Basics, GI-tract, gut flora, Physiology

Gut Bacteria – The Million Secret Agents of Your Intestines

You are never alone. No really! bacteria, gut flora
You are the host of a micro cosmos of bacteria, living a symbiotic relationship in and on your skin, eyes, respiratory system and excretory organs. We have been evolving with these tiny, for us invisible, creatures for so long, that our lives depend on them. They work closely with our cells and fulfill functions that we cannot do on our own.
The largest colonies of these bacteria are living in our gut, they actually out-number the cells within our body by far! Most of you, if you are healthy, carry about 1,5 kg (3,3 lb) of bacteria in your guts. Remember that these guys are microscopic and together they weigh that much!

There are, of course, many different strains of bacteria and they all have their niches:

  • The beneficial bacteria or flora – are the ones you want to have in your gut and keep happy. Some of their names are: Bifidobacteria, Lactobacteria, Propionobacteria and some strains of E.coli, Peptostreptococci and Enterococci. They perform a multitude of functions that I will return to later, but one of the most important ones is keeping the opportunistic and pathogenic bacterias in check.
  • The opportunistic bacteria or flora – There are about 500 various species that we know off that can reside in our gut and they are usually controlled by the beneficial flora. They are usually only found in small amounts, but if they, for whatever reason, start multiplying and growing, they can give raise to a number of symptoms, both from the gut and the body in general. A couple of names: Bacteroides, Staphylococci, Streptococci, Bacilli, Clostridia, Enterobacteria.
  • The transitional flora or the pathogens (disease causing agents)They get into your gut through your food and usually pass through the healthy  GI-tract without causing any problems. If the beneficial flora is deficient or non-functioning they can find rooting grounds and start growing, giving rise to disease and various symptoms. Some of them are: Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, pathogenic strains of E.Coli, various fungi and viruses.

As I mentioned, the beneficial flora has many tasks to fulfill and are of vast importance for our health and longevity. They make up a physical barrier that keeps the opportunistic flora and the pathogens and their toxins from gaining access to the gut wall and the blood and lymph systems on the other side.
They also secrete antibiotic-like, anti-viral and anti-viral substances, and through that keep the disease causing agents from our environment in check. Many of the beneficial bacteria in our gut flora can also neutralize toxins, that come with our food and from disease causing bacteria. These anti-toxic properties might be a part of helping the immune system to keep cancer from growing.

The beneficial bacteria are vital for nutritional purposes as well. They use some of the foods that we normally wouldn’t be able to digest, such as starches, fibers (preferably from  and some long-chained carbohydrates that passed through without being processed. This happens through fermentation and the end product is short-chained fatty acids that can be used as a fuel source for the cells in the gut and the body. In fact, the cells lining the gut receive approximately 60-70 % of their nutrients and energy from the products formed by the gut flora.
They also produce and help the uptake of amino acids and vitamins such as K2, B1, B2, B6, B12, folic acid. They also facilitate the uptake minerals, such as magnesium, iron and copper and of fats and fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K1.
Another break down product from the beneficial bacteria are organic acids that lower the pH in the gut and makes it a hostile environment for pathogens and opportunistic bacteria.

Your immunologic health is deeply tied to your gut flora. If it’s healthy there is a big chance that your whole immune system is functioning well.
The beneficial bacteria stimulate the production of IgA, an antibody that is excreted by certain immune cells in the gut wall and serves as a selector of which bacteria are to remain in the gut and not. It’s a kind of communication molecule between the beneficial gut bacteria and the immune system of your body. This creates a barrier where only the nice bacteria are allowed to live and roam and they repay their host by keeping other, not welcome, bacteria and substances out.
If this delicate balance brakes down, as usually happens when antibiotics are given, the whole immune system is affected, not only the gut. If you have eaten antibiotics you probably had some gut issues, maybe some flatulence and blotaing or full on diarrhea that would keep on even after you had finished the treatment.
The antibiotics that are helping you deal with your chest, ear or urinary infection also kills the beneficial flora and gives room for the opportunistic bacteria and the pathogens. It takes 2-4 weeks for the original gut flora to grow back after being diminished, and they require good nutrition. During this time you pro-prebiotics, gut florawill be more susceptible to toxins and other infections and your immune system will be struggling with getting back to normal.
Eating probiotics (adding the good bacteria through food or supplements) during and after the treatment with antibiotics will lessen the impact of the antibiotics and help restore the normal flora faster.
Prebiotics are substances that help feed the beneficial bacteria and can help restore a dysfunctional gut flora.

Each one of us have our distinct bacterial make up, just like we have different finger prints. We do inherit the flora from our moms, when we are breast feeding (our guts are sterile when we are born) or getting bottle fed. And the flora changes with our life style, dietary choices and stress.
The bacteria needs good food to be able to do their magic. Next time you eat, remember your not only feeding your self, but also the millions of secret agents living with you, keeping you healthy.
Make sure you give them what they need, they will reward you greatly!

 

 

Advertisements
Basics, Physiology

Trust your Gut.

Did you know you have two brains? One you already know of, the one in your head. There is also the one residing in your belly – your gut/GI-tract, also named the “second brain”. You might never have thought of your gut being anything else than a “feeding tube”, processing food, breaking it down and making nutrients available for the rest of your body. But this amazing tube has a lot more to say on how to run your system.

We already refer to the gut when it comes to our daily life: “Butterflies in your stomach.” “Gut-wrenching.” “Makes me feel nauseous.” “Lump in my throat.” “I have a gut feeling.”
And we all know how bad we feel when we have an upset stomach. It is also common knowledge that stress and anxiety has unwanted effects on  our GI-tract. But little did we expect how much we actually are run by our guts.

Research has shown that the gut contains more than 100 million neurons (nerve cells), that’s more than all the nerves in your spinal cord and your other body tissues together. This Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is located under the mucosal layer and in between the muscle layers in the gut.
The Vagal nerve, connecting your gut brain with your head brain, actually transports more information to the brain from the gut than the other way around. It is also an highly active endocrine (hormonal) organ, secreting more than 30 different neurotransmitters (signal substances), and variety of hormones to communicate within it self and with the other organs and tissues within the body.
Substances like dopamin, serotonin, glutamate and norepinephrine were believed to be products of the brain and the spinal cord only, but have now been found in the gut.

The ENS produces about 95 % of the body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mental health. One of the theories explaining depression suggests there is a lack of Serotonin in the brain and hence came the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) to solve the problem. A common adverse effect is gut issues, probably related to changing the balance of this chemical in the gut.
People suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS) has been shown to have raised levels of Serotonin in their gut tissues, and this could be a part of the puzzle explaining this disorder. A kind of “mental illness” of the second brain.

It seems like the serotonin from the gut also can have a part in the development of autism, a developmental disorder that affects how kids interact and communicate. Many kids with autism also have GI issues and food allergies and sensitivities. It seems that the same genes that codes for the development of synapses (the connections between nerves) in the brain are responsible for the growth of the gut brain as well.

The GI -tract also has a big role to play in our feelings of happiness and comfort. There are cells secreting and recieving “feel-good” hormones, e.g. endorphines and enkephalins, in the wall along the lenght of our food tube. They relay feelings of happiness, joy, satisfaction and pain relief.
It also produces chemicals resembling bensodiazepines, a class of drugs used for anxiety disorders and for calming the body.
These together are responsible, at least partly, for your that warm gut feelings.

The gut and the brain communicates through the nervous system, the hormonal system and also through the immune system.
A big part of our immune system resides in the gut and bacteria, believe it or not, are a part of the immune system as well as important players in the gut brain.
Some of the micororganisms in our gut release neurotransmitters that sends messages to our brain through the vagus nerve. Others take care of the break down of foods and the building of nutrients that are vital for us and we couldn’t get without their help.
So it seems we need the right bacteria in our guts to keep everything running smoothly, including our head brain, immune system and hormonal system.

This is a growing field of research, neurogastroenterology, looking for how the connections between our gut brain and head brain affect neurodegenrative diseases like Alzheimers and MS and neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD, autism spectrum disorders etc.
It seems that our second brain is far more important in the development of disease and disorders than we ever could expect.
It might be that gut dysbiosis (dysregulation in the bacterial environment of the gut) is the culprit for many diseases and will be the first thing that is looked for and treated.

When you think about it, it doesn’t seem that far fetched that how we live and what we eat will affect our health. Not only does the food need to be nutritious for the cells in our bodies, we need to feed the bacteria in our guts in the right way as well.
We actually “know” what to eat and how, but we don’t know how to listen to the signals any more. We are disconnected from our environment and hence the food we eat.

I suggest you pay attention when you eat next time, hone your gut intelligence. How does it feel when you eat? How do you feel afterwards? Full or still hungry? Warm and happy or upset and painful? Are you craving certain foods (sugar is not included here, because of it’s addictive properties)?
Also trust your gut feelings when it comes to make decisions. Do you feel tight in your stomache when saying yes to that job? Do you actually want to add another house project in your free time?

What does your gut brain say?

Resources:
1) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/
2) http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-gut-brain-connection
3) http://psychologyofeating.com/brain-belly/
4) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201404/the-gut-brain-connection-mental-illness-and-disease

Basics, LCHF, Physiology

Sugar – a No-brainer

There is this myth circulating that our brain only works on glucose, the sugar molecule in our blood.
Many times, when I discuss low carbohydrate/ketogenic diets with people one of the first arguments that come up is “but the brain needs sugar”. Is this true?

There are a couple of areas in the brain that can only run on sugar, they need approximately 30 grams of glucose daily. An amount that your liver easily can deliver by making glucose from mostly protein and to a smaller degree from fat, even without eating a single carbohydrate.
The other parts of the brain runs perfectly fine on ketones, the energy containing molecules that the liver makes from fat and protein when glucose isn’t available. In fact, the brain runs better on ketones than on sugar! Getting the energy out of a ketone body is a little less “dirty” than burning a glucose molecule. In this case free radicals are the “smoke”, and they react with surrounding molecules in a process called oxidation which gives rise to an inflammatory response. Making energy out of the food we eat will always create these molecules.
The body uses anti-oxidants like vitamin E and C, CoQ10, glutathione, that react with the free radical and neutralize it. Some of them, like glutathione can be recycled in various processes to be used again and others, the vitamins, need to be replenished through diet.

The less oxidative stress you put on your body and especially the brain, the better and smoother your cells will work.

Not only does glucose “smoke” more than ketones, it also has direct negative effects on how well the nerve cells work. Glucose have a tendency to react with proteins, a process called glycosylation. This changes the structure of the protein which many times rendering it non-working and the cells won’t recognize them.
One example is when glucose reacts with the tag protein on the LDL molecule, the transport molecule for fats and cholesterol, which makes it unrecognizable for the receptors on the cells, and they stay in the blood stream and can trigger an inflammatory response. Upregulated and dysregulated inflammation is the culprit in most of our modern diseases, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, SLE and other degenerative diseases and it has a part in the development of cancer. Keeping inflammation to the minimum and only used when necessary to fight of infections and healing wounds, should be everyone’s highest priority. At least if you want to rank up your odds for a long, healthy, intelligent and also happy life.

It’s not just the brain that reap the benefits of a low carbohydrate/ketogenic diet, the heart and the muscles also run perfectly fine on the ketones and also enjoy the lessened oxidative stress. So, there’s nothing to loose on going low sugar!

Basics, LCHF

5 simple ways of increasing your health exponentially

1. Eat real food.
Buy whole foods. By cooking fresh produce, you know what you are putting into your body. Make sure you find good quality produce. Go local as far as possible and try to choose vegetables that are organic and free from pesticides. When it comes to meat try to find grass fed, locally raised and butchered. Maybe there is a good butcher in your town, that can tell you about the farm where the animals have been raised.
When you buy fish, look for the species that are not endangered. (Here is one list that can help you choose http://www.seafoodwatch.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_regional.aspx)
You don’t have to go crazy about it, take one step at a time and maybe just starting out cooking your own food is a big step. That’s ok.
You can make it simple. There are an abundance of tips and recipes out there on the web.

2. Lower your intake of sugar and carbohydrates.
Avoid:

  • Sugar of any kind, white or brown, syrups, honey etc. If you really want to sweeten something, use Stevia of some kind.
  • Grains, especially processed wheat. Stay away from pasta, bread, tortillas etc. Most preferably, eliminate them from your diet.
  • Starchy foods. That includes most of the things that grow under ground – potatoes, beets and other tubers.

Enjoy:

  • Leafy greens like spinach, arugula and kale.
  • Broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts.
  • Asparagus, artichokes
  • Cucumber, tomatoes, bell pepper etc

Sugar and carbohydrates are what raises insulin, and high levels of insulin will not only make you gain weight but also be more prone to inflammatory diseases, including heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Gluten has been associated with autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s thyroditis and Celiac Disease.

3. Eat a lot of good fats

  • Butter – preferably organic from grass fed cows.
  • Ghee – clarified butter.
  • Coconut oil – organic, cold pressed. Contains awesome MCT – brain food!
  • Olive oil – organic, cold pressed. Contains oleic acid, that has some nice anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Avocados or avocado oil.
  • Get fatty meats, like beef with the fat still around it’s edges. Chicken or Turkey with it’s skin and Salmon are other good sources.

Try David Asprey’s Bulletproof coffee for breakfast! (I do it with an egg yolk and cinnamon. Keeps me full til lunch!)

4- Drink water!

At least 2 liters ( 0,5 gallons) of clean water a day. More if you are working out or sweating a lot. (If you have a condition, like heart failure or kidney failure, that will make you retain water, you need to consult your physician about the right amount to drink daily.)
You body consist of approximately 60 -65% water and the cells need the right amount of water to function properly. The right amount of water keeps the electrochemical gradients between the outside and the inside of the cell in the right ranges and also makes many of the chemical reactions possible.
So enjoy your water!

5. Get out!

Go out, every day. Even if it’s only for five minutes. Anything is better than nothing. Take your shoes and socks of, go barefoot. Enjoy the feeling of grass or sand on the soles of your feet, the sun and wind on your skin. Hear the sounds of the birds and the wind in the trees. If you live deep in the city, find a park or an area with grass and a couple of trees.

The soles of your feet have as many nerve endings as the palms of your hands. Awakening your feet will awaken your nerve system and bring you more awareness. Being bare foot also awakens the muscles in between the bones in your feet and makes them more agile and flexible.
If you really, really don’t want to walk around bare foot, try the five fingers with thin soles. That will give you a bare foot experience without the fear of cutting your feet up or stepping in poo.

If you’re not used to being bare foot it’s going to be a little bit awkward to begin with. But trust me, it will make your experience of being out doors so much better!

 

 

 

Basics

Thyroid – to burn or not to burn

Thyroid hormone is one of the main metabolic regulators in the body. It virtually affects every cell and if nutrients will be used for energy or stored.
Thyroid hormone comes from the thyroid, a gland located in the front of your neck, with one lobule on each side of your Adam’s apple. The thyroid produces two types of Thyroid Hormone (TH), T3 and T4 in a ratio of approximately 10:1, T3 being at least 5 times more active than the T4. The number stands for how many iodine molecules are attached to the protein. Iodine is essential for the making of TH. The hormones are bound to Thyrosin Binding Globulin (TBG), a carrier protein, in the blood and transported to all the corners of the body. They are inactive while bound to the carrier.
The hormones are fat soluble and can therefore pass through the cell walls and be stored for later use. T4 is converted to T3 by the deiodinase system, that most cells have, but being most prominent in the liver, skeletal muscle, the gut and the brain. Selenium is needed for the deiodinase system to work properly.
TH act on Thyroid Receptors located on our DNA and it promotes the copying of the genetic code so that the cell will make more of certain proteins that will enhance the metabolism.

The release of TH is regulated by a hormonal chain called the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Thyroid (HPT) axis.
The hypothalamus is a part of your brain that takes in a lot of information about your body through a variety of sources and processes it to appropriate signals. It orchestrates a myriad of actions in the body, the HPT axis being one of them. If more TH seems to be needed, it will produce and secrete Thyroid Releasing Hormone (TRH) that will be sent through the blood to a part of the pituitary gland. This little pea-sized gland, in the bottom of your scull, produces six hormones that all have effects on other glands in the body.Relevant in this case is TSH – Thyroid Stimulating hormone, that will be secreted when TRH arrives. The TSH will travel through the blood (taat means it will also be available for all the other cells in the body) to the Thyroid gland and this will shake the gland into action, building and releasing more TH.
There is many ways in how this axis can be regulated, one being the TH itself having a negative feed-back on the thyroid, pituitary and hypothalamus. So the actual release of the hormone will automatically shut down the signal for making it. A very common way for the body to tightly regulate it’s systems.
Some other factors that are important are stress, mediated through the hormone, cortisol. High levels of cortisol affects the conversion of T4 to active T3 in the cells, shifting the balance into making more of the inactive reverse T3 version. High levels of stress promotes the release of Corticotropin Releasing Hormone (CRH) which stimulates the adrenal glands (walnut shaped small glands sitting on top of your kidneys) to release cortisol. CRH inhibits TSH release from the pituitary and so lowers TH levels.
There is also a link between the health of the gut and thyroid health.

TH effects:

  • Stimulates the metabolism of fat, carbohydrates and proteins, with some small differences between the tissues in the body.

    • Stimulates the cells to make more LDL-receptors so it can take up more cholesterol to be used for the making of bile acids, hormones, build it into the cell wall etc.
    • Increases fat mobilization from fat cells and the burning of fatty acids in the cells. This will increase the amount of triglycerides available in the blood.
    • Makes the cells take up, build and burn glucose.
  • Regulates the inflammation in the body, especially the gut. It keeps the inflammatory cells in the gut walls in check. TRH and TSH also stimulate the building of GALT, patches of inflammatory cells in our gut wall that check for pathogens and potentially harmful agents in our food.
  • Lowers Blood pressure through the relaxation of the blood vessel walls, enhancing the blood flow through the body’s tissues and organs.
  • Stimulates the heart to pump more efficiently by affecting the way it relaxes between beats and also by stimulating protein metabolism to build good muscle.
  • Super important for the normal development of the brain in the fetus, promotes putting down myelin (the fatty, insulating sheets around the nerves). It also has profound effects on the state of alertness for humans, too little will make you sluggish, too much hyperactive.

So TH is essential for your metabolism to be efficient and balance storage and usage of energy. It’s also essential for the normal growth in children, together with growth hormone.
It is intimately intertwined with other hormonal and non-hormonal systems in the body, so a dysfunction is rarely a direct result of one organ or hormone. Hypothyroidism (too little TH) can be because a disease only affecting the thyroid gland, but usually it has it’s roots in other imbalances, because of stress, autoimmune disease, gut disorder or something else that tilts the delicate balance that constitutes the homeostasis (regulated stability) of your body.

 

Basics

Leptin, part 1 – how fat controlls you

“What the heck is leptin?”- you rightfully ask your self. Hang on and I’ll do my best to explain.
Leptin is a small protein – a hormone – that is secreted from your adipose tissue, your fat cells. I bet you never heard about it before. Most haven’t, not even medical doctors. And if they know about it they probably haven’t paid much attention to it.

For many years the adipose tissue was believed to be there just for storage purposes. During the last decade research has started to change this idea. The adipose tissue is participating and seems to be controlling many functions in the body, such as hunger, energy balance, calcium balance, inflammation and might also play a part in hormonal signalling over all.

The main purpose of leptin is to signal to the brain about starvation. The more fat you have in your stores, the higher the leptin signal. When the levels rise the hormone acts on a part of the brain called the arcuate nucleus, located just right between your eyes, 5 inches back. These nerve cells control your feelings of hunger and satiation. The more leptin the less hungry you’ll be. Every time you eat and start storing energy (especially glucose) into the fat cells there will be a leptin surge, signalling to your brain that energy levels are good.

It seems to be that a chronically elevated leptin might lead to leptin resistance, that is your brain is no longer responding to the signals your fat cells are sending out. Since different parts of the brain has different sensitivity for leptin some parts will be deaf for the screaming of the hormone while other parts will keep answering to the higher levels. There is evidence pointing towards leptin resistance being the precursor to insulin resistance, but also a suggestion that elevated insulin levels might disrupt the signalling from leptin. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Hard to tell.

In the upcoming posts we will uncover some of the secrets of leptin and how leptin resistance might develop, how you can get out of it and what impacts high leptin levels and how leptin resistance might affect your body.

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leptin
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/06/20/this-hormone-makes-counting-calories-irrelevant.aspx
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2005/06/23/leptin.aspx
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kent-holtorf/long-term-weight-loss—m_b_192933.html
http://www.jackkruse.com/chapter-one-on-leptin/

Basics, LCHF

Diabetes – when blood sugar regulation goes bananas.

I think most of you have heard about diabetes. It’s a disease where the body can’t handle sugar anymore, for various reasons. There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 and 2.

Type 1
is inherited and not dependent on lifestyle. It’s associated with an auto-immune reaction, where antibodies are directed against the cells responsible for producing insulin in the pancreas. They get destroyed and the body can no longer produce the hormone. To survive, insulin needs to be added through shots or infusions.

Type 2 depends on lifestyle factors and is therefore avoidable to a great extent. It starts of with something called insulin resistance – a condition where the normal signalling from the insulin receptors is jammed for various reasons.  Why this occurs is still not fully understood but research is pointing toward free fatty acids being a big part of the problem (1). There is also evidence showing that leptins and other hormones and substances from the fat stores in the body has a blocking effect on the insulin receptors.
When the receptors fail to react to the insulin, more insulin is secreted from the pancreas as a response to the rising blood sugar levels.  Eventually the insulin producing cells get fatigued and symptoms of high blood sugar start to occur:
* Frequent urination, due to high volumes
* Increased thirst and hunger
* Unwanted weight loss
* Fatigue
among others.

Not all people with insulin resistance develop diabetes, there is also a genetic variability of how much the pancreas can take.

The increased urination frequency is related to the osmotic pull of water with the sugar/glucose into the urine. Usually there are mechanisms to clear glucose from the urine, but when the levels rise it overflows the system.
Through this mechanism the body loses water, and water intake increases.
The body signals starvation, since the energy from the glucose can’t be used in the cells, fatigue ensues and hunger increases.

Usually insulin resistance has been present many years before symptoms of diabetes occur. This condition is asymptomatic in the medical sense, but when looking at it from a different angle there are some signals to be aware of.
Increasing weight/obesity, is a sign of high levels of insulin, since that’s the main anabolic hormone. Fat will be stored around the waist, because of these cells high metabolic activity and therefore easiness to recruit energy.  Sugar cravings, increased hunger and mood swings can be a sign of difficulties handling carbohydrates.

In traditional western medicine there are no really good ways to measure insulin resistance and when people are diagnosed with diabetes they have been on the downward slope for a long time, probably decades.

We know insulin is an anabolic and anti-catabolic hormone that closely regulates blood sugar levels but also controls fat metabolism. As long as insulin stays high, fat stores can never be utilized for energy and the body will keep storing sugar as fat and glycogen in the muscles. This is why people with decreased insulin sensitivity gains weight and the weight gain reduces the sensitivity even more.
The way out is lowering insulin, through lowering the carbohydrate. aka the sugar. When the insulin levels drops, fat stores are activated to get energy. And if the insulin levels stays low the body can switch over to run on fats. Insulin will still be needed to keep the metabolism in check, but not nearly in the same levels as when trying to clean the blood stream from glucose after a carbohydrate meal.

Cutting down on the carbs is the first and best thing anyone can do for their long-term health. Long before any symptoms occur.
It does not only lower the risk for diabetes but also for many other life style diseases. Many people also report an increased mental health and more stable emotional life. It’s clear that keeping your blood sugar levels low and through that your insulin levels low will be beneficial for you in many ways.

Sources:
1) Mechanisms behind insulin resistance: http://www.wjgnet.com/1948-9358/pdf/v1/i3/68.pdf
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diabetes_mellitus_type_2