BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: health and wellness

Should You Pursue A Personalized Diet?

According to an article by Tina Hesman Saey on Sciencenews.org, the idea of dieting and restrictive eating aren’t so black and white like we previously believed it to be. There are many factors someone should think of when they’re considering a new dietary plan. One main tip that people often give is that one who is considering a new dietary plan should consider eating low glycemic foods. A glycemic index diet is an eating plan based on how foods affect your blood sugar. Therefore, pursuing a low glycemic food diet, you’re eating foods that do not raise your blood sugar to very high levels. Maintaining a good blood sugar is important for body health because high and low blood sugar levels can result in many diseases, both digestion and nervous system issues in addition to many other issues that come with these diagnoses. When thinking of foods that would fit this new low glycemic dietary plan, we tend to think of fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, etc. that are often praised in a “balanced” diet. However, in Saey’s article we’re shown that foods have different affects on people’s blood sugar levels and other nutrient levels because of the way that their organs function in their body.

Saey uses two main examples to display the variety in body digestion of different foods. In her article, she provided a graph that displayed the varying blood sugar levels of different people who ate the same type of muffin. The main reason for having the graph of the study in her article was to display how people’s blood sugar levels can drastically vary purely off of the functions and traits of one’s body and organs. One main surprise that came from the study was that even identical twin sisters had different spikes in blood sugar from the muffin. Both sisters live different lifestyles, one being an athlete that ate mostly salads and the other being less active and eating foods like bread and cheese more frequently. Although one would assume that the more athletic sister would be able to deal with carbohydrates and other nutrients much better than the other, the two sisters share that different foods are harder on their bodies. For example the more athletic sister struggles to eat spaghetti bolognese because it spikes her blood sugar levels, even though it is considered a low glycemic food, and prefers to eat other carbohydrates like mashed potatoes; The less athletic sister struggles to eat mashed potatoes, but is able to freely consume spaghetti bolognese without any problem.

Another example given was of a man who ate the same meal of a sandwich and orange juice after a day of work. He realized that his blood sugar levels spiked after having this meal and continued to figure out what meals wouldn’t. He learned that his body is able to consume apples and pears without drastically raising blood sugar levels but not bananas. She then provides an example of a study where different people experience higher blood sugar levels from apples than cookies and vice versa. Evidently, the advice to eat more fruits and vegetables should be taken with caution as many people’s bodies aren’t able to consume these substances without having a spike in high blood sugar.

Unfortunately, this same rule applies to other organic compounds in our food such as dietary fats. These fats and carbohydrates work hand in hand as seen when the article says that the scientists are unable to see how quickly people cleared the fats from their blood after a meal until they were able to identify the blood sugar and insulin levels of the people who ate the food. Lipids and Proteins share many of the same molecular components which could be the reason for their similar affects on the body after consumption. Both lipids and proteins are both mostly made up of Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen, however, the small differences in their composition can lead to these different reactions in the body. There are 20 different types of amino acids and each protein can act differently in the body due to the varying polarity, R-groups, etc. Although lipids do not vary as much as proteins do, lipid variation matters a lot in the foods we eat; we stress the importance of eating unsaturated fats much more than saturated fats because of the health effects they may have on our bodies, showing that even the smallest variation of a double bond to a carbon atom has severe affects on our health. There are so many factors in our bodies that are different with each individual. Everything is also intertwined and any huge change made to our nutritional intake can severely affect the way the organs and functions of our bodies work. We have to keep track and be wary of all these different factors and make sure we act accordingly in order to promote a healthy, body, mind and life.

 

According to Immunologist Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Technology,  gut microbes are probably the most important factor in determining which fibers and complex carbohydrates get digested. Microbes were also a huge role in the spiking of one’s blood sugar after a food is consumed. Coincidentally, what you eat affects the type of microbes present in your digestive system, so there is some room for exploring how we can possibly eat in ways that promote a specific type of microbiome or avoid excessively eating foods that don’t work well with the microbiome created by our current eating habits. However, we as consumers have the responsibility of reading the labels and tracking the traits of the foods that we eat. Jennie Brand Miller, a nutritionist at University of Sydney, states that although there are certain exceptions due to people’s digestive systems being different, there is a 99% chance that high glycemic foods will spike your blood sugar more than low glycemic foods. If people do intend on following any type of dietary plan they must use the information that they’re given to the best of their abilities to make inferences and conclusions to reach their ultimate goal.

We must take facts about food and nutrition with a grain of salt since everyone’s body isn’t the same. Evidently, there is some room for more research and experimentation for us to find a possible ideal microbiome and dietary plan for each individual person. With more research and experimentation we should be able to determine if personalized diets are an efficient strategy to allow people to reach the health and body goals they want to achieve. This also brings into question, what other areas of nutrition are not as simple as they seem. Is it really that bad to eat a lot of carbohydrates or fats? Are meat diets truly helpful or are they more harmful to our bodies? Is there truly an ideal dietary plan that works for every person? There is much promise to having personalized dietary plans, but there is no such thing as a flawless system and we must be wary of the consequences of following such a system.

Are Antibiotics Truly Good?

Antibiotics are also known as antibacterials. They can destroy or slow down the growth of bacteria in the body. They’re used to fight against certain infections that attack the immune system. Although the use of antibiotics can save a person’s life, the use of them can have repercussions. Most gut bacteria can recover quickly from the use of antibiotics, however there can be long-lasting effects. The changes it makes isn’t necessarily harmful, but that isn’t always the case. 

 

The gut microbiome, has roughly 10 trillion to 100 trillion bacteria and other microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, contributes to health by synthesizing vitamins, metabolizing drugs and fighting pathogens. Anything that disrupts the balance of microorganisms, such as antibiotics, which can kill both “good” and “bad” bacteria, has the potential to cause disease.” 

Research done in a 2016 study shows that being exposed to antibiotics as an infant can alter the gut microbiome in a baby and “weaken the immune response for years to come.” The duration of breastfeeding reduces the frequency of infections, and the risk of being overweight. Conclusions of the study conveyed antibiotic use in a child during the breastfeeding period could weaken the beneficial effects of long term breastfeeding. In addition, the results suggest that intestinal microbiota is affected by the long term metabolic benefits breastfeeding has. 

Antibiotics are the most common type of medicine prescribed to young children in the Western world. As mentioned previously, antibiotics can dramatically alter the gut microbial composition. Research shows, “…the gut microbiota plays crucial roles in immunity, metabolism and endocrinology, the effects of antibiotics on the microbiota may lead to further health complications.” Exposure to environmental microorganisms and parasites is important for healthy development and maintenance of the immune system. In Western countries contact with microorganisms has significantly decreased over the recent decades. “ As antibiotics are a factor that reduces exposure to microorganisms and disrupts the body’s natural microbiota, this… may help explain the observed effects of antibiotics on the immune system.”

“Since infancy is a crucial time for microbial establishment, it is necessary to evaluate the influence of antibiotics given quite liberally during this period. Antibiotic treatment given to both infants and toddlers has already been shown to strongly affect microbiome composition. In an attempt to understand the effects of antibiotics on the microbiome, both human reports and experiments in animal models have been employed”.

Although, antibiotics are a powerful source of medication that can fight off infections and save lives when used properly, it is essential to not overuse or become too reliant on them. Overuse contributes to the resistance to fighting bacterial infections, and hurts the body’s natural microbiota.

 

Artificial Sweeteners – Not So Sweet Anymore

Could it be that artificial sweeteners speed up the development of the very disorders they were designed to prevent? According to a recent study, the answer is yes. Artificial sweeteners, intended to aid diabetes prevention and weight loss, actually have the opposite effect, adding to the epidemic sweeping the nation.

A study by graduate student Jonathan Suez found that artificial sweeteners directly affect the body’s ability to utilize glucose. In his experiment, mice were given water containing the three most common artificial sweeteners in the same quantities allowed by the FDA. The mice in the study developed a glucose intolerance as compared to those in a control group of mice with regular and sugar water.

The scientists repeated the experiment a second time, changing the types of mice and dosage of artificial sweeteners. Even so, the results were the same- artificial sweeteners induced a glucose intolerance in the mice. But why?

The researchers coined a hypothesis that the sugar substitutes change the function and composition of gut microbiota, or the population of bacteria that reside in the intestine. The body does not recognize the artificial sweeteners as “food,” so they are not absorbed in the digestive tract. Thus, they pass through to encounter the millions of bacteria in the gut microbiota, which are directly responsible for harmful effects on the metabolism.

Fun Gut Microbiota Cartoon Model

This hypothesis was confirmed in a follow-up experiment. Researchers gave mice antibiotics that eliminated the majority of their gut bacteria and then transferred the microbiota from mice that had consumed artificial sweetener to these germ-free mice. The researchers found that the transfer of the harmful microbiota also meant a transmission of the glucose intolerance. Indeed, changes to gut microbiota populations by artificial sweeteners promote glucose intolerance and health complications.

The experiment modeled on mice is also applicable to human beings. Further study and data from the personalized nutrition project, a self-reported program that tracks the relationship between nutrition and microbiota, showed a significant association between artificial sweetener consumption and glucose intolerance by those who shared their responses. Similarly, the researchers conducted a controlled experiment with participants who normally did not consume artificially sweetened foods but ate entirely artificially sweetened products for a week and saw that those in the study began to develop glucose intolerance after only seven days. They also saw a change in the composition of their gut microbiota, discovering two different populations of human gut bacteria – one that induced glucose intolerance when exposed to the sweeteners, and a second that did not affect people either way.

One researcher, Elinav, hypothesizes that the reasoning for this is that certain bacteria in the guts of the affected individuals reacted to the chemical sweeteners by producing substances that cause an inflammatory response similar to that of a sugar overdose. This then changes the body’s ability to utilize sugar and gives rise to diseases, such as those like diabetes discussed earlier.

These findings are worth considering when consuming varying cuisines in day to day life. I know I’ll definitely rethink when I find myself reaching for the “healthier alternative,” considering whether its a reality or merely a marketing technique. How do you balance the consumption of healthy and less favorable meals, treats and snacks, in your daily life? Let me know in the comments below.

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Secure Passcodes : Not Just For Your Computer… But For Your Gut

What is the Human Gut Microbiome?

Human gut microbiomes are made up of all the bacteria present in your gut. The Bacteria in your gut outnumbers the cells by a ratio of 10 to 1. While the presence of that much bacteria sounds like a bad thing, it can be confirmed that “the gut microbiome is very important for human health—that much we certainly know”.  The nearly 100 billion Bacteria cells per gram are actually what helps the body digest food and remove the bacteria that is bad for your gut.

 

(Left) Bacteria on vs not on the intestines       (Right) Gut Microbiome Graphic

A Unique Passcode

As said above, the human gut microbiome is essential to digesting food but more importantly keeping our body healthy. The thought of controlling a person’s gut bacteria in order to keep them healthy and fight illness is fascinating to scientists. The key to using the microbiome to fight sickness is in the “passcode” that is essential to unlocking its potential. Each microbe, according to recent research, requires a unique passcode. The research done by scientists according to phys.org says that once there is a way to determine the “passcode” it will unlock a whole new world of probiotic treatment in the future.

Why Else is the Microbiome important

According to other research done within the past few years, it has been found that sleep can also be linked to the human gut and stomach. The quality of sleep a person gets can be linked to their “biological rhythms, immune function, and nutrient metabolism” however it is still unknown to what extent the microbiome is affecting human sleep.

Conclusion

While researchers still have many questions about the human gut microbiome and how it contributes to health, wellness, and overall human biology, once they have come to some more concrete conclusions the impacts of controlling the bacteria in the human gut would exponentially improve the health of many people. It may sound weird that your bacteria have a “passcode” with which to be controlled, but hey, conclusive findings of the microbiome could even help you get a better night’s sleep! And who doesn’t want that?

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