1. Beneficial gut bacteria help determine our ability to fight off infection, but how? Scientists discover that gut bacteria communicate with immune cells and cells lining the intestinal wall to regulate the immune system’s response to infection. Beneficial gut bacteria are responsible for attaching to the intestinal wall and signaling the cellular production of IL-10, a cytokine that tones down the inflammatory response triggered during the initial immune reaction. This regulation protects the gut from being attacked by the immune system and keeps the immune response focused on the infection. Immunity
→Takeaway: The lead researcher in the study, Professor Gretchen Diehl, tells us, “A take-home message… is that a healthy microbiota is necessary to allow for a balanced response to not only protect us from infection, but also to limit potential tissue damage as the immune system attempts to eliminate pathogens.” Eat your veggies, grow a good gut garden, and reap the benefits of an appropriate and balanced immune response!
2. Non-nutritive sweeteners, or artificial sweeteners including Stevia, have bacteriostatic effects that prevent gut bacteria from reproducing and increase Firmucutes in mice. PLOS
→Takeaway: Eliminating non-nutritive sweeteners from the diet is an important step in improving microbial health. Even Stevia can be problematic, although derived from a natural source. If you feel the need to sweeten a beverage or food, use Manuka honey as your gold standard. With probiotic properties, Manuka honey is not only incredibly tasty, it may even be beneficial for the gut. Keep in mind that Manuka honey is high in sugar and should be consumed sparingly. Limit your daily intake to 1 serving and enjoy the benefits of a probiotic-rich sweetener!
3. Maternal resistant starch (RS) consumption in pigs during pregnancy and lactation improved the microbial composition of both the maternal gut and breast milk, but limited benefits were observed in the offspring. An increased expression of zonula occludens (forms the cellular tight junctions in the intestines and defines the intestinal cell wall closure and integrity) was observed in the offspring of RS mothers, but no significant differentiation between microbial compositions in RS versus non-RS offspring was observed. PLOS
→Takeaway: While this study found underwhelming results for a maternal diet high in RS in improving offspring intestinal microbiota, mice and human studies have found that a diet high in fiber can significantly influence the offspring’s immune system functioning. Furthermore, while introducing RS during pregnancy might have minimal effects on offspring microbial health, eating a RS-rich diet throughout life, prior to pregnancy, may be the best way to ensure a healthy microbiome for our children.
4. First results are in! Researchers using a birth-cohort of 33,000 Chinese babies have released impressive findings already, just 6 years after the start of the cohort. Scientists found that exposure to incense burning, a practice common in southern China, increases hypertension risk in pregnant mothers. Nature
→Takeaway: Exposure to fumes and chemicals during pregnancy may be risky for both mothers and their progeny. A 2014 study also found that using air fresheners (specifically those containing phthalates – a chemical also found in flexible plastics) during pregnancy could result in lasting detrimental effects on offspring respiratory health. If you are looking to purify or freshen the air in your home, skip the incense and traditional air fresheners and consider these all-natural options, or this essential oil spray.
5. Another study using the Chinese baby birth cohort found that women who took progesterone before 14 weeks of gestation are at a higher risk of C-section and developing post-partum depression, with no actual reduction in preterm birth risk. Progesterone is a hormone used to reduce the risk of preterm birth, support the fertilization process, or to increase babies’ birth weight. In the study, progesterone was prescribed before 14 weeks gestation in 40% of those receiving the drug. Nature
→Takeaway: Interestingly, a 2017 study also found that prenatal progesterone exposure may affect sexual orientation, resulting in higher rates of bisexuality. If you are looking to boost your progesterone levels during pregnancy choose these natural methods: maintain a healthy body weight, don’t over-exercise, reduce stress levels, incorporate acupuncture, consider taking chasteberry, and most importantly, consume fermented foods daily and a variety of vibrantly colored vegetables and fruits.
By: Leslie Ann Berg, MSPH