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gut health

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Humans Are Pooping Plastic

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Got your attention? Thought so. 😉

If you’re thinking, What does poop have to do with food allergies? First, food allergies affect our health and diet, which implicates our digestive tract. Number two, research is increasingly looking to the gut for answers around the rise in food allergies. For these reasons, we thought the topic was a-poo-priate. 💩

This past summer, Austrian researchers reported that the deluge of plastic entering our environment is now entering our stool. That’s right—plastic has been discovered in 114 aquatic species90% of seabirds, and now, evidently, in us. 

As part of this first-of-its-kind study, researchers followed eight volunteers from a handful of European countries, tracked their consumption habits, and then sampled their stool. Small fibers of plastic—known as microplastics—were found in all participants’ feces to varying degrees, amounting to the first documentation of plastic in human feces to date. The findings confirmed what many scientists have long suspected: we’re eating plastic.

Scientists are now grappling with the health implications, which are largely unknown. Microplastics are capable of damaging the reproductive and gastrointestinal systems in sea life, but little is known about their impact on humans.

On average, 13 billion microplastic particles enter US waterways every day through the municipal water supply. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. The latter bulk of plastic gets broken down into smaller bits, which are eaten by smaller organisms, and make their way up the food chain.

How does this relate to the food allergy and intolerance community? 

First, we know that immune health is closely tied to food allergies and intolerances. Experts have found that plastic in the gut can suppress the immune system and increase the likelihood of gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease. Second, research has shown that exposure to phthalates, which are found in many plastics, can increase childhood risk of allergies. According to the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Philipp Schwabi: “[my] primary concern is the human impact… especially [on] patients with gastrointestinal diseases.” He notes that “the smallest particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, the lymphatic system and may even reach the liver.”

While research on the human impact of plastic is still early, one thing is clear: plastic may be harming our immune systems, which could potentially implicate our body’s ability to tolerate and digest certain foods.

We’re eating our waste—that much is clear. Now the question is, what are we going to do about it? 

-      Abi and the Allergy Amulet Team 

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Scientists Find Link Between Antacid & Antibiotic Exposure and Food Allergies & Asthma

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As someone who remembers (with disgust) that pink goo as a child (also known as the antibiotic amoxicillin), I read this headline in shock. Did that chalky bubble gum syrup make me more susceptible to developing food allergies and asthma?

Here’s what the scientists found. 

In a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers looked at approximately 800,000 infants that had ingested antibiotics or antacids in their first six months of life. They found that those exposed were more likely to develop food allergies or asthma. 

Babies are routinely prescribed antacids for regurgitating food or experiencing acid reflux after a feeding. This is very common in infants, so you can appreciate why this study is sending shockwaves throughout the parenting community!

The research hones in on how antacids and antibiotics affect an infant’s microbiome—that place where trillions of bacteria help aid in digestion, fight infection, and regulate the immune system. We know that antibiotics kill the bad bacteria that make us sick, but they also wipe out the good stuff that keeps us healthy. Antacids similarly can help ease digestion, but a less acidic stomach can alter the bacterial composition of the intestine and reduce protein digestion

The microbiome has been a hotbed of research lately—especially in the food allergy field. As we’ve discussed in a previous post, one of the leading theories behind the rise in food allergies is the impact that chemicals and medications are having on our microbiome and gut health—especially at a young age. We’ve also previously written on gut health and the important role the microbiome plays in healthy immune function.  

“This does not mean that infants should never get antacids or antibiotics,” Dr. Claire McCarthy notes in response to the study. “Antibiotics can be lifesaving for infants with bacterial infections, and there are situations when antacids can be extremely useful.” She adds though that both medications are often overprescribed and encourages doctors to “ask if it is truly necessary [to prescribe these medications]—and whether there are any alternative treatments that might be tried.” The lead author of the study, Dr. Edward Mitre, also recommended in light of the findings that “antibiotics and acid-suppressive medications should only be used in situations of clear clinical benefit.”

The recent surge in research surrounding gut health and the microbiome is a welcome trend, and one that will hopefully lead us to more concrete answers surrounding the origin of food allergies and how to mitigate or eliminate them altogether. 

- Abi and the Allergy Amulet Team

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Four Easy Steps to Improve Gut Health

We’ve all heard the saying “You are what you eat.” Though true, a more accurate saying would be “You are what you digest and absorb.” The difference is in the gut. Gut health is essential to whole-body health. Over 50% percent of our immune cells reside in the intestines (a component of the gut), which means that the food and bacteria that enter that space have a huge impact on our immune system.

Before we discuss strategies to improve gut health, here’s a crash course on the gut:

The gut (gastrointestinal tract) is the long tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the rectum (see image). It is lined with millions of cells which act as a barrier between the food we ingest and our bloodstream. A weakened lining (intestinal permeability) allows food particles to enter the bloodstream, which can trigger an immune response, including an allergic reaction. This response is different from one triggered by a food intolerance, which instead affects the body’s ability to digest food.  

The correlation between gut health and food allergies is still largely unknown. However, a growing body of research suggests that gut health and food allergies are closely intertwined. 

What IS clear is that gut health plays an important role in maintaining a healthy immune system. Accordingly, below are four steps you can take to improve your gut health.

1.     Add bone broth to your diet.

You can help maximize gut nutrient absorption and preserve the integrity of the gut barrier by consuming glutamine-rich foods like bone broth. There are many healing nutrients and anti-inflammatory properties in bone broth such as glutamine. Glutamine is an anti-inflammatory nutrient known for its role in gut healing. Bone broth also contains minerals in a form the body can easily absorb.

The thought of making bone broth is intimidating to many, but the process is surprisingly simple. Plus bones are not hard to find! Tips and recipe here.

2.     Consume probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods.

The gut microbiome stores all bacteria in the large intestine. These bacteria feed off of the food and fiber we eat. Probiotics are the actual bacteria in the gut, whereas prebiotics are the foods that feed those bacteria.

How does bacteria relate to food allergies? Good bacteria help regulate inflammatory responses in the gut (like an allergic reaction). These bacteria teach our immune system how to tolerate dietary proteins and other allergens in the environment. For example, research has shown that certain strains of bacteria in the Clostridia family may desensitize individuals to food allergens.  

Probiotic-rich foods include: sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, miso, tempeh, and dairy sources (kefir, yogurt, cottage cheese) that say “contains live cultures.”

Prebiotic-rich foods include: asparagus, garlic, legumes, flaxseed, onion, leeks, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, leafy greens, oats, and potatoes (cooked with a slight crunch left).

3.     Avoid microbe killers and digestion disruptors.

If you were walking barefoot and stepped on a sharp woodchip that got stuck in your foot, what is the first thing you would do? Would you remove the woodchip or would you add ointment and a bandage? No-brainer, right? You’d remove the woodchip. So, when it comes to gut health, we need to first start by removing those foods from our diet that harm the gut. This means different things for different people. Research has shown that for some individuals, gluten, dairy, eggs, or soy can trigger gut inflammation—even without symptoms. Others may experience symptoms after ingesting certain foods like citrus, chocolate, or MSG. Depending on the person, the process of identifying which foods may be harming your gut varies. Many people maintain a healthy gut simply by avoiding processed foods. The synthetic ingredients found in most processed foods are generally harmful to gut health. Beyond that, to identify which individual foods may be affecting your gut and immune system, it is helpful to get an individual assessment from a dietitian, nutritionist, or healthcare provider who practices integrative or functional medicine.

To keep the gut microbiome healthy, it also helps to avoid frequent antibiotic and antacid use. Though antibiotics kill bad bacteria, they also kill the good, leaving our gut ill-equipped to do its job. And make sure to always consume probiotics during and after antibiotic use.

4.     Stick to real food!

Unfortunately, our modern diet tends to be packed with junk food. Processed foods, refined sugars, and artificial ingredients wreak havoc on our gut. By consuming whole foods on a daily basis (this is especially important for kids), the gut not only gets the fiber it needs to feed the good bacteria, but also gets a boatload of micronutrients to fuel the immune system.

Recipes and guides here!

 

This guest post was written by Robyn Johnson: MS, RDN, and LD—Integrative Dietitian Nutritionist.

 

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