kevin

The Benefits of Meditation and How to Start Applying it

The Benefits of Meditation and How to Start Applying it

The Benefits of Meditation and How to Start Applying it?

By Kevin Masson MS, CSCS, CPT, PPSC, USAW

When the word meditation comes to mind, the image that comes to mind is a bunch of Buddhist monks sitting cross-legged chanting Aum. However, meditation is one of the most widely practiced stress management techniques worldwide. There are many benefits that you can derive from meditating. So let’s look at some of the benefits that meditation has to offer.

Meditation helps you control your thoughts. Man has conquered space and Mount Everest. But the most challenging thing to overcome is your mind. Even the greatest minds on Earth are not able to control their thoughts. Look at Van Gogh. He succumbed to his thoughts and committed suicide. They are not able to reject their negative thoughts and focus on the positive. However, the art of meditation teaches that not only that you can control your thoughts but you can also reject your negative thoughts. Through meditation, you will be able to create peace of mind that you always wanted.

Meditation also teaches you, detachment. It is easy to get annoyed by all the little things in life. It may be the jam to work in the morning, the rude lady that cut you in line, people that don’t say hello back. Every little small thing may annoy you. No matter how you try and avoid these problems, they will also keep appearing, and we need to get used to doing that. Meditation will help you develop detachment and also keep your mind in perspective. Through meditation, you will be able to detach yourself from all these irritating little nuisances.

Meditation also allows you the time that you need to examine yourself inwardly and enables you to gain a greater understanding of life. You will start to relax, and you will be able to view your life from a whole different perspective. Being grateful for what you already have instead of things you wish you had. Gratefulness is a powerful tool that many top leaders and billionaires use daily.

Lastly, meditation leads to happiness and peace of mind. As we have pointed out before, it helps you control your thoughts. So it is out with the negative thoughts and in with the positive energy. It detaches you from little petty problems and also helps you discover the purpose of life. So try meditating today to live a better life tomorrow.

 

Meditation involves silencing our minds. It is not an intellectual activity. Think of it as a tool to relax your whole self, and also for better health. It also can be a valuable tool to discover one’s self. The core of meditation is to focus and eventually quiet your mind. As you get better at it, you will find that you can meditate anywhere, anytime.

So, it’s actually easier said than done, with the crazy life we live in meditation can be challenging for a lot of people. Here are 5 quick steps to help you kick start a meditation habit. Remember, the key here is to create a habit even if you start with 5 mins every day, but you have to make it a priority in order for it to work.

Make time

When you are starting to learn how to meditate, you need to set aside enough time in your daily routine for meditation. It can be at any time of the day. You may set time for meditation at the start of the day, or you can put it at the end of the day as a means of relaxing. However, it is recommended that the easiest time to meditate is in the morning because your body is not tired, and your mind is still fresh.

Find a quiet space.

Once you find the time to meditate, you need to choose a suitable space to meditate. Create an environment that doesn’t have any noise or distractions. Turn off the television set or your handphone. You can put some music on, but make sure it’s calm, repetitive, and gentle so as not to distract you.

Relax

Sit on a leveled ground. Remember to keep your back straight. This will help with your breathing. Remember to relax your arms and legs. They don’t need to be in a particular position. The most important part is that you are relaxed. Now start searching for parts of your body that are not relaxed. It could be face muscles or certain parts of your body. Try loosening all of them.

Concentrate on something

It may be hard to control our thoughts through the power of the mind. So to silence your mind, try to focus your mind on something. It may be as simple as counting your breath or listening to your surroundings.

Silence your mind.

Once you are focused, now you can clear up your mind.  This requires discipline, and it is alright if you are not able to master it immediately.

Most importantly, meditation is something done with intensity and focus, once you achieved that, you have reached the pinnacle of meditation. So try it at home today, and you’ll find yourself feeling better than you have ever been before. Look for apps like headspace or youtube videos if you are still struggling with it.


5 Ways to Boost Your Immunity

5 Ways to Boost Your Immunity

5 Ways to Boost Your Immunity

By Josh Dennis MS, CSCS, CISSN, CPT

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the world into panic mode. Nothing is more disempowering than focusing on things outside of one’s control. Instead of focusing on the doom and gloom, try to remain productive. With many of us forced to stay at home, there has never been a better time to build healthy habits. This article will highlight 5 simple ways to enhance your immune system function.

 

1)Moderate Exercise

Back in my university days, I remember sitting in an exercise physiology class to talk about the immune system’s response to training. Generally speaking, exercise will strengthen your immune system as long as it’s not overdone. Exercise within the body’s adaption abilities is the name of the game. Research has shown that working out is beneficial for the immune system provided it’s not excessive (Nieman & Wentz, 2019). If you’re new to exercise, start out slowly. For more seasoned veterans, just be careful to not overreach. To really enhance your health and immune system, take your training outdoors!

2) Get Some Sun

With summertime around the corner, there’s no better excuse to catch some rays. While nobody is recommending excessive scorching or sunburn, you should not be afraid to spend some time outside. Building up sun tolerance gradually is the best way to go. Multiple lines of research have reported lower vitamin D to be associated with higher rates of infection (Aranow, 2011). While naturally producing vitamin D is best, it might be impractical or impossible for some individuals. For those forced to resort to supplementation, do yourself a favor and test your baseline levels first if possible. This will allow you to fine-tune your dosage to get to optimal levels.

3) Make use of Mushrooms

The medical power of mushrooms has been around for centuries. However, compared to their plant and animal counterparts, fungi tend to be the forgotten food group. Now that quarantine life has forced you to prepare more home-cooked meals, there’s ample time to experiment. Researchers on Shiitake mushrooms found that their consumption over the course of 4 weeks was enough to boost immunity (Dai, et al., 2015). My personal favorite way to serve up shiitake is to sauté some up along with fresh onions in ghee. These pairs are great with many meat dishes or even eggs.

4) Channel Your Inner Wim Hof

If you don’t know who Wim Hof is by now, do yourself a favor and google him. Put your stay at home mandate to good use and watch a video or two on the man who is rewriting physiology books. This guy is doing things that scientists did not think was possible. His magic mix centers around breath work, meditation, and cold-water immersion. This potent combination has since been found to modulate both the sympathetic nervous system and the immune system to fight off toxins (Kox, et al., 2014).

5) Sleep like a Bear

Less time spent commuting means more time for sleep. Even though it’s one of the lowest hanging fruits on the health tree, sleep often gets neglected. Sleep is the ultimate recovery tool and it should be relatively effortless. Piles of research add up every year backing sleeps importance. Studies such as the one from Besedovsky, Lange, & Born (2012) found sleep to enhance the body’s immune defense. A good start is aiming to get between 7 and 9 hours per night. For more information on how to get the most out of sleep, be sure to check out our sleep article here.

References

Aranow, C. (2011). Vitamin D and the Immune System. Journal of Investigative Medicine, 59(6), 881–886. doi: 10.2310/jim.0b013e31821b8755

Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Born, J. (2011). Sleep and immune function. Pflügers Archiv – European Journal of Physiology, 463(1), 121–137. doi: 10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0

Dai, X., Stanilka, J. M., Rowe, C. A., Esteves, E. A., Nieves, C., Spaiser, S. J., … Percival, S. S. (2015). ConsumingLentinula edodes(Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 34(6), 478–487. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2014.950391

Kox, M., Eijk, L. T. V., Zwaag, J., Wildenberg, J. V. D., Sweep, F. C. G. J., Hoeven, J. G. V. D., & Pickkers, P. (2014). Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(20), 7379–7384. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1322174111

Nieman, D. C., & Wentz, L. M. (2019). The compelling link between physical activity and the bodys defense system. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 8(3), 201–217. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009

 




CBD guide to Fitness

By Kevin Masson MSc, CSCS, CPT, USAW, FMS

Unless you’ve been living under a rock someplace, the chances are you’ll have heard of CBD. But what exactly is CBD and what is all the fuss about? Everywhere on Instagram, influencers are promoting it? Is this just another new trend or is there real science behind it? In this post, I hope to give you the answers to these questions and more, so here it is, my guide to CBD and Fitness.

Increasingly athletes are seeing the correlation between improved fitness and athletic performance when combining their training by using CBD products. Yes, CBD is a product from the cannabis plant, but gone are the stereotypical images of lazy stoners, with their minds lost in a haze of pungent marijuana smoke. For although CBD does come from the marijuana plant, it does not have the psychotropic effects associated with it.

Medical cannabis has been hitting the headlines as a potential cancer cure for some time, but its effectiveness as a performance enhancer that can be used to improve fitness and recovery times is less well known about and studies coming out are looking very promising.

The fitness community is showing a lot of interest in CBD products, due to its apparent ability to sustain energy levels and aid recovery. The compound is anti-inflammatory and can help relieve pain. It also helps to reduce cortisol build up and can help you to work harder and longer during your fitness regimen.

What is CBD

CBD is a plant extract that has very similar medical benefits to THC found in cannabis, but without the brain-altering high. There are over 80 cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant. The most abundant of these compounds are THC Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol and CBD Cannabidiol.

How does it Work?

The THC is the cannabinoid that produces the well-known high associated with the use of marijuana, but CBD does not incite this effect, providing any high at all. This is because while THC is a psychoactive compound, CBD has no psychoactive properties and can actually reduce the psychotropic effects of THC, notably the negative ones.

Within the human body, there is a system designed to interact with cannabinoid compounds. This system is called the “Endocannabinoid System” (ECS). There are cannabinoid receptors throughout the body not only help it function optimally but also to balance emotional and mental wellbeing. When we consume most cannabinoids, they attach themselves to the cannabinoid receptors. This happens with THC, but ongoing research is showing that this is not the case with CBD. The body actually produces its own cannabinoids, and this is why it has receptors for it. Instead of attaching itself to the receptors like THC does, CBD seems to stimulate and increase the amount of cannabinoid compounds the body produces for itself.

The two types of receptor are called CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptors exist throughout our entire body, but the highest numbers are found in the brain. The CB1 receptors in the brain are responsible for:

  • Movement
  • Coordination
  • Emotions
  • Mood
  • Thought
  • Memory
  • Appetite
  • Pain

CB2 receptors appear in the immune system and seem to mostly affect pain and inflammation.

Medical Benefits

CBD has several therapeutic effects on your body and mind. It can activate your serotonin receptor 5-HT1A, which in turn reduces anxiety, it can help cure addiction, improve sleep, balance appetite, regulate body temperature, reduce nausea and vomiting, and it can also reduce pain and inflammation by binding itself to the TRPV1 receptors.

CBD has also been seen to reduce bone re-absorption. This is where the body robs the bones of calcium and other minerals when they are needed in the bloodstream. This mineral leaching can lead to osteoarthritis. CBD prevents this leaching by blocking the G protein receptor, GPR55, which is also signaled in the spread of cancer cells in the body.

Receptors called Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptors (PPARs) are also activated by CBD. These receptors have been seen to have an anti-cancer effect in studies and show promise in helping with Alzheimer’s.

Other ailments that are believed to be helped by CBD include:

  • Crones Disease
  • Schizophrenia
  • PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Acne

More research is ongoing, and further studies are still needed to discover the full benefits provided by CBD.

Where is CBD Derived From?

There are two sources of CBD; Hemp, which is the agriculturally cultivated plant used to make biofuels, biodegradable plastics, textiles, paper, building materials, and animal feed. Hemp has been cultivated as a crop for many centuries. It grows to between 15 and 20 feet in height. It has a course woody stalk and contains almost zero THC (generally less than 0.3%), for this reason, Hemp does not produce the high of its sibling Marijuana.

Marijuana is the other source of CBD; it differs from Hemp in several ways. Despite both plants coming from the same source Cannabis Sativa L. Marijuana has been cultivated to increase its THC content. The flowers and leaves of marijuana are used to make medicines, for recreational use to achieve a high and for spiritual purposes in some cultures. The plant typically grows to around 5 feet in height and spreads out low to the ground. The marijuana plant can contain between 10 to 30% THC the psychotropic compound that is not present in CBD.

Legality

The legality of CBD, despite it having no psychotropic effects, is still in debate. There are contradictory rulings that make it difficult for the law to enforce the control of CBD l usage. In December 2016 the DEA changed the federal register to say that cannabinoids derived from any plant of the genus cannabis were a schedule 1 controlled substance. However, the Farm Bill of 2014 states that products derived from legal hemp farming do not carry any such controls and this would include CBD oil derived from Hemp. As you can see the law is contradictory and this makes enforcement difficult.

The psychotropic form of marijuana is itself legal for recreational and medicinal use in some US states, while CBD is legal in many states with certain criteria attached to it. It remains that for the most part, CBD derived from Hemp is generally recognized as being legal, while that derived from marijuana is only legal in the states where marijuana use is legal either medicinally or recreationally.

You can currently freely use CBD that is from either Hemp or Marijuana in the following states, for both recreational and medicinal purposes, without a prescription:

Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

CBD that is from either hemp or marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes (with a prescription from a certified medical practitioner) in the states mentioned above plus the following:

Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia.

CBD that is made from hemp only can be used for medicinal purposes (with a prescription from a qualified medical practitioner) in the above states and the following:

Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

The states where CBD remains illegal include:

Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.

As the political landscape continues to change and the benefits of CBD are more clearly recognized and backed by scientific evidence, it is hoped that its complete legalization will occur across the entire United States within the next 5 to 10 years.

Please consider that rules and regulations regarding the legalities of CBD are changing all the time, so please check carefully to ensure you are within the law before taking CBD in the state where you reside.

Types of CBD Oil

There exist two different types of CBD oil. Full spectrum CBD oil is oil that contains all the other cannabinoids, including any trace amounts of THC from the plant from which it was derived. The other type is called Isolate CBD, where the CBD has been isolated from the other cannabinoids present in the plant from which it was taken. Due to the loss of other valuable cannabinoids in the isolate form, it is not considered to be as potent or effective as the full spectrum CBD oil.

How is CBD Oil Made?

CBD oil is made by extracting it from the cannabis plant in which it is contained. There are principally two methods of extraction, either alcohol extraction which is a process where the plant is soaked in a solvent (usually grain alcohol), filtered to remove the plant remnants and then the alcohol is evaporated off to leave the pure CBD oil behind.

The other method is C02 (Carbon Dioxide) extraction, where the C02 gas is forced through the plant using a series of chambers to collect the different cannabinoids. The pressure and temperature are carefully adjusted to separate out each.

How to Use CBD

There are a large variety of CBD products available, almost all are mixed with other ingredients. The quantity of CBD contained in each product also varies very significantly and it is important to research the amount you require when choosing the best type for your needs.

Some CBD products provide better bioavailability than others. This is also important as the more bio-available the CBD is, the more your body can absorb and use it. Here are a few of the different products that contain CBD and their general bioavailability.

Tinctures

CBD contained in a tincture is usually taken by using a dropper to put a specified number of drops under your tongue. This is then absorbed into the body sublingually. This process has good bioavailability for the body.

Concentrates

These concentrates often come in an edible wax form. The wax is rubbed into the cheeks inside the mouth. Concentrates have good bioavailability.

Vape Oils

If you enjoy vaping or inhalation methods, then the vape oils can provide you with a convenient way of taking the CBD. They have good bioavailability but beware of what else is contained in the mix.

Topical Products

Creams, salves, lotions, anything that you rub into your body or lips. These products usually have a medium level of bioavailability and take a bit longer to get absorbed into the bloodstream. Again, it is as well to be aware of what else is in the mix and try to avoid any harsh chemicals or petroleum products.

Capsules

Some people choose to take capsules as a daily supplement, unfortunately, although this is usually a cheap way of buying CBD, it is also one of the least effective, as it is then subjected to the digestive tract and is not well absorbed, meaning it has low bio-availability in this form.

Oral Spray

Although some of the CBD in an oral spray will be absorbed in the tissues of the mouth, most are swallowed, which similarly to capsules, means it will be digested and therefore has low bioavailability.

 

Choosing Which CBD Product to Buy

As you may know already about me, I refuse to be sponsored, not because of ego or anything like that but because as a scientist It would be unethical and I will be biased towards certain products. Every product I recommend are most likely researched based, tried personally by me or I own them and they have a BioFit Performance label on them.

The quality and purity of CBD is completely unregulated. It is therefore difficult to know exactly what you are buying. Be aware that there are unscrupulous people around who will happily sell you fake CBD that has zero health benefits and may, in fact, be harmful. Only use companies that are willing to share all their technical data about their product with you freely, so you can see they care about what they are selling. Look for the products potency, residual solvents or pesticides and any mycotoxins. Consult the experts about who they recommend and read the customer reviews. If an offer seems too good to be true, then it more than likely is. Good quality CBD is not cheap! You can read about the top manufacturers here at bestcbdoils.org

Fitness and CBD

Increasingly people are using CBD to help them with their fitness routine. The World Anti-Doping Agency lifted the ban on CBD not containing THC in 2017 and it is now acceptable for use by all athletes, including professionals.

Pre-Workout CBD

As a pre-workout supplement, CBD can help to:

  • Reduce pain sensitivity
  • Boost energy levels
  • Act as an anti-catabolic

It reduces pain sensitivity due to its analgesic effects; this allows you to train harder during your workout as the muscles produce fewer pain signals. It also works to relieve anxiety and depression, which improves motivation and positivity. Its anti-catabolic properties prevent the catabolic hormones from breaking down muscle tissue; catabolic hormones include cortisol which is attributed to post-workout muscle and joint pain. The net result of a reduced post-workout cortisol load is that lean muscle mass is gained faster and more easily. For best results, it is important to avoid caffeine in all forms, as this will increase cortisol levels.

Post-Workout CBD

The advantages of using CBD post-workout include:

  • Reduction in muscle soreness
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Appetite stimulation
  • General body and mind relaxant

Because CBD helps ease muscle pain and relaxes you, it aids better sleep. Your muscles recover during sleep, which means getting enough good quality sleep is important to aid recovery and build muscle.

Consuming enough protein is necessary to build muscle. Sometimes this can be difficult, but CBD can stimulate appetite and help you eat more post-workout.

Although CBD has been around for a while now and has, in the field, shown itself to be safe and effective, there is still a lack of quality research. Unsurprisingly, most of the research that has been done is on CBD’s medical benefits against serious disease such as cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and so on.

Studies

I have attached various studies on both THC and CBD for my geeky friends to read, some of these include:

CBD and Chronic Inflammation

Cancer

Addictive Behaviors – Smoking,Opioid Addiction

Epilepsy

Schizophrenia

Anxiety Disorders

Type 1 Diabetes

Acne

Alzheimer’s Disease

As I stated previously in this article, a great deal more research is required if the full abilities of both CBD and THC are to be discovered. Unfortunately, because both are a natural product, they hold no real interest for big pharma, where all the money for significant scientific research is funneled. Sadly, it is therefore down to independents who can see the potential in cannabinoids to fund this research, meaning it will be done on a far smaller scale and at a much slower pace.

Conclusion

As we have seen, the effectiveness of using CBD as an aid to improve workout levels, produce quicker muscle development, and shorten recovery times, shows a lot of promise. But, due to the lack of research, it is still not backed up with much scientific evidence.

Because CBD has no psychotropic effects, it is hoped that it will be legalized for general use in many more states across the US. Because the World Anti-Doping Agency now allows the use of non-psychotropic cannabinoids, it would seem reasonable to assume that common sense would also prevail to allow their use by anyone.

Due to there being no regulation on quality or method of manufacture, it is important to buy CBD products from a credible source. Check the products credentials carefully before you buy and try to get recommendations from other people.

I hope you have found this article interesting and informative.

As always, BioFit, Live, Life, Fit.

References

https://www.cureyourowncancer.org/how-cannabis-oil-works.html

https://healthable.org/science-cbd-oil-infographic/

https://medium.com/cbd-origin/is-cbd-legal-legal-status-of-cbd-2018-d1b4a0ed42df





The Truth About Gut Health and the Use of Probiotics

By Meagan Flynn BSc, CSCS, CPT, PN1, FMS

 

 Did you know ingesting bacteria can actually make you healthier? Yes, its true, probiotics have been shown as incredibly beneficial not only for our gut health but for our entire bodies. When it comes to athletic performance, being on the top of your game for a competition or during intense training is of the utmost importance. Nothing puts a damper on your big day quite like being stuck on the toilet from that bad sushi you had yesterday or the cold you caught on the plane heading to your competition. As coaches, so much emphasis is put on not overtraining our clients or athletes and bulletproofing their bodies to be at peak physical fitness, we overlook the inside. In order to be functioning our system optimally as a whole needs to be working optimally as well. There is a common phrase coaches like to use ” you can’t out train a poor diet.” I would like to add “you can’t out train poor health.”

60 to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases, costing the U.S. over $100 billion per year, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases back in 2004. This number above doesn’t even include the other disorders and diseases that are largely linked to poor gut health like chronic inflammation, autoimmune diseases, and neurological disorders.  With this overwhelming amount of people afflicted by digestive diseases and disorders, you’ve likely come across a client, family member, friend, or maybe even yourself may be plagued with some gastrointestinal issues. Probiotic use has been considered as a preventative and therapeutic approach to restore the healthy arrangement and function of our gut microbiome.

Use this as a guide to all things probiotics, what they are, their benefits, which foods to eat, which to avoid, and what supplements, if any, you should take to increase your gut health naturally, for athletes and general populations.

What does our microbiome do and where do probiotics come into play?

 

Probiotics are live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to beneficial microorganisms found in the human gut. Also known as, ‘friendly” or “good” bacteria. (NIH) You may be surprised to know that bacteria in our body, known as our microbiome, outnumber our cells 10 to 1, just let that sink in for a second. If we were to dissect down to the cellular level, we are mainly made of bacteria. Every gut is sterile at birth, however, traveling through the birth canal is where we are first introduced to the microbiome of our mother, and in turn, our own immune system starts producing beneficial bacteria. Over time our gut cultivates a varied and individualistic amount of bacterial species, determined in part by our genetics and in part by our environment and what bacteria live on those around us. All 100 trillion bacteria that make the GI tract their playground are critical to our health on an impressive scale.

Some of you may have heard the term that the gut is our second brain, this came about from findings that the gut actually has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system, whose main purpose is to regulate bodily functions of the gut and communication between the gut and the central nervous system- the brain and spinal cord, via the gut-brain axis.  Communication can go in both directions gut-to-brain and brain-to-gut, and this is responsible for controlling the coordination between the brain, the intestinal tract, and endocrine and immune systems involved in maintaining gut function. The guts immune system has 70-80% of the body’s immune cells and the guts endocrine system uses 20 different hormones. If the balance of beneficial bacterial to pathogenic gets out of whack, it is easy to see how this can throw off a cascade of problems throughout the body because of its vast network and function in our immune, endocrine, and nervous system, as well as the role it plays in metabolic processes through absorption and production of nutrients and vitamins. As important as the GI tract is it’s highly vulnerable to the outside world and can be greatly influenced by diet. Current research has found a correlation that suggests our diet may play a direct role on our microbiota and health status. Disruptions of our microbiota may result in diverse disease states including chronic inflammation, autoimmune disease, and neurological disorders. Probiotics are proving to have an important role in our diet and are giving us a chance to have a safe, cost-effective and natural approach that protects us from infection.

 

In short, Our gut bacteria play important roles in:

  • regulating digestion and metabolism
  • instructing our immune system
  • building and maintain the gut wall from invaders and pathogens
  • blocking harmful microbes from setting up shop by producing antimicrobial chemicals to defend us from pathogens
  • these bacteria also produce hundreds of neurochemicals the brain uses to regulate basic mental and physiological processes such as mood, memory, and learning.

Who knew bacteria had so much power over our health and why has the gut been so largely overlooked by health care providers when preventing and treating various symptoms largely linked to gut health?  Probiotic research started back in the 1960s and just in the past decade has started to catch on; nonetheless, it is still widely overlooked by health professionals or misunderstood by consumers as to what probiotics actually help with and why you should include probiotics into your diet.

Benefits of Probiotics?

Probiotics have the potential to alleviate and treat various clinical symptoms such as diarrhea, traveler’s diarrhea, gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD; Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), cancer, depressed immune function, inadequate lactase digestion, infant allergies, failure-to-thrive, hyperlipidemia, hepatic diseases, Helicobacter pylori infections, and others. 

Digestive health

One of the most well-known benefits of probiotics is their ability to aid in digestion and relieve unwanted symptoms directly related to the gut. Lactic acid bacteria, in particular, have been proven to help aid in lowering the pH of the intestines, creating a thriving environment for beneficial bacteria to assist in the proper breakdown and production of essential enzymes and nutrients. This allows our bodies to fully utilize the nutrients from the foods we are already eating for optimal absorption. You can have the best nutritional program and eat the healthiest foods, but it’s not about the nutrients you eat, it’s about the nutrients you’re able to absorb.

Over the last few years, multivitamins have taken a back seat in the supplement industry. No longer are they the golden standard, staple supplement everyone should be taking every day. The problem with multivitamins is they do not get absorbed optimally through our gut. Most often what happens is the majority of it gets excreted through your urine because its bioavailability sucks. Some “vitamins” included are not actually the chemical component found naturally in food, they were created in a lab to ” mimic” what is actually found in nature, and our bodies end up just excreting them out with waste. Eventually what you have is some really expensive weirdly colored pee. However, the best way to get nutrients is from the food you are already currently eating, given that the foods you are eating are not overly processed. The inclusion of beneficial bacteria in our guts allows for a better breakdown of our foods, and they even produce essential vitamins including B vitamins we wouldn’t get otherwise.

Another benefit of probiotics, specifically lactic acid bacteria, is their ability to alleviate lactose intolerance. These bacteria that are commonly found in fermented milk products, such as Greek yogurt and kefir, for instance, have enough of the lactase enzyme, that is critical for the breakdown of lactose, it actually prevents and alleviates symptoms commonly associated with lactose intolerant individuals.

Probiotics can also help improve chronic inflammatory diseases of the intestines, such as inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease, both of which are characterized by a leaky intestinal barrier. The intestines allow the absorption of nutrients while also providing a barrier from harmful substances and bacteria. Tight junctions are basically the security guards along the intestinal wall, sealing the space between adjacent epithelial cells. They say who gets in (nutrients, water, ions) and who does not (pathogens and other harmful substances). These tight junctions are not fixed complexes; they are constantly being remodeled due to interactions with the environment, such as food residue, toxins, infections, stress, aging, and beneficial bacteria. If the tight junctions become faulty or do not work properly, they allow intestinal contents to leak out into other areas of the body like the bloodstream, spiking inflammation and alarming our immune system to go on attack. Increased intestinal permeability is implicated in autoimmune, inflammatory, and atopic diseases (such as asthma and eczema), which can manifest locally and systemically. The beneficial bacteria in our gut help safeguard the epithelial lining of our GI tract and keep tight junctions working properly, along with the proper diet of eliminating triggers and stress management.

 

Immune Boosting and Fights off Inflammation

If 70-80% of the body’s immune system resides in the gut, it is not so far-fetched of an idea that healing the gut and keeping it healthy can be of great importance when we are looking at warding off disease and increasing our longevity and quality of life. If our gut is healthy, chances are we are healthy. Unfortunately, due to our modern culture leaky gut is more common than we would like and autoimmune diseases are on the rise while inflammation is still the main culprit behind majority of diseases. Hashimoto’s, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes, just to name a few, are all strongly correlated to a misdirected immune system, where your immune system starts attacking your own cells, and it is speculated that this is the result of a leaky intestinal barrier, allowing the passage of infection, antigens, toxins, and food residue into the bloodstream and allowing it to travel all over the body, sending the immune system into a frenzy. As you can see, having a leaky gut can lead to far greater problems outside of the digestive system. When the GI tract becomes inflamed and permeable, it serves as a link between inflammatory disease of the GI tract and extra-inflammatory disorders such as arthritis.

Consuming probiotics can down-regulate or modify the immune response and improve the immune system’s reaction, believed to be by, activating and increasing the number of macrophages, increasing levels of cytokines, increasing natural killer cell activity, and/or increasing levels of immunoglobulins. Majority of research shows the benefit of consuming probiotics to modulate inflammation and re-direct the immune system in a quest to improve autoimmune diseases and inflammation such as rheumatoid arthritis.

More research needs to be done as there still is no cure for the diseases mentioned above; however probiotic use has only shown positive results, and it is worth talking to with your doctor about if you or someone you know are suffering from inflammation and/or autoimmune disease. Above all, it should be looked at as a preventative measure for protection as we age with life’s stresses to keep ourselves thriving and living a good quality life.

Decrease in Antibiotic Resistance

“Historically, we had plenty of probiotics in our diets from eating fresh foods from good soil and by fermenting our foods to keep them from spoiling. Today, however, because of refrigeration and agricultural practices like soaking our foods with chlorine, much of our food contains little to no probiotics in the name of sanitation. Actually, many foods contain dangerous antibiotics that kill off the good bacteria in our bodies.”- Dr. Axe

Current research on probiotics has in part been dedicated to finding alternative treatments to antibiotics and to find a solution against the ongoing problem of antibiotic resistance among superbugs. The growing rate of hospital infections and strain-resistant bacteria have become hard to manage with traditional protocol. Mostly due to the overuse of antibiotics such as doctors excessively prescribing antibiotics and/or misuse by patients, antibacterial soaps, cleaning products and heavy use of pesticides on produce and antibiotic use on our livestock. This becomes problematic because heavy use of chemical pesticides reduces the quality of our soil, and with the additional overuse of antibiotics and related products we are completely and excessively sterilizing our environment and therefore sterilizing ourselves, which in turn is negatively affecting our health as a community and throwing off our microbiome balance that keeps us functioning at our best. On top of all of that, harmful bacteria are evolving and finding ways to become more aggressive and more efficient in the face of traditional antibiotic treatment which is very worrisome and remains a huge issue we are facing. The problem with antibiotics and antibacterial agents is although they kill harmful bacteria they also kill beneficial bacteria we need to be able to fight them off. Also, these beneficial bacteria are important for our basic bodily functions and directly correlate to our immune, endocrine, and neurological systems affecting our bodies on a grander scale. What has been lacking for so long with traditional protocol is doctors weren’t advising patients to replace those beneficial bacteria lost through a course of antibiotic treatment, therefore throwing our microbiome balance off and cascades of other ailments end up showing up later on, eventually continuing our need for medical treatment. Unbeknown to us that this treatment of antibiotics although it does help kill harmful bacteria and makes us feel better, after a certain point it stops being as effective due to antibiotic-resistant strains. Fortunately, doctors are starting to catch on and are very hesitant to prescribe antibiotics and are communicating with their patients the importance of probiotics as a result of the beneficial research being done on probiotics.

The good news is, probiotics may decrease the risk of antibiotic-induced superinfections in the gut and the vagina; as well as, produce antibacterial substances that depress pathogenic bacterial inhabitants and disrupt biofilms, making it easier for antibiotics to function; and enhance intestinal immunity, therefore aiding in the annihilation of the organisms at the mucosal site. In recent studies, the inclusion of lactic acid bacteria for 30 days after being treated with metronidazole administered orally for seven days doubled the cure rate in women treated for bacterial vaginosis.  Also in another current research, the amount of amoxicillin required to kill E. coli was halved with the co-inclusion of lactic acid bacteria.

In 1994, the World Health Organization deemed probiotics to be the next-most important immune defense system when commonly prescribed antibiotics are rendered useless by antibiotic resistance.

May Improve Mental Illness

The communication between the gut and the brain via the gut-brain axis is crucial because it has the ability to modulate functions of our immune system, endocrine system (includes all the glands in your body that make hormones), metabolism, and nervous system. You may have previously believed that mood and behavior cannot possibly be affected by the gut; however, 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin (known as the body’s natural feel-good chemical) is produced by our gut bacteria, which in turn influences both mood and gastrointestinal activity. Gut bacteria produce and respond to the same neurochemicals—such as GABA, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, and melatonin—that the brain uses to regulate mood and cognition. Low serotonin levels are commonly associated with depression. Probiotics have become of great interest because of their anti-inflammatory qualities that may help to alleviate anxiety by reducing inflammation along the gut-brain axis.

It has been shown through research that harmful bacteria can ramp up anxiety, while numerous studies have shown that beneficial bacteria can cause anxiety-prone mice to calm down. In one study, mice were given broth with or without Lactobacillus rhamnosus. After 28 days, the mice were run through a variety of different tests to detect signs of depression and anxiety. What they ended up finding was mice given the lactobacillus were more willing to explore exposed areas of the maze and less likely to give up and just start floating in the forced swim test. Also, their physiological response to stress was lessened, and lower levels of the stress hormone corticosterone were produced, while an increase in GABA- whose main role is reducing neuronal excitability- was found.

Stress-induced changes to the microbiome and increased intestinal permeability may, in turn, affect behavior and the brain. Inflammatory cytokines, produced defensively by the gut in the face of an infection, may disrupt brain neurochemistry and make people more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. This possibly can help explain why those with chronic GI disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome are also commonly plagued by anxiety and depression. Keeping anxiety and depression under control may improve inflammation in the gut and improvements in inflammatory responses in the gut may improve mood by altering brain biochemistry.

Recognizing that communication between the brain and the gut is bidirectional also points toward new ways of treating both the physical symptoms of intestinal disease and the psychological disorders that are so often present. Inclusion of probiotics may lead to a reduction in re-hospitalization from manic episodes in manic depression. Probiotics have also shown some surprising and hopeful results with autism, but research is still being done and it remains to be determined if in the future probiotics may also improve symptoms of autism including abnormal behaviors, cognitive and language development, brain function and connectivity.

Weight loss and Diabetes treatment

Probiotics may be of great use when it comes to alleviating symptoms and preventing Type 2 diabetes. In a large study of almost 200,000 subjects, a little bit more than 15,000 of them having type 2 diabetes, probiotic-rich yogurt reduced the risk of developing diabetes. Diabetics may benefit from probiotics by improvement of insulin sensitivity, management of blood sugar levels, and a decrease in autoimmune response, with the improvement of immune responses and reaction.

Human diets may have a direct effect on the microbiome, which ultimately can change biochemical reactions taking place in the intestines. Research has determined that gut microbes can alter gene expression in the intestinal tract mucosa, completely altering the function of the GI tract, such as nutrient absorption, energy metabolism, and intestinal barrier function. Changes in the microbiome, where beneficial bacteria is lower than the amount of harmful bacteria, may contribute to disease susceptibility and there have been several studies that link this change in microbial communities to low-grade chronic inflammation and metabolic disorders, ultimately resulting in metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes.

Probiotics may enhance the functionality of existing microbes in the gut by competition for nutrients, production of growth substrates or inhibitors and modulation of intestinal immunity.  

Probiotics on Athletic Performance?

The GI system plays an important role in an athletes ability to perform strenuous exercise and promotes early recovery. In contrast, if the GI system is compromised; this will likely impair performance and the athlete’s ability to recover quickly. Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal angina, and bloody diarrhea may result from a weakened GI system and occurs in 25-70% of endurance athletes.

 

For athletes, coaches, and exercise scientists preventing illness during competition and training is a top priority. Widespread curiosities exist on the use of probiotics to boost host resiliency to illness and how probiotics may indirectly improve athletic performance by preserving GI function, deterring immunosuppressive effects of rigorous exercise, and reduction in the likelihood of acquiring an illness. Some athletes, especially endurance athletes who participate in sports such as swimming, cycling, rowing, and triathlons, may suffer from frequent or increased incidences of upper respiratory tract illness during heavy training and competition. This is likely the result of physical and environmental stress put on the body during these times, which causes disruptions in immunity, increases in permeability of the intestinal tract, and consequentially allowing an increase in opportunity for pathogens to establish infection. Many of the changes in immunity from exercise are similar to the changes in immunity associated with other types of stress- specifically sleep deprivation, aging, and psychological stress.

With intense exercise the body reduces blood flow to the gut and directs it towards our extremities, thus resulting in oxidative stress and damage on our epithelial cells in our gut and loss of epithelial integrity. Loss of epithelial integrity is correlated with increases in intestinal inflammation, bacterial translocation, and increased GI permeability. Healthy individuals are able to manage and neutralize these negative effects without symptoms or negative consequences after strenuous exercise. However, certain individuals may have a higher vulnerability to intestinal injury and fluctuations in GI permeability based on factors such as age, being of the female sex, medications (NSAIDs mainly), anyone with limited cardiovascular and/or pulmonary capacity (COPD and heart disease, to name a few) dehydration, food intake, a hot humid environment, and type of exercise, its duration and intensity.

When it comes to professional athletes and general populations individualized training, nutrition, and supplemental strategies can be largely advantageous and used to prevent intestinal and immunity compromise during exercise.

 

Training Strategies

  • Reduction of exercise intensity to maintain heart rates below the level at which symptoms occur, either temporarily or for a longer period of time based on the individual’s outcome.
  • Another possibility is to precondition or train the gut to withstand prolonged exercise by gradually increasing intensity during a single training session, possibly creating an opportunity to establish an equilibrium that fits the altered physiological state.
  • Also increasing fluids and food intake during training, studies show that individuals experience less GI discomfort during training when they consume fluids and easily digested food in training sessions.

Nutritional Strategies

  • Avoid large meals and the intake of nutritional products that are not easily digested in the timeframe of 2-3 hours before strenuous physical activity
    • such as foods high in fiber, fat or protein
  • During exercise, easily digested carbohydrate ingestion is recommended for prolonged and intense exercise to replete glucose stores and aid in the post-exercise recovery process. However avoid hyperosmolar fluids, for instance, excessive amounts of carbohydrates like dextrose, as this has been associated with abdominal distress and diarrhea during training.
  • Intake of high fat before exercise and during is not recommended, however fat enriched nutrition ingested post-exercise may improve GI function, reduction in intestinal inflammation, permeability, and bacterial translocation.
  • Athletes personal preferences for food and fluids during training should be taken into consideration when advising
  • Adequate fluid intake is crucial for maintaining hydration and intestinal barrier function during prolonged intense activity. Fluid loss is extremely variable between individuals and should be customized individually to maintain adequate hydration before, during, and after exercise.

Supplemental Strategies

  • Avoidance of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), commonly used for pain management such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Celebrex, and Naproxen (Aleve) to name a few, as they aggravate GI distress and cause significant small intestinal injury especially during exercise. The use of NSAIDs is associated with a 3-5x greater increase in risk of upper GI complications, mucosal bleeding, or perforation when compared to no medication. If you must take this medication then avoid intense exercise until you are feeling better.
  • The use of Glutamine, arginine, citrulline, nitrite, and nitrate supplementation is beneficial in improving GI blood flow because of the increase in nitric oxide and thereby may help decrease the risk of GI injury, intestinal permeability, and inflammation.
    • Nitrate is normally ingested through green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, as well as beetroot. After ingestion, nitrate is reduced to nitrite by beneficial bacteria in our saliva and furthermore through the digestion process, nitrites are converted into nitric oxide (NO). Vitamin C and polyphenols naturally found along with green leafy vegetables and beetroot enhance the production of NO. Supplementing with beetroot juice or vegetable juice containing natural vitamin C around training shows increases in gastric blood flow, enhanced tolerance to moderate to high-intensity training, and improved time-trial performance. Conclusively, nitrate supplementation could prevent unwanted exercise related GI problems.

There is still a lot of research to be done on the effects of probiotics on athletes, however, in one study, 20 elite male runners over a 4 month period of winter training, half were given a placebo, and the other half received Lactobacillus fermentum. The athletes that received the probiotic supplement reported less than half the number of days of respiratory symptoms during the supplementation period compared to the placebo group, while illness severity was also lower in the probiotic group. In another study showing similar results, 721 healthy adults over three winter periods were given a range of probiotics with prebiotics formulations, which reduced the number of illness episodes (common cold, flu, and upper respiratory) by 30-45%, while also reducing the episode duration and severity of the illness. Substantial amounts of research indicate that probiotic bacteria have a strong innate ability to modulate various aspects of our immune system for the better, although it remains to be seen if probiotics can give an increased edge to healthy elite athletes who are on the top of their game. No matter how small of an edge they may give to athletes, the research has shown probiotics to be largely beneficial for overall health in non-athletes and general populations. The choice to use probiotic supplements should be based solely on the individual and their desired outcome.

Probiotic Killers?

 

Top 9 Probiotic killers:

  1. Overuse of prescription antibiotics
  2. Sugar
  3. GMO foods
  4. Inflammatory Gluten
  5. Emotional Stress
  6. Medications
  7. Alcohol
  8. Lack of exercise
  9. Over sanitation
  10. Smoking
  11. Poor sleep habits 

How to increase your gut health and reap the benefits of probiotics?

  Eating more sour foods like apple cider vinegar and fermented vegetables like Sauerkraut and Kimchi are naturally going to deliver several beneficial bacteria for gut health. Apple cider vinegar can even act as a prebiotic as well, feeding beneficial bacteria already living in your gut to keep them flourishing. One tablespoon twice a day to any drink of your choice is an easy way to consume apple cider vinegar or can even be used in salad dressings. Another way is to increase the amount of probiotic-rich foods into your diet such as high-quality grass-fed Greek yogurt, Kefir, and Kombucha. Additionally, eating healthy foods high in fiber like chia seeds, flaxseeds, and sweet potatoes to name a few are going to naturally boost probiotics by fueling the beneficial bacteria in your gut to keep them alive. Lastly, taking a high-quality probiotic supplement is another great way to boost the gut microbiome, but there are a few things to know before choosing one which I will go into detail below.

 

Probiotic-rich foods

  1. Kefir (Coconut kefir is a dairy free option)
  2. Cultured vegetables (Sauerkraut and Kimchi)
  3. Kombucha
  4. Yogurt
  5. Apple cider vinegar
  6. Natto
  7. Kvass
  8. Miso and Tempeh
  9. Raw dairy (unpasteurized)

Prebiotic Rich Foods

  1. Chicory root
  2. Garlic
  3. Asparagus
  4. Onions
  5. Artichokes
  6. Bananas
  7. Flaxseeds
  8. Chia seeds
  9. Pumpkin seeds 

How can you tell which supplement to buy?

 In order to choose the best probiotic supplement for you, different strains need to be taken into account. Different probiotic strains have been associated with different therapeutic properties, therefore if you are interested in taking probiotics to benefit a specific concern knowing the difference between strains and choosing the one that is right for you can possibly give a better outcome. I will include a graph below with the various probiotics and their associated therapeutic benefits. On the other hand, if you just wish to increase the diversity of your gut microbiome just for all around prevention and improving gut health eating probiotic-rich foods or consuming a highly diverse probiotic supplement may be of interest.

 

Criteria used to select a lactic acid bacteria to be used in a quality probiotic:

  • Exert beneficial effect on host
  • Must remain viable through-out shelf life of product
  • Withstand transit through the gut
  • Able to adhere to the intestinal lining and colonize the GI tract
  • Produce antimicrobial substances toward pathogens
  • Stabilize the intestinal microflora and be associated with health benefits

Criteria you should use to choose a high-quality probiotic supplement:

  1. Brand quality
    1. Look for reputable brands that do outside lab verification to prove that the supplement you are buying actually does provide what it says it should. Consumerlab.com, NSF International, U.S. Pharmacopeia, and UL have long histories of certifying supplements. However, they do not verify the supplement has therapeutic value, just verification that it contains what is advertised. Supplements brands have to pay big money to get their products verified so many do not, look for brands that do test to show transparency to consumers. Also, read reviews on their website to read other consumers history with the product.
  2. High CFU count
    1. Choose a probiotic supplement that has 15 billion to 100 billion colony forming units. The more the probiotic supplement has, the better to assure that through digestion and shelf life you are still getting a large amount of beneficial bacteria into the gut and allow them to stabilize themselves there.
  3. Survivability and strain diversity
    1. The more diverse your gut is, the healthier it is believed to be, so choosing a probiotic that has a variety of different strains, such as 10 or more is a better value. Also, choosing a supplement that is shelf stable and does not need to be refrigerated is also vital to the survivability once the supplement is introduced to the harsh environment of the stomach during digestion. On another note, inclusion of strains like Saccharomyces boulardii, Bacillus coagulans, B. subtillus, Lactobacillus Plantarum and other cultures allow the probiotic to make it to the gut and have the ability to adhere and mature there.
  4. Prebiotics and supplementary ingredients
    1. In order for commensal bacteria to survive and grow they need fuel known as prebiotics; therefore they should also be included in a high-quality probiotic supplement. Also, some high-quality probiotics will also include other ingredients to help support digestion and immunity, such as ginger, milk thistle, ashwagandha, and others.
  5. Living vs. dead
    1. “Live and active cultures” is important to ensure you are not buying possibly dead bacteria that will not provide the benefits you are after.

Probiotic side effects/Precautions

 Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before radically changing your diet or including supplementation. Although probiotics help with digestive health, they can cause mostly minor side effects such as upset stomach, bloating, gas, constipation, and even diarrhea in the beginning of a rigorous new change in diet and inclusion of probiotic supplementation. Therefore, if you do want to start including probiotics into your diet or supplementation into your arsenal then do so gradually over time, starting with a small dose or small inclusion of probiotic-rich foods. For instance, start with the inclusion of healthy foods like sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, and asparagus, then include Greek yogurt and kefir as tolerated, and experiment with Kombucha drinks as they are non-dairy and some contain digestive supporting ingredients like ginger to soothe unwanted symptoms. Adding in a good quality supplement can also help quicken the process if you choose to. The side effects mentioned are usually short-lived and will dissipate once you start cultivating your gut with beneficial bacteria, however always monitor along with your doctor and if unwanted symptoms continue after a few weeks, stop taking the probiotic and consult your doctor.

In very rare instances, some people who have a compromised immune system, recent surgery, acute pancreatitis, prolonged hospitalization,  or serious illness may experience more severe complications. However, this risk is very low, and no serious infections have been reported in clinical studies of general populations.

Take Away Points

  • Probiotics are beneficial bacteria commonly found in the gut microflora
  • Our gut bacteria play important roles in:
    • Regulating digestion and metabolism
    • Instructing our immune system
    • Building and maintain the gut wall from invaders and pathogens
    • Production and secretion of antimicrobial chemicals that fight off harmful invaders
    • Production of hundreds of neurochemicals the brain uses to regulate basic mental and physiological processes such as mood, memory, and learning.
  • The ratio between beneficial bacteria to harmful bacteria is crucial to our overall health. If this ratio gets out of whack, our health tends to see negative consequences as a result whether it is found locally in the gut- such as IBS or Crohn’s disease or found systemically in the body- such as psoriasis or Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Exercise can increase intestinal permeability, bacterial translocation, and intestinal inflammation. However, there are training, nutrition, and supplemental strategies that can be used to prevent unwanted consequences of intense training.
  • Ways to increase probiotics in your gut are
  • Avoid probiotic killers as much as possible- such as alcohol, NSAIDs, stress, and sugar.
  • Eat more sour and fermented foods to restore balance- such as sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and apple cider vinegar
  • Eating a diet full of healthy fiber such as sweet potatoes, asparagus, flax seeds, and garlic to help the beneficial bacteria thrive
  • Take a high-quality probiotic supplement

 

References

Consumer Reports. (2018). What ‘USP Verified’ and Other Supplement Seals Mean. [online] Available at: https://www.consumerreports.org/vitamins-supplements/what-usp-verified-and-other-supplement-seals-mean/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Dr. Axe. (2018). Probiotics Benefits, Probiotic Foods & Probiotic Supplements – Dr. Axe. [online] Available at: https://draxe.com/probiotics-benefits-foods-supplements/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Furness JB, e. (2018). Nutrient tasting and signaling mechanisms in the gut. II. The intestine as a sensory organ: neural, endocrine, and immune responses. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10564096 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Healthline. (2018). 5 Possible Side Effects of Probiotics. [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/probiotics-side-effects#section5 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Hemarajata, P. and Versalovic, J. (2012). Effects of probiotics on gut microbiota: mechanisms of intestinal immunomodulation and neuromodulation. Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology, 6(1), pp.39-51.

https://www.apa.org. (2018). That gut feeling. [online] Available at: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling.aspx [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Information, H., Statistics, H., States, D., States, D., Center, T. and Health, N. (2018). Digestive Diseases Statistics for the United States | NIDDK. [online] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/digestive-diseases#1 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

MD, A. (2018). 9 Signs You Have a Leaky Gut – Amy Myers MD. [online] Amy Myers MD. Available at: https://www.amymyersmd.com/2018/03/9-signs-you-have-leaky-gut/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

NCCIH. (2018). Probiotics. [online] Available at: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Parvez, S., Malik, K., Ah Kang, S. and Kim, H. (2006). Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 100(6), pp.1171-1185.

Reid, G. (2006). Probiotics to Prevent the Need for, and Augment the Use of, Antibiotics. Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology, 17(5), pp.291-295.

Sender, R., Fuchs, S. and Milo, R. (2016). Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body. PLOS Biology, 14(8), p.e1002533.

Ulluwishewa, D., Anderson, R., McNabb, W., Moughan, P., Wells, J. and Roy, N. (2011). Regulation of Tight Junction Permeability by Intestinal Bacteria and Dietary Components. The Journal of Nutrition, 141(5), pp.769-776.

van Wijck, K., Lenaerts, K., Grootjans, J., Wijnands, K., Poeze, M., van Loon, L., Dejong, C. and Buurman, W. (2012). Physiology and pathophysiology of splanchnic hypoperfusion and intestinal injury during exercise: strategies for evaluation and prevention. American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 303(2), pp.G155-G168.

West NP, e. (2018). Probiotics, immunity and exercise: a review. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19957873 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

 


The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Side Of Stretching

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Side Of Stretching

By Kevin Masson MSc, CSCS, CPT, USAW, FMS

 

Stretching should be a part of every person’s fitness routine. Even though most people who are into fitness know that stretching can be very beneficial, some simply don’t do it. In order to get the most benefits from stretching, it’s important to do it properly. Improper stretching at the wrong time can cause more harm than good. With that in mind, some questions about stretching arise. When should you be stretching and why? What is the difference between dynamic and static stretching?

Benefits of stretching

In order to improve the range of motion around your joints, you need to stretch your muscles. If you are constantly working out but are not working on improving the range of motion around your joints, your performance will suffer. In addition to optimizing your performance during your workouts, stretching will also improve your daily life. The better you are able to move your body, the easier your life will be. There is a quote used by the famous Gray Cook founder of the Functional Movement Screen, “Move well, then move often.” What he means by that is, we first need to have the mobility necessary to function in our daily activities, then we need to move, do it habitually in order to not be sedentary. First comes the quality of the movement then, the quantity.

Additionally, regular stretching also improves circulation. In order for your muscles to work efficiently, they need a healthy blood supply. As we all know, blood delivers nutrients to many parts of your body. Many of those nutrients are essential for keeping your body functioning properly as well as recovering from workouts. If your muscles are too tight and your circulation is hindered, your recovery time will increase. Therefore, in order to reduce the time it takes for you to recover from your challenging workouts, you need to stretch.

 

Improved posture is another benefit of stretching. If you sit a lot, you will most likely hold tension in your chest, hip flexors, neck, and shoulders. Furthermore, even if you work out often, you will experience muscle tightness if you don’t stretch enough. For example, if you are a typical gym bro, continually doing bench press, your chest will become very tight if you don’t stretch. Over time, your shoulders will become rounded because your chest will be too tight. Unnatural postural deviations, such as rounded shoulders, can cause aches and pains as well as general discomfort. Bad posture also increases your risk for injuries, especially if it is not corrected in time. Add that to a sedentary lifestyle such as working in a seated position all day, and you got yourself a recipe for disaster and future problems.

Stretching will play a part in helping you correct your posture. For example, if you stretch your hip flexors, your pelvis is less likely to be tilted forward. Similarly, if you stretch your chest muscles along with a good strength training program, you will be less likely to have rounded shoulders and it can alleviate a lot of pain occurring from bad posture.

Stretching also helps to reduce stress. Many people often hold tension in their neck and shoulders when they are stressed. Regular stretching will help relax those tense muscles. An example of that is based on yoga, by holding some poses, mixed with breathing techniques can be very relaxing, it can even become a sort of meditation, and most people swear by it.

Now that we know the benefits of stretching, we can discuss the two well-known forms of stretching that you can do. Stretching can either be static or dynamic.

Static Stretching

In general, static stretching is the most known type of stretching. Static stretching is most likely what you learned in PE at school, when a stretch is held for 10 to 40 seconds, depending on the flexibility and goals of the person who is doing the stretch. When it comes to static stretching, the goal is to hold the stretch in a challenging position without hurting yourself. Therefore, you should feel like your muscles are being stretched, but you should not feel pain. If you feel pain, then that means you are going too far at this time. Many fitness professionals consider static stretching to be an excellent way to improve flexibility. Furthermore, static stretching is considered safe. One example of a static stretch is the doorway chest stretch prescribed a lot by physical therapists to patients suffering from tight pectoral muscles.

 

Be very careful when you use static stretching. Static stretching SHOULD NOT be performed before an activity. If you do static stretching before engaging in physical activities, you are more likely to negatively impact your performance or put yourself at risk for injury. Research also shows that static stretching may inhibit the CNS (central nervous system), potentially making us weaker or less able to perform with power. Therefore, the best time for static stretching is after your workout, or even better in a session by itself. Your muscles have to be warmed up prior to static stretching. Stretching cold muscles is counterproductive and will do more harm than good.

 

Static stretching can also be done passively where a coach or partner will stretch the individual to their maximum range of motion and hold the stretch there for 30 seconds. This can be done a few times to stretch the muscle, but an even better way to increase range of motion is to use a method called PNF stretching.  It stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. PNF stretching usually employs the use of a partner to provide resistance against the isometric contraction and then later to passively take the joint through its increased range of motion. Research shows that PNF is the golden standard if an increased range of motion is the goal.

Dynamic Stretching

Contrary to static stretching, dynamic stretching is when you repeatedly move through the joint’s full range of motion. Dynamic stretching should be challenging, controlled and smooth. Many fitness professionals and coaches believe that dynamic stretching is more beneficial than static stretching. This is also backed up by research that shows dynamic stretching done during warm-up is advantageous to the athlete.

 

Another benefit to dynamic stretches is that they are very similar to the movements that are actually performed during an activity. Therefore, dynamic stretches make sense to be part of a warm-up routine.  Many professional athletes use dynamic stretches in their warm-ups. For example, performing some bodyweight lunges will target the glutes and leg muscles, creating blood flow and muscle activation for the activity that will come next. Coaches love to mix in some mobility in their dynamic stretching warm-up routine, and one way to do it is by incorporating some animal flow.

If you have never heard or done animal flow before I highly recommend you try it. I personally like it as a warm-up, but this could easily be done as an all-body mobility workout.

 

Please note that there is a big difference between dynamic stretching and ballistic stretching. Although they both involve movements, ballistic stretching involves rapid, often uncontrolled movements, forcing your muscles and joints to move beyond their range of motion. Ballistic stretching should not be mistaken for dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching is definitely far safer. Furthermore, it allows for a more gradual approach to improving your range of motion, as opposed to ballistic stretching, which can shock your muscles.

To summarize, stretching should be part of everyone’s fitness regimen. There are many benefits to stretching, including: stress reduction, improvement in performance, increase in flexibility, improvement in circulation as well as injury prevention. Every routine should include a combination of static and dynamic stretches. Static stretches require you to hold a position for a set amount of time. Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, require you to move through the full range of motion. It is imperative to only do static stretches after your muscles have already been warmed up. Therefore, static stretches should not be done before engaging in physical activity. Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, are safe to do before your activity as part of your warm-up routine. Regular stretching, when done correctly and at the appropriate times, can make a vastly positive impact on your performance and health.

Take away points

  • Stretching is great to decrease potential injury by increasing muscle range of motion.
  • Stretching promotes warm-up and recovery by increasing blood flow to the muscles
  • It decreases pain and improves posture especially for desk jockey and sedentary people suffering from bad posture.
  • Static stretching should be done only when the muscle is already warmed-up, after training or on a session of itself.
  • PNF Stretching is the best stretch you can do to increase range of motion.
  • Dynamic stretching is a stretch done by actively taking the joint through its full range of motion.
  • Dynamic stretching should be part of your warm-up routine.
  • Ballistic stretching is NOT dynamic stretching and should not be confused.

 

 

References

Behm, D.G. 2011. A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Sports. Eur J appl Physiol/ 111 (11): 2633-51

Andersson B. 2000. Stretching: 20thanniversary. Bolinas, CA: Shelter

https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/nsca-coach/influence-of-static-stretching/