What gut bacteria can teach us about cancer treatment

At one time, the role of gut bacteria in human health was marginalized as a side note that health experts found interesting but not integral. But as more and more research has made clear, the number and diversity of bacteria in the gut can often make the difference between health and disease. Two new studies have found that gut bacteria can also determine the effectiveness of the treatments that are used to fight cancer, forcing doctors to take a closer look at the lessons they can learn from this once overlooked aspect of human health.

In one experiment, researchers at the University of Lille in France looked at ipilimumab — a cancer drug used to treat advanced melanoma — and found that not only did the medication affect the amount of bacteria that was in the gut, but its own effectiveness went hand-in-hand with the level of bacteria trial participants had in their intestines. So the very drug that needed gut bacteria in order to work was the thing that was destroying participants’ gut bacteria levels. Researchers found that when they gave participants supplemental levels of bacteria along with ipilimumab, they responded better to treatment.

A second study — conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago — confirmed the importance of gut bacteria in cancer treatment. For this study, researchers looked at the growth of tumors in two sets of animal subjects and compared that to the profile of bacteria in their intestines. Researchers found that mice who had the bacteria Bifidobacteria in their guts had slower tumor growth than those who did not. When the team transplanted this bacteria into the intestines of the mice that did not have it, they too experienced slowed tumor growth. And this was without any additional drug or treatment.

The takeaway from these two studies is that gut bacteria is very important in the treatment of disease. Of course, both of these studies were conducted on mice, so more work needs to be done to further define the role of gut bacteria in human health. But even at this stage of the game, many health experts are recommending that health care providers evaluate gut bacteria for their patients before beginning any type of treatment and replenish bacteria as necessary to improve the effectiveness of treatment.

credit: jenn Savegde

8 probiotics that are not in yogurt.

When we think of probiotics, which work to restore the body’s microbial balance, we usually think about yogurt.

Truth is, there plenty of other foods you can eat to stay healthy.

“Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria that we all contain in our digestive tract, and prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics, helping them to grow,” says Dr. Roshini Raj, a gastroenterologist in New York City. “Probiotics and prebiotics help maintain a healthy digestive system by controlling the growth of harmful bacteria and aiding in digestion. Thanks to their ability to reduce the harmful bacteria, probiotics and prebiotics can prevent infections in the digestive tract and reduce inflammation.”
So what should we add to our diets to keep our guts healthy? There are a number of fermented foods (dairy and non-dairy) that provide probiotics as well as prebiotics. Let’s start with the top probiotic foods:

Kombucha is an ancient Chinese drink made of sweetened tea that’s been fermented using a colony of bacteria and yeast. It’s said to help prevent arthritis and other diseases.
Kefir is a dairy-based yogurt-like drink that has its origins in the mountainous Caucasus region of Russia. Millennia ago, pastoralists discovered the process of fermentation and the practice spread widely throughout the Mediterranean as a way to preserve grapes and dairy products beyond the growing season.

Sauerkraut is a finely diced sour cabbage dish that has been fermented by a wide variety of bacteria.
Kimchi is a Korean dish that’s a spicy, pickled or fermented blend of cabbage, onions and sometimes fish. It can be seasoned with garlic, horseradish, red peppers and ginger.
Miso soup originated in Japan and is typically made from fermented soybeans. It can contain up to 160 bacteria strains.

Kvass is a traditional Eastern European fermented beverage that’s made using black or regular rye bread. It’s often flavored with strawberries or mint.
Tempeh is made by fermenting cooked soybeans with a mold. It tends to be firm and chewy and has a slightly earthy taste.

Aged cheeses are generally cheeses that have been cured for longer than six months. These cheeses tend to have a full, sharper flavor.
These foods tend to be more popular outside the United States, but the trend has caught on in a big way, says Madeline Given, a certified holistic nutritionist in Santa Barbara, California.

“You can also add cultured dairy, such as creme fraiche or even raw and cultured sour creams and butters,” Given says. “All are a great source of this good bacteria.”

In addition to probiotic foods are prebiotic foods, which include whole grains, asparagus, leeks, onions, garlic, soybeans, dandelion root or Jerusalem artichoke, Raj adds.

What about supplements?

“Both diet and supplements are a good way to increase your daily intake of probiotics and prebiotics,” Raj says. “However, if you want to add a supplement, it’s always best to check with your doctor regarding the dosage and brands she recommends.”

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has a useful resource file on probiotic supplements that explains the pros, cons and unknowns.

A host of other benefits

And there are more reasons than your gut to reach for probiotic foods.

“Truly, a variety of differing good bacteria in the gut is great for one’s immunity,” says Susan Schenck, a licensed acupuncturist and author of “The Live Food Factor: The Comprehensive Guide to the Ultimate Diet for Body, Mind, Spirit & Planet.”

They’re good for your brain, too.

“After all, 90 percent of the ‘feel-good’ serotonin originates in our gut,” Schenck says.

In fact, we have 100 billion brain cells in our gut, says Lori Shemek, Ph.D., a fat cell researcher. “This is why our gut is considered our ‘second brain,'” she says. “Our weight is directly linked to specific types of gut bacteria.”

To get what you need, consider eating at least one prebiotic- or probiotic-containing food daily. “It doesn’t take much,” Shemek says. “Just one tablespoon of sauerkraut every day is all that is needed. Also, it only takes a couple of days to change gut health from unhealthy to healthy. Additionally, I recommend one daily probiotic, 15 billion and multi-strained.”

Credit: Lambeth Hochwald

Manipulating gut bacteria may cure disease, study shows

Researchers fed volunteers extreme diets of meat and cheese followed by extreme diets of grains and vegetables and found gut bacteria changed greatly according to diet.
I started paying attention to information about gut bacteria after my friend Amanda started educating me about fermenting food. She introduced me to the fact that science is increasingly linking many food-related ailments to our gut bacteria. I’m still learning about it, and I found the results of a recent study interesting.

The scientific study by Harvard University scientists put volunteers on extreme diets to see if consumption of certain foods can significantly alter gut bacteria in a short period of time.

A group of nine volunteers were first put on an extreme diet of meat, eggs and cheese for five days. After a break, the same volunteers were then put on an all plant-based diet of legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables.

During both time periods, the change in gut bacteria was evident after three days. When the gut bacteria of the volunteers during the animal-product only diet was tested, their guts began to make “microbes that ‘love bile’ — the Bilophila.” It’s believed that Bilophila promotes inflammation in the stomach. When the volunteers ate the plant-only diet, there was not an increase in Bilophila.

Of course, the meat diet was extreme, and for many people, the plant-based only diet was extreme also. Most of us, except for vegans, eat a combination of plant and animal products. If so, why should we be interested in the results of this study?

The results are interesting, and I’d also say they’re important, because as study contributor Dr. Lawrence David noted, “Our study is a proof of concept that you can modify the microbiome through diet.” It’s an initial step in figuring out how to treat intestinal diseases with diet.

The researchers admit they are a long way off from being able to “manipulate the community” of bacteria in a person’s stomach to actually treat disease, but it’s a step in the right direction. That’s why the study is important. When the scientific community is working to discover how changing what we eat can treat diseases, instead of just creating drugs that will manage the diseases that our diets may create, it’s important.

Source: Robin Shreeves

6 time tested way to revitalize your metabolism

We may be able to live without food for three weeks, water for three days and air for three minutes. These are our most basic needs. But to thrive, we also need love, fulfilling relationships and harmony with nature, according to Suhas Kshirsagar in his new book “The Hot Belly Diet.” The quality of those experiences — from breakfast to the bedroom to the wild blue yonder — affects the quality of our health and ultimately of our lives.

Whether we want to lose weight, gain energy, heal from a chronic disease or simply find more meaning, the Hot Belly diet gives a simple yet uncommon prescription from India’s 5,000-year-old holistic medicine of Ayurveda. As a classically trained Ayurvedic doctor, Kshirsagar sees patients with everything from autoimmune conditions and heart disease to obesity and fatigue that all share a common denominator: a weak “digestive fire,” or metabolism. To stoke that fire in the belly, Kshirsagar says it starts, not surprisingly with our gut.

The gut stops here

You’ve probably had gut instincts about something or gut feelings about someone that proved spot-on. The only evidence you had were butterflies in your stomach or a burning desire to take action. Ayurveda looks at the digestive system as a second brain, and new science backs it up.

The Hot Belly diet explains that nerves in our gut actually process information and generate responses just like our gray matter. Research shows our gut can act separately from our brain to independently control our functions! Pretty wild, huh?

Not to Ayurveda, which has long viewed digestion as the cornerstone of health. Kshirsagar says a whopping 70 percent of our immune system lies in the gastrointestinal tract. Whether you want to lose weight or improve immunity, you need to befriend your digestive system. Nutrients from that butternut squash and spinach curry you ate for dinner (see recipe in “The Hot Belly Diet”) feed all your tissues, from arteries to adrenal glands. If digestion is impaired, toxins build up in the organs and over time, cause disease.

Here’s some surprisingly simple gut-nourishing strategies:

Ditch the ice. Just say no to cold, carbonated drinks. Instead of a frosty glass of H20 with dinner, drink it room temperature or warm instead. (I ask food servers all the time and they never flinch.) Cold water extinguishes digestive enzymes just when you need them to break down that Caesar salad. (Raw vegetables require more digestive power than cooked ones.)
Better yet, drink warm water throughout the day to stoke your metabolism, increase the absorption of food (think less bloating, gas and belching), lose weight and dispel toxins. When possible, boil water for 10 minutes before drinking to purify and energize it. We are made of about 70 percent water after all, and interestingly, more than 70 percent of the earth is covered in water, NASA says.
Make a medicinal beverage by adding a slice of alkalizing lemon, warming ginger or herbal tea to hot water. The Hot Belly diet also suggests spicing it up with cinnamon, mint, thyme or turmeric.
Add digestion-enhancing spices to your meals, such as fresh ginger, cumin, black pepper, turmeric, and fenugreek.
woman at farmers market surrounded by vegetables
Try to shop at farmers markets or natural food stores.

It’s about the prana

You may have seen the Sanskrit word prana written on yoga T-shirts. It translates into energy or life force. We extract energy from food. It stands to reason that freshly harvested, whole foods carry more nutrients than processed flours, sugars and fats manufactured in a factory or pesticide-treated produce shipped thousands of miles from the seed to your spoon.

According to the Hot Belly diet, one out of two Americans eats fast food every day. One out of four people drink at least one sugary soda. Is it no wonder more than two-thirds of adults are overweight in the U.S.? Those rates have tripled since 1980, and we’re foisting unhealthy habits on our youngest citizens. One out of every three American children is overweight.

We know now that lifestyle causes up to 80 percent of all illness, according to Kshirsagar. The glass-half-full part: Diet, exercise and stress management can prevent, or even reverse, four-fifths of chronic disease. Empowering, right? Ayurveda goes beyond the typical “eat your veggies” prescription to say what goes into your mouth is only as nutritious as the prana it contains.

The Hot Belly diet fix: Eat super foods made in and by nature. If you can, shop at farmers markets or natural food stores where groceries are organic and non-GMO. Favor seasonal vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, sprouts and lean proteins. Avoid simple starches including flour and white sugar, as well as alcohol, red meat and leftovers. “The wisdom we’re talking about lies in eating foods that are fresh, alive and vibrant,” Kshirsagar says.

Feed your genes

If you climb on a surfboard and do nothing, you’ll soon be under water. Kshirsagar likens this to the dynamism of our body. Our molecules literally respond to the quality of our environment. As we surf life, it’s up to us to ride waves of food, water, air, thoughts, livelihood, people and purposes that are nourishing. It just feels better. And, it actually changes the expression of our genes. Seriously.

Ancient Ayurveda and modern epigenetics reach the same conclusion: genes are not fixed. The Hot Belly diet says just 10 percent of diseases are genetic.

“The old rule was your genes are mechanistic,” Kshirsagar explained by phone. “Once you inherit those from your parents, you can’t change those. Now we understand you can turn your genes on and off. You can actually change your brain structure.”

Imagine the body as an energy and information field with particles integrating and disintegrating in every moment. Take exercise. New science proves that physical activity literally reverses the aging process by altering how genes act. In 2008, Canadian researchers who put seniors on a six-month strength training protocol found the sexagenarians’ strength shot up 50 percent. Not too shocking. What did surprise the scientific community: Seniors showed changes at the genetic level comparable to their 20-something counterparts.

We’re wired to move. The Hot Belly diet recommends doing something active every day. A walk after lunch or dinner works wonders for digestion. Not only does movement improve circulation, release happy-feeling endorphins and turn on good genes, you may feel better in your blue jeans.

Rise, set and dine with the sun

Since we Homo sapiens migrated indoors, we often overlook that teaming ball of fire that powers our solar system. Like all life, we’re inextricably tied to the sun, which regulates when biochemicals, acids, hormones and other substances are released in our body. Our digestive fire runs hottest at high noon, for instance. Why? The sun is literally highest in the sky and in Ayurveda we have the same element of fire within us — along with water, earth, space and air.

“I see so many patients in my practice that eat whenever they want, they sleep whenever they want, they have sex whenever they want. They are totally violating all the rhythms of nature,” Kshirsagar says. “When they are sick they would like to find a natural cure for their unnatural living. Ayurveda is a true natural medicine. It talks about respecting food, air and water that is given to us free by mother nature.”

Recent studies indeed show when people consume most of their calories midday, they lose weight compared to people who eat the same number of calories later in the day, according to the Hot Belly diet. If you want to improve your metabolism, make lunch your primary main meal and eat a light supper. I experimented with this protocol when writing about Ayurveda’s ideal daily routine and lost 12 pounds in a few months, even though that wasn’t my intention. (I feel so much better skipping a heavy dinner that I’ve continued this regimen and haven’t regained the weight.)

Here’s the Hot Belly diet meal plan to maximize your digestive fire, shed pounds and just plain feel better:

Eat breakfast between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Indulge in lunch as your heartiest meal from noon to 1 p.m. If your diet includes harder-to-digest foods such as meat, dairy, nuts and raw vegetables, you can best metabolize them midday. Only eat until you’re about two-thirds full, leaving space for your stomach to digest all that food!
Dine lightly for supper before 7 p.m. on soups, cooked vegetables, grains and other vegetarian fare.
Midnight munchies sit partly undigested in your GI tract, packing on pounds instead of infusing you with prana. If you wake up feeling groggy, eat dinner earlier, skip seconds and notice if you feel better the next morning. Ayurveda calls sleep the “diet of the mind.”
In “The Hot Belly Diet,” Kshirsagar explains the body metabolizes waste and revitalizes our immune system primarily between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. If we’re awake during those hours we lose vital functions that don’t happen any other time. No wonder studies show poor sleep habits contribute to brain fog, memory loss, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression, according to the Hot Belly diet.

Let us eat while we eat and fast while we fast

Wolfing down a burrito at your desk, binging on leftovers and Showtime or snacking while surfing Instagram — sound familiar? What about grazing throughout the day while doing just about anything? In a food and media-saturated land, we tend to treat eating as a robotic nuisance, forgetting what we put into our mouths gives us the fuel to live and literally becomes our bodies. Staring at an electronic screen while eating may be the social norm, but there are downsides. The obvious one: We miss our body’s fullness cues and eat more. Distracted eating also compromises our digestion since we’re not taking the time to chew properly, the first step in breaking down food. And Ayurveda contends we can only digest so much at once — whether that’s food, drink or information.

Hot Belly Diet Author, Suhas KshirsagarHere’s a simple fix that may take practice for us multi-tasking moguls: Take small bites, savor the smells and flavors of your meal, notice how it feels in your mouth. Try eating with your left, or less dominant, hand to slow you down. Before eating, Kshirsagar also suggests looking down at your plate and asking, “Do I think this is good for me to eat at this time?”

Then, when you’re sated, stop eating. That’s right, don’t eat again until your next meal. “Of all the lessons I teach, one of the most important one goes against conventional dieting wisdom that says ‘you should never wait until you’re hungry to eat,’” Kshirsagar says. “This is perhaps one of the most harmful pieces of advice out there in diet circles. Hunger is a vital marker of health.”

He says appetite means digestive acids and enzymes are building. If you snack between meals, especially when you’re not hungry, you sap your metabolism, storing excess fuel as fat and toxins. Remember, our DNA is still wired from our ancestors who, by necessity, went long stretches without food while hunting and gathering. We may fly by a drive-through for a double cheeseburger, supersize French fries and 32-ounce soda, but our biology is designed to work up an appetite before feasting on something as labor-intensive as meat.

Sure enough, the New York Academy of Sciences published a study in 2002 stating that grazing all day can put one at risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, according to the Hot Belly diet. NBC News reported on a 2013 study showing diabetics who ate only a large breakfast and lunch lost more weight than those who consumed six mini meals with the same number of calories. Kshirsagar says we’re made to relish well-deserved meals when we’re truly hungry. Ayurveda’s takeaway is to find pleasure in food when you do eat, offering thanks for this bounty with your attention.

Scenery, silence and sex

Lest you think Ayurveda is about deprivation, Kshirsagar advocates cultivating a healthy sex life. “Just as we need water, food, and oxygen to live, so do we need to practice one of the greatest creative forces through which we can express and share our love,” he writes in “The Hot Belly Diet.” Not only can lovemaking be a potent source of pleasure and intimate bonding with our partner, science shows that sexual appetite and performance is indicative of overall health and longevity.

As you’re probably gathering, Ayurveda advocates that our well-being rests on the health of our relationships with ourselves, others and the greater world around us. Nature can be a portal into our place in a grander picture. With lives that are electronically connected 24/7, Kshirsagar believes it’s even more essential to disconnect from that flat stream and experience the living sensations of the natural world.

Walk, hike, swim or cycle in the fresh air. Explore local parks. Feel your feet sink into the grass, sand or dirt. Move your chair to a skyward window. Bathe in the metamorphosis of dawn and dusk. Stargaze on a clear night. Whether in nature or somewhere private, find a few minutes for quiet self-reflection every day. Ask how your body feels. And your heart.

“Slowing down aligns you with what’s happening around you in the universe,” Kshirsagar says. “I always like to say to my patients for fast acting relief, try slowing down. When you find times of quietude and silence, this is the language nature speaks. You’re able to turn into that language which is very nourishing.” Ayurveda speaks of immortality, not that the body is immortal. Rather that there is a part of our self that is never born and never dies.

Credit: Rebecca Tolin