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Intestines Credit:Wikipedia

New discoveries about our gut microbiome (the community of viruses, bacteria, fungi) keep occurring. There is growing evidence that certain bacterial species in the gut are associated with cholesterol levels and heart disease.

Adding to the evidence, a recent study found that people with higher levels of several species of Oscillibacter bacteria had lower cholesterol levels than people without or diminished levels of these bacteria. The researchers than  found (in the lab) that these species of Oscillibacter bacteria actually take up and metabolize artery-clogging cholesterol, which could explain the lower cholesterol levels.

By the way, other species (e.g., Eubacterium coprostanoligenes)  were also associated with lower cholesterol levels in the study. The same people with higher levels of beneficial bacteria also had greater diversity of gut bacteria, which is considered a sign of gut health.

Species of Oscillibacter bacteria are not available in any supplements at this time. You'll just have to eat a diet that feeds and nurtures beneficial gut microbes.

And what is a health-promoting diet? A recent study found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and olive oil promotes healthy bacteria in the gut, which are associated with good health. This also is a diet high in fiber. Think along the lines of a Mediterranean diet.

From Science Daily: Scientists link certain gut bacteria to lower heart disease risk

Changes in the gut microbiome have been implicated in a range of diseases including type 2 diabetes, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease. Now, a team of researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard along with Massachusetts General Hospital has found that microbes in the gut may affect cardiovascular disease as well. In a study published in Cell, the team has identified specific species of bacteria that consume cholesterol in the gut and may help lower cholesterol and heart disease risk in people. ...continue reading "Certain Gut Bacteria Are Associated With Lower Cholesterol Levels"

The studies finding health harms from ultra-processed foods keep coming. Ultra-processed foods are food products manufactured with all sorts of ingredients (additives) not normally found in our kitchens. Examples of such ingredients are: emulsifiers, carrageenan, mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin, polysorbate, cellulose, colors, titanium dioxide, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, dextrose, whey protein, nitrates, flavors (artificial and natural), colors, etc.

A large review of studies (none of which were affiliated with companies producing ultra-processed foods) found that eating ultra-processed foods are linked to over 30 health harms. Some of the health harms had especially strong associations: early death, death from heart disease (cardiovascular disease), type 2 diabetes, adverse sleep outcomes, wheezing, and obesity. In general, the more ultra-processed foods one ate, the higher the risk for harms.

Bottom line: Read ingredient lists, and try to avoid ultra-processed foods. Even foods such as cereals can have one that is ultra-processed (a formulation of ingredients that result from industrial processes) next to one that only has natural real ingredients without any additives.

From Medical Xpress: Consistent evidence links ultra-processed food to over 30 damaging health outcomes

Consistent evidence shows that higher exposure to ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of 32 damaging health outcomes including cancer, major heart and lung conditions, mental health disorders, and early death. ...continue reading "Over 30 Health Harms Associated With Ultra-Processed Foods"

Most Americans eat highly processed or ultra-processed foods every single day, with most of their daily calories from them! There are all sorts of health risks from these foods, with a recent study finding an overall increased risk of cancer, as well as prostate and breast cancer.

Emulsifiers are food additives found in many ultra-processed foods. A large French study found that higher intakes of the emulsifiers carrageenan, mono and diglycerides are linked to an overall increased risk of cancer, as well as an increased risk in prostate and breast cancers.

Bottom line: Read the ingredients listed on labels! As much as possible, try to only buy and cook foods with ingredients that you would find in a kitchen. For example, flour, sugar - yes, chemical sounding names - no.

From Medscape: Are Food Emulsifiers Associated With Increased Cancer Risk?

...continue reading "Food Additives and Higher Cancer Risk"

There is a huge problem in the organic foods industry, and it's a problem that our government refuses to address. The issue is that many of the imported foods into the US are actually not organic, and are not complying with organic standards. The result is that crops grown in the US, from farms following organic standards, can not compete with the low prices of fraudulent "organic" imports.

Now there is a follow-up to the lawsuit filed last October 2023 by Organic Eye and others about this "organic" fraud and lack of oversight by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) of foreign organic imports. It turns out that big business and industry lobbying groups are just fine with the lack of oversight and fraud - because it's great for their bottom line (billions of dollars!) And so they are opposing the lawsuit!

Many organic imported foods from places like China, Brazil, and Turkey are actually not organic, and this is why their "organic" foods are so inexpensive.  (The Washington Post and others have written about the fraud.)

Instead, try to buy organic foods grown and produced in the US, Canada, the European Union - and also from local farmers.

The following are excerpts from a follow-up article from Organic Eye - the investigative watch-dog group, who are trying to make sure that organic food really is organic. Go check out their site and read the full article, as well as others on the site.

Excerpts from Organic Eye - Organic Civil War: US Farmers Face off in Court Against Importers of Potentially Fraudulent Food

Last fall an Oregon organic hazelnut farmer filed a federal lawsuit against the USDA alleging the agency’s complacency in allowing massive imports that do not meet the federal statutory requirement that all certified farms be inspected on an annual basis. The lawsuit suggested this opens up a large percentage of the US organic food supply to wholesale fraud.

Instead of collaborating with the farmer-plaintiff and the nonprofit farm policy research group backing the effort, OrganicEye, to tighten up oversight on international organic production, a consortium of business interests has now filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief on behalf of the USDA and the status quo, worth billions of dollars in international commerce. ...continue reading "Why Many “Organic” Foods From Other Countries Are So Cheap"

Small intestine Credit: Wikipedia

It turns out that artificial sweeteners alter the gut microbiome, specifically the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine after the stomach). And not in a good way.

The gut microbiome is the community of microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses) that lives in the small intestine - and it looks different in persons who use artificial sweeteners compared to persons who don't.

Researchers found that artificial sweeteners lowered microbial diversity (not good), and increased numbers of harmful bacteria in the duodenum. They also alter inflammation markers that circulate in the blood in a negative way. The use of non-aspartame artificial sweeteners (sucralose, saccharin, stevia) had slightly different effects than aspartame, but both overall had negative effects (when compared to gut microbiomes of persons not ingesting artificial sweeteners in their diet).

From Medical Xpress: Could artificial sweeteners alter your microbiome?

You may think that artificial sweeteners can help you lose some weight, but a new study finds they are no good for your gut's microbiome. ...continue reading "Artificial Sweeteners Alter the Gut Microbiome"

Another recent study found numerous health benefits in persons following an intermittent fasting-like diet for 3 months. It resulted in changes in blood and liver markers indicating a lower risk for several diseases (e.g., diabetes), and it reduced biological age 2.5 years.

Researchers found that following a diet that mimics fasting 5 days, then a normal diet 25 days for 3 monthly cycles improve a number of cardiometabolic risk factors such as reduced insulin resistance and other pre-diabetes markers. It also decreased abdominal fat and liver fat, and improved immune system functioning.

What did they eat during the 5 fasting-like days? They ate plant-based, low-calorie, and low-protein foods such as vegetable-based soups, energy bars, energy drinks, chip snacks, chamomile tea, and a supplement providing high levels of minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids. The foods were prepackaged and provided by an outside company to ensure the diet was followed.

But more importantly, the participants didn't really fast the 5 days - they just really cut back on calories, and ate plant-based foods. In other words, this type of diet is much easier to follow than a total fast, especially for several months. After the 5 days, the participants resumed eating their normal diet for the next 25 days.

From Medical Xpress: Fasting-like diet lowers risk factors for disease, reduces biological age in humans: Study

Cycles of a diet that mimics fasting can reduce signs of immune system aging, as well as insulin resistance and liver fat in humans, resulting in a lower biological age, according to a new USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology-led study. ...continue reading "A Five Day Fasting-Mimicking Diet Has Health Benefits"

A recent study reports more good news about eating a plant-based diet - that is, one rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, but low in meat and dairy foods.

Researchers found that in men who had already been diagnosed with prostate cancer, those eating the most plant-based foods had the least erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, urinary irritation, and had better "hormonal health and vitality" (e.g., symptoms such as low energy, depression, and hot flashes). Consuming more plant-based foods was associated with better sexual and bowel function (this last from the fiber in plant-based foods).

Other research already shows that plant-based diets can reduce the risk of prostate cancer, as well as for prostate cancer recurrence and for the cancer progressing. A reason for this could be because a plant-based diet (e.g., Mediterranean style diet) lowers chronic inflammation.

From Medical Xpress: Plant-based diet tied to improved sexual health in men treated for prostate cancer

A diet that limits meat and dairy but is rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts is linked to less erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and other common side effects seen in prostate cancer patients, a new study shows. ...continue reading "Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet For Men With Prostate Cancer"

It turns out that another nasty pesticide is found in almost all of us, which we get from the foods we eat. This is the pesticide chlormequat, which is known to have harmful health effects. The use of chlormequat is on the rise in North America and Europe, where it is applied to non-organic grain crops as a plant growth regulator.

A recent study found that the percentage of persons with detectable chlormequat in their urine, as well as the levels (concentrations) of chlormequat, have been increasing yearly since 2017 (start of the study), but with a significant increase in 2023. It was found in the urine of 90% of the people tested in 2023.

This is concerning because studies find that it can reduce fertility and harm the developing fetus - even at doses lower than what regulatory agencies view as "allowable daily intake levels". Unfortunately, the CDC does not do biomonitoring of chlormequat in humans - thus it is an under the radar pesticide (found in humans, but no one is officially monitoring it).

Currently it is only allowed on ornamental plants in the US, but in 2023 the EPA proposed allowing the use of chlormequat on barley, oats, triticale, and wheat grown in the US. It is already allowed on imported grain crops from Canada and Europe. One study found it in Quaker oats and oat products, and Cheerios.

In 2020 the US EPA also raised "allowable levels" of chlormequat in food (from 10 ppm to 30 ppm), which is reflected in the study results - 90% of people tested in 2023 had detectable levels of the pesticide in their urine, and in greater amounts (concentrations) than in prior years. Once again the EPA is "looking out for us" - NOT!

Bottom line: Eat as many organic foods as possible, including oats, barley, and wheat. This pesticide is not allowed to be used on organic crops. Changing to an organic diet quickly lowers chlormequat levels in the body.

From New study finds little-known toxic crop chemical in four out of five people tested

A new Environmental Working Group study has found chlormequat, a little-known pesticide, in four out of five people tested. Because the chemical is linked to reproductive and developmental problems in animal studies, the findings suggest the potential for similar harm to humans. ...continue reading "Another Harmful Pesticide In Our Foods"

Chemicals known as "forever chemicals" or PFAS have been in the news a lot recently. This is because PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are in so many products that we all use, yet research is showing more and more health harms from them. Including to pregnant women and developing babies.

A recent study found that pregnant women who ate more ultra-processed  or fast foods had higher levels of a type of forever chemicals (PFAS) called phthalates in their bodies. The food wrappers and packaging of ultra-processed and fast food, and even the gloves worn by food handlers, are a source of the harmful chemicals.

The chemicals migrate from the packaging or wrapping into the food, which is then ingested by the person. They then get into the pregnant woman's bloodstream, and eventually the placenta and fetus. They are endocrine (hormone) disruptors. Studies find that pregnant women with higher levels of phthalates have an increased risk of preterm birth, babies with low birth weight, and other problems (e.g., autism spectrum disorder).

The researchers found that diets high in vegetables, fruits, yogurt, fish, and nuts during pregnancy were associated with lower phthalate levels (measured in the urine of the pregnant women). Ultra-processed foods were between 9.8 to 59.% of the pregnant women's diets, with the average being 38.6%.

Unfortunately, unprocessed and minimally processed foods are more expensive than ultra-processed foods. So it wasn't surprising that socioeconomic levels (including income levels) made a difference - the lower the household income, the greater the average ultra-processed food intake.

Bottom line: Try to eat less fast food and pre-made packaged food. Read labels and avoid foods with ingredients that are not found normally in a home kitchen, but are chemicals (e.g., soy lecithin, carrageenan, high-fructose corn syrup, colors). We can't totally avoid all PFAS, but we can lower our exposure to them.

From Medical Xpress: Study: Pregnant women should avoid ultraprocessed, fast foods

If you're pregnant, you may want to think twice before making a hamburger run or reaching for a prepackaged pastry, according to research published last month in the journal Environmental International. ...continue reading "Pregnant Women Ingest Forever Chemicals In Ultra-Processed and Fast Foods"

Small intestine Credit: Wikipedia

A new study highlights the importance of eating a variety of foods for good health. Researchers found that humans have 5 distinct regions in the small intestine, and each region absorbs different nutrients and has different cellular functions. And each zone responds to changes in the diet.

The researchers said that this helps understand how the small intestine successfully regenerates over the life span, as well as clues as to the development of some intestinal diseases. They also discovered that there are 3 regions in the small intestine that are each home to distinct intestinal stem cell types.

Bottom line: Be good to your intestines (and in doing so, promote good health) by eating a variety of real foods. That means a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes (beans). Try to eat as many organic foods as possible (non-organic foods contain pesticide residues that can disrupt gut microbiome). Try to avoid ultra-processed foods as much as possible.

From Medical Xpress: Scientists gain new insights into how small intestine works

However, the organ may finally be ready for an update: U.S. researchers say the small intestine is actually comprised of five distinct segments, each being responsible for the absorption of various nutrients. ...continue reading "The Five Regions of the Small Intestine"