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If you’re like many of us, grasping for ways to protect yourself and your family during this vulnerable time has become a daily commitment. In doing so, you may have stumbled upon recommendations to take a vitamin D supplement for COVID-19 prevention. Many information outlets are promoting vitamin D as a lifesaving supplement during this time, and we’d like to present you with the facts and take a deep dive into this issue. First, we know that vitamin D plays a key role in our immunity by boosting the function of immune cells, both T-cells and macrophages, and by regulating our immune response in preventing an excessive release of cytokines. In the case of COVID-19, too many cytokines, referred to as a “cytokine storm”, can lead to excessive inflammation in the lungs and sometimes death. Studies have shown that insufficient vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of…

Gut microbes may help repair damage done to the body following a stroke. A study conducted out of the University of Kentucky and published in the Journal of Neuroscience, uncovers the idea that supplementing the body with short chain fatty acids (SCFA – byproducts produced by gut bacteria when breaking down plant foods) could improve stroke recovery in some. The study, conducted in mice, used water fortified with SCFAs and gave it to mice who had suffered a stroke. The mice who drank the water showed a reduction in motor impairment following stroke, as well as increased growth on the spines of dendrites on nerve cells – a key component for memory. These mice also showed an increase in genes associated with the brain’s immune cells. These observations point to the idea that SCFAs may play a role in altering how the brain responds to injury via the gut-brain axis.…

The supplement industry is already huge, and now they’re expanding even more by utilizing “personalized nutrient programs”. What does that even mean? These are programs where you fill out an online questionnaire regarding your food intake and goals, and then receive a personalized supplement, or an entire pack of supplements, to your front door – often on a monthly basis. As we’ve said many times before, there’s no pill that can take the place of a plant-based, whole food, fiber-rich diet. In certain specific conditions, supplements can be extremely helpful (think low B12 in a patient with Crohn’s disease), but for most of us, food is still the best way to regain health. For the vast majority of the population, supplements fail to move the needle in the direction towards better health, and most are not tested for safety either. Our advice? Instead of spending money on supplements, use that…

Madeline: I’m wondering if there is a benefit to taking digestive enzymes, especially since I’m over 60. I’ve read that we create less enzymes as we age. I seem to have more gas since either just getting older or maybe it’s menopause. Dr. Chutkan: You are correct Madeline, we make fewer digestive enzymes as we get older, but that’s to be expected. Lots of other things change as we get older too – our bones get thinner, our sex hormone production decreases, our muscle mass declines, and so on. Those things aren’t medical illnesses – rather, a natural part of aging. Digestion changes as we get older and that’s why enzyme production drops. That’s not an illness or “deficiency” any more than menopause is. There are specific instances when people need digestive enzyme supplementation – certain diseases of the pancreas can decrease production of amylase (digests starch) or lipase (digests…

My patient Barbara is a fifty-seven-year-old judge who in the last several years has been very careful about her food: no trans fats, nothing processed, no red meat, organic fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market, and at least 20 grams of fiber a day. Given her healthy eating habits, she was completely perplexed as to why she was spending the better part of her day in the bathroom. Having a bowel movement had become a full-time job. The morning would get off to a reasonable start: a smallish log right after her morning tea, but things would deteriorate steadily after that with multiple, small, stuttering, pellet-sized poops that looked like rabbit droppings. Each movement was accompanied by an annoying feeling of incomplete emptying. She could feel she had more stool inside, but she couldn’t get it to come out. Invariably, within half an hour, it was back to the…

Ginger has a long history of medicinal use to treat a multitude of ailments due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antitumor properties, which have been documented in the scientific literature. Its benefits for gut health are widely publicized, and it is currently used as an integrative approach for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) relief, excessive gas, constipation, bloating, heartburn, motion sickness, gastric ulcers associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs like ibuprofen and aspirin), and to improve nutrient absorption, among other conditions. But just how effective is ginger as a treatment and preventative agent for gastrointestinal diseases and conditions? While previous studies have highlighted the gastroprotective effects of ginger, a 2018 study conducted a systemic review of all clinical trials using ginger to treat GI disorders. Results showed that ginger is a safe and effective treatment at a 1500mg daily dosage for nausea relief, specifically nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy. All…

Introduction Inulin is a soluble fiber that is not absorbed in the small intestine – it’s constructed of fructose molecules linked in a way that prevents breakdown. Instead, it acts as a prebiotic, meaning it feeds beneficial bacteria (including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli) in the large intestine that play an important role in improving bowel and overall health. Gut bacteria convert inulin into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which act as the main energy source for the cells that line your colon. SCFAs also contribute broadly to disease prevention, immune function, and good health. The benefits of dietary inulin are well documented. Inulin has been associated with promoting microbial balance, improving weight loss (10 to 30 grams/day for 6 to 8 weeks), controlling diabetes, and relieving constipation (15 grams/day for up to 4 weeks). Studies also show that inulin may help increase calcium absorption (8 grams daily), prevent colon cancer, and treat…

Collagen has been deemed one of the most popular gut and beauty supplements, found in products ranging from lotions to tonics. With a quick Google search, you can find “proof” that collagen is a useful supplement for a myriad of gut health issues – leaky gut, liver health, IBS, acid reflux, IBD, inflammation, digestive upset, stomach ulcers, and regulating acid secretion – as well as a beauty fix, purportedly improving nail, hair, skin, and teeth health, and even boosting weight loss. But can a supplement really deliver all of these benefits? Let’s delve into the research and find out. What is Collagen? Collagen is the most widely found protein in the body, making up 25 to 35% of all body protein, and is present in our bones, teeth, skin, muscles, tendons, blood vessels, and even in our digestive organs. While 28 different types of collagen have been identified in the scientific literature, type 1 collagen…

Probiotics significantly improve chemotherapy-induced diarrhea, a common and often severe side effect of chemotherapy drugs, which can threaten the effectiveness of treatment. The study included 291 patients undergoing chemotherapy (Fluropyrimidines and/or Irinotecan specifically) -145 participants received a twice-daily dose of a high potency probiotic powder and 146 participants received a placebo powder twice daily. Treatment began 14 days before chemotherapy and continued 2 weeks following the third cycle of chemo. Results showed successful reduction in incidence of diarrhea (mild to moderate) and in patient inflammatory patterns. European Society for Medical Oncology  Takeaway: This study shows promising results from a high potency, multi-strain probiotic in reducing diarrhea in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. Hopefully this will result in a better quality of life, a more balanced microbiome, reduction in sickness and death related to diarrhea, and more effective cancer treatment. However, probiotics are living organisms and can be problematic in immunocompromised patients, including some cancer…