Blog posts tagged with 'gut'

by Natasha Trenev

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) describes a group of symptoms that occur together including repeated pain in the abdomen, changes in bowel movements such as diarrhea, constipation or a mixture of both. Doctors try to rule out all other structural or GI abnormalities and, if nothing else fits, they’ll often use IBS as the final “catch-all” diagnosis. IBS affects females more than males, with about 70 percent of cases being in women. Unfortunately, since it’s often used as a last resort diagnosis, receiving this diagnosis will not necessarily lead to any clear treatment options.

Most doctors suggest a combination of diet and lifestyle changes to help relieve the symptoms of IBS, some of these include eating more fiber, avoiding gluten, or following a special diet called the low FODMAP diet. These changes often affect each individual differently since the root cause of each case is unknown and unique to each person. The downside to this is that it can take an individual years of experimenting with various changes in order to finally figure out what will really help them heal. Fortunately, more and more studies are now being completed to better understand the changes that occur in the gut of IBS sufferers. A better understanding of these gut level changes may result in more direct and natural approaches to healing.

The Gut Microbiota in IBS

When scientists compared the gut microbes of healthy individuals to the gut microbes found in the IBS sufferers, they noted that those with IBS-D, meaning they predominantly had diarrhea or alternated between diarrhea and constipation, are suffering from a loss of bacterial diversity in their guts.¹ This makes sense when you think about how the strong action of diarrhea can drain your body of nutrients — at the same time it can flush out your gut microbes, both the good and the bad. It seems that a particular set of bacteria is missing or reduced in IBS sufferers. The species lacking are responsible for producing butyrate and methane. Butyrate is a type of fatty acid known to help the gut work and it contributes to the function of the internal gut barrier. When butyrate is lacking it becomes easier for all kinds of microbes and other digested particles to cross the intestinal barrier (often referred to as ‘leaky gut’), enter the bloodstream and potentially infect the body or otherwise interact with our immune system. This means bad bacteria, viruses, fungi, and more all have easier access to upset the overall workings of the rest of your body.

Probiotics and IBS

More doctors and patients are learning to appreciate the positive effects that probiotics have on restoring health to the GI tract and reducing the symptoms of IBS. In July of 2017, a research team from the University of Illinois compiled and published data from five human clinical trials on IBS that included the probiotic bacteria known as Bifidobacterium infantis. After reviewing the data from these five trials and combining the overall results, they concluded that this probiotic might be an effective therapeutic option for IBS patients, which could significantly alleviate the symptoms of IBS without significant adverse effects.

The probiotics seem to go beyond alleviating the GI symptoms of IBS and have also been shown to positively influence some mood disorders associated with IBS. It should come as no surprise that people with IBS frequently suffer from depression and anxiety. Can you imagine trying to lead a normal life, but always needing to know where the closest bathroom is or having to take into account what color pants you wear each day because your bowels are unpredictable and painful.

A study conducted by researchers at McMaster University in Canada showed a link between a probiotic and mood improvement in people suffering from IBS.³ In this study, 44 IBS patients who also suffered from moderate depression and anxiety were divided into two groups. One group received daily doses of a probiotic that contained Bifidobacterium  and the other group was given a placebo for six weeks. Individuals were asked to track their depression, anxiety and gastrointestinal symptoms throughout the study. At the end of six weeks, 64% of those who received the probiotic had improvements in depression scores, while only 32% of those in the placebo group reported these changes. Even four weeks after the end of the study, depression scores remained lower in the probiotic group.

The research went beyond just asking the participants about their feelings, they also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain patterns and noted improved depression in the probiotic group that was linked to changes in brain activity specifically in areas associated with mood regulation. This was a small study, and everyone involved agreed that larger human clinical trials will be needed to confirm these findings, but the initial results are still exciting and promising for anyone suffering from IBS.

With multiple research teams, from multiple countries reporting these interesting and promising probiotic findings for IBS sufferers, the future sounds promising for a more natural approach to IBS symptoms through the balancing of the gut microbiota.

What to Look for in a Probiotic Product

Probiotics are live bacteria. So the most important consideration when selecting a useful probiotic is making sure that the beneficial bacteria are actually alive and thriving when they reach you — anything else is just a waste of money. Check the label and look for a guarantee of potency through the expiration date. Products that only provide a guarantee at the time of manufacture may be substandard products.

Also, pay attention to the species of bacteria used in the supplement. The research presented here pointed predominantly to the use of Bifidobacteria for IBS and more specifically to Bifidobacterium infantis. Look for a probiotic that focuses solely on this strain so you can see if it will help you, without diluting it in a multi-strain supplement full of so many different bacteria that you’ll never know which one provided the ultimate results.

[article reposted with permission from developinghealthyhabits.com]

by Natasha Trenev

Celiac Disease (CD), also referred to as gluten intolerance, can mean a lifetime of avoiding grains containing gluten, wheat, rye and barely. Exposure to even the smallest amount of gluten can trigger a damaging and sometimes painful gastrointestinal reaction in people who are sensitive to the stuff. Avoiding gluten altogether can be very difficult, and the quest to avoid it can disrupt the lives of those suffering from the sensitivity, as well as the lives of family members. Due to the constraints of a gluten-free diet, alternative therapies for CD are being explored.

About Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease affects approximately one in 133 Americans, or around 2.18 million Americans. Symptoms can range from classic gastrointestinal disturbances like diarrhea, reflux, abdominal pain and bloating, to more complex symptoms such as malnutrition, weight loss, fatigue, easy bruising, skin rashes, anemia and other isolated nutrient deficiencies.

The gastrointestinal tract breaks down food into smaller components the body can absorb and use for various purposes. People with CD cannot break down gluten into proteins small enough for their bodies to digest. With repeated exposure to larger, unaltered proteins, the body may develop an immune response to gluten.

The Connection between Microbes in the Gut and Gluten Sensitivity

Some of the newest research shows an association between gluten sensitivities and the bacteria living in the intestinal tract known as the gut microbiota. Bacteria living in the small intestine participate in the metabolism of gluten. Scientists know that people with gluten sensitivities tend to have a different set of bacteria living in their intestines compared with those without the dietary problem.

Scientists wanted to know, though, if the bacterial communities from a person with gluten sensitivities would handle wheat proteins differently than the bacterial communities of a person without the condition. To find out, researchers from McMaster University in Canada isolated gluten-degrading bacteria from the small intestines of participants with and without gluten sensitivities. The scientists then transferred the bacteria from both groups into germ-free lab mice, which had no intestinal bacteria at all, and then created colonies of the mice. Next, the scientists fed gluten to the mice and observed the results.

Microbes in the small intestine trigger immune reactions when they encounter gluten. The scientists determined that the microbes from a person with gluten sensitivities trigger different immune reactions than do the microbes from someone without the sensitivity. Specifically, the bacteria from those with gluten sensitivities reacted by producing peptides which talk differently to immune cells and provoke a stronger immune response.

The researchers then tested how various peptides isolated from people with gluten sensitivities reacted with blood immune cells. They found that certain peptides from gluten-sensitive individuals activated gluten-specific immune cells. The scientists also found that different bacteria isolated from healthy people were able to degrade the peptides in a way that decreases gluten-related immune reactions.

New Research Indicates Specific Probiotic Bacteria May Help

In another study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, supplementation with the probiotic bacteria Bifidobacterium infantis NLS super strain was shown to alleviate some gastrointestinal symptoms associated with celiac disease in newly-diagnosed participants who were still consuming a gluten containing diet. In that study, researchers randomly assigned participants to either the test group receiving B. infantis probiotic capsules, or the control group receiving a placebo capsule. Participants took two capsules three times each day, 15 minutes before meals, for three weeks. The researchers gathered data on the participants on the first day of the study, on day 10, and again 21 days later at the end of the study. Data included vital signs, safety reports, urine and blood tests, and questionnaires.

The researchers found that some gastrointestinal symptoms improved for participants who took B. infantis probiotic, specifically indigestion, constipation and gastroesophageal reflux. Furthermore, the scientists noted administration of the B. infantis probiotic was not associated with serious adverse effects or significant biochemical changes. The researchers also noted that these changes took place despite the fact the participants were still consuming gluten. In the future, they hope to repeat this study to see what changes occur in a similar group already on a gluten-free diet.

The research underscores the link between gut bacteria and the immune system during gluten metabolism. The results of the study highlight the roles bacteria play in modulating the body’s reaction to gluten. The findings are also consistent with the theory that imbalances in bacteria could contribute to the symptoms of gluten sensitivities, even though the bacteria included in the study may not be the only ones capable of modifying gluten digestion.

Infants, B. infantis and Celiac Disease Development

In addition to the role that Bifidobacterium infantis has been shown to have in people with active CD, it’s also been well studied for its importance in the infant gut. Breast milk has been shown to stimulate the growth of B. infantis in the guts of healthy newborns. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have even gone so far as to name it the “Champion Colonizer of the Infant Gut.” In one study of 164 healthy infants who have at least one first-degree relative with celiac disease, they found reduced numbers of Bifidobacterium in infants who later had an increased risk for developing celiac disease. This indicates that the type of milk fed, the gut bacteria that develop early on, and genetic predisposition may all play a role in the development of Celiac Disease later in life.

Research continues to show a connection between microbes living in the gut and celiac disease. These studies are early indicators of the use of specific strains of probiotics as supportive supplements for people who suffer from celiac disease and ongoing research may someday help provide non-dietary treatments for people who suffer from celiac disease.

[article reposted with permission from developinghealthyhabits.com]

by Natasha Trenev

The idea that the bacteria that live in the warm, dark recesses of your gut have health benefits is an intriguing one. After all, most people think bacteria are the “bad guys.” These days, it’s clear that not all bacteria cause illness and some types of bacteria you might actually want to have around. The “good” bacteria you want to cultivate help support the health of your gut and your gut associated lymphoid tissue — the portion of your immune system that lies in your intestinal tract. After hearing so much about the health benefits of gut-friendly bacteria, called probiotics, you’re probably convinced you need more of the beneficial ones — but why? How do probiotic bacteria exert their benefits?

Probiotic Bacteria Aid Digestion

As you know, your intestinal tract is where the nutrients you take in through diet are absorbed. However, only some of the food components that enter your digestive tract can be broken down and absorbed by your body. Humans lack the enzymes to break down some types of plant material. Some of the fiber and resistant starch you can’t digest conveniently becomes lunch or dinner for bacteria that live in your gut.

When these hungry gut bacteria break down the fiber for you, they produce compounds called short-chain fatty acids, two of the most common of which are butyrate and acetate. These compounds help keep the lining of your colon healthy. The cells in your colon use these short-chain fatty acids to produce the energy they need to fuel the functions necessary to keep your colon healthy. Some preliminary studies suggest short-chain fatty acids made by good gut bacteria might lower the risk of colon cancer. Production of short-chain fatty acids by gut bacteria may partially explain why high-fiber diets seem to offer some protection against this.

Probiotic Bacteria Help Balance the Gut

When probiotic bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids, it also lowers the pH or acid-base balance of the lining of your intestinal tract. That’s beneficial, since disease-causing bacteria typically don’t grow well in an acidic environment. Therefore, probiotic bacteria create a hostile environment that discourages the growth of bacteria that cause illness. Probiotic bacteria can also block the growth of sinister bacteria by competing for the resources they need to survive. When good bacteria are around they use up vital nutrients, making it harder for bad bacteria to get the nutritional components they require to stay alive. Some probiotic bacteria produce substances called bacteriocins that directly block the growth of harmful bacteria, as well as chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, that stymie the development of bad bacteria and yeast.

Probiotic Bacteria and Absorption

Probiotic bacteria also produce beneficial substances. These organisms release enzymes that break down components from the foods you eat so you can absorb them more easily. In addition, the acidic environment probiotic bacteria create, increases the absorption of minerals, including calcium, magnesium and zinc. Having a healthy population of gut bacteria helps you maximize absorption of these essential minerals.

Probiotic Bacteria and Immunity

Another way probiotic bacteria exert their benefits is by their effects on immune function. Your immune system is your first line of defense against viruses, bacteria and fungi and plays a protective role in many diseases. As researchers point out, one of the reasons older people have a harder time fighting off infection is that their immune system doesn’t function the same as that of a younger person. We know that a huge portion of your immune system, between 70% and 80%, is in your gut, making it the largest immune organ in your body. Gut bacteria have the ability to communicate with immune cells and influence their function, giving them the capacity to subtly alter immune function.

Research suggests probiotic bacteria help maintain immune balance as well. Your immune system is designed to launch an organized attack against foreign invaders, but an overly zealous attack can harm normal tissues, leading to inflammation. Probiotic bacteria help preserve immune system balance.

Because some food allergies involve an overreaction by the immune system, there’s thought that probiotic bacteria could help children avoid food allergies. More recently, some experts point out that some food intolerances, which are different from a food allergy, may be due to a damaged gut lining, also known as a “leaky gut.” The lining of your gut is very thin, only a single cell layer thick and is held together by connections called tight junctions, which are easily damaged. When the gut lining and its tight junctions are injured, which can happen when you take certain medications or due to stress, it allows food components and even bacteria to enter your bloodstream. These proteins, once in the bloodstream, can theoretically activate the immune system and lead to inflammation and tissue damage. By helping maintain a healthy gut lining, probiotic gut bacteria could be beneficial for people with food sensitivities, intolerances and for leaky gut. The lining of your digestive tract serves as a barrier that protects you against bacteria and other harmful components in the food you eat and probiotic bacteria help to strengthen this barrier function.

Bacteria “Talk” to Each Other

Another interesting way probiotic bacteria may benefit your intestinal health is by the messages they send to bad bacteria. Infection-causing bacteria communicate with each other through a process called “quorum sensing.” Through this form of communication, bacteria get a better idea of what’s going on around them. For example, the bacteria in your gut want to know whether there are enough nutrients to support their growth. If there’s a lack of nutrients, they slow their replication to ensure their survival.

Research suggests some types of probiotic bacteria have the ability to block communication pathways bad bacteria use to “talk” to each other. When infection-causing bacteria can no longer communicate with each other, their chances for survival drops because they’re less aware of what’s going on around them. Blocking communication pathways between bad bacteria is a way to limit their growth and survival.

In addition, communication between good bacteria can be beneficial. For example, probiotic bacteria have the ability to enhance the growth of other good bacteria within the ecosystem. One species of gut-friendly bacteria might send a message to another species of probiotic bacteria, letting it know conditions are favorable and to reproduce more. As a result, your gut becomes healthier.

The Bottom Line

Despite the fact that the research explaining how probiotics work is still in its infancy, their health-related benefits have been noted for hundreds of years. Research continues to uncover the characteristics and habits of the probiotic bacteria that live in our gut and it’s exciting to better understand exactly how they are benefiting us and how we can supplement this unique eco-system within our bodies. Having a healthy population of gut bacteria is essential for optimizing your health. Don’t underestimate the potential of your gut bacteria.

[article reposted with permission from developinghealthyhabits.com]