Beneficial bacterica are important for a healthy digestive tract.
An interview with Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D.
The former senior research scientist at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, Jeffrey Bland is the founder of HealthComm International, a research and development company in the field of functional medicine. His most recent book is The 20-Day Rejuvenation Diet Program with Sara Benum (Keats 1996).
Herbs for Health—Why did you decide to write The 20-Day Rejuvenation Diet Program?
Jeffrey Bland—During the past ten years, I’ve worked with more than 25,000 health practitioners to develop nutritional programs for their severely ill patients. Over the years, many doctors have requested such programs for patients who have chronic complaints that can be helped through diet, such as fatigue, digestive problems, and food allergies.
HH—How do nutritional supplements help us maintain good health?
JB—Along with a good diet, a combination of high-potency multivitamins and minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and herbal supplements can combat oxidative stress on the body.
HH—What is oxidative stress?
JB—Oxidative stress occurs when harmful forms of oxygen increase in the body. While oxygen is essential for life, oxygen molecules with an unpaired electron scavenge other molecules, damaging our health. These bad forms of oxygen—such as hydrogen peroxide—are manufactured in the body following exposure to radiation, pollution, viruses, medication, alcohol, cigarettes, heavy exercise, and stress. Antioxidants detoxify the damaging forms of oxygen. Some antioxidants are manufactured in the body while others come from the foods we eat.
HH—What role do phytonutrients play in the rejuvenation program?
JB—“Phyto” is Greek, meaning “plant”. Plant-derived nutrients are used by plants to hold cell walls together, produce coloration, act as hormones or chemical messengers, defend against harmful insects, and attract pollinating insects. In humans, phytonutrients can help protect us against disease by strengthening the immune system, fighting cell oxidation, and detoxifying the body.
HH—What is an example of a phytonutrient?
JB—There are thousands of phytonutrients, and many more have yet to be isolated and analyzed. There also are different families and classes of phytonutrients such as isoflavones, which are found in soy and can influence the normalization of hormones in humans. Broccoli and cauliflower contain phytonutrients called glucosinolates, which can influence how the liver detoxifies foreign substances. Some carotenoids found in red-orange fruits and vegetables are antioxidants. Lutein, another carotenoid, may help protect against macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in the United States). Other phytonutrient families include lignans, flavonoids, polyphenols, terpenes, amino acids, and peptides. Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and turnips, soy, dark green leafy vegetables, red-orange fruits and vegetables, citrus fruits, and garlic all contain high levels of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients support proper endocrine function and help defend against toxic substances associated with increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
HH—Are all phytonutrients antioxidants?
JB—One category of phytonutrients is antioxidant. Many phytonutrients have other effects, such as lignans from flax that act as regulators of mucosal growth.
HH—Do you recommend phytonutrient supplements?
JB—If the ingredients are properly standardized and reflect the composition of the nutrients found in plants, they can be a helpful adjunct to a diet low in the proper nutrients. For example, a person who does not eat enough red-orange vegetables may desire more lutein to prevent senile macular degeneration, or a menopausal woman may want more isoflavones from soy to normalize her estrogen levels. In specific cases, phytonutrients are helpful.
HH—How do people discover the phytonutrients that are best for them?
JB—A health practitioner can conduct tests to evaluate a patient’s nutritional needs.
HH—In your book, you refer to people as biochemically unique. What does that mean?
JB—Each person has different nutritional needs that are far more diverse than once thought. Our needs for specific nutrients are based on individual genetic heritage, age, nutrition, environment, and activity levels. Many health practitioners have suggested diets to people only to find that certain foods, such as wheat and dairy products, produced adverse effects in some people. Extending that theory to vitamins and minerals, our research has identified several hundred genetic types who need levels of vitamins and minerals far beyond the RDA.
HH—What is the best way to take phytonutrients?
JB—First, eat a good balance of food supplying vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrient antioxidants to get the complex balance of nutrients that nature intended. To supplement the diet, I suggest a multivitamin because it imitates the blend of nutrients that a well-balanced diet offers. A blend of nutrients allows the digestive tract to select what it needs. Also, antioxidants should be in balance, and taking one without increasing others may be ineffective.
HH—What is the importance of enzymes in phytonutrients?
JB—The active ingredients in phytonutrients are not activated until joined with or broken down by an enzyme. The beneficial ingredient in garlic, allicin, for example, isn’t formed until the enzyme allinase is released through cutting or crushing and comes in contact with the compound alliin.
HH—What’s next in your research plans?
JB—We are studying digestive and immune problems to determine how various foods reduce symptoms. And we are going to work on a new version of The 20-Day Rejuvenation Diet Program for people who are not familiar with natural foods.
Intestinal fortitude: healthy digestive tracts
Elizabeth Lipski, clinical nutritionist:
Trillions of beneficial bacteria live in our digestive tracts. In return for giving them a place to live, thrive, and multiply, the bacteria produce vitamins, break down food for digestion, and discourage pathogens and parasites. Their presence provides a passive mechanism to prevent infection, but if they should be outnumbered by destructive bacteria, illnesses ranging from typhoid fever to colon cancer can result. A diet high in sugar and fat and low in essential nutrients, stress, alcohol, contaminated food and water, chronic exposure to harmful chemicals, certain medications, oral contraceptives, and malnutrition, and disorders of nutrient absorption all can destroy beneficial bacteria in the gut and allow pathogens (harmful bacteria) to proliferate.
Some alternative practitioners believe that beneficial bacteria can be encouraged by taking two kinds of supplements: probiotics, which are live beneficial bacteria in liquid, powder, or capsule form, and prebiotics, which are food sources for beneficial bacteria. (In stores, find prebiotics by looking for the word “fructooligosaccharides”, or FOS, on the label.)
Visiting the colonies
Twenty species comprise three-quarters of the bacteria in our body. Most live in the intestines and are neither harmful nor beneficial; only a small percentage provide health benefits, the two most important being species of Bifidobacterium, found in the colon, and Lactobacillus, found in the small intestine. Three species of Lactobacillus—L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, and L. thermophilus— are found in active cultures of yogurt. These two genera manufacture B-complex vitamins, as well as vitamins A and K. They create a hostile environment for pathogens such as the yeastlike fungus Candida albicans and intestinal parasites. They help break down food, maintain the pH balance in the intestines, and lower blood cholesterol.
A balancing act
When the number of beneficial bacteria drops, the environment becomes more attractive to pathogens, whose toxins can then irritate the intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream. Often, the result is diarrhea, which helps to flush out the pathogens but may cause dehydration and imbalance of dissolved minerals.
Beneficial bacteria also supports peristalsis, the normal rhythmic movement of material through the intestines, according to Tim Birdsall, a naturopathic physician and editor in chief of Alternative Medical Review. Various conditions can interfere with peristalsis, which can cause waste material to stagnate. Colon cancer has been correlated with longer-than-normal transit times of waste through the colon, he said.
Elizabeth Lipski, nutritionist and author of the book Digestive Wellness (Keats, 1996), recommends taking a billion each of L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium once a day, about one to three capsules. Lipski advises that babies and toddlers can take B. infantis to help them digest their food and help prevent diarrhea, diaper rash, eczema, and gas pains and to defend against pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli.