by Contributing Writer: Dana McNaughtIn the wake of our excessive use of antibiotics, hand sanitizers, and antibacterial soaps, we have come to realize that cleanliness is not tantamount to the total absence of germs. The human microbiota consists of all of the microorganisms that live in and on our bodies, for better or for worse. Even though species can vary- from country to country, and even from generation to generation- generally, there are 10 times as many bacterial cells as there are human cells in and on the human body. Given the fact that these microscopic residents outnumber our own cells, it comes as no surprise then, that in recent years, there have been many discoveries indicating that the human microbiota impacts our lives in ways that we are really only just beginning to understand. Focusing on the gut microbiota, we will take a look at how the profile of microorganisms found in the gastrointestinal tract influences health and disease, and how we can feel empowered to make a positive impact on our health and well being through the choices that we make every single day. Within the GI tract, the two most commonly found beneficial bacteria include strains of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Their benefits have been widely studied, and you will often see them included as featured ingredients in fermented food products and probiotic supplements. Benefits provided by some of their strains include: having an antidepressant-like effect by suppressing pro-inflammatory cytokines involved in the development of depression, and producing substances that are toxic to the bacterial strains that can cause disease- MRSA and E.coli, for example. Imbalances in the microbiota of the gut have been linked to obesity, diabetes, colon cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and IBS. The bidirectional communication between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain has been shown to be important for maintaining an appropriate stress response as well as for regulating hormones and the responsiveness of the immune system. The strength of this connection can be seen in the successful use of probiotic supplements to decrease anxiety and improve mood and GI symptoms in IBS patients.
What can often end up being excluded from the discussion is the fact that our dietary and lifestyle choices are the most influential factors in determining the balance (or imbalance) of bacterial strains in our GI tract. Just like their human hosts, microbes need a food source and a hospitable environment to survive. The foods that our beneficial bacteria thrive on are known as prebiotics, and they are defined as ‘non-digestible food ingredients that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines’. So, in our effort to maintain a balanced microbiota, it is important that in addition to the consumption of probiotic-rich foods, we also include the kinds of foods that will allow our beneficial bacteria to thrive. Although supplementation has proven to be beneficial, there is much debate regarding to what degree probiotic supplements can survive the journey from our mouths to our intestines, considering the many digestive processes and pH changes encountered along the way. Prebiotics, however, are not digested by our bodies, and arrive to the intestines intact- providing a nourishing food source to our beneficial bacteria, and creating an environment in which they may proliferate.Now, on to the tasty part- some of the delicious and nutritious foods that we can include in our diets to build our microbiota! Upon close examination of the probiotic and prebiotic foods listed below, you will see that many cultures have traditional foods that nourish our bodies and our microbial guests. If there is a fermented food item that you enjoy frequently, you may want to consider trying your hand at making it at home!Building Your Microbiota with Food
Include probiotic-rich foods in your daily intake. Start off with a tablespoon or two, if you are new to consuming fermented foods.Options include, but are not limited to: milk kefir (dairy or non-dairy), water kefir, yogurt (dairy or non-dairy), miso, natto, dark chocolate, kvass, and fermented vegetables- including pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
Include prebiotic foods in your daily intake to make ensure that your beneficial bacteria are well-fed. Options include, but are not limited to: onion, garlic, leeks, chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, bananas, legumes (beans and pulses), jicama, dandelion greens, and asparagus.Resources:(2017, October 11). Gut microbiota [public domain digital image]. Retrieved from: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-10-ridiculously-healthy-elderly-gut-microbiome.html (2016, July 17). Probiotic foods [digital image]. Retrieved from: http://probioticamerica.com/blog/best-probiotic-foods/ (2017, February 16). Prebiotic foods [digital image]. Retrieved from: https://www.makesauerkraut.com/prebiotic-foods-ways-to-eat/
Contributing Writer: Elizabeth Traison
After a long, late Winter the buds of Spring are beginning to show up beneath the soggy, wet earth. It’s rewarding to see the colorful flowers start to bloom, but some of the lesser known plants growing closer to the ground are some of the most awesome plants. Often, these plants are called weeds, but any wild crafter will tell you that these are the plants worth waiting for. Plantain is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium. It can be eaten as a green in a salad. Most commonly, plantain is collected and made into a salve or lotion that is used to treat bee stings and other bug bites. Lotions and salves with plantain can generally be used on any skin irritations or rashes. Dandelion leaf is commonly used in many Eastern Asian cooking traditions. It is very bitter in taste, but can be eaten as part of a salad, tincture, or tea. Dandelion is full of many vitamins including A, C, D and some B vitamins. It also contains many minerals such as iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium, manganese, copper and calcium. Most often, dandelion is used to treat problems of the liver and gallbladder. No dandelion near you? Dandelion roots and leaves can often be found in Asian markets.
Red Clover has a mildly sweet taste and is a very potent herb. It is often used to treat hormone imbalances and menopausal symptoms. It is most often used in teas. Purslane is a resilient plant that grows just about everywhere. You’ve probably seen it growing between sidewalk cracks before, or maybe even received some in a CSA basket. Purslane is full of healthy nutrients including vitamins A and C, and some B vitamins. It also contains antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Purslane can add a delicious crunch to a salad, and can be added to any dish the way spinach or kale would be, such as quiches, soups, or smoothies.
Lamb’s Quarter is a common backyard visitor. It is full of Potassium, Vitamins A and C, magnesium, and Calcium. It is considered a very nutritious plant. It can be used the way any other green would, like spinach or kale. Lamb’s Quarter is high in oxalic acid, which can irritate some people. Cooking the plant reduces the oxalic acid content, making it potentially easier on the stomach.
Stinging Nettle is another healthy green that grows in the wild. Contrary to its scary name, nettle is very beneficial plant. It does have tiny little stingers attached to the stem and underside of the leaf, but these are easily dissolved in heat from cooking or hot water. Nettle is very high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, like iron. It is anti-inflammatory and good for immune system function. It can help to reduce symptoms of allergies, and can also be used as a scalp treatment.Note of caution: Do not harvest any plants you do not know, or without an experienced forager. It is important to be familiar with the source of these plants to prohibit any illness.This information is meant to be educational, not prescriptive. Always check with your doctor and/or clinical herbalist before taking herbal medications.
by: Wendy Romig, MS, CNS, LDNAllergies can manifest for a variety of reasons, from food allergies, hay fever and seasonal allergies, to animal allergies and reactions medications. Often allergy sufferers experience some sort of inflammatory response such as sneezing, hives, watering eyes, runny nose, and/or redness when they come into contact with an allergen. Allergies are the body’s response to a stimulus that it feels is foreign or dangerous. The biochemical cascade when the body comes in contact with an allergen is somewhat complex but the response is generally pretty immediate. Our body is equipped with a host of protective mechanisms that make up our immune system. We have various cells such as immunoglobulins or antibodies, that are responsible for identifying potential threats and assisting in their destruction. In the case of allergies, Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is the antibody in charge of identifying allergens and signaling the release of mast cells, resulting in the classic allergic response sometimes referred to as a histamine response (sneezing, watering eyes, redness, etc.). Allergies are commonly treated with antihistamines and those with life threatening allergies may carry an epipen which contains a dose of epinephrine to treat anaphylaxis (symptoms include rashes, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and shock). Some people may find that allergies come and go depending on their age, the season or their overall health. Allergy shots are often used as a long term treatment for allergies by desensitizing the immune system to specific allergens over a period of 1-3 years. Research suggests that nutrition may play a significant role in controlling allergies and even in contributing to worsening of symptoms. Studies have shown that excessive intake of certain foods high in omega 6 fatty acids, like animal fats, can increase arachidonic acid levels in the body, leading to an increase in inflammation. Other foods which can increase histamine responses (and thus inflammation) include foods that are naturally high in histamines or that release histamines when they enter the body. Examples include left-over food (more than 2 days old), overly ripened fruit, canned foods, aged cheeses, alcohol, wine, shellfish, some beans, certain nuts, vinegars, coffee, citrus fruit, fermented foods (like pickles and saur kraut), and cured meats. Reducing inflammation in the body can significantly improve symptoms of allergies, especially environmental and seasonal allergies that may persist over a period of time. Anti-inflammatory, low histamine diets can help to lower inflammation, improve gut function and reduce levels of omega 6 fatty acids in the body.
Anti-inflammatory foods to consider including or increasing in the diet are:o Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collardso Bitter foods like broccoli rabe, arugula, and dandelion greenso Zinc containing foods like pumpkin seeds and ginger (which help balance the immune system)o Liver detoxifing foods like cilantro, parsley, basil, cucumber, and celeryo Cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, kale, and cauliflowero Root vegetables which are high in mineralso Beta carotene containing foods like squash, sweet potatoes and carrots (which are antioxidants)o Antioxidant fruits like berrieso Foods containing omega 3 fatty acids like fish, flax seeds and flax oilSome research suggests that supplements like Vitamin C, Omega 3, zinc and probiotics may also be useful for allergy sufferers. Herbal medicine can also play a critical role in lowering inflammation and improving gut function. There are many healing culinary herbs that, when added to daily meals, can offer tremendous benefit. Herbs like cilantro, parsley, dill, oregano and spices like cumin, turmeric, ginger and cayenne all aid in digestion, improve liver function and help to reduce inflammation in the body. Other natural methods which can help in reducing inflammation and symptoms of allergies include acupuncture, chiropractic and massage. Exercise has also been found to lower inflammation as recent scientific evidence points to increased levels of inflammation with a sedentary lifestyle. There are many resources available for lowering inflammation including antiinflammatory cook books, Dr. Andrew Weil’s online anti-inflammatory food guide and the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) which lists pesticides and products that may be toxic and inflammatory to the body. If you suffer from severe allergies, it is always best to consult your physician first to discuss all options available to you.Wendy Romig, MS, CNS, LDN is functional nutritionist/herbalist and owner of Sage Integrative Health Center where she sees clients for a wide range of health concerns. Wendy is finishing her Doctorate of Clinical Nutrition and is currently on a research team investigating the anti-inflammatory effects of a proprietary blend of herbs.