Tag Archives: bacteria

Fibromyalgia and the Gut

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And yet another connection between the gut and a seemingly unrelated condition: Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia describes a condition where a person experiences widespread musculoskeletal pain. Similar to IBS, a total work up is done, and if Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus or other diagnoses are ruled out, and there is nothing tangibly ‘wrong’, then a diagnosis of exclusion is given to explain the symptoms.  There are 18 tender points, and if 11 or more hurt for 3 months or more, that’s fibromyalgia. The symptoms of fibromyalgia don’t stop at musculoskeletal pain. They also include fatigue, brain fog, and memory issues. Fibromyalgia can begin suddenly after a trauma, surgery, infection or psychological stress, or it can come on slowly with no triggering event. There is usually a genetic predisposition.

Fibromyalgia seems to affect the way the brain processes pain. This is yet another similarity to IBS, where there are overactive pain signals, an overactive immune system and a hypersensitivity to pain.

But here is the third and most astonishing similarity: nearly all fibromyalgia patients have IBS and Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth! In the case of these patients, the bacteria release toxins that get into the blood stream (b/c of damage to the GI track) and this causes the pain and sensitivity to pain.

If you have fibromyalgia, get to the root of the problem: your gut.

The Great and Powerful Microbiome

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I have written about the microbiome before. Those trillions of bacteria, viruses and yeasts that live in and on us that are absolutely crucial to our health. If we have beneficial microbes, we have health. If we have harmful microbes, we are sick. But I am not talking about getting food poisoning and being sick for a few days. I am talking about having an imbalance of good to bad microbes in your gut that causes subtle but serious damage to your health. There is growing evidence (daily) that these bugs are the number one influence on your health (or lack of it).

Just to give you an idea, here is an incomplete list of what the microbiome has influence over:

Here is a partial list of disorders that have been linked to dysbiosis (having too many bad bacteria and not enough good):

I hope that you respect those little powerful bugs and appreciate the importance of acquiring and maintaining gut balance to promote health.

Happy Bugs?

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New research comes out every day showing the benefits of probiotics and beneficial microbes. I make it a point to keep up with this news, so I can better serve my clients and sharpen my expertise. I also INTEND to share these amazing research findings on this blog, but the research is coming out faster than I can post!

Two new studies that confirm what we already knew: that your gut microbes affect your emotional state.

One study (triple-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial) gave subjects probiotics (with multiple strands of bacteria) or placebo for 4 weeks. The subjects in the probiotic group experienced a significantly reduced overall cognitive reactivity to sad mood compared to the placebo group. The reduced overall cognitive reactivity was accompanied by less rumination and fewer aggressive thoughts.

Another study had three groups of participants. One received yogurt with active microbes and a placebo capsule, one received probiotics and yogurt without active bacteria and one received yogurt without active bacteria and a placebo cap. The two groups who actually got probiotics and bacteria experienced significant improvement in the general health questionnaire and depression anxiety and stress scale score.

Got Sauerkraut?

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And the third Fermented Food: Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is an effective way to get your probiotics without worrying about FODMAPs or dairy. There are FODMAPs in cabbage but the bacteria eat them in the fermentation process. Bacteria basically ferment the FODMAPs in a jar instead of in your intestines. It is relatively easy to make your own sauerkraut with cabbage and salt. After shredding and pounding the cabbage, the salt pulls water out of the cabbage and creates the brine. And it can be left in a loosely sealed jar (to let the gas escape) for 2-3 weeks. If you buy sauerkraut, make sure the product is jarred and needs refrigeration. That indicates live organisms. Canned sauerkraut has had all the microbes killed in the canning process. Start with ¼ of a teaspoon a day and work your way up to as much as you can tolerate several times a day.

mage courtesy of Lavoview at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Got Kefir?

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In the second in my Fermented Foods series: Kefir.

Kefir is a thick fermented milk beverage. Like yogurt, kefir also has the protein and calcium, however the method of fermentation and the types of organisms differ from yogurt. A kefir grain is used in the fermentation process and the products of that process are 1% alcohol as well as yeast.

You can find Kefir at most health food grocery stores.

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Got yogurt?

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In the first of my Fermented Food series, may I present yogurt.

Yogurt is known for containing the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus. It also has calcium and protein and other healthy nutrients. Store bought yogurt must be labeled: ‘live active cultures’. If the product was pasteurized after it was fermented then all the beneficial bacteria would have been killed. You want either raw milk yogurt, or yogurt that was cultured after pasteurization. When making yogurt at home, you can use a scoop of store bought yogurt as a starter, or you can purchase a ‘starter kit’ (a packet of bacteria and other organisms) online. The point is to introduce some bacteria to milk and they will ferment it, populate it, and create yogurt.

mage courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fermented Foods

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Since we depend on microbes for our health, we need to ingest healthful beneficial ones into our body’s ecosystem. Fermented foods and probiotic supplements are two ways to do just that. Fermented foods contain live microbes. (Examples of fermented foods are: sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir).

When food is prepared in specific ways and under certain conditions, the healthful bacteria and yeast are able to grow and ferment. The bacteria actually eat and break down the food they are growing on which can actually make the food easier for people to digest.

Fermented foods have a couple benefits over probiotic supplements. First, they are more affordable and second, you can get a wider variety of beneficial bacteria from fermented foods. Probiotics supplements usually only have between one and eight strains of different bacteria. Since diversity is so important for your gut, you want more variety and types of microbes.

You can buy fermented foods or make your own. Buying is tricky, because many products have been heated or sterilized before packaging, thus killing the microbes you are seeking. Making your own may sound intimidating but it can be done with a little time and effort. There are many websites and cookbooks available that can instruct you.

When making your own fermented food, you can either ‘culture’ or go ‘wild’. Culturing refers to using specific isolated organisms (a “starter kit”) that you introduce to the food and then grow. Wild fermentation uses whatever microbes are on the original food or in the air. Usually, vegetable ferments are wild, where as milk ferments are cultured.

Since fermented foods have bacteria and yeast in them, the first thing you need to do is clear up any infections, Candida, or SIBO first. Otherwise, the fermented foods or probiotics will make symptoms worse! Re-inoculating your gut is the last step in healing. For people without those bacteria or yeast overgrowth issues, eating fermented foods can be done along side the other healing steps.

Whatever method you use to reintroduce beneficial microbes into your gut, you need to go slowly. At first, you should only ingest very small amounts daily so that your gut can adjust to them. Taking in too much too fast can cause gastrointestinal symptoms. If this happens, don’t give up just start again more slowly. You also must eat these foods (or take the supplements) regularly and consistently, as it is difficult for new microbes to establish themselves in an already formed ecosystem (your gut).

Stay tuned for future posts about specific fermented foods.

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Leaky Gut

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Leaky gut is as gross as it sounds. Not because what is in your digestive track is leaking out of your body but because it’s leaking INTO your body.

The lining of the GI track, like your skin, is a barrier to the outside world. What’s in your gut IS outside your body until your GI lining lets it through. Luckily this gut lining is extremely good at letting in the good and blocking the bad. It has tight junctions (imagine a net). Things that should get through: fully digested and broken down molecules of protein (amino acids) and carbohydrates (single monosaccharaides), as well as vitamins and minerals. Things that should stay out: bacteria, non-digested food particles, toxins and other things that belong in your poo and then the toilet.

But when the lining is damaged, the tight junctions become loose. And what shouldn’t get through does. This is leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability.

It is theorized that all autoimmune disease is partially caused by leaky gut. Something big and/or foreign get into your blood and your immune system attack these unwanted things. But over time, you immune system starts getting confused and starts attacking you. If you are genetically predisposed to an autoimmune disease, this can be a trigger. Leaky gut can also cause food allergies and sensitivities. If a protein molecule (that isn’t totally broken down into single amino acids) gets through, that will cause an immune reaction and trigger a food sensitivity or allergy.

Symptoms of a leaky gut:

  • Fatigue
  • Gut symptoms (bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation)
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Food sensitivities
  • Skin problems (rashes, eczema)
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Behavioral problems (ADHD, Autism)
  • Weight problems
  • Adrenal Fatigue

Causes of a leaky gut:

What can help?

  1. You want to remove all your triggers. (stop taking aspirin, start meditating, give up gluten, etc)
  2. Treat the root cause (infection, SIBO)
  3. Heal the lining

What heals?

  • Gelatin. I am not talking about Jello. I am talking about non-flavored unsweetened gelatin. The amino acids heal the tight junctions. Bone Broth, if made properly, is an excellent source. But you can buy gelatin powder too and add it to drinks and food. Check out this smoothie!
  • L-glutamine. An amino acid that heals the lining.
  • Zinc, Vitamin A
  • Probiotics (as long as SIBO, and other infections are treated appropriately)
  • Digestive enzymes
  • Real food

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SIBO

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SIBO (pronounced see-bo) is an acronym for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. Your colon has 100 billion bacteria per milliliter but your small intestine should have less than 100,000/ml. When too many bacteria migrate or colonize in the small intestine, SIBO develops and all hell breaks loose.

SIBO is responsible for all sorts of uncomfortable symptoms, such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea. More importantly, it causes damage to the small intestine leading to a ton of non-digestive problems as well. It is estimated that 84% of people with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) also have SIBO. Similarly, people with Crohn’s Disease and Celiac are likely to have SIBO as well.

When bacteria are in your colon (large intestine), they eat what’s left over (mostly fiber) after you have absorbed all the nutrients that your body needs. But when the bacteria in your small intestine (before your body has absorbed all that it needs), they get VIP access to your food (carbohydrates are their favorite). As described in the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle: “The presence of undigested and unabsorbed carbohydrates in the small intestine can encourage microbes to take up residence and multiply. This, in turn, may lead to the formation of products, in addition to gas, which injure the small intestine…. bacterial growth in the small intestine appears to destroy the enzymes on the intestinal cell surface preventing carbohydrate digestion and absorption and making carbohydrates available for bacteria” This is the cycle. Injury to the intestine–>impaired digestion and absorption–>bacterial overgrowth–>damage to the intestine–>impaired digestion…and so on. When the bacteria injure the intestines and impair digestion, the small intestines become less able to digest carbohydrates, leaving more for the bacteria to digest, and allowing for more bacterial multiplication. They are preventing you from digesting the very thing they need to eat.

Symptoms:

  • Abdominal bloating and distention
  • Gas
  • Abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or a mix of the two
  • Heartburn or GERD

Systemic symptoms and associated conditions:

  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Leaky Gut (where your intestinal wall let’s things into your blood that aren’t supposed to be let in)
  • Fatigue, brain fog
  • Food sensitivities
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Mental Disorders (Autism, Depression)
  • Obesity
  • Skin problems
  • Autoimmune disorders

How does this start?

  • Insufficient stomach acid (acid kills bacteria)
  • Impaired cleansing waves (a wave of muscle contractions that sweeps the debris out of the small intestine and into the colon in between meals and at night)
  • Anatomical issue (such as having no ileocecal valve, the valve at the end of the small intestine, that keeps colon bacteria from migrating up)
  • GI infections or disease (Crohn’s or Celiac)

There are a few treatments for SIBO, antibiotics being the best. But the underlying cause might still be a problem and the SIBO will likely reoccur. There are a few diet options as treatment: The Specific Carbohydrate Diet, GAPS diet, Elemental Diet or a low FODMAP diet. Each of these manipulates the type and amount of carbohydrates in your diet to starve the bacteria.

Nutrition therapy with a Registered Dietitian (who specializes in digestive disorders) is essential. Besides being necessary to attempt one of the therapeutic diets mentioned above, nutrition is critical for:

  • Preventing the SIBO from returning
  • Correcting vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Healing the gut lining
  • Increasing stomach acid
  • Encouraging cleansing waves. (There are a few ways to do this, but my favorite is with lemon water)

Talk to your doctor if you suspect you have SIBO. And get a qualified Dietitian.

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Lemon Water, the Best Superfood

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Move over kale (and watercress…), there’s a new superfood in town. Lemon juice in lukewarm water happens to be one of the very best things you can put in your body.

I first learned about this through my research on digestion and gut problems. I was amazed and relieved that there was something I could actually do to help certain tricky gut issues (more on this below).  But I went on to discovered that there are many other benefits to drinking lemon water beside gut health.

Benefits of lukewarm water with lemon juice include:

  • Vitamins and Minerals
    • Lemons have Vitamin C, many B vitamins, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium and Fiber
  • Weight loss and craving control
    • The fiber in lemon is pectin and it has been shown to reduce hunger cravings, possibly helping with weight loss.
  • Bad Breath
    • The acid in lemon helps kill the bacteria in your mouth that cause bad breath.
  • Better younger skin
    • This is possibly a stretch but has been reported. The likely explanation is that the Vitamin C helps with collagen which can keep skin younger, tighter and less wrinkled.
  • While lemon is acidic, it helps keep your body/blood alkaline (at a healthier pH level).
    • Removing uric acid from your joints
    • Reducing inflammation all over the body
    • Preventing UTIs and Kidney stones from forming
  • Caffeine substitute.
    • Warm lemon water in the morning has also been shown to be a stimulant. But a healthier one than dehydrating caffeine!
  • Hydrating.
    • Obviously it is the water, not the lemon per se, that will be hydrating you. But it is still very important and a wonderful benefit of drinking lemon water.
  • Gut health and Digestive Benefits:
    • Helps relieve constipation: warm lemon water in the morning gets things moving along
    • Increases stomach acid. Too little stomach acid comes with a lot of problems. Without it, food doesn’t break down properly so it can’t be digested and absorbed. This can lead to food sensitivities as well as indigestion and malnutrition. Also, we need a certain amount of stomach acid to kill the bad bacteria that enter our system via our food. This isn’t just our best line of defense against food poisoning, it is an essential part of keeping the gut flora in balance.
    • Increases bile production so we can properly digest and absorb fat and fat-soluable vitamins.
    • It loosens biofilms. What? Well, the bad bacteria are very crafty, forming little films around themselves, attaching to our gut lining. This poses an obstacle to antibiotics, good bacteria and other methods of trying to kill them. Lemon juice (or apple cider vinegar) actually helps remove these films so the bad bacteria underneath get exposed and removed from the lining, thereby allowing healing to take place.

Need any more convincing? Even my skeptic husband decided to try it!

Lemon water can benefit anyone. But for those with digestive problems (or a tendency for kidney stones), it is a miracle drug. I should mention one possible side effect-the acid can be hard on your tooth enamel.  To ensure no damage-you could drink it through a straw! There are also special toothpastes to use to strengthen your enamel. Another very effective trick is to rinse your mouth out with water (or better yet water with baking soda) after drinking your tall glass of lemon water. Important: do not brush your teeth for a half hour after drinking the lemon water. Rinse with water and then wait. This is due to the acid making your enamel soft. The toothbrush and paste can be rough on the soft enamel.

The best way to get all these benefits is to squeeze lemon into warm water, drink it first thing in the morning and not eat for 15 minutes. The way to maximize all the digestive benefits is to do this before each meal. The way to maximize most of the other benefits too is to do this throughout the day!

A half of a lemon a day is recommended if you weigh less than 150 pounds, a whole lemon if you are over 150 pounds.

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