Other brand names may have gone on the market since Dr Oz’s list was published, in March of 2014. For example, aspartame has been rebranded as a so-called “natural sweetener” named AminoSweet.
WHERE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS GO AFTER THEY PASS THROUGH OUR BODIES
These chemical sugar substitutes are manufactured to register as sweetness in our mouths but then pass through the body without ever being broken down (except aspartame, which is therefore particularly poisonous). Ever wonder what happens to them after they get excreted from our bodies?
They work their way through the sewer systems to waste water treatment plants, which are also unable to break down these complex chemicals. So most artificial sweeteners pass out of water treatment plants in virtually the same form in which they were consumed. Scientists have found the presence of artificial sweeteners in water leaving treatment plants – and also in ground water, surface waters (rivers, lakes, and oceans around the world), and tap water. (Boxall, 2013), (HealthFreedoms, 2015), (Science Daily, 2009)
OUR GUT BACTERIA ON ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
Before these artificial sweeteners reach water treatment plants, while they’re still working their way through our GI tracts, they’re also upsetting the critical equilibrium of the probiotic microbes living in our intestines, the ones that are the primary regulators of our immune functions and overall health.
Results from an Israeli study, published in Nature in 2014, found both mice and humans who consumed artificial sweeteners developed adverse alterations in their gut microbiomes along with glucose intolerance, changes consistent with metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels — that occur together, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes).
In the part of the study on human subjects, researchers asked people who didn’t usually consume artificial sweeteners to add them to their diet for seven days. It took only one week for these people to develop a poorer glycemic response. (Faherty, 2014) (Suez et al, 2014)
More bad news about artificial sweeteners: The changes they produce in the composition of your gut bacteria can actually make you gain weight! And here you thought you were using these sweeteners in your tea, eating diet processed foods, and drinking ‘lite’ soft drinks so you could keep your weight down.
“Our relationship with our own individual mix of gut bacteria is a huge factor in determining how the food we eat affects us,” says Eran Elinav, MD, of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s department of immunology. “Especially intriguing is the link between use of artificial sweeteners—through the bacteria in our guts—to a tendency to develop the very disorders they were designed to prevent; this calls for reassessment of today’s massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances.” (Merz, 2014)
WHAT DO YOU SUPPOSE THESE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS IN OUR WATERS DO TO MARINE LIFE?
Some researchers have used some clever thinking to track the path of artificial sweeteners after they exit our bodies: measure their amounts in treated sewage sludge or, further down the line, in rivers, lakes, and drinking water taps.
Here are three examples:
In a 2013 Canadian study, researchers found artificial sweeteners in Ontario’s Grand River in amounts equivalent to about 81,000 – 190,000 cans of artificially sweetened soda flowing through its waters EACH DAY. (Spoelstra et al, 2013) The 300-kilometre river empties into Lake Erie. Lake Erie empties into Lake Ontario (via Niagara Falls), then into the Saint Lawrence Seaway and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.
The study tested for the presence of only four artificial sweeteners: sucralose, cyclamate, saccharin and acesulfame. (You can check their brand names in Dr Oz’s list above.) It also found three types of sweetener coming out of the water faucets in Brantford, a town along the river. Brantford’s water supply comes from the Grand River before being treated at the town’s water treatment plant.
Grand River, Brantford, Ontario
Amy Parente, a biochemistry professor at Mercyhurst University in Erie, PA, conducted her own study in Lake Erie looking for sucralose (used in Splenda). Her team also found the sweetener in the water. Unlike the Canadian study which tested water coming out of waste water treatment plants, Parente’s group tested the water at Lake Erie beaches, after it had had a chance to dilute.
She and her team found 0.15 micrograms of the sweetener for every liter of water. This translates to up to 72 metric tons of sweetener in the waters of Lake Erie.
Since Parente’s results came out in 2012, she and her students have been looking at how sucralose affects a foraging snail living in Lake Erie’s waters. They found the presence of sweetener fooled the animals into believing there was nutrition in the water, leaving them with fewer calories to grow healthily and reproduce. This could well be true for other foraging animals – and the impact would have a domino effect. (HealthFreedoms, 2015)
A third study, published in 2014 by Environmental Science and Technology (a publication of the American Chemical Society), found large amounts of sucralose, saccharin, aspartame and acesulfame in sludge collected from two waste water treatment plants around Albany, NY.
The authors suggest that artificial sweetener could harm plants’ ability to perform photosynthesis, leading to less food for animals dependent on plants, creating a ripple effect all the way along the food chain. (Subedi & Kannan, 2014)
Albany’s Waste Water Sludge – Contains Artificial Sweeteners
After reviewing all this research on artificial sweeteners’ adverse impact on our health and the environment, I’m hard pressed to think of any good use for them.
Updated 7/20/2015. See info on Truvia at end of OTHER ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS section.
This post was prompted by a colleague who arrived on a hot summer day carrying a bottle of Diet Snapple sweetened with aspartame. Since I knew he’d battled cancer twice and is health conscious, I was surprised and sent him some information on aspartame that evening.
The next day he wrote to ask if there are any safe sweeteners since he’s trying to keep his weight down and avoiding sugar.
This is for him.
This is what Dr Robert Mercola says about the dangers of aspartame:
How Aspartame Can Wreak Havoc with Your Health
“Aspartame is primarily made up of aspartic acid and phenylalanine. The phenylalanine has been synthetically modified to carry a methyl group, which provides the majority of the sweetness. That phenylalanine methyl bond, called a methyl ester, is very weak, which allows the methyl group on the phenylalanine to easily break off and form methanol.You may have heard the claim that aspartame is harmless because methanol is also found in fruits and vegetables. However, in fruits and vegetables, the methanol is firmly bonded to pectin, allowing it to be safely passed through your digestive tract. Not so with the methanol created by aspartame; there it’s not bonded to anything that can help eliminate it from your body. That’s problem number one.
“Problem number two relates to the fact that humans are the only mammals who are NOT equipped with a protective biological mechanism that breaks down methanol into harmless formic acid. This is why animal testing of aspartame does not fully apply to humans. According to Dr. Woody Monte, a toxicology expert and professor emeritus at Arizona State University in food and chemistry:
‘There is a major biochemical problem here. Methyl alcohol is known now, and has been known since 1940, to be metabolized differently by humans from every other animal.’
“As explained by Dr. Monte, in humans, the methanol ends up acting as a Trojan horse, and here’s how. Both animals and humans have small structures called peroxisomes in each cell. There are a couple of hundred in every cell of your body, which are designed to detoxify a variety of chemicals. Peroxisome contains catalase, which help detoxify methanol. Other chemicals in the peroxisome convert the formaldehyde to formic acid, which is harmless, but, again, this last step occurs only in animals. Human peroxisomes cannot convert the toxic formaldehyde into harmless formic acid.
“So to recap: in humans, the methyl alcohol travels through your blood vessels into sensitive areas, such as your brain, that are loaded with ADH, which converts methanol to formaldehyde. And since there’s no catalase present, the formaldehyde is free to cause enormous damage in your tissues. Symptoms from methanol poisoning are many, and include headaches, ear buzzing, dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal disturbances, weakness, vertigo, chills, memory lapses, numbness and shooting pains in the extremities, behavioral disturbances, and neuritis.
“The most well known problems from methanol poisoning are vision problems including misty vision, progressive contraction of visual fields, blurring of vision, obscuration of vision, retinal damage, and blindness. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that causes retinal damage, interferes with DNA replication and may cause birth defects. Not surprisingly, the most comprehensive and longest human study looking at aspartame toxicity found a clear association between aspartame consumption and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and leukemia.”
– Mercola, 2015
In 1991, Doctor of Nutrition Janet Starr Hull was diagnosed with severe Grave’s Disease, a serious autoimmune disorder characterized by an overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism). Her doctors began treating her for this but she didn’t get well until she detoxed herself from aspartame, which was poisoning her – in her case, mimicking the symptoms of Graves Disease. She created an Aspartame Detox Program to heal herself and now teaches it to others.
551 people who reported toxicity effects from aspartame ingestion were surveyed in an epidemiological survey. The results were reported in the Journal of Applied Nutrition in 1988. Both acute and chronic toxicity effects from aspartame were covered.
This is a list of aspartame’s adverse health effects identified by the participants in this survey (FDA, 2003):
SYMPTOM # OF PEOPLE %
– Decreased vision and/or other eye problems 140 25%
(blurring, bright flashes, tunnel vision)
– Pain (or or both eyes) 51 9%
– Decreased tears, trouble with contact lens, 46 8%
– Blindness (one or both eyes) 14 3%
– Tinnitus (ringing, buzzing) 13 13%
– Severe intolerance for noise 47 9%
– Marked impairment of hearing 25 5%
– Headaches 249 45%
– Dizziness, unsteadiness, or both 217 39%
– Confusion, memory loss, or both 157 29%
– Severe drowsiness and sleepiness 93 17%
– Paresthesias (pins and needles, tingling) 82 15%
or numbness of the limbs
– Convulsions (grand mal epileptic attacks) 80 15%
– Petit mal attacks and “absences” 18 3%
– Severe slurring of speech 64 12%
– Severe tremors 51 9%
– Severe hyperactivity and restless legs 43 8%
– Atypical facial pain 38 7%
– Severe depression 139 25%
– Extreme irritability 125 23%
– Severe anxiety attacks 105 19%
– Marked personality changes 88 16%
– Recent severe insomnia 76 14%
– Severe aggravation of phobias 41 7%
– Nausea 79 14%
– Diarrhea 70 13%
Associated gross blood in the stools (12)
– Abdominal pain 70 13%
– Pain on swallowing 28 5%
SKIN AND ALLERGIES
– Severe itching without a rash 44 8%
– Severe lip and mouth reactions 29 5%
– Urticaria (hives) 25 5%
– Other eruptions 48 9%
– Aggravation of respiratory allergies 10 2%
ENDOCRINE AND METABOLIC
– Problems with diabetes: loss of control; 60 11%
precipitation of clinical diabetes;
aggravation or simulation of diabetic
– Menstrual changes 45 6%
Severe reduction or cessation of periods (22)
– Paradoxic weight gain 34 5%
– Marked weight loss 26 6%
– Marked thinning or loss of the hair 32 6%
– Aggravated hypoglycemia (low blood sugar 25 5%
– Frequency of voiding (day and night), burning 69 13%
on urination (dysuria), or both
– Excessive thirst 65 12%
– Severe joint pains 58 11%
– Bloating 57 10%
– Fluid retention and leg swelling 20 4%
– Increased susceptibility to infection 7 1%
Aspartame may also trigger, mimic, cause , or worsen the following illnesses (FDA, 2003) (Hull, 2003):
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
Arthritis (including Rheumatoid)
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
EMS (Eosinophilia–myalgia Syndrome)
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Mercury sensitivity from Amalgam fillings
“These are not allergies or sensitivities, but diseases and disease syndromes. Aspartame poisoning is commonly misdiagnosed because aspartame symptoms mock textbook ‘disease’ symptoms, such as Grave’s Disease.
“Aspartame dissolves into solution and can therefore travel throughout the body and deposit within any tissue. The body digests aspartame unlike saccharin, which does not break down within humans.
“The multitude of aspartame side effects are indicative to your genetic individuality and physical weaknesses. It is important to put two and two together, nonetheless, and identify which side effects aspartame is creating within you.” ( Hull, 2002)
“Frequently, aspartame toxicity is misdiagnosed as a specific disease. This has yet to be reported in the scientific literature, yet it has been reported countless times to independent organizations and scientists…. In other cases, it has been reported that chronic aspartame ingestion has triggered or worsened certain chronic illnesses. Nearly 100% of the time, the patient and physician assume that these worsening conditions are simply a normal progression of the illness. Sometimes that may be the case, but many times it is chronic aspartame poisoning.” (FDA, 2003)
“There have been well over 7,000 aspartame toxicity reactions officially received by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 1982 (after aspartame was first approved) until 1995. From this figure, we can estimate the number of actual toxicity reactions observed. (FDA, 2003)
Dr Betty Martini, is a physician who learned about the toxicity of aspartame and founded Mission Possible World Health International, a volunteer organization working with doctors around the world committed to removing aspartame from all foods, drinks, and medicines.
Martini points out that 75% of all product complaints received by the FDA are about aspartame, considerably more than for any other additive. Recently the EPA declared aspartame to be a potentially dangerous chemical.
Martini says NutraSweet (a brand of aspartame) is a “deadly neurotoxic drug masquerading as an additive. It interacts with all antidepressants, L-dopa, Coumadin, hormones, insulin, all cardiac medication, and many others. It also is a chemical hyper sensitization drug so that it interacts with vaccines, other toxins, other unsafe sweeteners like Splenda which has a chlorinated base like DDT and can cause auto immune disease. It has a synergistic and additive effect with MSG…. The FDA has known this for a quarter of a century and done nothing even though it’s against the law.” (Genet, 2011)
Check this out!
DONALD RUMSFELD AND ASPARTAME
Yes indeed, that Donald Rumsfeld – the one who, as George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, promoted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He’s also known for the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuses scandal and what were termed “enhanced interrogation techniques”.
So what’s his connection to aspartame?
In 1985, G.D. Searle, the pharmaceutic company holding the patent for aspartame, was purchased by Monsanto. Fifteen years earlier, in 1980, an FDA Board of Inquiry, made up of three independent scientists, confirmed a connection between aspartame and brain tumors. The FDA had previously banned aspartame based on this finding.
Rumsfeld was Searle’s President at the time of the company’s 1985 sale to Monsanto. He promised to “call in his markers” to get aspartame approved – and he did just that.
In 1985, Searle was absorbed by Monsanto (the giant chemical company that’s brought us genetically modified crops containing the pesticide Glyphosate – among other dangerous chemical products like PCB’s, dioxin, and Agent Orange – and now bills itself as a “sustainable agriculture” company).
Rumsfeld served first as CEO and then as President of Searle from 1977 to 1985. During his tenure there, he reduced the number of Searle employees by 60%, thereby creating a large spike in the company’s bottom-line profits. This maneuver earned him two awards as Outstanding CEO in the Pharmaceutical Industry – from TheWall Street Transcript in 1980 and from Financial World Magazine in 1981. He also played an instrumental role in Monsanto’s acquisition of Searle, for which he was rewarded with a large bonus, reportedly $12 mllion.
Aspartame is found in over 6,000 products under brand names such as Equal and NutraSweet. Products containing aspartame include carbonated soft drinks, powdered soft drinks, chewing gum, confections, gelatins, dessert mixes, puddings and fillings, frozen desserts, yogurt, tabletop sweeteners, vitamins, sugar-free cough drops, and some pharmaceuticals.
Currently, aspartame is consumed by over 200 million people around the world. (Calorie Control Council, 2015)
OTHER ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
Say you decide to avoid products containing aspartame and think maybe other artificial sweeteners are the way to go – there are problems with this plan too.
Here’s Dr Mercola on artificial sweeteners:
“For the last 17 years, I’ve warned that artificial sweeteners can wreck your health. Aspartame is among the worst of the bunch, and in general, people who consume aspartame tend to be in poorer health. They also tend to develop more of a sweet tooth.
“I found the evidence against artificial sweeteners to be so compelling, and the hazards so disconcerting, I wrote an entire book on the subject called Sweet Deception, published in 2006. Now, years later, the research I presented in that book has been confirmed many times over, and the tide is finally beginning to turn against this toxic food additive.” (Mercola, 2014)
As Mercola, along with many other respected health authorities, make clear, consuming artificial sweeteners is actually associated with WEIGHT GAIN.
“The connection between sweet taste alone and increased hunger can be found in the medical literature going back at least two decades…. two studies, for example, dating back to the late 80s and early 90s, both showed this link between artificial sweeteners and increased hunger.” (Mercola, 2014)
One of the largest studies of its kind followed nearly 60,000 post-menopausal women for about 10 years. The study found that drinking only two diet drinks a day dramatically increased the participants’ risk of an early death from heart disease. The findings were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session in Washington, DC in 2014.
“The fact that low- or no-calorie sweeteners do as much harm (or more!) than sugar, on the other hand, has seemed, and still seems, counterintuitive to many.” (Mercola, 2014)
The take away seems to be: To preserve or restore your health, stay away from processed food products.
How about getting a non-GMO stevia plant or seeds to use a leaf or two for sweetening your tea – or make your own organic stevia extract?
YOU NEED TO STAY HYDRATED – SO WHAT’S GOOD TO DRINK?
I certainly don’t have complete answers to this excellent question. This is what I’ve been drinking lately:
KEFIR (organic and full fat if possible) mixed with filtered water
Provides good probiotics because it’s fermented. I’ve even more than once accidentally left a cup of kefir out overnight and found it even tastier (more tang) than the day before. It’s a living food so continues fermenting, producing more probiotics, at room temp. Get the plain (unsweetened) kind. If you don’t like the tartness, add some pureed organic fruits. See KEFIR for more information. Kefir is a living culture so look for it in one of the refrigerated sections at grocery stores, perhaps near the yogurts.
KEVITA mixed with filtered water
Kevita makes these sparkling probiotic drinks in a variety of flavors. All the ones I’ve tried are delicious, almost completely organic, sweetened only with a bit of organic stevia, and vegan. I’m particularly fond of the flavors with coconut in them. See the Kevita site for more information, including stores that carry their drinks. Kevita is also alive so it’s sold from a refrigerated section at grocery stores carrying it.
HARMLESS HARVEST 100% RAW COCONUT WATER – usually mixed with filtered water
Coconut water is better at restoring electrolytes than Gatorade and doesn’t contain any of those nasty FDA approved (GRAS: “generally accepted as safe”) food colors or additives which turn out to be harmful. And raw coconut water tastes the very best. Raw coconut water needs to be kept cold so look for it in a refrigerated section at grocery stores carrying it.
ORGANIC ROOIBOS TEA – brewed at home
Rooibos is caffeine free and naturally sweet tasting. Good with some organic unsweetened almond milk in it.
ORGANIC LICORICE TEA – brewed at home
Also naturally sweet tasting.
PLAIN FILTERED WATER
A few years ago, I had a 3M Aqua Pure water filter installed under my kitchen sink so there’s always tasty filtered water at hand for drinking at home or taking with me. The filtered water is dispensed via a tap with a lever next to the regular taps for the sink. Much easier than lugging bottles of water home from the store and safer for the planet too. These are the filter cartridges the 3M Aqua Pure water filter uses. I change the cartridge twice a year.
The above are what I’ve figured out for me. It would be great if you’d be willing to share info about your own favorite healthy drinks.
Something I’ve noticed since cleaning up my diet is that my craving for sweetened drinks in general has gone way down. Every once in a while I’ll stir a little organic honey into some hot tea and that’s become about it.
MORE ON DIET SNAPPLE
Back to where we started, with Diet Snapple:
Snapple Diet Peach Tea
Smooth Snapple tea, perfect peach flavor. You won’t believe this peach of a tea could have this much taste and still be called diet.
Not listed on the label (because our FDA doesn’t require such labeling) are pesticides since the tea leaves and fruits Snapple uses are made from genetically modified sources. You can be sure they’d put “Non-GMO” or ‘Organic” prominently on the label if they were using healthier ingredients.
And who knows what falls under the umbrella of “natural flavors”?
“From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” (FDA, 2015)
I learned years ago from my father, who was an enzyme chemist working in research and development in the processed food industry, that ground up cochineal insects are used to make foods red, orange, and pink.
You’re eating cochineal (sometimes called carmine) when you consume commercial brands of raspberry yogurt, maraschino cherries, Starbucks Strawberry Frappuccino, and hundreds of other food products. It’s also used in numerous cosmetics, including lipsticks.
CHOOSING HEALTHIER FOOD PRODUCTS WITH HELP FROM THE EWG
You can check out the nutrition, ingredients, and processing ratings of over 80,000 processed food products on the Food Scores section of the Environmental Working Group’s site. This is their health rating for Snapple Diet Peach Tea. They give it a 5 on their 1-10 rating scale. (EWG, 2015-C)
Lower scores indicate better foods. Product scores take into consideration nutrition, ingredients, and processing concerns. Ingredients are assessed for presence of pesticides, food additives, contaminants, and antibiotics. Since it’s known that whole foods are healthiest, EWG’s ratings help you choose less processed options.
“Nearly two-thirds of the 3,015 produce samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2013 contained pesticide residues – a surprising finding in the face of soaring consumer demand for food without agricultural chemicals.” (EWG, 2015-A)
The EWG has a nifty free Food Scores app you can download to smart phones and iPads. (EWG, 2015-A)
They also have another useful free app for getting ratings of cosmetics and other personal care products:
The EWG’s Skin Deep database rates over 69,000 cosmetics and other personal care products. You can use it to check out the ingredient safety score of known and suspected health and environmental hazards for each product. (EWG, 2015-B)
These EWG mobile apps contain barcode scanners so you can check the EWG’s score for products you’re thinking of buying. Very useful when you’re out shopping – or if you want to check products you’re already using at home. (EWG, 2015-A & 2015-B)
I was worn out from traveling back and forth between NYC and Sarasota to help my mother through her several-year battle with stage 4 colon cancer. It claimed her in 2000. Ten days after she died and I’d returned home to NYC, my father collapsed from an internal bleed – also from colon cancer – so I was back there helping him. Then, after his surgery, there were three years of looking after him as best I could long distance. And he wasn’t an easy person to help. He died in 2003 a few months short of his 91st birthday. Then there were about 18 months back home dealing with his estate.
When that had reached a good place, I decided to take myself to a week-long yoga retreat in Costa Rica to start recovering. While there, I was having a great massage of some sort inside a peaceful tent on the Pura Vida grounds. At the end, the masseur mentioned the dark circles under my eyes. I said, “Oh yes, I inherited them from my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother had them. My mother did too. And I always have them.” And he said the most amazing thing back to me: “Just because you inherited a trait doesn’t mean you need to express it.”
At the time, I had no idea what he meant but I was definitely interested.
WHEN DIGESTION DOESN’T WORK PROPERLY
This is what he meant.
As with most of our symptoms and illnesses, the underlying cause of this skin discoloration is disturbance in the composition of our intestinal flora leading to inflammation of the intestinal mucosal lining and increased permeability (“leaky gut”) which leads to Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS): nutrient malabsorption, impaired immune response, GI problems and food allergies, chronic inflammation in the body and autoimmune diseases. And those things further aggravate the mucosal lining in the gut, establishing a repeating, destructive cycle.
This is how Doctor of Natural Medicine and Clinical Nutritionist Josh Axe describes Leaky Gut:
“Think of the lining of your digestive tract like a net with extremely small holes in it that only allow specific substances to pass through. Your gut lining works as a barrier keeping out bigger particles that can damage your system.
“When someone has leaky gut (often referred to as increased intestinal permeability) the ‘net’ in your digestive tract gets damaged, which causes even bigger holes to develop in your net, so things that normally can’t pass through, are now … able to.
“Some of the things that can now pass through include proteins like gluten, bad bacteria and undigested foods particles. Toxic waste can also leak from the inside of your intestinal wall into your blood stream causing an immune reaction.”
– Axe, 2015
See Dr Axe’s article 4 Steps to Heal Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Disease for some sound information on the symptoms and progression of Leaky Gut Syndrome – and which foods and nutritional supplements help restore the integrity of the intestinal walls.
Basically, dark circles under the eyes indicate that your immune system has become overactive, that autoimmune processes are taking place in your body.
“When your intestinal flora is not fully populated with good, healthy bacteria it leaves room for the mucus membrane on the gut wall to become compromised. This compromised gut lining can allow food particles to pass through the gut wall and into the blood stream undigested. These undigested particles are seen as “foreign” invaders just as they might see a virus attacking the body.
“Your body will then produce anti-bodies to attack the foreign substance, as the body attacks you will most likely develop allergy symptoms as your body’s attempt to naturally detox your system and rid it of the invaders. Dark under eye circles are just one allergic symptom and too often this allergy related symptom is overlooked by health professionals.”
– Webb, 2015
Leaky Gut Syndrome underlies ALL the autoimmune conditions and diseases. There are many of them – about 100 have been identified so far. It’s also common to have more than one autoimmune problem at the same time. This isn’t surprising since all autoimmune problems stem from the same source: chronic inflammation in the intestines.
The hallmark of autoimmune conditions and diseases is the body’s immune system becoming overly vigilant, identifying healthy body tissues as dangerous, attacking and gradually destroying them.
Medline Plus, of the US National Library of Medicine, NIH, publishes this information about autoimmunity:
An autoimmune disorder may result in:
The destruction of body tissue
Abnormal growth of an organ
Changes in organ function
An autoimmune disorder may affect one or more organ or tissue types. Areas often affected by autoimmune disorders include:
Endocrine glands such as the thyroid or pancreas
Red blood cells
– Medline Plus, 2015
This is how Functional Medicine doc Ronald Grisanti (2015) describes the Leaky Gut Syndrome:
“Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS) is a major cause of disease and dysfunction in modern society, accounts for at least 50% of chronic complaints, as confirmed by laboratory tests.
“In LGS, the epithelium on the villi of the small intestine becomes inflamed and irritated, which allows metabolic and microbial toxins of the small intestines to flood into the blood stream. This event compromises the liver, the lymphatic system, and the immune response including the endocrine system.
“… It is often the primary cause of the following common conditions: asthma, food allergies, chronic sinusitis, eczema, urticaria, migraine, irritable bowel, fungal disorders, fibromyalgia, and inflammatory joint disorders including rheumatoid arthritis are just a few of the diseases that can originate with leaky gut. It also contributes to PMS, uterine fibroid, and breast fibroid.
“Leaky Gut Syndrome is often the real basis for chronic fatigue syndrome and pediatric immune deficiencies.”
I’ve presented so much information on Leaky Gut Syndrome and autoimmune problems because they’ve become epidemic and they underlie so many of our health difficulties, including the topic at hand: those dark under-eye circles.
PHYSIOLOGICAL ROUTES TO DARK CIRCLES
FOOD AND OTHER ALLERGIES
Among food allergy people, dark circles under the eyes are often referred to as ‘allergy shiners’. People with seasonal and environmental allergies often develop these dark circles too. Allergies cause congestion, which increases blood flow to the nose. This increased blood flow produces enlarged blood vessels around the eyes, creating a purple tint in the delicate, thin skin under the eyes. (Reilly, 2011)
People with allergies often also sleep poorly and have adrenal fatigue, both of which contribute to the creation of those dark circles.
The adrenals are tiny but very important glands sitting right on top of the kidneys. They produce a variety of hormones (cortisol or hydrocortisone, corticosterone, aldosterone, adrenaline or epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA, testosterone, dopamine, and others). The adrenals are known as our ‘flight or fight’ glands. A primary indicator of adrenal fatigue is dark circles under the eyes. Most of us live in a fairly constant ‘flight or fight’ state in reaction to constant stress and sensory over-stimulation, accompanied by a lack of knowledge about how to calm ourselves down. Our adrenals work too hard and become fatigued. (Reilly, 2011) When the adrenals are forced to work too hard, hormones in the body become disrupted. (Wilson, 2014)
LACK OF SLEEP
There’s a known interaction among sleep quality, immune functioning, inflammation, and gastrointestinal disorders. Chronic disturbances in the gut microbiome lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome, an overly active immune system, and chronic inflammation in the gut. In turn, sleep deprivation brought on by GI diseases such as irritable bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD), liver disorders, and colorectal cancer aggravate the severity of these same diseases, creating a vicious circle. (Tauseef, 2013)
The three main causes of anemia (iron poor blood) are blood loss, lack of red blood cell production, and high rates of red blood cell destruction. In anemia, the blood doesn’t contain enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. The body requires iron to make hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. (Reilly, 2011)
Both anemia and pernicious anemia (vitamin B-12 anemia) can be considered gastroenterological conditions: about a third of people with inflammatory bowel disease also have recurrent anemia. (Gasche et al, 2004)
The question underlying anemia is what ‘s causing low iron and/or vitamin B-12 levels in the blood. People with IBS and other digestive problems have damaged gut mucosal linings, making it difficult for them to absorb nutrients properly. Healing the gut allows proper absorption of all the nutrients in the food, including iron, as they pass through the intestinal tract. (IBS Treatment Center, 2006)
BTW, the image of the eye in the graphic above demonstrates one of several self-tests that will let you know if you’re possibly anemic and should have your blood tested:
Check your eyelids. Look in the mirror, and get up close to it so you can see your face very well. Quickly pull your lower eyelid down and look at the skin inside that eyelid. It will start off a very pale whitish color and then become more pink (close to the color of raw chicken). The switch to pink should happen very quickly. If it takes a few seconds – or seems not to be happening at all – chances are, you’re anemic. Yes, this tip works for people of all races, as the inner eyelid goes through the same process in everyone. (SnappyLiving.com, 2014)
In Chinese medicine, dark circles under the eyes indicate a deficiency or problem in kidney functioning. This is a story related by naturopathic physician and health educator Pamela Reilly:
“When I started using electrodermal screening (EDS) in my practice, my husband volunteered to be a test subject. His kidneys tested poorly, so I recommended a kidney support supplement. Within a few months, the dark circles under his eyes began to disappear to the point that people commented on it. The transformation was amazing. The supplement I recommended and which tested very positively for him on the EDS unit was Premier Research Lab’s Kidney Complex.” (Reilly, 2011)
Kidney disease is the ninth leading cause of death in the US. CDC statistics indicate that about 17% of adults 20 years and older have some sort of chronic kidney disease. Consuming probiotics and fermented foods helps the intestines flush nitrogenous waste products efficiently, encouraging even more waste to get extracted from the bloodstream and into the intestines, and then get excreted in bowel movements. If this doesn’t happen in the gut, the kidneys have to work too hard to accomplish the task, become impaired, and can fail. (Gates, 2015)
Research has found further evidence of the important interrelationship between the gut microbiome and the kidneys: Chronic kidney disease has been shown to alter the composition of the gut microbiome, markedly increasing some strains and decreasing others. There’s that vicious cycle. (Vaziri et al, 2013)
INSUFFICIENT STOMACH ACID
Perhaps this is contributing to dark circles under your eyes.
Hypochlorhydria is a state in which the stomach produces insufficient hydrochloric acid. Without enough HCl, food passing through the GI tract gets fermented instead of properly digested.
“The stomach is lined with cells that are proton pumps – that is to say they pump hydrogen ions from the blood stream into the lumen of the stomach. Stomach acid is simply concentrated hydrogen ions. There is a natural tendency for these hydrogen ions to diffuse back from where they came but this is prevented by very tight junctions between stomach wall cells. However, if the gut becomes inflamed for whatever reason, there is leaky gut and hydrogen ions leak back out.” (Myhill, 2015)
Symptoms of insufficient stomach acid include (Myhill, 2015) (Webb, 2015) (Wright, undated):
Wind, gas, bloating, or nausea after eating – because food is being fermented instead of properly digested
Allergies: from the development of Leaky Gut Syndrome
Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Accelerated aging due to malabsorption of proteins and other nutrients
Iron deficiency anemia
Low stomach acid is linked to quite a few diseases – asthma, celiac disease, irritable bowel disease (IBD), rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and stomach cancer among them. (Myhill, 2015) (Webb, 2014) All these are now considered autoimmune diseases, resulting from Leaky Gut Syndrome.
The body’s failure to produce enough stomach acid makes it quite difficult to obtain the level of nourishment it requires since the necessary amounts of nutrients can’t be absorbed during digestion. Chronic levels of insufficient stomach acid cause the membranes of the GI tract to continue allowing undigested proteins to pass into the blood stream, perpetuating the problematic cycle. (Webb, 2015)
Compromised liver functioning is another, related cause of dark circles under the eyes.
The liver is our largest internal organ and the largest gland in the human body, weighing about 3 – 3.5 pounds. Its job is to filter toxins from the body, one of the ways the body defends itself from harmful invaders. If the liver stops functioning well, it stops protecting us from these invaders. (Webb, 2015)
When we’ve developed Leaky Gut Syndrome, the liver can’t do its job adequately and symptoms of liver dysfunction develop (Naturopath Connect, 2011):
Bad LDL cholesterol increases
Good HDL cholesterol decreases
Triglycerides (blood fats) increase
Abnormal regulation of fats leads to other problems: weight gain and difficulty losing weight, sluggish metabolism, abnormal accumulation of fat in other areas (eg, cellulite and fatty liver). Extreme symptoms include atherosclerosis (build up of cholesterol along artery walls, creating artery blockages), heart attack, and stroke.
The liver’s production of bile becomes abnormal, leading to gallstones, intolerance of fatty foods and alcohol, abdominal bloating, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and stomach pain.
When the liver isn’t functioning properly, it’s unable to convert nutrients into their bio-available forms. This means many nutrients pass through the body without ever being absorbed.
If you’re taking nutritional supplements, make sure they’re high quality, bio-available ones. Many, perhaps most, supplements contain non-active forms of vitamins that simply pass through the body without getting absorbed.
BLOOD SUGAR PROBLEMS:
The liver is a key regulator of insulin, glucose, and glycogen so a dysfunctional liver can cause unstable blood sugar levels, a precursor to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes – an autoimmune disease.
The brain won’t receive the nutrients it requires to function correctly if food isn’t being metabolized efficiently by a dysfunctional liver. A brain deprived of key nutrients develops symptoms like “brain fog,” poor concentration, poor memory, depression, and poor anger control.
WEAKENED IMMUNE SYSTEM:
One of the liver’s tasks is to help fight off infections. A chronically overtaxed, improperly functioning liver is unable to handle the toxic load. Symptoms include allergies, food intolerances, chemical sensitivities, skin rashes and inflammations, and increased risk of autoimmune diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
The liver is a key regulator of the body’s hormones. A chronically malfunctioning liver can result in abnormal levels of estrogen and testosterone. Symptoms for women may include severe PMS and menopause symptoms. In both sexes, abnormal male and female hormone levels can greatly increase the risk of heart attack. Failure of the liver to regulate thyroid hormones and insulin can produce hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, and Type 2 diabetes – all autoimmune diseases.
Liver dysfunction can also cause bad breath, skin rashes, itchy skin, offensive body odor, dark circles under the eyes, yellow discoloration of the whites of the eyes, red swollen itchy eyes, acne, rosacea, liver spots on the skin, red palms and soles which may also be itchy and inflamed, and flushed facial appearance.
CHEMOTHERAPY AND OTHER DRUG THERAPIES
Chemotherapy and other extreme drug therapies can also lead to dark circles under the eyes. (Reilly, 2011) My guess is this happens because chemo drugs and many other pharmaceuticals degrade the gut microbiome.
You’ll notice that the common thread among all these causes of dark circles leads back to the gut microbiome. When our intestinal microflora becomes chronically out of balance, our bodies produce symptoms – dark circles under the eyes among them.
I now can use the darkness of the circles under my eyes to gauge my gut’s and overall body’s health. When I’m feeding my gut the nutrition it needs (foods as well as high quality bio-available nutritional supplements) and handling stress well, the circles are almost non-existent. In this state, I feel well and no autoimmune markers for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis show up in my blood work. When the circles are noticeable, I’m having GI and other inflammatory difficulties. But since I’ve come to understand what the masseur in Costa Rica meant, the circles have never been as omnipresent and dark as they were back then.
Examples of charming dark under-eye areas – not the kind we humans have:
Very good news! An exciting new field of medicine is on the horizon: PSYCHOBIOTICS.
PROBIOTICS are micro-organisms that have beneficial effects on the body when consumed.
Ted Dinan, Catherine Stanton, and John Cryan, pioneering researchers in the field, define a PSYCHOBIOTIC as “a live organism that, when ingested in adequate amounts, produces a health benefit in patients suffering from psychiatric illness”. (Dinan, Stanton & Cryan, 2013)
Scientists are discovering that some probiotic micro-organisms living in our guts are also psychoactive. That is, they deliver neuroactive substances such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin that influence the brain via the gut-brain axis.
I’d say that the field of psychobiotics in the not so distant future will be understood more broadly to include all of us, not just those with diagnosable mental illnesses. For example, we’ll be able to fine tune our anxiety levels day to day – by taking particular probiotics before events we know make us anxious (public speaking, flying, big dates, exams). And, even better, we’ll be able to AVOID depression’s deep troughs of despair and the exhausting paralysis of anxiety by nourishing healthy populations of the appropriate probiotics in our guts.
As we understand the gut-brain axis at this point, communications between the gut and the brain (and vice versa) travel via the long vagus nerve, spinal cord, and/or neuroendocrine systems to mediate various physical and mental states – including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Here’s a diagram of the vagus nerve’s path, showing the organs it connects between the brain at its top end and the intestines at its bottom end. You can see what an important communication highway it provides for the body, allowing the brain, lungs, heart, spleen, liver, kidneys, pancreas, stomach, and intestines to ‘talk’ to one another.
THE VAGUS NERVE
It runs from the brain stem down each side of the neck, across the chest, down through the abdomen allowing the brain, lungs, heart, spleen, liver, pancreas, kidneys, stomach and intestines to communicate bi-directionally along its network.
“So far, psychobiotics have been most extensively studied in … patients with irritable bowel syndrome, where positive benefits have been reported for a number of organisms including Bifidobacterium infantis. Evidence is emerging of benefits in alleviating symptoms of depression and in chronic fatigue syndrome. Such benefits may be related to the anti-inflammatory actions of certain psychobiotics and a capacity to reduce hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity. ” (Dinan, Stanton & Cryan, 2013)
Did you notice the mention of the anti-inflammatory actions of probiotics in the quote above?
Most physical and mental diseases have inflammation as their root cause. The vast majority of our immune system, about 70% of it, is located in the gut microbiome. Unbalance in the composition of microbes there creates inflammation inside the intestinal linings, increasing gut permeability, leading to chronic inflammation elsewhere in the body – and disease.
This is my short hand explanation for how the connection works:
Chronic imbalance of microbes in the gut –> chronic inflammation in the gut –>increased gut permeability –> chronic inflammation elsewhere in the body –> diseases in the gut and/or elsewhere in the body
These signaling irregularities affect our emotions, mental abilities, behaviors, and perception of and reactions to pain (nociception). The whole system is something like an enormous, highly complex switchboard. If something interferes with signaling somewhere in the system, a circuit can malfunction and perhaps cause the entire switchboard to break down.
Chronic imbalances in our gut bacteria that lead to gut-brain axis signaling irregularities can also lead to a wide variety of other health problems – including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, migraines, thyroid problems, dental issues, cancers, degenerative neurological diseases, obesity, ADD/ADHD, allergies, asthma, autism, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic Lyme disease … and many, many more. And they all begin with the health of the several pounds of miniscule critters living in our gut microbiomes.
Our gut microbiome, the 100 trillion micro-organisms (500-1,000 species of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other tiny life forms) living in our intestinal linings, is so important to the proper functioning of the entire body that many scientists now regard it as an organ in and of itself. The theory is that these micro-organisms communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals the body uses to relay messages in the brain. (Smith, 2015)
These several pounds of micro-organisms in our guts secrete a large number of neurochemicals, including dopamine, serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the very same chemicals our neurons use to communicate and regulate mood – and chemicals that also play a role in GI disorders, which, not strangely, are associated with high levels of depression and anxiety. (Smith, 2015)
ANXIETY, OBSESSIVE BEHAVIOR, LEAKY GUT AND BACTEROIDES FRAGILIS
In 2013, microbiology researchers Mazmanian and Hsiao published research results that linked a specific variety of probiotic bacteria with anxious behaviors in mice. The mice were known to have alterations in their gut microbiota and GI barrier defects (increased gut permeability, AKA leaky gut) and also exhibited anxious, obsessive behaviors (such as obsessively burying marbles). When they were given oral doses of one of two strains of the bacterium Bacteroides fragilis (probiotic bacteria found in normal gut flora), both their GI problems and maladaptive behaviors improved. (Hsiao et al, 2013) (Smith, 2015)
STRESS, DEPRESSION AND THE PROBIOTICS LACTOBACILLUS AND BIFIDOBACTERIUM
A recent study found that a combination of the probiotics Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum (probiotic bacteria found in healthy human gut microbiomes) reduced anxiety, depression, and stress levels and improved coping strategies. (Messaoudi, 2011)
Our psychological and physiological reactions to fear and stress play a large role in depression. People suffering from major depression also have elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone our adrenals release to get us ready to fight for our lives or flee from the danger. Back when we frequently encountered predatory animals and were often in a fight or flight situation, this elevated release of cortisol was a very useful thing.
What often happens now is that we live in a state of chronic cortisol overproduction, over stimulated, afraid, unable to calm down, wearing out our adrenals. Chronically elevated cortisol production interferes with learning and memory, lowers immune functioning, decreases bone density, increases weight gain, raises blood pressure and cholesterol levels, leads to heart disease, increases risk for depression and anxiety, decreases resilience – and is generally exhausting. A combination of the probiotics, Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum, was found to reduce cortisol levels. (Berglund, 2013) (Davidson, 2014)
GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) is our central nervous system’s chief inhibitory neurotransmitter, playing a central role in reducing neuronal excitability throughout the body and regulating muscle tone. (Wikipedia, 2015)
Many physiological and psychological processes associated with depression, including negative ruminations, can be traced to a deficiency in the neurotransmitter GABA. Microbes that actively secrete GABA in the gut have been identified by researchers. Chief among them are strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Bifidobacterium longum has anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and antimutagenic properties and may protect you from developing colon cancer. It’s present in breast milk and is one of the first probiotics to colonize a newborn’s gut.
Swiss and Emmenthaler cheeses contain Lactobacillus helveticus. (We’re talking about real cheeses, not the tasteless, processed kinds often found prepackaged in the US.)
Bifodobacterium longum is found in unprocessed yogurts, various types of fermented dairy foods (kefir’s a good choice), and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut.
Good news for those of us who love dark chocolate: The plentiful polyphenols in dark chocolate serve as PREbiotics, nourishing the beneficial Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in our guts. (Davidson, 2014) The higher the cacao and lower the sugar content the better. Organic and fair trade also if possible.
Both L. helveticus and B. longum can also be taken as supplements.
MOOD, OXYTOCIN AND LACTOBACILLUS REUTERI
A team of biologists at MIT found that another probiotic strain, Lactobacillus reuteri, improved mood, restored a youthful appearance to the skin, and promoted general health by increasing levels of oxytocin, the love hormone. (Davidson, 2015)
L. reuteri is one of the fastest colonizing probiotic bacteria available. This is a good thing – colonizing probiotic strains of bacteria in your gut can restore your health.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus is a bacterial strain that has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression in anxious mice.
GABA, the central nervous system’s principal inhibitory neurotransmitter, regulates many physiological and psychological processes in the body. Alterations in GABA receptor expression are linked to the the development of anxiety and depression.
Study results published in 2011 shed light on exactly how L. rhamnosus in the gut impacts the brain’s chemistry.
The researchers found that the probiotic L. rhamnosus markedly affected GABA levels in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior.
When the vagus nerve was severed, GABA receptor levels and the animals’ behavior remained unchanged after treatment with L. rhamnosus, confirming that the vagus nerve is most likely the primary pathway of communication between the bacteria in the gut and the brain.
The researchers allow that the vagus nerve is the obvious communication route but perhaps not the only one, that messaging may also occur via other nerves or chemicals in the blood.
If you doubt there’s a direct connection between the health of the gut microbiome and mental health, keep in mind that functional bowel disorders and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression are generally comorbid (they generally occur together).
Strains of L. rhamnosus are found in some dairy products such as live culture yogurts, cheeses (eg, real Parmigiano Reggiano), and kefir. They’re also found in fermented dry sausages and some fermented soy cheeses. (Panyko, 2015)
PAIN, CHRONIC FATIGUE, DEPRESSION, ANXIETY AND LACTOBACILLUS ACIDOPHILUS
Lactobacillus acidophilus improves the functioning of canabinoid receptors in the spinal cord that are important for regulating pain perception. (Davidson, 2014)
A 2009 study to see if treatment with live L. acidophilus was helpful for chronic fatigue syndrome and the depression that’s part of it showed promising results. When the researchers supplemented chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers with a live casie strain of L. acidophilus for two months, they saw a significant decrease in the subjects’ depression, anxiety, and general emotional distress. (Rao et al, 2009)
Food sources of L. acidophilus include live culture yogurt and other fermented foods such as sauerkraut, sauerkraut juice, kimchi, miso, chutneys, and kefir.
SEROTININ, CHRONIC INFLAMMATION AND BIFIDOBACTERIUM INFANTIS
A number of microbes can produce other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. For example, Bifidobacterium infantis, taken as an probotic, alters serotonin levels – just like Prozac but without the undesirable side effects. (Davidson, 2014)
Bifidobacterium infantis has been clinically demonstrated to be very good at reducing the symptoms caused by chronic immune activation in the gut, autoimmune diseases, and excessive cortisol release. So it, along with some other probiotic bacteria, is a good choice for people with leaky gut, IBS, IBD, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease. (Nootriment, 2015)
Infantis in this bacteria’s name indicates that it’s a strain vitally important for infant health. B. infantis is usually one of the first probiotics mothers pass on to their babies during vaginal births. Many scientists and doctors therefore recommend that pregnant women take it as a supplement.
The main benefit from B. infantis is to improve digestion and protect us against infection and sickness. It has also been shown to fight allergies and prevent kidney stones. It accomplishes all this by producing large amounts of acid to make our digestive tracts and vaginas inhospitable to pathogenic bacteria and parasites. (Jerkunica, 2015)
If you’ve decided to add ready-made fermented foods like sauerkraut or pickles to your diet for their probiotic benefits, remember it’s only the truly fermented versions that are helpful. The ones made with vinegar, although they may say ‘pickled’ on their labels, aren’t actually fermented and don’t offer any probiotic or enzymatic benefits. Look for the fermented versions in the refrigerated areas in stores.
Fermented foods contain living cultures. Refrigeration slows down the fermentation process. The brine may be cloudy – full of lactic acid bacterial growth (the desirable probiotics) created during fermentation. The jar lids may be slightly swollen from the ongoing fermentation process. Fermented pickles have a complex taste – they’re alive on your tongue. Pickles made with vinegar taste like vinegar.
Years ago, when I was living in Cambridge, MA, my neighborhood grocery store was Savenor’s. Mrs Savenor kept a huge, wooden pickle barrel next to the checkout counter. The top of the barrel was open. The brine was cloudy, sometimes scummy looking, and every once in a while the barrel emitted a big belch of gas. I thought the whole thing was unsanitary and never bought her pickles. Now I wish I’d known then what I’ve since learned about the benefits of that living culture.
Savenor’s was also where Julia Child shopped for her meats. The Childs lived in the neighborhood of beautiful big houses on the north side of Kirkland Street. I was in the neighborhood of old apartment buildings on the south side of Kirkland, where students and other people with little money lived.
Here’s a fond memoir about Mrs Savenor by one of her grandsons, Alan Savenor: How a Matriarch Ran Savenor’s. She was a character. Reputedly, she’d smuggled her young boys out of Lithuania by walking across the border with them under her voluminous, floor length skirt when the Nazis set about exterminating all the Jews there.
For those of you interested in improving your gut microbiomes and overall health by eating probiotic-rich foods, here’s a good article on Probiotics & Fermented Foods written by the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop.
YOUR BRAIN ON BUGS
This is what pioneering Integrative Health doc J. E. Williams, OMD, has to say about psychobiotics and how best to get them into your body:
“Microbiota, those microscopic bugs that live in your body—mainly in the gut—can influence brain chemistry and consequently behavior. We know that Clostridium difficile, the nasty gut hospital-based gut infection that kills 14,000 people each year in the U.S., is associated with depression and dementia. Two antidepressants, mirtazapine (Remeron) and fluoxetine (Prozac), are linked to a nearly 50 percent increased risk for Clostridium difficile infection.
“Doctors have long known that foods and changes in the gastrointestinal system are associated with mood changes. Does the pathway to happiness actually exist in your gut?
Sources of Psychobiotics
“Probiotics come in a variety of forms, from powders and capsules to foods such as yogurt, dairy drinks, infant formulas, cheese, and even some energy snack bars. Any of these forms may be effective for digestive problems as long as they contain the right kind of beneficial organisms in adequate numbers.
“In my clinical experience, I’ve found that supplements with live friendly bacteria in high dosages are more effective for treatment of depression, immune deficiency, and gastrointestinal problems then consuming yogurt or fermented vegetables alone.
“We’re finding that most diseases, including psychiatric illnesses, have inflammation as their root cause. Inflammation is associated with immune system imbalance and disruption of hormone activity. Probiotics may also influence how your genes work. Psychobiotics could target genes responsible influencing neurotransmitters like GABA that have a strong connection to mood and behavior.
“We know that “gluten brain” is a type of mental fog common in people with gluten sensitivity. People with gluten sensitivity feel better when eliminating wheat, but the benefit is limited. If you have tried the gluten-free diet and wonder what’s next, consider psychobiotics
“The autonomic nervous system links the brain and gut largely through the vagus nerve. More than 90 percent of the body’s serotonin, a feel good neurotransmitter, lies within the gut. In fact, your gut has a mind of its own and it’s called the enteric nervous system.
“Changes in diet have immediate effects on the bacterial composition in your gut. Antibiotics have disastrous effects on gut bacteria. Now we have good research and more than enough clinical evidence that specialized probiotic bacteria are essential for health, and also profoundly influence mood.
“So, it’s not surprising that when your gut is healthier, so is your brain and mood. Your immune system works better too, so you have fewer episodes of the cold and/or flu.”
– Williams, 2014
IS YOUR FATE IN YOUR GENES?: GENETICS VS EPIGENETICS
If there’s been mental illness – say depression, anxiety or panic disorder, OCD, autism, schizophrenia – in your family as far back as anyone can remember, you needn’t feel that you or your children are doomed. Genetics is the study of genes, heredity, and genetic variation in living organisms. Epigenetics is the study of factors that turn genes on and off and affect how cells read genes.
Your genetics account for only 25% of the chance you’ll develop a disease. The other 75% is environmental (both internal and external) and therefore largely up to you. So take very good care of your gut microbiome. Provide it with lots of good microbes (probiotics and psychobiotics) to keep a good balance in there and avoid the bad ones (bacterial pathogens and other toxins) as much as possible.
This is also true of genetic predispositions for heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and pretty much every other illness. You are not a prisoner of your genes. Probiotics influence activity in our genes, allowing them to express their contents in a positive, disease-fighting manner.
Research has shown that probiotic bacteria produce positive changes in the mucosal lining of the small intestines which affect gene activity and cellular reactions.
“Consumption of a dairy drink containing three strains of probiotic bacteria was associated with changes in the activity of hundreds of genes, with the changes resembling the effects of certain medicines in the human body, including medicines that positively influence the immune system and those for lowering blood pressure.”
– Mercola, 2010
STAY TUNED! There’s lots of good research being done now on the relationship between probiotics in the gut, mood – and pretty much every other working of the body.
Many thanks to both Liz Poirier and Alex Tatusian for pointing me to the New York Times Magazine article by Peter Andrey Smith, which prompted this post: Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood? It’s very good and I recommend reading it.
Messaoudi, M. et al. (2011). Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. British Journal of Nutrition, 105:5, 755-64. See
Rao, A.V. et al. (2009). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. Gut Pathogens, 1:6. See: http://www.gutpathogens.com/content/1/1/6