wakunagadev, Author at Wakunaga of America

Which Bacterial Strains to Look for in a Probiotic

In this blog post, we will get into some of the most beneficial strains for a healthy gastrointestinal tract and more. In addition, we’ll go over a few bacterial strains that can help to alleviate some of our most common health concerns. Let’s jump right in!

Quick Probiotics Refresher

First of all, let’s review something that’s important yet often misunderstood. Probiotic bacteria are classified as Genus – Species – Strain. So if you’re looking at a probiotic label that lists Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, lactobacillus is the genus, gasseri is the species, and the number after it is the strain code. Knowing the species helps to more closely identify the species characteristics of the bacteria genus. And the strain code provides even more detail on exactly which specific bacteria is in the supplement.

When looking for a probiotic, it helps to find one that contains human bacterial strains. Human strain probiotics don’t actually contain human byproducts or ingredients. They are simply strains of beneficial bacteria that have been found to live in the human digestive tract. This means that they are already adapted to thrive in the gut.

In this same vein, something else you should keep in mind when looking for a probiotic is whether or not its species and strains have been clinically researched—and more importantly, if they have been clinically researched together. Many probiotics claim to be clinically studied, but oftentimes they are referring to clinical studies that have been carried out for each species separately. The best case scenario would be if the probiotic’s combined species have been researched together as they appear in the supplement. This adds to the studies’ validity and ultimately, the supplement’s efficacy.

Why Strains Are Important

There are many kinds of probiotic bacteria, and each has unique functions within the body. It’s important to know what these different strains do, so that when you buy a probiotic you’re buying one that has the specific strains that will be most helpful to your health needs.

Bifidobacterium bifidum: This specific strain can help reduce allergy symptoms like itchy skin, sinus congestion, headaches, and even diarrhea. It does this by discouraging the production of histamine, a chemical that is released in the body to trigger allergic reactions during times of stress or allergy.1

Bifidobacterium longum: This strain may help improve the immune response and help to prevent gut disorders. Research suggests it may also suppress allergies and improve skin health.2

Bifidobacterium infantis: This strain may improve IBS symptoms and help to eliminate E. coli in the gut.3

Lactobacillus gasseri: This strain produces vitamin K, lactase, and anti-microbial substances. It may also help people with lactose intolerance to digest dairy foods. L. gasseri also helps prevent indigestion, diarrhea, and yeast infections.4

Lactobacillus rhamnosus: This strain boosts cellular immunity. It also helps reduce IBS symptoms and may help to prevent recurrent bacterial vaginosis.5

Beyond Gut Benefits

A lot of people think that probiotics are only good for the digestive system. The truth is, probiotics can have beneficial head-to-toe effects.

Allergies: Emerging evidence suggests that probiotics may help prevent and even treat seasonal allergies like hay fever, as well as environmental allergies to things like dust mites.6 Researchers believe that probiotics can help allergy sufferers by modulating the immune system and limiting the release of inflammatory chemicals involved in the allergic response. Most of the research on probiotics for allergies has been done on Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria, showing that these probiotics can help with the prevention and reduction of allergy symptoms.

Heart Health: According to the American Heart Association, probiotics may help maintain healthy blood pressure, especially in those already diagnosed with hypertension. Probiotics may also help keep cholesterol in check. Some studies show that one probiotic specifically, L. reuteri, can support a healthy balance between good and bad cholesterol by breaking up bile salts.7

Immunity: Behind digestion, immunity is the second most cited reason people take probiotics. Because the intestines house about 70 percent of the body’s innate immune function, boosting friendly bacteria in the gut can increase the body’s ability to fight off not-so-friendly bacteria. Research shows that probiotics can also cut the duration and severity of cold symptoms.8

Considering everything your gastrointestinal tract does for you, it makes sense to give it some TLC every day with a high quality probiotic, one that contains specific strains customized for your health concerns. Your GI tract will take better care of you, if you take better care of it!

 

How You Can Support Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

When you haven’t eaten for a while, the level of sugar (glucose) in your blood decreases. When your blood sugar gets too low, it triggers a cascade of hormones, like cortisol (a stress hormone) and adrenaline (the “fight or flight” hormone) that raise and rebalance your blood sugar—and spark those hangry feelings.

Not only will keeping your blood sugar levels in a healthy range lessen those hunger-induced episodes, it’s also very important for reducing the risk of diabetes. Let’s run through some simple ways that can help keep your blood sugar levels balanced.

Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

Blood glucose levels change throughout the day. They are at their lowest point before your first meal of the day. After eating, your blood sugar levels rise, then they “settle” after about an hour. Health authorities consider a normal fasting blood sugar level to be below 99 mg/dL. In people with diabetes, the levels will differ a little more. And instead of targeting a specific blood sugar level, their aim is to manage their blood sugar and keep it within a certain range. The American Diabetes Association recommends targeting levels of 70-130 md/dL before eating for a person with diabetes. Within two hours of eating a meal, blood glucose levels should be less than 180 mg/dL.1

Consistently high blood sugar levels are associated with a condition called hyperglycemia. This condition normally develops when there is not enough insulin in the body, or when the cells become less sensitive to insulin. Without sufficient insulin, glucose cannot enter cells, causing it to build up in the blood stream. This is dangerous, because left unmanaged, high blood glucose levels could eventually lead to conditions like nerve damage, foot ulcers, vision problems, tooth infections, and more.2

Hypoglycemia, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite. This happens when the blood sugar levels fall below the normal range. Low blood sugar is most prevalent in people who take insulin, but it can also occur when you are taking certain diabetes medications. Some common causes of hypoglycemia include taking too much prescription insulin, not eating enough food or skipping a meal, increasing the amount of exercise you engage in, or drinking alcohol. If your hypoglycemia goes unchecked, it could eventually lead to seizures and loss of consciousness.3

Top Blood Sugar Balancing Tips

So what can you do to take charge of your blood sugar and keep it balanced? Let’s take a look.

Live that low-carb life: Carbohydrates cause blood sugar to rise. When you eat carbs, they are broken down into simple sugars. Those sugars then enter the bloodstream. As your blood sugar levels quickly rise, your pancreas releases insulin. This prompts your cells to absorb the sugar from the blood, which causes your blood sugar levels to drop. Many studies have shown that eating a low-carb diet can help to prevent these blood sugar spikes.4  Try and eat fewer carbs, especially refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, soda, candy, and dessert.

Limit your sugar intake: The Healthy Eating Pyramid suggests that sugary drinks and sweets should be eaten sparingly, if at all. The average American, though, consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day, which adds up to an extra 350 calories daily!  There’s definitely some room to cut back on the sweet stuff. Studies show that consuming dietary sugars is associated with developing insulin resistance, resulting in the body not being able to control blood sugar effectively.5 In general, it’s best to avoid or minimize your intake of sweetened beverages and foods that are lacking in healthy nutrients. Sure, they are tasty, but they aren’t doing you any favors.

Exercise more: Exercise helps control blood sugar spikes by increasing the sensitivity of your cells to the effects of insulin.6 Increased insulin sensitivity means your cells are better able to use the available sugar in the bloodstream. Exercise also helps your muscles use blood sugar for energy and muscle contraction. So consider taking a brisk walk in the neighborhood to gently bump up your activity level. You could also try biking, dancing, hiking, swimming, or whichever mode of exercise you feel comfortable with.

Nutrients that Can Help

If you would like to add a supplement to your regimen to help balance your blood sugar levels, look for a supplement containing nutrients like niacin7, chromium8, and bitter melon.9 These nutrients have been shown to help stabilize blood sugar levels.

Simply put, a few lifestyle changes like sticking to a low-carb, reduced-sugar diet, as well as exercising, can help stabilize your blood sugar levels. And always talk with your doctor before adding new supplements to your regimen or if you have and questions regarding these dietary changes.

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Greens You Won’t Find in the Produce Aisle

How do these greens promote better health? Let’s take a look.

Why Do You Need Greens?

Greens are the health superstars of the food world. They are low in calories and high in fiber, vitamins, and phytonutrients. But their benefits don’t stop there. Greens also help support good health by balancing the body’s pH. If you think back to your high school chemistry class, maybe you remember a lesson on pH. Maybe you even placed a strip of special “tape” on your tongue to measure your body’s pH.

The pH scale ranges from 0, which is the most acidic, to 14, which is the most alkaline—with 7 considered neutral. Your blood needs to be kept in a slightly alkaline range, between 7.35-7.45. Normally blood pH is tightly regulated and shifts only when a person is really sick. However, intercellular acidity, which is measured by urinary or saliva pH testing, can change significantly due to lifestyle, including things like diet, exercise, and sleep. Fortunately, the body has a unique “buffering” system that protects your blood’s pH to keep it in a safe range – but it does so at a cost.

If your blood and other bodily fluids become too acidic, the pancreas and kidneys secrete neutralizing bicarbonate. Key alkalizing minerals can also be pulled from your bones to aid in this buffering process. But this extra buffering can deplete the body of alkaline minerals like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

So what can you do to rebalance your pH? Get more greens! The goal is to make sure that 75 to 80 percent of the foods you eat are alkalizing and only 20 to 25 percent are acidifying. Including a high-quality powdered greens drink as part of your routine can help you reach this goal. Besides the usual leafy greens you’re likely familiar with, there are a few more “powerhouse” greens you should consider adding to your regimen.

Greens Breakdown

Wheatgrass: This juice bar staple is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and E, as well as iron, magnesium, calcium, and amino acids. Among its 17 amino acids, 8 are considered essential, meaning your body can’t produce them—they must come from your diet. Wheatgrass is a powerful source of glutathione, known as the “master” antioxidant. It’s little wonder that preliminary research has found that it reduces oxidative damage to cells. Other studies suggest that wheatgrass may support healthy cholesterol levels, aid in balancing blood sugar, counter an inappropriate inflammatory response, and induce the destruction of damaged or abnormal cells.1

Chlorella: This freshwater algae has survived on the earth for over two billion years. The secret to chlorella’s longevity is its fibrous outer wall. Although this defensive wall protects this single-cell algae, it also prevents the body’s ability to take advantage of chlorella’s detoxification benefits. Fortunately, scientists have found that breaking this wall releases chlorella’s natural ability to bind toxins and heavy metals through a process known as chelation. Chlorella also boasts a wealth of vitamins including vitamins B1, B2, B12, folic acid, C, and K. Plus, chlorella is a potent source of minerals, essential fatty acids, protein, and fiber.

Spirulina: High in antioxidants, spirulina has been shown to inhibit the production of inflammatory-signaling molecules. Spirulina is also rich in high-quality protein, B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, potassium, and manganese. Not only does this make spirulina an alkaline food, its rich nutrient profile gives this algae numerous health benefits as well. Research shows that spirulina supports healthy lipid levels, helps maintain blood sugar balance, benefits those with seasonal allergies, and improves muscle strength.3

Kelp: This common seaweed is rich in B vitamins, which play a critical role in cellular metabolism. Because it absorbs nutrients from its surrounding environment, kelp contains more than 15 amino acids and is also a great source of calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, boron, and manganese. As a result, this mineral-rich seaweed helps maintain bone density and muscle health.4

If you don’t think you’re getting enough green vegetables in your daily routine, try adding a nutrient-dense powdered greens drink mix to water, juice, or your favorite smoothie. It will not only help you to meet your daily veggie intake, it will support virtually every system in your body.

How to get Your Cholesterol In Check Before the Holidays

Danish researchers studied over 25,000 people with an average age of 59 in Copenhagen. None were taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. All of the participants had their blood drawn at the beginning of the study and then again in January and June over the next three years. The average total cholesterol at the start of the study was 205 mg/dL, just north of the recommended  200 mg/dL. LDL (bad) cholesterol was 116 mg/dL, just above 100 mm/dL, which is considered healthy.  During the next three years, the average cholesterol of the participants In January was 240 mm/dL and the average LDL was 143 mm/dL, both in the unhealthy range. Yet in June, the average cholesterol was 197 mm/dL and LDL was 108 mm/dL. Almost twice as many people had unhealthy lipid levels in January as in June!1 Why does this matter? High blood cholesterol levels can contribute to clogged arteries, resulting in a greater risk of cardiac events like heart attack and stroke, so it’s definitely something worth monitoring. We are going to show you how you can take charge of your cholesterol, targeting a few different areas.

Why Is Cholesterol Important

One word—plaque buildup. Plaque is a combination of substances including fat and cholesterol. When plaque builds up, arteries narrow and stiffen, constricting blood flow to the heart. Plaque can even build up to the point where blood flow is completely blocked. This condition, known as atherosclerosis, can significantly increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.2 What’s unfortunate, high cholesterol has no symptoms. The only way to determine if your cholesterol levels are too high is through a simple blood test ordered by your doctor. The test measures cholesterol and triglyceride levels circulating in your blood. Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. Similar to cholesterol, unhealthy triglyceride levels can increase your risk of heart disease.

Not to worry (too much) though since adopting certain diet and lifestyle changes can help keep your cholesterol in check.

Lifestyle

  • Exercise can improve cholesterol.3 With your doctor’s okay, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Try jogging biking, step aerobics, or a Zumba class for variety and fun.
  • Put a cap on stress with deep breathing. Taking a few minutes to focus only on your breathing can help bring calm to a hectic day.
  • If you smoke, look for ways to quit. Quitting smoking improves your HDL cholesterol level, and the benefits can occur relatively quickly.4

Diet

  • Reduce saturated fats. Saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and full-fat dairy products, raise your total cholesterol. Decreasing your consumption of saturated fats can help reduce your LDL cholesterol.5
  • Check labels for the sugar content in your favorite breakfast cereals. Opt for those with 3g or less.
  • Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids don’t affect LDL cholesterol, but they have other heart-healthy benefits including reducing blood pressure.6 Foods with omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, walnuts, and flaxseeds.7

Supplements

Research shows that supplements containing lecithin, phytosterols, and omega-3 fatty acids can all help to lower cholesterol.

  • Lecithin is a fat that is essential for every one of your body’s cells. Researchers have discovered that soybean lecithin can contribute to raising HDL (good) cholesterol and lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol in blood profiles.8
  • Phytosterols are a group of naturally occurring compounds found in plant cell membranes. Because phytosterols are structurally similar to cholesterol, they compete with your body’s cholesterol for absorption in the digestive system. As a result, cholesterol absorption is blocked, and levels drop. While you can find phytosterols in foods like vegetable oil, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, you can also take them in supplement form.9
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are types of polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds, plant oils, and various supplements. Some evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce blood triglyceride levels. There also appears to be a slight improvement in high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol) from consuming omega-3s.10

Before the holidays hit, try taking some steps to reduce your LDL cholesterol. Go for an after-dinner walk, incorporate  foods like nuts, legumes, whole grains, and fatty fish such as salmon into your diet, and try finding a supplement that contains one of the nutrients mentioned above. This year, avoid that post-holiday uptick in your blood fat levels by giving yourself the gift of healthy cholesterol!

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

How to Have a Healthy Staycation

You can get the health benefits of taking some time off and make the best of these limited travel days with a summer/fall “staycation”. We get it, you may be feeling a little burned out from work, may be a little sick of staying in your house for 4+ months on end, not seeing friends and family as much, and sometimes, you just need a break. But instead of traveling right now, which may be unsafe, we are going to help you plan the perfect staycation. You can relax, unwind, and emerge more rested and less stressed. You might even pick up a new hobby!

Staycation Benefits

The popularity of staycations has increased in recent years. The idea of staycations, like we all probably know, is that instead of travelling to another state or country for your vacation, you stay either at your home or a nearby hotel and enjoy your town (or home!) as if you were a tourist. A staycation probably does not sound as exciting and “exotic” as your typical vacation, but there really are some benefits. One of the biggest benefits is that staycations are less expensive. The number of people taking staycations has increased ever since the economic crisis in 2007-08, as people looked for more creative ways to save money without compromising their lifestyle.1 Staycations are cheaper because so many expenses are cut, there’s no need to book a flight, or spend lot’s of money on expensive meals at a hotel.

Another great benefit to staycations is that they require little to no prep or travel time. Prepping for a vacation can cause enough stress to make you need a vacation from your vacation! You would need to account for travel insurance, travel to the airport, renting a car, travel money, language barriers, etc…this can all cause some added stress that no one needs right now.

Top Staycation Tips

Speaking of stress, here are some top tips to plan and enjoy a stress-free staycation, so you can really focus on getting in some good R&R.

Disconnect from work: A lot of us are working from home right now, and it’s tempting to walk by your laptop and see a new email from work and want to respond instantly…but resist the urge! When you take your staycation, make sure you are off “work mode.” Give yourself a break from emails and phone calls even if your home is now your office. Set your out of office reply, turn off the computer and closed the door. Office closed!

Change the scenery a bit: If you can, buy a few new inexpensive plants or décor for your backyard or home, so that it will feel a little more like a getaway. Planting some colorful new plants in your garden could even dust off your green thumb, and help reawaken a hobby you used to enjoy! And don’t limit your time to the house – set up a campsite or go “glamping” in the backyard for a change of venue.

Try something new: Speaking of hobbies…use your staycation to pick up a new hobby! For example, learn to cook a new dish, or finish a fun project around your house. Include the whole family and find new things to do together that you can all enjoy. Use this staycation time to try something you might not otherwise do during your normal week.

Play a game: Chess, bingo, cards, and crosswords all help keep our minds agile, research suggests, especially for the elderly. Those who regularly play board games like chess and bingo for example, are more likely to maintain their thinking skills.2 So break out those bingo cards! Plan a game night for the family with prizes or ‘bragging rights’ for the winners.

Staying at home for your vacation doesn’t have to be boring. With a little creative planning, your staycation can be filled with adventure, fun, and memories with loved ones.

Be in the Know About High Blood Pressure

According to the American Heart Association, 116.4 million—or nearly half of all US adults—are estimated to have high blood pressure. In recognition of national “High Blood Pressure Education Month,” we wanted to shed a little light on this topic, starting by explaining what high blood pressure is. Blood pressure is the force of your blood as it flows through the arteries in your body. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. When your heart beats, it pushes blood through your arteries. As the blood flows, it puts pressure on your artery walls. This is called blood pressure. High blood pressure (a.k.a. hypertension) happens when your blood moves through your arteries at a higher pressure than normal.1 Let’s take a look at different things that can cause high blood pressure, how you can reduce your risk, and what nutrients may be able to help.


What causes high blood pressure, and what are some of its symptoms?

There are two types of hypertension, and they each have different causes.

Primary hypertension: Primary hypertension is also called “essential hypertension.” This kind of hypertension develops over time with no identifiable cause.2 Most people have this type of hypertension. A combination of factors may play a role in primary hypertension:

Genes: Some people are genetically more likely to get hypertension. This may be from gene mutations or genetic anomalies from your parents.

Physical changes: If something in your body changes, you may begin to experience the effects of high blood pressure. For example, it is thought that changes in your kidney function due to aging may upset the body’s natural balance of salts and fluid. This change may cause your body’s blood pressure to rise.

Environment: Over time, unhealthy lifestyle choices like limited exercise and unhealthy food choices can lead to weight problems. And being overweight can increase your chances of getting hypertension.

Secondary hypertension: Secondary hypertension usually happens pretty quickly, and can become more severe than primary hypertension. Some causes of secondary hypertension include: kidney disease, sleep apnea, thyroid problems, adrenal gland issues, among others.3

High blood pressure is known as a “silent killer.” You may not feel that anything is wrong, but high blood pressure could be quietly causing damage that can threaten your health. Most people won’t even experience any symptoms, and even if they do, they might attribute these symptoms to other issues. Some symptoms of hypertension include shortness of breath, headaches, nosebleeds, flushing, and dizziness. These symptoms require immediate medical attention. When you have your yearly physical, get your blood pressure checked and talk to your doctor about your risks for hypertension. The best prevention is to know your numbers and make lifestyle changes as needed.

How you can reduce your risk

When it comes to reducing your risk of hypertension, it all comes down to making some key lifestyle changes. If you successfully control your high blood pressure with a healthy lifestyle, you might avoid, delay, or reduce the need for medication, too. Here are some lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk:

Watch your waistline: Blood pressure often increases as weight increases, and losing even a small amount of weight can help reduce your risk. Being overweight can also cause sleep apnea and other breathing disruptions at night, which can further raise your blood pressure. Besides losing weight in general, also pay attention to the weight you carry specifically around your waist. Carrying too much weight around your waist can put you at greater risk of high blood pressure. The rule of thumb, is that men are at risk if their waist measurement is more than 40 inches, and women are more at risk if their waist measurement is more than 35 inches.4

Exercise Regularly: Regular physical activity, which amounts to getting in about 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week, can also help to lower your blood pressure. With exercise, though, you have to be consistent. Because if you stop exercising, your blood pressure can rise again. Some examples of aerobic physical activity that can help to lower your blood pressure include things like swimming, Zumba, and high intensity interval training. If you have any concerns, you can talk to your doctor about developing an exercise program that is right for you.

Eat a healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and one that is low in sodium, fat, and cholesterol, can help to lower your blood pressure. Sometimes it can be hard changing the foods you eat, especially if you’re used to eating the same thing every day. It may be helpful to keep a food diary. This can shed some light on your eating habits, and may give you some insight into something you’ve been eating everyday which has not been the healthiest for you. Another helpful tip is to be a smart shopper. Read food labels when you shop, and pay attention to sodium levels, which can increase blood pressure if consumed in high amounts.

Top nutrients and herbs that may help

Aged Garlic Extract: According to a recent study published in the journal Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine,5 supplementing with Aged Garlic Extract effectively reduces blood pressure in people with hypertension, while also improving arterial stiffness. This groundbreaking study focused on 12 clinical trials involving 553 people with high blood pressure. It confirms earlier findings that aged garlic extract lowers systolic blood pressure by an average of 8.3 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure an average of 5.5 mmHg. The effectiveness of this plant-based supplement is comparable to the benefits provided by standard drugs used to treat high blood pressure, but without the potential drug side effects.

Nattokinase: Another nutrient that can help to lower blood pressure is nattokinase, which comes from the Japanese food natto. Nattokinase works by reinforcing the actions of plasmin, your body’s own enzyme that breaks down the clotting agent called fibrin, thereby preventing abnormal thickening of the blood. Because plasmin production slows as you age, this type of support is another really great option for those who would like to help lower blood pressure naturally.7

Managing your blood pressure is a lifelong commitment, but one that can ultimately lead to a healthier and longer life. For a free guide all about high blood pressure, natural ways to manage it, and how to reduce your risk, check out this healthy living guide.7 If you would also like a printed copy mailed to you, please contact us.