Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Synbiotics; What Does It All Mean?

by Kelly R. Smith

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The health benefits of probiotics
The health benefits of probiotics

Everywhere we turn nowadays we hear about probiotics. But what about prebiotics and synbiotics? Actually, they all work hand in hand. Here’s the rundown.

  • Probiotics. WebMD says, “Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you, especially your digestive system. We usually think of these as germs that cause diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called ‘good’ or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.” When you lose the “good” bacteria that inhabit your gut, after you take antibiotics for example, probiotics can help replace them. The two main types are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. You can get them through dairy and supplements.
  • Prebiotics. The Mayo Clinic tells us, “Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers. They act like fertilizers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.” They are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, mostly those that are rich complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. These carbs aren’t digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the bacteria and other microbes. When your balance is off it can affect your metabolism.
  • Synbiotics. ScienceDirect says, “Synbiotics are a combination of prebiotics and probiotics that are believed to have a synergistic effect by inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria and enhancing the growth of beneficial organisms.” Evidence suggests that synbiotics influence the microbial ecology in our intestines. This is true in both humans and animals and synbiotics play a role in alleviating various illnesses.

Knowing what we know about prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics it becomes clear that we should maintain our diet with various types of foods in mind, organic whenever possible. This includes milk, cheese, fermented foods like kimchi, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

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References



Melatonin Uses, Side Effects, Dosage, Benefits

by Kelly R. Smith

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Waking after a restful melatonin sleep
Waking after a restful melatonin sleep

Melatonin (5-Methoxy-N-Acetyltryptamine, MEL, Melatonina, Mélatonine, MLT, N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine, etc.) is a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. It helps with the timing of your circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and with sleep. Being exposed to light at night can block melatonin production. It’s hard to experience lucid dreaming if you’re busy counting sheep.

It is most commonly bandied about a cure for insomnia although other benefits are also being investigated. Although we would all like to think that melatonin is a panacea for all number of things, it is a bit more complicated, like using UV light to kill COVID-19 virus is.

Common Uses for Melatonin

  • Promoting regular, satisfying sleep. As mentioned above, some people take melatonin in pill form by mouth seeking to adjust their body’s internal clock. It is most commonly used for insomnia and improving sleep in different situations. For example, it is used for jet lag, for adjusting sleep-wake cycles in people whose daily work schedule changes (shift-work disorder), and for helping people establish a day and night cycle.
  • Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): At this time there is no research-based evidence to support using melatonin for COVID-19. That being said, people will latch onto rumors of efficacy.
  • Non-24-hour sleep wake disorder. Taking melatonin just at bedtime is reputed through anecdotal evidence to improve sleep in persons who are blind. We’ve all seen that commercial on TV.
  • Combating medications that lower melatonin levels. Some prescriptive drugs such as beta-blocker drugs for high-blood pressure, such as atenolol and propranolol, are a class of drugs that seem to lower melatonin levels. Supplementing is thought to replace them.
  • Relief for painful uterine disorder (endometriosis). There is anecdotal evidence that taking melatonin daily over an 8 week period seems to reduce the pain and associated painkiller use in women experiencing endometriosis. It also reduces pain during menstruation, intercourse, and while going to the bathroom.
  • Jet lag. Some research reveals that melatonin can significantly improve certain symptoms of jet lag including alertness and movement coordination. It also seems to slightly improve other jet lag symptoms like daytime sleepiness and tiredness. However, melatonin might not be as effective for lowering the time it takes for people with jet lag to fall asleep.

Side Effects

  • Interfering with pregnancy. A melatonin supplement may be unsafe for women when taken by mouth or injected into her body frequently and/or in high doses when she is trying to become pregnant. Melatonin might have effects similar to birth control. This might make it more difficult to become pregnant.
  • Breast-feeding. The jury is still out. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
  • Interactions with prescription medication. Always consult with your doctor if you are taking medications such as blood pressure medication.
  • Daytime sleepiness. There’s a reason it’s for sleep. Some might take it during the day as a “calm-down” measure but this is not recommended. But even when taking it at bedtime, Healthline.com says, “sleepiness is a possible problem in people who have reduced melatonin clearance rates, which is the rate at which a drug is removed from the body.”
  • Decreased body temperature. Melatonin causes a slight drop in body temperature. While this is generally not a problem, it could make a difference in people who have difficulty keeping warm.
  • Blood thinning. It may also cause a reduction in blood coagulation. Because of that, you should speak with your doctor prior to taking high doses of it with warfarin or other blood thinners.

Dosage

With regards to adults, the standard dosage used in studies ranges between 1 and 10 mg, but there isn’t currently a definitive “best-case” dosage. It’s widely believed that doses in the 30-mg range may be harmful. As an example, I take just 10 mg and sleep like a baby.

In fact, taking too much supplementary melatonin can actually disrupt your circadian rhythm (also called your sleep-wake cycle), and further disrupt what you are trying to deal with.

Bottom line? Melatonin uses, side effects, dosage recommendations, and benefits are important to know about before you go tinkering with your sleep patterns. Its use can be a Godsend in the right situation.


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

10 Signs of Nutrient Deficiency

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Foods that fight nutrient deficiency
Foods that fight nutrient deficiency

Many of us eat fast food or whatever is at hand because of the fast-paced lives we live. You might say to yourself, “I take a multivitamin; I’m good.” That is not always true. Supplements, at least high-quality ones, are not bad in themselves despite what some say. Some manufacturers are indeed mountebanks but not all. Additionally, not getting enough fiber can mean a short-circuiting on nutrient absorption. Living in the Coronavirus lock-down surely doesn’t help. If you have any of these signs of nutrient deficiency, it’s prudent to turn things around. Here are some signs.

Signals From Your Body Regarding Nutrient Uptake

  • You are developing a pale, sallow complexion. The problem may be iron deficiency. This makes for smaller red blood cells. Not only does it mean you produce fewer of them but they are filled with less hemoglobin. Hence, your skin looks less red. The American Society of Hematology says, “Iron is very important in maintaining many body functions, including the production of hemoglobin, the molecule in your blood that carries oxygen. Iron is also necessary to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails.” The solution? Boost your intake of dark leafy greens, grass-fed beef, lentils, and fortified cereals and breads.
  • You have stubborn acne. In the past this has been blamed on certain foods like chocolate and one of our favorites, commercial or homemade pizza. We now understand it a bit better. The lack of enough omega-3 fatty acids may be the culprit; they have strong anti-inflammatory properties. So if you are lacking, it can present as acne. The solution? Pick up some fish oil capsules and eat more salmon.
  • You Have Brittle Nails. If your fingernails have been breaking easily and often, it might be due to a lack of biotin, also known as vitamin B7, which nourishes your nail’s growth plates. The solution? Supplements are a good way to go. I take what is called on the bottle Super B-Complex, which contains 1,000 mcg which is equal to 3,333% of daily value. This is not an issue because it’s a water-soluble vitamin. Also, eat more eat more eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds, fish, organ meats, and vegetables such as cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
  • Your skin is parched and dry. You can blame this one on an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. In this case, they help nourish your skin’s lipid barrier. This is the layer of oils that act as a gatekeeper to keep harmful germs and toxins out and essential moisture in. This deficiency can also manifest in more wrinkles and visible aging due to skin dehydration, ladies.
  • Lips that are sore and cracked. This can be the result of an iron deficiency and/or a riboflavin (vitamin B2) deficiency. The National Institutes of Health says, “The signs and symptoms of riboflavin deficiency (also known as ariboflavinosis) include skin disorders, hyperemia (excess blood) and edema of the mouth and throat, angular stomatitis (lesions at the corners of the mouth), cheilosis (swollen, cracked lips), hair loss, reproductive problems, sore throat, itchy and red eyes, and degeneration of the liver and nervous system.” Suffice to say I don’t want this one. The solution? Once again, a B-Complex vitamin should do the trick.
  • You have a wound that resists healing. If you are reading this, you know as an individual how long it takes your body to deal with cuts and scrapes. If it seems to be taking too long, you might have an iron deficiency. As a rule, shoot for 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal and 10 to 15 grams of protein with each snack. Mind you, this is harder to do if you are a vegan but it’s not impossible. Peanut butter and other legumes are good. Carnivores are less likely to have this issue. Protein drinks are also readily available. I’m partial to favorites like this beef Stroganoff recipe that I make from time to time.
  • Are you experiencing bleeding gums? Usually this signifies that one is a bit derelict in flossing and brushing. But if this is not you, a vitamin K deficiency might be at the root (so to speak; pardon the pun) of your problem. It has a big role in role in helping blood clot, or coagulate. The solution? Look for vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) mainly in leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. Vitamin K2 (menaquinone) is actually bacteria produced your gut. It is also available in fermented foods, cheese, natto, meat, dairy, and eggs, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Your hair is thinning. Your hair can be a mirror of what you eat. Protein and vitamin C deficiencies have been known to cause thinning or brittle hair as well as hair that falls out easily. Vitamin C assists you in making collagen, one of the building blocks of healthy hair and healthy hair follicles. Protein supplies amino acids destined for collagen (and other protein) synthesis.
  • Your nails are misshapen or discolored. If your iron levels are low, this can result in whitened or ridged nails. A vitamin B12 deficiency can make your nails turn brownish. A lack of biotin increases your risk of fungal infections that, in turn, can manifest as ridging and discoloration.
  • Premature graying of the hair. Going gray early can be caused by many things — genetics, some say worry, and the jury is still out on getting a fright. But we are concerned here with nutrition. The mineral copper helps you create melanin which is one pigment, among others, that imparts color to your hair. If you have low copper levels, or an underlying medical issue which stops you from metabolizing copper you ingest properly, this can turn your hair gray. Which I must say, I find downright fetching on most women although they likely disagree.

The bottom line here is that each sign of nutrient deficiency is linked to primary vitamins and minerals, but in reality, they’re all a “soup” in which all have a role. The best course of action is a well-rounded diet accompanied by high-quality nutritional supplements. As a caveat, if you can’t clear something up in short order, consult with your primary care physician.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Should Runners and Others Supplement with CoQ10?

Health Benefits of CoQ10
Health Benefits of CoQ10
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To use fitness supplements or not to use fitness supplements; that is the question. Like nutritional needs, the definitive answer seems to flip-flop periodically depending on the most recent studies. Sometimes these “studies” are actually funded by a supplement manufacturer and that is certainly a red flag.

But many times they are conducted independently by reputable sources — these should be taken more seriously. Look for researchers from universities or sports  research labs for the most reliable results.

Do Athletes Have a Special Need for CoQ10?

The general consensus to this question is “yes.” Although sedentary people also need it, runners and other fitness enthusiasts have special needs to satisfy. As the image at the top of this article shows, it helps in areas such as energy, inflammation, cardiovascular, and soreness (think 
DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

Another area of benefit is the antioxidant CoQ10 provides. Antioxidants protect us from the damaging effects of free radicals. These are produced in our bodies when we are exposed to things like sunlight, chemicals, and airborne pollutants such as vehicle exhaust fumes. So if you are out running the roads in the daytime…

The Problem with CoQ10 Supplements

There’s always a catch, right? Well, there are many brands on the market but they are not all created equal. The ones you want to avoid are the synthetic ones that are made from tobacco leaves; they are fairly ineffective. These are referred to as the “cis form.” 

The type that really delivers is the “trans form.” This is identical to the CoQ10 produced naturally within the body. The label may say trans form or Ubiquinone USP Grade. Further, absorption can be an issue. Personally I take the Qunol Ulra CoQ110 which boasts 3 times the absorption of regular products because it is both water and fat soluble.

Two More Considerations

First, you should know that the natural amount of CoQ10 present in your body drops as you age. By the time your 50th birthday rolls around the depletion really begins to accelerate.

Secondly, statins, which are prescribed to lower cholesterol, severely deplete your body’s natural levels of CoQ10, which can be very dangerous. A Columbia University study found that within 30 days, your levels of CoQ10 can be decreased by half.

So the bottom line? If you work out, or are approaching 50 years of age, or are prescribed a statin drug, you should seriously consider supplementing with CoQ10.


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Liver Detox – Fact or Fiction?


Phase 1 and 2 liver detoxification
Phase 1 and 2 liver detoxification

Liver detoxification, or liver cleanse as it is sometimes called, has become a huge industry worth billions of dollars each year. And why not? When something appeals to both the health-focused folks and hipsters, you have a winning combination. But how much of the hype is fact and how much is fiction?

Liver Detox Myths

The liver is the body’s primary filtration system and it’s job is to convert toxins into waste products as well as cleansing the blood and metabolizing nutrients and medications to make available to the body some of its most important proteins.

To get a good idea about which claims have a real basis and which are anecdotal, it pays dividends to put aside the infomercials and spam emails and look at the research.

John Hopkins Medicine has identified several myths that have been widely circulated.

  • Liver cleanses are a cure-all for daily liver health and overindulgence. Not true. They explain, “these products are not regulated by the FDA, and thus are not uniform and have not been adequately tested in clinical trials.”
  • Cleanses are effective for weight loss. Again, no clinical evidence has upheld this claim and logically, it is difficult to see any connection. For real weight loss, look to eating properly and taking up an aerobic exercise program such as running.
  • Liver detox will prevent liver disease. No, but there are proven things you can do to this end. These include avoiding drug use and unprotected sex, abstaining from alcohol in excess, and avoiding weight gain. Better still, make it a priority lo lose weight.
  • Detoxification can repair existing liver damage. This in itself is not a cure-all however there are several things that will help. Lose weight. Eat healthy. Stop or minimize alcohol consumption.
  • Obesity does not increase your risk of liver disease. False! Part of the liver’s function is to eliminate toxins but being overloaded with fat can can cause inflammation, which may lead to the development of fibrosis and cirrhosis.

Alternatives to Commercial Liver Detox Concoctions

Many commercial cleanses are nothing but expensive snake oil or combined supplements. They are not regulated by the FDA and the ingredients are not typically vetted by an independent laboratory.

There are more frugal approaches that will aid liver function. For example, vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene are powerful antioxidants. B-vitamins assist in alcohol metabolism.  There is some evidence that milk thistle, dandelion root, and schizandra help protect liver cells while ridding the body of poisons.

So is a commercial liver detox product worth the money? Each person has to become informed make that decision.


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