Digestion

A grumbling gut can be just plain uncomfortable, or worse, symptomatic of larger problems. Get the latest news and information to keep your tummy in tip-top shape on the NorthStar blog on digestion.

  1. Scientists unlock new secrets about probiotics and brain chemistry

    You know probiotics are good for your gut. But can these "friendly" bacteria also affect your mood or your behavior? John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland, thinks it's entirely possible. He recently completed a study of probiotics and brain changes that suggests friendly bacteria in your gut can actually alter your brain's chemistry!

    For this study, Cryan and colleagues fed mice broth containing the bacterium, Lactobacillus rhamnosus. The name probably sounds familiar to you. That's because you'll find the Lactobacillus strain of bacteria in most probiotic supplements and forms of yogurt.

    After six weeks on this magic broth, the mice showed fewer signs of stress and anxiety! For example, the mice spend more time running through the narrow, elevated walkways and wide-open spaces. These spaces are generally scary to mice (who knew?!). The mice also pumped out fewer stress hormones when the researchers placed them in water. "This was really exciting because it tells us the animals are more chilled out and don't mount the same stress response," Cryan said.

    And best of all, researchers found a link between  mice taking probiotics and brain  changes occurring in their genes that program GABA, a neurotransmitter. GABA typically dampens neural activity in the brain. And many drugs used to treat anxiety target GABA receptors.

    None of these changes occurred in the mice that ate plain broth.

    Mike Lyte, a microbial endocrinologist at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Abilene, commented on the work with the mice, probiotics and brain changes in Science Now. He said, "This is pioneering work. It's really showing that you can alter emotional states by regulating the microbiome."

    So keep up your probiotic regimen. Not only will your digestion improve, you mood may improve as well!

  2. Two key vitamins boost cure rate for H. pylori bacteria

    You may think that stress triggers stomach ulcers, a type of peptic ulcer. But consider this...

    In 1982, a scientist named Barry Marshall proved that the helicobacter pylori bacteria (known as H. pylori bacteria) cause most peptic ulcers, even those in your stomach. Initially, the medical community branded Dr. Marshall as a quack. No one believed bacteria could survive in your stomach's highly acid environment. But his theory proved scientifically sound. And now, newer research suggests H. pylori bacteria infections play a role in autoimmune disorders, heart disease, and even cancer.

    Dr. Marshall made this important discovery nearly 30 years ago. Yet here we are in 2011 and most folks still think that stomach ulcers come from worrying too much. If that were true...they'd be much easier to get rid of.

    But the H. pylori bacteria are stubborn and crafty...

    In fact, experts estimate that about 30 percent of men and women in the U.S. have H. pylori bacteria in their gut. Most don't even know it! And that's dangerous, because over time these bacteria burrow into the protective mucosal lining of your stomach. This allows acid to eat away at the sensitive walls of your stomach, creating an ulcer.

    To make matters worse, H. Pylori bacteria has grown very resistant to antibiotics in recent years. That's why you must take two, even three, heavy-duty antibiotics to get rid of an ulcer. Plus, your gastroenterologist probably throws in a Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) like Prevacid to keep your stomach acid down. But even then, the odds that you'll completely eradicate H. pylori aren't very good.

    Now here's the good news...

    Two key vitamins may help get rid of these harmful bacteria -- for good. In fact, in a recent study, patients who added these two vitamins to their standard medical treatment boosted their cure rate by a staggering amount!

    Standard treatment falls short

    In a recent study, Turkish researchers recruited 200 patients infected with H. pylori bacteria. They divided the patients into two groups. One group received a standard triple drug therapy. This means for 14 days they took:

    • 1,000 mg of amoxicillin 2x a day
    • 500 mg of clarithromycin (another type of antibiotic) 2x a day
    • 30 mg of Prevacid 2x a day

    Now -- you know just thinking about this heavy drug cocktail makes me break out in purple spots.

    First of all, antibiotics upset your stomach's natural balance of bacteria. Sure -- they wipe out the bad bacteria, such as H. pylori. But they also wipe out the GOOD bacteria. This can lead to all sorts of on-going problems.

    Second, as you know, I am not a fan of PPIs. These drugs block your body's natural production of stomach acid. They also appear to increase your risk of getting a recurrent infection with C. difficile. They also increase your risk of fractures. And the longer you take them, the greater your risk could be.

    As a naturopath, you know that I want to see you get off of these drugs -- like, yesterday! Here's what may help...

    Vitamins boost immune response

    The Turkish researchers gave the second group of patients some added ammunition against the bacteria. Along with the standard treatment, these patients took 500 mg of vitamin C (twice a day) plus 200 IU of vitamin E (twice a day) for 30 days.

    Researchers then again tested the patients for H. pylori bacteria four to six weeks after beginning the treatments. They found that many more patients who took the vitamins in addition to the drugs cured their infections.

    In fact, 37 percent more vitamin takers COMPLETELY CURED their infections compared to the standard therapy group.

    The researchers believe that these two powerful antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress in the mucus lining of your stomach. Plus, they believe taking these vitamins boosts your immunity so that your body more effectively targets harmful bacteria.

    Add to your arsenal with probiotics

    If you have a peptic ulcer and your gastro doc puts you on these meds, make sure to take vitamins C and E. And don't forget about probiotics. Taking probiotics will help to replace the "good" bacteria wiped out by the antibiotic treatment. And you'll want to get off that PPI as fast as you can as well.

    In many cases, I have found combining mega doses of probiotics (with DGL (DeGlycerrhizinated Licorice), the ulcer clears up on its own without antibiotics. And remember, mega doses of probiotics are ok -- you can't overdose on this stuff! (Although, some folks are sensitive to probiotics. Remember, you can be sensitive to anything.)

    Lastly, to find a doctor adept at treating ulcers naturally, go to The American College of Advancement in Medicine's web site at acam.org. They have a search box that will help you locate an experienced naturopath in your area.

  3. How to tell if the effects of gluten are causing problems for you

    A friend recently told me that she was allergic to her couch. But was the couch really the problem? Of course not. My friend was the problem. She sat on that couch every night for hours, watching TV and munching on junk instead of doing something productive. This ignorance is kinda how I feel about the "new" gluten-free diets all the celebrities now rave about. First, these diets aren‘t really new. Nutritionists have known for decades that for some people, the effects of gluten are a serious problem. (Keep reading to learn about my 12-point checklist to see if you may have gluten sensitivity in a moment.) Second, the effects of gluten aren‘t really the main culprit for most people. The problem lies in their overall diet. Too much sugar. Too many fried foods. Too much white flour. But when you cut out gluten, you tend to cut out most processed foods as well. You start feeling great and losing weight. Just watch out for gluten-free junk food now hitting grocery store shelves. More and more you see gluten-free cookies, cakes, and snack foods on the shelves. This stuff is pure junk, minus the gluten. Stay clear of it. What is gluten, anyway? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. So if you‘re on a gluten-free diet, it means you don‘t eat foods that contain "regular" flour. This includes bread, pasta, cereal, pizza, and most convenience foods. Food manufacturers also use gluten to bind together and thicken their product‘s ingredients. So surprisingly, you will find gluten in processed products like ice cream and salad dressing. So how can you tell if the effects of gluten are really a problem for you? First, take a good, hard look at your diet. How much processed or fried food do you eat? Do you eat sugar? Do you eat foods that contain white flour? If you said "yes" to any of those questions, try starting there to measure the effects of gluten. Cut out all this and see how you feel in a week or two. If you feel better, you‘ll know that gluten wasn‘t the problem. You see, like my friend, some people think the couch is their problem. But the couch isn‘t the problem. And neither is gluten. Eating a donut and a Mountain Dew for breakfast is what‘s killing them. On the other hand, if you follow a clean diet and still suffer from a range of symptoms (see the checklist below), you may have a gluten sensitivity. How to tell if the effects of gluten are really a problem for you Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that‘s becoming more and more common. If you have Celiac disease and eat gluten, for some reason your immune system misfires. It begins to attack and destroy the tiny villi that run along the walls of your intestines. These villi transport nutrients from your intestines out to your blood. So if your villi become damaged, you become malnourished, no matter how much healthy food you eat. Each person is different, but some of the hallmark symptoms include: 1. Abdominal bloating & pain 2. Diarrhea & fatty stools 3. Vomiting 4. Unexplained weight loss In adults, Celiac disease can be much more subtle. Some of the symptoms include: 5. Unexplained iron-deficiency anemia 6. Fatigue 7. Headaches 8. Joint pain or arthritis or osteoporosis 9. Depression or anxiety 10. Tingling numbness in the hands and feet 11. Canker sores inside the mouth 12. An itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis As you can see, Celiac disease in adults can be very hard to diagnose. Most adults suffer for years before they receive the right diagnosis. To find out if you have Celiac disease, ask your doctor for a blood test. To test positive for Celiac, certain hallmark antibodies will show up in your blood. You may also ask for an intestinal biopsy. You can also ask your doctor or allergist for a skin test to see if you are allergic to wheat. This will help you determine if the effects of gluten are detrimental to your health or not. However, another hidden condition can be mistaken for a gluten sensitivity... Candidiasis: The Black Sheep Problem Candida albicans is a form of yeast that inhabits the human body. However, the healthy bacteria in your gut called flora normally keep it in check. But if your stock of good bacteria gets wiped out, the yeast can grow and take over. And the effects of gluten may actually wipe out this good bacteria. Things that zap your supply of good bacteria include: antibiotics, birth control pills, steroids, synthetic hormones or chemo. If you get the flu or have chronic diarrhea, you can also run into trouble. I also see it occur in folks who eat lots and lots of white flour and processed foods. All these things wipe out healthy bacteria that normally keep the yeast in check in your intestines. There is no blood test for candidiasis, so most conventional docs deny it exists. But it does exist. The symptoms are very real. Though, they‘re often vague and may appear unconnected, such as:
    • Fatigue
    • Irritability
    • Multiple GI problems
    • Headaches
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Depression
    • Obsessions
    • Cravings (for wheat, yeast, sugar, refined carbs)
    • Bloating
    In addition, recurrent vaginal or oral yeast infections almost always points to an underlying systemic yeast problem. How to solve the problem of yeast There‘s no quick fix for candidiasis, but research suggests the effects of gluten may irritate the condition. To eradicate it completely, first of all you‘ve got to get off all sugar and refined carbs. This won‘t cure the problem. But steps 2-4 won‘t work unless you‘ve done this first. Second, you will want to reintroduce the "good guys" back into your digestive system. High doses of probiotics will help create an environment in your gut where yeast can‘t survive. Third, you may have to take a prescription anti-fungal med such as Diflucan, Sporonox, or Nystatin. You can also try a natural agent like caprylic acid. I only recommend trying this under the guidance of an experienced natural health practitioner. Fourth, you‘ll want to make your gut more receptive to healthy bacteria. Start by taking a daily dose of prebiotics (such as FOS). This will feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. You may also consider taking garlic extract or the antioxidant powerhouse l-glutamine. Lastly, I highly recommend reading a book called The Yeast Connection Handbook by Dr. William Crook. (Skip The Yeast Connection. It‘s an older version.) In the newer book, Dr. Crook says Candida is a major pathogen that can weaken the immune system, allowing other infections to occur. You could also try reading The Yeast Syndrome, by John P. Trowbridge. (You will also find a shorter version of their guidelines in my book, Nutritionally Incorrect, 2nd edition.) So after reading all this, are the effects of gluten a problem for you? Perhaps. Though I recommend cutting out the sugar and processed stuff first to narrow in on the problem. If it turns out that the effects of gluten are really a problem for you, there are plenty of other whole grain options besides wheat. Grains that don‘t contain gluten include corn, potatoes, rice, millet, and quinoa. Just don‘t get into the habit of eating gluten-free junk food. Skip the gluten-free neon orange cheese balls that cost $5 per bag. Try some hummus and celery instead.  
  4. Get off laxatives quickly and painlessly – probiotics regulate bowels

    I read a statistic recently that said at least 75 percent of men and women living in nursing homes take laxatives to regulate their bowels. This is a huge mistake. When you take a laxative on a regular basis, you can develop "colonic dysmotility." Translation? Your bowel stops doing its job. To be more specific, peristalsis stops. This is the wavelike motion your bowels perform to push waste out of your body. But once it stops, it‘s tough to get going again. So you take another laxative. It‘s a brutal cycle that many seniors fall into, even those living independently. Now here‘s the good news... Even if you take laxatives regularly, there is a way out. Israeli scientists found that men and women who take one natural agent significantly reduced their laxative use.

    Seniors let go of their laxatives

    For the study, researchers recruited 215 men and women ages 65 and over. They divided the seniors into two groups. One group took a probiotic containing billions of viable bacteria for 45 days. The other group took a placebo for 45 days. You can guess what happened. Laxative use decreased by 26 percent among the men and women taking probiotics (compared to the placebo group). The volunteers who suffered from diarrhea also saw improvement. In fact, theses folks reduced their episodes of diarrhea by 60 percent (compared to the placebo group). Clearly, probiotics can help regulate your bowels. Look for a capsule that contains billions of units of several different strains of helpful bacteria.
  5. 3 super-easy secrets for healthy bowels

    When I was in medical school, we were taught that if your patients has three bowel movements a week, that‘s perfectly "normal." Well, have you ever gone two or three days without a BM? I have, when traveling. It feels horrible. You feel bloated and blocked up. You have to strain to get the compacted BM out of your body. Plus, going to the bathroom once every three days allows waste materials to spend far too much time in your digestive tract. As a result, toxins and antigens have the opportunity to invade your body. In a healthy body, the GI tract performs a wave-like motion called "peristalsis." This constant motion of contracting and releasing pushes unwanted materials through your bowel. With regular peristalsis, you should have at least one to two solid bowel movements per day. Plus, when you do go, it should only take 60 seconds. You should not have time to read a whole magazine (much less a whole page), waiting for your BM to pass. On the other hand... When peristalsis happens too quickly, you have another type of problem on your hands. You can feel your gut spasm and churn. As a result, you run to the bathroom several times a day with runny, burning, explosive bowel movements. Now, most people don‘t realize the answer to both bloating and burning bowels is the exact same. (Laxatives or anti-diarrheals are quick fixes that don‘t address your overall gut health.) The good news is, you can have fast, solid, healthy bowels by making a few simple changes to your routine.

    STEP 1: Get the right kind of fiber

    Most people know they need fiber for healthy BMs. It keeps your GI tract in a state of optimal peristalsis. But here‘s where they slip up: they don‘t get both kinds of fiber. Your body needs both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber each and every day. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and increases your stomach‘s productivity. This slows the release of sugar into your bloodstream. Plus, soluble fiber contains prebiotics. These nutrients help to boost the level of friendly bacteria in your intestines. In fact, prebiotics help "prepare" your intestines so that colonies of helpful bacteria can flourish. Sources of soluble fiber include: legumes, oats, barley, nuts, and the pulp of most fruits. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, passes through your intestines almost unchanged. It helps to bulk up and keep your stools firm. Insoluble fiber also pushes the waste through your intestines in a timely manner. Lastly, it helps to control the acidity (or pH) in your bowels. Sources of insoluble fiber include: the skins of most fruits and root vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. Overall, aim for at least 35 grams of total fiber day. A good step in the right direction is to eat an organic apple every day. Apples contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. (The inside of the apple contains soluble fiber and the skin contains insoluble fiber.) Try this for two weeks and see how your BMs improve. I think you‘ll see a major improvement. Also, when you shop for grains, choose carefully. For example, is your bread 100 percent whole grain? Check the label. If the first ingredient on the list says "enriched flour," it‘s not 100 percent whole wheat. Eating enriched fiber foods sabotages your digestion. Don‘t believe me? Squish up a piece of "enriched" bread and pour water on it. It turns into a sticky, gloppy mess. That‘s the last thing you want in your gut if you‘re prone to digestive problems! Of course, some folks resort to taking a fiber supplement or a fiber drink. But I wouldn‘t recommend it on a routine basis. Fiber supplements flush out the good as well as the bad so you tend to not to absorb vital nutrients. If you must resort to taking a fiber supplement occasionally, be sure to drink plenty of water. This will help break down the supplement and aid in the absorption of other nutrients.

    STEP 2: Add in probiotics and digestive enzymes

    If you regularly read my Guide to Good Health, you know that I‘m a huge proponent of these two digestives aides. Make sure to take a daily probiotic such as acidophilus before meals and at bedtime. Look for a capsule that contains billions of active units of healthy bacteria. You‘ll find these in the digestive aid section of the store. In terms of digestive enzymes, make sure you get a "full spectrum" capsule. It will contain the proteolytic, lipolytic, and amylolytic fractions. This makes your capsule a little bigger, but it will help you digest proteins, fats, and carbs. Take one capsule immediately after meals. If you can handle this without any stomach upset, you might try increasing it to two capsules after meals.

    STEP 3: Round out your regimen

    Some of us just need extra digestive support...no matter how many apples you eat a day! If this sounds like you, I suggest giving NorthStar Nutritionals‘ Advanced GI Support a try. It‘s an all- in-one drink that helps soothe your digestive-tract and promote regularity. Specifically, Advanced GI Support contains 5,000 mg of l-glutamine, an amino acid that fuels your gastrointestinal tract and really keeps things moving. L-glutamine also helps promote the health of the GI tract‘s mucosal lining. This may help to cut down on those occasional burning, sizzling bowel movements. Advanced GI Support also contains 500 mg of aloe vera leaf extract. Yes, you know that aloe vera can heal cuts on your skin, but years of traditional use also show this extract can also have a beneficial effect on the epithelial tissues found in your GI tract. Plus, the aloe leaf is also covered in a waxy latex substance that is used to keep you "right as rain." In a recent trial with 10 healthy volunteers, aloe vera extract enhanced overall digestion. Specifically, volunteers experienced an increase in peristalsis, bulking of their stool, and normalized gut flora (or friendly bacteria). If you really want to get serious about your digestive health, Advanced GI Support may make all the difference!
  6. Why the FDA’s latest move on fluoride is a red herring

    Did you know that for the past 70 years you’ve been drinking fluoride, one of the most toxic chemicals found in nature? You can’t smell it…you can’t taste it…and you probably have long-since forgotten that this dangerous substance was ever added to our water supply. But the fact is that the EPA started adding this toxic element to public drinking water in the 1940s. Ironically, the goal was to protect children. This stuff is the equivalent of ingestible gasoline. In fact, it’s probably even far worse than petrol. Yet for all these years, it’s been heralded as “good for you.” Now, the FDA has finally decided to limit the amount of this “gasoline” they’re putting in our water, because of noticeable side effects. Many in the health community will praise this move by the FDA. But not me. Why? Well, in my book, the FDA’s new move is just a red herring. It distracts us from the real problem…primarily, that this “gasoline” doesn’t belong in our water at all.

    Seriously, gasoline doesn’t belong in our water!

    Of course, I’m talking about fluoride. You see, fluoride is a waste product of aluminum mining. In fact, any guesses on who funded the research back in the ’40s that convinced us we all needed fluoride for our teeth? Yep, you got it: The aluminum mining industry. Those captains of industry weren’t concerned about cavities. They wanted to make a quick penny by selling their aluminum by-products. And 70 years later, we’re all still buying their toxic leftovers.

    Dead rodents with clean teeth…

    Here’s another little-known fact about fluoride: It’s rat poison. Just go to any hardware store and check it out. Most brands of rat poison (the old-fashioned kind with the skull and crossbones on the box) contain sodium fluoride. What’s it doing in rat poison? Well, it’s not to prevent the rats from getting cavities…I can tell you that much. Nope, scientists classify fluoride as the most toxic chemical found in nature, second only to arsenic. (See, you would have been better off with gasoline, not fluoride, added to your water!) Fortunately, fluoride won’t kill a human being right away. It’s considered an “accumulative poison” that gradually builds up in your system. Dental fluorosis (those discolored patches on your teeth that the FDA is so concerned about) is usually the first sign of toxicity. But the side effects become much more serious as your exposure increases. That’s because once inside the body, fluoride tends to collect in areas with lots of calcium, such as your teeth…and your bones. In fact, in 1990, the New England Journal of Medicine carried a report that too much fluoride exposure increased “skeletal fragility” and lowered bone density in women with osteoporosis. But even that’s just the tip of the iceberg… Excessive fluoride exposure has also been linked to:
    • Neurotoxicity
    • Genetic damage
    • Tumors
    • Atopic dermatitis
    • Eczema
    • Gastro-intestinal problems
    • Headaches
    • Immune system disruptions
    • Loss of collagen (a protein critical to skin, muscle, tissue, ligaments and bone health)
    • Arthritis
    • Learning problems
    • Thyroid disorders
    Fluoride in your water supply is serious stuff, folks. It even affects unborn babies. In fact, two years ago, U.S. researchers looked at rural communities in upstate New York. They discovered that women who live in towns with fluorinated water deliver premature babies much more often than do women who live in towns without fluoride. So while it’s great that the FDA wants to limit the gasoline -- er, fluoride -- in your water…I wouldn’t start drinking straight from the tap any time soon.

    So how do you get rid of it?

    There are two ways to get rid of the fluoride in your drinking water. And neither one is very simple, I’m afraid. Your first option is to buy bottled water from the grocery store. But you have to be careful. Obviously, you want to avoid any brand that contains nothing more than bottled tap water. That’s because it probably contains as much fluoride as water straight from your tap…only it’s more expensive. If you’re really curious, you can contact the manufacturer to find out exactly how much fluoride your bottled water contains. Secondly, skip anything that calls itself “pure” water. You see, pure H20 is not normal in nature. All natural sources of water contain some “impurities.” Spring water contains natural minerals and electrolytes that your body needs. But when you distill or completely purify water, you remove these natural elements. I call this “soft” water or mineral-free water. And your body has a heck of a time processing this kind of water. In fact, there is significant evidence that drinking “soft” water increases your risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke. I remember, as a child, seeing warnings on bottles of distilled water for steam irons: “Not for internal use.” The only kind of bottled water I consider safe is high-quality spring water, drawn from a deep natural spring. Check the bottle’s label to see how many minerals the spring water contains. Pick the brand with the most magnesium. That’s your best bet…though it won’t be cheap. Your second option is to install a high-quality water filter. Lots of companies will dazzle you with a long list of chemicals their filters remove. But ask them if their filter removes fluoride.That’s the million-dollar question. If it does, you’ve got a winner on your hands. Lastly, aside from your drinking water, make sure to use fluoride-free toothpaste and mouthwashes. They are widely available now, even at big-name stores. Also, skip the fluoride rinse at your next visit to the dentist.
  7. Boost your health with sunflower seeds

    I keep sunflower seeds in my kitchen cabinets, at my desk, and in the car. These crunchy seeds contain lots of natural vitamin E. In fact, just a quarter cup of sunflower seeds contains almost 100 percent of your Recommended Daily Allowance of this fat-soluble vitamin. As you’ll recall, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that patrols your body for harmful free radicals that lead to disease and aging. It also blocks free radicals from damaging cholesterol in your body. You see, every cell in your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol, but when attacked by free radicals, it becomes oxidized (or unstable). And cholesterol, once it has oxidized, can stick to blood vessel walls and lead to atherosclerosis. But eating a handful of sunflower seeds each day will give your body the tools it needs to flush out these unstable molecules. But that’s not all… When you eat a handful of sunflower seeds, it’s almost like taking a multivitamin. That’s because they contain all the nutrients your body needs, except for vitamin D. So when you bite into a sunflower seed, you also get:
    • Selenium, another powerful antioxidant shown to help with DNA repair
    • Magnesium, a versatile mineral that plays a major role in controlling blood pressure, migraines, muscle cramps, asthma, and fatigue.
    • Phytochemicals, such as phenolic acids and lignans, which may help prevent heart disease and cancer.
    • Fiber & protein, to help you to feel fuller longer.
    • Potassium, which helps to counteract too much sodium in your diet.
    • And even Tryptophan, the hormone that encourages the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin.
    When shopping for sunflower seeds, look for black-and-white shells that are firm and unbroken. Skip any packs that have shells with a yellowish tinge…this means they’ve probably gone rancid. And if you buy them from a bulk bin, give them a sniff to make sure they still smell fresh. Add fresh seeds to salads, yogurt, oatmeal, and homemade muffins…or just eat them by the handful as I do.
  8. These immune system boosters can protect you against winter’s worst germs

    Think your digestion has nothing to do with how well you fight off a cold? Well, think again. A new study finds that a natural digestive aid may be your ticket to a healthier winter with fewer colds. In the Guide to Good Health, I‘ve talked often about the "good bacteria" (also known as intestinal flora) in your gut. These tiny microorganisms help you digest food. They also defend against toxins and germs. In fact, your digestive tract is your first line of defense against disease and the common cold. Normally, billions of these good bacteria line your digestive tract. But a poor diet, antibiotics, and other drugs can wipe out these healthy bugs. Also, as you get older, your body‘s supply of good bacteria falls off. The good news is, you can replenish your body‘s supply of these natural immune boosters with probiotic supplements. These supplements contain billions of units of good bacteria. (As a comparison, yogurt only contains a few million active bacteria by the time you eat it. And that‘s hardly enough protection against today‘s resilient germs.)

    Boost your immunity this winter with probiotics

    Scientists recently put probiotics to the test against the common cold. They recruited 272 healthy volunteers to take part in this double-blind placebo- controlled study (the gold standard in scientific circles). They gave half of the volunteers a daily probiotic that contained billions of units of healthy bacteria. The other volunteers received a placebo. After 12 weeks, the volunteers who took probiotics had a clear edge. In fact:
    • The probiotic group got 12 percent fewer colds.
    • The probiotic group also got over their colds 30 percent FASTER than the placebo group.
    • Lastly, the probiotic group‘s symptoms were LESS SEVERE than the placebo group.
    Not bad for a digestive aid that you‘re hopefully already taking! Plus, while we‘re talking about cold and flu season, don‘t forget about vitamin D.

    Tiny vitamin packs a wallop against flu...

    In addition to probiotics, Vitamin D also helps to boost your natural defense. It kicks your T cells into action. And these cells track down and kill foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. Plus, a recent study showed that vitamin D also packs a wallop against the flu. For this study, scientists divided healthy patients into two groups. One group received 1200 IU of D3 (the most active form of D) each day for four months. The other group received a placebo. During the four-month period, 40 percent fewer participants taking D3 got the flu compared to the placebo group. Plus, the patients going into the study with the lowest levels of D got the biggest protection. These patients experienced a 74 percent reduction in the incidence of the flu. And these results only stem from a period of four months! I have a feeling that these results would have been even greater had the participants taken vitamin D supplements all year long. You see, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that gets absorbed into your body through your intestinal tract. Plus, your body can store it for up to 60 days. So even though it‘s not quite flu and cold season, now‘s the time to kick your immune system into high gear. I recommend taking up to 5,000 IU of D3 a day, especially if you live in the northern part of the country. In addition, load up on the probiotics. Look for a capsule that contains billions of units from many different strains of bacteria.
  9. High fiber foods may help tame Crohn’s disease

    If you‘ve got Crohn‘s disease, don‘t visit the Mayo Clinic. That‘s because if you follow the advice posted on their web site and avoid problem foods such as broccoli, you may never get control of your disease. In fact, according to a new study, eating broccoli may actually help block your symptoms from ever returning.

    Small bacteria create big problems

    Crohn‘s disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. In addition, researchers have recently discovered that harmful bacteria may also play a role. You see, individuals with Crohn‘s disease also tend to have elevated levels of the E. coli bacteria in their gut. These harmful bacteria penetrate your intestinal walls via a type of cell called an M-cell. Technically, it‘s called translocation. And these bacteria stoke the fire in your gut, which can make you suffer from sores, bleeding, diarrhea, infection, and abscesses along the lining of your intestines. Conventional wisdom tells you to avoid high-fiber foods -- especially foods in the cabbage family -- because these foods can make these symptoms worse. But researchers from the University of Liverpool recently discovered that the opposite might be true. The high-fiber foods may actually prevent the E. coli bacteria from taking hold in the first place. In fact, Crohn‘s disease is very low in parts of the world -- like Africa, India, and Central America -- with high-fiber diets. By comparison, in the United States –- where we eat very little natural fiber -- the occurrence of inflammatory bowel disorders is very high.

    UK scientists test out their theory

    Scientists from the UK removed M-cells from human subjects. Next, they applied plant soluble fibers from leeks, apples, broccoli, and bananas to the cells. Then, the scientists unleashed the E. coli bacteria on the cells. They found that M-cells applied with broccoli and banana fibers didn‘t let the E. coli bacteria pass through. Instead, these cells blocked E. coli translocation by up to 82 percent. Leeks and apples, on the other hand, did not have any protective effect on the cells. Then, the scientists applied banana fibers to cells taken from an area of the small intestine called a Peyer‘s patch. Peyer‘s patches contain lymphoid tissue that are supposed to help protect you against diseases like Crohn‘s. They block harmful particles from entering or exiting the small intestine. However, in Crohn‘s patients, Peyer‘s patches don‘t work properly. Yet in this case, after the banana fibers were applied, E. coli translocation decreased by more than 4,500 percent. Clearly, something in the fibers "rebooted" the Peyer‘s patch cells. Next, the scientists applied a type of food emulsifier -- Polysorbate-80 -- to the M-cells. Food manufacturers commonly use this kind of emulsifier to bind ingredients. For example, you‘ll find Polysorbate-80 in most types of ice cream on the shelf. But -- apparently -- M-cells don‘t deal with emulsifiers very well. E-coli translocation increased by 200 percent among M-cells applied with Polysorbate-80. According to the researchers‘ published report, "Different dietary components may have powerful and contrasting effects on bacterial translocation across intestinal M-cells. These effects may be relevant to the role of environmental factors in the pathogenesis of Crohn‘s disease and suggest possible novel therapeutic approaches." Translation? If you‘ve got Crohn‘s disease, go ahead and add broccoli and bananas back into your diet. They may just help keep the harmful E. coli from invading your gut. And this -- instead of drugs or surgery -- may help control your symptoms in the long run. In addition, make sure to avoid anything that contains an emulsifier. I‘d avoid them all together. In particular, keep an eye out for Polysorbate-80. Check the ingredients list if you‘re not sure. The last thing you want in your body is something that increases the spread of bacteria!
  10. Can calcium supplements really give you a heart attack?

    A major new study announced that taking a calcium supplement may raise your heart attack or stroke risk by as much at 30 percent. I know what you're thinking: "Is this really true? Could the pill I take for my bones really be that bad for me?" And the answer is: Yes, calcium can cause serious health problems when taken alone. But I could also argue that shaving your beard is bad for you health because you could cut the carotid artery in your neck. Or walking the dog is bad for your health because you could get hit by a car. Basically, you do anything the wrong way and you can get hurt. So go ahead and shave your beard, walk the dog, and take calcium. Just do it the RIGHT way. Study misses one major fact... Professor Ian Reid and his team from the University of Auckland analyzed data from 15 different randomized trials conducted over the last 20 years. They found that men and women who took calcium supplements did increase their risk of heart attack or stroke by about 30 percent. But to tell you the truth, that stat didn't surprise me. And neither did his other big "discovery": Men and women with high dietary intakes of calcium did not see the same increased risk. In interviews, Reid and his team seem to scratch their heads to explain this conundrum. Why does a calcium supplement appear to raise risk and not a high- calcium meal? They theorize that calcium supplements cause the mineral to collect in your blood...and high-calcium meals do not. And, again, that's true. Taking 500 mg of calcium alone isn't a good thing. Your body can't handle it. In fact, in addition to cardiovascular problems, it can cause problems with your kidneys, GI tract, nervous system, and even your brain! But there's one sure-fire way to solve the calcium problem: Take magnesium with it. And that's the one huge, gigantic, obvious missing piece from Reid's analysis. You see, calcium cannot work in the body without magnesium. Crack the calcium puzzle You body can NOT handle high amounts of calcium on its own. It gets stuck in your blood, soft tissues, and in your kidneys. It also causes hardening of the arterial walls...and eventually cardiovascular events as Reid's meta-analysis showed. That's why I've always recommended taking one part magnesium for every two parts calcium. Magnesium helps your body absorb the calcium so it doesn't collect in your kidneys and soft tissues. By the way, this is taught in every Nutrition 101 course, in nearly every community college across the country. (Clearly, Professor Reid slept through that course.) And truthfully, I'm not sure why manufacturers even sell supplements that only contain calcium. If you've got a bottle, throw it out. Calcium and magnesium naturally work together So...now can you figure out why people from Reid's meta-analysis with a high- calcium diet didn't increase their cardiovascular events risk? You got it: They were also eating a high-magnesium diet. In natural foods, calcium is always paired with magnesium. It's just nature's way of providing us with exactly what we need to stay healthy. Just look up high-calcium foods like broccoli or kale. These foods also contain magnesium. In fact, nature doesn't make a calcium-rich food that doesn't contain magnesium. That is unless it's "fortified with calcium" like homogenized milk and most dairy products on the shelves. So don't get fooled into thinking these products are natural! Professor Reid goes down swinging In interviews, Professor Reid isn't content just bashing calcium. He goes after all supplements: "We have tended to focus on just the benefits of supplements without really looking at their safety. In the future I think we need to look at both the efficacy and the safety of supplements." Well, truthfully, I have to agree with that last thought...but for a different reason. Just because something is natural doesn't mean that it can't also do harm. Supplements are powerful tools and you must learn to use them the right way...in the right amount and combination. That's why it's important to work with a qualified naturopath and keep reading my Guide to Good Health. I'll make sure to point out the landmines and steer you clear of Professor Reids of the world.

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