Jan
02
2017

Gut Bacteria Can Protect Your Brain

The neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter gave a keynote address where he pointed out that gut bacteria can protect your brain. The topic of his actual talk was “Rewrite your brain’s destiny” and the venue was the 24th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine (Dec. 9-11, 2016) in Las Vegas. Many of the talks centered around the gut microbiome. In this talk Dr. Perlmutter stressed the fact that the right mix of gut bacteria will protect your brain, while the wrong mix can make you sick. There were many slides, but too much information to mention all of details of the talk here. I will summarize the broad outline of Dr. Perlmutter’s presentation and emphasize the practical implications this has for everyday life to prevent degenerative brain diseases.

A few facts

  1. Did you know that the brain uses 25% of the body’s energy, but has only a 3% of the body’s weight?
  2. The gut flora has trillions of gut bacteria with its own DNA material. 99% of the DNA material in our body comes from the gut bacteria and the bacteria on our skin surface; only 1% of the entire DNA in the body is your own DNA. We are eating for 100 trillion bacteria, but if they are good bacteria they provide us with important vitamins and they produce molecules that stimulate our immune system.
  3. This means we better have bacteria in our guts that are friendly, not the bad bacteria that can cause us problems. An Italian study determined the gut flora of children in central Africa (Burkina Faso) and compared the gut flora to children from developed countries in Europe. There was a significant difference with the African children having a healthy microbiome in the gut and the children from developed Europe having unhealthy gut bacteria. This is important new information. Many other research papers have established that leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune diseases are linked to dysbiosis, which is the name for the unhealthy microbiome in the gut.

Chronic inflammation

Dr. Perlmutter showed several slides where literature was cited showing that chronic inflammation in the civilized world is increasing. He also showed that dysbiosis (unhealthy gut bacteria taking over) is also increasing. On several slides Dr. Perlmutter showed that in civilized countries like Iceland, Denmark, Germany, the US, Japan and others the bacterial diversity of the gut bacteria in people was vastly reduced compared to the diversity of gut bacteria of people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria or rural India. The same countries that have diminished gut bacterial diversity (dysbiosis) also have the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand the same countries with diverse gut bacteria have a low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. When infestation with parasites was examined there was also a parallel between increased parasitic stress and low Alzheimer’s disease rates, again in countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria or rural India. The same countries where gut dysbiosis was present the parasitic infestation was low.

Further research has established that gut dysbiosis leads to an inflammatory condition of the gut where lipopolysaccharides (LPS) from gut bacteria are absorbed causing inflammatory reactions within the body.

At the same time this leaky gut syndrome can cause obesity and leakage in the gut/brain barrier as indicated in this link. The result is neuroinflammation, cognitive impairment and vulnerability to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Our most dreaded brain diseases come from inflammation: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, autism, multiple sclerosis etc. These are degenerative brain disorders due to chronic inflammation. If you eat a lot of red meat, sausages and processed foods your gut microbiome will undergo negative changes. If you eat healthy food with lots of vegetables, fruit and you cut out sugar and too many starches, you have a healthy microbiome, which develops a robust immune system. We have to rethink the gut/brain connection and learn how to prevent these chronic illnesses.

Obesity and gut dysbiosis

In the link above it was shown that obesity is associated with inflammation. It was also shown with MRI scans that the part in the brain, called hippocampus was shriveled up (atrophied). This is a typical sign of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The investigators also confirmed with mental health functional tests that these patients had cognitive decline.

Another study also noticed that in a group of obese patients the hippocampus part of the brain was shriveled up the more obese people were. Obesity is associated with dysbiosis of the gut flora.

Practical application: the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet are both healthy, balanced diets, strikingly different from the Standard American diet. In a study the hypothesis was tested whether the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet would postpone dementia in a group of elderly patients. The answer was: yes, the hypothesis is true.

What does gut dysbiosis do?

It was shown in mice that chronic inflammation of the gut through ingestion of an irritant (dextran sodium sulfate) led to reduced new nerve growth in the hippocampus compared to control animals. It only took 29 days to show a marked difference between experimental and control animals in terms of reduced growth in the nerve cells of the hippocampus, the center of cognitive control.

The negative mediators were inflammatory kinins released from the gut wall and affecting the brain.

Antibiotic treatments and antibiotic residues in milk, milk products, meat, but also in all GMO foods are the irritants of the gut wall in humans. The antibiotics change the gut flora and lead to dysbiosis, which then causes gut wall inflammation and the cascade of events described above. The new finding is that GMO food contains RoundUp (they are “Roundup ready” crops). The herbicide Roundup was originally patented as an antibiotic and still leads to significant dysbiosis. Dr. Perlmutter urged the audience to buy organic food as the only method to reduce our exposure to Roundup. Roundup contributes to causing celiac disease and gluten intolerance in addition to exposure to the modern wheat (Clearfield wheat). The FDA is starting to do testing on foods for Roundup (glyphosate).

If things are sounding bad for Roundup, it only gets worse: Roundup has now been linked to causing cancer. In medicine it usually takes some time before definite action is taken. The agriculture industry is so deeply entrenched in the use of Roundup; I suspect that denial will be the first line of defense. My first line of defense in turn is to stick to organic food.

To sum up: Roundup and the Standard American diet lead to dysbiosis in the gut, which causes leaky gut syndrome. This causes inflammation with the release of cytokines and LPS from the gut wall to the blood. These substances cross the blood/brain barrier and lead to inflammation in the brain. This affects the hippocampus with the classical sign of shrinkage. But Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, autism in children and Alzheimer’s disease in older people are all caused by chronic inflammation. There are three more brain-related diseases that are related to gut inflammation: stroke, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Dr. Perlmutter spent some time explaining that antibiotic overuse even leads to an increase of breast cancer as a Danish study has shown. Antibiotic use showed a linear increase of breast cancer as a result of increased antibiotic amounts used. The highest group had a twofold risk compared to a control group with no antibiotic use. Dr. Perlmutter interpreted this to indicate that chronic gut inflammation can even cause a disease like breast cancer.

What can we do to diversify our gut bacteria?

  1. Exercise: A recent study has shown that regular exercise is associated with a diversified gut flora. The reason seems to be the production of butyrate with exercise, which leads to a diversified gut flora. There are reduced LPS levels (lipopolysaccharides from gut bacteria) in people with a higher fitness score.
  2. Eat a DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet as indicated above.
  3. Avoid GMO foods because of the presence of Roundup, which functions like an antibiotic and leads to gut bacteria dysbiosis.
  4. Remember “Antibiotics are weapons of mass microbial destruction”. If you need to take them be careful that you rebuild your gut flora with probiotics. Use of antibiotics increases the risk of type-2 diabetes by 1.53-fold. It also causes a quadrupling of Alzheimer’s disease.
  5. A woman should consider natural childbirth whenever possible, as with a vaginal birth the child is “anointed with gut bacteria”. Vaginally delivered children remain healthier than children delivered by Cesarean section for several years.
  6. Acid-suppressing medications and NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory medication for arthritis) can also lead to dysbiosis. Proton pump inhibitors increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 44%.
  7. Prebiotic fiber can prevent Alzheimer’s. Probiotics do the same.
  8. Avoid sugar: even the Oompa Loompa knew that “If you eat sugar, you get fat” as this YouTube video shows. And obesity is associated with gut dysbiosis with the associated higher risk of degenerative brain diseases.
  9. Take magnesium supplements (250 mg twice per day) and DHA from fish oil capsules. It stabilizes your brain metabolism.
  10. In severe, persistent cases of gut dysbiosis a fecal transplant can be considered by your gastroenterologist. This procedure is done in more than 500 hospitals in the US.
Gut Bacteria Can Protect Your Brain

Gut Bacteria Can Protect Your Brain

Conclusion

The diversity of gut bacteria is immensely important. As discussed, in rural areas of the world there is gut bacteria diversity. In civilized parts of the world dysbiosis of the gut flora frequently occurs. This can lead to gut inflammation and the inflammation eventually gets internalized and can even reach the brain. These are the points to remember: exercise; avoid GMO foods, use prebiotics and probiotics. Avoid antibiotics; also avoid meat from animals that were fed antibiotics for faster growth. Don’t eat processed foods and avoid sugar. A healthy gut creates a healthy body, and this includes a healthy brain as well.

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Dec
24
2016

Spironolactone Helps Against Herpes Infections

There are limited numbers of antiviral drugs for herpes, but now research showed that spironolactone helps against herpes infections. Spironolactone is an older heart medicine that helps with cardiac failure, but it is also used in unwanted hair growth in women with a hormone disbalance, called hirsutism.

Dr. Swaminathan and colleagues have shown in new research from the University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, UT that spironolactone blocks the multiplication of herpes viruses.

Common herpesvirus infections

Although there are 100’s of different herpes virus strains, you will recognize some of the following names.

Herpes, type 1 (HSV-1)

HSV-1 causes cold sores on the lips or inside the mouth.

Herpes, type 2 (HSV-2)

HSV-2 is the cause of genital herpes.

Herpes, type 3 (HSV-3)

HSV-3 causes both chickenpox and shingles (herpes zoster). When the immune system is immature, it presents as chickenpox (mostly in children). When there is partial immunity from a chickenpox childhood infection, shingles can present in an aging person as a localized shingle infection (medically called “herpes zoster”). An interesting vaccination study showed that vaccination against varicella caused a suppression of chronic HSV-1 so that there were no more cold sores compared to the non-vaccinated group that did.

Herpes, type 4 (HSV-4)

You may know HSV-4 as the Epstein-Barr virus. It is the cause of infectious mononucleosis. Other names for this disease are glandular fever or “kissing disease”.

Treatments for herpes infections

The typical antiviral treatments for HSV-1 and HSV-2 are acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex). All these drugs belong to the same pharmacological class of drugs. The same drugs are used for chickenpox and shingles/herpes zoster (HSV-3).

In a 2013 publication researchers gave acyclovir (Zovirax) to patients who had been hospitalized with infectious mononucleosis.

They had a shorter duration of hospitalization and fever than was observed in a control group not treated with acyclovir. The authors did propose that acyclovir should be used in patients with mononucleosis.

Drug-resistant herpes strains

One problem that has surfaced is that herpes drug resistant herpes strains seem to evolve, which are resistant to all of the newer anti-herpes drugs as well. The reason for this is that current anti-herpes drugs work by inhibiting the ability of the virus to replicate DNA, thus stopping its proliferation. When the virus learns to overcome that barrier we call this resistance and this will also affect all of the drugs that utilize the same mechanism of action.

The team from the University of Utah screened several drugs and came upon spironolactone, which is an established medicine used to treat heart failure. Dr. Swaminathan and his team found that spironolactone was also able to stop the viral proliferation, but the drug blocked the virus through a different mechanism. Spironolactone inhibited the action of a protein, the SM protein.

This different mechanism of treating herpes virus infections has opened a new door to further research for newer drugs that will only have the anti-herpes virus effect, but not the anti-heart failure effect. Dr. Swaminathan is confident that his team will be able to separate these two actions and come up with a new group of anti-virus drugs.

Spironolactone helps against herpes infections, has few side-effects

Spironolactone has been on the market for over 50 years and has a very good low side effect profile. It is used for people with heart failure to reduce the retained fluid that can accumulate around the heart or in the lungs. This allows the patient to breathe easier and have more energy. Spironolactone also helps with fluid accumulation in patients who have cirrhosis or have nephrotic syndrome, a kidney disease.

In a completely different set of patients spironolactone can help women who produce too much male hormone in their ovaries to normalize the hormones and lose the awkward, unwanted facial hair growth.

Some generalized side effects are: mild nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Breast swelling or tenderness can develop. Dizziness, headache and mild drowsiness can occur. Some people develop leg cramps. Males can experience impotence and difficulties having an erection.

Spironolactone Helps Against Herpes Infections

Spironolactone Helps Against Herpes Infections

Conclusion

It is not often that an existing drug that has been well researched in the past finds a new application in a completely different area than originally developed for. This is the case for spironolactone, which now was found to be effective as an anti-herpetic drug. Further research will likely be able to separate the anti-viral effect of spironolactone from the anti-heart failure effect. Dr. Swaminathan and his team did not think that this was too difficult a problem. In the meantime spironolactone can be used for severe herpetic infections when the other drugs do not help, which may be due to drug resistance.

Overall the detection of an anti-herpetic effect of spironolactone has been an important step forward with respect to treating the whole group of herpetic diseases.

Jul
02
2016

Zika Virus

Recently the question was asked on the news whether it was safe to go to the Olympics in Brazil; so here is some background information about the Zika virus. Zika virus was first isolated from mosquitoes in a forest named Zika forest in Uganda, which was in 1947.

Zika virus belongs into the virus family of Flaviviridae. Other members in that family are dengue fever, West Nile virus, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis. Since the 1950’s Zika virus has occupied a narrow equatorial belt around the globe (Africa and Asia). But between 2007 and 2016 it spread further to the Americas and to the Pacific. Specifically French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Easter Island and New Caledonia were included. Since May 2015 Brazil has joined the countries where mosquitoes are infected with Zika virus. This is an important point to know for the coming up Olympics in Rio on August 5 to 21, 2016.

Symptoms of Zika virus

For most people, particularly the young and middle aged Zika may not be that symptomatic. The most common symptoms are a fever, a skin rash, joint aches and red eyes (conjunctivitis). However, when a pregnant woman gets Zika virus, this will likely affect the fetus and will lead to a baby born with a small head (microcephalus), a severe complication from Zika virus. When a woman contracts Zika virus, the virus disappears after about one week. But in men the virus seems to stay longer, particularly in semen. This is why the CDC recommends for men using a condom or refraining from sex when returning from a holiday in a Zika endemic area. It may take up to 8 weeks for the semen to no longer be infective. The CDC recommends that a man who has come down with Zika to use a condom for 6 months.

Treatment of Zika virus

Make sure you get lots of rest. Take acetaminophen for fever or pain. Don’t take aspirin (ASA) or anti-inflammatory medication. Be aware that for between 1 and 3 weeks your blood likely is infectious. You want to avoid being bitten by a mosquito and it will be sensible to use insect repellant. The same insect could have bitten another person and spread the virus this way. A person who gets the Zika virus depends on the immune system to overcome the infection as there is no cure for this viral infection.

At this point no vaccine against Zika exists. There is research in an attempt to develop a Zika vaccine, which may become available in 2 to 3 years.

Zika virus risk with travel

If you travel to endemic areas, but visit mountainous areas above an elevation of 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) you are safe from Zika transmitting mosquitoes as they do not survive in these heights.

With regard to the Olympic Summer Games in Rio 2016 the CDC recommends to take a few precautions. Use insect repellents. Be aware as a woman that men infected with Zika virus can transmit the virus through sex. If you want to protect yourself from the risk of giving birth to a child with microcephaly, you may decide to use the birth control pill and ask your partner to use a condom. When you return back home, do not plan for a pregnancy for 6 months to avoid the risk.

The only recommendation for the Olympics by the CDC is that pregnant women should categorically not go to the games for fear of getting Zika infection resulting in a bad outcome of the pregnancy with microcephaly.

Microcephaly and other brain abnormalities from Zika virus

The CDC has stated that it is now established that Zika virus can cause microcephaly, but that it likely does not do so in all cases of Zika virus infection.

We know from German measles (rubella) that it can cause serious health risks for the fetus including death.

Zika is similarly neurotropic, meaning that it likes to multiply in nervous tissue including the brain. With rubella there is a vaccine available, which has made it much safer for pregnant women. But with Zika no vaccine is available. The only prevention is to stay away from endemic Zika areas and otherwise use reliable birth control methods.

Zika Virus

Zika Virus

Conclusion

I have briefly reviewed Zika virus in this blog. Unfortunately there are still many gaps in the knowledge of this disease. We need an effective Zika virus vaccine. It would also help to have antiviral antibiotics. All this needs to be researched. For now we need to use prevention and avoid endemic Zika regions by reading updates by the CDC.

Oct
03
2015

What Stress Does

We all are stressed out at times. Some people are stressed all the time and this is called chronic stress.

Acute stress

Let’s say you were involved in a minor rear-ender accident. It is annoying, but at least you were not injured. But you have to deal with the insurance company, get the repair done and maybe get a car rental during the time of repair. Yes, you may have a few days where you feel that your hands are shaky and your heart pounds, or your sleep may not be restful. But when everything is done things are back to normal. This is an example of acute stress with a shorter running time. It has a limited severity, is an inconvenience, but it does not really affect your body on the long-term.

Chronic stress

Let’s assume the car accident was more severe and you received a personal injury with a broken leg. You end up in hospital and the orthopedic surgeon fixes the fracture with a surgical plate. The leg has to be in a cast for several weeks, and you have to use crutches. Every day you feel reminded of the car accident, because it is awkward to walk with crutches. After weeks you notice that you have gained weight. Your doctor is also worried about you because your blood pressure showed higher readings. You do not sleep as well, waking up frequently and having nightmares about another fictitious accident. On top of that you came down with the flu. What happened here? The stress reaction released cortisol, which weakened your immune system and may be responsible for you catching the flu. On the long-term cortisol can also contribute to high blood pressure, but so can alcohol consumption. You may have increased your alcohol intake in the evening to relax more, but with the chronic stress and the cortisol increase this can cause high blood pressure. The weight gain that you noticed has to do with the fact that you cannot work out any more because of your healing leg fracture and you having to use crutches. Inadvertently you may also eat a bit more rich food; a lot of people do that as food can be used as comfort food. And why do you sleep less well? Chronic cortisol elevation leads to lower melatonin levels, as these two hormones are natural opponents. A high melatonin level leads to a low cortisol level and vice versa. With relaxation methods you can lower cortisol and the melatonin level increases normalizing your sleep. Chronically elevated cortisol can also lead to weight gain as sugar is converted into fatty acids that are stored as subcutaneous fat. Muscles can melt down when cortisol is high giving the appearance of spindly arms and legs.

Causes of chronic stress

Holmes and Rahe tested a stress scale in 1970, which has become the standard ever since. You get a certain amount of points for a stressful event, e.g. 100 for the death of a spouse; 45 point for retirement; 23 for trouble with the boss etc. Add up all of the points that are affect you right now; if the total score is less than 150 points there is only a minor risk of getting medical problems from the chronic stress; for 150 to 299 points the risk of illness is moderate and for 300 and more points you are at a significant risk for illness.

There is physical illness and mental illness that chronic stress can cause. Physical illness can be high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries. The long-term risks from this are possible heart attacks and strokes. But chronic adrenalin and noradrenalin elevation associated with chronic stress can burn part of your brain cells in the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex. This can lead to memory loss, spatial memory loss and aggression. Mental illness caused by chronic stress can be anxiety, depression, social isolation, panic attacks and panic disorder. Psychosomatic symptoms can include headaches, back pain, abdominal pain and difficulties concentrating.

Job stress and cancer

Perhaps one of the best examples of job stress and cancer is a study where the amount of breast cancer was correlated to the amount of stress. I discussed this in another blog. Briefly, women with a less responsibility had the lowest rate of breast cancer, but they too had some stress as there was a higher breast cancer risk after 15 years on the job versus only 5 years on the job. The same study showed that women with high responsibility had the highest breast cancer rates. A hormone disbalance can explain this based on high cortisol levels associated with chronic stress. If cortisol is high, the cortisol binding globulin (CBG) increases; this in turn also binds more circulating progesterone, as progesterone attaches to CBG. CBG is a transport protein for both cortisol and progesterone. The end result is that estrogenic compounds get the upper hand, a condition called estrogen dominance. I have explained under the above link that this was the real reason for the increase in breast cancer in the stressed women. Similar mechanisms are causing other cancers to occur more frequently with chronic stress.

Chronic stress and cardiovascular disease

High stress jobs were found to cause a 2.2 to 2.4-fold increase of strokes and heart attacks due to cardiovascular disease when compared to low stress jobs. This was based on a British Medical Journal study in October 2002. As I discussed above under a brief description of chronic stress cardiovascular disease is often what develops as part of chronic stress. People who are under chronic stress feel that they do not have enough time to prepare good, healthy food at home. They tend to eat out more often. Even well educated people just swallow a quick hamburger and other processed foods. This increases the bad fats like trans fats and omega-6 fatty acids in their system causing inflammation of the blood vessels as explained in this blog. The LDL cholesterol and triglycerides get elevated, sugar from sugary snacks oxidizes the LDL cholesterol and your coronary arteries and brain arteries get clogged up. This sets anybody on the downward pathway, and it is now only a matter of time when the chronically stressed person will develop a heart attack or stroke.

Chronic stress extremes: PTSD and burnout in soldiers

Dr. Thierry Hertoghe gave a lecture during the 22nd Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine in Las Vegas (Dec.10 to 14, 2014). The title was: “Burnout: A multiple hormone deficiency syndrome”. Burnout is the extreme of chronic stress. He said that burnout is a common condition where several hormones are affected, with the cortisol axis being the main one, but other hormone glands being stressed as well. As a result endocrine glands age prematurely. Symptoms are fatigue, exhaustion, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety, depression and aggressiveness. The underlying hormone abnormalities are a lack of cortisol, thyroid deficiency, growth hormone deficiency, testosterone and estrogen deficiency and oxytocin deficiency. Burnout is common in teachers and there is a questionnaire that has been developed for teachers (teacher’s burnout scale) to monitor them whether they are heading this way. Soldiers who return from combative situations often suffer from burnout or from PTSD. Their burnout severity can be monitored using the teacher’s burnout scale already mentioned. In suspected cases laboratory tests that measure hormone levels give concrete answers about hormone deficiencies. Treatment protocols were discussed in detail. Multiple bioidentical hormone replacements are necessary, possibly for prolonged periods, if not life long. In addition supportive counseling sessions from a counselor or psychiatrist will help to tone down increased brain activity and help regain the internal balance. Why is this important? It is important, because hormones are necessary on a cellular level and regulate the energy metabolism of every cell in the body. Also, by recognizing what is going on and helping the affected individuals, a lot of pain and suffering can be prevented.

Accelerated aging from telomere shortening

Chronic stress has been shown to cause telomere shortening. So does a lack of sleep (insomnia), smoking and alcohol overconsumption, all conditions that can be associated with chronic stress. What can we do about this? Learn what shortens telomeres and ultimately your life. Cut out what you can and take supplements that lengthen your telomeres.

Positive thinking combats stress

Negative thoughts are draining you of energy. You want to stay optimistic within what’s reasonable. Be thankful for all the good things in your life. Minimize what’s negative, but think about positive solutions to get rid of energy draining parts in your days. Do this persistently until it becomes part of your life and you will have extra energy that you didn’t waste in negative thinking or by getting caught up in needless anxiety. Worrying does not get us anywhere, but it depletes our energy.

Self-hypnosis is a simple way to allow your whole body to relax. However, the various forms of yoga will do the same thing for you. Meditation is another way of finding peace and tranquility. Prayer is know to help people in sickness and in health. All of these methods will re-energize you. They calm your brain, help you to cope with stress and rebalance your hormones at the same time.

Building social ties and mutually supportive relationships will also build you up. It makes you feel that you belong, you have your place in society, you help others, and they support you.

We need some stress to get us going, but we do not need “distress”. Dr. Hans Selye, the father of the general adaptation syndrome due to stress, gave a lecture about this topic in Hamilton, Ont. in 1977, which I attended. I vividly remember how he projected a picture of his skeleton showing bilateral hip replacements. He said that chronic stress could lead to arthritis. He had developed end stage arthritis in his hips requiring total hip replacements on both sides. He wanted to illustrate that stress leads to physical consequences; it may be a heart attack in one person, a stroke in another, arthritis in a third. Constant overdrive has physical consequences.

What Stress Does

What Stress Does

Conclusion

Stress can be deadly, particularly if it lingers on and becomes chronic. But we can reorganize our lives to minimize stress. Some people may decide to seek a less stressful occupation. Others may elect to stay at that job, but develop hobbies and get involved in relaxation methods to combat job stress. The key is to start thinking about what stress you may be under and then develop a plan to counter it so you can allow yourself to rebalance your life.

Sep
05
2015

Health Benefits Of Coconut Oil

Lately coconut oil has enjoyed a renaissance. A few years back it was still considered the saturated fat villain and was accused of causing heart attacks. The problem is that clinical trials could never proof that coconut oil would cause heart attacks or strokes; it actually showed the opposite: coconut oil prevented heart attacks! This is very interesting! This story is related to a powerful lobbying campaign of the soybean oil industry.

But perhaps more interesting is the fact that the medium chain fatty acids of coconut oil have a multitude of applications in the healthcare field so that your wrinkles and hair will benefit, your teeth will get less cavities and gum disease, you will have less infections, the immune system will be stronger and you will get less heart disease. But this is not all: coconut oil has been shown to specifically fight bacterial infections, viral infections, fungal infections and some parasitic infections. Anybody interested in 36 pounds of weight loss over 1 year? With coconut oil it is possible. There are definitely health benefits of coconut oil for you, hence the title of this blog.

In the following I will review this in more detail.

Properties of coconut oil

Coconut oil is derived from the white flesh of the coconut of the coconut palm tree. Cold-pressed coconut oil contains 92% saturated fats, 6%monounsaturated fats and 2% polyunsaturated fats. Olive oil in comparison contains 14% saturated fats, 77% monounsaturated fats and 9% polyunsaturated fats.

Tropical oils are coconut oil and palm kernel oil. These are the best sources of medium and short-chain fatty acids, which are fats ideal for cooking and frying food in a pan as both oils have a high smoking point. Coconut oil contains 64% of medium chain fatty aids (MCFA) while palm kernel oil has 58% of MCFA. Coconut oil is the one dietary oil that is least vulnerable to oxidation and formation of free radicals. This is the reason why it is safest for cooking or deep-frying. It has a melting point of 76 Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius). That means it is a white solid fat below that temperature and is a clear liquid oil above this temperature.

Coconut oil is composed of 48% lauric acid, 18% myristic acid, 7% capric acid and 0.5% caprylic acid. The coconut oil is a triglyceride, where three fatty acids are bound to a glycerol molecule. But when it gets in contact with our skin, the skin bacteria immediacy hydrolyze it into free fatty acids and glycerol. The same breakdown is happening in our mouth and gut by our own bacteria. The free fatty acids (FFA) are what give it the beneficial clinical effects. The FFA have antibacterial effects, antiviral effects, antifungal effects and antiparasitic effects. Specifically, lauric acid and monolaurin are the most anti-bacterial compounds of coconut oil. Coconut oil and palm kernel oil are the richest source of lauric acid; they contain almost 50% of lauric acid in their fats. In comparison, butter only contains 3% lauric acid.

Infections treated with coconut oil

Bacteria

Antibiotic resistant bacterial strains have become a serious problem in the past few years. Because of this it is important to know that the fatty acids derived from coconut oil have alternative antibiotic effects. Sinus infection can be treated by consuming coconut oil.

The CDC has reported that 75% of all cases of food poisoning are due to eating ground beef. This is due to resistant E.coli strains from beef that were fed antibiotics, so they would fatten up. The excuse of the Agro industry is that the farmers have to use antibiotics as the cattle in the crowded conditions of feedlots would otherwise get diseases. In 1993 seven hundred people got sick from eating contaminated Jack-in-the-Box hamburgers and at least 4 children died. Other common food poisoning bugs are salmonella strains. In 1994 a milk truck carrying milk that was contaminated with salmonella was shipped to an ice-cream factory in Minnesota. The contaminated ice cream was shipped to stores in several states and led to food poisoning of 224,000 people, the largest food poisoning outbreak in the US history. Giardia is another parasite that is common in India. Here is a study that showed how children with diarrhea due to giardia can be managed with coconut oil.

If you add all the cases of foodborne illnesses each year there are between 6.5 million to 81 million Americans who get sick and about 9,000 die as a result. One of the reasons of death from food poisoning is kidney disease and subsequent kidney failure; another common reason is blood poisoning.

So how does coconut oil fit into foodborne infections? When you eat 1 or two tablespoons of coconut oil three times with meals, the free fatty acids of coconut oil that are released in the gut get taken up into the blood stream and circulate in the body. If the free fatty acids encounter bacteria the medium chain fatty acids infiltrate the membrane of the bacterium and cause it to rupture. The same process happens in the gut to bacteria that do not belong there. Pathological E.coli, salmonella species and other pathological bacteria get eradicated in the same way I have just described. Other bacteria against which coconut oil is effective are H. pylori (the problem bug that causes gastric ulcers), Chlamydia pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, Staphylococcus aureus (rodent study), Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Neisseria (the cause of gonorrhea) and many gram-positive bacteria (Ref.1, p. 75 and 76). I am afraid that most of these claims could not be verified by a PubMed search. PubMed had a reference regarding Salmonella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in a mouse assay and both of these bacteria did not respond to coconut oil in various concentration.  However, Clostridium difficile, which is a problem bug with chronic diarrhea patients responded to coconut oil treatment.

Some women are plagued by frequent urinary infections. Coconut oil is a simple remedy that will treat these infections and when you eat coconut oil as a supplement or cook with it regularly you are having a good chance to eliminate them altogether.

When men get older they can be plagued by benign prostatic hypertrophy. This is a condition where the prostate is enlarged and squeezes the part of the urethra that travels through the prostate gland. The end result is that he has difficulties urinating. Urologists usually recommend a shaving off the prostatic tissue through a special cystoscopic procedure.

In a study on rats coconut oil was shown to decrease the prostatic weight as a result of treatment with coconut oil. In Ref.1 Dr. Fife stated that 1 to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil three times per day with meals would bring the swelling of the prostate gland down within only a few days and urination would be back to normal. However, I did a PubMed search for human data on benign prostatic hyperplasia and could not find a single literature quotation to confirm this.

Viruses

What about flu bugs? Dr. Fife cited a case of a woman who was just starting to come down with the flu (Ref.1). He recommended that she should take 2 to 3 tablespoons of coconut oil dissolved in lukewarm orange juice with every meal. On the first day her symptoms got worse as one often sees with seasonal infections. On the second day she expected to get worse again, but to her surprise the symptoms were starting to go away. By the end of the third day all of her symptoms had gone!

Other infectious agents that respond to coconut oil are: HIV, herpes-1 and 2, Cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus (the cause of mononucleosis), influenza virus (all strains), hepatitis C virus, Coxsackie B4 virus and others. A full list can be seen on p. 75 and 76 of Ref.1.

One of the chronic virus infections is hepatitis C. A person who has this condition is at a higher risk of developing liver cirrhosis and subsequently hepatocellular liver cancer. By using Coconut oil in the stage of chronic liver infections with hepatitis C virus the medium chain fatty acids do their trick of invading the outer membrane of the hepatitis C virus. The virus particles all rupture and release their genetic codes and cannot find another way of regenerating themselves. Within a few weeks and months the person can be completely hepatitis C free. Their energy comes back as the liver function returns to normal. From here the patient can rest assured that cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer won’t develop.

Fungal infections

This is not the end of the surprising effects of coconut oil. Yeast bugs and other fungal infections respond very well to coconut oil. Candida albicans, the cause of gut infections, chronic vaginal infections and opportunistic infections in AIDS patients gets eradicated very similarly to the flu patient described above.

Athletes foot is a fungal infection between the toes that can go on for years with frequent flare ups, but it can be eliminated in just a few days by topical application of coconut oil. If you take it internally as well, it gets secreted through your sweat glands and eradicates the yeast bugs that way.

Parasites

Giardia lamblia is the cause for a common gut infection that is picked up by outdoor enthusiast, when they drink contaminated water. Cryptosporidium is another one of these parasites that won’t make cows sick, but when we consume drinking water that has not been fully sanitized, we get abdominal cramps and diarrhea. AIDS patients get seriously ill from this. Coconut oil comes to the rescue: it will do the same as with all the other bugs: destroy the envelope of the bugs with its MCFA’s, which destroys them. There is no anti-parasitic drug resistance that would develop. Several tapeworms respond very well to coconut oil treatment. However, some parasites like F. hepatica did not respond to coconut oil.

With respect to the transmission of malaria it was found that 2% Neem oil in coconut oil is an effective anti malarial mosquito repellant for 12 hours.

Dr. Fife gave an example of the building of the Panama Canal. The contractors found that the local indigenous Indians were the most reliable workers and never got sick. Yellow fever and malaria were the two diseases that plagued imported workers. According to Dr. Fife investigators found out that the local Indians consumed coconut oil regularly, which kept them slim and infection free including free of malaria and of yellow fever (Ref. 1, p. 94). I am afraid that a PubMed check for pertinent references regarding suppression of malaria and yellow fever could NOT be found.

Dental decay and coconut oil

Due to its broad-spectrum antibiotic properties coconut oil kills the germs that cause dental decay and gum disease, called periodontitis. You will keep the dentist less busy with regular coconut oil intake and save yourself a lot of dental bills.

Less heart attacks with coconut oil

There is a connection between poor dental hygiene, which leads to chronic Chlamydia pneumoniae infection and heart disease. Regular coconut oil consumption reduces heart attack rates and mortality of heart disease. Although the long-chain fatty acids of saturated fat and trans fat (hydrogenated vegetable oils) have been shown to cause hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis), this is NOT the case for medium-chain fatty acids from coconut oil. Research has shown that coconut oil is neutral with respect to blood cholesterol. Medium fatty acids are directly metabolized into energy by the liver, so they do not continue to circulate in the blood stream like other fats. In coconut consuming areas like Sri Lanka and Kerala, India very little heart disease was registered until the early 1980’s. Then only one of every 100,000 deaths was attributed to heart disease in Sri Lanka; and only 2.3 out of 1000 people in Kerala, India suffered from coronary artery disease in 1979. In contrast in the US about 333 out of 1000 Americans die of coronary heart disease every ear, that’s 1 in 3 people! Cardiovascular protection is further discussed here.

In this context it is interesting to read on this website that they believe coconut oil would cause heart attacks. Another study in Malaysian volunteers showed the opposite: no sign of changes in cholesterol, triglycerides or inflammatory markers. Many other studies have also shown that the medium chain fatty acids of coconut oil are neutral or beneficial in terms of cardiovascular disease.

Corn oil, safflower oil, grape seed oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, peanut oil and even olive oil are increasing the risk for blood clots, which in turn is a risk for developing heart attacks and strokes. They are also omega-6 fatty acids that lead to inflammation and indirectly cause heart attacks and strokes. On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids and the medium chain fatty acids of coconut oil reduce the risk of clot formation. This means there are only three safe oils: omega-3 fatty acids, coconut oil and olive oil when used non-heated and in combination with either omega-3 or with coconut oil. When combined with one or two of the other oils the blood clotting property of olive oil is neutralized.

Several mechanisms investigated in a rat model showed cholesterol-lowering effects of coconut oil. But when it comes to human studies, it was shown in premenopausal Philippine women that lipid profiles were also beneficially influenced by coconut oil consumption.

Improving the looks of your skin and hair

Coconut oil is protecting the skin against damage, heals and gives it a healthy and youthful appearance. It has been observed in Polynesians who are exposed to a lot of sun that they are protected from sunburns by applying coconut oil, and their skin remains youthful looking into an older age without the development of precancerous or cancerous skin conditions. They are eating coconut oil and put it onto their skin as a lotion. Coconut oil helps for extremely dry skin. At the same time it prevents bacterial, viral and fungal infections.

In one study mild to moderate atopic dermatitis skin rashes improved significantly with virgin coconut oil. Many cosmetics contain coconut oil and you may wonder how safe this is. A safety study has been performed regarding coconut oil based cosmetics and you can rest assured that it was found to be very safe.

Even hair can be treated with coconut oil. Dr. Fife quotes a New York hair stylist Amanda George who said: “I massage two teaspoons of warm coconut oil into my hair before bed, then wash it out in the morning.” Her hair is luxuriant, soft and shimmering (Ref. 1, p.135).

Alzheimer’s disease

Coconut oil has an inhibitory effect in terms of the development of Alzheimer’s. It seems that the medium chain fatty acids prevent aggregation of amyloid-β peptide and thus stop the further development in the direction of Alzheimer’s; coconut oil also helps reduce elevated LDL, insulin resistance and hypertension, which are all risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

Detoxing with coconut oil

When you first use coconut oil it can have a strong detoxification effect (medically termed “Herxheimer reaction”). It stimulates the immune system and helps the body to get rid of any stored toxins and germs. There can be a skin rash, sinus congestion, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and diarrhea. Not everybody experiences all of these symptoms, but one or the other. This can go on for a day or two, but sometimes it may take longer like several weeks. It may feel as if you are coming down with a flu, but this is not true: you are detoxifying and you will feel more energetic when this is behind you. Coconut oil is hypoallergenic, so it is very rare to have a true allergy to coconut oil. Most people do not experience the above described detoxification reaction.

Lose weight while eating coconut oil

Medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) from coconut oil have a different metabolism than long chain fatty acids (LCFA) like soybean oil, canola oil, safflower oil and others. Studies have shown that MCFA are burnt directly by the liver and lead to a higher body temperature production, called “thermogenic effect”. Various researchers found a two to threefold higher burning of calories in MCFA compared to LCFA. Over one year this translated into a weight loss of 36 pounds, if you replaced all of the LCFA fats in your diet with MCFA fats. Here is a clarification that coconut oil has medium chain fatty acids and is metabolized differently than animal fats. The weight loss happens like a “side effect” when you switch to cooking with coconut oil and supplementing with coconut oil. Here is a weight reduction study that was done in 20 healthy, obese Malay volunteers. They were all males.

Cancer

The role of coconut oil in cancer treatment is not yet investigated. Carbohydrate restriction is one way of starving tumor cells. It is conceivable that a ketogenic diet including coconut oil may be beneficial for cancer patients, but trials to this effect have not yet been done, which means we do not have the evidence for or against it. However, here is a study that showed that breast cancer patients had much less side-effects with chemotherapy when supplemented with coconut oil.

Health Benefits Of Coconut Oil

Health Benefits Of Coconut Oil

Conclusion

Coconut oil has experienced a renaissance in the last view years. It is now available in containers of various sizes as organic virgin coconut oil. Try a small container first and see how you react. In the beginning you may detox and feel like you have the flu for a few days. But later you will have more energy and you’ll gradually notice improvements of energy, of skin and hair. Your body will notice further improvements internally as the immune system functions better and you lose a few pounds. Your heart is pumping blood easier as there is less hardening of the arteries. Cook with coconut oil, as the smoking point for coconut oil is higher than olive oil, which means you are not eating oxidized or toxic oil. Use olive oil in your salad dressings. Throw away all the other oils, such as safflower oil, canola oil, sunflower seed oil, corn oil and soybean oil or grapeseed oil. These are largely omega-6 containing oils that cause heart attacks and strokes as they get oxidized and cause inflammation in the body through the arachidonic acid system.

Remember this: cook with coconut oil and use olive oil for salad dressings.

Read labels and make sure you are not buying the cheaper hydrogenated coconut oil with free radicals in it; opt for the cold pressed, virgin coconut oil, which is more expensive, but healthy.

In reviewing Dr. Fife’s “The Coconut Oil Miracle” I found that there are many experiential stories that may ultimately be true, if confirmed by trials or studies. I have attempted to find references, but could not fond them for all topics mentioned above; be cautious regarding these gaps. I recommend that you keep an open mind, but at the same time stay critical. I think the overall evidence supports that coconut oil is a valuable nutrient that has many positive effects.

 

References

Ref.1: Bruce Fife, C.N., N.D.: “The Coconut Oil Miracle”, 5th edition,2013, Penguin Books, NY 10014

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Apr
04
2015

Stop Suffering From Arthritis

Arthritis is an illness of the joints, mostly in older people (osteoarthritis or degenerative arthritis). However, a subgroup of younger patients can also develop a severe form of arthritis, called rheumatoid arthritis where autoimmune antibodies play more of a role.

In the 1950’s Dan Dale Alexander wrote a book called “Arthritis and common sense”. The medical establishment did not accept that simple remedy and Dan Dale Alexander was classified as a “quack”. However, Dr. Mirkin describes a study from Berlin that later confirmed that Dan Dale Alexander’s observation was correct: an emulsion made by shaking orange juice with cod liver oil and taken three times per day on an empty stomach would indeed improve osteoarthritis.

In 1964, still being a medical student I suggested to my future mother-in-law to give Dan Dale Alexander’s book about arthritis a try. Despite the well-established osteoarthritic condition in her left knee the arthritis vanished within 6 months and stayed controlled. I could not explain to her why this remedy worked, as higher doses of omega-3 fatty acids and higher doses of vitamin C were not yet known to be of value for arthritis.

This all changed with the advent of orthomolecular medicine (Ref.1). On page 76 of this book Dr. Frederick Klenner describes that ascorbic acid (vitamin C) at mega doses of at least 10,000 mg daily, but better even between 15,000 and 25,000 mg daily does have healing effects for arthritis. He stated further that repair of collagenous tissue (the joint surfaces) would require adequate ascorbic acid. On page 240 of Ref.1 Dr. Abram Hoffer, the founder of modern orthomolecular medicine reviewed the history of the use of vitamins in higher doses, particularly the use of vitamin B3 (niacin). He also mentioned that Dr. William Kaufman had used mega doses of vitamin B3 for arthritis as far back as 1950.

Overview of arthritis

Dr. Hoffer explains in Ref.2 that arthritis belongs into a group of diseases that are related to faulty nutrition, which in turn lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies and a pandeficiency disease. Other diseases that belong to that group are cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes, schizophrenia, mood disorders, alcoholism and autism. Contributing factors can be poor diets with overemphasis on refined and processed foods and consumption of sugar, allergies, diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and viral infections. Arthritis belongs into this group of illnesses as well. Niacin, vitamin B6 and zinc have been found useful to treat arthritis, but other vitamins and minerals are also needed. Here is a list of what Dr. Hoffer would suggest to use (Ref. 2):

1. Vitamin B3 from 100 mg to several thousand mg three times daily following meals. With niacin there can be skin flushing, which often goes away after the body gets used to the higher doses; but niacinamide could be used instead by those who are bothered by the flushing.

2. B complex: this contains each of the major B vitamins including vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Take 100 mg once per day with a meal. Vitamin B6 may be needed up to 500 mg per day or more.

3. Vitamin C should be taken between 500 mg and several thousand mg three times per day after meals.

4. Vitamin D3: 4000 IU per day in the summer months. In the winter months particularly populations who live far north require 6000 IU per day.

5. Vitamin B1 (thiamine): alcoholics and very high sugar consumers need thiamine at 100 to 500 mg three times per day.

6. Folic acid at mega doses (prescription needed) works as an antidepressant, which requires 25 to 50 mg. To lower homocysteine levels lower doses of folic acid are sufficient.

7. Vitamin E: usually 400 IU to 800 daily. Muscle wasting diseases, Huntington’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) require much higher doses up to 4000 IU per day.

8. Essential fatty acids (omega-3): It is strongly recommended to use a molecularly distilled product, which is free of mercury and PBC’s at 1000 mg three times daily following meals.

9. Selenium: The required dosage is 200 to 600 micrograms once daily (with any meal). In areas where selenium is deficient, this is particularly important.

10. Zinc: 50 mg of zinc citrate or 220 mg of zinc sulfate once per day with a meal.

11. Calcium and magnesium: Dr. Hoffer suggests 1000 mg of calcium with 500 mg of magnesium, although many experts now say that 1000 mg of calcium with 1000 mg of magnesium may be better.

Dr. Hoffer pointed out that this program is compatible with any medication and is non-toxic.

Thoughts on treating arthritis

 1. Conventional methods

The conventional approach to treatment of arthritis consists of anti-inflammatory medications like ANSAIDs. Unfortunately they have side effects like causing kidney damage after several years of use. Also, NSAIDs can lead to gastric bleeding from gastric erosions, which may require blood transfusions. Physiotherapy with reactivation and swimming have been found to be useful. Electro acupuncture can help for pain control.

2. Diet changes, multivitamins and minerals

As arthritis is found mostly in civilized nations, dietary factors have long been suspected to be of importance. Dr. Hoffer pointed out that arthritis is a pandeficiency disease meaning that overconsumption of sugar and processed foods has lead to multiple vitamin and mineral deficits that interfere with the cartilage metabolism leading to premature breakdown of cartilage and causing inflammation. It is not good enough to just take the supplements listed above; this needs to be combined with a fundamental change in diet. Cut out sugar and starchy foods. Return to homemade foods. Keep it simple with lots of vegetables, salads and organic meats. Now that you are starting to turn around your metabolism by a sensible diet the supplements listed above have a chance to work.

You will notice that Dan Dale Alexander’s idea of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin C (from the freshly pressed orange juice) is contained in the list of supplements above. Dr. Klenner’s mega doses of vitamin C are also listed and Dr. Kaufman’s mega doses of vitamin B3 is contained in this list as well.

This list may not have been formally researched with controlled clinical trials, because the food industry and the makers of NSAIDs (Big Pharma) have no interest in this. But thousands of patients have been empirically treated with this regimen and a network of orthomolecular physicians has established that this regimen works to control the inflammation of arthritis and at the same time has no toxic side-effects.

 3.Laser, platelet rich plasma (PRP) and stem cells

Blue and green lasers have anti-inflammatory properties and are suitable for interstitial and intra articular laser treatments of arthritis. Dr. Weber has extensive experience with this treatment modality in Germany. I have discussed this in another blog.

However, prolotherapy, PRP and stem cell treatments are also an option for more severe cases of arthritis, particularly in arthritis of the knees, which can avoid total knee replacement surgery.

Stop Suffering From Arthritis

Stop Suffering From Arthritis

Conclusion

I met Dr. Hoffer in the early 1980’s during a meeting in Vancouver, BC when he wanted to establish a local orthomolecular division for British Columbia. Although I found the ideas fascinating, I felt that the College of Physicians and Surgeons (the regulatory body for physicians in BC) would scrutinize the practice of any orthomolecular member. At that time I would risk losing my license to practice medicine, which I just had received in 1978. So I decided not to join. Interestingly enough later in the 1980’s a member of the orthomolecular society of BC lost his license because of the use of mega doses of intravenous vitamin C. At this time the College considered these infusions useless or hazardous. Nowadays, any naturopathic and orthomolecular physician uses these intravenous vitamin C treatments as standard therapies. It shows how times have changed.

What has not changed is the food industry that undermines our health every day with hidden sugar contained in processed foods. In social functions it is customary to have a drink or two, if not more, which uses up our thiamine faster than we can replace it. Pandeficiency disease is alive and well as it was many years ago. It is in front of our eyes, but can we see it? Depending on what your eating habits are, do you need to make changes in your diet and perhaps take some or all of the ingredients of the multivitamin and mineral list above? Start by adopting a Mediterranean type diet, then add some of the supplements listed above. It is time to take a thorough look at natural treatment modalities against arthritis in the interest of preserving your health!

References:

Ref. 1: Andrew W. Saul, Ph.D.: “The Orthomolecular Treatment of Chronic Disease. 65 Experts on Therapeutic and Preventative Nutrition”, Basic Health Publications, Laguna Beach, CA, 2014.

Ref. 2: Chapter in Ref. 1 by Dr. Hoffer: “Pandeficiency Disease”, pages 24-30 (2014).

Sep
03
2014

Probiotics Important For Your Health

Growing up in Germany after the Second World War I remember that every so often newspaper headings showed an older person in the nineties when the average life expectancy was in the late 60’s. The reporter asked, “What did you do to turn that old?” The answer was that the person always ate a lot of yogurt.

This did not sink into mainstream medicine at that time and people did not really believe this statement. How could eating yogurt make a person live longer?

Fast forward to 2014. You read about probiotics in magazines, on the Internet, get exposed to it in TV commercials.

In the Wikipedia it is accepted that yogurt can help seniors who have a lower bifidus bacteria population in their colon to rebalance their gut flora, which will prevent colon cancer. It also describes that yeast infections in women can be helped by yogurt.

In the meantime probiotics have been developed and concentrations like 20 to 80 billion bacteria per capsule with a mix of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species are available in the health food store for prevention.

The medical profession has studied the effects of higher potency probiotics and came to the conclusion that probiotics have indeed effects on the body far beyond the gut.

Here are a few highlights.

Probiotics Important For Your Health

Probiotics Important For Your Health

Bowel disease improves

In cases of bacterial or viral diarrhea the frequency of bowel movements and the intensity of bowel cramps gets helped within a few days, and recovery from the diarrhea is much faster with probiotic than without. Patient with irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis are helped with probiotics. Both constipation and diarrhea in otherwise healthy people are helped as well.

Immune system booster

The small bowel has been known for a long time to have clusters of immune cells within the bowel wall. Together they are a formidable immune organ in the gut, which connects to the blood and the rest of the immune system throughout the body (lymph glands, spleen, bone marrow). Specifically it has been proven in humans that macrophages, natural killer (NK) cells and cytotoxic T-lymphocytes, which are the working horses of the immune system, are all stimulated by probiotics.

Less respiratory infections

School children who were given 1 capsule of probiotics twice per day for 3 months and flu symptoms and absenteeism were observed due to colds and flus. When they did get a viral infection, the illness had a shorter course, resulting in much less school absenteeism over the course of the trial when compared to a placebo group. It seems that a healthy gut flora stimulates the immune system to work at its best.

Cancer prevention

To a certain degree cancer can be prevented by probiotics and other nutritional factors. Breast cancer is one of the cancers where probiotics have been shown to be effective in reducing disease.

Apparently the probiotic bacteria bind to the cancer causing factors (carcinogens) that some of the bad gut bacteria produce. Probiotics also suppress other bacteria that convert pro-carcinogens into carcinogens. This is not all: the probiotics also interfere with enzymes involved in the production of carcinogens in the gut, which stimulates the gut immune cells to produce cytokines that are needed in the battle against early cancer. Probiotics play a role in multiple processes that help the body to fight cancer, not only in the gut, but also in the rest of the body!

Helps diabetes get better

How can gut bacteria help diabetes, which is an endocrinological disease? Both human and animal studies have shown that insulin resistance is improved by probiotics. In a 6-week study both blood sugar levels and hemoglobin A1C values (that measure long-term control of diabetes) dropped significantly by eating 300 grams of yoghurt per day when compared to a control group who did not.

Obesity

Probiotics given to mothers at least one month prior to birth and at least up to 6 months after birth prevented excessive weight gain in both the mothers and their children. A lot of the inflammatory substances associated with obesity are suppressed by probiotics.

Probiotics reduce cardiovascular risk

Several studies have shown that probiotics lower LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and inflammatory markers in the blood stream resulting in lower risk for hardening of the arteries.

One should not look at probiotics as a single factor for prevention of heart attacks and strokes, but combine probiotics with exercise and a low refined carbohydrate diet. High sugar and starch diets lead to absorption of sugar in the stomach and small intestine. This results in a lack of nutrients to support the gut flora. When probiotics are combined with vegetables and lettuce there is the proper mix of fiber, minerals and other nutrients to sustain balanced bacteria in the bowels for preventing heart attacks and strokes and keeping inflammatory markers down. I have blogged about this before and stated that the combination of organic food (to avoid antibiotic residues in our diet), fruit and vegetables combined with probiotics will protect you from heart attacks and strokes.

Conclusion

Maybe the newspaper articles in Germany after the Second World War were right that something in yogurt (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species) can make you live longer. The explanation seems simple: add probiotics to your diet and you will have a better immune system, get less respiratory infections, prevent heart attacks and strokes and prevent obesity and cancer. All of this in combination will lead to healthier lives, and more people will live to tell about it.

Last edited Sept. 3, 2014

Aug
23
2014

Ebola Virus An Emerging Killer Infection

Ebola virus has now infected about 2600 and killed more than 1400 people in its short history. That’s a mortality of about 54% overall.

Two Americans who had been treating patients with Ebola virus disease (formerly called Ebola hemorrhagic fever) in Liberia, West Africa had been treated back in the US at a hospital in Atlanta. They have just been released as cured. They have been treated with an experimental drug called ZMapp. This is a monoclonal antibody from mice against surface components of the Ebola virus.

At this point no safety studies on humans have been performed with ZMapp, but a recent ethics committee meeting of the WHO has determined that the emergency use of ZMapp would be ethically acceptable due to the high death rate of the disease otherwise without treatment.

Other scenarios of killer infections

Several decades back some of the diseases mentioned in this article were basically unknown to the general population, but in the meantime some new infectious diseases have received a lot of media attention.

You will remember that there was an outbreak of anthrax spores by inhalation in 2001 in the US. A recent New England Journal of Medicine report points out that prior to 2001 the death rate of patients who had inhaled anthrax spores was 80% to 90% even with the use of antibiotics. However due to earlier detection and diagnosis, and due to aggressive supportive measures this epidemic of anthrax by inhalation had a mortality of only 45% toward the end or that epidemic. Had there been a new substance used that was ineffective, but harmless otherwise the reduced death rate would have been attributed to the erroneous conclusion that this new drug was effective in reducing mortality rates. This article cautions that rigid safety and effectiveness studies have to be done on ZMapp to ensure that it is a safe and effective drug to treat Ebola virus and that the reduction in death rates is truly from the drug, not just from improved supportive measures.

Other newer infections have been Marburg hemorrhagic fever caused by the Marburg virus. This also belongs to the Filoviridae family of viruses to which Ebola virus belongs as well. Then there is the SARS virus, the cause of severe acute respiratory syndrome. Not too long ago the BSE prion, which is the virus causing bovine spongiform encephalopathy made history.

What do we know about the Ebola virus?

There are 5 strains of the Ebola virus, one of which (the Zaire strain) is responsible for the present outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Africa. Dr. Jon Lai who is associate professor of biochemistry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City has developed antibodies in mice that will slow down and attack the aggressive Ebola virus when it enters the human body.

Ebola virus disease occurs in remote villages of the rainforest in Central and West Africa where fruit bats are the natural hosts of Ebola virus. It is transmitted from local fruit bats to animals (monkeys among others), to humans and can then be transmitted to other humans. The virus is not as easily transmitted as colds or the flu. For instance, the Ebola virus does not transmit through the air, food or water. But you can get Ebola virus through skin contact, fluid contact and through needles with blood from an infected person. Also, when surfaces are contaminated with infectious body fluids and you touch this contaminated surface with your skin, the virus will penetrate through the skin and get you infected.

There have been several outbreaks in Africa since 1976 as you can see from this WHO link.

This link also suggests that proper hygiene measure like cleaning of pig and monkey farms with sodium hypochlorite should be effective in inactivating the virus, which makes virus transmission to humans more difficult.

Ebola Virus An Emerging Killer Infection

Ebola Virus An Emerging Killer Infection

Symptoms of Ebola virus disease

Ebola virus disease has an incubation time of 8 to 10 days where the person may complain of some tiredness, but is not sick yet. This is the time when the Ebola virus multiplies. It  paralyzes the immune system and distributes itself through the organ system.

After these initial days of incubation there is a sudden onset of a sore throat, high fever and headaches, lack of appetite, a stomachache and weakness.

Now the Ebola virus disease takes off and becomes life threatening as the major organs are infected with the virus, and as a result, vital organs shut down their functions. As the production of coagulation factors from the liver stops, there is major bleeding from body orifices (nose, ears, eyes, mouth, and bloody diarrhea). A skin rash develops all over the body from bleeding into the skin.

At this point the disease gets out of control as the blood circulation collapses and the affected person dies in shock. Otherwise, if fluid loss can be corrected in time with intravenous fluids, there is the danger to die from multi-organ failure. A few persons manage to survive, if the immune system produces enough antibodies in a timely manner to inactivate the Ebola virus.

Treatment options

At this time there is no effective treatment against the Ebola virus disease. As mentioned earlier, ZMapp is an experimental drug that may have some merit treating Ebola virus disease in the future, but at this point it is considered experimental as human safety studies and effectiveness studies of the drug have not been completed. Any experimental treatment with ZMapp will be part of these studies for the next few years, but production issues will have to be sorted out as well as presently there is not enough ZMapp around to treat all of the Ebola virus infected people in Africa.

This leaves us with the only preventative approach of interrupting the infectious pathway. We do know that there is a geographic zone in Africa where fruit bats, the natural hosts of Ebola virus live. It is in the same geographic zone that all of the known Ebola virus disease cases have originated from. It follows from this that it is safer for humans to live outside that zone. So do not plan sightseeing or other trips into those areas, if you value your life; I should qualify this by saying “until an effective treatment against the Ebola virus has been established”.

Those who bury dead ones who came down with this disease must wear safety suits, which look like space suits. As already indicated, surfaces need to be disinfected with sodium hypochlorite. All of these hygienic measures interrupt the Ebola virus transmission. Quarantine measures need to be strictly enforced for those who are suspected of harboring Ebola virus disease to prevent spreading this disease into the rest of society.

Conclusions

Although the medical puzzle of the Ebola virus disease has not yet been completely solved, there are encouraging facts that have been learnt. The Ebola virus has been around Africa since 1976 and several outbreaks have occurred on this continent since. But spread beyond these borders has been avoided due to strict isolation practices. Even within Africa the worst cases of Ebola outbreaks have occurred mostly in villages where hygienic measures are not adhered to as thoroughly when compared to larger African cities where isolation around Ebola virus disease patients is strictly enforced by the local authorities.

Hopefully with the emergence of an effective treatment this disease will get out of the lime light as did other killer diseases in the recent past.

More information on Ebola virus: http://nethealthbook.com/infectious-disease/infectious-disease-infections/ebola-virus/

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

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Aug
13
2014

Pure Water A Necessity

Water has been in the news a lot: there has been the Toledo, Ohio incident affecting 400,000 residents because toxins of algae from Lake Erie entered into the public water system. At about the same time in northern British Columbia, Canada there was a broken dam from a mining company’s toxic wastewater reservoir spilling toxic wastewater into the Fraser River drinking water system.

Between 60 and 70% of our bodies are made up of water. We need water for a multitude of biochemical reactions that constantly take place within us. We need water to “run the engine”. This includes detoxification of our bodies as water is a large part of our kidney excretions (urine) and still is a significantly percentage of our stools. Water is the basis for our blood circulation.

Having said all this it is important that we insist only drinking pure water. In the following I will describe why this can be a problem and how to solve this problem.

Brief history of water purification

The first sand filter for water purification was developed in Scotland by a private company in 1804.

Based on this success, the Chelsea Waterworks Company in London in 1829 was founded, which was the first public water supply in the world. When a  choleraepidemic hit London in 1854, physician Dr. Snow discovered that cholera was confined to those districts in London where water was not purified and he provided the authorities with a dot map depicting the cholera cases in London, which correlated with the water system that used no filtration methods. When the pumps were switched off in this district of London, the cholera epidemic subsided.

Europe adopted the English model in the late 1800’s and added sewage treatment plants in order to separate wastewater from drinking water. The first sewage treatment plant was built in Frankfurt in 1887. This was necessary because of huge epidemics of cholera and typhoid fever that swept through Europe. When separation of sewage and drinking water was achieved, these epidemics stopped.

It is interesting that minimal water standards were introduced in the US only in 1914 and it took until 1940 before water purity was legislated federally.

Pure Water A Necessity

Pure Water A Necessity

Toxins in water

Townships have to get the drinking water they pipe into your house from somewhere. Often this is a lake, an artesian well or several artesian wells combined; in the past it was from rivers, but they are now mostly contaminated with sewage and chemicals.

There is the added problem that natural soil compositions vary tremendously throughout a country, so that arsenic is found very high in some parts of the world and the drinking water can be high in arsenic in those places.

Arsenic is contained naturally in soils of some areas, so-called “hot spots“.

It follows from here that some springs can also be contaminated with arsenic and other heavy metals. Heavy metals poison our internal enzyme systems and interfere with the body’s metabolism.

A well is more likely to contain arsenic than a river or lake as a water source. But we do not only concern ourselves with toxins; viruses and bacteria are also a problem.

Bacterial and viral contamination

In Europe, before cities built sewage systems it was not uncommon that excrements from humans and animals found their way into the well that was used for drinking water. We like to think that we are safe now with all of the laws and measures in place, but the various news stories teach us otherwise. Common bacterial contaminants are Salmonella, E.coli (strain O157:H7), Giardia lamblia, Legionella, the parasite Cryptosporidium and others.

In Canada there was a tragic incident in 2000 where thousands of residents of Walkerton, a small town in Ontario were exposed to E.coli (strain O157:H7). This was due to a chlorination unit that was not working, but those who were responsible for water quality maintenance were denying it and were not even properly trained to run the chlorination equipment.

Water testing

Water testing is at the beginning of any water purification system and intermittent ongoing testing is at the center of monitoring water quality on a permanent basis. Water inspectors need to constantly monitor the water source, the water purification process and the delivery system.

Many people in rural Canadian or US towns depend on well water. The same logic is true for water quality with regard to well water as it is for municipal water; just it is on a smaller scale.

You want to know what your water is like. It is not difficult to find out: take a water sample and have it analyzed at a water company. Depending on the result the water company will advise you what kind of filter you will need.

The first purification stage typically is an activated carbon filter that removes organic compounds, radon and other impurities. Every three or four days the filter automatically backwashes and cleans itself for about 45 minutes. Once a year the activated carbon has to be removed and replaced by a new filter. This type of filter is also useful for people who are on municipal water, but want to remove the halogens (fluoride, bromide, chloride) used to disinfect municipal water.

The second stage is an ultraviolet irradiation device. This disinfects the water just prior to coming to your water tap from any bacteria, viruses or parasites.

It is recommended that you also install a reverse osmosis system under your main kitchen sink. It will provide you with purified drinking water. Water produced by this filter goes through additional activated carbon filters and finally must pass through a porous membrane where only water can pass through, but heavy metals and other impurities will not. During an outbreak of Cryptosporidium in 1996 in Kelowna, BC those who had a reverse osmosis system were safe from this pathogen.

You can brush your teeth with confidence with reverse osmosis water, even if your drinking water is contaminated.

Proper water purification

If you are on municipal water, find out what system the municipality is using to ensure water safety. Usually there is a first step of a slow sand filter, where the raw water is first purified, then it undergoes a water chlorination, bromination or fluoridation process, which is done to remove bacteria and viruses. We know, however from a series of outbreaks of Cryptosporidium gastroenteritis cases in municipalities that only used this two stage purification process, that a third step, namely ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, is also necessary to eradicate this microscopic parasite.

Cryptosporidium was the problem behind a drinking water problem in the summer of 1996 in Kelowna, BC, the town of the interior of BC, Canada where I live. 50,000 residents had to get their drinking water from water trucks that were parked at certain locations of the town (about 40% of the population was affected by this water problem). Kelowna now has a modern ultraviolet irradiation system in place.

Immune system compromised people

People whose immune system is compromised such as AIDS patients or patients who had chemotherapy for cancer are very susceptible to Cryptosporidium and other parasites, bacteria and viruses. For them it is particularly important that the third stage, the ultraviolet irradiation step be part of the municipal water treatment process. If this is missing, have a home unit installed by a water company.

Conclusion

It is interesting to see how in Europe the history of water purification has been tightly linked to the history of cholera and typhoid fever epidemics; the quest for learning from these mistakes of the past has brought new solutions. The mistake in the past had been that in water sources wastewater contaminated the drinking water sources. To our modern thinking this seems unimaginable. But recent events that we read about in the news remind us that we cannot be lax on water purification. It is a reality that the same mistakes from the past are still sporadically made now! Know your water source; know the water quality of the water you brush your teeth with (for instance use only bottled water for this in Mexico). Remember that in many development countries to which you may travel there is no clear separation of drinking water and wastewater and there may not be a three-phase filtration system in place that I described above.

Enjoy drinking your clean, refreshing clean water until I meet you again in another blog.

More information on gastroenteritis (from unclean water): http://nethealthbook.com/digestive-system-and-gastrointestinal-disorders/gastroenteritis-food-poisoning/

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

Jul
12
2014

Food Safety Crucial In Summer

Although food safety is always important, it is particularly important in summer.   With the tropical storm Arthur recently there were many power failures and much spoilt food due to non-functioning refrigerators had to be discarded.

When there are parties and food is outside in warmer temperatures it does not take long before salmonella or enteric bacteria multiply in mayonnaise which acts like a growth medium. Ref.1 points out that traveler’s diarrhea is common in development countries. Bugs such as Shigella, enterotoxigenic E. coli, Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella species and others are the most common bacteria. But the rotavirus subtypes and the parasites Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia lamblia, Cryptosporidium species and Cyclospora cayetanensis are also frequent offenders that make people sick, make them vomit or cause diarrhea.

How is food poisoning caused?

Causes of food poisoning vary from food to food and between developed countries to developing countries. Bacterial contamination of meats or poultry is particularly common and prompt refrigeration at 4 degrees Celsius or lower (38 F or lower) is important to prevent bacteria from multiplying. People with contaminated hands that handle food in the retail grocery business can introduce bacteria or noroviruses into the food chain. Cross contamination such as cutting meat on a cutting board and subsequently cutting lettuce for a salad that is uncooked is a common source of food poisoning. While the bacteria or viruses of the meat that was cut and subsequently cooked is now safe to eat, the salad with the bacteria or viruses is certainly causing food poisoning. As the link above shows, 75% of oysters harvested around the shelves in Great Britain are contaminated with norovirus. It is important therefore to boil the oysters well to inactivate the norovirus; half cooked or raw oysters are simply not acceptable.

Food Safety Crucial In Summer

Food Safety Crucial In Summer

Pay attention to food preparation:

  1. Before you prepare a meal, make sure that all of the ingredients that come from packages have an expiry date well beyond the date when you prepare the meal. Anything that is beyond the expiry date may have a larger number of bacteria or viruses in them that could transfer into the rest of the meal.
  2. Keep in mind that during the summer outside temperatures are well beyond room temperature and it does not take long for bacteria to multiply at higher temperatures. The danger zone is between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C) where bacterial growth can occur. On many occasions scientists have measured that bacterial growth can double every 20 minutes, so within only 1 or two hours food such as mayonnaise, milk or eggs are spoilt!
  3. Never leave barbecued meats lying around and only deep freeze them later. When you thaw them in preparation for another meal in the future, you are dealing with spoilt food that already has bacteria in it as they grew before you have frozen the spoilt meat. Spoilt meat remains spoilt meat, even when you have stored it in the freezer! Throw it out.

Interrupt the infectious chain:

The key in food preparation and cooking as well as in safe refrigeration storage is to interrupt the infectious chain. If you get meat from the store, cook it thoroughly so it is safe to eat. The cooking process will destroy bacteria.

Drink bottled or boiled water. Avoid ice cubes, as they may have been prepared with contaminated water.  Avoid eating raw food. Eat salad only after it was thoroughly washed with clean water. In development countries or areas of questionable water supply go without salad until you enter a country where general hygienic standards are observed. Peel fruit yourself; don’t eat fruit salads prepared by others. Generally speaking food should be eaten hot. Avoid raw and poorly cooked seafood; invariably this is a risk for exposing yourself to unknown bacteria or viruses.

Eating in a restaurant is not as safe as eating at someone’s home.

When you think about summer recreation, think about swimming pools; think also about recreational pools that may also be contaminated. If there is no appropriate chlorination equipment present, it is unsafe to use that pool.

Treatment of traveler’s diarrhea:

If you should get abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting you likely got traveler’s diarrhea. If you can, see a physician to confirm the diagnosis. In Mexico you often can go directly to the pharmacist and get antibacterial medication over the counter. Often a 3 day course of fluoroquinolones (e.g. Cipro), trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, azithromycin, or rifaximin is effective.

Whether the antibiotic is effective depends on the area where you travel, which also determines the resistance pattern. Further, it depends on what organisms are present in the contaminated food or environment and it depends on the patient’s age. For children below 16 the recommended antibiotic is azithromycin, for persons older than 16 ciprofloxacin (Cipro) is used (Ref.1).

Prevention of food poisoning:

We can do a lot to avoid food poisoning. First of all, we need to wash our hands after having used the washroom and before we handle food. Avoid cross contamination as already described. Wash your hands again when you are finished handling raw meat, particularly hamburger meat. Make sure that meat is cooked until it is completely through. You may want to use a food thermometer, which will assist you to know that the meat is thoroughly cooked; as this link shows pork is done at 140°F, but chicken and ground poultry should be cooked until the meat temperature reaches 165°F. Ground beef requires 160°F. As the link shows, it is safer to include a 3-minute rest time following the reaching of the target temperature to ensure that no more live bacteria or viruses are left in the cooked meat.

More information on food safety: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/food-safety/

Conclusion:

Have a safe summer and enjoy backyard BBQ’s following the simple rules mentioned before. Should you travel, make sure it is safe and you prevent traveler’s diarrhea. The principles of safe food handling and food preparation are simple and can be learnt by anyone. Make sure any unused food is refrigerated right after the meal, not more than two hours later. Otherwise old food should be discarded.

References:

1. Kliegman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed.Copyright 2011, Saunders.

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

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