Artificial Sweeteners--A Double Edged Sword?

People have been turning to artificial sweeteners for years now in the hopes of avoiding the negative consequences associated with consuming regular table sugar: weight gain, diabetes, etc.. But recent findings suggest that artificial sweeteners (e.g. Sweet n’ Low, Splenda, Equal, etc.) may not be so healthy after all. In fact, they may be a cause of glucose intolerance, Metabolic Syndrome and diabetes (Metabolic Syndrome is a condition resulting from the consumption of a diet too high in carbs and grains. It often leads to glucose intolerance which can progress to Type 2 Diabetes.). These are all the things we seek to avoid by using artificial sweeteners in the first place!

In the first part of the study, researches performed several experiments on mice to see how/if sweeteners affected them. Scientists added sucralose, saccharin, or aspartame to the mice’s drinking water, while a separate group of mice drank plain water mixed with ordinary table sugar. When a week was up, the mice that were fed table sugar were relatively unchanged; but the mice that ingested artificial sweeteners had developed a marked intolerance to glucose. After performing several more experiments, scientists found that the artificial sweeteners were altering the population of bacteria in the mice’s digestive systems, making it harder for their bodies to regulate blood sugar.

Next, researchers looked to human subjects. They surveyed 381 non-diabetic participants about their consumption of artificial sweeteners, and the results showed a strong correlation between ingestion of artificial sweeteners and signs of glucose intolerance. Like the mice, those who ate artificial sweeteners also had different populations of gut bacteria than those who ate traditional sugar.

In a final experiment, researchers recruited seven volunteers who typically did not use artificial sweeteners. Over six days, they were given the maximum amount of saccharin recommended by the FDA. At the end of the trial, four of the patients showed the same disruption in blood-sugar levels that appeared in the mice. Scientists then injected the gut bacteria of these patients into the intestines of mice, and found that the mice once again developed glucose intolerance—suggesting the effects on humans and mice might be the same.

As a whole, this research casts serious doubt over the health of artificial sweeteners. While a single scientific study is never a final authority, the findings did prompt one of the researches to make a personal decision to discontinue his use of artificial sweeteners. At the same time, other scientists remain unconvinced, citing the small sample size of the human studies.

While the study was mainly done to test the healthfulness of artificial sweeteners, it also holds relevance to a growing concern in the medical world: the role of gut bacteria in our overall health. The human body is made of 90% bacteria and only 10% human cells, and the growing body of research suggests that these bacteria may have a bigger effect on our physical and mental states than previously thought. We already know that 70% of a person’s immune system is contained in the bacteria in the gut. But according to this study and numerous others, the population of bacteria in our digestive systems could influence everything from digestion to the development of neurological disorders, possibly including depression, autism, and more.

On the bright side, if so many health issues really do arise from changes in gut bacteria, then they might be countered by taking a probiotic supplement. Probiotics come in many different varieties and can help restore the population of good bacteria in our guts. Lactobacilli, for example, which is easily available on the market, may ward off stress and anxiety; another bacteria, bifidobacteria is now being associated with reduced depression. There are many different probiotics at your local grocery/drug store. They are not all the same and many are substandard. It is advisable to purchase them from a trained health care professional..

If artificial sweeteners really do have a negative effect on our gut bacteria, and consequentially our ability to regulate blood sugar, then taking a probiotic might be one way of combating this; or, as an alternative, using regular sugar in minimal amounts. If nothing else, this study reminds us that it is always important to approach food fads with a healthy degree of skepticism, and artificial sweeteners are no exception.

Although there are many type of probiotics based products available, it is advisable to fist consult with a trained clinician.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.

From Birth, Our Microbes Become As Personal As A Fingerprint

Look in the mirror and you won't see your microbiome. But it's there with you from the day you are born. Over time, those bacteria, viruses and fungi multiply until they outnumber your own cells 10 to 1.

As babies, the microbes may teach our immune systems how to fight off bad bugs that make us sick and ignore things that aren't a threat.

We get our first dose of microbes from our mothers, both in the birth canal and in breast milk. Family members tend to have similar microbiomes.

"The mother's microbiome has actually poised itself over nine months to basically become the prime source of microbes to the infant," says , director of the at the National Institutes of Health.

But ultimately each person's microbiome seems to be unique, perhaps as personal as a fingerprint.

As the microbes colonize our bodies, they pick specialized real estate. The mouth, with all those moist nooks and crannies, is home to one of the most diverse habitats, like the Amazon jungle.

Wet places like our armpits are lush, too. But they have different microbes than those in the mouth.

The armpit microbes feast on nutrients in sweat, Proctor says, and produce antimicrobial compounds to protect the skin against harmful microbes.

Other body parts are like the Sahara Desert to your microbes. That forearm skin, for example, is dry — very dry. But even that driest habitat is brimming with microbes.

Feet have oily parts and dry parts, and it's those wet parts that the foot fungus just loves.

But the biggest habitat is the gut. It hosts the most complex and diverse group of microbes. Everything that microbes are doing elsewhere in the body, they're doing in the gut, in spades.

Diverse as these habitats are, the microbes on the various body parts communicate with each other and with our cells. Scientists have started eavesdropping on those conversations, and have started testing them as possible treatments for diseases like Crohn's, multiple sclerosis and asthma.

This research is all really new. No one knows for sure what most of our microbes are doing. But many scientists now think that if we're going to remain healthy, we have to maintain the health and well-being of the ecosystems for our microbes.

How A Change In Gut Microbes Can Affect Weight

The evidence just keeps mounting that the microbes in our digestive systems are a factor in the obesity epidemic.

A team of European researchers recently they'd found that obese people appeared to have less diverse microbes in their guts than did lean people. The research also showed that people with less diverse communities of gut microbes were more likely to be at risk for health problems associated with being overweight, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Now, U.S. researchers are reporting the results of some intriguing experiments involving mice that got new gut microbes through transplants. The source: obese and lean human twins. (By using twins, the researchers were trying to eliminate any genetic variation that could influence the results.)

Biologist , of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and his colleagues removed bacteria from the guts of four pairs of human twins in which one was obese and the other was lean. The researchers then transplanted those microbes into the guts of lab mice who didn't have any of their own microbes.

The mice that got microbes from the obese twins gained more weight and accumulated more fat than those who got microbes from the lean twin, even when the mice ate identical diets, the researchers report in a in the journal Science.

Next, the scientists let the animals live together. And since eating each other's feces is a common habit among mice, they were soon exposed to each other's gut microbes. After 10 days, the researchers found that the mice with the obese microbes adopted the lean microbes and started to look healthier.

And, finally, the researchers showed that the animals were unable to be colonized by the lean microbes when they were fed diets aimed at simulating a typical unhealthful Western diet high in saturated fats and low in fiber.

"We now have a way of ... thinking about what features of our unhealthy diets we could transform in ways that would encourage bacteria to establish themselves in our guts and do the jobs needed to improve our well-being," Gordon said in a statement.

In an accompanying the report, and of the in Britain called the findings an "intriguing" step toward finding ways to fight obesity, including developing "relatively simple mixtures of bacteria for testing as anti-obesity therapeutics."

Staying Healthy May Mean Learning To Love Our Microbiomes

Not so long ago, most people thought that the only good microbe was a dead microbe.

But then scientists started to realize that even though some bugs can make us sick and even kill us, most don't.

In fact, in the past decade attitudes about the bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes living all over our bodies has almost completely turned around. Now scientists say that not only are those microbes often not harmful, we can't live without them.

"The vast majority of them are beneficial and actually essential to health," says , program director for the at the National Institutes of Health. The project is identifying microbes on key body parts, including the nose, gut, mouth and skin, in order to get a better sense of the microbes' role in human health.

This sea change began with a pretty simple realization.

"When you're looking in the mirror, what you're really looking at is there are 10 times more microbial cells than human cells," Proctor says. "In almost every measure you can think of, we're more microbial than human."

The horde of microbes is so vast that their genes swamp our genes. In fact, 99 percent of the genes contained in and on our bodies are microbial genes.

Scientists are getting a much broader idea of what microbes do for us. We've known for a long time that we depend on bacteria to digest food. But there's a growing realization that they're really like an 11th organ system. Proctor says, "You know, you have your lungs, you have your heart and, you know, you have your microbiome."

This week, scientists from NIH and research institutions are gathering in Bethesda, Md., to debate the in disease and human health, including obesity, behavior, heart disease and cancer.

Perhaps one of the most important things the microbiome does it to train the human immune system, starting at birth.

"It learns early on which microorganisms are friendly and how to recognize microorganisms that are not so friendly," says , an assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine who studies the relationships between microbes and humans.

Microbes influence how much energy we burn and how much fat we store. There is even evidence that the microbes in our guts send signals that can affect our minds. These signals may affect how the human brain develops, and our moods and behavior as adults.

People who live in places like the United States tend to have far less diverse microbiomes than people who live in less developed countries and take fewer antibiotics. That, some scientists think, could be a factor in human diseases.

"As organisms are being lost, a lot of diseases have just skyrocketed," says , who directs the human microbiome program at the NYU Langone Medical Center. He lists diabetes, celiac disease, asthma, food allergies, obesity and developmental disorders like autism as health problems that have become more common.

But many researchers caution that we're still a long way from knowing if the microbiome is involved in any of those diseases and conditions.

"Yes, the microbiome is important," says , a professor who studies genes, microbes and evolution at the University of California, Davis. "Yes, the microbiome differs between all sorts of health and disease states. But no, we don't know that the microbiome causes these health or disease states."

Even more important, Eisen says: we don't know how to fix a microbiome, even if we knew what was wrong with it.

Still, some doctors have already started performing microbe transplants. have been used to cure people with life-threatening infections with the bacterium Clostridium difficile. The patient's ailing gut bacteria is replaced with new colonies donated by a healthy person.

Getting good bacteria to drive out bad is also the idea behind probiotics, which are widely marketed as health supplements. But it's which of those microbes are helpful, and for whom. The same goes for , which serve as food for microbes.

This expanding view of the microbiome is changing how some people think about humans — not as individual entities but as what philosopher calls a "supraorganism."

"We're not just us by ourselves but a combination of us and them," Rhodes says. "And that makes us very much more a part of our environment as opposed to something freestanding and separate from our environment. Those are very radical changes in the way we see self-identity."

Rhodes, who is also a bioethicist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, says some people might find this idea shocking or gross. "But I think it's going to slowly seep into our culture and understanding of ourselves and change our understanding and consequently our behavior in important ways."

What Our Gut Microbes Say About Us

What if it's not just our genes or our lifestyle, exactly, that makes us skinny or fat, healthy or sick? What if it's also the makeup of the bacterial ecosystem that inhabits our gut?

A growing pile of is pointing us in that direction. Researchers in this hot new field describe the microbes in our gut as a vital organ that's as essential as our liver or kidneys. They're finding that this organ, which they call the "microbiome," varies greatly from person to person.

Some microbial communities are better than others at important nutrients, for instance. Also, this internal ecology is altered by the food that we eat, causing in the diet world.

But what constitutes a microbiome that's good for us, and how might you get one? So far, the researchers can't say.

The of these studies was published this week by the journal Nature. It compares the gut microbes of people who live in three very different parts of the world: The United States, the small African country of Malawi, and a remote Amazonian part of Venezuela.

The researchers, led by at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found some across cultures and lifestyles. For instance, in each population, the makeup of the gut microbes changes dramatically as children grow older, whether they live in Amazonia or Philadelphia. In all three places, adults possess a more diverse collection of microbes than children.

But Gordon and his colleagues also found some intriguing differences, especially between people in the United States and those of the two other research sites. He found adults in the U.S. have a rather uniform collection of microbes living in them, compared to people in rural Malawi or the Amazon forests of Venezuela.

Gordon can only speculate about the reasons why — it could be because the U.S. uses more antibiotics, or perhaps because people in Malawi and Amazonia are exposed to more microbe-rich environments.

Gordon found some evidence that the microbiome of the gut may help a body out when there's a shortage of particular nutrients. Babies growing up in Malawi and in Venezuelan Amazonia both tended to have more microbes that can help to synthesize vitamin B2.

As Gordon puts it, "it is tempting to speculate" that these microbes may be helping to compensate for a lack of this vitamin in the babies' diets. These babies also had higher levels of microbes that are able to break down urea and use it to make essential amino acids. "This could be beneficial when protein isn't available in the diet," Gordon tellsThe Salt.

Sep 9, 2013 www.npr.org/.../from-birth-our-microbes-become-as-perso...

 Find out how healthy your microbiome is!

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.

A Cure for the Allergy Epidemic

Allergies are often seen as an accident. Your immune system misinterprets a harmless protein like dust or peanuts as a threat, and when you encounter it, you pay the price with sneezing, wheezing, and in the worst cases, death.

What prompts some immune systems to err like this, while others never do? Some of the vulnerability is surely genetic. But comparative studies highlight the importance of environment, beginning, it seems, in the womb. Microbes are one intriguing protective factor. Certain ones seem to stimulate a mother’s immune system during pregnancy, preventing allergic disease in children.

By emulating this naturally occurring phenomenon, scientists may one day devise a way to prevent allergies.

This task, though still in its infancy, has some urgency. Depending on the study and population, the prevalence of allergic disease and asthma increased between two- and threefold in the late 20th century, a mysterious trend often called the “allergy epidemic.”

These days, one in five American children have a respiratory allergy like hay fever, and nearly one in 10 have asthma.

Nine people die daily from asthma attacks. While the increase in respiratory allergies shows some signs of leveling off, the prevalence of food and skin allergies continues to rise. Five percent of children are allergic to peanuts, milk and other foods, half again as many as 15 years ago. And each new generation seems to have more severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reactions than the last.

Some time ago, I visited a place where seemingly protective microbes occurred spontaneously. It wasn’t a spotless laboratory in some university somewhere. It was a manure-spattered cowshed in Indiana’s Amish country.

My guide was Mark Holbreich, an allergist in Indianapolis. He’d recently discovered that the Amish people who lived in the northern part of the state were remarkably free of allergies and asthma.

About half of Americans have evidence of allergic sensitization, which increases the risk of allergic disease. But judging from skin-prick tests, just 7.2 percent of the 138 Amish children who Dr. Holbreich tested were sensitized to tree pollens and other allergens. That yawning difference positions the Indiana Amish among the least allergic populations ever described in the developed world.

This invulnerability isn’t likely to be genetic. The Amish originally came to the United States from the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and these days Swiss children, a genetically similar population, are about as allergic as Americans.

Ninety-two percent of the Amish children Dr. Holbreich tested either lived on farms or visited one frequently. Farming, Dr. Holbreich thinks, is the Amish secret. This idea has some history. Since the late 1990s, European scientists have investigated what they call the “farm effect.”

The working hypothesis is that innocuous cowshed microbes, plant material and raw milk protect farming children by favorably stimulating their immune systems throughout life, particularly early on. That spring morning, Dr. Holbreich gave me a tour of the bonanza of immune stimuli under consideration.

We found our hosts, Andrew Mast and his wife, Laura, hard at work milking cows in the predawn chill.

Dr. Holbreich, slight and bespectacled, peppered them with questions. At what age did Mr. Mast begin working in the cowshed? “My first memory is of milking,” he said, at about the age of 5. What about his children, two straw-haired girls, then ages 2 and 3; did they spend time in the cowshed? The elder girl came to the barn at 3 months of age, he said. “People learn to walk in here.” Do expectant mothers work in the barn? “Yes,” Laura said. “We work.”

Dr. Holbreich had made his point: whatever forces were acting here, they were chronic, and they began before birth. As the sun rose, Dr. Holbreich and I sniffed the damp, fermented feed (slightly malty); shoveled fresh cow manure (“Liquid gold,” Dr. Holbreich said only half-jokingly, “the best medicine you could think of”); and marveled at the detritus floating in the air. Extrapolating from previous research, with each breath we were inhaling perhaps 1,000 times more microbes than usual. By breakfast time, grime had collected under our nails, hay clung to our clothes, and muck to our boots. “There’s got to be bacteria, mold and plant material,” Dr. Holbreich said. “You do this every day for 30 years, 365 days a year, you can see there are so many exposures.”

The challenge of identifying the important exposures — and getting them into a bottle — is a pressing one. In parts of the developing world, where allergic disease was once considered rare, scientists have noted an uptick, especially in urban areas. China offers a dramatic case in point. A 2009 study found a more than threefold difference in allergic sensitization (as judged by skin-prick tests) between schoolchildren in rural areas around Beijing and children in the city proper. Doctor-diagnosed asthma differed sixfold. Maybe not coincidentally, 40 percent of the rural children had lived on farms their whole lives.

Immigrants from the developing world to the developed tend to be less allergic than average. But the longer they reside in their adopted countries, the more allergic they become. And their native-born children seem to gain the vulnerability to asthma, sometimes surpassing it. All of which highlights a longstanding question in the allergy field. As Dr. Holbreich puts it, “What is it about westernization that makes people allergic?”

When hay fever first emerged as a common complaint among the upper classes of Britain in the 19th century — and became a badge of refinement — farmers, who were exposed to more pollen than probably anyone else, seemed relatively invulnerable to the new affliction. In the 1990s, European scientists rediscovered the phenomenon in the small alpine farms of Switzerland. A bevy of studies followed, comprising thousands of subjects across Switzerland, Germany, Austria and elsewhere. Critically, by comparing children living in the same rural areas, scientists could discount urban pollution. Everyone was breathing the same country air.

And earlier this year, some of Dr. Holbreich’s collaborators, from the University of Basel in Switzerland, made a strong case that physical activity couldn’t explain the disparity either. They had rural children wear devices that measured movement for a week. There was little difference in physical activity between farming and nonfarming children. 

What matters then? Erika von Mutius, a doctor and epidemiologist at Munich University in Germany who has led much of this research, suspects diversity is important. Farms with the greatest array of microbes, including fungi, appear to be the most protective against asthma. At the Mast farm, the cowshed wasn’t more than 60 feet from the house. In Europe, scientists found that microbes waft from cowsheds into homes.

In one study, they showed that an infant’s risk of eczema was inverse to the microbial load in her mother’s mattress.

Timing seems to matter tremendously. The earlier exposure begins, it seems, the greater the protection — and that includes during pregnancy. Children born to mothers who work with livestock while pregnant, and who lug their newborns along during chores, seem the most invulnerable to allergic disease later.

Here, the farm effect dovetails with the burgeoning science on the prenatal origins of disease generally. What happens to your mother during the nine months before your birth may affect your vulnerability to many diseases decades later, from heart disease and obesity to schizophrenia.

Allergies and asthma seem to follow the rule as well.

Susan Prescott, a doctor and researcher at the University of Western Australia in Perth, has noted differences in the placentas of children who later develop allergies. A critical subset of white blood cells — called regulatory T-cells — seems relatively scarce at birth. Rather than enabling aggression, these cells help the immune system restrain itself when facing substances that are not true threats. A healthy population of these and other “suppressor” cells is important, scientists now suspect, in preventing allergies and asthma. So it seems significant that European farming children are born with a comparative surfeit of these cells. Bianca Schaub, a doctor and researcher at Munich University, has found that farming newborns have more regulatory T-cells in cord blood than babies of nonfarmers. In test tubes, these cells more effectively quash allergic-type reactions. And that suppressive ability increases with the number of different types of animals the mother tended while pregnant. The more cows, pigs and chickens a mother encounters, essentially, the more easily her offspring may tolerate dust mites and tree pollens.

Animal studies demonstrate how this might work. Some years back, scientists at Philipps University of Marburg in Germany sprayed pregnant mice with microbes originally isolated from Bavarian cowsheds. The exposure induced favorable changes in gene expression at the placenta. The pups born to these mice were protected against asthma.

This research suggests that farming mothers might benefit from a naturally occurring immunotherapy, one that preprograms the developing fetus against allergic disease. Yet how to apply that therapy deliberately remains unclear. Is “microbial pressure” what matters — a stiff microbial wind in our sails? Or do certain cowshed microbes actually colonize farmers, and favorably calibrate their immune function?

There’s evidence to support both explanations, which aren’t mutually exclusive anyway.

Before you rush to the nearest farm, however, a word of caution. Some studies indicate that if you grow up in an urban environment, occasional visits to the farm may exacerbate allergic propensities. If you haven’t matured with abundant microbial stimulation, the thinking goes, encountering it intermittently may push you into overdrive, prompting the misery you seek to avoid.

And yet, a prospective study from Denmark published this month suggests that it’s never too late. Young adults who began farming (with livestock) were less likely to develop new allergic sensitivities than rural peers who chose other professions. Existing allergies didn’t disappear. Rather, the farming environment seemed to prevent new sensitizations.

Which brings us to farm milk. In Europe, the consumption of unpasteurized milk has repeatedly correlated with protection against allergic disease. In America, 80 percent of the Amish studied by Dr. Holbreich consume raw milk. In a study published earlier this year, Dr. Schaub’s group showed that European children who consumed farm milk had more of those regulatory T-cells, irrespective of whether they lived on farms. The higher the quantity of those cells, the less likely these children were to be given diagnoses of asthma. Here, finally, is something concrete to take off the farm.

None of these scientists recommend that people consume raw milk; it can carry deadly pathogens. Rather, they hope to identify what’s protective in the milk and either extract it or preserve the ingredients during processing. Microbes may not be the key ingredient in this case. Instead, farm milk may act as a prebiotic — selectively feeding good microbes within. Another possibility is that as with human breast milk, antibodies and immune-signaling proteins in cow’s milk influence the human immune system, steering it toward tolerance.

As a whole, this research reframes the question of what prompted the late 20th-century allergy epidemic. Is the problem one of exposure to allergens, many of which aren’t exactly new to human experience? Or is the problem one of increasing sensitivity to whatever allergens are present?

The science suggests the latter. The Mast cowshed, with its rich array of microbial stimuli, probably resembles the world in which the human immune system evolved more than, say, an apartment high above Manhattan. The Amish in Indiana, who for reasons of religious faith have maintained a 19th-century-like lifestyle, may not be less allergic. Rather, during the dramatic reordering of human existence that began with the Industrial Revolution, everyone else may have become more allergic. Immunologically speaking, the farming Amish and farmers generally may more closely resemble an evolutionary norm for our species.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/opinion/sunday/a-cure-for-the-allergy-epidemic.html?emc=eta1

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Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.