To the casual news watcher, scientific and medical breakthroughs may seem like a regular occurrence. The media continually reports on advancements to help fight some of our greatest enemies including cancer, diabetes and infectious diseases.
But in reality, these achievements are few and far between; for some branches of health, they are quite rare. Which is why when several announcements are made in the short span of one week, it's considered a time to celebrate.
For the world of probiotics, this past week has been one such occasion as three separate declarations have shown just how beneficial and important good germs can be.
In the most hailed of the three studies, a group from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA led by Kirsten Tillisch published the results of a study that showed how probiotics can help to keep a person calm and less stressed.
To prove this, the team provided 36 women with a fermented milk product containing several different probiotic bacteria, a regular milk-based product or no product at all. The testing was fairly straightforward: while undergoing an MRI, a woman was shown photos of different faces. If she felt either fear or anger, she would register her reaction by pressing a button. The researchers would then monitor emotional responses during this testing and determine if there were any differences between the groups.
What Tillisch and her colleagues found was that after only a week of taking the probiotics, women tended to be calmer and less likely to experience negative emotions. The overall result was that probiotics help to keep a person calm and after extended use, may even reverse a negative mentality.
While anxiety reduction through probiotic use has been observed before in mice and humans this was the first time probiotics have been shown to directly affect brain activity. There can be little doubt that those who suffer from mental health issues may soon have natural options to resolve their struggles.
While this breakthrough offers hope for the future, another less publicized study may help to prevent another chronic problem today: high cholesterol. Back in 2012, a group from McGill University published their results from a clinical trial in which they found that a certain probiotic bacterium could help to lower cholesterol by over 10 per cent and also help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by at least 25 per cent. The results were so impressive that the researchers devoted themselves to bringing the probiotic to the public.
This week, the team announced that they had finally reached the market and that their product, known as Cardioviva was available in Canada and the United States. While this may not lead to an overall reduction in deaths due to cardiovascular diseases -- simply because not everyone at risk will take them -- there is hope that over time, more individuals as well as physicians will not only take a look at the product but also give it at least a trial run.
While Tillisch and Cardioviva have yet to make an impact in the world of health, the third major probiotic milestone is based on products that have been in the market for some time. The announcement has come in the form of a review, written by an expert group of researchers on bowel diseases, focusing on how probiotics can prevent infection from the nefarious Clostridium difficile.
The review took a look at 31 clinical trials and analyzed them for any common results regarding the prevention of C. difficile infection. After looking at all the studies, the authors concluded that probiotics can help reduce the risk of infection by an incredible 64 per cent. The only requirement is that the concentration of the probiotic formulation be at least 10 billion with 50 billion and even 100 billion having even greater effects.
While this final study may not have great significance for healthy individuals, for those with underlying symptoms including chronic antibiotic use, immunosuppression and dysbiosis, the results are relieving. By using a product that is already in the market, they might be able to help prevent an even greater complication to their health challenges.
This week has been monumental in the probiotic world although these advancements might be little more than turning back the clock. Probiotics have been used for centuries in fermentation and many of the bacteria sitting on the shelves of the probiotic section are found in the most traditional diets such as those in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia.
Yet the goals of better understanding the benefits of these bacteria are still valid. With each new study, formulation brought to market and review of already available products, we are learning not only how to take better care of ourselves into the future, but also how our ancestors survived over the ages.
Full of caffeine and sugar, energy drinks and caffeinated colas are some of the worst foods for stress, Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., author of author of The Flexitarian Diet, told HuffPost. "That dynamic duo of trouble ... the combination of both the caffeine jitters and the sugar crash, that can be taxing on your body, so it does add stress," she says. Guzzling energy drinks can also make stress worse because of the way caffeine affects sleep. An energy drink can contain as much caffeine as three cups of coffee -- which can lead to insomnia, an aggravator of stress.
If you're experiencing stress-related digestive troubles, steer clear of spicy foods that might aggravate the discomfort. People who get stressed easily are not able to process food as well, Bauer explains. "[Stress] slows down metabolism and makes it harder to digest food, so food sits in stomach for longer. This leads to things like acid reflux, and spicy food then could make that worse."
People often turn to treats when they're stressed, but sugar only contributes to higher levels of stress hormones. "We go naturally to the wrong foods because they increase levels of cortisol," Bauer says. The blood sugar and insulin spikes that accompany the consumption of refined sugar can also lead to crashes, irritability and increased food cravings.
A glass of wine can calm you down, right? Wrong. Alcohol stimulates the release of cortisol, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The study found that heavy drinkers and those who had recently increased their drinking had higher levels of the stress hormone. Alcohol and stress "feed" each other, according to University of Chicago research published in 2011 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. People may turn to alcohol to dampen the emotional effects of stress, but it turns out that stress actually reduces the intoxicating effects of alcohol, according to the research.
For the same reasons, sweet coffee drinks -- like vanilla lattes and mochas, which are made with sugary syrups and espresso -- can also increase stress levels. "A lot of people, if they're feeling panicked at 3:00 with all the work they have left to do, make matters way worse by going to Starbucks and getting a sugary coffee drink, which makes them highly agitated, even more so than they were," Blatner says.
High in sodium, fat and artificial additives (not to mention that they add little-to-no nutritional value), the processed foods we turn to for a little comfort can actually increase stress levels. "The foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt are the foods that directly increase our cortisol levels," Bauer says. "That's what we crave when we are stressed, as a result."
The high carb and fat content of french fries may provide a quick energy fix, but will only lead to a crash later on. And aside from the obvious
According to Blatner, chewing gun and eating artificially sweetened candies could exacerbate stress-related digestive issues, which can in turn lead to irritability. "[Foods that cause bloating] may not make you stressed out but it makes you feel uncomfortable, and being uncomfortable makes you stressed out," Blatner explains. "It makes you feel more irritated."
Comfort food takes on a whole new meaning with de-stressing solutions that may be in your fridge.
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