My clients who suffer from seasonal allergies were hit hard this year – and earlier than usual. The warm February temperatures caused Washington’s flowering trees and shrubs to come out of their winter slumber gloriously. Our famed cherry trees and camellias are almost in full bloom. Even my hydrangeas’ buds are peaking out.
This beautiful display does not feel so beautiful for people with spring allergies. They often have symptoms, caused by the flowers’ pollen, which impact their quality of life: lack of sleep, reduced productivity at work or school, emotional stress and embarrassment…. and the medications designed to improve those symptoms, depending on the person, may be no better, and cause dry mouth, sleeplessness, and drowsiness. A new study set out to test if certain strains of beneficial probiotic bacteria would reduce symptoms and improve quality of life during allergy season for its sufferers.
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the first randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial – the gold standard of human research – testing this hypothesis, divided 178 allergy sufferers into two groups and tested them during spring allergy season for eight weeks. One group received the probiotic supplement*, the other received the placebo.
The study found the probiotic group experienced improved quality of life symptoms compared to the placebo group. That said, scientists are still working out which of the beneficial probiotic bacteria work best with individual allergens, when to start taking them, and which probiotic bacteria will react most positively with a person’s specific microbiota (the 100 million bacterial organisms in your digestive tract), as each person’s microbiota is different. They mentioned that starting probiotics at a younger age may be more effective, too.
In the meantime, I believe eating foods which naturally contain beneficial probiotic bacteria, such as yogurt, is the best solution for trying to reduce your allergy symptoms. In fact, I recommend eating yogurt every day! Though, I don’t recommend counting on supplements because, as of now, no probiotic supplements have passed the tests allowing them to make a health claim.
Here’s one of my favorite yogurt recipes developed by Georgetown resident, cookbook author, and my friend Najmieh Batmanglij, and found in my book, Diet Simple…
*(Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2 provided by Wakunaga of America Co Ltd)
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Yogurt has long been considered a healthy option, as it’s packed with protein, calcium, potassium and other nutrients. It’s a great way to get probiotics, which are important for improving digestive health; but also a vast array of health conditions.
Yogurt consumption has been shown to improve bone health (eating yogurt lead to better bone mineral density) and cardiovascular health (yogurt-eaters were 31% less likely to develop high blood pressure), lower one’s risk of getting Type 2 diabetes, and be a useful tool in weight management.
Many of these benefits come from the probiotics found in yogurt, which are associated with a myriad health improvements. Evidence shows that probiotics could help prevent Type 2 diabetes by preventing insulin resistance and allowing your body to more readily burn body fat. But probiotic benefits may go beyond that. Some studies have even shown that probiotics led to improvements in immune functions in HIV-infected patients.
The research is clear: yogurt is a great addition to any diet, particularly if you want to improve your immune response and powers of healing, bone, heart, gastrointestinal health or improve your weight. Pick some up today! I believe any type will do… as long as you eat at least one or two cups per day.
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Over the years, I’ve noticed that clients who added a certain item to their diet seemed more likely to lose weight. And this happened even when their calorie intake remained the same. What is this superfood? It’s nothing weird, it’s not a supplement, it’s cheap and found everywhere — And it’s a product that may go back to Neolithic times: yogurt.
For years, I’ve wondered why this versatile food worked so well, and now, new scientific research is backing my observations. It turns out that the bacterial organisms in the digestive tract — about 100 million of them (10 times the number of human cells), collectively called the microbiome — are akin to a fully functioning organ, and can have a positive or negative effect on human health.
At a National Institutes of Health conference entitled “The Human Microbiome: Implications for Nutrition and Clinical Practice,” held in March in Bethesda, Md., Cindy Davis of the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health, shared some findings. “The microbiome is influenced by several dietary components,” she said. One of which is yogurt.
Probiotics plus prebiotics
Why is this? Yogurt contains a class of bacteria called probiotics that “remain alive during processing and shelf life, survive digestion and then cause health benefits,” said Jo Ann Hattner, a registered dietitian, consultant at the Stanford University School of Medicine and co-author of “Gut Insight.” She added that together with certain foods known as prebiotics, probiotics create a symbiotic relationship that profoundly benefit your microbiome and your health.
“Prebiotics are nondigestible, fermentable carbohydrates that stimulate and promote activity of beneficial gut bacteria,” Hattner co-wrote in a recent issue of San Francisco Medicine, a publication of the San Francisco Medical Society. “Prebiotics are the booster substance for probiotics. As the beneficial gut microbes increase in number, pathogenic bacteria — such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli — decrease.””Ingesting prebiotics is a practical way of manipulating the microbiota, since they support and increase the beneficial bacteria population in the gut,” Hattner added. “Together, probiotics and prebiotics are an important duo. In addition, prebiotic fibers are components of the healthiest foods on the planet — natural plant foods.”
To achieve maximum benefit, you need both kinds of food: probiotics and prebiotics, and new research is finding the health benefits may be vast.
“These bacteria protect us by preventing infection and enhancing immunity, and that makes gastrointestinal health critical to overall health,” Hattner said.
More benefits of the microbiome
In addition, research is finding that a healthy microbiome may play a role in reducing inflammation, a risk factor involved in illnesses ranging from colds to cancer, heart disease, arthritis and cognitive decline.
These bacteria may also help burn body fat and reduce insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes, according to a recent study published in the journal Nutrients. Interestingly, “Mother’s milk contains both pre[biotics] and probiotics,” said Hattner. So it transfers the health benefits to the baby. This may explain studies that show people who were not breastfed are more likely to be overweight.
Prebiotics are important because they nourish the probiotics, increasing their effectiveness — and prebiotics are in a host of foods.
Still, nutritionists are in the initial phases of human research, and there is much to be learned. In the meantime, the message is clear: Eat a plant-based diet and plenty of yogurt!
1. Eat probiotics like yogurt, kefir and soy yogurt
2. Eat prebiotics (from Hattner’s article) such as:
– fruits like apples, bananas, berries, raisins and kiwifruit
– greens, onions, garlic and leeks
– lentils, chickpeas and beans
– brown rice, corn, buckwheat, flaxseed, whole wheat, whole rye, barley
– green tea
3. Use artificial sweeteners with caution. (A preliminary study found that artificial sweeteners may effect the microbiome negatively, increasing body fat and insulin resistance.)
5. Breastfeed your baby.
6. Don’t count on probiotic pills or supplements to improve your microbiome, as there isn’t one that has passed the tests needed for a health claim. (This was also a point made by scientists at the NIH conference.)
The importance of your digestive system’s microbiome should not be underestimated. It affects every organ in the body, bringing about sickness or health. Many experts believe this research is bringing about a revolution in health care.
Interestingly, the recommendations registered dietitians and nutritionists have been making for decades is being proven correct: “Eat a plant-based diet!” Just be sure to include fermented foods, such as yogurt!
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Katherine’s 5 Tips are at the end of the article…
For years, my clients have asked me, “Is it better to eat ‘sugar-free’ yogurt? Or, yogurt with fruit on the bottom with all that sugar? What about sugar in my coffee? Sugar-sweetened beverages, like soft drinks?” My answer has alway been, to my clients’ surprise, “A little sugar won’t hurt. Eat the yogurt you enjoy the most, even if there’s a little jam at the bottom! And a teaspoon of sugar in your coffee shouldn’t do any harm.” New scientific research may prove my moderate approach has been right all along.
Artificially sweetened beverages and foods are seen as guilt-free pleasures, because they are lower in calories – or even zero calories – compared to other similar foods. You may think of them as a great choice when you’re trying to lose weight or trying to keep blood sugar in check. But some surprising new research suggests that artificial sweeteners might actually do the opposite, “by changing the microbes living in our intestines ,” according to experts at The National Institutes of Health.*
To explore the impact of various kinds of sweeteners on the zillions of microbes living in the human intestine (referred to as the gut microbiome), an Israeli research team first turned to mice. One group of mice was given water that contained one of two natural sugars: glucose or sucrose; the other group received water that contained one of three artificial sweeteners: saccharin (the main ingredient in Sweet’N Low®), sucralose (Splenda®), or aspartame (Equal®, Nutrasweet®). Both groups ate a diet of normal mouse chow.
To their surprise, the researchers discovered that many animals in the artificial sweetener groups—especially those that drank saccharin-sweetened water—developed a condition called glucose intolerance, which is characterized by high blood glucose levels and is an early warning sign of increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes. In contrast, the animals that drank sugar water remained healthy.
The result was puzzling. These mice weren’t consuming natural sugars, so what was raising their blood glucose levels? The researchers had a hunch that the answer might lie in the gut microbiome—since those microbes play a vital role in digestion. Their suspicions were borne out. When they used DNA sequencing to analyze the artificial sweetener group’s gut microbiome, they found a distinctly different collection of microbes than in the animals drinking sugar water.
The next step was to distinguish whether these changes in the microbiome resulted from high blood glucose, or caused it. When the researchers used antibiotics to wipe out the artificial sweetener group’s gut microbes, their blood glucose levels returned to normal—evidence that the gut microbes were actively causing glucose intolerance. Additional proof came from experiments in which the researchers transplanted microbes from both groups of mice into the intestines of a mouse strain that had been raised in a sterile environment from birth. The germ-free mice that received microbes from the artificial sweetener group developed glucose intolerance; those getting microbes from the sugar group did not.
But what about humans?
The research team examined clinical data from 400 people taking part in an ongoing nutrition study. That analysis showed that, compared to people who didn’t use artificial sweeteners, long-term users of artificial sweeteners tended to have higher blood glucose levels and other parameters often associated with metabolic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver.
Next, the researchers asked seven healthy human volunteers, who had never previously consumed foods or beverages containing artificial sweeteners, to consume the daily maximum dose of saccharin allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for six consecutive days. Of the seven volunteers, four developed glucose intolerance, while three maintained normal blood glucose regulation. The researchers then took intestinal microbes from human volunteers and transplanted them into germ-free mice. Microbes from humans with glucose intolerance also triggered glucose intolerance in the mice, while microbes from humans with normal blood glucose had no effect.
Previous studies have associated changes in the gut microbiome with obesity and diabetes in humans [2, 3, 4]. But the latest findings, which still must be confirmed in larger studies and by other groups, advance our knowledge one step further by suggesting that artificial sweeteners may be one of what’s likely to be an array of factors with the power to shape such changes. Who knows what the next piece of that fascinating puzzle might be?
Katherine’s 5 Tips
- Use artificial sweeteners with caution,
- Just a spoonful of sugar/jam/honey can’t hurt – maximum 10% of your calorie needs – for example, if you need 1,500 calories per day, enjoy 150 calories worth of sweets per day,
- As usual, moderation is key. If you have trouble eating too many sweets, find out why and click for strategies,
- Eat plenty of yogurt, which contains natural probiotics, to populate your gastrointestinal tract with healthy microbes (they may help reduce body fat and insulin resistance),
- Eat plenty of high fiber foods, considered “prebiotics,” which increase the effectiveness of the probiotics, helping your gastrointestinal tract stay healthy,
- If you have an interest in learning more about sugar substitutes, take a look at the Center for Science and Public Interest’s “Sweet Nothings: Safe or Scary… The Inside Scoop on Sugar Substitutes.”
 Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Suez J, Korem T, Zeevi D, Zilberman-Schapira G, Thaiss CA, Maza O, Israeli D, Zmora N, Gilad S, Weinberger A, Kuperman Y, Harmelin A, Kolodkin-Gal I, Shapiro H, Halpern Z, Segal E, Elinav E. Nature. 2014 Sep 17.
 Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity. Ley RE, Turnbaugh PJ, Klein S, Gordon JI. Nature. 2006 Dec 21;444(7122):1022-3.
 A metagenome-wide association study of gut microbiota in type 2 diabetes. Qin J, Li Y, Cai Z, Li S, Zhu J, Zhang F, Liang S, Zhang W, Guan Y, Shen D, Peng Y, Zhang D, Jie Z, Wu W, Qin Y, Xue W, Li J, Han L, Lu D, Wu P, Dai Y, Sun X, Li Z, Tang A, Zhong S, Li X, Chen W, Xu R, Wang M, Feng Q, Gong M, Yu J, Zhang Y, Zhang M, Hansen T, Sanchez G, Raes J, Falony G, Okuda S, Almeida M, LeChatelier E, Renault P, Pons N, Batto JM, Zhang Z, Chen H, Yang R, Zheng W, Li S, Yang H, Wang J, Ehrlich SD, Nielsen R, Pedersen O, Kristiansen K, Wang J. Nature. 2012 Oct 4;490(7418):55-60.
 Gut metagenome in European women with normal, impaired and diabetic glucose control.Karlsson FH, Tremaroli V, Nookaew I, Bergström G, Behre CJ, Fagerberg B, Nielsen J, Bäckhed F. Nature. 2013 Jun 6;498(7452):99-103.
*The article above is from the National Institutes of Health
Photo by www.sugar.org
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It’s scary thinking of my mother going through surgery. I’m especially concerned that she maintain her active life here in Westlake Village, California. Mom has tons of friends, she volunteers at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Center, and she and Dad even work as Crossing Guards at local elementary schools. They regularly attend concerts at Hollywood Bowl (she LOVES Pink Martini),visit wineries, well, you get the idea. They may be “retired,” but they’re definitely not retired from living life!
To get her back to fighting form as soon as possible, she’s following my special “Healing Diet.” My healing diet worked beautifully after her hip replacement surgery 5 years ago; she healed quickly, and without the weight gain she dreaded. So I’m back again repeating the performance!
What you eat profoundly affects your ability to recover from surgery or heal from any injury. Everyone’s nutritional needs are different, but there are general rules of thumb for maximizing your body’s ability to heal through foods.
Healing Nutrition Principles
Because you’re sick or recovering from an illness or surgery, you are inactive. That means your calorie need is usually quite low (there are exceptions), but to heal properly, your nutrient intake must be high. It’s challenging to keep calories low, yet nutrients high; but it is very do-able, and I have successfully helped many people (including my mother) recover from surgeries and illnesses without weight gain, and even some weight loss – while at the same time – healing quickly and effectively. To do this, concentrate on nutrient-dense, low calorie healing foods, eaten at regular time through the day.
Protein is one of the most important nutrients in the human body, second only to water. Protein is critical for healing. Immune function is impaired without enough. The antibodies essential to protecting your body against pathogens are made of protein. Protein builds muscle and tissue, broken down after injury or surgery.Without enough protein, your body has no chance to heal.
Certain vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, children, and those who already have compromised immune systems, should be particularly careful to eat enough protein – even more than the recommended dietary allowance – for maximized protection. Your protein needs should be individualized and, to maximize your body’s ability to absorb and use the protein, should be eaten in small amounts through the day. Stick with lean, low calorie protein sources since you’re not active (see examples below). Learn more about protein…
Fats and Oils
The type of fat you eat can improve healing and the effectiveness of your body’s immune response because fat ends up in all of your body’s cell walls. It acts as a cell lubricant, improves flexibility and communication between cells. If the fat you eat is saturated – solid at room temperature – as in butter or animal fat – this decreases cellular flexibility and functioning. Learn more about healthy, healing fats… Eat healthy fats at each meal, but keep your fat intake low, as fats are high in calories, and since you’re inactive, you must keep your calorie intake low.
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Encore: “It Does A Body Bad?”
The Daily Show’s Ed Helms (“The Office”) Investigates Weapons of Mass Destruction you may be harboring in YOUR OWN HOME!
Watch Helms interview Katherine on Comedy Central…
Watch on Comedy Central…