Saturday, March 31, 2018

Sugar and Our Microbiome

Candy Treats are Not Nice:
They create a vicious Cycle in the Microbiome and more.
R.H. Bennett Ph.D.
Applied Life Sciences LLC

We shoppers can always tell when there is a holiday coming soon.  Entire racks and shelves teem with chocolate bunnies or huge red candy hearts on a stick or one pound boxes of caramel confections.  The message is clear on this holiday if you love someone, buy this, they will love you for it.
However, all this “love” no matter what color or what shape is not much more than sugar-coated emotion.  This slug of sugars is a bit like eating a pound of undercooked red beans.  It causes an explosion of our microbiome.
We eat about 22.9 teaspoons of sugar every day (1).  At holiday time that intake more than doubles.  Table sugar is sucrose; it is comprised of one part glucose and one part fructose. 
A very significant part of sugars in foods is added fructose manufactured from cornstarch.  High Fructose Corn Syrup HFCS) is subsidized to be cheaper than cane sugar (sucrose). Moreover, there is a 10% tariff on imported cane sugar (2). In other words, we are funding the cheap fructose that is poisoning us.  Conveniently, Fructose is about 1.8 times sweeter than sucrose, and that helps drive the sugar addiction[  (3).  More on this later.
“Fructose is like alcohol without the buzz," so states pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Robert Lustig.  He attributes the child obesity epidemic to the hidden fructose in the diet (4).
The fructose effect on the gut microbiome is another story.  Corn syrup sugar, fructose now comprises about half of the commercial sugar consumed and thus 75% of the daily intake of sugars.  Recall that sucrose is 50% fructose. Therefore at holiday candy time, the love we offer to our kids and others is about 35 teaspoons of the fructose poison each festive day.
 Upon digestion of sucrose, an enzyme cleaves the two sugars apart, and much of it gets absorbed and transported to the liver.   In high sugar foods, some sugars make it to the large intestine and become energy food for bacteria and promote individual members of the microbiome at the expense of others.  Any fructose as HFCS or from sucrose that is not absorbed will pass into the colon.
Once sugar gets to the colon, it is a sword with two edges.  One edge feeds specific microbes, and they flourish, and the ecosystem becomes unbalanced and somewhat dysfunctional.  This is called dysbiosis.  It has a multitude of disruptive influences.  One is the unbalancing of the immune response that tips the scale toward inflammation and allergic-type reactions.  The other edge is one that directly impacts the tight junctions on the colon lining cells and promotes a "leaky gut."  This leakage is also very inflammatory, and its target is the liver.  The cascade of effects includes reducing the function of insulin and the elevation of blood glucose, the cardinal signs of impending diabetes. As this type of toxic insult continues obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes become likely.
Two things can significantly perturb the gut microbiome. One is antibiotics.  Sometimes they are necessary to treat certain infections.   The problem is they are overprescribed to a fault.  The second and by far and away the more profound disrupter is fructose.  Yes, there is some fructose in fruits and vegetables, but that contribution is trivial compared to the sugar in a cupcake or a Mars Bar.
Here comes the vicious cycle
Once the dysbiosis now favors the sugar-loving microbes, bacterial products called metabolites travel to the liver and onward to the brain.  Once there they target an appetite control center that generates sugar cravings.  The craving alters behavior and the candy adorning the holiday fair become irresistible and the cycle continues (3).  If this cycle is sustained for extended periods, even intermittently, the path toward metabolic disease unveils like a paved highway of addiction.
There is media controversy about the ill effects of sugar on health and the microbiome. One website writes, “What role do dietary sugars play in the health of the microbiome?  It states that simple sugars are not prebiotics and do not reach the colon as they are digested completely.  It makes no mention of the science about how sugars impact the microbiome and health (4). The name on the website reveals its purpose.
There can be no controversy when it comes to the scientific data. It reveals that the microbiome makeup is dependent on the diet.  That is to say, that microbes that they can utilize specific dietary components will thrive and others will not.  Research evaluating the microbiomes of indigenous African children versus children in European Union (EU) demonstrates distinct differences among the major classifications of gut bacteria (7).  One fundamental difference is the African children only source of sugar was that found in the plant foods they consumed.   The EU children consumed a Western Diet rich in refined sugars.

In the pie charts, notice the blue and red lines around the outside of the chart. On the right chart EU, the red line shows the extent of the major bacteria group or phyla, Firmicutes.  The EU microbiome was heavily dominated by these sugar fermenting bacteria such as the Lactobacillus.   The significance is their overwhelming predominance.  On the BF chart the Firmicutes are minor members of the microbiome.  This vividly illustrates how a dietary component can shape the nature of the gut microbiome.   Try to keep this insight in mind next time “LOVE” takes the form of a dozen donuts.
 The point of this Sugar Story is that the quantity of sugar in our diet is ABNORMAL.  It creates an abnormal microbiome that has dangerous health influences that are abnormal.  As a country, we have policies that promote the sale of this abnormal substance and this business does great harm to people. And sadly this abnormally abundant dietary substance is as every bit as addictive and perhaps more so than narcotics.  Given this situation, sugar sounds more like an illegal drug promoted by a cartel called the sugar industry and an industry supported by our tax money.
The best advice for coping with the vast racks and shelves of holiday treats and the like is to "JUST SAY NO."
Say Yes to Rejuvenation and Restoration of the Microbiome
The noted observation that diet shapes the microbiome can work to our healthful advantage too.  Just as the diet of the African children shaped their microbiome, we can reshape ours as well.  Maybe some readers are thinking yes, probiotics and others are saying Probiotic H.A.T.S.  That is probiotics that are Human-Adapted, Targeted Symbiotics.  These are strains that work together naturally in humans to accomplish specific tasks.
Combine HATS probiotics with specific prebiotics or with a diet rich in soluble fiber, and rejuvenation synergy occurs.  Do this with a high fiber low carbohydrate diet and the research to date indicates that microbiome health can be restored in just a few weeks.
This is the kind of love we need.

1.     Anderson, Shannon. "The Domestic Causes and International Consequences of the US Government’s Sugar Price Support Programs." Pepperdine Policy Review 2.1 (2009): 6.

2.     Ahmed, Serge H., Karine Guillem, and Youna Vandaele. "Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit." Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 16.4 (2013): 434-439.

5.     Alcock, Joe, Carlo C. Maley, and C. Aktipis. "Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms." Bioessays36.10 (2014): 940-949.

6.     Sugar Research Advisory Service

7.     De Filippo, Carlotta, et al. "Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107.33 (2010): 14691-14696.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Gut and the Great Barrier Reef

R.H. Bennett Ph.D.
Applied Life Sciences LLC

The cells that make up the gut lining have much in common with barrier reefs.
A barrier reef that lies offshore on a high number of tropical islands is a grand scale example of how the cells lining the gut function for health and wellness.

Some of you may be saying what, that is nuts!  Sure talking about tropical reefs is a stretch and the skin might be a much better example.   The problem with the skin analogy is the outer layer is dead.  Why did I choose the reef analogy?  It is simple; I am an ocean person.  There is salt water in my veins, and the oceans are the lifeblood of our planet. More metaphorically realistic is the fact that a tropical reef is a thriving ecosystem with thousands of species of plants and animals living symbiotically and together providing great benefits to the island.  Does this make sense now microbiome fans?

One of the myriad benefits, or services as ecologists call them, is the reef is a mechanical barrier that protects islands from the ravages of the cyclone driven surf.  If it were not for the reefs, many small low lying islands could be washed away in a big storm.   This mechanical barrier is very alive.

This barrier reef has integrity. It is whole and complete. It keeps the bigger predators out and provides a calm environment so that life may thrive.  When untoward events, such excessive warming of the oceans and pollution from nearby town enters the inner waters of the reef, the corals of the reef suffer and die.

It is ironic that very high body temperatures from fever or Heat Stroke damage the cells that line the gut and it may dangerously leak.  The visual analogy may look something like this.  Both the reef and the gut may lose barrier integrity.  The damage to the system is proportional to the leakage that occurs.

The gut cell lining is a critical barrier as well.  Consider this, the contents of your gut are actually outside of your body.  If the gut contents had free access to the abdominal cavity, you would be extremely sick and septic. This is what happens when an appendix bursts.  Without emergency surgery, the prospects for death would be almost certain.

The Western high sugar and high-fat diet will feed undesirable bacteria naturally present in the microbiome.  We call these pathobionts.  They are not a problem until the gut ecosystem like the reef ecosystem gets out a balance.

Why the gut barrier is so central to health and wellness

About a decade ago, I heard people talking about "leaky gut."  I dismissed it as nonsense.  If our gut leaked, I reasoned we would be in dire straights as if an errant arrow penetrated.  Now we know that these leaks are microscopic, not immediately life-threatening, but very significant. 

Consider the diagram above.  The "Great Barrier" cells insulted by bacterial toxins separate ever so slightly.  They open sufficiently to allow invasion of bacterial metabolites (toxins) and a few bacteria to penetrate and they, in turn, induce inflammation.  Inflammatory mediators, unbalance the immune system while allowing inflammation chemicals to circulate throughout the entire body.   This is the fundamental failure that may preclude some very major upsets to health and wellness.  Those challenges may not show up as signs and symptoms of something serious for months to years.  The important thing to understand is that this subtle "leaky gut" also known as dysbiosis can be the beginnings of some horrible outcomes.

The importance of HATS for the Great Barrier Gut.

It is now undisputed, the adult microbiome in the Western World is usually a very disturbed ecology.   The Rejuvenation and Rehabilitation (R and R) of our microbiome, our gut ecosystem barrier is possible.

The R and R of the Gut Barrier

1.   First and foremost correct the diet.  Reduce sugars and simple starches by 90%.  The health benefits go way beyond just the microbiome.

2.  Add lots of soluble and insoluble fiber to the diet.  Some of these are known prebiotics (beneficial bacteria food). We have a good notion of insoluble fiber like that of celery and cabbage.  Insoluble fiber prevails in apples, oatmeal, strawberries and many other fruits.

3.  Take HATS (Human Adapted Targeted Symbiotics).  There are some products on the market that meet this purpose.   HATS means we know from research that these bacteria originally came from humans and they can colonize and grow in the gut.  The probiotic has targeted functional benefits like the production of specific organic acids.  Symbiotic is two or more probiotics that work together for their mutual benefit.

You can expect that within a week or two the integrity of the gut barrier will improve.  There are select blood tests your health care provider may suggest if you're looking for an objective measure. (There will be more on testing in upcoming blogs).

Please consider this.   The Great Gut Barrier is under assault, just as all the coral reefs on our Oceans Planet.   Once a reef is dead, the invasive algae swoop in like vultures on a carcass.  Once the gut barrier fails on a grand scale, one of many clinical diseases may result, and those effects may not be treatable or cured.

If we want to protect our barrier reefs and our gut barriers, we must get into action now!


Bron, Peter A., et al. "Can probiotics modulate human disease by impacting intestinal barrier function?." British Journal of Nutrition 117.1 (2017): 93-107.

O'Hara, Ann M., and Fergus Shanahan. "The gut flora as a forgotten organ." EMBO reports 7.7 (2006): 688-693.

Ohland, Christina L., and Wallace K. MacNaughton. "Probiotic bacteria and intestinal epithelial barrier function." American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology298.6 (2010): G807-G819.

Things we can do to protect our reefs

Nature Conservancy

Friday, March 23, 2018

Colostrum, Microbes, Mothers, and Infants:  Its only Natural
R.H. Bennett Ph.D.
Applied Life Sciences LLC

Perhaps some of you have been around long enough to remember a margarine commercial that implied it was so good it could be mistaken for real butter.  The byline was, “It is not nice to fool Mother Nature."   It was catchy, yet as a scientist, it reminds me that Mother Nature perfects her work over hundreds of millions of years.  We have learned much by studying how nature succeeds.   There is no more important lesson to be learned than studying how nature brings the next generation into the world.
Unfortunately, the ways of the modern Western world have been messing with Mother Nature.  Let us take a look at Mother Nature and how we can help restore her wisdom.
Our work back in the 1970ʻs at the University of California at Davis painstaking researched the mammary secretion, known as colostrum.  Today, we are still discovering attributes of colostrum that support the vitality of the newborn and more.
Briefly, colostrum has high-quality proteins and fats necessary for growth.  More than that, it has many factors that support every aspect of the newborns developing immune system.  However, in the last year or so, it has become quite evident colostrum has a huge role in supporting the neonate’s gut microbiome or H.A.T.S. (Human Adapted Targeted Symbiotics)
In natures design, colostrum contains concentrated prebiotics.  These are non-digestible carbohydrates called oligo-saccharides (meaning few sugars)(2).   They are energy foods for a microbe called Bifidobacteria. (Bifid-o-bacteria).  That is to say; colostrum contains high concentrations of a nutrient just for the Bifidoʻs.  The next logical question to ask is; where to the Bifidobacteria originate?  They live in and on the mother.  These bacteria and other beneficial microbes are part of the microflora of the gut and the birth canal.    On baby’s birthing day, the infant gets both probiotics and HATS probiotics as nature intends.
There are substances in colostrum and milk that promote other beneficial HATS (1). It is little wonder that breastfed infants are much healthier than those raised on formula alone. These benefits last for years and perhaps a lifetime.
Wait, there is more to the HATS microbiome story about mother and child.  When researchers gave expectant mothers the probiotic HATS, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG; they anticipated the probiotic would show up in the stool. Instead, they observed an increase in the stool Bifidobacteria but not the probiotic!(3,4)  As mentioned in the post Names and Numbers, the microbiome is a complex ecosystem. It appears that L. rhamnosus created conditions in mom’s microbiome that favored the Bifidoʻs and they colonized the mother.  At birth, they colonize the infant.
Not only that, when mothers were given the HATS, the immune enhancement of these bacteria in the maternal gut increased immune modulators in her blood and the blood of the newborn. The probiotic increased the immune cytokine (messenger) Interferon Gamma (INF δ) in the blood, and it also increased the growth factor Transforming Growth Factor Beta (TFG β) in the colostrum (5,6).
These messengers are called cytokines. INF δ is a potent mediator that upgrades immune responses especially to virus invasions. Such infections in the neonate can be devastating.  TFG β in the colostrum sends a powerful signal to the cells lining the neonates gut to grow into a substantial barrier that keeps the members of the microbiome contained safely in the cavity of the intestine.
One more science surprise completes this remarkable mother-infant microbiome story.  Researchers looked to see if they could find gut microbiome bacteria in the placental or naval cord blood.   They could not locate any viable bacteria as we know the placenta to be a protective barrier. Remarkably, they did find the DNA from Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.   The DNA is a molecule and not living and cannot cause disease.  What is it doing as it passes through the blood of the fetus?  DNAʻs microbes interact with receptors or antennae on immune cells.  These are called PPRʻs or Pattern Recognition Receptors.  The DNA attaches to the PPR, and the immune cell is alerted. Thus the immune system becomes more vigilant.   For an unborn baby that is about to make the grand entry into the human world of microbes, this is a good thing.
The quality of the Western adult microbiome becomes altered and artificial with each passing generation.  It may appear to be butter when actually it is margarine. When we provide HATS probiotics for Mom three good, and natural things occur. She shares her beneficial microbes.  Her colostrum is enriched with growth factors. Her blood conveys beneficial messages to the unborn infant. Nature smiles and approvingly nods, as if to say, "you’re learning, you cannot fool me."


 1. Champagne, C. P., et al. "Effect of bovine colostrum, cheese whey, and spray-dried porcine plasma on the in vitro growth of probiotic bacteria and Escherichia coli." Canadian journal of microbiology 60.5 (2014): 287.
2.     Gopal, Pramod K., and H. S. Gill. "Oligosaccharides and glycoconjugates in bovine milk and colostrum." British Journal of Nutrition 84.S1 (2000): 69-74.3.     Gueimonde, Miguel, et al. "Effect of maternal consumption of lactobacillus GG on transfer and establishment of fecal bifidobacterial microbiota in neonates." Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition 42.2 (2006): 166-170.4.     Grönlund, Minna-Maija, et al. "Influence of mother's intestinal microbiota on gut colonization in the infant." Gut microbes 2.4 (2011): 227-233.5.     Prescott, S. L., et al. "Supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus or Bifidobacterium lactis probiotics in pregnancy increases cord blood interferonγ and breast milk transforming growth factorβ and immunoglobin A detection." Clinical & Experimental Allergy 38.10 (2008): 1606-1614.
6.     Baldassarre, Maria Elisabetta, et al. "Administration of a multi-strain probiotic product to women in the perinatal period differentially affects the breast milk cytokine profile and may have beneficial effects on neonatal gastrointestinal functional symptoms. A randomized clinical trial." Nutrients 8.11 (2016): 677.
7.     Satokari, R., et al. "Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus DNA in the human placenta." Letters in applied microbiology 48.1 (2009): 8-12.