Colon Ecology, Probiotics, and Prebiotics

The colon is a dynamic ecologic system in which human colon cells and immune cells, microbes and ingested foods interact in the near-absence of oxygen. The human gastrointestinal tract normally contains trillions14 of living bacteria, representing over 400 individual species. Most live in the colon. The goal of dietary maintenance of colon health is to foster a symbiotic relationship, with the human host and its microbial guests living in harmony and balance.

The colon harbors a large variety of microorganisms. The most common bacterial species in the healthy human colon are the Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. In addition, even the healthy colon normally contains pockets of Clostridia, yeasts and protozoa. The species of bacteria that most quickly and efficiently produce butyrate in the human colon, and which therefore are the most beneficial and the most desirable, are the Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.

Beneficial Probiotic Organisms

The Bifidobacteria are the most common microorganisms in the healthy human digestive tract and are the predominant microbes in human breast milk. Bifidobacteria comprise about 50% of all intestinal microflora in the healthy colon and ferment dietary fiber to short chain fatty acids, especially butyrate. By producing large amounts of butyrate, the Bifidobacteria support the health and function of human colon cells. In addition, the Bifidobacteria suppress the growth of harmful bacteria by keeping the acidity of the colon interior just high enough to inhibit bacterial growth but not too high to affect the colon cells. Bifidobacteria also compete with unhealthy bacteria for space within the colon.

Lactobacilli (the “lactic acid bacteria”) comprise about 25% of all intestinal microflora. The Lactobacilli perform many of the same colon-friendly functions as the Bifidobacteria but produce a little more lactic acid, helping the Bifidobacteria keep the colon slightly acidic. The Lactobacilli also secrete an enzyme that breaks down lactose from milk.13

Species of Saccharomyces, a yeast commonly living in both the small and large intestines, help stimulate intestinal digestive activities. In addition, they are antagonistic to Candida albicans and keep them at bay. These yeasts also enhance immunity in the gut and dietary supplementation with Saccharomyces boulardii has been found to support the consistency of healthy bowel movements.14

The most common and beneficial bacteria and yeasts share an important fundamental characteristic. They all prefer to feast on soluble dietary fiber. Feed them and they will produce all the butyrate your colon can eat. Starve them and risk the health of your colon.

Disturbances of Colon Ecology

The colon is a dynamic system. Its health is directly influenced by our dietary choices. These choices impact the supply of nutrition to the gut bacteria and our intestinal cells. A number of common dietary and medical practices can disturb the symbiotic relationship between microorganisms and human cells that is absolutely vital to the health of the colon. Among these are infant formula feeding, low fiber diets, and oral antibiotic therapy.

Infant Formula Feeding — The human gastrointestinal tract is sterile at birth. During birth, the tract is seeded initially by organisms living in the maternal vagina. During breastfeeding, mammary gland microflora contribute the early populations of Bifidobacteria that begin to populate the infant’s colon. Food borne microflora and self-inoculation also contribute to early intestinal ecology. Species distribution in the newborn digestive tract is modulated for the first few days of life by maternal antibodies transferred in colostrum. In breastfed infants, over 90% of intestinal bacteria consist of Bifidobacterium infantis. In contrast, the intestinal tracts of infants who are not breastfed are characterized by low numbers of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli and high numbers of less healthy Enterococci, Coliforms and Clostridia. The lack of proper healthy gut bacterial species in childhood has been associated with a number of digestive health issues.14

Low Fiber Diets — Lack of dietary fiber for fermentation reduces the supply of butyrate available to colon cells and interferes with their ability to seal the colon off from the bloodstream, increasing the likelihood of toxins and bacteria from the guts entering circulation. As discussed above, butyrate starvation also slows the renewal of colon cells. Insufficient amounts of nonfermentable fiber slows the rate of passage of the digesta, increasing the time available for water absorption by colon cells and providing increased exposure of the longer-lived colon cells to free radicals.15 Increased water absorption results in stool hardness and affects the consistency of bowel movements.16 Fiber provides the food for intestinal bacteria and the bulk for optimal bowel function.

Oral Antibiotic Therapy — Antibiotics can also kill beneficial Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. As the numbers of these beneficial bacteria decrease, there is a compensatory increase in the unhealthy species that have been kept under control by the beneficial bacteria, resulting in disturbances in gut ecology. This shift in microbial populations can have a severe impact on colon health. Most importantly, this disturbance of gut ecology may lead to decreased levels of butyrate as most of the overgrown microbial species are inefficient fermenters of dietary fiber. The combination of reduced ability to seal off the colon and increased populations of unhealthy organisms can compromise the colon lining and affect immune function.

Supplemental Prebiotics and Probiotics

The colon is dependent on its microbial residents for nourishment and defense. In turn, our microbes need to eat foods that are healthy for them. Ideally, good food sources of fiber would have been a major part of our diet all of our life, and our colon and its residents would require very little attention from us. Realistically, the average American is fiber deficient and has a colon to reflect it. Restoring the healthy ecological balance in the colon is absolutely mandatory if health and healthy aging are your objectives.

Prebiotics — Starter Foods for Your Microbes

Prebiotics are dietary ingredients often consumed in the form of foods and dietary supplements that stimulate the growth of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli species and foster the production of butyrate within the colon. The most widely available prebiotics are fructans (fructooligosaccharides; FOS), inulin and the oligofructoses, galactooligosaccharide and the levans (occurring in tubers and grasses). Foods that contain large amounts of these prebiotics include wheat, onions, asparagus, chicory, banana and artichokes.

These compounds all are indigestible by humans within the small intestine, are converted to short chain fatty acids in the colon and are essentially calorie-free. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) – These long-chain indigestible sugars are specifically fermented to short-chain fatty acids (especially butyrate) by Bifidobacteria. The results of a study published recently in the Nutrition Journal confirm that the daily consumption of as little as 2.5 g of FOS increases the proportion of Bifidobacteria in the colon.17 The consumption of FOS by infants has been documented to be safe and to decrease the incidence of infant emesis and regurgitation. In addition to fostering colon health, the products of FOS fermentation may promote cardiovascular health.

Probiotics — Dietary Supplements to Repopulate Your Colon

Probiotics have been defined as oral dietary supplements containing live microbes that enhance colon health. When effective, such supplements increase the numbers of intestinal Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli and decrease the numbers of those microbial species that do not produce butyrate. An ideal probiotic supplement will have the following characteristics:

1) The bacteria must survive passage through the stomach and small intestine so that they reach the colon while still alive,

2) They must produce short-chain fatty acids from dietary fiber while in the colon

3) They must maintain a slightly acidic colonic pH, and 4) They must be capable of eventually permanently repopulating the colon themselves or stimulate other healthy bacterial species to do so.

As suggested by the results of a recently published study, successful reseeding of the colon’s microbial populations can support increased immune defenses.18 According to articles published recently in Gut and the American Journal of Physiology, this benefit may result from an effect of the probiotic organisms leading to an increase in the stimulation and vigilance of the immune cells that are interspersed within the lining of the colon.19,20

Successful reseeding with probiotic species requires at least 6 months of daily ingestion of at least 10 billion “colony forming units” (1010 CFU) per species. Successful reseeding may not be possible in some individuals with chronically compromised colon health; they may well require life-long daily supplementation in order to maintain appropriate microbial populations in their colon.

Bacillus coagulans: A Novel, Unique Probiotic Organism

Bacillus coagulans is a bacterial species that may offer unique benefits to digestive health. This bacterium is a spore former and is especially hardy with respect to different intestinal environments. A specific strain of Bacillus coagulans known as BC30™ is available as a dietary supplement for digestive health. Research indicates that this particular strain has beneficial immune effects while it also enhances the repopulation of the digestive tract with other friendly bacterial strains. While BC30™ is a transient organism in that it does not colonize the digestive tract itself, it promotes optimal gut ecology and aids in crowding out other non-beneficial organisms.

BC30™ can be an effective nutritional tool on its own or in combination with other multi-strain probiotic dietary supplements to support digestive tract wellness. Since BC30™ is a spore former and is a hardy strain of bacteria; it does not need to be refrigerated.

Combinations of Prebiotics and Probiotics

Because probiotics are the bacteria you want to live in your colon and prebiotics are the food they love best, it would make sense to combine the two, so that you can be sure that the newly-arriving residents have plenty to eat after their trip through your digestive tract. The benefits of “combination supplementation” are well-documented.

The published human clinical trials have been summarized recently in the Journal of Bioscience and Bioengineering and the World Journal of Gastroenterology.14,21 This large body of scientific evidence demonstrates conclusively that dietary supplementation with prebiotic/probiotic combinations consistently yields health benefits that extend beyond digestive wellness on several fronts. A review article published recently in the World Journal of Gastroenterology recommended Lactobacillus-containing “combination supplements” for enhancing digestion of lactose.22 Conversely, because it encourages normal water management by colon cells and healthy contractions by colonic smooth muscles, “combination supplementation” also promotes the consistency of healthy bowel movements.21,23

The Bottom Line

Maintaining healthy digestive function consists of supporting multiple aspects of the complicated physiological function of the gastrointestinal system. While the process of digestion itself is complex, supporting several fundamental aspects of the process can lead to tangible benefits for overall health. Dietary factors are critical as the foundation for digestive health. This entails consuming foods that are healthy and eating an adequate amount of dietary fiber. Nutritional interventions are also a key element. These include supplemental enzymes, fiber supplements, prebiotics and probiotics. An optimally functioning digestive system can yield dividends that can lead to a lifetime of health and wellness.

References:
13. He T, Priebe MG, Harmsen HJ, Stellaard F, Sun X, Welling GW, Vonk RJ.Colonic fermentation may play a role in lactose intolerance in humans. J Nutr 2006;136:58-63.
14. Nomoto K. Prevention of infections by probiotics. J Biosci Bioeng 2005;100:583-592.
15. Topping DL, Clifton PM. Short-chain fatty acids and human colonic function: Roles of resistant starch and nonstarch polysaccharides. Physiol Rev 2001;81:1031-1064.
16. Kay RM. Dietary fiber. J Lipid Res 1982;23:221-242.
17. Bouhnik Y, Raskine L, Simoneau G, Paineau D, Bornet F. The capacity of short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides to stimulate faecal bifidobacteria: A dose-response relationship study in healthy humans. Nutr J 2006;5:8 doi:10.1186/1475-2891-5-8 (http://www. nutritionj.com/content/5/1/8).
18. Tubelius P, Stan V, Zachrisson A. Increasing work-place healthiness with the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri: A randomised, doubleblind placebo-controlled study. Environ Health 2005;7;4:25 doi:10.1186/1476-069X-4-25 (http://www.ehjournal.net/ content/4/1/25).
19. Rook GA, Brunet LR. Microbes, immunoregulation, and the gut. Gut 2005;54:317-320.
20. Shanahan F. Physiological basis for novel drug therapies used to treat the inflammatory bowel diseases. I. Pathophysiological basis and prospects for probiotic therapy in inflammatory bowel disease. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol 2005;288:G417-G421.
21. Chermesh I, Eliakim R. Probiotics and the gastrointestinal tract: Where are we in 2005? World J Gastroenterol 2006;12:853-857.
22. Montalto M, Curigliano V, Santoro L, Vastola M, Cammarota G, Manna R, Gasbarrini A, Gasbarrini G. Management and treatment of lactose malabsorption. World J Gastroenterol 2006;12:187-191.
23. Hamilton-Miller JM. Probiotics and prebiotics in the elderly. Postgrad Med J 2004;80:447-451.

Read more

How Much Dietary Fiber Do You Need?

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
How Much Dietary Fiber Do You Need?

According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science in its dietary advisory, Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients), Chapter 7: Dietary, Functional, and Total Fiber, most adults should consume 25 g to 38 g of dietary fiber daily.10 This recommendation was based on the Institute’s determination that this amount of dietary fiber could protect an individual from developing coronary artery disease. The Institute assumed that this amount also would be sufficient to promote bowel health.

Interestingly, the results of an analysis of the combined data obtained in the 76,947-woman Nurses’ Health Study and the 47,279-man Health Professionals Follow-Up Study also support the concept that adequate dietary fiber intake is absolutely necessary for colon health. As a result of their analyses these scientists concluded that every 5 g of dietary fiber consumed daily reduced the chances of developing colorectal cancer by about 9%.11

However, unlimited intake of soluble dietary fiber may not be prudent.12 Foods rich in soluble dietary fiber often contain compounds that prevent the digestion of dietary fat. Although this may seem appealing to some individuals who experience difficulty maintaining a healthy body weight, it is unhealthy and may decrease the absorption of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. Similarly, soluble fiber intakes greater than 50 g/day may inhibit the digestion of dietary sugars – again, potentially attractive to the overweight but unhealthy. Increasing the amount of simple sugars and starches, such as corn starch, rice starch and potato starch that reaches the colon encourages the microbes to produce lactic acid, not butyrate. While the lack of butyrate produced may be directly unhealthy for the colon, the increased amounts of sugars and starches may also promote the growth of unhealthy bacteria and yeast, adversely affecting the healthy balance of bacterial flora in the guts. Maintaining a balanced amount of dietary fiber intake is thus necessary to obtain its benefits.

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
Colon Ecology

References:
10. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients), Chapter 7: Dietary, Functional, and Total Fiber. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2005, pp. 339-421.
11. Michels KB, Fuchs CS, Giovannucci E, Colditz GA, Hunter DJ, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Fiber intake and incidence of colorectal cancer among 76,947 women and 47,279 men. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2005;14:842-849.
12. Chandalia M, Garg A, Lutjohann D, von Bergmann K, Grundy SM, Brinkley LJ. Beneficial effects of high dietary fiber intake in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med 2000;342:1392-1398.

Read more

Dietary Fiber

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Dietary Fiber

There are several types of dietary fibers.8 Nutritionists classify the types of dietary fibers that can be converted into butyrate as either soluble or insoluble. Examples of soluble dietary fiber include the beta-glucans (including arabinogalactans and lactoferrin), gums, mucilages, oligosaccharides and pectins. Soluble dietary fiber comprises 10% to 20% of the total dietary fiber content of such foods as fruit, okra, beans, turnips, oats, parsnips, sea weeds, and prunes. Examples of insoluble dietary fiber include the celluloses and lignins. They are found in more fibrous foods. Because it exhibits variable characteristics, a type of dietary fiber called hemicellulose is classified as both soluble and insoluble.

The soluble dietary fibers are the most readily “fermentable” in the human colon, meaning that it is easier for the normal bacterial flora to convert them into other nutrients, including butyrate. Fermentable dietary fiber serves as a “pre-biotic” in that it promotes the growth and viability of beneficial species of gut bacteria. However, dietary fiber has benefits for humans beyond the fermentability by colonic bacteria. The results of a study published recently in the Journal of Nutrition show that different kinds of dietary fiber can bind to glucose and fats in the digestive tract, preventing their absorption into the blood, regardless of their “solubility.”9 Fiber thus can influence the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels and cholesterol.

Another type of dietary fiber, non-fermentable dietary fiber, is found in such foods as oat hulls, methylcellulose and wood pulp cellulose. These food components are not processed by microbes to any appreciable extent. Instead, they function in the human colon to carry the fermenting bacteria along through the colon and rectum; decrease the absorption of glucose in the small intestine and increase the glucose content of stool; dilute pathogens and toxins in the digesta and stool; distend the colonic mucosa, stimulating peristaltic contractions and increasing the rate of movement of the digesta through the digestive tract (an increased “rate of passage” decreases the amount of time that colon cells are exposed to any toxins in the digesta); and inhibit the induction of inflammation in the colon by unhealthy organisms. By promoting stool bulk, this type of fiber maintains gut ecology and supports healthy colonic function.

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
How Much Dietary Fiber Does Your Colon Need Us to Eat?

References:
8. Kay RM. Dietary fiber. J Lipid Res 1982;23:221-242.
9. Dikeman CL, Murphy MR, Fahey GC Jr. Dietary fibers affect viscosity of solutions and simulated human gastric and small intestinal digesta. J Nutr 2006;136:913-919.

Read more

Healthy Digestion and Short-Chain Fatty Acids

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Short-Chain Fatty Acids

The most important of the short-chain fatty acids produced by colonic bacteria is butyrate.7 The cells lining the interior surface of the human colon convert butyrate into an even smaller fatty acid (acetate) that they can burn for energy and use as a structural building material to seal the junctions between adjacent cells – strengthening the integrity of the colonic barrier and preventing the leakage of any toxins from the colon contents from entering the bloodstream. Without enough butyrate coming from the microbes within the colon, your colon cells go hungry – and the cellular junction can become compromised.

Butyrate and Cell-cycle Control
Butyrate also has another rather amazing function in human colon cells – it helps them remember that they must die, and die on time. This is vital to our ability to continue living. The concentrated exposure of our colon cells to toxins, pesticides and other contaminants entering our body makes these cells highly susceptible to oxidative damage. With enough butyrate to make acetate to seal the body off from the colon contents, your colon cells are better protected from harm.7

However, even in the presence of adequate butyrate, some colon cells do become damaged by free radicals. Fortunately, the biological clock ticking in every colon cell comes to the rescue – each cell is normally endowed with the ability to commit preplanned biochemical suicide (a process called “apoptosis”). Once dead, the cell remnant will detach from the colon lining and will leave with the stool, a process that ensures that colon health remains vibrant. Each cell that is lost this way is replaced by a healthy fresh new cell from the deep layers of the colon lining, and with any luck this cell will live out its life without any problems.7 This normal process of cellular renewal ensures that the healthy integrity of colonic function is maintained.

One of the determinants of the rate of colonic cell renewal is the amount of butyrate available in the colon. Too little and the internal clock slows down, meaning the cell lives longer than it should. This is not a desirable outcome. Healthy tissues are dependent on the vitality provided by the process of cellular regeneration and renewal. A cell that is damaged by free radicals has trouble performing its normal functions and actually can facilitate a decrease in colonic health. This potentially leads to undesirable consequences. Butyrate encourages the normal, healthy lifecycle of colon cells.

Where Does the Butyrate Come From?
Butyrate is not produced by human cells. It is produced by enzymes, secreted by beneficial colonic bacteria; they chemically convert dietary fiber into the short chain fatty acids – most importantly, butyrate. The term “dietary fiber” actually covers a very broad category of large molecules made by plants. These molecules provide both firmness and flexibility to plants, allowing them to bend but not break in a storm. These molecules reach the colon because humans can’t digest them – they pass through the mouth, throat, stomach and small intestine relatively intact.8

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
Probiotics, Prebiotics and Fiber: Dietary Fiber

References:
7. Topping DL, Clifton PM. Short-chain fatty acids and human colonic function: Roles of resistant starch and nonstarch polysaccharides. Physiol Rev 2001;81:1031-1064.
8. Kay RM. Dietary fiber. J Lipid Res 1982;23:221-242.

Read more

Probiotics, Prebiotics and Fiber

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Probiotics, Prebiotics and Fiber

Adequate amounts of dietary fiber are essential to overall digestive health and colonic function. Likewise, probiotics are also essential to overall digestive wellness, colon health and a healthy immune system. An unhealthy colon leads to many things. One of the first manifestations is abnormal bowel movements.

Consistency of Bowel Movements

As one of the most fundamental functions of the colon is maintaining water balance, it performs this function by affecting the consistency of the stool. When colon cells are starving they are not able to shift water from the lumen of the colon back to the blood. The water stays in the gut and leaves (usually somewhat hurriedly) as a wet or even really watery stool – that’s diarrhea. Once that happens, you’re dehydrated, and your upper digestive tract adds less water to the materials it is trying to digest. Because they contain less water, these materials do not “slide” along the gut as easily and they tend to clog the digestive tube. By the time they reach the colon, they may have formed a mass that is too hard to deform by colon muscle contractions – this mass then tends to stay put – that’s constipation. This vicious cycle illustrates two extremes of an unhealthy colon.

One of two things then happens: either you manage somehow to pass this dry hard stool or you take a laxative that contains a chemical that forces your colon to contract so hard that it expels the lump. In both situations, the cells lining the colon and rectum can become irritated. Now, because less water was “wasted” in this bowel movement, your body has a chance to re-establish water balance. But your colon is now irritated in addition to being underfed. The next time your colon receives material from the small intestine, it “takes back” even less of the water, leading to another episode of dehydrating diarrhea. And so on. In many adults who do not realize that this is both abnormal and correctable through the diet, this cycle can perpetuate for years and even decades. In order to break this cycle, we need to ensure that the colon is being “fed” with the nutrients it needs.

In order to remain healthy, the colon cells thrive by eating the leftovers from our diet. In short – whatever remains after the bacteria, yeast, molds and protozoa in the colon have had their fill. Remember, not much ingested material reaches the colon – only about 10% or less of an average meal. As a function of normal digestion, by the time these leftovers get to your colon, almost all of the nutrients have been removed by the small intestine.

It is reassuring to know that the microbial residents of your colon are much better at chemically converting the material that reaches the colon into useful nutrients than they are at gobbling up those nutrients, so there can be plenty left-over for your colon cells to enjoy. Thus healthy bacteria do their part in maintaining the symbiotic relationship with our bodies, benefiting them and us. In addition to the vitamins and amino acids produced and shared by the microbes, the most important product of their activity for the health of colon cells is the conversion of undigested foodstuffs into what are called short-chain fatty acids.

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
Probiotics, Prebiotics and Fiber: Short-Chain Fatty Acids

Read more

Optimize Your Digestion: Intestinal Antioxidants and Fuel

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Optimize Your Digestion: Intestinal Antioxidants and Fuel

The small protein glutathione is the major antioxidant protecting your intestinal cells from the oxidative damage that can be inflicted by the byproducts of the massive amount of digestive chemistry going on all around them. Some portion of an oral supplement of glutathione is broken down by digestive enzymes before it can be absorbed, between 2% and 10% is absorbed, and the remainder acts along the lining of the gut to protect gut cells from the “collateral damage” that can be caused by the digestive processes. Since it seems that so little of oral glutathione is actually absorbed, supplementing with nutrients that increase the body’s own production of glutathione may be more beneficial. One such nutrient is the amino acid glutamine. Glutamine is a key component of the glutathione molecule and, as shown in a study published very recently in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, supplemental glutamine can stimulate the self-protective synthesis of glutathione by gut cells.6 Even more amazingly, intestinal cells rely on glutamine, not glucose or fatty acids, for most of their energy needs. Combined supplementation with nutrients that enhance glutathione production such as glutamine can help promote a healthy intestinal tract by defusing the oxidizing byproducts of digestion.

Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
Optimize Your Digestion: Probiotics, Prebiotics and Fiber

References:
6. Humbert B, Nguyen P, Martin L, Dumon H, Vallette G, Maugere P, Darmaun D. Effect of glutamine on glutathione kinetics in vivo in dogs. J Nutr Biochem 2006; Mar 22.

Read more

Optimize Your Digestion: Keep Your Inner Insides Wet

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Optimize Your Digestion: Keep Your Inner Insides Wet

Drinking fluids as you eat helps reduce the amount of “drying” that must occur in your bloodstream. However, be cautious with this. In the Ayurvedic and Unani systems of traditional medicine, drinking large amounts of water or liquids with meals is thought to reduce “digestive capacity”. Again, in traditional medical systems, this method of drinking fluids slowly over a period of time is thought to encourage absorption of the fluid by cells and tissues whereas drinking fluid in large amounts may simply lead to excessive urination. In addition, drinking plenty of fluids between meals and snacks allows your body to remain fully hydrated and maintain a reserve of extra water that can be available for perspiration and participation in the digestive process.4

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
Optimize Your Digestion: Intestinal Antioxidants and Fuel

References:
4. Hydration and You. The Beverage Institute for Health & Wellness. More information on the importance of hydration can be found at: http://www.beverageinstitute.com.

Read more

Optimize Your Digestion: Digestive Enzymes

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Optimize Your Digestion: Digestive Enzymes

Like stomach acid, age and other factors can affect our body’s ability to produce sufficient digestive enzymes. If these aren’t available in large enough amounts, some of our food will not be digested and you may not enjoy the complete benefits of healthy nutrition from your diet. Research published recently in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology found that between 5% and 10% of all adults in their 50’s suffered some decrease in the amount of digestive enzymes they produced and that over 15% suffered some decrease by their 70’s.3 In order to counteract this, individuals can add spices to their food. In fact, spices provide health benefits far beyond their digestive properties.

Many spices, including cinnamon, curcumin, coriander, fennel, garlic, ginger and tamarind (major components of foods such as curry), are known to stimulate the production of bile acids and digestive enzymes. If some undigested food still appears regularly in your stool – that’s right, you need to look again – you also might want to consume (with some water) a dietary supplement containing a mixture of digestive enzymes either before or during meals.

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
Optimize Your Digestion: Keep Your Inner Insides Wet

References:
3. Rothenbacher D, Low M, Hardt PD, Klor HU, Ziegler H, Brenner H. Prevalence and determinants of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency among older adults: Results of a population-based study. Scand J Gastroenterol 2005;40:697-704.

Read more

Optimize Your Digestion: Stomach Acid

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Optimize Your Digestion: Stomach Acid

Make sure that your stomach is doing its job to prepare food for further digestion. Stomach acid production may decrease with age. There are tests your doctor can do to measure how well your stomach produces acid during digestion. However, one way to estimate this is by looking at the nature of your stool. If you regularly see some undigested food (other than certain nuts, seeds and corn, which can be normal) – that’s right, it’s OK to look – you might want to consider adding a small acid tablet (in the form of Betaine HCl) to the middle of large meals. Often times, Betaine HCl will be combined with the enzyme pepsin and may also include bitter herbs such as Gentian, which can stimulate the digestive process. Choose a high quality product or, if you are unsure, check with a nutritionally oriented physician.

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
Optimize Your Digestion: Digestive Enzymes

Read more

Healthy Digestion: The Key to a Healthy You

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Healthy Digestion: The Key to a Healthy You

The proper digestion of the foods you eat and the beverages you drink requires the integrated cooperation of vastly complex chemical and physical machinery. Only when every component is operating efficiently can your food be converted into your good health. It’s amazing how integral proper digestive function is to health overall. Optimizing digestive function impacts the health of so many other systems throughout the body. We all know the saying, “You are what you eat!” This is indeed true as digestive health is the key to overall wellness.

As one thinks about this link, it makes sense. After all, the digestive tract, stretching from the mouth to the rectum, is a major site of contact with the outside world. Our food, toxins, microbes and other environmental substances all enter our system through the digestive tract. This system plays a critical role as an immune barrier in two major ways. Firstly, it acts as a structural barrier simply by keeping bad things out and good things in, only allowing things to pass through for particular reasons. Second, it’s a major component of our immune system and the first line of defense for our bodies. Major immune structures and immunoglobulins reside in the digestive tract or are manufactured there. These factors play an important role in maintaining our overall immune defenses. Thus the dual role played by the digestive tract, by acting as a physical barrier and an immunological barrier, is critical to our health. Given this crucial function, it’s easy to see how the health of the digestive tract can impact so many other areas throughout the body.

Now that we understand the importance of digestive health, let’s look at how we can best maintain it. In order to do that, we need to explore the function of the various components of this system. Digestion literally begins with the sight and smell of food. These senses initiate the production of enzymes in the mouth that prepare for the arrival of food and to begin the process of breaking foods down. Of course, chewing is a critically important step as this allows the salivary enzymes to begin acting on the food. From here, the food moves down through the esophagus and into the stomach.

Stomach

The stomach mixes food with the acid and enzymes it adds to what you’ve eaten; the acid partially dissolves big food particles into much smaller ones and the enzymes begin the digestion of those smaller fat and protein particles. Along with stomach acid, pepsin plays an important role by breaking down proteins into smaller particles known as peptides.

Small Intestine

The small intestine is where most food digestion and nutrient absorption occur. Most food digestion occurs in the upper small intestine and most of the absorption of the individual nutrients occurs in its lower regions. Anything remaining after traveling down the length of the small intestine goes into the large intestine for a different kind of processing before being expelled in the stool.

Pancreatic Enzymes

Food leaving the stomach stimulates the pancreas to send a package of digestive enzymes to the small intestine where they join the bile from the gallbladder. Together these enzymes can digest just about anything we’re likely to eat except fiber. They serve to further break down fats, carbohydrates and proteins into their components and nutrients for assimilation. But there’s a catch – all of the digesting compounds sent to the small intestine could digest our pancreas and gall bladder, so they are initially sent in inactive forms. Once they arrive, the small intestine releases a “master enzyme” that activates all of the others and gets digestion really rolling.

Bicarbonate

There’s another catch – all that stomach acid could deactivate the enzymes. To prevent this, the pancreas sends along with its enzymes some bicarbonate. This neutralizes the excess acidity and serves to protect the enzymes and lining of the small intestine from stomach acids. The small intestine itself does its part by covering its inner lining with a layer of bicarbonate-rich mucus.

Water

In order for the digestive process to function smoothly, water is a necessary cofactor. Copious amounts of water are needed to keep everything dissolved. This water comes from the beverages we drink during meals and snacks and from your blood. Several cups of water are moved from your circulation into your digestive tract with each meal or snack. While in younger people the hydration of the circulation is maintained by the entry of water from other parts of the body, studies published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the Journal of Applied Physiology found that in older adults the body surrenders less of its total water to the circulation, increasing the risk for bouts of dehydration after meals.1,2

The Colon

Your large intestine, or colon, is required to perform one major and essential task above all others – retrieve back into the body the water that has been added to your food by your saliva and digestive secretions. This water was taken from your bloodstream (about 1 to 2 cups per meal) and added to the material in your alimentary tract (the “digesta”) to help your body digest food and absorb its nutrients relatively rapidly and, for the most part, extremely efficiently. However, if that water is simply lost through your stool you would dehydrate very rapidly a few hours after every meal – certainly not a healthy outcome!

The cells lining the colon are responsible for recapturing the water and restoring it to your blood. Normally they are very efficient. And, like anybody else, these hard workers need to be fed. Here’s something you probably don’t know: Unlike just about every other cell in our body, the cells lining our colon are not fed through the bloodstream. They get their nutrition directly from whatever gets to them from the small intestine – the leftovers of the digestive process. If they are undernourished, they cannot operate effectively. This leads to abnormal stools and inefficient digestive function.

Recently, the colon has also been recognized as a major immune organ. It contributes to overall immunity by functioning as the reservoir for healthy (and unfortunately, unhealthy) bacteria and yeast. Numerous studies shine light on the positive health benefits associated with healthy gut ecology and adequate numbers and strains of probiotic organisms. Likewise, the chronic presence of unhealthy bacteria and yeast lead to unhealthy digestive function and detrimental effects on immune functioning. Maintaining healthy gut ecology by supporting colon health is necessary for our well-being.

Our colon depends on two major factors to keep it healthy:

  1. A healthy balance of probiotic organisms, as the intestines, particularly the colon, are where the majority of these beneficial organisms reside, and
  2. Sufficient amounts of fiber in the diet. This should be in the form of both soluble and insoluble fibers.

Changes with Age

Research suggests that this entire process may work less and less well as we get older. And of course there’s no justice – this age effect doesn’t mean we can eat more without gaining as much weight; it means that as we age the balance between what we eat, what we absorb and what our body needs grows increasingly out of whack. Thus, with age it becomes more necessary to ensure that our digestive tracts function at an optimal level. This often requires nutritional support.

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
Optimize Your Digestion: Stomach Acid

References:
1. Bossingham MJ, Carnell NS, Campbell WW. Water balance, hydration status, and fat-free mass hydration in younger and older adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:1342-1350.
2. Silva AM, Wang J, Pierson RN Jr, Wang Z, Heymsfield SB, Sardinha LB, Heshka S. Extracellular water: Greater expansion with age in African Americans. J Appl Physiol 2005;99:261-267.

Read more