• Gut Health
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    • Heart Health

      The stats tell it all: The number one cause of death in the United States is heart disease. That’s right, more than any other disease – even cancer (a close second) – heart disease is the most likely to kill you. The United States is currently facing a “diabesity” epidemic, or a substantial increase in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome leading to diabetes and obesity, all serious risk factors for heart disease.

      According to the American Heart Association, every 34 seconds someone in the US dies of a heart attack. By the time you finish reading this paragraph, another person will have lost their life. Sadly, many people do not even know they have heart disease until they experience a heart attack. These facts alone make Heart Health a critical topic to understand.

  • Skin Health
    • Skin Health

      The gut-skin connection is very significant. Inflammatory processes present in the gut may manifest on the skin. Toxins are expelled with sweat, and can cause the skin to react. Like the inside of the digestive tract, the skin is covered in microbes which can be neutral, protective or pathogenic. Skin reaction may reflect what is going on inside the body. Therefore treating skin conditions only from the outside will often be ineffective and lead to other chronic issues.

  • Brain Health
    • Brain Health

      The gut-brain connection occurs in two directions—from the brain to the gut, and from the gut to the brain. When a person has a “gut feeling,” or an emotional upset causes a stomachache or loss of appetite, they experience examples of the first, most familiar direction. When the gut is out of balance, inflammation results leading to a condition commonly known as leaky gut. A leaky gut will allow undigested food particles and toxins to enter into the bloodstream. Some may cross into the brain, setting the stage for diseases like Alzheimers and dementia. Recognizing the underlying contributing factors that created the gut imbalance in the first place is the first step to achieving optimal brain function .

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Gut Balance is Key to Avoidance of C. difficile Infection

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 10/31/2012


The bacterium Clostridium difficile (also known as C. diff) is a major pathogenic contributor to the development of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, or diarrhea that results from taking an antibiotic. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), C. difficile diarrhea is linked to 14,000 deaths in the United States each year.1 Interestingly, first line treatment for C. diff infection is antibiotics—the very medicine that triggers the infection in the first place. This might explain why the relapse rate for C. diff infection is 20–35 percent.2 That is, 20–35 percent of people who get C. diff once will get it again. It’s a vicious cycle of intestinal imbalance.

One specific strain of C. diff—PCR ribotype 027, or C. diff 027—is particularly responsible for the C. diff epidemics in North America and Europe. C. diff 027 produces a high level of toxins3 and is associated with high rates of recurrence, hospital outbreaks, and death.4 In a recent study published in the Public Library of Science Pathogens journal, researchers used an animal model of C. diff 027 infection to determine its relation to gut bacterial imbalance, or dysbiosis, during treatment with antibiotics and bacteriotherapy,5 or the use of beneficial bacteria to displace pathogenic bacteria.6

According to the researchers, “Persistent infection is linked to intestinal dysbiosis that can be resolved by restoring a diverse intestinal microbiota with bacteriotherapy using a defined, simplified mixture of intestinal bacteria.” Now we’re getting somewhere.

This highlights the difference between integrative, or functional, medicine and conventional, or allopathic, medicine. Allopathic medicine seeks to treat disease with a silver bullet, usually a drug that targets one specific symptom or sign—in the case of C. diff, antibiotics are the silver bullet. This tunnel vision method of medicine often misses the forest for the trees, however. Integrative medicine, however, seeks to understand the details of disease, but within the context of the larger picture that takes into account a broad range of factors. Allopathic medicine treats C. diff infection with a medication known to cause the infection in the first place. This clearly does not take into account the larger picture.

This new study is more aligned with integrative medicine principles. These researchers are building on recent advances in bacteriotherapy that are particularly exciting. Fecal bacteriotherapy, or fecal transplant, involves the transfer of fecal bacteria from a healthy individual to an individual with illness—in this case, to an individual with C. diff. This treatment has been reported to have an average success rate close to 90 percent.7,8 Despite the amazing results seen so far with fecal transplant, finding a suitable healthy donor can be time consuming, there is a risk of inadvertently introducing opportunistic pathogens, and frankly, many people don’t like the idea of receiving a transplant of someone else’s poop—healthy or not, family member or not. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.

For these reasons, the researchers of the PLoS study sought out the specific bacteria from fecal transplants that were found to promote the growth of “health-associated commensal bacteria that appear to be suppressed during persistent dysbiosis and the subsequent displacement of epidemic C. difficile.” Using an animal model, they found six bacteria—three known bacteria, and three novel, or previously unidentified, species that best inhibited C. diff. These six bacteria represent a diverse mix, both obligate and facultative anaerobic bacteria that represent three out of four predominant intestinal groups.

More studies are needed to determine what other strains may be helpful against C. diff, and whether these strains work as well in humans as they do in the animal model. The authors of the study sum it up nicely, “Following these principles we believe that it is likely that many distinct combinations of bacterial strains will have the potential to treat recalcitrant or recurring C. difficile infection. These observations open the way to rationally harness the therapeutic potential of health-associated microbial communities to treat recurrent C. difficile disease and transmission in humans, and potentially other forms of disease-associated dysbiosis.”

This research helps to lay the foundation of the future. I believe we will soon see specific bacteriotherapies for conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, morbid obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabesity, autoimmune disease, and neurodegenerative/inflammatory diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to autism spectrum disorder. In the meantime, balance your gut with a multi-strain probiotic that resembles the great diversity found in a healthy digestive tract.

References

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/hai/organisms/cdiff/cdiff_infect.html
  2. E.J. Kuipers and C.M. Surawicz, “Clostridium difficile infection.” Lancet. 2008 May 3;371(9623):1486–8.
  3. M. Warny, et al., “Toxin production by an emerging strain of Clostridium difficile associated with outbreaks of severe disease in North America and Europe.” Lancet. 2005 Sep 24-30;366(9491):1079-84.
  4. L.C. McDonald, et al., “An epidemic, toxin gene-variant strain of Clostridium difficile.” N Engl J Med. 2005 Dec 8;353(23):2433-41.
  5. P. Huovinen, “Bacteriotherapy: the time has come.” BMJ. 2001 August 18; 323(7309): 353–354.
  6. J.S. Bakken, “Fecal bacteriotherapy for recurrent Clostridium difficile infection.” Anaerobe. 2009 Dec;15(6):285-9.
  7. M.J. Hamilton, et al., “Standardized frozen preparation for transplantation of fecal microbiota for recurrent Clostridium difficile infection.” Am J Gastroenterol. 2012 May; 107:761.
  1. T.D. Lawley, et al., “Targeted restoration of the intestinal microbiota with a simple, defined bacteriotherapy resolves relapsing Clostridium difficile disease in mice.” PLoS Pathogens. 2012 October;8(10):e1002995.

US Service Members at Risk from Low Omega-3 Levels

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 10/29/2012


The O in my HOPE Formula (short for High fiber, Omega-3 oils, Probiotics, and digestive Enzymes) stands for Omega-3 oils. I recommend the HOPE Formula for everyone, every day as a way to rebuild and maintain digestive health. The HOPE Formula has truly given hope to so many people dealing with both digestive and non-digestive health issues. It continues to be the cornerstone of what I teach and recommend.

The benefits of the HOPE Formula go beyond the digestive tract largely because healthy digestion is the foundation of total-body health. Omega-3 oils have certainly proved this point. In a study recently published in Nutritional Neuroscience, the Omega-3 Index (a measure of Omega-3 levels in the body) was measured in US soldiers in Iraq. Those soldiers with the lowest levels were found to have reduced mental flexibility and executive function.

Mental flexibility is the ability to change a behavioral response based on what is happening in the moment. Executive function is a broader category that covers mental flexibility as well as planning, problem solving, multi-tasking, and more.  “The diminished cognitive reserve observed in the lowest [omega-3 levels] might compromise performance of mission essential tasks, specifically those requiring dual-tasking,” stated the researchers.

In another recent omega-3 report, omega-3 supplementation was used immediately after traumatic brain injury leading to gradual cognitive and physical improvements according to a case study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. “Although further research is needed to establish the true advantage of using omega-3 fatty acids, our experience suggests that benefits may be possible from aggressively adding substantial amounts of omega-3 fatty acids to optimize the nutritional foundation of severe traumatic brain injury patients,” stated the report.

The results of both these studies should be of interest to the military. Perhaps omega-3 supplementation will one day become part of the military’s nutritional program.

Antimicrobials in Your Water?

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 10/26/2012


Antimicrobial ingredients are added to a wide range of personal care and cleaning products to kill the germs, and, so we think, keep us safe. The reality is that the widespread use of these ingredients—most notably triclosan and triclocarban—is thought to contribute to the increase in antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. Dr. Smith and I have blogged about it before.

A recent study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials investigated the presence of these ingredients in Minnesota waterways. Because these compounds persist in the environment for decades, concern has been raised that they may buildup in water faster than they break down. “This study underscores the extent to which additives of antimicrobial consumer products are polluting freshwater environments in the US; it also shows natural degradation processes to be too slow to counter the continuous environmental release of these endocrine disrupting chemicals,” stated the researchers. Oh that’s right—these chemicals also disrupt hormone (endocrine) function, as if they weren’t causing enough damage.

The main way these antimicrobials enter our waterways is through the release of treated waste water. Waste water is treated all over the country, so this contamination is not unique to Minnesota. My hope is that regulations will eventually be put in place against these toxins, but in the meantime, please check the products you use. Ditch the antimicrobial soap (it doesn’t work better than proper hand washing, anyway) and opt for products that do not needlessly contain antimicrobials. And don’t forget the hygiene hypothesis.

Grilled Meats May be AGE-ing You

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 10/24/2012


Have you heard of AGEs? AGEs are compounds that do just that—they age you. The acronym AGEs is short for advanced glycation end products. AGEs are compounds produced in the body, and obtained from certain foods, that wreak havoc in the body, leading to conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, kidney disease, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

In the body, AGEs are produced during normal metabolism and aging, and are particularly increased when blood sugar is high. AGEs also enter the body by way of certain foods, a topic studied by a group of researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The group, headed by Helen Vlassara, MD, has found that many processed foods and foods cooked with dry heat, such as that used in grilling, increase AGEs in the body.

Previous studies by this group determined a few factors that increase AGEs in the body:

  • Foods high in protein and fat
  • Processed foods
  • Foods cooked at high temperature
  • Dry heat cooking
  • Long cooking time

In general, foods high in protein or fat that are cooked at high temperatures, for lengthened periods of time, or under dry conditions produce the most AGEs. The first bullet refers to foods high in protein and fat, but processed foods—in the second bullet—are often high in carbohydrates. Processed carbohydrates are also the number-one contributor to high blood sugar, a major trigger of AGEs in the body. Diets low in AGEs have been found to lower AGE levels in the body by 30–40 percent.

What’s the bottom line? Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits (no surprise here), lean proteins, and healthy fats. Steer clear of processed foods. And vary your cooking method. If you love grilled foods, use lower heat, marinate the meat, and grill less often than usual. Choose baking over broiling, or better yet, choose stewing or boiling over baking. Make small changes, and experiment with your diet. You may just AGE less!

Common Parasite Increases Risk of Suicide Attempt

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 10/22/2012


A parasite is an organism that lives off another organism such as an animal or a human (or both). There are many different types of parasites from many different sources. Today, I’d like to talk about one particular parasite—Toxoplasmosis gondii. If you have ever been pregnant, you may be familiar with T. gondii. Pregnant women are cautioned against tending to cats and changing cat litter during pregnancy due to the risk of harmful effects to the fetus when this parasite, found in cats, is contracted during pregnancy.

Up to one-third of people carry T. gondii, previously thought to exist in a harmless dormant phase in most people (with the exception of being contracted during pregnancy). A recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry is turning that idea on its head, however. The study found that people who tested positive for T. gondii were seven times more likely to attempt suicide when compared to people who did not harbor the parasite. This study actually builds on a previous study with the same finding.

Before you try to find your cat a new home, it’s important to know that most people who carry the parasite will not attempt suicide. Ninety percent of people who do attempt suicide also have a diagnosed psychiatric disorder. In those people, screening for the T. gondii parasite may be helpful to detect people most at risk of suicide. Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have previously been linked to T. gondii infection, highlighting the importance of further study of this common parasite in people with these conditions.

Authors of the study suspect that inflammation in the brain caused by the parasite may be what triggers the suicide attempts. Underlying inflammation is turning out to be the cause of a wide array of health conditions, microbial infections being one main cause of this inflammation. (Poor diet is another main cause, but that’s another topic.)

If you have a psychiatric disorder and you have been exposed to cats, consider talking to your doctor about testing for T. gondii to rule out an increased risk of suicide. If you do test positive, you will want to get the right professional support, as well as reduce inflammation with proper diet and nutrition.

High Blood Sugar Shrinks Brain in Old Age

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 10/19/2012


As a nation, we eat far too much sugar and processed carbohydrates. In fact, the entire developing and developed world eats far too much of these foods. The result has been an epidemic increase in diabetes and obesity (also known as diabesity, since these two often appear together). Diabetes, or more specifically, type 2 diabetes, is largely the result of poor diet and not enough physical activity.

Fully 285 million people worldwide have diabetes, a condition characterized by elevated blood sugar. Many more people have prediabetes, a milder form of high blood sugar. Diabetes is a devastating condition that often leads to cardiovascular disease and studies are even finding a distinct link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is also known as type 3 diabetes.

A recent study recently presented at the joint International Congress of Endocrinology/European Congress of Endocrinology in Florence, Italy investigated the association between high blood sugar and brain size in 312 elderly adults aged 70 to 90 years old. They divided the participants into four groups: those with normal blood sugar levels, those with prediabetes, those whose blood sugar had worsened over two years, and those with type 2 diabetes.

Compared to the group with normal blood sugar levels, those with prediabetes lost 1.4 times more brain volume than the normal group over the two-year time period of the study. Those with worsening blood sugar or with diabetes lost 2.3 times more brain volume than the group with normal blood sugar. Enough said.

How’s your blood sugar? Checked it lately? If not, I suggest you do. And you may be interested to know that even so-called normal blood sugar levels (fasting blood sugar under 100 mg/dL) may be harmful. The Life Extension Foundation recommends normal blood sugar levels of 75–85 mg/dL based on a 22-year study in healthy, non-diabetic men that found that those with blood glucose levels above 85 mg/dL are at a 40 percent increased risk of heart attack.

Getting your blood sugar under control is an important part of achieving overall health. I talk about the link between high blood sugar, heart disease, chronic disease, and the gut connection in my new PBS show and book, Heart of Perfect Health. (Check for nationwide airing of the show beginning in November.)

Does Parkinson’s Disease Originate in the Gut?

Filed in General | Posted by lsmith on 10/17/2012


Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the most common serious movement disorder and second most common neurodegenerative disorder in the world (the first being Alzheimer’s disease).1,2 PD involves loss of neurons in the specific area of the brain that controls motor movement—the substantia nigra.

Parkinson’s disease involves the gradual death of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra and the presence of Lewy bodies, or protein accumulations, in the remaining neurons. Lewy bodies have been associated with the destruction of brain cells in Parksinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s is diagnosed by the presence of motor symptoms including tremor (shaking) at rest, bradykinesia (slowness of movement), rigidity (stiffness, cramps, or aches and pains), and postural instability (loss of balance). Early in the disease, however, diagnosis is difficult, with 10 to 20 percent of patients being misdiagnosed.3

Researchers involved in an interesting study recently published in the journal Movement Disorders, continued, “The diagnostic opportunity occurs relatively late in the evolution of PD pathology, when there is already significant cell loss. Estimates are that the characteristic motor signs do not appear until the midbrain degenerative process is well advanced, with loss of as many as 40 to 60 percent of dopaminergic neurons at the onset of motor symptoms.”

This study is interesting because it found that people with Parkinson’s had an accumulation of alpha-synuclein (a major component of Lewy bodies) in their large intestines as found through biopsy during colonoscopy.4 The researchers stated, “Clinical and clinicopathological data support the concept that the gastrointestinal tract might be a portal of pathogen entry in at least some patients with PD.” They continue to make the gut-brain connection by noting, “PD patients often report long-standing constipation, which begins before motor signs in nearly half of all PD subjects and predates motor signs by 12 to 18 years.”

In the brains of people with Parkinson’s, Lewy bodies first accumulate in the dorsal motor nucleus, an area of the brain that is directly connected to the gastrointestinal tract. Because of this, previous researchers have hypothesized that Parkinson’s disease could theoretically originate in the gut.5 In another previous epidemiological study of more than 8000 Hawaiian men of Japanese ancestry, those men with fewer bowel movements had a higher risk of PD compared with men who had normal bowel function.6

I bet we will soon find out that the alpha-synuclein occurs in response to some microbial vectors, likely viruses, much the same way the beta amyloid in Alzheimer’s occurs in response to many microbial vectors. Beta amyloid is now thought to be an intracellular antimicrobial produced in response to several different viruses. Alpha-synuclein may be something similar.

So here we have this Alpha-synuclein throughout the colon and maybe even in the stomach, which if it is an immune response to, or biomarker of, microbial invasion,7 it could be just a matter of time before this microbial “stealth” invasion attacks several areas of the brain either sequentially or simultaneously. And depending on individual variation, PD symptoms may come sooner or later. Studies have already found a link between ulcers of the stomach or upper small intestine (duodenum), suggesting H. pylori—the bacterium most often causing these ulcers—may be involved in the development of PD.8,9

Could alpha-synuclein, as detected through a simple (non-bowel-prepped) colonoscopy, be a biomarker for future development on Parkinson’s disease? Does Parkinson’s disease originate in the gut? We can’t yet know for sure, but we do know that there is an important gut connection to Parkinson’s disease. This study is promising, and more studies will be needed to determine whether this test can improve our current practice for diagnosis and treatment of this difficult disease. In the meantime, constipation is a condition that should be addressed in everyone, for even more reasons than its connection to Parkinson’s disease. Optimal elimination means at least one healthy bowel movement daily. Have you achieved bowel regularity yet? If not, try the HOPE Formula—High fiber, Omega-3 Oils, Probiotics, and digestive Enzymes.

References

  1. A.J. Lees, et al., “Parkinson’s Disease.” Lancet. 13 June 2009;373(9680):2055–55.
  2. R.L. Nussbun and C.E. Ellis, “Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.” N Eng J Med. 3 Apr 2003;348(14):1356–64.
  3. A.J. Hughes, et al., “Accuracy of clinical diagnosis of idiopathic Parkinson’s disease: a clinico-pathological study of 100 cases.” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1992 Mar;55(3):181–4.
  4. K.M. Shannon, et al., “Alpha-synuclein in colonic submucosa in early untreated Parkinson’s disease.” Mov Disord. 2012 May;27(6):709–15.
  5. C.W. Olanow, “A colonic biomarker of Parkinson’s disease?” Mov Disord. 2012 May;27(6):674–6.
  6. R.D. Abbott, et al., “Frequency of bowel movements and the future risk of Parkinson’s disease.” Neurology. 2001 Aug 14;57(3):456–62.
  7. H. Braak, et al., “Idiopathic Parkinson’s disease: possible routes by which vulnerable neuronal types may be subject to neuroinvasion by an unknown pathogen.” J Neural Transm. 2003 May;110(5):517–36.
  8. R.R. Strang, “The association of gastro-duodenal ulceration and Parkinson’s disease.” Med J Aust. 1965;1:842–843.
  9. E. Altschuler, “Gastric Helicobacter pylori infection as a cause of idiopathic Parkinson disease and non-arteric anterior optic ischemic neuropathy.” Med Hypotheses. 1996 Nov;47(5):413–4.

Dark Chocolate for Your Brain and Heart

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 10/15/2012


Do you ever reach for a chocolate bar when you’re down? Well, you’re not alone and there is good reason for it—chocolate has positive effects on mood. But that’s not all. Chocolate also has beneficial effects on brain performance and the heart.

Chocolate contains a high level of antioxidants thought to give chocolate its health benefits. A recent scientific review published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology highlighted some of the positive effects of chocolate on the brain and heart. Chocolate helps improve blood flow by helping to dilate blood vessels, which is why chocolate has been found in many studies to help lower blood pressure. Blood flow to the brain is an important factor for brain health, and chocolate has also been found to help increase blood flow to the brain in a similar manner as it does in blood vessels throughout the body.

This increase in blood flow to the brain has been attributed to the improvement in brain and visual function, and improvement in mood found after the consumption of chocolate. Studies in animals suggest that chocolate may help prevent cognitive decline seen in old age, and human studies have found that older people who eat the highest amount of flavonoid antioxidants from chocolate, wine, and tea are less likely to experience cognitive decline compared to those people who do not consume these foods.

This week, if you love chocolate, make it a regular indulgence. Be smart about it though—choose dark chocolate, which contains the highest amount of healthy antioxidants, and find a chocolate that is low in sugar.

Omega-3s May Protect Against Heart Failure

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 10/12/2012


Heart failure is a condition in which the heart becomes unable to pump blood throughout the body and is most commonly the result of coronary heart disease (narrowing of the arteries leading to the heart), high blood pressure, or diabetes. Heart failure is a common condition, affecting over 5.8 million people in the United States.

The heart-health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish have been evaluated in relation to heart failure (among many other heart-related conditions). In fact, a number of studies have been done and a recent meta-analysis published in the journal Clinical Nutrition evaluated the results of seven studies on over 176,000 participants, of which over 5,400 developed heart failure.

The researchers found that those people with the highest intakes of fish had a 15 percent reduced rate of heart failure compared to those who ate the least. Intake of EPA and DHA specifically—the two omega-3 fatty acids to which most heart-health benefits are attributed—was also analyzed. For every 125 mg per day increase in EPA and DHA, the risk of heart failure was decreased by 3 percent.

In a particularly well-publicized previous study, the GISSI Heart Failure Study, patients with chronic heart failure given 1 gram of omega-3 fish oil daily experienced a small reduction in death rate. This meta-analysis adds to the results of the GISSI heart Failure study.

Are you taking fish oil every day to support your heart health? I can’t imagine why not.

Gut Connection to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Filed in General | Posted by Brenda Watson on 10/10/2012


The gut connection to arthritis is a topic I have raised in my book and PBS show, The Road to Perfect Health. In fact, raising the topic of the gut connection to basically everything is what I do. They don’t call me the Diva of Digestion for nothing. Arthritis has a particularly strong gut connection, especially when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that affects about one percent of the world’s population.

Previously, studies have linked alterations in gut flora and increases in gut permeability (also known as leaky gut syndrome) to rheumatoid arthritis, but it was only speculated that the gut imbalance comes first. We can now eliminate doubt that alterations in the gut flora composition are a marker for susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis based on results of a recent study published in the journal PLoS One.

The study used an animal model of rheumatoid arthritis to determine factors that predispose an individual to develop the disease. As it turns out, individuals carrying certain genes linked to rheumatoid arthritis were more likely to harbor gut bacteria that increase inflammation as occurs in this form of arthritis, and those individuals with arthritis-resistant genes harbored gut bacteria that exert a more anti-inflammatory effect.

Specifically, higher amounts of the beneficial Bifidobacterium species were found in those individuals resistant to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, and in those genetically prone to develop the arthritis, Bifidobacterium levels were decreased. Based on these results, it is thought that the gut bacterial composition could be used as a biomarker for the development of rheumatoid arthritis.

More studies will be needed to further elucidate this interesting gut connection, but this study provides yet further evidence that what happens in your gut can affect many different areas of your body seemingly unrelated to the gut. Why not support optimal gut balance in the meantime?