Tag: gut health

What is Berberine and Should You Take It?

As the number of people living with cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, and other health scourges continues to skyrocket, so too does the demand for safe, effective treatments. People don’t just want to pop pills that mask symptoms and make it possible to “live with” a disease. And as much as we know that diet and lifestyle changes—being less sedentary, sleeping more, reducing stress—are needed to make real, sweeping public health impacts, implementation is a huge challenge. In the meantime, people need remedies that get to the root causes of their chronic health woes—ideally without a laundry list of possible side effects.  Enter berberine, an alkaloid compound found in various plants. This is a textbook example of modern science confirming ancient wisdom. Chinese and ayurvedic medicine have valued berberine-containing plants like barberry, goldenseal, and tree turmeric for hundreds of years, using them to treat everything from gout to indigestion to hemorrhoids to skin infections to cancer. Now, research is uncovering exactly how berberine works—and it turns out to be quite a remarkable little substance.  To date, there is pretty good evidence that berberine is useful for two applications in particular, and there are hints that it might serve other purposes as well. Let’s dive in. Likely Benefits of Berberine For Managing Blood Sugar, Insulin, and Type 2 Diabetes In type 2 diabetics, berberine seems to lower fasting blood sugar and fasting insulin, decrease HbA1c (a three-month blood glucose average), and improve insulin sensitivity.  Some studies even suggest that berberine can be as effective as the drugs that are currently considered standard of care, notably metformin. There is also an additive benefit: administering metformin with berberine seems to be more effective than metformin alone. However, as the authors of one review pointed out, studies comparing the two tend to be of less-than-ideal quality. Shockingly, drug companies aren’t exactly falling all over themselves to fund research to see if an herb can replace one of their lucrative products.  Nevertheless, this is a big deal. Insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, and the resulting inflammation are the common threads connecting numerous chronic diseases. It’s possible, even likely, that berberine could be used as a primary or adjunct therapy for many diseases that run rampant today. Take PCOS as an example. Insulin resistance is a hallmark of PCOS, and metformin is often prescribed to manage symptoms and encourage ovulation. In one study, 150 women received berberine, metformin, or a placebo before undergoing IVF. Women in both treatment groups showed similar improvements in metabolic health (lower BMI, less insulin resistance, lower fasting glucose and insulin), but 18 of those who took berberine had a successful pregnancy, compared to 14 in the metformin group and 7 in the placebo group.  For Blood Lipids Studies in rodents and humans with high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes pretty consistently find that berberine lowers LDL-C and triglycerides, usually while boosting HDL. It may also lower ApoB. ApoB is a lipoprotein that many cardiovascular disease experts now recognize is a more accurate … Continue reading “What is Berberine and Should You Take It?”

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Feed a Cold, Starve A Fever? What to Eat (Or Not) When You’re Sick

Cold? Flu? Tummy troubles? I know that I don’t have time to be sick, and I’m sure you don’t either. Luckily I don’t get sick very often anymore, but back in my competitive athlete days, it felt like I was constantly battling one cold, cough, or sinus infection after another.  

Not to toot my own horn, but I chalk up my current good health to my Primal lifestyle. I know for sure that there is a marked before and after—before Primal, when I had a medicine cabinet full of OTC remedies, and after, when I rarely take a sick day. On those occasions when I do detect a tickle in my throat or the first signs of sour stomach, my first course of action is to double down on those aspects of my lifestyle that support a robust immune system, particularly nutrient-dense foods, sleep, and time in the sun.

The food piece is what we’re going to talk about today. Everybody has an opinion about what to eat, or not, when you’re under the weather. I’m not claiming that certain foods can cure the flu or prevent you from coming down with that cold even after your sick kid coughs in your face. But once you’re sick, the name of the game is supporting your immune system by providing it with beneficial nutrients and compounds that could aid it in fighting off the viruses or bacteria that are making you sick in the first place. Some foods will also provide welcome comfort, which is nothing to sneeze at, pun intended. 

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How to Make Butter, Yogurt, and Kefir at Home

While it’s easy enough to pop down to the grocery store and buy butter, yogurt, or kefir, it can be very rewarding—and easier than you think—to make your own products at home. Making staple dairy foods at home allows you to control what goes into them, control the process, and reconnect to the traditional way of doing things.

Yogurt and kefir are also fermented foods that deliver those oh-so-important probiotics to feed the beneficial microbes in your gut. Rather than rely on store-bought products, which often contain sugar and other additives you wish to avoid, why not make your own at home? Being able to make your own butter, yogurt, and kefir gives you flexibility. It gives you power. Most importantly, it gives you agency: the ability to control what you feed yourself or your family.

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How to Improve Gut Health Naturally

When Hippocrates, the ancient Greek father of medicine, said, “All disease begins in the gut,” he was probably right. We now know that poor gut health is linked to a broad range of diseases and health conditions, from depression to diabetes, cancer to obesity, and autism to autoimmune disease. Researchers are even exploring the connection between gut bacteria and the severity of COVID-19 infections.

The importance of gut health has never been clearer. Our scientific understanding of the microbiome—the trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in and on our body, especially in the gastrointestinal tract—has grown leaps and bounds since Hippocrates’ time, and even since the last century. Doctors and researchers have much better tools for testing gut health and sequencing the microbiome than they did just a decade ago. 

So all the world’s health issues solved, right? Not exactly.

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What Is Leaky Gut?

The term “leaky gut” describes the phenomenon, and the aftermath, of having an intestinal barrier that is more permeable than normal. The “than normal” is important here. Your gut is designed to be selectively permeable. Nutrients, electrolytes, and fluids need to be able to move in and out as part of normal, healthy digestion. Meanwhile, all the potentially dangerous stuff—pathogens, toxins, undigested food that shouldn’t be absorbed into the body—is meant to stay put and continue its journey down the digestive tract.   Regulating gut permeability is no small task. In most popular conceptions of human physiology, the gut exists primarily as a passive conduit along which food travels. But it’s much more complex than that. The walls of your intestines are a dynamic boundary between you and the external world. The intestinal barrier is made up of layers of mucus, epithelial cells, muscle, and immune system components. When working as intended, the barrier allows the gut to safely house the microbes that reside there, judiciously lets good things into the body, and keeps harmful things out.  Sometimes, though, the system starts to break down. The metaphorical doormen that are supposed to let only certain people into the club go to sleep on the job. Undesirables starts sneaking in. Sometimes the doors are flung open wide, and all the riffraff get through. When that happens, all hell breaks loose. The result is chronic inflammation, autoimmune illness, allergies, and more. Most people are probably walking around with some degree of leaky gut thanks to the unhealthy lifestyle practices and environmental exposures that are unavoidable nowadays. Here’s what you need to know. What is Leaky Gut? Lining the gut are epithelial cells whose cell membranes fuse together to form protein complexes called tight junctions. Those tight junctions can open up. When that happens, toxins, harmful microbes, and partially digested food particles can escape the gut and make their way into the bloodstream, leading to infection, chronic inflammation, and the sustained immune response that characterizes autoimmune illness.  As we learn more and more about gut health and the microbiome, it is evident that high intestinal permeability is a hallmark of just about every autoimmune and chronic metabolic disease. Just as a sampling, leaky gut has been associated with  Celiac disease Symptoms of poor digestion, like bloating, gas, or constipation Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) Asthma Autism ADHD Food allergies and intolerances Rheumatoid arthritis Eczema Depression, anxiety Obesity and metabolic syndrome Diabetes, both type 1 and type 2 Multiple sclerosis While there is some debate about which comes first, the hyperpermeability or the disease, we know that in many cases, increased gut leakiness precedes, and may even be a necessary precursor for, disease onset. Once the disease process is set into motion, the chronic inflammation that accompanies all these disease states can further impair gut health, leading to a downward spiral. What Causes a Leaky Gut in the First Place? As I’ve discussed previously, gut health depends on having a healthy robust … Continue reading “What Is Leaky Gut?”

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