Probiotics & Fermented Foods: The Good, The Bad, The Delicious

Probiotics & Fermented Foods:  The Good, The Bad, The Delicious

PROBIOTICS ARE VITAL TO GOOD HEALTH

     Why are probiotics so important to our health?  It is easier to appreciate their significance if we understand what they are.  Basically, probiotics are health promoting bacteria in our intestines and other areas of our body.  In addition to bacteria, there are also probiotic yeasts.  We can think of them as good bacteria or good yeasts.  Good bacteria help break down food to make nutrients more accessible.  They also convert vitamins into forms that our body can utilize.  But they are essential to our health not only for the role they play in digestion.  Recent research has discovered that the good bacteria are also necessary in order to keep our immune system in balance.

     Science has discovered that the bacteria in our gut actually communicate with our immune system cells through chemical messengers that exchange information.  It’s a kind of language, the way they “talk” to each other.  When we don’t have enough good bacteria in our digestive system, primarily our intestines, it’s not only our digestion that can become compromised.  It’s our immune system as well. 

     The immune system’s function is to attack bacteria and yeasts (the bad ones) and viruses that can cause disease.  If it is not strong enough, it can’t do a good job of fighting them off.  So in addition to problems such as constipation, we might also be susceptible to frequent sickness.  That’s why when people have repeated courses of antibiotics without replacing the good bacteria, they can become more vulnerable to getting repeated infections in the future.

     Another problem with an imbalanced immune system is that it can attack things it’s not supposed to attack.  For example, with certain allergies, the immune system could be attacking food, pollen, dog or cat hair, or dust mites, which results in people getting allergy symptoms.  If the symptoms are serious, temporary relief may be called for.  But if the immune system can be better regulated, the allergy symptoms may not be as severe, which can reduce the need for medication.  The ultimate goal, of course, is to eliminate the allergic response altogether.

     The immune system is made up of particular kinds of white blood cells made mostly by our bone marrow.  They travel around the body through the blood and the lymph system.  The white blood cells attack the “bad guys” (disease-causing bacteria, viruses or yeast) and either destroy them at the site of the infection or carry them via the lymph system to the lymph nodes.  There the immune system works to destroy the “bad guys”. 

WHERE DO WE GET PROBIOTICS?

     Long before there were natural food stores with shelves full of probiotic supplements or grocery stores with probiotic beverages, our ancestors got theirs the old fashioned way, through their diet.  They ate fermented foods, and every culture had their own.  It was one way they preserved food before refrigeration.  Some examples are yogurt, sauerkraut, sour poi, kimchi (and other fermented vegetables), miso, tempeh, kefir, and kombucha.

      There are alternatives to kefir made from cow’s milk, including coconut water kefir and water kefir.  In addition, there are non-dairy yogurts:  coconut milk yogurt, almond milk yogurt, and soy yogurt.  With kombucha, which is typically made from black tea, most of the caffeine is consumed in the fermentation process.

     Vinegar can also be a fermented food, depending on how it’s produced and how long it’s fermented.  Tsukemono and pickles can be a source of probiotics, again, depending on how long they’re fermented and as long as preservatives are not added to them.  Most commercial products are not fermented long enough to produce probiotic benefits. Beer, wine, and liquor are also fermented, but the alcohol inhibits the growth of good bacteria.

WHICH PROBIOTICS ARE BEST?

     If you choose a food for its probiotic benefit, be sure to read the label carefully.  Preservatives such as sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, and others are often added because they prevent bad bacteria from growing.  However, they also keep the good bacteria from growing as well.   Commercial products typically add chemical preservatives as a safeguard to extend shelf life.  But fermented foods don’t need preservatives to do that. That’s why they were fermented in the first place.  For example, I have never found preservative-free sauerkraut in regular grocery stores, but many health food stores do carry it.

     I think it is important to use both probiotic supplements and fermented foods.  Why not just take a supplement?  Many different species of good bacteria and good yeast die as soon as they are exposed to oxygen.  That makes it next to impossible to get them into a supplement because of the manufacturing and processing.  No supplements have those types of good bacteria, but they are available in fermented foods, where they are protected from oxygen within the food or the liquid.

     For treatment purposes, specific kinds of probiotics can be better for particular conditions.  In that case, supplements are helpful because a person might need a certain dose of a particular type of probiotic.  For example, C. diff is an infection in the intestines caused by a bad bacteria and there is one kind of good yeast that has been found to be helpful in its treatment, saccharomyces boulardii.

ADVICE FOR GETTING FERMENTED FOODS INTO PICKY EATERS

        Most picky eaters will eat yogurt.  Avoid commercial yogurts with added sugar, stick to organic plain whole milk yogurt, and then add your own fruit, honey, or 100% pure maple syrup.  If you or your child cannot have dairy, try coconut milk or almond milk yogurts and add fruits ornatural sweeteners.  If your child won’t eat that, you can spoon some yogurt into a small amount of sorbet or coconut milk ice cream. 

     Try coconut water kefir (e.g. Kevita) available at Safeway and health food stores – this is naturally carbonated and can be a replacement for soda.  If your child won’t drink it, you can dilute a teaspoon of the coconut water kefir in juice or a large amount of water.  Also, some parents have had success pureeing small amounts of sauerkraut or fermented beets or carrots (available at health food stores), and mixing small amounts into spaghetti sauce, soup, or stew after it’s cooked, so the heat doesn’t destroy the good bacteria.

FINAL THOUGHTS

     Some final words of advice when it comes to probiotics:  If you have sensitivity to dairy, choose non-dairy fermented foods.  If you aren’t currently eating many fermented foods in your diet, add them to your diet gradually – suddenly consuming high amounts of fermented foods can cause temporary loose stool as your body adjusts to the good bacteria.  If you have acid reflux, be careful about spicy fermented foods like kimchi. 

     If you have high blood pressure, you should use caution with salty fermented foods like sauerkraut.  If you have yeast/Candida overgrowth, limit kombucha to 1-2 times a week, as excessive consumption can sometimes aggravate bad yeast overgrowth.  Please be sure to check with your doctor.  And do eat a variety of probiotics rather than for example, just eating yogurt every day.  Each food has certain types of good bacteria, and we need a balance. 

Yes, ADHD Can Be Successfully Treated Without Pharmaceutical Medication

Kathryn Taketa-Wong professional pic

     Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the least understood conditions of modern society.  First recognized in 1980, it is now seen as having three main aspects:  inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.  Inattention involves difficulty staying focused, wandering off task, and being disorganized.  Hyperactivity is expressed by the need to move around constantly, even in situations where it is not appropriate.  Impulsivity is where the individual is acting without thinking of the consequences, having little control over delayed gratification, interrupting others.  These behaviors are not due to defiance or lack of comprehension, but are beyond the individual’s ability to control.

      The causes of ADHD can be difficult to pin down:  brain chemicals, lack of discipline, too much TV, genetic disorder, pesticides, food additives?  In addition, studies show that a fetus exposed to alcohol and tobacco is 2.4 times more likely to develop ADHD.  Diet has also been implicated.  Adolescents with diets high in fat, refined sugar, and sodium are two times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as other kids.  Additional studies have also linked ADHD to diets deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain development and function.

     There is also the issue of over-diagnosis.  There are at least fifty medical conditions that can mimic ADHD symptoms.  Here are a few of the main ones:  low blood sugar, food allergies, learning disorders, hypo or hyperthyroidism, adrenal imbalances, metabolic disorders, sleep problems, iron and/or vitamin deficiencies.  Without a thorough review of the other possible causes of the ADHD symptoms, a child can be put on medication unnecessarily.  That’s why when I treat a child with those symptoms, I begin by looking for underlying medical conditions to be certain we are actually dealing with ADHD.

     Sometimes, pressure to start a child on medication comes from teachers, who are struggling with a disruptive student.  This is often because the child may have trouble focusing, doing homework, or staying on task.  The all-too-typical situation is the parent then talking to a pediatrician about the situation and the doctor handing them a prescription for a stimulant medication on the spot.  This is because in ADHD, individuals tend to produce inadequate amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine, brain chemicals that help to regulate mood, attention, and focus.  They also tend to fidget a lot because the movement and stimulation cause the body to produce more dopamine and norepinephrine.  Many of them like video games because they provide constant auditory and visual stimulation.  ADHD medications provide stimulation to the brain, which is why individuals with ADHD don’t feel the constant need to fidget and move all the time.  This why stimulants can have the paradoxical effect of calming a hyperactive child. 

     While putting children on medication can make a difference for some, many parents are concerned because of the potential side effects and also because they worry about their child having to take a stimulant drug for the rest of their lives once they start on it.  The most common side effects I see in children is a decrease in appetite.  Their hunger diminishes and they tend to lose weight, so they don’t get enough nutrients for a developing body and brain.  Stimulants also increase heart rate and blood pressure and can cause problems with sleep.  Some children also get moody and irritable.  Others can experience a rebound after the medication wears off and wind up worse than they were.

     When it comes to treatment, I first look for underlying medical conditions to rule them out as the causes of the ADHD symptoms.  If testing reveals those to be normal, we then move to working with the family on a natural approach.  I have many families that come to me because their child is on an ADHD medication and they want to decrease their dose or wean their child off of it.  I have seen many children improve just with a change in the diet that moves them away from artificial flavors, dyes, preservatives, pesticides, and other chemicals.  I also may recommend certain supplements that have a similar effect on the brain as pharmaceuticals but without the side effects.

     It definitely takes a commitment from the parents, because giving medication is easier.  But the easy way isn’t necessarily the best or most healthful one.  Fortunately, when the family is dedicated to giving the natural approach enough time to work, they are usually very happy with the results.  Many have been successful in reducing the dosage of ADHD medication or weaning their child off of it altogether.

 

Being Uninformed Is Something I Never Want Happening With My Patients

Being Uninformed Is Something I Never Want Happening With My Patients

     “You mean you’re actually going to spend 45 minutes with me in an office visit?”  I hear that a lot from my new patients.  They are comparing what we do to the conventional approach to primary care, which typically consists of 15 minutes with the doctor and a prescription. 

     There is so much more to healing than taking pills that I hardly know where to start.  And that’s why my office visits are so different.  I want my patients to understand what is going on with them.  I can’t do that until I have first taken the time to carefully listen to what is on their mind and to ask them questions about it.  But what about questions that patients should be asking me?

     I am very happy that two cancer specialists have written an article that advises patients on what to ask their doctor(s).  Honestly, when patients ask me questions, it helps me be a more effective physician, because uncertainty about dosage, timing, the meaning of certain symptoms, etc., can interfere with a patient’s ability to comply with my recommendations.

     When it comes to informed patients, I am committed to being a leader in the field.  It is good medicine for patient and doctor alike.  Find the article here.

 

Consumer reports finds supplements are not always safe. Some are even causing liver damage. Here are some answers.

Consumer reports  finds supplements are not always safe.  Some are even causing liver damage.  Here are some answers.

     As a naturopathic doctor, I received extensive nutritional training in medical school and continue to research nutrition for my patients.  I do my own investigation of supplements and herbs before recommending them to my patients and offer prices that meet or beat online retailers like Amazon.  For most conditions, I can put together a nutritional regimen based on foods and supplements rather than prescribing pharmaceuticals. 

     The medical researchers who did the investigation on supplements are especially concerned about body building supplements and green tea extract, used in many weight loss products.  But many other supplements are also problematic.  Liver damage is very serious and can be irreversible, even life threatening.  However, supplement manufacturers can voluntarily register with NSF, a non-profit organization that has a program of Good Manufacturing Practices which assures that what’s on a supplement’s label is accurate.  I have included a link with a listing of these supplement companies.  (Unfortunately, most conventional medical doctors are not trained in nutrition and are not familiar with which supplements are certified by NSF.)  http://info.nsf.org/Certified/GMP/Listings.asp?Program=DIETSUPP

     I know that even though the listing on that link is valuable, it can still be confusing to know which supplements are safe and right for your condition.  Because the situation is serious, if you are not a patient of mine and want to purchase supplements that are safe, effective, and reasonably priced, please call the office at 808-783-0361 and mention this Facebook post.  (Click on the picture below to read the full article.)

 

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