Tag Archives: Human Microbiome

Psychobiotics: Your Gut Bacteria – Your Mood

Updated 7/5/2015 & 7/9/2015.

 

(Source: jama.jamanetwork.com)
(Source: jama.jamanetwork.com)

 

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)

 

(Source: www.youtube.com)
(Source: www.youtube.com)
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.
(Source: http://www.maryvancenc.com/
(Source: http://www.maryvancenc.com/

 

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.

(Source: emedicine.medscape.com)
(Source: emedicine.medscape.com)
“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

 

(Source: www.nature.com)
(Source: www.nature.com)

 

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.

 

(Source: en.wikipedia.org)
(Source: en.wikipedia.org)

 

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.

 

 

gut-microbiome

 

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)

 

(Source: www.itsokaytobesmart.com)
(Source: www.itsokaytobesmart.com)

 

 

 

 

ANXIETY, OBSESSIVE BEHAVIOR, LEAKY GUT AND BACTEROIDES FRAGILIS

 

(Source: www.find-happiness.com)
(Source: www.find-happiness.com)

 

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

 

 

(Source: www.menshealth.co.uk)
(Source: www.menshealth.co.uk)

 

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.

 

Emmenthaler Cheese
(Source: cheesecrafters.ca)
(Source: cheesecrafters.ca)

 

Swiss and Emmenthaler cheeses contain Lactobacillus helveticus. (We’re talking about real cheeses, not the tasteless, processed kinds often found prepackaged in the US.)

 

(Source: draxe.com)
(Source: draxe.com)

 

Bifodobacterium longum is found in unprocessed yogurts, various types of fermented dairy foods (kefir’s a good choice), and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut.
(Source: www.rsc.org)
(Source: www.rsc.org)
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

 

(Source: www.bbc.co.uk)
(Source: www.bbc.co.uk)
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.

 

 

 

 

ANXIETY, DEPRESSION AND LACTOBACILLUS RHAMNOSUS (Davidson, 2014) (Mercola, 2011) (Saey, 2011)

 

(Source: www.drperlmutter.com)
(Source: www.drperlmutter.com)
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

 

(Source: www.slideshare.net)
(Source: www.slideshare.net)

 

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

 

(Source: www.amazon.com)
(Source: www.amazon.com)
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)

 

 

 

(Source: www.starrybrook.com)
(Source: www.starrybrook.com)

 

 

 

 

 

FERMENTED FOODS

(Source: http://www.sacfoodcoop.com)
(Source: http://www.sacfoodcoop.com)

 

NOTE:
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.

 

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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.

 

1165_Savenor_1

 

 

 

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.

 

 

(Source: fundrazr.com)
(Source: fundrazr.com)

 

 

 

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.

Friendly Psychobiotics

  • Bacteriodies fragilis
  • Bifidobacterium infantis
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Lactobacillus helveticus
  • Bifidobacterium longum
  • Lactobacillus brevis

Brain-Immune-Gut Axis

“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

 

Time_DNA_Destiny_Cover

 

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

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

(Source: www.medscape.com)
(Source: www.medscape.com)

 

 

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.

 

 

 

REFERENCES

Berglund, C. (2013).  Cortisol: Why “The Stress Hormone” Is Public Enemy No. 1: 5 simple ways to lower your cortisol levels without drugs. See: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1

Davidson, J. (2014). Nature’s Bounty: The Psychobiotic Revolution. Psychology Today. See: https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201404/natures-bounty-the-psychobiotic-revolution

Dinan, T.G., Stanton, C., Cryan, J.F. (2013). Psychobiotics: A Novel Class of Psychotropic. Biological Psychiatry: A Journal of Psychiatric Neuroscience and Therapeutics. See: http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(13)00408-3/abstract

Hsiao, E.Y. et al. (2013). Microbiota modulate behavioral and physiological abnormalities associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. Cell, 155:7, 1451-63. See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24315484

Jerkunica, E. (2015). Facts About B. Infantis Probiotic Strain. See: http://probiotics.org/9-health-benefits-of-bifidobacterium-infantis/

Mercola, R. (2010). The Healing Power of Probiotics Impresses Researchers. See: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/10/11/probiotics-healing-power-impresses-researchers.aspx

Mercola, R. (2011). Hike Up Your Happy Hormones With Probiotic Supplements. See: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/10/22/this-supplement-can-actually-make-you-happy.aspx

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

Nootriment. (2015). Bifidobacterium Infantis Probiotic Supplements Review. See: http://nootriment.com/bifidobacterium-infantis/

Panyko, J. (2015). Lactobacillus rhamnosus: Probiotic Bacteria with Impressive Health Benefits. See: http://www.powerofprobiotics.com/Lactobacillus-rhamnosus.html

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

Sacramento Natural Foods Coop. (undated). Probiotics & Fermented Foods. See: http://www.sacfoodcoop.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=438%3Aprobiotics-a-fermented-foods&catid=59%3Aconsumer-guides&lang=us&Itemid=65

Saey, T. H. (2011). Belly bacteria boss the brain: Gut microbes can change neurochemistry and influence behavior. Science. News. See: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/belly-bacteria-boss-brain

Savenor, A. (2013). How a Matriarch Ran Savenor’s. See: http://www.theeditorial.com/think/2013/12/10/how-a-matriarch-ran-savenors

Smith, P.A. (6/28/2015). Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood? New York Times Magazine. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/magazine/can-the-bacteria-in-your-gut-explain-your-mood.html?_r=1

Wikipedia. (6/23/2015). gamma-Aminobutyric acid. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma-Aminobutyric_acid

Williams, J.E. (2014). YOUR BRAIN ON BUGS—WILL BACTERIA BE THE NEXT TREATMENT FOR ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION? See: http://renegadehealth.com/blog/2014/02/28/your-brain-on-bugs-will-bacteria-be-the-next-treatment-for-anxiety-and-depression

 

 

 

© Copyright 2015 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

 

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

The Human Microbiome – Two Short Videos

 

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In the developed world, we have become brainwashed into regarding ALL bacteria and microbes as DANGEROUS to our health.  We use antibacterial soaps and ointments on our skins, mouthwashes that promise to kill 99% of the germs in our mouths, disinfectant and antiseptic sprays and wipes in our homes. We’ve become like real life players of a version of Rampage: Total Destruction – on a mission to destroy all the bacteria on, in, and around us.
In Rampage: Total Destruction, players destroy the environment to earn points. In our fear of all microbes, we too are working to destroy our internal and external environments by targeting the bacteria that keep us healthy (called PROBIOTICS) along with ones that make us sick (called PATHOGENS).
PROBIOTICS are live bacteria, yeasts, and other microscopic life forms that SUPPORT GOOD HEALTH in our our digestive systems – and throughout the body. If they’re not in good balance, we become sick in a whole variety of ways – from digestive problems to skin rashes, allergies, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

 

 

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This NPR animated video called The Invisible Universe Of The Human Microbiome may help you understand why you need to nurture these good guys, your probiotics, in and on your body.
NPR’s description of the video:

The next time you look in a mirror, think about this: In many ways you’re more microbe than human. There are 10 times more cells from microorganisms like bacteria and fungi in and on our bodies than there are human cells. But these tiny compatriots are invisible to the naked eye. So we asked artist Ben Arthur to give us a guided tour of the rich universe of the human microbiome.

 

 

I also recommend another interesting video by NPS MedicineWise, called The human microbiome and what we do to it.
Dr David A. Relman, who’s the main speaker in the film, is the Thomas C. and Joan M. Merigan Professor in Medicine, and Microbiology & Immunology at Stanford University. He’s also Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto (CA) Health Care System. Dr Relman’s research focuses on the indigenous human microbiota and the identification of previously-unrecognized microbial agents of disease. He has advised the US Government on emerging infectious diseases, human-microbe interactions, and future biological threats. He is Chair of the Forum on Microbial Threats at the Institute of Medicine (National Academies of Science) and Past President of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and a Member of the Institute of Medicine.
In other words, he knows what he’s talking about.

 

NPS MedicineWise’s description of the video:

Did you know that you and I are only 1% human — we’ve 90 trillion cells which don’t belong to us. Yes we are more bacteria than human.
Have you ever wondered what it means to be human? It turns out that only a tiny percentage of what you and I are made of is actually human — and we need our non-human bits to survive. This part of us now has a name — it’s called our microbiome. But we’re doing dreadful things to this hidden majority and it’s damaging our health as a result. From the Tonic series produced with the assistance of NPS.

 

 

 

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REFERENCES

NPR. (2013). The Invisible Universe Of The Human Microbiome. (Video).  See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DTrENdWvvM

NPS MedicineWise. (2012). The human microbiome and what we do to it. (Video). See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEZSuwkx7Ik

 

 

© Copyright 2015 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

 

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

ONLINE COURSE on the Gut Microbiome

 

 

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The University of Colorado at Boulder is offering a fascinating free online course on the human microbiome called

GUT CHECK: EXPLORING YOUR MICROBIOME

This course is going to cover many of the topics I’ve written about on this Allergies and Your Gut site/blog – but you’ll get to hear it and much more from the horses’ mouths:  Prof. Rob Knight, Dr. Jessica Metcalf and Dr. Katherine Amato.
Rob Knight is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also works on the Human Microbiome Project.
Professor Rob Knight. (Source: knightlab.colorado.edu)
Professor Rob Knight. (Source: knightlab.colorado.edu)

 

Dr. Jessica Metcalf is an Evolutionary Biologist and Senior Research Associate at the BioFrontiers Institute, University of Colorado at Boulder.

 

Dr. Jessica Metcalf
Dr. Jessica L. Metcalf

 

Dr. Katherine R. Amato is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology and part of the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She also contributes to the American Gut Project.

 

Dr. Katherine R. Amato
Dr. Katherine R. Amato
From the course’s website:

Imagine if there were an organ in your body that weighed as much as your brain, that affected your health, your weight, and even your behavior. Wouldn’t you want to know more about it? There is such an organ — the collection of microbes in and on your body, your human microbiome.

ABOUT THE COURSE
The human body harbors up to ten times as many microbial cells as human cells. What are these microbes and what are they doing? How can we study them to find out? What do they tell us about ourselves? Just as our human genome records traces of who we are and the conditions we have adapted to during evolutionary history, our microbial genomes may record traces of what we have eaten, where we have lived, and who we have been in contact with. The microbial ecosystems in different parts of our bodies, which differ radically from one another, also supply a wide range of functions that affect many aspects of human health.

Join us on a guided tour of the human gut and its microscopic inhabitants. We will first review what microbes are and how they get into our bodies. We will then discuss the methods we use to study microbial communities and briefly explore how gut microbiome data are analyzed. This information will provide us with a foundation to explore current microbiome research. We will cover topics such as the influence of the gut microbiota on our nutrition, health and behavior. Did you know that gut microbes may influence how sick we get or the way we feel? The course will culminate with an in-depth review of the American Gut Project, the world’s largest open-source, crowd-sourced science project, from how it works to what it’s taught us up until now.

 

COURSE SYLLABUS

Week 1: Introduction to microbes and the human microbiome

Meet Professor Rob Knight, Dr. Jessica Metcalf, and Dr. Katherine Amato as they introduce the human microbiome. Key topics this week are:

* What are microbes?

* The human microbiome

* Where do you get your microbes?

Week 2: How we study the microbiome

We will discuss the history of microbial research and review cutting-edge techniques used to examine microbial communities today. Key topics this week are:

* The history of studying microbes

* Basics of high-throughput DNA sequencing

* ‘Omics’ and other useful technologies

Week 3: Making sense out of microbial data

We will briefly review techniques used for analyzing microbiome data. This information will serve as a foundation for exploring recent discoveries in microbiome research later on. Key topics this week are:

* How do we identify a microbe?

* Basics of alpha-diversity

* Beta-diversity, and visualizing differences

Week 4: The human gut microbiome and your health

We will discuss major factors affecting the gut microbiome. We will also explore in detail what we currently know about diet, nutrition, health, and the gut microbiome. Key topics this week are:

* Impact of diet and age on the gut microbiota

* Obesity and the gut microbiota

* Human microbiome and gut disease

* Manipulating the microbiome through fecal transplants

Week 5: Gut microbe-host interactions: Beyond nutrition

We will talk about how the gut microbiome can affect your body outside of the gut, including interactions with the immune system and the brain. Key topics this week are:

* Gut microbiota interactions with the immune system

* Gut microbiota, autoimmune diseases, and allergies

* The gut-brain axis

* Post-mortem human microbiome

Week 6: What’s in the American Gut?

We will re-introduce the American Gut Project and describe results both at an individual and a population level. Key topics this week are:

* The American Gut Project and crowd-funding

* Collecting samples

* Michael Pollan vs. Jeff Leach: American Gut results explained

* Comparing the American Gut to other populations

Here’s the website for learning more about this free course & signing up for it: https://www.coursera.org/course/microbiome
The first 6-week session starts next Monday, October 6 2014 and runs through November 14 2014. You can also sign up to be notified when the next session will begin. They say it will involve 3-5 hours of work/week.

 

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If you take the course, please let me know how you like it. I’m super busy this fall so am going to wait until the next time it’s offered.

 

 

© Copyright 2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

 

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

 

Triclosan, Your Toothpaste and Your Endocrine System

 

 

TOP triclosan toothpaste

 

Take a look at the ingredients in your toothpaste. Is triclosan on the list? If so, switching brands would be a good idea.

 

Some products containing triclosan. (Source. www.achildgrows.com)
Some products containing triclosan. (Source. www.achildgrows.com)

 

Triclosan is the active ingredient in many widely used antibacterial products. You probably used some – or many – of them in your own home. These products claim to kill “99.9% of germs” as if that were a good thing … and triclosan is the killer.

 

(Source:  www.greenlivingonline.com)
(Source: www.greenlivingonline.com)

 

 

TRICLOSAN: A PROBLEMATIC CHEMICAL WITH ADVERSE HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS  (Francis, 2014), (Kaplan, 2014), (Mercola, 2014)

Triclosan is a synthetic, broad-spectrum antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal agent present in a wide variety of consumer products: toothpastes, liquid soaps, dish washing liquids, mouth washes, face washes, hand sanitizers, surgical cleaning scrubs, shaving gels, deodorants, detergents, textiles, socks, workout clothes, toys, plastic kitchenware, cutting boards, school supplies – and many more.
Triclosan was first registered as a pesticide in 1969 and is now widely used as an antimicrobial. Do you want to brush your teeth with pesticide? For that matter, do you think it’s wise to kill 99% of the useful bacterial in your mouth daily?

 

 

(Source: www.ecomythsalliance.org)
(Source: www.ecomythsalliance.org)
The label on Colgate toothpastes lists the amount of triclosan in its products as only 0.30% – which may seem very small. But because triclosan is extremely powerful at killing bacteria and other microbes, this negligible amount makes the chemical a powerfully active ingredient.
Aside from killing 99% of our useful microbes along with the harmful ones, triclosan also reacts with water to form chloroform, a possible carcinogen, and with sunlight to form dioxins, known endocrine disruptors. (Angkadjaja, 2012)

 

 

(Source: www.cela.ca)
(Source: www.cela.ca)
Triclosan’s chemical structure is similar to thyroid hormones and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs – toxic chemicals now banned in the US but still found in the environment). This similarity allows it to attach to thyroid hormone receptors, altering hormone regulation and possibly interfering with fetal development. Scientists have noted an increased cancer risk from triclosan exposure. And bacteria exposed to triclosan are apt to become resistant to antibiotics.

 

 

(Source: thehealthykey.com)
(Source: thehealthykey.com)

 

The US Food and Drug Administration acknowledges that recent research raises “valid concerns” about the safety of triclosan, which is used so widely in products that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports it is found in the urine of 75% of the population.
Triclosan:
  • Is found in the blood, urine and breast milk of the average person.
  • Is a known hormone disrupter.
  • Is a culprit in creating superbugs, bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.
  • Weakens the heart muscle, impairing contractions and reducing heart function.
  • Weakens skeletal muscles, reducing grip strength
  • Washes into your sewage systems  and pollutes water bodies
On top of all this, ANTI-BACTERIAL SOAP OFFERS NO PROVEN BENEFIT OVER REGULAR SOAP!

 

 

 

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A joint project of Food & Water Watch and Beyond Pesticides has created a FACT SHEET on the dangers of triclosan. It contains a summary of nearly 60 studies into the chemical’s impact on health. From the FACT SHEET:

A growing list of household and personal care products are advertised as “antibacterial” because they contain a chemical called triclosan. While the manufacturers of these products want you to think triclosan protects you from harmful bacteria, it turns out it may be doing more harm than good.

See  Triclosan: What the Research Shows  (Food & Water Watch and Beyond Pesticides, undated)

 

The proliferation of triclosan in everyday consumer products is enormous. It is now found in our drinking water, in our rivers, in our bodies. Several other countries, including the members of the European Union, have banned or restricted use of the chemical. Yet we in the US continue to consume and be exposed to an onslaught of triclosan. (Layton, 2010)

 

 

(Source: ww.beyondpesticides.org)
(Source: ww.beyondpesticides.org)
The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry’s name for triclosan is 5-chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy)phenol. Triclosan is similar in its uses and mechanism of action to triclocarbon, another dangerous antibacterial chemical used in personal care products. Brand names include Digiclean, Asepso, Prevens, Virx, Derma-Glove, FresHands and Renewal. (Wikipedia, 8/24/2014)

 

 

(Source:  www.medicalnewspk.com)
(Source: www.medicalnewspk.com)

 

 

 

 

HOW TRICLOSAN WORKS

The cells of all organisms, including bacteria, require a cell membrane to survive. The cell membrane is a critical barrier that selectively allows oxygen, nutrients, and wastes to permeate and leave the cell; it is the “edge of life, the boundary that separates the living cell from its nonliving surroundings”. Without a permeable cell membrane, a cell would simply die. For example, wastes would not be transported out of the cell, causing toxins to accumulate and poison the cell. Curiously, it is precisely this function of the cell membrane that Triclosan is engineered to immobilize….

Triclosan stops the fatty acid elongation process by inhibiting a bacterial enzyme. … By stealing active sites from the natural substrate, Triclosan systematically kills bacteria by stopping fatty acid chain growth. This, in turn, stops the growth of the cell membrane and effectively kills the cell. The process is efficient, insidious and almost perfect, and when given the opportunity, Triclosan is extremely successful.

–  S. Angkadjaja, 2012. What Makes Antibacterial Soap Antibacterial? Illumin: A review of engineering in everyday life

 

 

breastfeeding-3

 

 

 

 

Earthpaste Amazingly Natural Toothpaste Cinnamon
Earthpaste Amazingly Natural Toothpaste – Cinnamon

TRICLOSAN-FREE TOOTHPASTES

 Here are some of the triclosan-free toothpastes on the market:
  • Redmond Trading Company’s Earthpaste Amazingly Natural Toothpaste – Cinnamon
  •  Doterra Toothpaste
  • Tom’s of Maine
  • Sensodyne
  • Jason’s Natural Toothpaste
  • Nature’s Gate
  • Desert Essence
  • Crest Toothpastes
  • Waleda

 

Some of these brands contain fluoride and other chemicals of concern. For example, here’s Environmental Working Group’s SKIN DEEP’s analysis of Sensodyne Original Flavor Toothpaste:
 At least it doesn’t contain triclosan.

 

 

active-ingredients-e1377624937238

Check the ingredients list on your own toothpaste. Triclosan is listed under Active Ingredients.
I personally also avoid toothpastes containing fluoride, which is a toxin – and the reason why fluoride-containing toothpastes come with a warning not to swallow  it – as on the label above.

 

 

 

 

MANY BACTERIA ARE GOOD FOR US

There is much evidence showing that bacteria are not all dangerous and should not be killed willy nilly. Many strains of  bacteria are in fact necessary for our health. The modern world has developed an unhealthy phobia against germs of all kinds.
Remember the Human Microbiome?  A large part of it resides in our gastro-intestinal tracts. So much so that the Gut Microbiome is often referred to as our second genome. Our guts are home to several pounds of microbes responsible for keeping our immune systems strong so we can have healthy bodies and minds.
In addition to the gut microbiome, the human body also is home to other important microbiomes: On our skin; in our mouths, urogenital tracts, nasal cavities.

 

 

Human Microbiomes
Human Microbiomes

 

In fact, bacteria and other micro-organisms living in and on the human body outnumber our human cells by 10 to 1! And this is a good thing. Without these microbes, our health – perhaps our very existence – would be in serious jeopardy.

 

 

ed1ce47043a1196fa6093b16620ad41d

 

A nice little animated video from NPR called The Invisible Universe Of The Human Microbiome  (5:28).
The Invisible Universe Of The Human Microbiome - NPR
The Invisible Universe Of The Human Microbiome – NPR

 

 

THE HYGIENE HYPOTHESIS

The Hygiene Hypothesis states that overly sanitizing our skins and environments is actually doing much harm and is responsible for the steep rise in auto-immune diseases, asthma, eczema and other health problems.
Michael Pollan states it well in his New York Times Magazine article“Some of My Best Friends Are Germs “ – which I highly recommend reading:

Human health should now “be thought of as a collective property of the human-associated microbiota”  ….

Such a paradigm shift comes not a moment too soon, because as a civilization, we’ve just spent the better part of a century doing our unwitting best to wreck the human-associated microbiota with a multifronted war on bacteria and a diet notably detrimental to its well-being. Researchers now speak of an impoverished “Westernized microbiome” and ask whether the time has come to embark on a project of “restoration ecology” — not in the rain forest or on the prairie but right here at home, in the human gut. (Pollan, 2013)

(Source: www.dailymail.co.uk)
The Hygiene Hypothesis: Our modern obsession with cleanliness is making us and our environment sick. (Source: www.dailymail.co.uk)

 

My recommendation is to be alarmed rather than reassured by products that promise to kill 99.9% of germs. Using these products will deprive you of many microbes necessary for your health – and the health of our planet too.

 

 

THE RIGHT WAY TO WASH YOUR HANDS

In 2005 an advisory panel told the Federal Drug Administration there was no evidence that antibacterial soaps work better than regular soap and water. (Layton, 2010)

 

hand-washing-technique

 

Remember washing your hands with regular soap and warm water before antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers hit the market? Turns out using regular soap and water is actually the best way to protect your health and prevent the spread of infections and communicable illnesses. In case you’ve forgotten how to do it:
  • Wet your hands with warm water.
  • Lather up with regular soap.
  • Rub soapy hands together for at least 15 seconds before rinsing.
  • Dry hands before turning off the faucet.
  • Use a paper towel to turn off the water to avoid germs on the faucet.

 

 

 

 

CHECK FOR TRICLOSAN IN OTHER PRODUCTS

You might also want to check for triclosan in the ingredients list of your other personal care and household cleaning products. It’s bad stuff.
Some of the many products containing triclosan:

 

(Source: drsohm.tumblr.com)
(Source: drsohm.tumblr.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Source:  www.redicecreations.com)
(Source: www.redicecreations.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Source:  healthverdict.com)
(Source: healthverdict.com)

 

 

THE EWG’S SKIN DEEP WEBSITE AND MOBILE APP

The Environmental Working Group has collected safety data on over 69,000 products. You can either go to their SKIN DEEP website or use their mobile app.

 

Information from EWG's SKIN DEEP project
Sample information from EWG’s SKIN DEEP project’s mobile app that lets you obtain hazard on over 69,000 personal care products by typing in the product’s name or scanning its barcode with a smart phone

 

Why the EWG established the SKIN DEEP project:

The American government doesn’t require health studies or pre-market testing of the chemicals in personal care products, even though just about everyone is exposed to them. Through Skin Deep, we put the power of information in consumers’ hands. When you know what’s in the products you bring into your home and how those chemicals may affect your health and the environment, you can make informed purchasing decisions — and help transform the marketplace. At the same time, we advocate responsible corporate and governmental policies to protect the most vulnerable among us.

 

What SKIN DEEP says about triclosan and triclocarban on their website:

Triclosan & Triclocarban: Antimicrobial pesticides in liquid soap (triclosan) or soap bars (triclocarban), very toxic to the aquatic environment. Often found as contaminants in people due to widespread use of antimicrobial cleaning products. Triclosan disrupts thyroid function and reproductive hormones. American Medical Association and the American Academy of Microbiology say that soap and water serves just as well to prevent spread of infections and reduce bacteria on the skin. Overuse may promote the development of bacterial resistance.

 

 

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REFERENCES

Angkadjaja, S. (2012). What Makes Antibacterial Soap Antibacterial?  Illumin: A review of engineering in everyday life. See:  http://illumin.usc.edu/printer/68/what-makes-antibacterial-soap-antibacterial/

Food & Water Watch + Beyond Pesticides. (undated). Triclosan: What the Research Shows. See:  http://www.beyondpesticides.org/antibacterial/triclosan-research-3-09.pdf

Francis, I. (2014). Why you should be worried about the chemical ‘Triclosan’ that’s in your toothpaste.  See:   http://www.thealternative.in/lifestyle/worried-chemical-triclosan-thats-toothpaste/

Hardin, J.R. (2014). The Gut Microbiome – Our Second Genome. AllergiesAndYourCut.com. See:  http://allergiesandyourgut.com/the-gut-microbiome-our-second-genome/

Kaplan, D. (2014). FDA says studies on triclosan, used in sanitizers and soaps, raise concerns. See:  http://www.healthfreedoms.org/fda-says-studies-on-triclosan-used-in-sanitizers-and-soaps-raise-concerns/

Layton, L. (2010). FDA says studies on triclosan, used in sanitizers and soaps, raise concerns. The Washington Post. See:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/07/AR2010040704621.html

Mercola, R. (2014). Best-Selling Toothpaste Contains Endocrine-Disrupting Chemical. See: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/08/27/triclosan-toothpaste.aspx?e_cid=20140827Z1_DNL_art_1&utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20140827Z1&et_cid=DM54542&et_rid=636597549

NPR. (2013). The Invisible Universe Of The Human Microbiome. Video (5:28). See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DTrENdWvvM

Pollan, M. (2013). Some of My Best Friends Are Germs. New York Times Magazine, May 15 2013.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/magazine/say-hello-to-the-100-trillion-bacteria-that-make-up-your-microbiome.html?_r=0

Wikipedia. (8/24/2014). Triclosan.  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triclosan

 

 

© Copyright 2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

 

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.