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Antibiotics and gut microbiotica (flora)

Good health begins with balance in the body, particularly in the digestive system. 

Inside our bodies there are twenty times more bacteria than living cells, and maintaining the correct balance of beneficial bacteria versus harmful bacteria is a crucial part of supporting long-term health and vitality. In fact we are one cell human ten cells other microbes. These microbes  have evolved with us since we emerged from the primordial soup. They are commensurate we cannot live without them and they without us . The trouble is the 21st century environment has not been kind to them . The ‘hygiene hypothesis’and lack of ‘ old friends’

Having the right kinds of bacteria (so-called “friendly bacteria”), in sufficient quantities, is essential for everything from healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, to immunity, allergy , anxiety depression the brain gut axis ,skin health  and defence against infections.

What can disrupt gut flora – microbiotica 

The delicate balance of healthy gut flora can be disrupted by a range of circumstances, including excess alcohol, a diet high in sugar, poor digestion, stress, exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants. For the purposes of this article, we will look in more detail at one of the most common causes of bowel microbiotica imbalance – the long-term or frequent use of antibiotics.

How do antibiotics affect the digestive tract?

In this modern age, antibiotics are arguably prescribed and used far more than they should be. As a result, antibiotic resistance – a type of drug resistance where a microorganism is able to survive exposure to an antibiotic – is unfortunately now a fairly common phenomena. It is not just antibiotics we take but they are  also in the food chain. In America almost 70 % of antibiotics are given to animals not to prevent infection but for weight gain!

What’s more, one of the most notable effects of antibiotics is their adverse impact on the digestive system and the balance of gut microbiotica – they can  indiscriminately destroy both good and bad bacteria in the body. They work by either killing bacteria or by preventing bacteria from growing – great in terms of bad bacteria, but bad news in terms of healthful bacteria. 

This is somewhat ironic, when you consider that people are taking antibiotics in the first place because they are ill, but their medicine is destroying one of the body’s primary lines of natural defence.

In fact, the most important part of the immune system resides in the gut, where Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (special antibody-producing cells) works hard to prevent unwanted micro-organisms (such as bacteria and viruses) from entering the body.  

Of course, antibiotics have their role to play and are  certainly highly effective in resolving bacterial infections. Major surgery ie hip replacement would not as safe without them . However, it is important to use them sensibly, in moderation and to support your levels of beneficial bacteria both during and after a course.

Too many bad bugs!

If your levels of good bacteria fall, you provide opportunistic ‘nasties’ (like bacteria, parasites and yeasts) with an excellent environment in which to thrive and spread.

An overgrowth of harmful gut flora (called dysbiosis), for example, increases gut toxicity and can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms and conditions, including:

– bloating

– constipation

– diarrhoea

– abdominal pains after eating

– wind

– Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

– Leaky Gut Syndrome

– and Candida overgrowth.

This is one of the reasons why antibiotic programmes often result in thrush (a fungal infection caused by Candida overgrowth). 

How to support the good guys!  

Research has shown that the damage done to the digestive tract by antibiotics can last far longer than was previously thought. 

Stanford University researchers in America analysed the levels of friendly bacteria in 3 healthy adult women both before and after each of two cycles on the antibiotic Cipro. Following the first cycle, they found that the drug had altered the population of the  friendly gut bacteria significantly, perhaps even permanently. Following the second cycle, six months later, they discovered that the effect was exponentially greater.

As such, antibiotics should never be used as a regular quick fix for minor ailments and, wherever possible, long courses should be avoided. Where a course of antibiotics is unavoidable, you can support your levels of friendly bacteria through diet and probiotic supplements.

For instance, many cultures have observed the health-supporting effects of fermented foods (often referred to as “probiotic foods”) and so include them as a regular part of their diet. These foods include kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tofu and tempeh to name just a few. Including these foods in your diet on a daily basis is a good way to promote healthy intestinal flora.

However, it is worth noting that most of these foods do not contain strains of bacteria that can actually colonise the digestive tract. Instead, they do good work for a week or two and then pass through. 

Supplementing with strains of good bacteria that can colonise the digestive tract (such as L. acidophilus, L rhamnosus- this strain is now being used in some infant formula for children suffering from cows milk protein allergy, L . salivarius, B. infantis, B. bifidum, B. brevis and B. longum) is arguably a more effective and powerful means of supporting healthy levels of gut flora for the long term.

The Devon Allergy Clinics Probiotics have the same formula- but not strength as VSL3 a Probiotic prescribed by the NHS. The sale of probiotics at this time is unregulated so it is important to buy one with correct strains. I equate them to vitamins. We know they are vital for health but that Vit. C is good for skin, D for bones, A for sight. Know we are understanding that taking the correct strains of probiotics is equally important.


Acai berries

Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) berries have become incredibly popular in the form of dietary supplements over the past few years, both in capsule and powder form. This is in no small part due to the significant media attention they have received, since being more widely recognised in the Western world as a “superfruit“. In other words, a fruit with an exceptionally high nutrient-to-calorie ratio compared to other fruits of a similar kind. For example, in terms of antioxidant, essential fatty acid, vitamin or mineral content. Although having only just recently entered the wider public consciousness in the West, South Americans native to the Amazon have been enjoying the nutritional benefits of these tasty berries for many years. In fact, they are considered to be an essential food source for three traditional Caboclo populations in the Brazilian Amazon, because they make up a major component of their diet – up to 42% of their total food intake by weight! A fact which reflects their incredibly high nutrient content. Found only in swampy areas of the Amazon rainforest (Central and South America), acai berries are pretty exotic – which explains why they haven’t ever popped up on the shelves of our supermarkets! They are small and round (approximately 25mm in size) and grow on large palm trees called açaí palms, which can reach over 80 feet in height. The berries grow in bunches (similar to bananas) and an average açaí palm tree can yield between 3 to 8 bunches of berries. Once ripe, acai berries bear a strong resemblance to grapes and blueberries, except that they are not quite as pulpy. They contain a large, inedible seed, which constitutes as much as 90% of the entire fruit! Although hard to find in their natural whole food form, everyone can now access the nutritional benefits of these berries on a daily basis through the convenience of health supplements, which will often incorporate both acai berry powder and concentrated extract. But why might you want to incorporate acai berry nutrients into your daily diet? – Immune system support: A big clue to their high nutrient content is given away by the deep blue / purple colour of acai berries. Like most other brightly coloured natural foods, they contain healthy pigments, which support immunity, health and vitality. For example, flavonoids and potent antioxidants (such as anthocyanins). They are also a rich source of Omega 6 and Omega 9 fatty acids (good fats). – Heart health support: As well as containing high levels of anthocyanins, research has also shown that acai berries are rich in phytosterols which may provide cardio-protective support for our cells. – Energy support: Acai berries contain high levels of plant protein. Combined with their high levels of antioxidants and other nutrients, they can offer ideal support for high energy levels, stamina and general vitality. – Weight management support: When trying to shape up, you are obviously looking to decrease your intake of high-calorie unhealthy foods, in favour of nutrient-packed foods that are naturally low in calories. Not only will this encourage a healthy weight, it will also help to ensure that your general health remains strong during any periods of slimming and reduced food choice. In this way, acai berries can provide ideal weight management support. So now you know why acai berries have been causing a stir in the natural health world! And these are just some of their nutritional benefits. Plus, if you favour an organic lifestyle or are trying to detox, it is worth bearing in mind that acai berries are wild harvested, as opposed to farmed. This means that they aren’t exposed to harmful pesticides and fertilisers. They offer great all-round healthy living support – why not try them for yourself!

 


What’s in my food?

In this modern age of processed foods and the widespread use of artificial chemicals to enhance everything from taste and appearance to shelf life, you can no longer take it for granted that you know what is in your food just by looking at it.

Food these days is not simple – do you really know what you are eating?

Food additives

A good example of “hidden” ingredients are food additives. Almost everyone has heard of them, but how many of us actually take the time to find out what they are, which ones appear in our food and how they might affect our health?

Well, the answer to that is actually more and more of us – particularly as the health benefits of natural living (and, more specifically, an organic diet) become better understood.

As a result, health-conscious individuals who are seeking to minimise their daily exposure to toxins and pollutants take the trouble to educate themselves about the different types of food additives out there (including their supposed risks and benefits). Over the years, there has been quite a bit of controversy about these chemicals – below are some of the “need to know” basics.

The basics

As the name implies, food additives are substances that manufacturers add to foods for any number of reasons (usually to increase profits). For example, to preserve flavour, keep the food fresher for longer and to enhance taste, texture and appearance.

However, not all food additives are bad, despite the negative connotations with the phrase. Some are actually natural compounds – for example, vinegar used for pickling and salt used to preserve meat. These additives have been used for centuries and are natural methods. Similarly, there is a common misconception that processed foods automatically contain food additives, but this is not always the case. For example, long-life milk is processed, yet it doesn’t actually require added chemicals to prolong its shelf life.

Unfortunately, the vast majority now used are synthetic or man-made and have, to a large extent, come about as a result of the increasing time constraints of modern living and the changing palates of modern consumers. For instance, the average person is looking for a snack that is either highly salted or sweetened. Similarly, in this age of competitive advertising and saturated food markets, the brighter, highly coloured food items are normally the ones that get picked. Food needs to be fun to eat, nice to look at and tasty.

The nature of the modern diet and lifestyle has resulted in fewer and fewer home-grown and natural whole foods, and an increase in the number and type of processed / refined foods. In turn, this has led to an increase in the number of additives used in foods – both natural and synthetic. It is therefore important to inform yourself about them, to help ensure the health and vitality of you and your family.

If you are unsure whether or not a product contains additives, check the label. If there are ingredients that sound like a chemistry experiment, they are probably best avoided! It is also important to note that some listed ingredients may contain food additives themselves, without those necessarily being specified. For example, a product may contain margarine, which in turn contains additives, but only “margarine” will be listed as an ingredient on the label.

It is good practice to familiarise yourself with some of the more common food additive names, ready to identify them when out and about shopping. Below we will take a look at some of the most notorious additives – E-numbers.

E-numbers – friend or foe?

E-numbers get a lot of media attention but, once again, the reality is a little different to what is often portrayed. The phrase itself conjures up images of food nasties, but are they really as bad as we are led to believe? Well firstly, let’s look at what they are.

After an additive has been tested and approved for use in foods in Europe, it is given a classification known as an e-number (a number with an E prefix, e.g. E100), for the purposes of regulation and to inform consumers. In other words, it is simply a systematic way of identifying different food additives. Countries outside Europe use only the number (no ‘E’), whether the additive is approved in Europe or not.

The important (and perhaps surprising) point to bear in mind, is that even natural additives will be labelled with an E prefix – so don’t automatically discount a food which otherwise looks healthy. Knowledge is power, so know your E-numbers!

Are food additives safe?

This is a controversial question and one that has not been answered satisfactorily as yet. However, common sense dictates that filling our bodies with synthetic chemicals cannot be as healthy as eating a diet rich in natural whole foods and may even be detrimental to health, for instance by adding to our toxic load.

But since the second half of the 20th century, there has been a significant increase in the use of food additives of varying levels of safety and for the reasons described above. This has necessarily led to the introduction of a wide range of laws worldwide, regulating their use.

The long-term effects on the body of regularly consuming a combination of different food additives are, unfortunately, currently unknown – hence the need for regulation. This is largely due to the fact that most additives are tested in isolation, rather than in combination with other additives. However, what is clear is that some people are sensitive to them and suffer reactions as a result of their consumption. These reactions include: –

  • headaches – skin irritations (itching, rashes, hives etc)
  • digestive disorders (including diarrhoea and abdominal pains)
  • respiratory problems (like asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis)
  • allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock
  • behavioural changes (such as mood changes, anxiety and hyperactivity).

Research undertaken in 2007 by Britain’s Food Standards Agency and later published by the British medical journal, The Lancet, provided evidence that a mix of additives commonly found in children’s foods serves to increase the mean level of hyperactivity. Similarly, in 2008, AAP Grand Rounds (the American Academy of Pediatrics) published a study that concluded that a low-additive diet is a valid intervention for children with ADHD.

Bearing all this in mind, it is important to remember that all foods are made up of chemicals, many of which are not always safer than those found in food additives. For example, people with food allergies and intolerances are also often sensitive to chemicals found naturally in certain foods, such as dairy, nuts or shellfish. However, it is always a good rule of thumb to opt for natural ingredients over synthetic ones and to adopt an organic lifestyle wherever possible.

Additives to watch out for!

Some of the additives most likely to cause reactions include:

  • Flavour enhancers: A well-known example is monosodium glutamate (MSG E621). They are commonly found in crisps, instant noodles and microwave and takeaway foods.
  • Aspartame: This is an artificial sweetener, which is made of phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol (a type of alcohol). When broken down in the body, methanol forms formaldehyde, formic acid (found in the venom of ants and bees) and diketopiperazine – all quite nasty substances! Aspartame is found in diet drinks, yoghurts and sugar-free items (like chewing gum).
  • Sulphites: This group of additives is often found in dried fruit, desiccated coconut, cordial and wine. They have been known to trigger asthma attacks in sensitive individuals.
  • Propionates: This type of additive can occur naturally in foods (e.g. certain types of cheese). They are also common in bread. The effects are dose-related and may range from migraines, bed-wetting, nasal congestion and racing heart to memory loss, eczema and stomach ache.
  • Antioxidants: Don’t get confused with the naturally-occurring antioxidants found in whole foods like fruit and vegetables and which are widely used to support good health and immunity. Antioxidants in the context of food additives refer to those that are synthetic chemicals which are added to food, and may therefore have a harmful effect on the body. Examples include Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which are added to prevent fat spoilage. They are commonly found in margarine, biscuits, crisps and muesli bars. They have been linked to health conditions such as insomnia, tiredness, asthma and even learning difficulties.
  • Colours: The most common offenders in this category of additives are tartrazine (E102) and annatto (E160b). Synthetic colourings have been linked to allergic reactions, as well as learning and behavioural problems in children.

Categories of additives

Preservatives, colourings and flavourings are some of the best known additives. However, there are actually a number of other categories, each of which is tailored to a specific purpose. These include:

  • acids
  • acidity regulators
  • anti-caking agents
  • antifoaming agents
  • antioxidants
  • bulking agents
  • colour retention agents
  • emulsifiers
  • flavours
  • flavour enhancers
  • flour treatment agents
  • glazing agents
  • humectants
  • tracer gas
  • stabilizers
  • sweeteners
  • and thickeners

In fact, there are currently over 3000 additives used in food across the world, most of which are synthetic!


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