Peer-Reviewed Research

Emulsifiers Impacting Gut Microbiome and Our Health

The Gut Microbiome

Admittedly, one of my favorite aspects of the human body for the fascinating role it plays in nutrition.  The gut microbiome is the community of microbes, or bacteria, that live in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract.  It is a symbiotic relationship with the host body as we provide the home for these bacteria and in turn they help contribute to a large portion of our immune system (some studies cite as much as 70% of the immune system is impacted by the gut flora).

In recent years we have begun to link the gut microbiome to various pro-inflammatory conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.  I feel that we haven't even gotten to the tip of the iceberg in trying to understand the role that the gut plays in chronic disease development.  Now scientists are starting to take a closer look at that relationship.

Emulsifiers and the Gut

Scientists at Georgia State University used the starting point that, "agents that disrupt mucous-bacterial interactions might have the potential to promote diseases associated with gut inflammation" and decided to take a hard look at some of the most commonly used emulsifiers in the food supply.  An emulsifier is an agent that improves the texture of food and often adds to the shelf life (for example, it's the reason those particles are perfectly suspended in salad dressings on the shelves but your home-made one separates).

In a study that was published in Nature, these scientists found that two commonly used emulsifiers in particular were associated with low-grade inflmmation, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and colitis in mice.  This may help provide an additional correlative link between chemicals in the food supply and irritable bowel diseases which have been on the rise since the 1950s.

Take Home Message: More real, authentic, sourced food and less processed foods!  A message I think most RDNs already push for with clientele, now we just have an extra reference up our sleeve to try to convince one of such!

Headlines and Science: Oil and Water?

The Importance of the Salacious Headline

I am constantly bombarded with questions from patients and friends about the latest nutrition headlines.  I always appreciate the curiosity, and honestly, getting even the most obscure question makes me a better clinician because I make sure to go back and read the research to answer appropriately.  But sometimes I just don't want nutrition headlines to be sexy, I want them to be accurate.

Don't get me wrong, nutrition is a constantly evolving field that is very scientifically difficult to study.  You try to design a study free of confounding factors when you're trying to exrapolate meaningful and causative (versus correlative) relationships by controlling what thousands of people eat and has to take lifestyle factors into account.  I can't do that with my patients and they're paying to hear what I have to say.

I appreciate that nutrition is a constant in the news because it helps continue to drive the conversation about our health.  Most recently, there was a particularly negative article about the role of nutrition in cancer prevention in the New York Times.  The data has been all over the place over the years as cancer and nutrition is a difficult relationship to study, but sometimes pointing that out to the lay public and oversimplifying scientific data does more harm than good.  The average American is not going to take the extra step to read the research that derives this article or check out what the American Institute for Cancer Research has to say about it or even make sure they ask their health care team about it.

I guess all I can do is comment on these stories, stay on top of the good and the bad in the publishing world, and keep a research oriented focus so that I can give my patients the best possible advice.  Just be forewarned: even when it comes to the best news outlets, don't fall prey to the salacious headline and always stay open to all sides of the discussion.

Media Headline: Salacious New It Food and Fast Weight Loss

Media Pulling on Your Health Heartstrings?

I find that I am constantly getting questions about the "superfood of the month", or that latest and greatest diet pill that will make all your health worries fade to dust.  As a professional trained in the art of reading scientific research journals and from that discerning the real implications of the findings, I wince a little bit on the inside when I know that all of these questions and concerns stem from what is passed down to the average person from the media.  It's not your fault though!  It took my year of graduate school e to learn how to wrangle with these published studies!

Don't get me wrong, awareness is power, even if it's just a liiittle bit off.  That awareness often drives the person to look into it further, which is a positive.  I'm glad that the next logical step for my friends and family is to ask me about the reality behind what they've just read about.  But here are some tips for you to think about next time you're reading about new health findings in your local paper or online.  And of course you can always feel free to e-mail me with specific questions or concerns!

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Was the original research study published in a peer-reviewed journal?  This way you know it's been looked over by experts in its respective field.  This will also require that authors reveal any financial incentives or sources of funding that may have had conflicting interests.
  2. Was the target population similar to me?  There's a big difference between research done on a small agrarian group aged fifty plus in North Dakota and what it means for a thirty-something city dweller.  Think about what pieces could actually be translated in similarity to you.
  3. Is this totally ground-breaking and brand new?  Scientific literature is a world of amassing data so one study won't break the bank.  Once professionals and medical organizations start getting behind a theory you can know there is a sound body of evidence behind it.