Tag Archives: Nutrition

Exploring nutritional factors during pregnancy and in infancy to find clues for childhood tooth decay

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Researchers from Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester Medical Center are taking a closer look at nutritional factors during pregnancy and in infancy associated with severe tooth decay in young children.

Brenda Abu, assistant professor in RIT’s Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition and a researcher in maternal and child health, is collaborating on a study to investigate the Oral Microbiome in Early Infancy (OMEI) and Nutrition. Perinatal oral health expert Dr. Jin Xiao, associate professor at the Eastman Institute for Oral Health, is leading a large project funded by the National Institutes of Health’s Dental and Craniofacial Research.

The researchers will examine relationships between perinatal nutritive behavior-;such as dietary iron intake-;and nonnutritive behavior-;such as pica-;and the oral microbiome during pregnancy and early life. Abu and Xiao will assess the impact on infants’ early-life oral yeast colonization and infection and explore microbial compositions of pica substances. A two-year $380,000 award from the NIH supports Abu’s collaboration.

Pica is the compulsive eating of items lacking nutritional value. The behavior occurs most often in women and children, and substances consumed include seemingly harmless items, such as ice, or dangerous materials, such as dried paint, clay, soil, or metal. Pica may cause infections and deplete iron stores in pregnant women. The results can be devastating on maternal health and fetal development and carry long-lasting consequences, according to Abu.

People who have iron deficiency crave the taste and smell of non-food substances that make iron deficiency worse. Pregnant women who develop iron deficiency anemia have increased risk of miscarriages, low-birthweight babies, and other poor-birth outcomes.”

Brenda Abu, Assistant Professor, RIT’s Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition

Other risk factors revealed from this study could inform prenatal counseling for underserved women and predict and prevent “Early Childhood Caries,” or severe tooth decay in young children. Xiao’s research among underserved racial and ethnic minority groups has shown that the presence of certain bacteria and yeast in the mother’s mouth increases the child’s likelihood of developing the condition.

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“The OMEI + Nutrition is the first study that examines the relationship between nutritive and nonnutritive factors on perinatal oral microbiome among underserved U.S. pregnant women and their children,” said Dr. Xiao. “The data generated will strengthen the understanding of children’s oral microbiome development and their association to tooth decay.”

Abu’s collaboration with Xiao and other URMC researchers began with an earlier study assessing pica practice, oral health, and oral microbiome during pregnancy. The NIH award supports Abu’s career development and complements her international research focused on micronutrient nutrition and consequences among women and children living in Ghana. Findings from the current study exploring maternal nutrition and the oral microbiome in early infancy will influence the scope of Abu’s international research.

“With my training and expertise in nutrition, my long-term career goal is to bridge gaps in nutritional and oral research and generate groundbreaking interventions for early warning, early detections, and prevention of oral disease and iron deficiency among underserved mothers and young children,” Abu said.

Dr. Eli Eliav, professor and director of the UR’s Eastman Institute for Oral Health, is the adviser for the OMEI + Nutrition research. UR team members who will play key roles on the project include Steven Gill, professor of microbiology and immunology; Tong Tong Wu, associate professor of biostatistics and computational biology; and Dr. Kevin Fiscella, professor of family medicine. The entire team is listed online.

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From Kombucha to Kimchi: Unveiling the Best Fermented Foods for Boosting Brain Health

A study on the effects of fermented foods on brain health has revealed that nearly all of the 200 fermented foods analyzed showed potential for improving gut and brain health. Fermented sugar-based and vegetable-based products demonstrated the most significant benefits, with further research planned to determine the specific effects of these foods on the brain.

Many countries around the world have their own staple fermented foods which are ingrained into culture and diet. It can’t be a coincidence that this has happened again and again. It seems logical that fermented foods offer more than a method of preservation.

Diet can hugely impact your mental health and previous research has shown that some foods are particularly good at positively impacting your brain. Fermented foods are a source of tryptophan, an amino acid key to the production of serotonin, a messenger in the brain which influences several aspects of brain function, including mood. The foods may also contain other brain messengers (known as neurotransmitters) in their raw form. It’s no surprise then that research has shown that eating fermented foods may have various long- and short-term impacts on brain function, such as reducing stress. But which foods have the biggest impact on brain health?

Researchers at APC Microbiome, University College Cork, and Teagasc (Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority) in Moorepark, Cork, Ireland are currently working on a large study to finally answer this question. Ramya Balasubramanian and the team at APC compared sequencing data from over 200 foods from all over the world, looking for a variety of metabolites that are known to be beneficial to brain health.

The study is still in its initial stages, but researchers are already surprised by preliminary results. Ramya explains, “I expected only a few fermented foods would show up, but out of 200 fermented foods, almost all of them showed the ability to exert some sort of potential to improve gut and brain health.” More research is needed to fully understand which groups of fermented foods have the greatest effects on the human brain, but results are showing an unexpected victor.

“Fermented sugar-based products and fermented vegetable-based products are like winning the lottery when it comes to gut and brain health,” explains Ramya.

“For all that we see on sugar-based products being demonized, fermented sugar takes the raw sugar substrate, and it converts it into a plethora of metabolites that can have a beneficial effect on the host. So even though it has the name ‘sugar’ in it, if you do a final metabolomic screen, the sugar gets used by the microbial community that’s present in the food, and they get converted into these beautiful metabolites that are ready to be cherry-picked by us for further studies.”

These further studies are what’s next for Ramya. She plans to put her top-ranked fermented foods through rigorous testing using an artificial colon and various animal models to see how these metabolites affect the brain.

Ramya hopes that the public can utilize these preliminary results and consider including fermented foods in their diet as a natural way of supporting their mental health and general well-being.

Some bacteria cells get hangry too, study finds

Have you ever been so hungry that you become angry, otherwise known as “hangry?” New research by Adam Rosenthal, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, has found that some bacteria cells get hangry too, releasing harmful toxins into our bodies and making us sick.

Rosenthal and his colleagues from Harvard, Princeton and Danisco Animal Nutrition discovered, using a recently developed technology, that genetically identical cells within a bacterial community have different functions, with some members behaving more docile and others producing the very toxins that make us feel ill.

Bacteria behave much more different than we traditionally thought. Even when we study a community of bacteria that are all genetically identical, they don’t all act the same way. We wanted to find out why.”

Adam Rosenthal, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology

The findings, published in Nature Microbiology, are particularly important in understanding how and why bacterial communities defer duties to certain cells – and could lead to new ways to tackle antibiotic tolerance further down the line.

Rosenthal decided to take a closer look into why some cells act as “well-behaved citizens” and others as “bad actors” that are tasked with releasing toxins into the environment. He selected Clostridium perfringens – a rod-shaped bacterium that can be found in the intestinal tract of humans and other vertebrates, insects, and soil – as his microbe of study.

With the help of a device called a microfluidic droplet generator, they were able to separate, or partition, single bacterial cells into droplets to decode every single cell.

They found that the C. perfringens cells that were not producing toxins were well-fed with nutrients. On the other hand, toxin-producing C. perfringens cells appear to be lacking those crucial nutrients.

“If we give more of these nutrients,” postulated Rosenthal, “maybe we can get the toxin-producing cells to behave a little bit better.”

Researchers then exposed the bad actor cells to a substance called acetate. Their hypothesis rang true. Not only did toxin levels drop across the community, but the number of bad actors reduced as well. But in the aftermath of such astounding results, even more questions are popping up.

Now that they know that nutrients play a significant role in toxicity, Rosenthal wonders if there are particular factors found in the environment that may be ‘turning on’ toxin production in other types of infections, or if this new finding is only true for C. perfringens.

Perhaps most importantly, Rosenthal theorizes that introducing nutrients to bacteria could provide a new alternative treatment for animals and humans, alike.

For example, the model organism Clostridium perfringens is a powerful foe in the hen house. As the food industry is shifting away from the use of antibiotics, poultry are left defenseless from the rapidly spreading, fatal disease. The recent findings from Rosenthal et al. may give farmers a new tool to reduce pathogenic bacteria without the use of antibiotics.

As for us humans, there is more work to be done. Rosenthal is in the process of partnering with colleagues across UNC to apply his recent findings to tackle antibiotic tolerance. Antibiotic tolerance occurs when some bacteria are able to dodge the drug target even when the community has not evolved mutations to make all cells resistant to an antibiotic. Such tolerance can result in a less-effective treatment, but the mechanisms controlling tolerance are not well understood.

In the meantime, Rosenthal will continue to research these increasingly complex bacterial communities to better understand why they do what they do.

Journal reference:

McNulty, R., Sritharan, D., Pahng, S. H., Meisch, J. P., Liu, S., Brennan, M. A., Saxer, G., Hormoz, S., & Rosenthal, A. Z. (2023). Probe-based bacterial single-cell RNA sequencing predicts toxin regulation. Nature Microbiology. doi.org/10.1038/s41564-023-01348-4.

Top 5 Health Benefits of Cinnamon: Heart, Diabetes, Inflammation, Weight Loss, Brain

Cinnamon is a spice that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine and cooking. It is derived from the bark of several trees in the Cinnamomum family and is known for its warm, sweet flavor. In addition to its culinary uses, cinnamon is also known for its numerous health benefits. You can even find cinnamon in supplement form as capsules, often with the active molecule cinnamaldehyde in a concentrated form. In this article, you’ll learn the major ways in which cinnamon can improve your health.

Cinnamon has been shown to have a positive effect on cardiovascular health. Studies have found that it can help to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, and improve blood sugar control. One study found that consuming just 120 milligrams of cinnamon per day for 12 weeks resulted in a significant reduction in blood pressure.[1]

Cinnamon contains antioxidants that can help to protect the heart from oxidative stress, which is a major contributor to heart disease. By reducing oxidative stress, cinnamon can help to reduce inflammation in the arteries. In turn, this improves blood flow and reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Cinnamon has even been shown to reduce blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. According to a meta-analysis that synthesized the results of 10 studies, cinnamon in doses of 120 mg to 6 g per day effectively reduces fasting glucose levels in people with diabetes within 4 to 18 weeks.[2]

It works by increasing insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. With greater insulin sensitivity, the body can use insulin more effectively. This could potentially help prevent or manage diabetes.

Inflammation is a natural response of the body to injury or infection, but when it becomes chronic, it can lead to a host of health problems, including arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. Cinnamon contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to reduce inflammation in the body. Studies have shown that cinnamon can reduce the production of inflammatory molecules and inhibit the activity of inflammatory enzymes.[3]

Cinnamon can also help to reduce inflammation in the gut, which is important for maintaining gut health. By reducing inflammation in the gut, cinnamon can help to improve digestion, reduce bloating and gas, and prevent leaky gut syndrome.

Cinnamon can also help to support weight loss. By helping to regulate blood sugar levels, cinnamon can reduce cravings for sugary foods and help to prevent overeating. It can also boost your metabolism, which can help to burn more calories and promote weight loss. A meta-analysis that pooled results from 7 studies found that cinnamon supplementation reduces body weight and body mass index (BMI). It noted the results were more drastic in people who took more than 3 grams of cinnamon per day.[4]

Cinnamon has also been shown to have a positive effect on brain function. One study found that cinnamon can improve cognitive function, including memory and attention span.[5] Another study found that cinnamon can help to protect the brain against age-related decline by increasing the production of proteins that are important for brain health.[6]

Cinnamon can also help to improve mood by increasing the production of serotonin — a neurotransmitter that is important for regulating mood and preventing depression.

Cinnamon is a delicious spice that offers numerous health benefits. Whether you sprinkle it on your oatmeal, add it to your coffee, or use it in your cooking, cinnamon is a great way to give your body a boost. From improving heart health to fighting inflammation, supporting weight loss, and boosting brain function, there are many reasons to make cinnamon a part of your daily routine. Some supplements contain concentrated forms of the active molecule in a spice or herb. If you’re taking a cinnamon supplement, be sure to take no more than the amount recommended on the product’s label.


Weaponizing microbes to stave off conflicts across the globe

Microorganisms should be ‘weaponized’ to stave off conflicts across the globe, according to a team of eminent microbiologists.

The paper ‘Weaponising microbes for peace’ by Anand et al, outlines the ways in which microbes and microbial technologies can be used to tackle global and local challenges that could otherwise lead to conflict, but warns that these resources have been severely underexploited to date.

Professor Kenneth Timmis, Founding Editor of AMI journals Environmental Microbiology, Environmental Microbiology Reports and Microbial Biotechnology, says that worldwide deficits and asymmetries in basic resources and services considered to be human rights, such as drinking water, sanitation, healthy nutrition, access to basic healthcare and a clean environment, can lead to competition between peoples for limited resources, tensions, and in some cases conflicts.

There is an urgent need to reduce such deficits, to level up, and to assure provision of basic resources for all peoples. This will also remove some of the causes of conflicts. There is a wide range of powerful microbial technologies that can provide or contribute to this provision of such resources and services, but deployment of such technologies is seriously underexploited.”

Professor Kenneth Timmis, Founding Editor of AMI journals Environmental Microbiology, Environmental Microbiology Reports and Microbial Biotechnology

The paper then lists a series of ways in which microbial technologies can contribute to challenges such as food supply and security, sanitation and hygiene, healthcare, pollution, energy and heating, and mass migrations and overcrowding. For example, microbes are at the core of efforts to tackle pollution by bioremediation, replacing chemical methods of treating drinking water with metalloid conversion systems, and producing biofuels from wastes.

“There is now a desperate need for a determined effort by all relevant actors to widely deploy appropriate microbial technologies to reduce key deficits and asymmetries, particularly among the most vulnerable populations,” Professor Timmis said..

“Not only will this contribute to the improvement of humanitarian conditions and levelling up, and thereby to a reduction in tensions that may lead to conflicts, but also advance progress towards attainment of Sustainable Development Goals,” he said. .

“In this paper, we draw attention to the wide range of powerful microbial technologies that can be deployed for this purpose and how sustainability can be addressed at the same time. We must weaponise microbes for peace.”

The editorial is published in Microbial Biotechnology, an Applied Microbiology International publication, on March 7 2023.

Recommended actions to implement relevant microbial technology solutions to deficits

We need to urgently supply to communities lacking adequate levels of basic resources/services the infrastructure and know-how (capacity building), and funding for

  1. use of agrobiologics to increase crop yields, by providing green nitrogen, stimulating plant growth, and combatting pathogens and pests,

  2. exploitation of plant:microbe partnerships to improve soil health and implement regenerative agriculture,

  3. creation of nutritious fermented food from locally available crops,

  4. better use of microbes in the feed and food supply chains,

  5. production of microbial food for humans and farm animals,

  6. drinking water production and quality safeguarding,

  7. waste treatment with resource recovery,

  8. creation of modular DIY digital medical centres,

  9. production of vaccines and medicines,

  10. bioremediation and biorestoration of the environment in general and natural ecosystems in particular, to create healthier habitats and promote biodiversity

  11. reduction of greenhouse gas production and capturing carbon,

  12. production of biofuels,

  13. creation of local employment opportunities associated with the above,

  14. development of transdisciplinary approaches, using chemistry-related, computation technologies, psychology-related and other approaches that are synergistic to microbial solutions and

  15. education in societally relevant microbiology

Journal reference:

Anand, A., et al. (2023) Weaponising microbes for peace. Microbial Biotechnology. doi.org/10.1111/1751-7915.14224.

Do seasonal changes in food types lead to changes in the composition and structure of gut microbiota?

In a recent study published in the Frontiers in Microbiology, researchers assessed the impact of diet or macronutrient consumption on the function and structure of gut microbiota.

Study: Does diet or macronutrients intake drive the structure and function of gut microbiota? Image Credit: Alpha Tauri 3D Graphics/Shutterstock
Study: Does diet or macronutrients intake drive the structure and function of gut microbiota? Image Credit: Alpha Tauri 3D Graphics/Shutterstock


Shifting ingestive behavior is crucial for animals to adjust to environmental change. Studies have recognized that changes in animal feeding habits lead to gut microbiota structure alterations. However, further research is required to understand the alterations incident in the structure as well as the function of the gut microbiota that occur in response to alterations in nutrient consumption or food types.

About the study

In the present study, researchers explored how animal feeding techniques influence nutrient consumption and further affect the content and digestive function of the gut microbiota.

The study observation site was in the Guanyin Mountain National Natural Reserve in the Qinling Mountains, northwest of Fuping County, Shaanxi Province, China. During a year, this area experiences conventional and four different seasons. According to climate, the seasons are as follows: Spring between March and May, Summer between June and August, Autumn between September and November, and Winter between December and February.

The team compiled feeding information for the four seasonal groupings. For data collection, a month with typical phenological characteristics for each season: March for Spring, June for Summer, October for Autumn, and December for Winter.

All of the 78 golden snub-nosed monkeys in the study group were accustomed to the presence of researchers. The team identified both adult and young individuals in the study cohort. Due to the necessity for quantitative observational data, the natural feeding area of the study animals was restricted. The team provided five kilograms of maize twice daily at 10 am and 3 pm as supplemental nourishment for the group. The feed grounds were evenly strewn with corn kernels.

The team randomly selected one individual per day and observed the subject animal continuously from sunrise to dusk to record data related to its feeding pattern. Furthermore, the type of food, quantity, preset units, and feeding duration were recorded. After the subject had finished eating, food samples were gathered from the leftovers.

Food samples were collected using conventional procedures, their nutritional content was assessed, and their energy content was computed. The lipid, starch, water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC), acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), acid detergent lignin (ADL), ash content of each food, and available protein (AP) were evaluated.


Data related to 96 days of feeding across four months were obtained from the target population. It was discovered that the normal diet of golden snub-nosed monkeys in the wild comprised 24 plant species from 16 families. A total of six plant parts, including branches, buds, seeds, barks, leaves, and stems, were consumed by the subjects.

Throughout the year, wild snub-nosed monkeys eat 33.43% of bark, 3.09% of seed, 1.33% of bud, 3.25% of brunch, 0.17% of the stem, and 58.72% of the leaf. Nonetheless, there were significant variations in the number of plant materials consumed over the four seasons. Herbaceous stems were harvested only in tiny quantities in the Spring. Mostly, seeds were harvested in the Spring and fall. The harvesting of leaves occurred throughout the year. Throughout fall and Winter, when leaves become sparse, especially in Winter, barks, buds, and brunches were the principal sources of nutrition.

The species composition was evaluated to explore seasonal changes in gut microbiota in greater depth. Species annotation revealed that most OTUs could be assigned taxonomically at the phylum and order levels, but assignments reduced dramatically at the genus level.

The top 10 phyla out of 38 phyla recognized dominant phyla, including Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Spirochaetes, Proteobacteria, Tenericutes, Planctomycetes, Verrucomicrobia, Epsilonbacteriaeota, Euryarchaeota, and Fibrobacteres comprised 99% of the total abundance ratio. They comprised the majority of the golden snub-nosed monkeys’ gut microbiome.

Three hundred ninety-five metabolic pathways were found based on the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) database’s function prediction. Gut microbes were primarily engaged in the metabolism of nucleotides, carbohydrates, glycans and their production, amino acids, terpenoids, lipids, cofactors, polyketides, and vitamins.

Moreover, some annotated functions pertaining to macronutrients exhibited relatively high abundance, including glycolysis/gluconeogenesis, pyruvate metabolism, sucrose and starch metabolism, glycerolipid metabolism, fatty acid synthesis in lipid metabolism, and pentose phosphate pathway in glycerophospholipid metabolism and carbohydrate metabolism.


The study findings showed a considerable seasonal change in the food consumption and nutritional intake of golden snub-nosed monkeys, with three macronutrients being higher in Autumn and Summer and lower in Winter and Spring. Seasonal dietary changes are the primary source of seasonal shifts in gut microbiota. The results indicated that bacteria in the gut compensate for inadequate macronutrient intake through microbial metabolic functions.

Journal reference:

Study Finds Omega-3 May Be Protective Against COVID-19 Infection

Omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, might be protective against contracting and/or suffering adverse outcomes of COVID-19 infection.

A study just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) explored the role of omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, and whether they might be protective against contracting and/or suffering adverse outcomes of COVID-19 infection.

The study compared the risk for three COVID-19 outcomes: 1-testing positive, 2-hospitalization, and 3-death as a function of baseline plasma DHA levels.

DHA levels (% of total fatty acids) were measured by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy but were converted to Omega-3 Index (red blood cell EPA+DHA%) for this analysis. The three outcomes and relevant covariates were available for 110,584 subjects (hospitalization and death) and for 26,595 ever-tested subjects (positive COVID-19 PCR test result) via the UK Biobank prospective cohort study. These COVID-19 outcomes were assessed between January 2020 and March 2021.

In the fully adjusted models, subjects in quintile 5 (with the highest Omega-3 Index levels) were 21% less likely to test positive than those in quintile 1, and the risk for a positive test was 8% lower for each 1-SD (standard deviation) increase in plasma DHA%. Quintile 5 subjects were also 26% less likely to be hospitalized than those in quintile 1, and risk for hospitalization was 11% lower per 1-SD increase in DHA%.

For death with COVID-19, risk was monotonically lower through quintile 4, but in quintile 5, the risk reduction was partially attenuated and became non-significant. Estimated Omega-3 Index values across the five DHA quintiles ranged from 3.5% (quintile 1) to 8% (quintile 5).

“These values comport well with the Omega-3 Index risk cut points [originally proposed in 2004 for death from cardiovascular disease] of <4% (high risk) and >8% (low risk) and imply that these target levels apply to COVID-19 outcomes as well,” researchers noted in their paper.

The investigators also point out that South Korea and Japan have reported an extremely low severity of COVID-19 disease and that although masking practices, social distancing policies and other population-wide interventions no doubt contributed to this, it is interesting to note that the Omega-3 Index values of healthy South Korean and Japanese individuals are about 8-12% and 7–11% respectively, which is much higher compared to an Omega-3 Index of 4-5% in Western populations such as the United States.

“A worldwide pattern linking higher omega-3 fatty acid intakes with lower rates of death with COVID-19 was documented by Vivar-Sierra et al. Although only suggestive, this observation adds further support for a potential role of omega-3s EPA and DHA in the prevention of fatal COVID-19 disease,” the researchers said.

“This study confirms previous findings that low omega-3 status is associated with increased risk for hospitalization with COVID-19. We extended these findings by also showing reduced risk for testing positive with the infection and by providing evidence that the risk for death may also be reduced,” said Dr. William S. Harris, PhD, FASN, President, Fatty Acid Research Institute (FARI). “Furthermore, we identified the Omega-3 Index levels associated with the least (<4%) and greatest (>8%) protection from COVID-19. Altogether these results support the practice of increasing consumption of oily fish like salmon or omega-3 fish oil supplements as a potential risk reduction strategy when it comes to COVID-19.”

Dr. Philip Calder, who wrote an editorial accompanying this publication, said these findings suggest that consuming more long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) should be encouraged as a strategy to reduce the impact of the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and of future respiratory virus infection outbreaks. Dr. Calder, BSc(Hons), PhD, DPhil, RNutr, FSB, FAfN, is Professor of Nutritional Immunology within Medicine at the University of Southampton, UK.


“Association between blood N-3 fatty acid levels and the risk of coronavirus disease 2019 in the UK Biobank” by William S. Harris, Nathan L. Tintle, Swaminathan Perinkulam Sathyanarayanan and Jason Westra, 28 February 2023, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ajcnut.2022.11.011

“Bioactive omega-3 fatty acids are associated with reduced risk and severity of SARS-CoV-2 infection” by Philip C. Calder, 28 February 2023, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ajcnut.2022.12.007

Mushrooms are part of the world of fungi, and while they are often thought of as plants, they …

Mushrooms are part of the world of fungi, and while they are often thought of as plants, they are in a class by themselves. Some mushrooms have more in common with animals than plants, such as a cholesterol-like molecule called ergosterol, and mushrooms have been called a “third food kingdom.” Edible fungi have been eaten in many cultures throughout history, which valued mushrooms for various reasons. Many edible mushrooms contain valuable nutrients including vitamin B6, selenium, potassium, and zinc. Other ‘poisonous’ mushrooms have psychoactive effects. Some studies have suggested that mushrooms have health benefits, like lowering high blood pressure, boosting immunity, keeping the heart healthy, and protecting the brain.

Researchers found lion's mane mushroom improved brain cell growth and memory in pre-clinical trials. Image credit: UQ

Now a study reported in the Journal of Neuroscience has identified a compound in a type of fungi called lion’s mane mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus) that can promote nerve growth and may enhance memory.

While traditional Asian medicine has relied on lion’s mane mushroom extracts for centuries, noted Professor Frederic Meunier of the Queensland Brain Institute, the study authors wanted to use a scientific approach to examine the potential impact these extracts have on brain cells.

Pre-clinical tests have suggested that lion’s mane mushrooms can improve memory and brain cell growth significantly. This study used neurons growing in culture to assess the effects of compounds that were isolated from those mushrooms. Active compounds were found to promote the extension of neuronal projections, noted Meunier, the corresponding study author.

“Using super-resolution microscopy, we found the mushroom extract and its active components largely increase the size of growth cones, which are particularly important for brain cells to sense their environment and establish new connections with other neurons in the brain,” said Meunier.

The study authors were aiming to find bioactive compounds in nature that are able to reach the brain, a sensitive organ that is protected by the selective blood-brain barrier, and influence neuronal growth and memory formation. These findings potentially have applications for the prevention or treatment of neurodegenerative diseases that affect cognition and memory, like Alzheimer’s disease, added study co-author Dr. Ramon Martinez-Marmol of the University of Queensland.

Sources: University of Queensland, Journal of Neuroscience

Carmen Leitch

Just a Teaspoon: Adding Herbs and Spices to Your Diet Could Improve Gut Health

Two recent studies suggest that incorporating peanuts and herbs and spices into one’s diet can lead to an increase in the abundance of gut bacteria linked to improved health.

According to new research from Penn State, consuming a daily ounce of peanuts or a teaspoon of herbs and spices may improve the composition of gut bacteria, which is an indicator of overall health. Two separate studies conducted by nutritional scientists revealed positive effects on the gut microbiome as a result of small changes to the average American diet.

The gut microbiome is a vast community of microorganisms that reside in the human intestinal tract. Comprising trillions of bacteria, it plays a crucial role in regulating various bodily systems, such as metabolism and the immune system.

“Research has shown that people who have a lot of different microbes have better health, and a better diet, than those who don’t have much bacterial diversity,” said Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Evan Pugh University Professor of Nutritional Sciences, Penn State.

For the peanut study, which was published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, Kris-Etherton and her colleagues compared the effects of snacking on 28 grams (approx. 1 ounce) of peanuts per day, versus a higher carbohydrate snack—crackers and cheese. At the end of six weeks, participants who ate the peanut snack showed an increased abundance of Ruminococcaceae, a group of bacteria linked to healthy liver metabolism and immune function.

In the herbs and spices study, which was published in The Journal of Nutrition, scientists analyzed the impact of adding blends of herbs and spices — such as cinnamon, ginger, cumin, turmeric, rosemary, oregano, basil, and thyme — to the controlled diets of participants at risk for cardiovascular disease. The team examined three doses — about 1/8 teaspoon per day, a little more than 3/4 teaspoon per day, and about 1 1/2 teaspoon per day. At the end of four weeks, participants showed an increase in gut bacteria diversity, including an increase in Ruminococcaceae, most notably with the medium and high doses of herbs and spices.

“It’s such a simple thing that people can do,” said Kris-Etherton. “The average American diet is far from ideal, so I think everyone could benefit by adding herbs and spices. It’s also a way of decreasing sodium in your diet but flavoring foods in a way that makes them palatable and, in fact, delicious! Taste is really a top criterion for why people choose the foods they do.”

In both studies, the increase in Ruminococcaceae and bacterial diversity was viewed positively, as scientists continue to learn more about the connection between the gut microbiota and a spectrum of health factors, from blood pressure to weight. However, Kris-Etherton is quick to point out that more research is needed to understand all of the implications.

She said, “We need a lot more research on the microbiome to see what its proper place is in terms of overall health.”

References: “Peanuts as a nighttime snack enrich butyrate-producing bacteria compared to an isocaloric lower-fat higher-carbohydrate snack in adults with elevated fasting glucose: A randomized crossover trial” by Philip A. Sapp, Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Elke A. Arnesen, Jeremy R. Chen See, Regina Lamendella and Kristina S. Petersen, 13 August 2022, Clinical Nutrition.
DOI: 10.1016/j.clnu.2022.08.004

The work was supported by The Peanut Institute and Penn State’s Clinical & Translational Research Institute. This research was also supported by a grant to Juniata College from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program, as well as by the National Science Foundation.

“Herbs and Spices Modulate Gut Bacterial Composition in Adults at Risk for CVD: Results of a Prespecified Exploratory Analysis from a Randomized, Crossover, Controlled-Feeding Study” by Kristina S Petersen, Samantha Anderson, Jeremy R Chen See, Jillian Leister, Penny M Kris-Etherton and Regina Lamendella, 2 September 2022, The Journal of Nutrition.
DOI: 10.1093/jn/nxac201

This study was funded by the McCormick Science Institute. In addition, the study was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, NIH. The study also received support for computational resources from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program, as well as the National Science Foundation.

Gut bacterial community found to be less diverse in people with irritable bowel syndrome

People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have lower bacterial diversity in the intestine than do healthy people, according to a team of Korean investigators. The investigators believe that theirs is the first analysis to find a clear association between IBS and reduced diversity in the microbiota of the gut. The research appears in Microbiology Spectrum, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

Normally, “More than 10,000 species of microorganism live in the human intestine,” said corresponding author Jung Ok Shim, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, Department of Pediatrics, Korea University College of Medicine, Seoul. Disruption of the microbiome of the human gastrointestinal tract can trigger IBS. Typically, IBS causes bloating, diarrhea, and stomach pain or cramps.

Previous studies of gut bacteria in patients with IBS have been controversial, with inconsistent results, due to small sample size and lack of consistent analytical methods used among these studies, said Shim. The investigators combined their own dataset with 9 published, shared datasets, encompassing 576 IBS patients and 487 healthy controls, analyzing them with a “unified data processing and analytical method.”

The researchers found that the gut bacterial community is less diverse in IBS patients than in healthy people, said Shim. Additionally, the abundance of 21 bacterial species differed between IBS patients and healthy controls. However, the findings were not statistically significant in the pediatric cohort due to small sample size.

The investigators proved that the disturbed gut bacterial community “is associated with IBS, though this does not mean that the relationship is causal,” said Shim. “Functional studies are needed to prove whether the change in gut micro-organisms contributes to development of IBS.”

Even though IBS is a common disorder, its pathogenesis remains unknown, and as yet there is no effective treatment strategy. “Based on the epidemiological studies of IBS patients, altered gut microbiota was proposed as one of the possible causes of IBS,” the researchers write. “Acute bacterial gastroenteritis can cause chronic, asymptomatic, low-grade intestinal wall inflammation sufficient to alter neuromuscular and epithelial cell function.”

Journal reference:

Kim, G-H., et al. (2023) Gut Bacterial Dysbiosis in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: a Case-Control Study and a Cross-Cohort Analysis Using Publicly Available Data Sets. Microbiology Spectrum. doi.org/10.1128/spectrum.02125-22.