July 24, 2017

430 Lectins [24 July 2017]

Are you eating healthy foods and still can’t lose weight or have a few nagging little (or big) health problems? A recent book called “The Plant Paradox: the Hidden Dangers in Healthy Foods that Cause Disease and Weight Gain” by Steven R. Gundry, MD, might explain why.

The culprit, according to Gundry, is a group of proteins in plants called lectins. These lectins, of which glutens are the most well-known but not the worst, are the plants’ defense against being eaten. They are designed to attack the digestive tract of animals that eat them and make them sick so they will learn not to eat that plant again. The paradox in the title comes from the fact that lectins occur in many of the plant foods that we promote as being healthful for the nutrients they contain – vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and protein. Examples are legumes, nuts, grains, most fruits, nightshades, and squashes.

One of the effects of lectins is to create holes in the gut wall. The wall of our intestines is only one cell thick to facilitate nutrient absorption. These cells, called enterocytes, are bound together by “tight junctions”, separating the contents of the gut from the rest of the body. Lectins release a compound called zenulin which breaks the tight junction bonds, creating what is known as “leaky gut”. These holes allow the lectins, lipo-polysaccharides (tiny particles of bacteria) and partially digested proteins to enter the blood stream. This triggers a strong immune reaction which can lead to auto-immune disease as I have previously described.

Lectins also bind to a sugar called sialic acid in the gut, in joints, blood vessel walls, and between nerve endings, where they promote inflammation and disrupt cell communication (brain fog). Gundry believes that lectins are the root cause of almost all allergies, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and auto-immune diseases.

So what can we do to protect ourselves from lectins? First Gundry recommends removing all lectin containing foods for a month or more to give the gut a chance to heal (I have the list of foods to avoid and foods that are lectin-free). Then re-introduce the milder lectin foods one at a time. The lectins in beans and some other foods can be neutralized by cooking with a pressure cooker. The worst foods he recommends avoiding completely. Finally, Gundry formulated a lectin-blocking supplement to be taken with meals which binds the lectins before they can do damage.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

July 17, 2017

429 Confirmation Bias [17 July 2017]

One of the sources for my column last week about saturated fat safety was an article by Gary Staube with the strange title “Vegetable oils, (Francis) Bacon, Bing Crosby, and the American Heart Association”. The article raised an issue I wanted to follow up on – bias in science.

Francis Bacon first articulated the problem of bias in 1620, nearly 400 years ago:
The human understanding, once it has adopted opinions…draws everything else to support and agree with them. And though it may meet a greater number and weight of contrary instances, it will, with great and harmful prejudice, ignore or condemn or exclude them by introducing some distinction, in order that the authority of those earlier assumptions may remain intact and unharmed.

The Bing Crosby connection is the lyrics to his hit song “Accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative…” which is what we do when sifting information about an issue on which we have a position. It is what lawyers do when arguing for their client in court, but not what scientists should be doing in seeking the truth. And what, Staube argues, the American Heart Association did in selecting the studies to support their now outdated position on saturated fat and heart disease.

Elizabeth Kolbert in a February 2017 article in The New Yorker “Why facts don’t change our minds” describes modern psychological experiments which support what is called “confirmation bias”. We readily believe information that agrees with our thinking and disregard anything to the contrary, spotting weaknesses in our opponents’ arguments but not in our own. Furthermore even when we realize that what we thought is not true we are unable to effectively reverse our first impression.

A classic Peanuts cartoon strip illustrates this perfectly: Lucy and Linus see something on the sidewalk and Lucy says “Look a big yellow butterfly…they fly up from Brazil and they…” Linus interrupts to point out that it’s a potato chip not a butterfly. Lucy looks closer and then exclaims “So it is! I wonder how a potato chip got all the way up here from Brazil?”

Confirmation bias has polarized almost every issue in politics, religion, and health science (and many more). At least part of the solution is to recognize this bias – in ourselves as well as others – and critically examine both sides of issues.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

July 10, 2017

428 Is Coconut Oil Dangerous? [10 July 2017]

Did you see the headlines last month warning about the dangers of coconut oil? “Coconut oil health claims not all they’re cracked up to be” (CBC News) or “Coconut Oil is Unhealthy according to the AHA” (Huffington Post). These news articles are referring to a June 15, 2017, article in the journal Circulation titled “Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory from the American Heart Association”.

The twelve authors of the Advisory recommend replacing saturated fats – including coconut oil which they specifically warn against – with polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and claim that doing so would lower LDL cholesterol and reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 30%. They based this on what they called “…the totality of the scientific evidence, satisfying rigorous criteria…”

Unfortunately their “rigorous criteria” was fatally biased and their conclusions decades out of date and at odds with modern science. In a rebuttal published in Cardio Brief Gary Taubes explains why:
• They cherry-picked the studies, eliminating most for various reasons, and selected four, all of which supported the saturated fat CVD hypothesis. The problem is these four all date from the 1960s and have more serious flaws than the ones they eliminated.
• Among the eliminated studies are the largest trials ever done on the issue: the Sydney Heart Study, the Minnesota Coronary Survey and the Women’s Health Initiative, and several independent meta-analyses, all of which refute the saturated fat hypothesis of heart disease [see my posts #244, #259 & #261].
• The control diet of the early studies contained significantly higher trans fatty acids and sugar than did the unsaturated group, both of which are known to cause CVD and could account for the reduction in heart disease.
• Coconut oil was not part of any of the studies used and is mentioned only because of its saturated fat, but much of coconut’s saturated fatty acids are beneficial MCTs.
• Polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids, which the study recommends, promotes inflammation which is known to increase heart disease and overall mortality.

So the authors’ conclusions and recommendations are not only unscientific and misleading, but dangerous. It’s almost as if the Canadian Cancer Society warned us about the dangers of exercise and told us to take up smoking instead.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

July 3, 2017

427 Parasites – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly [3 July 2017]

Last week [#426] I introduced the idea that, like bacteria, some parasites could actually be beneficial to our health. This idea has been around since at least 1999 but this was the first I had heard of it.

Lest I give the impression that all parasites are beneficial, I hasten to add that most are bad news and the few beneficial ones are likely so only in low numbers. The species used in helminthic therapy mentioned last week are non-colonizing in humans, meaning they can’t take up residence and reproduce in our bodies.

Parasites vary in size from microscopic one-celled animals, called protozoa, to tapeworms which can grow to several meters in length. Malaria is the most deadly protozoan parasitic disease, killing about 1 million people worldwide each year. Other parasitic protozoa include Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Toxoplasma, and Trichomonas. Helminths include many species of tapeworms, roundworms and flukes. Other human parasites include microscopic worms, a tiny flea, and the larvae of certain flies.

The effects of parasites vary from mild discomfort, anemia and nutrient deficiencies, to blindness, organ failure and death. Not a very pretty picture!

I carry a few anti-parasitic products, typically containing extracts from wormwood (a variety of sage), clove buds, garlic, black walnut hulls, and a few others. With more serious parasitic infections see your medical doctor. There are two new anti-parasitic drugs: Avermectin, derived from a soil bacteria, that works on worms, and Artemisinin, derived from a species of sage, that treats malaria.

Like most problems, prevention is better than a cure. One good defense against parasites is to maintain a healthy gut biome as I have discussed over the last few months. Follow hygienic practices when handling raw meat. Thoroughly cook meat, especially pork and fish. Wash your hands after handling animals. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating. Avoid drinking untreated surface water. Be particularly vigilant when visiting tropical countries where parasites are more common.

But if you discover that your children have pinworms, don’t panic. Think, “Oh good, my kids have worms”. Then get rid of them (the worms not the kids).

Back to the title – a few parasites may be somewhat good, most are bad (some very bad), but in almost everyone’s eyes they are all ugly.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

June 26, 2017

426 Helminthic Therapy [26 June 2017]

We have come to understand and accept that the vast majority of bacteria and some yeast [see #387] living in and on our bodies are either benign (harmless) or actually beneficial (helpful) to our health. Chapter 5, “Old Friends, New Treatment: Helminthic Therapy in Autism” by Judith Chinitz, in “Bugs, Bowels, and Behavior” extends the range of beneficial microorganisms to include parasitic worms. Now that’s a stretch!

These Pickles cartoons (#1, #2) illustrate most people's perceptions of worms.

Helminths is the name for parasitic worms including whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms and pinworms. Our immune systems developed during a time when exposure to parasites was much greater than in today’s developed countries with our modern hygiene. The theory is that these parasites are necessary for the proper development of our immune systems.

The theory was first published in 1999 by Dr. Joel Weinstock who reported successfully treating patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) with eggs of a harmless parasitic worm, a whipworm that lives in pigs but not humans. Six patients with IBD were given the “helminth therapy”; five went into remission and the sixth improved dramatically.

Weinstock and other researchers have since discovered that when our immune system develops in the absence of helminths, the Type2 T helper cells (Th2) which normally control parasites instead begins to react to pollen and other allergens causing allergies, or begins to attack our own bodies causing auto-immune disease. The presence of helminths is also required for the normal development of the regulatory system which controls the Th1 and Th2 systems, preventing runaway inflammation.

As we have seen, inflammation is a significant part of the autism syndrome. To date no studies have been done on ASD with helminthic therapy but many desperate parents haven’t waited and persuaded their doctors to give it a try. Results have been very encouraging with reports of significantly improved gastrointestinal and behavioral symptoms.

This 2015 National Institutes of Health article gives a good overview of helminth therapy in the USA.

I won’t be too surprised if someday helminthic therapy will become an accepted treatment for inflammatory diseases, just like fecal transplants [#243] have for IBD.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

June 19, 2017

425 Autism and Gut Bacteria [19 June 2017]

Of all neurological conditions, autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as the family of related conditions is now called, has the strongest (and best studied) association with the gut microbiome. I’m reading a book called “Bugs, Bowels, and Behavior”, which despite its cute title is a collection of 15 fairly technical medical articles by various researchers published in 2013.

The findings they report show a strong correlation to digestive and particularly gut bacterial problems. Many of the articles propose that gut dysbiosis (unbalanced intestinal bacterial populations) is the root cause of the neurological and immunological symptoms observed in ASD. They report that children (and adults) with ASD are more likely to have:
• Gastrointestinal dysfunction (70%) – the severity of GI symptoms correlates with the severity of ASD symptoms
• Increased intestinal permeability – allowing poorly digested protein to enter the bloodstream where it triggers allergies and auto-immune reactions
• Deficiencies in disaccharide enzymes, especially lactase, in the duodenum – meaning they are unable to properly digest milk sugar and other carbohydrates
• Elevated bowel populations of Clostridia bacteria – a nasty family that includes C. difficile and the pathogens that cause tetanus and botulism; Vancomycin, an antibiotic effective in controlling Clostridia, temporarily improves ASD symptoms
• Very low levels of the antioxidant glutathione and its amino acid precursor cysteine, believed due to high populations of Desulfovibrio bacteria in the gut, resulting in high levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in neurons (nerve cells) throughout the body and brain, and making the children highly susceptible to mercury toxicity
• High levels of TNF-a, a marker for inflammation, in the blood, cerebrospinal fluid and brain tissue; a drug that blocks TNF-a reversed ASD symptoms

Furthermore, regressive autism frequently occurs following several rounds of antibiotics. Improvements in ASD symptoms have been noted in some cases using probiotics and fecal transplants [see #243]. A diet that supports healthy intestinal bacteria [see #424] would be critical to maintaining such improvements.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

June 12, 2017

424 Managing our Microbiome [12 June 2017]

Continuing the discussion of our gut microbiome, this week we’ll look at what we can do to improve it. Justin and Erica Sonnenburg devote a chapter of their 2015 book The Good Gut to this topic. They list 7 recommendations based on recent scientific research.

1. Get off to a good start. We start off sterile in our mother’s womb and get our first “inoculation” during the birth process (another reason to avoid unnecessary C-sections). Breast milk provides human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), the optimum food for the infant’s healthy bacteria – unmatched in formula and another reason why breast is best.

2. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics. I touched on this last week. The more antibiotics kids are on early in life, the sicker they will be the rest of their life. That said, sometimes they are a necessity. My throat infection turned out to be caused by an infected tooth. I’m now on round three of antibiotics – I’ll worry about my colon bacteria later.

3. Play in the dirt. Kids that live on a farm, or have pets, or play in the (pesticide-free) garden, have a more diverse gut flora and are healthier.

4. Feed your microbes. Eat a wide variety of high fiber fruits and vegetables like whole grains, legumes and tubers. If this is a big change in your diet, you may want to introduce them gradually to avoid flatulence.

5. Limit saturated fat. Pathogens which cause inflammation (the “bad guys”) thrive on saturated animal fats while the good guys prefer plant based mono-unsaturated fats like olive oil and avocados.

6. Consume beneficial microbes. Fermented dairy foods like yogurt and kefir are great provided they are unpasteurized and unsweetened. Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and some pickles are another source of beneficial microbes. Back in July 2015 [#326] I wrote about making your own fermented vegetables.

7. Use probiotic supplements. These contain large quantities of known beneficial varieties. We have a variety of probiotics in our store with strengths up to 100 billion. I’m using S. boulardii this week which is not affected by antibiotics [see #387, Sept 2016 ].

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.