Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria and FOS

Back in the old days it was simple: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are,” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said in 1826 (Martin, 2010).

The French lawyer and gastronome, who wrote “Physiologie du gout,” or the “Physiology of Taste,” had a keen sense of diet, and the role it played in a person’s life. Apparently his work was less a treatise on cuisine, than a witty compendium of anecdotes and observations (Answers Corporation, 2011).

In his overly stratified society, where many ate whatever food available, Brillat-Savarin saw diet as central to overall health, and especially in regard to obesity. He observed, for example, that carnivorous animals did not get fat--nor herbivores (accept upon old age), unless fed potatoes, grain or flour (Brillat-Savarin, 1826). He observed the same in humans.

Brillat-Savarin’s book is still in print, and took on renewed meaning when Victor Lindlahr published “You Are What You Eat: how to win and keep health with diet” in 1942. Lindlahr’s book took Brillat-Savarin’s observation, and phrase, into the public consciousness (Martin, 2010).

But the truth is, for millennia people have been aware there is a link between diet and health. Garlic, for example, was considered one of the most important foods, or spices, in ancient times. Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans alike all ate and drank this herb in many different ways (Heinerman, 1994).

Heinerman (1994) said soldiers in the Roman legion ate garlic with bread for strength, and it also “figured prominently in the preparation of various kinds of food in the traditional Hebrew diet” (Heinerman, p. 16). In fact, in a traditional preparation of locust, the most edible portion of the insect was briefly soaked in garlic and onion juice before oven-roasting, sun-drying and salting it (Heinerman, 1994).

It is hard to imagine this cuisine, but certainly the health benefits of garlic overrode any objections. Garlic is good to eat, and good for digestion health. Locust and garlic? It probably helped get rid stomach aches.

Interestingly, many foods have been found to help people gain strength and vigor. For centuries people in various parts of the world have been aware of the health benefits of products rich in lactobacilli such as yoghurt or kefir (fermented milk products), tempeh (from soy beans) or kimchi (fermented cabbage or other vegetables such as radish). Our ancestors also discovered that highly protective bifidobacteria dominate the gut microflora of breastfed babies. This was discovered more than 100 years ago (Stanton, 2009).

Probiotics is a term for various "friendly" micro-organisms--certain types of bacteria and yeast--that may provide health benefits to all. It might seem counterintuitive to gobble bacteria for better health, but a healthy human gut teems with hundreds of varieties, most of them harmless or even beneficial. Those microbes, most commonly strains of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, vastly outnumber the body's human cells and help maintain a healthy digestive system, in part by inhibiting the growth of potentially infection-causing microbes (Leitzell, 2007).

Today, a burgeoning marketplace has launched hundreds of new products; while at the same time science continues to unravel the complex mechanisms, and many benefits, of the more than 500 species of probiotic microorganisms that inhabit our bodies. Interestingly, most probiotic populations are concentrated in our intestinal tracts, where some estimate 70 percent of the immune system lies (Adams, 2009).

With 500 species, science is just beginning to isolate the various microorganisms and what they do, but Adams (2009) said probiotics “have the ability to secrete several key nutrients crucial to the body's metabolism, including the B vitamins pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, niacin, folic acid, cobalamin and biotin, in addition to vitamin K” (Adams, p. 30). And it is now strongly believed that probiotics prevent the growth of pathogens, and especially since the probiotics most often consumed are lactic acid producers; most pathogens won't multiply under acidic conditions (Roquefeuil-Dedieu, 2009).

Probiotics can also produce antibacterial molecules called bacteriocins. Lactobacillus plantarum, for example, produces lac-tolin; Lactobacillus bulgaricus secretes bulgarican and Lactobacillus acidophilus produces aciophilin, acidolin, bacterlocin and lactocidin. These and other substances equip probiotic strains with the mechanisms to combat and reduce pathologies related to Shigella, Staphylococcus and many other infections. Furthermore, antifungal biochemicals from the likes of L. acidophilus and B. bifidum also significantly reduce fungal outbreaks caused by Candida albicans (Adams, 2009).

Some species also have the ability to reduce procarcinogens, and even suppress tumor genesis. This has been shown in several in vivo studies with L. bulgaricus, L. reuteri and Bifidobacterium infantis. In the B. infantis research, for example, separated bacterial cell wall material also maintained anti-tumor suppression (Adams, 2009).

Of course, knowing every probiotic, and finding specific ones to target problems is not always practical. Simply, the more species present in over-the-counter products, the better the product is in promoting overall good health.

It is also important to “feed” probiotics. Not all probiotics consumed are equal to the task of passing the stomach and its digestive abilities. Thus the basic premise of a “prebiotic,” or probiotic food, is that it passes through the upper GI (gastrointestinal) tract without hydrolyzation or absorption. Several foods, such as chicory, milk, soy, onions, bananas, Jerusalem artichoke and even our old friend garlic, contain prebiotic molecules. These have been further identified as inulin and oligosaccharides, which include fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and galac-tooligosaccharides (Adams, 2009).

Prebiotics are especially beneficial to bifidobacterium, a genus that makes up a large majority of the human body's resident strains (Adams, 2009). Of special note are fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Fructooligosaccharides are sugars linked together with unique bonds the body can’t digest (Crayhon, 1995).

According to Crayhon (1995), since the human body cannot digest FOS, they have no calories. “Yet in their own unique, roundabout way they do. Beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria consume FOS” (Crayhon, p. 15).

In fact, bifidobacteria are the most significant microorganisms in the gastronintestinal (GI) tracts. And while there are many benefits from various acidophilus species, bifidobacteria are the most important of the beneficial bacteria that can help lower cholesterol levels, improve digestion of calcium, ease constipation, help in the treatment of chronic fatigue and treat a wide variety of skin disorders, especially acne (Crayhon, 1995).

Maintenance of healthy gut flora is dependent on many factors, especially the quality of food intake: including a significant proportion of prebiotics. This supports probiotic bacteria and may be a more effective and sustainable means of achieving the desirable health benefits promised by probiotics (Maletto, 2007).

When choosing probiotics, experts advise to look for specifics when posible, including the bacterial genus, species, and strain as well as the number of bacteria, usually measured in millions or billions of colony-forming units (CFUs). Vague statements like "proprietary formula" should be a red flag. Since many probiotic products don't list the exact strain they contain--leaving consumers with no way of knowing whether the product is really effective--the best way to find an effective product is in some cases to experiment with several (Leitzell, 2007).

Dosages for probiotics also vary according to the strain, combination and condition. Clinical evidence has illustrated that the dosage has to be high enough to create a suitable environment. Dr. Shahani, a professor at the University of Nebraska, recommends around 10 billion CFU per day as a maintenance dose, and two to three times that as a therapeutic dose to re-establish probiotic bacteria in the intestines after illness or antibiotic therapy. A dose of less than one billion CFU is probably ineffectual (Adams, 2009).

It has also been recommend to take probiotics in the presence of food to help neutralize stomach acidity. However, taking probiotics on an empty stomach may also accelerate emptying into the intestinal tract, but most manufacturers err on the side of "with food" to manage the acidic stomach environment risk. Yogurts, kefirs and dairy-based coatings have a distinct advantage in delivery, as dairy may aid in the probiotic's viability. It protects probiotics from stomach acid and bile secreted during digestion (Adams, 2009).


Adams, C. (2009). The promising potential of prebiotics and probiotics. Nutraceuticals World, 12, 30. (2011). Answers Corporation. Retrieved June 14, 2011, from

Brillat-Savarin, J. A. (1826). Physiology of taste. Retrieved June 15, 2011, from

Crayhon, C. Health benefits of fos. New Canaan, CT. Keats.

Heinerman, J. (1994). The healing benefits of garlic. New Canaan, CT. Keats.

Leitzell, K. (2007, December 10). Some bacteria for brunch? U.S. News & World Report, p. 65.

Maletto, P. (2007). Functional food formulation. Nutraceuticals World, 7, 36.

Martin, G. (2010). You are what you eat. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from

Roquefeuil-Dedieu, S. (Press Officer). (2009). Synbiotics: enhancing children's defenses. Nutraceutical Business & Technology, 5, 32.

Stanton, R. (2009, April 1). Probiotics are surrounded by much marketing hype. Australian Doctor.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Coenzyme Q-10 and Red Yeast Rice

Many who wish to lower cholesterol levels are often advised against statins. According to Crosta (2009), “statins are a class of medicines that are frequently used to lower blood cholesterol levels. The drugs are able to block the action of a chemical in the liver that is necessary for making cholesterol. Although cholesterol is necessary for normal cell and body function, very high levels of it can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition where cholesterol-containing plaques build up in arteries and block blood flow” (Crosta, p. 1).

Several types of statins exist such as atorvastatin, cerivastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin, mevastatin, et al. Interestingly, Mevastatin is a naturally occurring statin that is found in red yeast rice. Statins inhibit an enzyme that controls cholesterol production in the liver. The medicines actually act to replace the enzyme HMG-CoA that exists in the liver, thereby slowing down the cholesterol production process (Crosta, 2009).

Because Mevastatin is a naturally occurring statin in red yeast rice, it should be carefully considered for lowering cholesterol. While many reports downplay the problem with statins, a study at the University of California suggests the figure for muscle pain -- the most commonly reported reaction -- was nearer 20 per cent (Waters, 2010).

Muscle aches and pains, and possible liver damage, can be a problem when using statins. But memory loss and nerve damage has also been reported. Muscle pain may occur because statins block the production of co-enzyme Q-10, which is essential for energy production in all muscles. But nerve damage and memory problems may be linked to reduced cholesterol production. Cholesterol is essential to maintain the myelin sheath, which surrounds and protects the nerve cells and is used in the brain to build synapses, which create and store memory (Waters, 2010).

Thus, alternatives to the statins are often sought by people experiencing negative side effects. It should be noted that a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine do support the use of red yeast rice, actually a by-product of cooked rice on which red yeast is grown. The study found that red yeast rice in supplement form was effective in patients who had been unable to take statin drugs because the drugs caused muscle problems. The study also found that that red yeast rice did not cause liver impairment (Garloch, 2010).

The Mevastatin in red yeast rice has caused problems, however. According to Graedon and Graedon (2011) “some people seem especially susceptible to muscle damage from statin-type medications to lower cholesterol. Drugs such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor) all can cause muscle pain or even a rare condition called rhabdomyolysis. Red yeast rice also can cause muscle problems”(Graedon & Graedon, p. 4).

For those especially susceptible to muscle damage a high-quality fish oil capsule (1000 mg of EPA, DHA, two or three times daily), or niacin (500mg with a half of baby aspirin twice daily) may help. A healthy diet, of course, is also important, with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables,

There is evidence that the dietary supplement coenzyme Q-10 may reduce or prevent side effects caused by statins. In the study in the Annals of Internal Medicine article, 31 patients who were unable to tolerate statins received 1800 mg of red yeast rice twice daily, while another 31 patients received a placebo. This dose of the supplement resulted in therapeutically significant declines in total and LDL cholesterol with no muscle or liver side effects (LipschItz, 2009).

A YouTube video helps explain the use of coenzyme Q-10 when taking statins:

(If considering red yeast rice, 50 mg twice daily--or less--should be a safe alternative for those not overly susceptible to muscle damage.)


Crosta, P. (2009). What are statins? How statins work and the side effects of statins. Medical News Today. Retrieved May, 28, 2009, from

Garloch, K. (2010, August 31). The good, the bad and the ugly cholesterol. The News & Observer. Raleigh.

Graedon, J., & Graedon, T. (2011, May 8). The people's pharmacy. Richmond Times Dispatch, p. 4.

LipschItz, D. (2009, July 5). Statins are miracle drugs, but for severe side effects. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Little Rock.

Waters, J. (2010, March 30). The other side of statins. Daily Mail. London.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Male Reproductive

Knowledge about old men seems to be similar to common knowledge about prostates. Where are they? Who are they? What are they doing? —James Green, “The Male Herbal”

For most men, a prostate gland creates concerns only as they grow older. The issue concerning its health comes to the fore when men find sexual enjoyment waning; or when their doctor raises concern over a higher than normal count of prostate-specific antigens, or PSA. Most men will talk about the unknown gland when a higher PSA count (usually 4.0 ng/ml or higher) signals abnormal growth, and a potential marker for prostate cancer.

There are mitigating factors, of course, and a PSA 4.0 ng/ml, or higher, could just as easily reflect (according to detractors) a long drive on a rocky road. But it is wise to keep a wary eye on the results of this test. Only when the problem is benign prostatitis can herbal solutions to this condition be explored more productively.

Unfortunately, even older men with good PSA tests routinely ask for product information to improve libido over general prostate health. Ironically, many over-the-counter stimulants can exacerbate the very problem most men detest: difficulty urinating and a full bladder that stresses the prostate gland and limits sexual pleasure.

Without question, prostate health is paramount, and not just for sexual pleasure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC,, prostate cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths among men. In 2007, the most recent year numbers are available, 223,307 men in the United States were diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 29,093 of them died.

To put this in perspective, in that same year, according to the CDC, 202,964 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,598 of them died. The disease, like prostate cancer, is easily treated if found in time.

For men, it is never too early (and perhaps even better) to pursue prostate heath at a yonger age, and several alternative approaches will be suggested here. The first comes from

On the website, Hildegard (2011) reported a proper diet can also play a role. “Dr. James Balch, a urologist and author of the book ‘Prescription for Cooking and Dietary Wellness,’ writes, ‘If a man wants to stay out of the operating room and avoid cancer of the prostate, he needs to go full blast in avoiding the high-fat junk foods and environmental toxins that contribute to prostate problems, and to start a wise nutritional program that includes the basic supplements that affect the prostate’” (Hildegard, p. 1).

Thus, following a high-fiber, low-fat diet, including flaxseed oil, plenty of water and a daily multivitamin can greatly improve a man's ability to ward off or battle prostate issues that may prove serious later in life (Hildegard, 2011).

Taking care of the prostate can start as early as a man chooses to be proactive about his health. Green (1991) wrote that “‘men push their worries into their prostate’” (Green, p. 101). Thus, it can be argued, stress reduction is also beneficial, no matter what a man’s age or level of maturity.

The prostate gland, which sits just beneath the bladder, and surrounds the urethra, is in a critical position. If for whatever reason, the prostate is stressed, enlarges or becomes inflamed, the urethra running through the prostate can be pinched off, like pinching a drinking straw, which obstructs the flow of urine. In older men, this can cause the urine to stagnate, back up and distend the bladder (Green, 1991).

Most men give little thought to this until the problem becomes chronic; and while herbal supplements have been shown to help, the importance of understanding the prostate cannot be overstated.

Relevant evidence has been acquired by Dr. Ira Sharlip, professor of urology at the University of California at San Francisco, for example, demonstrating that relaxing the body’s muscles is the core of a successful method of treatment for chronic nonbacterial prostatitis. Dr. Sharlip points out that an abnormal increase in stress is one cause of male prostate dilemma (Green, 1991).

In fact, Green (1991) said “learning stress management techniques, enjoyable exercise, pulling worry back out of the prostate and, if necessary, using herbs like Valerian, Crampbark and Scullcap that help relax muscles, assist the successful employment of this technique” (Green, p. 106).

A stress exercise that can help, for example, builds overall reproductive and prostate health, and can be found simply by stopping the flow of urine. Once executed, simply remembering this exercise not only keeps the prostate supple, but helps maintain sexual control.

There are many websites with this information, but not many of serious interest; simply, practice helps, and once the muscle is identified and exercised regularly, even with dry runs, sexual endurance increases and the prostate gland is strengthened and toned (Green, 1991).

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Onion House

The rides themselves look more like what you’d expect at a larger county fair—“ Robert Nelson, Omaha World-Herald.

The Nebraska State Fair moved to Grand Island, news from way back when, but a columnist hoped for nicer rides.

No doubt the carnival people, who did all the heavy lifting at the old fairgrounds, might disagree with Nelson’s characterization, but who knows? Should the rides at the new State Fair be any better than the old? Is there even a measurement for such a thing? Would the old rides look newer at the new State Fair? Were they different, and what about the food?

Intuitively, carnival goers know quality, and anyone who's seen the ragtag, and threadbare Ferris Wheels in small Midwestern shows can attest to this fact. But honestly, do the workers of carnivals think about such a thing? Do they care? Wherever they work, they put things up, they take things down. It’s a job, and a lifestyle, or at least it once was a lifestyle, and one with its own traditions, food and culture. A culture that had nothing to do with frozen ice cream and pizza on a stick

In fact, many traveling carnivals once had their own “field kitchens,” a traveling
diner that appeared under trees, and other cozy places. They doubled as food stands for the townspeople, but were actually working kitchens for the “Carnies.”

Townspeople could get a hamburger there maybe, but the real food worked for the carnival people, and the successful operation of the show. And it didn’t matter where the show came to for a run; it was for the workers.

These days townspeople, and carnival workers alike, eat at fast-food restaurants when the carnival comes to town. There is popcorn and hotdogs, of course, but long gone are the healthy staples that were once the heart and soul of this life on the road. No doubt a carnival somewhere keeps its traditions alive, but the shows that travel in Iowa often come without a real kitchen, or a place to eat at all.

Once, there always seemed to be a flatiron grill (or a working frying pan) cooking something up, and at one traveling show piles of fresh grilled onions were always at the ready —a mystery to many, but not to those working with strangers.

Anyone who had the courage could find a so-so hamburger, but a customer had to ask for the onions steaming on the grill (and they cost extra).

Recent studies have shown onions, and garlic, to be a remarkable food. In fact, a decrease in certain cancers, most notably stomach cancer, has been reported by eating onions and garlic. And that is not all. According to Winston Craig, a registered dietitian who writes on the site Vegetarianism & Vegetarian Nutrition, onions are a rich source of fructo-oligosaccharides. Something called oligomers, according to Craig, that stimulate the growth of healthy bifidobacteria and suppress the growth of potentially harmful bacteria in the colon.

Onions and other allium vegetables (garlic, for example), are also rich in something called thiosulfinates, and can exhibit antimicrobial properties (they help prevent sickness). In fact, onions and garlic are highly effective against bacteria, including Salmonella and E. coli. Onions are not as potent as garlic, according to Craig (the sulfur compounds in onion are only about one-quarter the level found in garlic), but many consider them yummier on the grill.

Once there were onions steaming on grills just about everywhere people gathered to eat, and for many at the old-time carnivals, it was as much a part of the experience as the rides themselves—a part of the mystery of the place, perhaps—or of a time when the importance of healthy eating had not been lost to a fast-food place.

One old timer remembered it thus: when a carnival worker came into a fast-food restaurant. His place of work just down the street. “He was talking with friends (fellow workers),” the man said. “And wasn’t feeling well. He said he hoped the fast food would help settle his stomach.”

Odds are it did not.

Once he would have found what he was looking for. No doubt he would not have given it much thought.

Editor’s Note: Our thanks to the folks at Artist|rising for the neat Ferris Wheel, and also to the folks at Bing. We trust it is okay to use these images. Finding a photo of a field kitchen at a carnival grilling onions was impossible.