How Stress is Destroying Your Microbiome (+ 3 stress-busting tips)

Microbiome … it sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but it is very real and very important to your overall health. Scientists have developed this term to describe the vast ecosystem of living microbacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) system, which includes an estimated 100 trillion living symbiotic microbial cells. This microbiome can always be found in the gut, and can also be found in places like your mouth and skin. 1

The role of the microbiome in your health is not limited to your gastrointestinal system. In fact, the trillions of bacteria are involved in just about every aspect of your overall health including digestion, immunity, detoxification, cardiovascular health, mental function, dental health, weight gain, your mood and so much more!

The proper function of your healthy gut microbiome can easily be influenced by many factors including antibiotics, illness, aging, dietary habits, stress and other lifestyle factors. If any of these factors negatively affect your body, they can change the composition of your harmonious microbiome, and that can rapidly become harmful. 2

Stress and Your Gut Microbiome
The 100 trillion (+) living bacteria in your microbiome have a mind of their own! When they want to eat sugary foods, you want to eat sugary foods. When they want deep-fried foods, you want deep-fried foods. When they want to be depressed, you get depressed … and so on. Scientists call this the “gut-brain-connection” and it is why numerous studies have shown the microbiome’s ability to influence the stress response in both humans, and animals. 3

Here are just 3 ways stress is destroying your microbiome:

1. It Damages Your Feel-Good Chemicals.

The Enteric Nervous System, ENS is a part of the autonomic nervous system of your body, and it is located mostly in the gut. Scientists have called this the “second-brain” as the microbiome has so many similarities to your actual brain. In fact, your gut is home to many of the same chemicals as your brain, including these neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine. 4

Did you know that a whopping 95% of your serotonin (the “feel good” chemical) is found in your gut – not your brain?! 5

That means if you suffer from prolonged periods of stress you may not just be damaging your gut health. Your mood could suffer too, as exposure to stress has been shown to negatively affect gut-brain interactions. 6

2. It Alters Intestinal Permeability.

You have probably heard the term “leaky,” used before, but that’s one word you don’t ever want to hear your doctor use to describe your gut. Many people suffer with a loss of strength in the epithelial cells of their intestinal walls, which leads to the aforementioned “leaky gut.” Recent research has shown that one of the effects of chronic psychological stress on the gut barrier includes an increase of intestinal permeability, which can cause leaking of the gut into your bloodstream. 7

3. It Lowers Your Immunity.

The microbiome is home to trillions of living (and dying) microbacteria, and those little buggers are your first line of defense against foreign invaders that can threaten your health. Without a happy, and balanced microbiome you would not be able to fight off common infections like a cold or the flu.

Studies have shown that when people are under stress, they have lower levels of sIgA – an immunoglobulin essential to high immunity. 8

Another study showed that relaxation exercises, on the other hand, actively increase sIgA production. Just one more reason to take a yoga class or practice relaxation breathing techniques! 9

How Can I Reduce My Stress Levels?
Stress is no joke. It can deplete the strength of your immune system, damper the health of your skin, destroy good circulation, and even increase your risk of mortality. One study showed that high amounts of stress were associated with increasing the risk of premature death by 43%. 10

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Reduce your stress with these 3 tips:

1. Cut Out Alcohol.

Most people turn to drugs or alcohol when they feel stressed in attempts to feel better. However, these substances are only a temporary fix, and can quickly add to your problems, only increasing stress overall.

Get Support. There are plenty of people, online groups, and social communities available to help you get through stressful times.

2. Take Good Care of YOU.

The fast-paced world that we live in today can take a lot out of you! Most people report not only being stressed during the day, but actually experiencing chronic stress levels throughout their daily lives. But you don’t have to let stress drag you down! Always try to eat a healthy, balanced diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and always take a timeout for a break if you feel overly stressed. It’s worth it! 11

3. Stress is a useful response that originated with our paleolithic ancestors.

As part of the fight-or-flight survival response to environmental threats, stress is not a reaction that should last for more than a few minutes. However, many people today experience chronic stress – bouts that can last days, weeks, or even years. This type of stress results in alterations to the microbiome and thus a brain-gut connection that can send you the wrong signals. So, follow these 3 stress-busting tips to keep all of your little buggers happy, and healthy!

Dr. Cary Nelson

Want more health tips? Read More:

5 Simple Ways to Restore Gut Health After Antibiotics

Sources
1. Luke K Ursell, Jessica L Metcalf. Defining the Human Microbiome. Nutr Rev. 2012 Aug; 70(Suppl 1): S38–S44.

2. Yu-Jie Zhang, Sha Li. Impacts of Gut Bacteria on Human Health and Diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2015 Apr; 16(4): 7493–7519.

3. Winnie-Pui-Pui Liew, Jia-Sin Ong. Gut Microbiome and Stress. Volume 28 of the series Microbiology Monographs pp 223-255.

4. The New England Journal of Medicine. Mechanisms of Disease. Franklin D. Epstein, M.D., Editor. 1996.

5. Doe-Young Kim, M.D., Michael Camilleri, M.D. Serotonin: a mediator of the brain–gut connection. The American Journal of Gastroentrology. 2000.

6. Konturek PC, Brzozowski T. Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011 Dec;62(6):591-9.

7. John R. Kelly, Paul J. Kennedy. Breaking down the barriers: the gut microbiome, intestinal permeability and stress-related psychiatric disorders. Front Cell Neurosci. 2015; 9: 392.

8. Renate Deinzera, Christian Kleineidama. Prolonged reduction of salivary immunoglobulin A (sIgA) after a major academic exam. International Journal of Psychophysiology. Volume 37, Issue 3, 1 September 2000, Pages 219–232.

9. Laura A. Pawlow, Gary E. Jones. The Impact of Abbreviated Progressive Muscle Relaxation on Salivary Cortisol and Salivary Immunoglobulin A (sIgA). Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. December 2005, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 375–387.

10. Abiola Keller, Kristin Litzelman. Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association with Health and Mortality. Health Psychol. 2012 Sep; 31(5): 677–684.

11. Coping with Stress. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016. Accessed February 23, 2017.

What is the Metabolome? (And Why It’s Essential to Health)

Every living thing depends on metabolism, a biochemical process that, among other things, converts food to energy and helps eliminate waste. The molecules that help carry out these processes are known as metabolites. The quantity and type of metabolites in an organism are known as the metabolome, which is a relatively new term that was first coined in 1998 in a scientific paper1.

Why is the Metabolome Important?

Metabolomics, or the study of the metabolome, has been used in a wide range of applications, including the screening of newborns, drug trials, toxicology, and many others. Scientists are using metabolomics to help them get a better understanding of how the body’s molecular pathways are connected.

The metabolome may ultimately help researchers understand the causes of different diseases by giving them further insight into “biomarkers,” which are indicators of a particular problem. Metabolomics provides a clearer picture of how metabolites work under certain conditions to produce biomarkers.

Metabolomics, many experts believe, can deliver clinical information sooner than genomics (the study of genes) or proteomics (the study of proteins)2. One of the main reasons is that it is far less expensive to obtain profiles of metabolites compared to genes, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and proteins are much larger and more complex to analyze than metabolites, making the process extremely time-consuming.

Another advantage of metabolomics over genomics and proteomics is the fact that metabolites can easily be gathered for analysis, and the process of doing so is non-invasive. Metabolites are found just about everywhere in the body, in saliva, blood, urine, and tissues. Analyzing different types of fluid can help identify certain types of diseases. Metabolites in urine can, for example, show there could be a problem with the kidneys, whereas metabolites in saliva could indicate some sort of issue with the lungs.

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Metabolomics and Breast Cancer

One specific “real world” example that shows the promise of metabolomics occurred in 2015, when Danish researchers announced they had used metabolites to create a blood test that could tell whether or not a woman is likely to develop breast cancer3.

The researchers said that the new test could predict whether or not a woman was likely to develop the disease anywhere from two to five years in advance with an accuracy rate of 80 percent. Traditional mammograms have a 75 percent accuracy rate but are only effective once the disease has already developed.

The basis of the research was blood samples as well as other data from 400 women gathered over a 20-year period by the Danish Cancer Society. The women were cancer-free when they first enrolled in the study but were later diagnosed with the disease anywhere from 2-7 years after they provided blood samples. The researchers compared those samples with another group of 400 women who had not developed breast cancer.

The scientists analyzed several different compounds in the blood samples, examining them for changes in metabolism that typically occur before tumors form. While more trials will need to be conducted before the technique is ready, early indications are that it may not only be able to better predict the development of breast cancer, but other diseases as well.

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The Future of Metabolomics

The possibilities of metabolomics are extremely encouraging.4 Doctors could potentially be able to analyze how metabolites are acting within cells to identify patterns that could help them detect tumors much faster than they can through current methods. Computer programs could be developed based on metabolomics in order to make predicting the development of diseases quicker than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago.

This is not the stuff of science fiction impossibilities. A British researcher has already created a computer model using metabolites in blood plasma. This model can determine whether or not a pregnant woman is in the process of developing preeclampsia, which is a pregnancy complication characterized by extremely high blood pressure.

A researcher at Duke University is using metabolomics to design a test for schizophrenia that could also help treat people with the condition. She has found that people with schizophrenia have a certain metabolic pattern in their blood that is not found in people without the condition. This pattern might be able to show why patients respond well to certain types of antipsychotic drugs while others experience significant side effects.

Another area where analysis of the metabolome shows promise is through helping people find the diet that is best for their needs. For example, most people assume that they need to lower their fat intake in order to lose weight. But a lot of people have issues with low-fat diets because they can increase the presence of LDL (low-density lipoprotein), or “bad” cholesterol, which can lead to a heightened risk of heart disease. Metabolomics can identify the metabolic biomarkers that would put a dieter in danger of increased LDL.

Metabolites are also being used to study why certain people are more susceptible to problems such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and more. This work could eventually disprove the link between genetics and these issues. A British researcher found that while people of Chinese and Japanese descent are similar from a genetic perspective, they suffer cardiovascular issues at substantially different rates. One reason could be that there are significant differences in the kinds of metabolites in their urine as well as their blood.

There is even a study that uses metabolomics to determine why some people like chocolate and some don’t. One interesting finding was that those who do tend to have lower amounts of a dangerous type of bacteria known as bacterium Clostridium difficile. They also, according to the study, have less LDL.

It will take time, of course, for metabolome analysis to turn into tangible tests that will help doctors pinpoint the likely development of diseases in their patients. However, the potential for this area of study is limitless.

Dr. Cary Nelson

Sources:

1. Oliver, Stephen. “Systematic Functional Analysis Of The Yeast Genome”. Cell.com. N.p., 1998. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.
2.”Metabolomics: What’s Happening Downstream Of DNA”. Medscape. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

3. Russell, Peter. “Blood Test Could Give Early Breast Cancer Warning”. WebMD Boots. N.p., 2015. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

4. “Signs Of A Long Life”. The Economist. N.p., 2008. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

Got Stomach Pain? Maybe Your Diet is to Blame

Dealing with chronic stomach pain? The solution could be as simple as what you’re eating. The Standard American Diet, or SAD, is just that … sad. Today, it is estimated that the average American consumes mostly processed foods, instead of raw fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These processed foods often come in brightly colored bags and boxes, which is usually a good indication that what’s inside is not so good for you.

Continue reading “Got Stomach Pain? Maybe Your Diet is to Blame”

Why Your Immune System Depends on Your Gut Health

What comes to mind when you envision your immune system? You might see it as a sort of armor, surrounding your body and keeping harmful microorganisms from penetrating the skin and assaulting your organs.

But you’d be wrong.

The human immune system isn’t an external barrier at all. Rather, it’s a complex internal network of microbe-fighting energy production. And it’s capable of manufacturing the ammunition necessary to attack and destroy potentially harmful invaders. Whether it’s healing a paper cut or fighting off a serious illness, your immune system is always at work.

This hub of defensive activity is centered within the digestive system. In fact, up to 80 percent of a person’s immunity can be found in the gut. The population of microbes living in the digestive tract, collectively known as the gut microbiota, is where microscopic gladiators are produced. They are then distributed throughout the body, where they fight to maintain maximum immunity against disease, viruses, and other maladies.

Gut: The Immunity Nerve Center

Inside the large intestine, there is an inner barrier which protects against potentially harmful agents. This is called the mucosa, and its surface membranes constitute an adaptive immune system – which, as its name implies, constantly changes to defend against various foreign microbes as they attack the gut. The lymphoid tissue in these membranes makes up the largest single mass of such tissue in the entire body. Because the gut microbiota continuously “communicates” with the immune system, the two work together to identify and combat pathogens which live in the digestive tract.

When a pathogenic invader is detected, cells located in the wall of the intestine produce and secrete antibodies that specifically target the unwanted microbe. This is how pathogens get destroyed by the immune system while the beneficial microbes in the gut remain protected. And, when this lymphoid tissue in the intestine’s mucosa initiates this type of immune response, other areas of lymphoid tissue throughout the body often follow suit, repelling similar attacking organisms elsewhere.

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Probiotics: Immunity Soldiers

One of the key components of the gut microbiota and its support of the immune system is the trillions-strong group of so-called “healthy” bacteria known as probiotics. Though researchers are still trying to figure out precisely how probiotics work, the end result is that these bacteria contribute greatly to optimal health – including providing a stronger level of immunity.

Probiotics protect the body not only against harmful bacteria, but also from viruses, infections, toxins, and other disease-causing parasites. In addition, probiotics facilitate the absorption of important minerals like iron and magnesium, while producing essential B-vitamins and pathogen-destroying enzymes.

Probiotics and Good Health: Benefits on Several Fronts

Microbiologists and physicians are just starting to understand the complete range of benefits that probiotics provide with regards to immunity.

Battling the Common Cold

A 2011 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition revealed that taking probiotics reduced both the probability of contracting the common cold and the duration of the illness itself.1 Similar results were achieved when researchers examined the effects of probiotic supplementation on 30 elite rugby players from New Zealand.2

Easing Digestive System Disorders

Currently, the largest body of research into the effectiveness of probiotics centers around its impact on the digestive system itself. For example, there is a growing body of evidence to support using probiotics to treat acute, infectious diarrhea.3 This is especially prevalent in hospitalized young children, who are susceptible to diarrhea caused by Rotavirus, which is commonly found in healthcare settings.4

Probiotics for Antibiotic Issues

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the administration of probiotics is being recommended for hospitalized patients and nursing home residents who are taking antibiotic medications and/or are at greater risk of being infected with the superbug known as Clostridium difficile (or C. difficile). This antibiotic-resistant bacterium, which can trigger severe diarrhea and colonic inflammation, has reportedly caused a half million infections and 14,000 deaths in a single year.5

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Fighting Inflammation

Moreover, scientists are beginning to learn about the strong relationship between the gut microbiota and a wide range of inflammatory diseases and disorders. It is thought that when the balance between probiotics and unhealthy bacteria is upset, the likelihood of the person suffering from inflammation-related symptoms increases.

In contrast, when probiotics are introduced into the digestive system, there is a corresponding reduction in the amount of inflammatory mediators (substances that transmit energy between nerve cells or from a nerve ending to an organ) secreted in the digestive tract, which in turn normalizes the equilibrium of intestinal microflora so that gut homeostasis is achieved.6

Be Good to Your Gut

Researchers don’t yet know what the precise balance between probiotics and other bacteria in the gut should be, nor are they certain which strains of probiotics are necessary for gut homeostasis. The good news, though, is that for everyone (excluding some patients who suffer from autoimmune disorders), the supplementation of probiotics is safe and free of side effects.7 Most importantly, physicians are starting to recognize the necessity of strong gut health in protecting their patients from colds, infections, and any other illnesses that target the human immune system.

Dr. Cary Nelson

Sources:

1. Berggren, Anna et al. “Randomised, Double-Blind And Placebo-Controlled Study Using New Probiotic Lactobacilli For Strengthening The Body Immune Defence Against Viral Infections”. N.p., 2011. Print.
2. Black, Katherine. “Probiotic Supplementation Reduces The Duration And Incidence Of Infections But Not Severity In Elite Rugby Union Players”. Sciencedirect.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.
3. Allen, Stephen. “Probiotics For Treating Infectious Diarrhoea”. Onlinelibrary.wiley.com. N.p., 2003. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.
4. Szajewska, H., M. Wanke, and B. Patro. “Meta-Analysis: The Effects Of Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG Supplementation For The Prevention Of Healthcare-Associated Diarrhoea In Children”. N.p., 2011. Print.5. https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/biggest_threats.html
6. Isolauri, Erika et al. Ajcn.nutrition.org. N.p., 2001. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.
7. Al-Salami, Hani et al. “Probiotics Applications In Autoimmune Diseases”. N.p., 2012. Print.

The 5 WORST Foods Wreaking Havoc on Your Gut Health

Good gut health affects so much more than just digestion. In fact, it’s estimated that approximately 80 percent of your immune system lies in the gut, and that’s not all. A healthy gastrointestinal tract also plays a major role in proper brain function, clear skin, and even your good mood. With so much at stake, you might want to know more about the little gut bugs that call your digestive system home. They include some “bad” strains, like E. Coli and Streptococcus pneumoniae, as well as “good” strains, like L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis.

Continue reading “The 5 WORST Foods Wreaking Havoc on Your Gut Health”

Want a Healthy Belly, Both Inside and Out? Try these 4 Foods

If you’ve been obsessing over how your abs look, it’s time to focus on what’s behind them – your gut! Your gut, which consists of your small and large intestines, plays an important role in the way your body is able to absorb water, take in vitamins and minerals, and digest food (just to name a few of its many functions). 1

Continue reading “Want a Healthy Belly, Both Inside and Out? Try these 4 Foods”

5 Simple Ways to Restore Gut Health After Antibiotics

Antibiotics are medications that your doctor prescribes when you get sick. Common bacterial infections, including those of the eyes, respiratory tract, urinary tract, and skin, respond well to a cycle of prescription antibiotics. However, with so many foods that damage the healthy balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the gut, it can be especially difficult to fully restore gut health after taking a round of antibiotics.

Continue reading “5 Simple Ways to Restore Gut Health After Antibiotics”