As we continue to learn how important healthy gut bacteria is for the brain and immune system, interest in cultivating a rich and diverse “gut microbiome” grows.
One important tool in this quest are spore-based probiotic supplements. “Spore” is derived from the word “seed,” and spore-based probiotics are a hardy delivery system that germinate in the small intestine and help you colonize your gut with more healthy bacteria.
Modern humans face many challenges to developing and maintaining healthy gut bacteria. In fact, studies of primitive people who live much like our hunter gatherer ancestors did show their guts have about 50 percent more diversity in gut bacteria than the average American. Its not just how much good bacteria you have, it’s how many different types.
Researchers are finding this lack of microbiome diversity plays a role in many chronic health and brain disorders, including depression and autoimmunity.
This is often one of the reasons I recommend periodically switching probiotic brands and strains. Diversity.
Low-fiber, junk food diets, antibiotic overuse, chlorinated water, heavy environmental toxin and pollution loads, chronic stress, alcohol, and various medications all play a role in reducing the diversity and amount of beneficial gut bacteria.
As a result, opportunistic and infectious “bad” gut bacteria are able to more easily conquer the gut. This weakens the gut lining, increases inflammation, and promotes brain and mood disorders.
There are many ways we can build a healthy and diverse population of gut bacteria. The most important is to eat a whole foods diet that is predominantly vegetables and fruits. It’s important to vary the kind of produce you eat regularly. It’s also helpful to include cultured and fermented foods and take probiotics. Also, avoid drugs such as antibiotics, NSAIDs, and heartburn medication as much as possible, which can also contribute to the development of leaky gut, among other things.
Given the challenges the modern gut faces, it’s not a bad idea to make probiotics a part of your routine. This is where spore-based probiotics come in. What makes spore-based probiotics special?
- The survive the acidic environment of the stomach on their way to the intestines.
- They resist breakdown by digestive enzymes.
- They are heat stable and don’t need to be stored in the refrigerator.
- Some spores are antibiotic-resistant, which means you can take while taking antibiotics.
Once in the small intestine, spore-based probiotics can germinate,
if you provide the right environment with plenty of plant fiber.
Spore probiotics and healthy gut bacteria in general can help improve your health in several ways. They improve the health and integrity of the lining of the small intestine. This lining contains not only bacteria but also plenty of immune cells to defend the bloodstream from bad bacteria, yeast, toxins, undigested foods, and other pathogens that can trigger inflammation if they make their way through the gut lining into the bloodstream. This is called leaky gut.
For instance, one strain of spore-based probiotic, bacillus coagulans, has been well studied for its beneficial effect on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease.
Bacillus coagulans produces lactic acid, which has been shown to help protect the gut and boost immune resistance to viruses. It has also been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.
Ask my office for more information on how to support healthy gut bacteria and help eradicate bad bacteria to improve immune health.
Now go eat something new, go eat some dirt, get exposed to some new healthy bacteria.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, he happy!
The beauty of functional medicine is it puts your health journey in your hands. The curse of functional medicine is that, compared to popping a pill, eating healthy takes more time, which can feel stressful.
Enter the Instant Pot, a relatively new kitchen appliance that is simple to use, makes it easy to stick to a whole foods diet, and takes a lot of stress out of cooking when your schedule is hectic. This can be one of the best functional medicine tools to following a good diet towards healing.
What makes the Instant Pot a good functional medicine tool?
The Instant Pot’s success is in its multiple features and that it produces consistent results. The Instant Pot sautés, foolproof pressure cooks, slow cooks, makes yogurt, functions as a rice cooker (not that you should have this a lot though), and quickly makes bone broths (one of my favorite and most often used benefit of the instant pot)
It is conducive to big batch meals that will create nutritious leftovers for a few days.
Here are some ways the Instant Pot can help you save time in the kitchen without sacrificing nutrition:
Cooks frozen meats. How many times have you forgotten to put the meat out to thaw for dinner? You can put your frozen meat in the Instant Pot and still have stew for dinner.
Cuts down on dishwashing (yeah!). The Instant Pot allows you to do multiple things in one pot, cutting down on dirty pots and pans. For instance, you can sauté the onions and brown the meat in the same pot you cook your stew in. Additionally, you can cook in Pyrex bowls inside the Instant Pot, which can then be stored in the fridge and used as a lunch container.
Don’t even try this with plastic. This should be self explanatory but I’m saying it because you would be surprised at what some people do.
Removes the stress of timing. Once you put your meal in the Instant Pot, you press a button for how long it needs to cook and then you can walk away. Not only will it shut itself off, it will also keep food warm for up to 10 hours. It makes reliable hard boiled eggs, and some people even crack their raw eggs into a bowl before cooking for a quick and easy egg salad that doesn’t require peeling egg shells.
Takes the complexity out of pressure cooking. The Instant Pot’s most popular feature is pressure cooking, which radically shortens cooking times. Best of all, it uses a foolproof design so you don’t have to worry about blowing up your kitchen. Which has and can happen with regular pressure cookers.
It’s a great slow cooker. One of the most satisfying dinners is the one you make in the morning and it’s waiting hot for you in the evening. This is perfect for those with alternate work hours or those workaholics that don’t get home until late and heave a tendency to just pick up something on the way home. In addition to cooking quickly, the Instant Pot is a great slow cooker, and you can brown the meat in the same pot.
Makes dairy-free yogurt. Yogurt is a delicious and convenient snack that is hard to give up when you go dairy-free. Dairy-free yogurts are expensive and filled with thickening gums, which are irritating and immune reactive for many people. The Instant Pot is a great dairy-free yogurt maker, using gelatin or chia as a thickener. You will need to order a high-quality brand of coconut milk however, for a good end result.
Easy squash and root veggie cooking. Peeling and chopping squash and root veggies can be a real deterrent to including them in your diet. No worries, just toss them in the Instant Pot whole and then peel, seed, and chop them after they’re cooked. Cooking more fragile vegetables such as broccoli, however, is best left to the stove top steam basket to avoid overcooking. Make sure it’s an all stainless steel one, no plastic or silicone.
These are just a few of the ways the Instant Pot can be a part of a functional medicine protocol to help you manage a chronic health disorder. Don't be intimidated by it — the learning curve is quick and you’ll soon be able to intuit how to use it. The internet abounds with tips, recipes, and general enthusiasm to get you up to speed.
As a little personal side note, I generally recommend gong with the bigger sizes, specially if this is for a family. If you are just an individual or a couple then consider the medium size. The small size isn’t really good for much other than a little bit of yogurt or doing something like fondu, if your into that.
There are also a number of recipe books specifically for the instant pot. None of these are functional medicine specific though, at least not yet. My wife and I are thinking about putting one together so stay tuned.
Now go out and get your next functional medicine tool.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!
The average American eats 20 teaspoon of sugar per day. This is the equivalent of 1/2 of a cup of sugar.
A new investigation reveals the sugar industry successfully blamed fat for heart disease using skewed science, when sugar is the main culprit.
I don’t know how “new” this study is. We’ve actually known this for a pretty long time. But, that is how many things in traditional healthcare work. They find out certain health beliefs are really antiquated.
This corporate deceit triggered more than 50 years of a nutritional “low-fat” policy that helped make Americans the fattest and most chronically ill population on the planet, thanks to diets high in sugars and processed carbohydrates. Sadly, it’s an ideology still touted today in many doctors’ offices. Old habits die hard. Specially with doctors.
Using tactics similar to those of the tobacco industry, the sugar industry funded research that downplayed the role of sugar consumption in raising levels of fat in the blood and did not disclose findings that linked sugar with heart disease.
The industry’s own animal studies showed high-sugar diets increased triglyceride levels, thus raising the risk of heart attack and stroke, and also increased the risk of bladder cancer. They pulled the plug on the study before it could be completed.
The Washington DC-based Sugar Association said the study was stopped because it was over budget and coincided with restructuring of the Sugar Research Foundation. It also said scientific recommendations to limit sugar to no more than 10 percent of daily calories are “out of bounds.” Very convenient!
Had the study been completed, it could have led to further research and policies that put the welfare of American citizens — not the sugar and processed food industries — first. Thats a novel idea. But you know how it goes, profit before people.
This could have saved millions of Americans and their families from the heartbreak and devastation of sugar-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
We can see another telling example in a 2018 European study that shows a significant correlation between the amount of processed foods people keep in their homes and obesity and related diseases. Though Americans and Europeans have, surprisingly, eaten roughly the same number of calories over the decades, significantly more Americans than Europeans are obese and ill thanks to corrupt marketing and nutritional policy.
While the policies of the last several decades have steadily made Americans fatter and sicker, they have also been fuel for the multi-billion-dollar weight loss industry that arose in response to the collective weight gain. Sugar content simply replaced fat calories in fat-free foods dominating the shelves.
The trouble with foods high in sugar and processed carbs (which are essentially sugar once ingested) is not only do they make people fatter, but they also trigger a hormonal cascade that increases sugar cravings while turning off the satiety hormones gastrin and leptin so that one feels constantly hungry. Diets have been shown to fail most people in sustained weight loss and even trigger eating disorders.
The low-fat, high-carb diet sends you on a downward spiral that ends with a foundation for chronic disease based on high inflammation, accelerated brain degeneration, and metabolic imbalances.
In functional medicine, we see myriad chronic disorders that can be significantly ameliorated or even reversed simply by stabilizing blood sugar and saying goodbye to the Standard American Diet (SAD) in favor of a whole foods diet. Sometimes this is a simple endeavor, other times, such as in chronic issues, you will need a lot of help and more than simple “diet modification”.
Ask my office for advice on the best diet for your chronic health condition
Here is a short list of some books on the topic of sugar and how they affect health that may be of help.
Eat fat, get thin
Why isn’t my brain working
The end of Alzheimers - Probably one of my favorite most recent books. its a little more technical for the average reader but really good!
These books are not specific to just sugar and its dangers but a large part of them deals with sugar.
Now go eat some fat!
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!
We’re learning what a vital role good gut bacteria play in immune health, brain health, mood, and, of course, gut health.
One of the best health quotes of all time is… “Health comes from above, down, inside, out”
We also know that the best way to beef up your good gut bacteria is through eating lots of different kinds of vegetables and fruits every day.
But researchers have discovered yet another way to promote healthy gut bacteria: Regular exercise.
Our digestive tract is home to trillions of gut bacteria that weigh about three to four pounds all together, and are made up of over a 1,000 different species and 5,000 strains. This is the very definition of a symbiotic relationship. Our body depends on these gut bacteria to:
- Metabolize nutrients
- Protect the intestinal wall
- Produce vitamin K and short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are important for immune health
- Maintain health of the digestive tract
- Regulate immunity
- Prevent inflammation
- Promote good brain health and function - infant many studies are even finding that Parkinsons may actually start in the gut and work its way up the vagus nerve into the brain. But that is another post for another blog. Very interesting stuff though.
As our understanding of healthy gut bacteria evolves, so does the information on how to cultivate your own “microbiome” while inhibiting overgrowth of “bad” bacteria that are infectious and inflammatory.
This imbalance of good and bad bacteria is often what is referred as dysbiosis - Too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria.
Initially, fermented foods and probiotics were thought to be the main recourse for improving gut health, and they do go a long ways. But, they are not the only way.
Then we learned eating a diet comprised primarily of vegetables and fruits and continually changing up the produce you eat is a great way to develop a rich and diverse gut bacteria population.
Now, scientists have used both a mouse study and a human study to show regular exercise, independent of diet or other factors, also promotes healthy gut bacteria. Meaning that if you do nothing other than exercise you can beneficially change your gut bacteria.
In the first study, researchers transplanted fecal material from both exercised and sedentary mice into mice with sterile guts. The activity level of the mice receiving the transplants clearly mirrored that of their donors, showing that the kind of gut bacteria we have plays a role in how inclined we are to be sedentary or active.
The exercised mice recipients also showed more bacteria that produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that promotes healthy intestinal cells, reduces inflammation, and increases energy. They also were more resistant to ulcerative colitis. N-butyrate is THE most important short chain fatty acid.
In the second study, researchers tracked the composition of gut bacteria in 18 lean and 14 obese adults as they transitioned from a sedentary lifestyle, to an active one, and then back to a sedentary one. Their exercise routine consisted of 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week for six weeks.
Their diets remained the same.
They found that exercise raised levels of SCFAs and then declined again as the subjects became sedentary. A rise in SCFAs means concentrations of good gut bacteria increased. The lean participants showed more dramatic increases of SCFAs than obese ones, and more diverse ratios of bacteria, suggesting obese people respond differently to exercise. Nevertheless, increases happened in both populations.
The break down and take away from all of this is as follow. The gut bacteria influences how active we are and how active we are influences our gut bacteria. As is often the case in health, the answer is YES. What came first? The chicken or the egg? Yes. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy no matter which way you look at it and you have to make a conscious effort to change your thoughts and your biology.
As our knowledge of gut bacteria, functional medicine, and the human body continues to evolve, it nevertheless circles back to some age-old pearls of wisdom: Eat your vegetables and exercise, it can go a long way to better health. If that doesn’t do the trick, come and see me.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!
We’ve long been pitched canola’s health benefits. If something is advertised it must be true right.
After all, Whole Foods uses it in all their prepared foods and many vegetarian and vegan products proudly promote it as a feature ingredient.
But when scientists, who had shown the brain benefits of olive oil in mice, decided to run the same studies with canola oil, they uncovered a darker truth: Canola oil worsens memory and promotes amyloid plaques, a hallmark Alzheimer’s symptom.
In the olive oil study, researchers gave mice with Alzheimer’s Disease a diet enriched with extra-virgin olive oil and found that compared to the control group, the mice experienced improvements in memory as well as a reduction in amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau, which creates the neurofibrillary tangles that degenerate the brain in Alzheimer’s. Thats scientific talk for BAD STUFF.
They replicated the study with canola oil, one of the cheapest and most widely used oils in the world, to see what effects it might have on the brain.
The control group ate a normal diet while the study group was fed the equivalent of two tablespoons a day of canola oil.
After 12 months, researchers observed the following in the canola oil mice:
- They weighed significantly more than the control group.
- They suffered impairments in working memory.
- They had greatly reduced levels of a beneficial form of amyloid beta (amyloid beta 1-40). Amyloid beta 1-40 acts as a buffer to the damaging amyloid beta 1-42. When amyloid beta 1-40 goes down, it leaves the 1-42 form unchecked to degenerate the brain. i.e. NOT GOOD.
- They showed reduced connectivity between neurons in the brain. Synapses are areas of neurons through which they communicate with one another, playing a vital role in memory formation and retrieval. The drop in amyloid beta 1-40 caused extensive synapse injury. Basically it caused the nerves to not talk to each other as well.
The scientists plan to conduct a follow-up study to determine how soon neuron damage begins to happen after regular consumption of canola oil, whether it impacts tau phosphorylation, and whether canola oil promotes other neurodegenerative diseases in addition to Alzheimer’s. Sounds like a good idea to me.
So what should you eat instead of canola oil?
When you eat out or buy processed and packaged foods, it’s difficult to find foods that don’t contain canola oil, soybean oil, or processed vegetable oils, none of which are healthy for the brain. It’s especially important to avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, which have also been linked with memory loss.
The brain is made up primarily of fat, approximately 60% fat, which means the fats you eat help determine the structure of your neurons and how well they are able to communicate with one another. For instance, hydrogenated fats have been shown to make cell membranes more rigid and less able to function properly.
Instead of industrially processed vegetable oils, use extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and ghee. The less processed the better and be careful about heating any oils up too much when you are cooking.
Go feed your brain with some health fats.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy.