How probiotics and prebiotics team up in your gut – The Washington Post

How probiotics and prebiotics team up in your gut - The Washington Post

Everyone knows good hosts need to feed their houseguests. If the visitors are easy to get along with and especially helpful — they take out the trash, do the dishes, rake the yard and so on — it’s wise to feed them very well so they stay as long as possible.

That’s how it is with humans and probiotics (good bacteria). We are essentially hosting these living organisms in our guts. They go about their lives unnoticed, but they are doing important work keeping our digestive system healthy and, in turn, protecting the whole body.

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Probiotics: Desirable houseguests

By now you have heard of the many chores probiotics do around our “house.” They help us absorb nutrients from the foods we eat, and they produce B vitamins we can use; they support our immune system and work to prevent harmful bacteria from making us sick. They are shining examples of good houseguests. With their reputation firmly established, chances are you have been actively inviting them in by eating such probiotic-rich foods as yogurt and kefir, or some types of sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh. You may be also taking probiotic supplements.

Feeding your guests

But it’s not enough to just get beneficial bacteria into your body. To make sure these good guys stay and thrive, you’ve got to feed them. One of their preferred meals is a type of soluble fiber called fructooligosaccharides (FOS), found in a wide range of vegetables, fruits and grains.

via How probiotics and prebiotics team up in your gut – The Washington Post.


Probiotic Logic vs. Gut Feelings –


JULY 21, 2014 10:27 AM  The label on my bottle of Nature’s Bounty Advanced Probiotic 10 says it contains 10 probiotic strains and 20 billion live cultures in each two-capsule dose. The supplement provides “advanced support for digestive and intestinal health” and “healthy immune function.”

I have no way to know if any of this is true. Like all over-the-counter dietary supplements, probiotics undergo no premarket screening for safety, effectiveness or even truth in packaging. Can there really be 20 billion micro-organisms “guaranteed at the time of manufacture” in those dry capsules that will spring into action in my digestive tract?

I’m not sure what prompted me to try probiotics. Perhaps it was to stimulate a sluggish gut or to counter lactose intolerance or, as some enthusiasts have suggested, to enhance a healthy old age. Japan, where a woman’s life expectancy far exceeds ours, accounts for half the world’s consumption of probiotics.

Maybe it was the invitation I received to a coming symposium, “Gut Microbiota, Probiotics and Their Impact Throughout the Lifespan,” convened by Dr. W. Allan Walker at Harvard Medical School.To be sure, lay and scientific literature are filled with probiotic promise, and I am hardly the only consumer who has opted to hedge her bets. The global market for probiotic supplements and foods is expected to reach $32.6 billion this year, with a projected annual growth of 20 percent or more.

via Probiotic Logic vs. Gut Feelings –

Chocolate-Loving Gut Microbes Turn Cocoa Into Heart-Healthy Molecules : The Salt : NPR

Thank Your Gut Bacteria For Making Chocolate Healthful


March 18, 2014 2:31 PM

Bacteria in your gut can break down the antioxidants in chocolate into smaller, anti-inflammatory compounds.

Boy, it’s a good time to be a dark-chocolate lover.

We’ve noted before the growing evidence that a daily dose of the bitter bean may help reduce blood pressure. There also seems to be a link between a regular chocolate habit and lower body weight.

Now scientists are offering an explanation for just why cocoa powder may be good for the heart and waistline. The magic may reside in our microbes.

The friendly bacteria in our guts can gobble up cocoa powder and turn it into compounds known to help the heart, food scientists from Louisiana State University reported Tuesday at the American Chemical Society meeting in Dallas.

The critters also convert the cocoa powder into molecules that reduce inflammation and help tell us when we’re full.

“These are good compounds to have in your gut,” says John Finley, who led the study. “They can get absorbed into your blood” and protect cells in your blood vessels from stress, he says.

For centuries, people have been attributing a vast array of health benefits to eating chocolate, from curing infertility and fatigue to fever and dental problems. But so far, the links to lower blood pressure and heart health have been the strongest — and one of the few benefits to pass muster in the eyes of science.

“I was holding out for scientists to prove chocolate’s aphrodisiac effect,” Finley jokes. “But it’s the cardiovascular benefits that will probably pan out. Our findings are one more brick in the road to proving that one.”

Of course, Finley is talking about cocoa powder here: The stuff that has no sugar and milk in it. “Our results don’t translate to a Hershey bar,” he says. “But cocoa powder goes well with many foods. I put it on my oatmeal every morning with berries.”

Cocoa powder is packed with potent antioxidants, called polyphenols. These healthful molecules are also found in dark berries and black tea. And they’re known to help the heart and possibly prevent cancer.

But there’s one major problem with many polyphenols: They’re so large that they don’t get absorbed into the blood. That’s where the critters in your gut can help out, Finley says.

Previous studies have found that gut bacteria like to feast on polyphenols from blackberries and tea. So Finley wanted to see what the bugs would do with the polyphenols in cocoa powder.

The Salt

Chowing Down On Meat, Dairy Alters Gut Bacteria A Lot, And Quickly

He and his students passed the cocoa powder through a device that mimics the human gut. First, it treats the cocoa with enzymes like the ones in your stomach. And then the remaining material goes through an “artificial colon.”

“It’s a rather yucky way of mimicking people’s lower gut,” Finely says. “It’s just a mixture of fecal matter. We pay people $20 to give us a sample. We get a lot of graduate students to volunteer.”

Sounds gross, but those “donations” are teeming with life — trillions of bacteria that see the cocoa powder as a five-star dinner.

“The microbes break down the polyphenols into smaller molecules that are more likely to make it across the gut into the blood,” Finely says. Those compounds are the good ones that help reduce inflammation and stress in the blood vessels.

And the friendly bacteria don’t stop there. They also feasted on the fiber in cocoa powder, Finley and his team found. “The microbes break down the fiber into short fatty chain acids, which get absorbed and can have an effect on satiety,” he says.

Of course, Finley and his team have to confirm their results in real digestive tracts. “The next step is to give people cocoa powder and see if we can find these metabolites in the blood,” he says.

Those types of experiments are critical to figuring out exactly what’s in chocolate that makes it healthy for the heart, says Joshua Lambert, a food scientist at Pennsylvania State University, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“That’s the big missing link right now,” Lambert tells The Salt. We know now that gut bacteria can break down cocoa into compounds that have beneficial cardiovascular effects, he says. But we don’t know yet if these are the critical ones inside the blood.

In the meantime, I’ll keep indulging my gut bacteria with a few cubes of extra dark chocolate each day. Seems like a win-win situation for both of us.

via Chocolate-Loving Gut Microbes Turn Cocoa Into Heart-Healthy Molecules : The Salt : NPR.

Popular probiotics have few cons, experts say – USA Today

Every year, half of all Americans take some kind of pill as insurance against their diets.

But recently, researchers have noticed a surprising trend: Use of some of the most popular supplements is waning, possibly because of recent reports questioning their benefits and raising awareness about risks. In a study by the independent research group, calcium supplementation declined among women, from 58% in 2012 to 46% in 2013 . Vitamin C purchases were off by 4.2%. Even sales of fish oil — once the hottest supplement on the market — dropped, according to the report.

The one category where supplementation is actually growing? Probiotics, or live bacteria that work by “recolonizing the small intestine and crowding out disease-causing bacteria, thereby restoring balance to the intestinal flora,” according to From 2012 to 2013, use of probiotics rose from 31% to 37% among regular supplement users.

Christopher Mohr, a nutritionist who founded, a nutrition counseling company in Louisville, can attest to the growing demand. “There has certainly been an increased interest among clients,” he says. “A good number of scientific studies support the inclusion of probiotics in our diet, and these stories get picked up by the media, leading consumers to learn more about them.”

Indeed, some medical research suggests numerous and broad applications for probiotics, such as easing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stomach distress associated with taking antibiotics. On the other hand, the National Institutes of Health takes a more conservative stance, concluding that “although some probiotic formulations have shown promise in research, strong scientific evidence to support specific uses of probiotics for most conditions is lacking.”

Canadian researchers have linked probiotic supplementation to lower levels of anxiety. According to study authors, the probiotic “L. rhamnosus (JB-1) reduced stress-induced corticosterone and anxiety- and depression-related behavior” in lab experiments. “Together, these findings highlight the important role of bacteria … and suggest that certain organisms may prove to be useful therapeutic adjuncts in stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression,” they added.

Weight loss is another possible application. A study in December’s British Journal of Nutrition found that women supplementing their diet with probiotics were significantly more likely to lose weight (nearly 11 pounds on average) compared with those taking a placebo (just 5.7 pounds) over a 12-week period.

While probiotic use is generally considered safe, not all supplements are created equal.

“In our testing, some products did not contain the amount of organisms that they claimed,” says Tod Cooperman, president of In general, capsules must contain more than 1 billion CFUs (colony-forming units) to be effective.

The measurements are taken at the manufacturing site, but because of improper shipping or storage in heat or humidity, the number of CFUs may be half of what the label claims by the time the supplement reaches consumers. In the tests, Nature Made Digestive Health Probiotics, Culturelle and Align Probiotic Supplement all scored high marks.



rvia Popular probiotics have few cons, experts say.

Can We Eat Our Way To A Healthier Microbiome? It’s Complicated : The Salt : NPR

While no one\’s sure which foods are good for our microbiomes, eating more veggies can\’t hurt.

When our colleague Rob Stein got his microbiome analyzed recently in the name of science journalism, we were totally fascinated.

As Stein noted, it may be possible to cultivate a healthier community of bacteria on and inside us by modifying our diets.

Stein was advised to eat more garlic and leeks for his. But we wondered: Are there other foods that promote a healthy microbiome in most people?

The answer, we found out, is fairly complicated. Microbiome research is still in the very early stages.

\”We know quite a lot about associations between food and health, we know a bunch of associations between food and microbes, and we know a bunch about associations between microbes and health,\” says microbiome researcher Rob Knight.

What researchers don\’t yet know is how to put the whole picture together.

Are certain vegetables good because they have a positive effect on our microbiome? Or do they have a more direct effect on our metabolism? \”That\’s still very much an emerging area of research,\” Knight tells The Salt.

Still, some foods look promising. Dietary fiber serves as food for many of the bacteria that live in our guts, says microbiome researcher Jeff Leach of the Human Food Project. \”It doesn\’t hurt as a general rule to eat more fiber,\” Leach tells The Salt.

Too little fiber could starve the bacteria we want around. \”When we starve our bacteria they eat us,\” Leach says. \”They eat the mucus lining – the mucin in our large intestine.\”

Knight adds that when we do keep our bacteria well fed, they, in turn, give off nutrients that nourish the cells that line our guts. Fiber, Knight says, \”is thought to be good for your gut health over all.\”

There are a lot of different ways to get fiber. Leach recommends getting it from vegetables. Eat a variety of veggies, and eat the whole thing, he recommends. \”If you\’re going to eat asparagus, eat the whole plant, not just the tips,\” he says.

Fiber was also central to Leach\’s suggestion to Stein to eat more garlic and leek. Those vegetables contain high levels of a type of fiber called inulin, which feeds actinobacteria in our guts. In fact, inulin is considered a prebiotic, since it feeds the good bacteria, or probiotics, that live inside us.

Garlic actually has antimicrobial properties, which paradoxically, could also be good thing for our microbiomes. One study shows that garlic hurts some of the bad bacteria in our guts while leaving the good guys intact.

Whole grains are another good source of fiber — but evaluating its benefits is a bit trickier. Whole grain consumption seems to be associated with high levels of a type of bacteria prevotella, Leach says. \”Prevotella has been associated with inflammation in HIV patients [and] it\’s been associated with rheumatoid arthritis.\” We don\’t know why that is, Leach says. \”So the jury\’s still out on whole grains.\”

Another way to build a better microbiome may be to eat foods that naturally teem with probiotics. Michael Pollan mentions the puported benefits of organic veggies fresh from the soil in his piece on the microbiome for The New York Times Magazine.

But this can get tricky, Knight says. In the absence of pesticides, a lot of veggies turn on their natural defenses in order to fight off insects, and those defenses can be toxic to humans.

Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and yogurt might be surer sources of probiotics. Researchers are unclear about whether these have any lasting effect on the composition of our microbiome, but in some cases they do seem to help.

\”Epidemiologically there seems to be some evidence that eating fermented food is beneficial rather than harmful,\” Knight says. But researchers are still trying to figure out why.

Still, the big question is whether we can actually reshape our microbiomes by changing our diets. \”Short term dietary interventions,\” Leach says, \”don\’t have a dramatic impact.\” And slightly tweaking your diet probably isn\’t going to do much either.

\”The question is how dramatically are you changing your diet,\” Leach says. \”If you go from eating 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day to eating 40 or 50, you may see some changes.\”

via Can We Eat Our Way To A Healthier Microbiome? It’s Complicated : The Salt : NPR.

Gut Bacteria Might Guide The Workings Of Our Minds : Shots – Health News : NPR

Could the microbes that inhabit our guts help explain that old idea of “gut feelings?” There’s growing evidence that gut bacteria really might influence our minds.

“I’m always by profession a skeptic,” says Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. “But I do believe that our gut microbes affect what goes on in our brains.”

Mayer thinks the bacteria in our digestive systems may help mold brain structure as we’re growing up, and possibly influence our moods, behavior and feelings when we\’re adults. “It opens up a completely new way of looking at brain function and health and disease,” he says.

So Mayer is working on just that, doing MRI scans to look at the brains of thousands of volunteers and then comparing brain structure to the types of bacteria in their guts. He thinks he already has the first clues of a connection, from an analysis of about 60 volunteers.

Mayer found that the connections between brain regions differed depending on which species of bacteria dominated a person’s gut. That suggests that the specific mix of microbes in our guts might help determine what kinds of brains we have — how our brain circuits develop and how they’re wired.

via Gut Bacteria Might Guide The Workings Of Our Minds : Shots – Health News : NPR.

Probiotic Given to Newborns Appears to Help Prevent Colic –

Introducing healthy bacteria to the gut of newborns appears to decrease their likelihood of developing colic, according to a study published Monday, the latest showing probiotics’ beneficial effect on the condition.

The research is thought to be the first to examine whether giving “good” micro-organisms to infants could prevent the development of what is known as functional gastrointestinal disease, which includes colic, regurgitation and constipation.

Colic, characterized by lengthy crying, is believed to be related to digestive problems and sometimes likened to an infant form of irritable bowel syndrome. The condition has long been a source of anxiety for new parents, who are often driven to try all types of home remedies to soothe their babies in the absence of any medicines indicated for the treatment of colic. A recent study found that as many as 20% of infants suffer from colic in their first three months of life.

In the study published Monday, scientists from Aldo Moro University in Bari, Italy, had parents administer five drops of a solution containing Lactobacillus reuteri, a bacterium well-studied for its health effects, or a placebo to 589 healthy infants daily for the first 90 days of life.

At three months, the babies who received the probiotic exhibited significantly reduced crying time—an average of 38 minutes versus 71 minutes of inconsolable crying a day—fewer spit-ups and more bowel movements, which signaled less constipation, according to Flavia Indrio, a pediatrics professor at the university and the lead author on the study. The research was published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, a journal of the American Medical Association.

Previous studies, including one of Dr. Indrio’s, have found that Lactobacillus reuteri appears to help with colic, but haven’t looked at ways to prevent it. Scientists and industry also are studying whether probiotics can be helpful in treating a number of conditions, including allergies, cholesterol and the common cold.

Early intervention in babies’ gastrointestinal problems may be important not just for infants’ well-being but also health at older ages. Research has found that colic symptoms and development of other gastrointestinal diseases later in life appear to be linked. There have been no reports of adverse events so far in human Lactobacillus reuteri studies.

The latest work, considered the largest human study of probiotics on colic to date, is “very well done” and the results are encouraging, according to Bruno Chumpitazi, a professor in the department of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who wasn’t involved in the research but wrote an editorial to accompany the study. The long-term effects of the bacterium on health are still unknown and need to be studied, he said.

Colonies of Lactobacillus reuteri appear to reduce intestinal inflammation, improve movement in the intestines and lessen sensitivity to pain, according to Dr. Indrio, but more research is needed to understand exactly what the bacterium does in the body, she and other experts say. Dr. Indrio plans to follow the cohort of infants to study their rates of irritable bowel syndrome and gastrointestinal disorders at older ages.

By intervening early or even preventing the start of gastrointestinal distress in infancy, the path of disease development may be changed, Dr. Indrio said. \”Maybe the intestine and the brain have a different script to follow.”

—Sumathi Reddy contributed to this article.

via Probiotic Given to Newborns Appears to Help Prevent Colic –

My new favorite summer treat!


Yummmm – I’m excited about a new summer treat that I swear tastes almost as good as ice cream!

I threw some strawberry kefir into a magic bullet with some frozen strawberries, chia seeds, a couple of ice cubes and a little bit of sf strawberry jam. Oh and a splash of lime juice. (I have no idea, but it seemed like a good idea at the time and it does seem to have added something.)

I’m shocked at how tasty it is.

Super healthy treat – all under 200 calories. Getting calcium and probiotics from the kefir, omega 3s and fiber from the chia and vitamin c from the strawberries.

Off to enjoy!

Yogurt Nutrition Explained: It’s Alive! | Women’s Health Magazine

Yogurt Nutrition Explained: It’s Alive! | Women’s Health Magazine.

Here’s what we do know. Your digestive system is like Casablanca for microorganisms: Some 400 species of bacteria and yeast can be found there. Some are locals, created by your body; others are tourists, just visiting after you ingest them via food. Of these microorganisms, those like salmonella and some species of E. coli are nasty (usually the tourists, naturally). And others like L. casei and L. reuteri can be nice — very nice. “Probiotics are basically any microorganism that, when ingested, may benefit human health,” says Athos Bousvaros, M.D., a specialist in gastroenterology and nutrition at Children’s Hospital Boston.

According to Dr. Bousvaros, your digestive tract houses much of your immune system, a complex constellation of cells and tissues that fight pathogenic organisms that can make you sick. Having more of the beneficial organisms there may help prevent illness: They protect you both by stunting the growth of the nasty ones on the spot and by forcing them out, essentially taking all the free seats in the digestive tract; the bad guys just have to move on, ultimately exiting your system. When the number of good bugs drops — for example, after a course of antibiotics, which kills many of the good guys as well as the bad — you might be more likely to get sick. And as you age, your natural levels of beneficial bacteria decrease. But swallowing ’em can help get you healthy, plus stop trouble before it starts.

Probiotics give your immune system a boost. New research shows that L. reuteri can help you kick the Kleenex while your colleagues sniffle. A study in Sweden found that workers taking the probiotics were healthier than the pla — cebo group, who called in sick two and half times more. “L. reuteri helps keep you healthy by secreting reuterin, an antimicrobial agent that prevents the growth of pathogenic microorganisms in the gut,” says Vicki Koenig, R.D.

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