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.