June 26, 2017

426 Helminthic Therapy [26 June 2017]

We have come to understand and accept that the vast majority of bacteria and some yeast [see #387] living in and on our bodies are either benign (harmless) or actually beneficial (helpful) to our health. Chapter 5, “Old Friends, New Treatment: Helminthic Therapy in Autism” by Judith Chinitz, in “Bugs, Bowels, and Behavior” extends the range of beneficial microorganisms to include parasitic worms. Now that’s a stretch!

These Pickles cartoons (#1, #2) illustrate most people's perceptions of worms.

Helminths is the name for parasitic worms including whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms and pinworms. Our immune systems developed during a time when exposure to parasites was much greater than in today’s developed countries with our modern hygiene. The theory is that these parasites are necessary for the proper development of our immune systems.

The theory was first published in 1999 by Dr. Joel Weinstock who reported successfully treating patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) with eggs of a harmless parasitic worm, a whipworm that lives in pigs but not humans. Six patients with IBD were given the “helminth therapy”; five went into remission and the sixth improved dramatically.

Weinstock and other researchers have since discovered that when our immune system develops in the absence of helminths, the Type2 T helper cells (Th2) which normally control parasites instead begins to react to pollen and other allergens causing allergies, or begins to attack our own bodies causing auto-immune disease. The presence of helminths is also required for the normal development of the regulatory system which controls the Th1 and Th2 systems, preventing runaway inflammation.

As we have seen, inflammation is a significant part of the autism syndrome. To date no studies have been done on ASD with helminthic therapy but many desperate parents haven’t waited and persuaded their doctors to give it a try. Results have been very encouraging with reports of significantly improved gastrointestinal and behavioral symptoms.

This 2015 National Institutes of Health article gives a good overview of helminth therapy in the USA.

I won’t be too surprised if someday helminthic therapy will become an accepted treatment for inflammatory diseases, just like fecal transplants [#243] have for IBD.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

June 19, 2017

425 Autism and Gut Bacteria [19 June 2017]

Of all neurological conditions, autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as the family of related conditions is now called, has the strongest (and best studied) association with the gut microbiome. I’m reading a book called “Bugs, Bowels, and Behavior”, which despite its cute title is a collection of 15 fairly technical medical articles by various researchers published in 2013.

The findings they report show a strong correlation to digestive and particularly gut bacterial problems. Many of the articles propose that gut dysbiosis (unbalanced intestinal bacterial populations) is the root cause of the neurological and immunological symptoms observed in ASD. They report that children (and adults) with ASD are more likely to have:
• Gastrointestinal dysfunction (70%) – the severity of GI symptoms correlates with the severity of ASD symptoms
• Increased intestinal permeability – allowing poorly digested protein to enter the bloodstream where it triggers allergies and auto-immune reactions
• Deficiencies in disaccharide enzymes, especially lactase, in the duodenum – meaning they are unable to properly digest milk sugar and other carbohydrates
• Elevated bowel populations of Clostridia bacteria – a nasty family that includes C. difficile and the pathogens that cause tetanus and botulism; Vancomycin, an antibiotic effective in controlling Clostridia, temporarily improves ASD symptoms
• Very low levels of the antioxidant glutathione and its amino acid precursor cysteine, believed due to high populations of Desulfovibrio bacteria in the gut, resulting in high levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in neurons (nerve cells) throughout the body and brain, and making the children highly susceptible to mercury toxicity
• High levels of TNF-a, a marker for inflammation, in the blood, cerebrospinal fluid and brain tissue; a drug that blocks TNF-a reversed ASD symptoms

Furthermore, regressive autism frequently occurs following several rounds of antibiotics. Improvements in ASD symptoms have been noted in some cases using probiotics and fecal transplants [see #243]. A diet that supports healthy intestinal bacteria [see #424] would be critical to maintaining such improvements.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

June 12, 2017

424 Managing our Microbiome [12 June 2017]

Continuing the discussion of our gut microbiome, this week we’ll look at what we can do to improve it. Justin and Erica Sonnenburg devote a chapter of their 2015 book The Good Gut to this topic. They list 7 recommendations based on recent scientific research.

1. Get off to a good start. We start off sterile in our mother’s womb and get our first “inoculation” during the birth process (another reason to avoid unnecessary C-sections). Breast milk provides human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), the optimum food for the infant’s healthy bacteria – unmatched in formula and another reason why breast is best.

2. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics. I touched on this last week. The more antibiotics kids are on early in life, the sicker they will be the rest of their life. That said, sometimes they are a necessity. My throat infection turned out to be caused by an infected tooth. I’m now on round three of antibiotics – I’ll worry about my colon bacteria later.

3. Play in the dirt. Kids that live on a farm, or have pets, or play in the (pesticide-free) garden, have a more diverse gut flora and are healthier.

4. Feed your microbes. Eat a wide variety of high fiber fruits and vegetables like whole grains, legumes and tubers. If this is a big change in your diet, you may want to introduce them gradually to avoid flatulence.

5. Limit saturated fat. Pathogens which cause inflammation (the “bad guys”) thrive on saturated animal fats while the good guys prefer plant based mono-unsaturated fats like olive oil and avocados.

6. Consume beneficial microbes. Fermented dairy foods like yogurt and kefir are great provided they are unpasteurized and unsweetened. Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and some pickles are another source of beneficial microbes. Back in July 2015 [#326] I wrote about making your own fermented vegetables.

7. Use probiotic supplements. These contain large quantities of known beneficial varieties. We have a variety of probiotics in our store with strengths up to 100 billion. I’m using S. boulardii this week which is not affected by antibiotics [see #387, Sept 2016 ].

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

June 5, 2017

423 Pathogens and our Gut Flora [5 June 2017]

The last two weeks [#421, #422] we looked at how our gut microbiome affects our immune system and our brain, mood and memory. This week we’ll examine the interaction between pathogens and our gut flora.

Justin and Erica Sonnenburg devote a chapter of their 2015 book The Good Gut to gastroenteritis – the invasion of our gut by food borne pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms like Salmonella and C. diff.) causing inflammation of the gut and diarrhea. It’s a serious problem hospitalizing a million Americans each year.

Our gut’s reaction to pathogens is a good example of the brain-gut axis described last week. We aren’t conscious of the pathogens, but the autonomic nervous system is quickly informed and directs the digestive system to vomit the stomach contents out one end and hasten the exit of the intestinal contents out the other.

A healthy gut flora protects us from invading pathogens by out-competing them for space and food, and sometimes by producing chemicals that are toxic to them. Oral broad-spectrum antibiotics kill not only the targeted bacteria but also many of the beneficial species of gut flora, which makes us more susceptible to further infections. This is often not considered when an antibiotic prescription is made.

Last fall I developed a sore throat with tender lymph nodes in my neck. When several weeks of my usual cold remedies didn’t work I went to my doctor. He diagnosed a bacterial infection and wrote me a prescription for an antibiotic with no discussion of possible effects on my digestive system. I took the prescription for the required 7 or 8 days and it did clear the infection. When it recurred a few months later I went straight back for another prescription and was given a different antibiotic. This is standard practice to prevent pathogens from becoming resistant but it means that it killed off another group of beneficial species in my gut.

After the first round I didn’t notice any changes in my digestive system (which studies show is typical despite significant losses of numbers and diversity of the gut microbiome) but after the second I experienced cramping, gas and looser stools. I’m still working on reintroducing good bacteria. When my throat infection returned a third time, only a week or two after the second round of antibiotics, I treated it myself with topical application of essential oils and it was gone in 3 or 4 days.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

May 29, 2017

422 The Brain-Gut Axis [29 May 2017]

Last week we looked at how our gut microbiome affects our immune system. This week we’ll discuss how it affects our brain, mood and memory. I last wrote about this topic two years ago [#320]. The network of neurons and chemical pathways connecting the digestive tract and the central nervous system is called the Brain-Gut Axis.

The brain uses this axis to monitor the digestive tract for hunger, stress, and the presence of pathogens; and to control aspects of it, including transit speed, production of mucous lining the colon, and the secretion of stomach acid, bile and pancreatic enzymes. But the signaling goes both ways – the condition of the digestive tract, including the bacteria living in it, also influences the brain.

Justin and Erica Sonnenburg in their 2015 book The Good Gut devote a chapter to this connection and share findings from some of their animal experiments. Lab mice specially raised to have a bacteria-free gut lacked the caution that helps wild mice avoid predators, and scored lower in memory tests than mice with normal gut microbes. Other experiments showed that transplanting gut bacteria from anxious mice to calm mice increased their anxiety (and vice versa) along with measurable changes in their brain biochemistry.

One way that the gut bacteria influence the nervous system is by the chemicals they produce which get absorbed into the bloodstream. Some of these chemicals have a beneficial effect like the short chain fatty acids mentioned last week. An estimated 90% of our serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, is produced in our gut with the help of certain bacteria. Other bacteria-produced chemicals are toxic and have undesirable effects. An example is EPS, which was found to be greatly elevated in mice with autistic-like behavior; the behavior improved when different bacteria were introduced which normalized the EPS levels.

Research holds the promise of modifying our microbiome in the treatment of not only inflammation related chronic diseases like MS and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), but also mood disorders like stress, anxiety, depression, and even neurological conditions like autism, ADHD, OCD, and schizophrenia. This is one field of research that I plan to keep an eye on. More next week.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

May 22, 2017

421 Fiber and Auto-Immune Disease [22 May 2017]

We’ve always known that dietary fiber is important for regular bowel movements. In a few previous articles [#140 November 2011 and #276 July 2014] I wrote about the benefits of soluble and insoluble fiber to balance blood sugar and maintain a healthy weight. Now scientists have discovered a link between dietary fiber, our immune system, and auto-immune diseases. How does that work?

Rhonda Patrick, in December 2015, interviewed Drs. Justin & Erica Sonnenburg who run a lab at Stanford University looking at “the profound impact gut bacteria has on our entire body” (Justin). They found that dietary fiber is essential for a healthy microbiome, described as “an incredibly complex and dynamic ecosystem of microbes” (Erica). In this 40 minute interview (which I encourage you to watch for yourself) Drs. Sonnenburg describe the connections between gut bacteria and our body's immune system.

The average American eats 10-15 grams of fiber daily, short of the government recommended 30-35g, and far short of the 100-150g consumed by traditional hunter-gatherer populations (who have a much greater diversity in their gut microbiomes and a significantly lower incidence of auto-immune disease).

The microbes in the colon rely on complex carbohydrates (fiber) for food, metabolizing it into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and other beneficial compounds. These SCFAs then feed the epithelial cells of the colon wall. SCFAs also increase the T regulatory cells which have an anti-inflammatory effect, calming the immune system. When fiber is lacking, the microbes attack the mucus lining of the colon and in turn are attacked by the immune cells in the intestinal wall, creating an inflammatory effect. Without adequate T regulatory cells, this can lead to auto-immune conditions like allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and MS.

Many of these auto-immune diseases have previously been linked to gut microbiome disruptions – this provides a likely explanation. Taking this further, heart disease, metabolic disorders, some cancers, and even aging are all increased by inflammation so could also be reduced with a healthy gut microbiome.

So how to improve our gut microbiome? Feed them a variety of complex carbs from fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. The more types of fiber, the more diverse the bacterial populations they will support; fiber supplements often have only one or two sources. Use probiotic supplements and foods (like yogurt, sauerkraut and fermented vegetables) to help repopulate the gut following a round of antibiotics or whenever you suspect it needs a boost.

For more information on this topic, see the Sonnenburgs' book The Good Gut - Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood and Your Long-term Health or visit their Facebook page.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

May 15, 2017

420 Two Preventable Risk Factors [15 May 2017]

Preliminary data from a study by the Cleveland Clinic and NYU School of Medicine showed that obesity has recently overtaken smoking as the top cause of preventable death in the USA (I expect Canadian data to be similar). This change is due to a 21% decrease in smoking and a 38% increase in obesity over the last decade.

The study found the preventable factors that caused the most loss of life-years were, in decreasing order: obesity, diabetes, tobacco use, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Obesity resulted in 47% more life-years lost than smoking. Glen Taksler, PhD MD, concluded “These preliminary results continue to highlight the importance of weight loss, diabetes management, and healthy eating.”

A previous study from Europe found another risk factor, also preventable, that is even more significant than obesity in predicting all-cause mortality (but wasn’t looked at in the Cleveland study). Exercise.

The study, out of Cambridge University, followed 334,000 men and women of around age 50 for a period of 12 years. Obese people were 3.7% more likely to die, but those who didn’t exercise, regardless of weight status, had a 7.3% higher risk of death, more than double that for the obese. Lack of exercise turned out to be the single deadliest risk factor in the study, which also measured smoking and alcohol consumption. The good news is that even 20 minutes a day of moderate exercise (about what I get on my paper route) will measurably reduce that risk. More, of course, is better.

The lesson from these two studies is that to live a longer and healthier life, lose that excess weight, and get moving.

At our weight loss clinic here we have a device called the Body Composition Analyzer (BCA) which measures your body fat, lean mass, and hydration, and estimates your risk category. Drop in for a free analysis. Should you decide to safely and easily lose 10 or more pounds of fat, we can help.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.