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.

May 8, 2017

419 Using Essential Oils Safely [8 May 2017]

Essential oils are concentrated, volatile oils extracted from the flowers, leaves, roots or peels of plants. When used properly, essential oils can improve your health and well-being, but used improperly could cause harm.

Oils should be taken internally only under professional supervision. In Canada and the United States no essential oil is labeled for internal use. In France essential oils are used internally but only when prescribed by physicians with special training in aromatherapy, and then only a few drops for a very short time. Even with peppermint oil, one drop is equivalent to 25-30 tea bags which you wouldn’t drink all at once. Fortunately consumption is not necessary for full benefits of essential oils.

Inhalation is the most popular way to use essential oils. Use up to 6 drops in an ultrasonic diffuser, as more creates a heavy layer of oil on the water which inhibits diffusion. The essential oil components stay in the blood for several hours (half-life is 45 minutes) so a 20 minute exposure every few hours is sufficient.

Another popular method of using essential oils is topically, either massaged directly on the skin or added to a bath. Most oils should be diluted with a carrier oil for topical use – lavender is the only exception that can be used neat (full strength). Good oils for carrier include sweet almond, avocado, grapeseed, castor, jojoba, sesame, and fractionated coconut oil, each with different properties. Use no more than 6 drops of up to 3 essential oils mixed with the carrier oil in each application. Apply to the affected area or to the soles of the feet. Keep away from the eyes, ears and mucous membranes. Essential oils applied topically take 3 to 6 hours to clear the body – much longer if you are obese or in poor health – so don’t over apply. Use a 1% blend on children (6 drops with 30 ml of carrier oil).

In a bath, add the essential oils to bath salts first to disperse the oils throughout the water. Milder oils like clary sage and lavender are safer than cinnamon, oregano, thyme, bergamot and lemongrass which could irritate the skin.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking medications, check with a health professional before using aromatherapy as there are contraindications for some essential oils. Citrus oils, especially bergamot, increase skin photosensitivity and the risk of sunburn. Essential oils with a high menthol content like eucalyptus, peppermint, wintergreen (and more) should not be used with young children or cats as their livers are unable to process them. Store away from sunlight and heat and out of reach of children and pets.

presentation by Marva Ward, CNP, Saskatoon, May 1,2017
Using Essential Oils Safely
The Truth About Essential Oil Safety ebook by Lea Harris, $9.99 USD

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 1, 2017

418 Hemp Oil [1 May 2017]

With the pending legalization of marijuana in Canada, I thought this would be a good time to discuss hemp and cannabis oil. They are produced from different varieties of Cannabis sativa and made from different parts of the plant.

Cannabis oil contains one or both of two highly reactive compounds which have very different properties. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gives users a “high”. Cannabidiol (CBD) has certain medicinal properties but is not psychoactive. THC and CBDs are concentrated in the leaves and buds of varieties of Cannabis grown specifically for their content. Some companies promote CBD as being more effective and safer, but since neither is available in Canada without a prescription, I’m not going to get into that discussion.

Hemp oil is made from the seed of hemp varieties grown for low content of both THC and CBD. The product is inspected by Health Canada at several stages to ensure the THC is below the legal limit of 10 ppm. You cannot get high on hemp oil!

Unrefined hemp oil has a rich nutty flavor and a slightly green color and is known for its excellent essential fatty acid (EFA) content. EFAs make up over 80% of hemp oil with the ideal 3:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3. A typical profile is:
• 55% Linoleic Acid (Omega 6)
• 22% Alpha Linolenic Acid (Omega 3)
• 1-4% Gamma Linolenic Acid (Omega 6)

These fatty acids make hemp oil very nourishing for the skin. The oil can be massaged into the skin especially over dry skin or painful inflamed joints.

Hempseed oil is best consumed raw and should never be used for frying because of its low oxidative stability. Hemp oil can also have anti-coagulant properties so should be avoided by people using blood thinner medication. Hemp oil will go rancid quickly so should be kept in a dark container, refrigerated, and used quickly once opened.

Eating shelled hemp seeds, also known as hemp hearts, is a good way to get the benefits of hemp oil along with the excellent fiber and protein content of the seeds.

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