Probiotics for Autoimmune Disease?!

Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s and lupus are only a few of many autoimmune diseases we commonly see today. Although autoimmune conditions are complex and involve many body systems, a growing body of evidence suggests the microbial imbalance  (dysbiosis) can play a huge role in chronic inflammation and autoimmunity.

Many mechanisms are involved (such as molecular mimicry, haptenization, and immune complex formation). Basically, dysbiosis can damage the intestinal lining causing absorption of “debris” from the gut which activates the immune system chronically and inappropriately. Deposition of immune complexes can appear in joints, kidneys, skin and vessels leading to tissue damage and further inflammation. Also certain microorganisms destroy protective antibodies in our gut lining decreasing our defenses to other microbes. This may explain the results of a study where women with chronic vaginal candidiasis (yeast infection) were found to have nearly double the incidence of allergic rhinitis (ie. hay fever) (Moraes, 1998).

As with other conditions, the body’s microbial balance seems to play a huge role in making sure our basic body functions (like the defense system) respond appropriately.

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A Short History of Medicine

Here’s a cute anecdote I read:

“Doctor, I have an ear ache.”

2000 B.C. – “Here, eat this root.”
1000 B.C. – “That root is heathen, say this prayer.”
1850 A.D. – “That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.”
1940 A.D. – “That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.”
1985 A.D. – “That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic.”
2000 A.D. – “That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root!”

Sleep – Nature’s Antioxidant

Happy New Year! This year, I resolve to improve sleep.I’m revisiting this topic because it  has the most profound effect on our health.

Generally any less than 8 hours of sleep is not enough for most people. Research has shown that just 2 hours of sleep deprivation leads to a whole-body inflammatory response that can be identified on blood tests. That means suboptimal sleep may be leading to or affecting pain, heart disease, allergies and many other conditions! In addition, sleep deprivation is known to decrease intellectual functioning, emotions and immune function! Consider also quality of sleep; make sure sleep is uninterrupted and on a regular daily schedule. This year reassess your sleep routine. The small changes  you make to improve sleep will benefit you immediately the next day and for decades in the future!

GOOD Bacteria, BAD Bacteria

Probiotics

Last month I had a wisdom tooth extracted. The process of removing the tooth went quickly and smoothly but days later I had an unpleasant skin and abdominal reaction to the antibiotics. It prompted me to discuss this important topic. 

Why do I need bacteria?

We have an important symbiotic relationship with bacteria in our gut. These ‘good’ bacteria help us better digest food and absorb nutrients while keeping the lining of our gut healthy. Since most of our immune system is located in the gut, ‘good’ bacteria help to keep our defense systems strong and working appropriately. Since the lining of the gut and respiratory tract is continuous, ‘good’ bacteria also helps control conditions such as seasonal allergies and hay fever.

Not all bacteria found in our gut are ‘good’. Some strains cause gas and bloating and in sufficient numbers can cause serious gastrointestinal infections. Antibiotics may be appropriate in cases where the ‘bad’ bacterial load (in the gut and other areas of the body) becomes too high causing acute illness. Unfortunately, antibiotics also eradicate ‘good’ bacteria. Unchecked by ‘good’ bacteria, bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics take over the available space in the gut and can cause further acute infections (even though in small numbers these ‘bad’ bacteria are normally safe).

Traditionally we acquired ‘good’ bacteria from fermented foods such as miso, natto, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha and live beer. Today the frequent use of antibiotics and the decreased prevalence of fermented foods in our diets emphasize the importance of probiotic or ‘good’ bacteria supplementation.

Do I need probiotics?

Conditions and symptoms of weak and/or inappropriate immune function, inflammation of the skin, gut or respiratory system, poor digestion and dysbiosis (imbalance of beneficial vs. harmful organisms) suggest a need for probiotics. These include antibiotic use, gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, gastrointestinal tract infections, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohns), abdominal distention, yeast infections/candida, high cholesterol, hay fever, eczema, ulcers, difficulty with lactose digestion, leaky gut syndrome, fatigue and traveller’s diarrhea.

Remember to take probiotics with food as these are live organisms. Food protects probiotics from stomach acid so more will reach the intestines intact. Also fiber acts as food for ‘good’ bacteria. Probiotics are usually very well tolerated but consult your physician about the most appropriate strains of probiotics, suitable dosages and if you are immunocompromised.

For deeelicious, probiotic-packed foods, check out Probiotic Boost!!

3 Health Tips That Will Change Your Life, Number 3

#3 Staying Regular

Is it really that important?    The only way cholesterol leaves the body is via the bowels; if they sit in the bowels long enough, almost all of it can be reabsorbed! In Chinese medicine, regulating bowel function is the main treatment for skin conditions such as acne. High blood pressure, hemorrhoids, fatigue and chemical sensitivity can all be related to slow bowel function. Remember, bowel function (both constipation and diarrhea) may also tell us about our nervous system balance in addition to how well we are digesting and absorbing foods (see post #2 Mindful Eating).

Constipation can be due to more serious causes such as hormonal dysfunction, neurological dysfunction or impaction so make sure these causes are ruled out. Most people on a western diet suffer from mild constipation. Adequate fiber and fluid intake, as well as regular exercise, mindful eating, stress management and acupuncture can help to normalize bowels. When necessary, stool softeners and laxatives may also be used but remember, long term use of laxatives (including herbal laxatives) should only be used under the supervision of a doctor.

Photo courtesy of S. Duprey

3 Health Tips That Will Change Your Life, Number 2

#2 Eating Mindfully

To quote my neurology instructor “the gut is a slave to our nervous system.” The gut is controlled by the (parasympathetic) branch of the nervous system dominant when are body is at rest (during meditation, sleep, in the presence of pleasant company, etc.). During this relaxed state, the nervous system signals the stomach to release more acid and digestive enzymes to ensure foods are digested fully and efficiently. Also the coordinated movement of intestines to allow for nutrient absorption and maintain bowel regularity occurs during this relaxed state.

How’s my digestion?

Bloating, gas, acid reflux, excessive belching, bad breath, abdominal cramping, feeling of food “sitting in the stomach”, constipation, diarrhea, cravings, excessive changes in blood sugar, low energy are all signs of less-than-optimal digestive function.

So how do I improve my digestion?

The key is to get our bodies into that relaxed (parasympathetic) state. Create a pleasant eating environment that is relaxing (eating with family and friends, nice scenery or in a pleasant dining area, relaxing music, etc.). The process of preparing your food (exposure to aroma and visual presentation of food) also helps to stimulate your digestive processes to prepare for digestion. Avoid eating while working, reading, driving, ‘zoning out’ in front of the TV or engaging in any stress and anxiety producing tasks. Keeping your attention on the pleasure of eating will improve digestion greatly. Bitters, digestive enzymes, acupuncture and identifying food intolerances may also be helpful to get efficient digestion, effective nutrient absorption and eliminate unwanted symptoms.

3 Health Tips That Will Change Your Life

People often ask me what my top health tips are; these 3 topics come up frequently as  significant factors in a broad range of conditions from acid reflux and  acne to heart disease and chronic pain. Before turning to medications or surgery, make sure you’ve got these areas optimized!

#1 Quality Sleep

How many hours of sleep do you get? Do you wake rested?

Is sleep that important?

A recent European study showed those who sleep 6 hours or less have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD). Disease risk also increases with poor quality sleep (not waking rested). When both short sleep and poor sleep quality are combined there is even higher risk (65% higher risk for CVD and 85% higher risk for CHD).

How is my sleep?

Fatigue, difficulty with concentration, irritability, poor blood glucose control, changes in mood, decreased stress tolerance, chronic pain, poor memory, weakened immune function resulting in infections are all possible symptoms of inadequate rest.

To improve sleep:

Determine what your sleep obstacles are: Stress, poor blood sugar control, eating large meals before bed, alcohol, caffeine, sleeping pills, insufficient exercise during the day, exercising late in the evening, irregular sleep routine, watching TV late, etc. all prevent us from getting quality sleep.

Keep the bedroom a place of rest (instead of a place to work or study), support a regular sleep routine ideally heading to bed by 10pm. Acupuncture, stress management, nutrition counseling, exercise prescription, screening lab tests and other tools may be used to improve sleep quality, in turn, improving energy level and overall health.

Photo courtesy of J. Chahal