The Microbiome: A Key to Your Health

Abigail McShinsky
MegaFood Training and Education Specialist

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the importance of probiotics. Perhaps you even take them, as a supplement, yourself. The research and information demonstrating their vital importance to our health is growing, and it’s remarkable. Probiotics comprise what we refer to as the human microbiome – the vast collection of beneficial bacteria that inhabit, and form a deeply symbiotic relationship with, us.

Our digestive tracts are home to over 5,000 different species of beneficial bacteria, all of whom perform specific functions within our body (LiveScience). In addition to aiding in the digestion of food and nutrient assimilation, they are our biggest defense against illness – over 70% of our immune response resides within our gut!

Beyond this role, however, science continues to link the health of our microbiome to things such as allergies, and even lend credence to the phrase “gut reaction,” demonstrating a link between the health of our friendly crusaders and the brain! It begins to make sense, then, why these helpful bacteria, so important to our health and well-being, are called what they are – probiotic – literally meaning for life!

Unfortunately, modern diet trends and a focus on refined foods do not make for a strong microbiome. The Standard American Diet lacks diversity and an emphasis on fresh, whole, and fermented foods that nourish and grow our probiotic army. In addition, our frequent antibiotic use decimates these good guys and lowers our defenses further.

There is, of course, good news at the end of all of this. There are great ways to get probiotics back into your diet, and of course, into your gut, where they belong!  One thing to consider is foods that are rich in probiotics. Traditionally, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, and pickles are great options to start including in your daily diet. Just be sure they are the real deal – look for the words ‘fermented’ or ‘traditionally fermented’ on the label, and make sure they come from the refrigerated section, as probiotics are living, and many strains require cooler temperatures to stay alive (they can actually be damaged by heat!)

There are, of course, less-familiar options to look into as well – foods such as kimchi, kefir, and kombucha are delicious and healthy ways to get probiotics into your child’s diet, not to mention helping them create healthy eating habits for years to come.

In addition to fortifying the diet with these good-for-the-gut foods, a probiotic supplement is another convenient choice. Seek formulations that deliver a wide-range of flora strains rather than just one or two, and one that requires refrigeration, to ensure you are getting viable, living strains.

Seasonal Allergies

Carol B. Blair, BS, DiHom, CNC
Wellness Educator

An allergen is a substance that has been targeted by the immune system as a carolforeign invader. The receptor on the mast cell binds to an allergen, and the body produces antibodies to this invader. The mast cells then release histamine that causes the typical allergic responses such as red, itchy eyes/coughing/nasal congestion/runny nose.

Most allergy medications work as anti-histamines, and there are many natural anti-histamines and anti-inflammatories that will help reduce symptoms without side effects.

Quercetin, a flavonoid found in apples, buckwheat, onions, and green tea, helps keep mast cells from releasing histamine. The absorption of quercetin is enhanced by bromelain, which potentiates its action, so you will often find them combined for best results. This combination is one of the most commonly used natural therapies for allergies.

Nettle leaf tea has been used for centuries to relieve allergies especially hayfever. It has been recommended highly by Dr. Andrew Weil. Nettle tea or the extract inhibits pro-inflammatory pathways related to allergies, and it has an impressive number of other benefits for the immune system.

Osha is an herb used for its anti-histamine-like properties. Osha will often quickly reduce allergic reactions; it also soothes a sore throat. Recent studies also show the herb, Butterbur, to be excellent for allergy symptom relief.

Antioxidants such as Vitamin C, Grapeseed extract, MSM, and fish oil can also help reduce inflammation, and therefore, symptoms.

Allergy relief is an area where homeopathy shines. Homeopathy is based on the theory that “like cures like.” Many homeopathic formulas contain the allergens, such as pollen, in minute doses that are prevalent in a certain region of the country, and formulas exist for allergies in our area. There are other allergy formulas available as well for individuals who have sensitivities to animal dander or dairy, for instance. These can be a big help for allergy sufferers.

Last but not least, new studies are showing the role of probiotics in down-regulating the immune system to help reduce allergies!

All of these supplements are quite effective in reducing congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes, headaches, and fatigue that are associated with seasonal allergies. The best part is that, instead of side effects, most of these supplements will have other beneficial uses for your immune system as well

Probiotics Offer Benefits to Most

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Probiotics are microorganisms that exert beneficial effects in humans and have been the subject of many recent scientific studies. They benefit us in wide variety of ways, including averting harmful organisms from growing (such as yeast), preventing food and environmental allergies, enhancing the immune system, assisting in the digestion of foods, and promoting the degradation of toxins. Some strains of probiotics have also been shown to bind mercury and other heavy metals, preventing their absorption into the body. Also, probiotics have been shown to prevent and inhibit the growth of colon, liver, and breast cancer. The health benefits of these organisms are so profound; it is one of the few supplements we recommend that almost all people include as part of their daily regimen.

Probiotics are found in a variety of foods, including cheese, yogurt, butter, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods. However, most of us can’t or don’t eat these foods in sufficient enough quantities to counteract the challenges of modern life. The proper balance of these microflora can be thrown off by a diet high in meat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and other processed foods. Also, constipation, diarrhea, stress, birth control pills or other forms of estrogen replacement therapy, chlorinated water, and antibiotics in the food supply also readily off-set the balance of these beneficial organisms.

So, supplementation is necessary. There are many probiotic products to choose from.

Someone who has difficulty swallowing capsules should consider the tiny Acidophilus Pearls from Enzymatic Therapy; because these do not need to be refrigerated, they are also great for when you travel.

Ideally, infants and toddlers should have primarily Bifidobacterium in their intestines to help prevent and stop diarrhea and to aid in the prevention of allergies. Supplementing with a powdered form of Bifidobacterium, either by itself or with a small percentage of Acidophilus, is easy with infants by dipping your fingertip in the powder and having your child suckle it. Adding one-eighth teaspoon to food, such as applesauce, is a great way to provide the Bifidobacterium to toddlers. Children older than two can be given combinations with higher percentages of Acidophilus.

In order to acquire the most significant benefits that probiotics can provide, maintenance is essential. For maintenance, we suggest the use of products that have a multitude of probiotic strains present to provide broad coverage, such as Flora Biotic Plus from Nutrineeds or Garden of Life’s Primal Defense.

One of the principal foundations of good health is maintaining a vigorous digestive tract. Probiotics are fundamental to this and have been shown to have so many immediate and long-term positive health effects. They inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria that cause digestive stress, improve digestion of food and absorption of vitamins, stimulate the body’s natural defense mechanism – the immune system, and help make vitamins needed by the body. With all of these outstanding health benefits, you should consider the importance of working them into your daily routine.

A Course in Supplements: How to Know if a Supplement is High Quality – Part II

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By the Natur-Tyme Wellness Team

Natur-Tyme is excited to start a blog series on the importance of supplementation. There are so many supplements on the market; it is difficult to decipher supplements you need and which brands or forms of vitamins are best. We’re here to help!

In our last blog, we discussed the importance of looking at how the raw materials in a supplement are sourced. In this blog, we will discuss the importance of the manufacturing process and the physical characteristics of the supplement in question.

THE MANUFACTURING PROCESS

What part of the herb is used? Is it the same part shown in studies to contain the active ingredient? Is the final product tested for potency? Some less-than-ethical companies actually buy the “straw” left over from an extraction process to make tinctures, then encapsulate the spent herb, label it, and sell it as a regular herbal supplement.

Some nutrients and herbal compounds are best rendered with solvents. Is the final product tested for solvent residue? If present, these residues must be detoxified by the body—not always easily accomplished. Also, does the company test the final product for microbial contamination, such as bacteria or mold?

Several nutrients are derived from substances such as corn, wheat, soy, or dairy, to which some may be sensitive. Many can tolerate small amounts of these substances, others require an ultra-clean product that is either highly purified or extracted from a more expensive agent.

If you take fish oil, how is it prepared? Is it extracted and packaged in an oxygen-poor environment to help prevent rancidity? Most quality fish oil manufacturers will test their final products for rancidity.

If probotics such as Acidophilus and Bifidus are part of your regimen, does the company who makes them guarantee that there are live, viable organisms in their product? How long will they be stable and at what temperature? What was the growth media for the probotics? If a person is sensitive to dairy, it may be best to use a probotic grown on beets or chicory, for instance.

THE ADDITIVES

Finally, what are the physical characteristics of the tablet or capsule? Are the binders, fillers, flowing agents, colorings, etc., nutritive or benign? Can they result in negative side-effects? Yellow Dye #5 and Red Dye #1, for instance, have been associated with Attention Deficit Disorder and migraines, as well as many other conditions. Tablet or capsule, dissolution rates are also of paramount importance; both must dissolve at the precise time in order for your body to use the nutrients.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of supplement ingredients and qualities available. If you have adequate stomach acid or assimilate nutrients well, you may be fine taking a medium-grade supplement. On the other hand, if you do have certain health conditions or sensitivities, you will want to use physician-grade supplements.

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