to block it from being absorbed, and they also influence the metabolism of bile acids, which then affects the way that your body metabolizes fat and cholesterol.

MENTAL HEALTH

You’ve likely heard of the Gut-Brain Axis — meaning that neurotransmitters not only reside in your brain, but also live in your gut, and they communicate with one another. Take care of your gut, and you take care of your brain.

In fact, researchers recently found that probiotics improved psychiatric disorder-related behaviors including anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and memory abilities, including spatial and non-spatial memory.

Probiotics help your mood and your functioning? Pardon the pun, but this is a no-brainer.

ANTIBIOTICS

Probiotics can also help offset the bacterial imbalance caused by taking antibiotics. Antibiotics kill good bacteria along with the harmful ones, often leading to gas, cramping or diarrhea. These side effects often drive patients to the pharmacy in search of an appropriate probiotic.

What’s perhaps more important, and lesser known, is that frequent or extended use of antibiotics can lead to leaky gut and is implicated as an underlying root cause of autoimmune disease. 

Research demonstrates that probiotics strains can act as adjuncts to antibiotic therapy by reducing side effects, protecting the digestive tract lining from leaky gut and they can actually improve antibiotic function.

ORAL HEALTH

Flossing and brushing aren’t the only ways to care for your mouth. Emerging research is demonstrating that the microbiome of the mouth benefits from probiotics. From preventing plaque to fighting bad breath and reducing gingivitis, and even to preventing oral cancer, probiotics are proving to be good for the mouth, too! Pucker up with confidence!

SKIN

Who doesn’t want clear skin? People predisposed to skin conditions, such as acne, eczema or rosacea, tend to flare when their gut microbiome is out of balance. It is well documented that probiotics help prevent and treat skin diseases including eczema, atopic dermatitis, acne, allergic inflammation, skin hypersensitivity, wound protection and even UV-induced skin damage.

Which Probiotic Strains to Take

Look at probiotics and you might be wondering, “How the heck do I know which one to choose?” Great question. 

General recommendations call for ingesting 1 to 25 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) daily. To put these guidelines into perspective, most store-bought probiotic yogurts only contain about 1 billion CFUs per serving. 

We are now learning that perhaps different strains are effective for different health issues, but research has a long way to go until we can choose a specific strain for a specific condition.  Case in point: Studies performed in inflammatory bowel disease suggest that high doses of combinations of different probiotic strains are more effective in decreasing inflammation and maintaining patients in remission than a single probiotic strain. This is one of the reasons that we always recommend multi strain formulas.  

For this reason at Blum Center for Health we recommend 25 billion CFUs to best support your gut microbiome. Ours is a hypoallergenic blend of 12 certified probiotic species — a complete spectrum of microorganisms. And, it’s on sale right now!  Learn More Here

Ready to improve your gut and improve your health? A probiotic is a great place to start.

 

Meet Melissa: Melissa Rapoport is the Manager of Health Coaching and Lifestyle Programming at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY. She combines her graduate work in Developmental Psychology with her education in nutrition, health and coaching to create highly individualized programs that result in lifetime change. A contributing author to three international bestselling books, Melissa’s greatest joy is her relationship with her two daughters.

 

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The Autoimmune and Leaky Gut Connection

Leaky Gut and Food Sensitivities

Have you heard of the term “leaky gut” but are unsure what it is or if you may have it?

Consider this common scenario we see at Blum Center for Health.

Jane (not her real name) is a 48-year-old woman with three autoimmune conditions: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, psoriasis, and alopecia areata, a form of patchy hair loss on the scalp. The Hashimoto’s was diagnosed after her first pregnancy at 34 when she just couldn’t get her energy back postpartum.  She eventually started on low dose thyroid replacement medication but every few years has had to increase her dose. The psoriasis began a few years after that on her elbows and she controls it with a steroid cream. And then last year she noticed a big clump of hair in the drain and looked more closely at her scalp only to find a bare spot the size of a quarter.  When her doctor told her it’s her third autoimmune condition, she knew she needed to look more deeply for answers to why her immune system is becoming more dysfunctional.

When Jane came to see us at Blum Center, she also reported that she’d had irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, for many years.  For her, that means sometimes diarrhea, sometimes constipation, occasional crampy abdominal pain, and embarrassing gas almost every day.  She had begun to feel that that was just “normal,” since she’d lived with it since her 20s.

Along with increasing autoimmunity, Jane’s gut symptoms are some of the hallmarks for increased intestinal permeability, or leaky gut.  When the lining of the intestines becomes inflamed even at a microscopic level by food, gut bacteria imbalances, toxicants, or stress, the intestinal lining cells start to lose their protective integrity.  Instead of just letting micronutrients into the body through small “gates” that can open and close between the cells, the gates get stuck in the open position and larger and larger molecules, and even your gut bacteria, can come into the body.  These large molecules and microbes weren’t meant to have access to the body, so the immune system sounds the alarm. In trying to manage the flood of disinformation, the immune system often begins to overreact leading to trouble telling what is “not me” and what is “me,” starting the autoimmune process.

The good news: we can usually fix leaky gut and along with it, improve autoimmune symptoms and markers.  When we can decrease the burden on the immune system, it often begins to heal. Start by reviewing your treatment options using these tips on how to heal a leaky gut. The first step is usually to treat dysbiosis, an imbalance in the gut microbiome.

If you suspect you have Leaky Gut, or if you suffer from digestive problems, such as cramping, bloating, burping, flatulence, diarrhea or constipation our 30-Day HealMyGut Program will help bring balance to your to gut microbiome, repair your digestive tract lining and relieve these painful and uncomfortable symptoms. HealMyGut features our exclusive antimicrobial packets in addition to 3 other gut-healing supplements, a detailed guidebook with recipes from our test kitchen — everything you need to heal your gut and feel well again. → Check out HealMyGut

 

About Elizabeth Grieg, FNP:  In her dual role as our Functional Medicine Nurse Practitioner and a teacher in our Mind.Body.Spirit programs at Blum Center for Health, Elizabeth Greig, MSN, FNP, helps treat and heal patients with complex chronic health conditions. Whether she’s treating a medical condition or leading a class in meditation, Elizabeth helps people understand that when it comes to healing, it’s more about nourishing life, than it is about battling illness. Learn more about Elizabeth’s practice.

 

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How To Choose The Right Supplement

Choosing the right supplements

You eat a healthy diet—fresh vegetables and fruits every day, lean animal protein or high quality vegetarian protein, and whole grains—and you limit your intake of processed foods, right?

Do you still need a multivitamin or any kind of supplement?

In functional medicine, we often find the answer to be yes, because there are multiple reasons why you might not be getting what you need just from food.

First, we eat food for energy and nutrients:

The food we eat is more or less nutritious depending on the soil it is grown in or, in the case of animal protein, the feed the animals have been given.  Conventional farming puts only a limited number of nutrients back into the soil through fertilizers, so food grown on those farms tend to have lower nutrient quality over time.  In particular, zinc often becomes depleted.

Organic farming has a greater potential for higher nutrient quality because the soil is often fertilized with richer nutrient sources than just standard fertilizer.  But again, if the soil has been used for decades for agriculture, it may become depleted especially of trace minerals.

Before we became such an urban culture, people ate much more of the “whole” of whole foods—nothing was thrown away.  We ate organ meats like pancreas, kidneys, liver, brain that all have nutrients that aren’t necessarily found in vegetables or the usual meats we eat.  We ate much more fish and so got our omega- 3 fatty acids we need for healthy cell membranes.  We also used vegetable skins to make soup stocks and roasted pumpkin seeds for snacks (think zinc) to get minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.  Overall, then, we have narrowed our nutrient sources by just eating the “good” parts of our foods.

Supplement Suggestion: In order to compensate for these changes in our foods and diets, we recommend a daily regimen of:

  • A daily multivitamin-mineral
  • Omega 3s, and
  • Vitamin D

These will meet the basic needs of almost everyone.

Looking for these essentials in an easy daily packets? Our specially-formulated Once Daily Vitamin and Mineral Essentials  has everything you need, and is third-party tested for purity.

Then there is your digestion:

If you are not digesting your food well, then you may not absorb your nutrients well.  We can determine what the problem is with your digestion by doing functional testing.

Then, while you work on improving your digestion, targeted supplements based on what’s going on in your body can really make a difference in how you feel.

We determine that based on symptoms or medical conditions that are associated with certain deficiencies in addition to the testing.  We do with each person who comes to Blum Center to tailor a program specifically to you.

When choosing supplements you also want to be aware of the quality of the products you are taking. 

News reports come out frequently about how the supplements at some of the chain stores don’t have the nutrients they are labeled to have.  Professional quality supplements have third party verification of their ingredients and also have testing for contaminants like lead.  We are careful at Blum Center to choose high quality, third party verified supplements.  We can advise you on resources to check supplement testing for products as well.

Do you live near Blum Center in Rye Brook, NY? Join Elizabeth and Darcy McConnell, MD for their community talk, What You Need to Know about Supplements, on Wednesday, April 19th at 7pm. Register Now! 

Meet Elizabeth: In her dual role as our Functional Medicine Nurse Practitioner and a teacher in our Mind.Body.Spirit programs at Blum Center for Health, Elizabeth Greig, MSN, FNP, helps treat and heal patients with complex chronic health conditions. Whether she’s treating a medical condition or leading a class in meditation, Elizabeth helps people understand that when it comes to healing, it’s more about nourishing life, than it is about battling illness.

 

 

 

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An Apple A Day? Better Make It Two!

An Apple A Day

Apples have long been associated with a healthful diet. After all, the adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” which originated in the 1860s, is a common refrain around the world. (1)

Yet for some people, like those Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), apples can trigger digestive symptoms like bloating and gas. If you find apples give you these symptoms it is a sure sign that our 30-Day HealMyGut program is for you. Once you heal your gut apples will once again become a staple to your diet.

The fact is we need apples!

Researchers are finding that the humble apple is not only nutritious but also has healing powers that begin in the gut.

One study (2) in Japan demonstrated that the population of friendly bacteria, bifidus and lactobacillus, increased significantly by eating two apples a day for two weeks. The pectin in apples seems to play a significant role so drinking a glass of apple juice does not have the same benefit.

The finding is significant because apple pectin is a prebiotic — a non-digestible dietary nutrient, which beneficially influences the intestinal bacteria by stimulating their growth. These “friendly” bacteria fight inflammation and prevent a host of digestive problems. In essence, apples provide your gut bacteria the food they need to do their job.

Further, in another study a research team at Washington State University (3) compared several different types of apples to measure the amounts of non-digestible compounds they contain, and they found that Granny Smith apples, (yes those tart, green apples!), contained the highest levels of prebiotics, including dietary fibers and polyphenols.

Clearly, food is indeed medicine. Adhering to the old adage, “An apple a day” is good for you. There are thousand of varieties to try. Don’t wait …treat your gut to the healing powers of apples today!

As Dr. Blum says, “A healthy gut equals a healthy immune system, and using food as medicine is always the path towards getting there!

Meet Melissa: Melissa Rapoport is the Manager of Health Coaching and Lifestyle Programming at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY. She combines her graduate work in Developmental Psychology with her education in nutrition, health and coaching to create highly individualized programs that result in lifetime change. A contributing author to three international bestselling books, Melissa’s greatest joy is her relationship with her two daughters.

References
1. Story behind an apple a day. Ely, M. Washington Post Online. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/history-behind-an-apple-a-day/2013/09/24/aac3e79c-1f0e-11e3-94a2-6c66b668ea55_story.html

2. Effect of apple intake on fecal microbiota and metabolites in humans.
Shinohara K, Ohashi Y, Kawasumi K et al. Anaerobe 2010; 16(5): 510-515

3. Condezo-Hoyos L, Mohanty IP, and Noratto GD. Assessing non-digestible compounds in apple cultivars and their potential as modulators of obese faecal microbiota in vitro. Food Chemistry. 2014.

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Blueberry and Spinach Smoothie

Blueberry Spinach Smoothie

When most people think of smoothies, they think of all-fruit drinks. But smoothies are a great way to pack in the vegetables and the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals your liver needs to eliminate harmful substances.

Serves 1-2

Ingredients
1 cup almond, coconut, or rice milk
¾ cup frozen blueberries
1 banana
1 T. ground flax seeds (optional)
1 scoop protein powder
1-2 handfuls of spinach or kale

Directions
Blend all ingredients until desired consistency is reached, adding water to thin if necessary.

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3 Simple Steps To Great Gut Health

By Susan Blum, MD

If you have gas or bloating after you eat, or if you experience constipation and/or loose stools, or any type of intestinal discomfort, you have a problem with how your gut is functioning. While this is commonly labeled irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, the diagnosis doesn’t tell you why you’re having this problem.

Usually, the issue is something called dysbiosis, which means your gut flora isn’t healthy. You might have an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, yeast or parasites, or you might not have enough of the good stuff: those probiotics you find in yogurt and cultured foods.

But who cares about a little gas or bloating?

You should! Your gut flora needs to be fixed, because the symptoms you’re having could just be the tip of the iceberg. A whopping 70% of your immune system is located in your gut and if the flora are out of balance, you have an increased risk of something called Leaky Gut Syndrome, and this can lead to autoimmune disease.

Here are my tips to heal your gut, which will treat your symptoms and keep your immune system happy, too.

  1. For your digestive symptoms, find out whether or not you’ve got food sensitivities, which could be causing the problem. Check yourself for gluten and dairy by removing them both from your diet at the same time for three weeks, and then reintroduce each one at a time, four days apart and monitor how you feel.
  2. For your flora, eat cultured food every day, like coconut or almond milk yogurt and kefir, sauerkraut or kimchee, and consider taking a probiotic supplement.
  3. If the above doesn’t do the trick, consider a gut-cleansing program using herbs like berberine or oregano to remove the harmful microbes. Our new HealMyGut program will help you do just that!