Tag Archives: probiotics

Animal fibre

Fruits and veggies, fermented or otherwise, aren’t the only source of prebiotics in your diet.  Eat a whole sardine and some of the ligaments, tendons, bones, and cartilage will surely escape digestion to reach the distal intestine where they will be fermented by the resident microbes.  


Salmon skin and the collagen in its flesh, the tendons that hold rib meat to the bone, and maybe even some of the ligaments between chicken bones.  All of these are potential prebiotics or “animal fibres.”  And it may explain why fermented sausages are such good vessels for probiotics.

“Animal prebiotic” may be a more appropriate term because the food matrix is quite different from that of non-digestible plant polysaccharides.  And while I doubt those following carnivorous diets are dining exclusively on steak, these studies suggest it might be particularly important to eat a variety of animal products (as well as greens, nuts, dark chocolate, fermented foods, etc.) in order to optimize gut health.


These studies are about the prebiotics in a cheetah’s diet.  Cheetah’s are carnivores, and as such, they dine on rabbits, not rabbit food.


As somewhat of a proof of concept study, Depauw and colleagues tried fermenting a variety of relatively non-digestible animal parts with cheetah fecal microbes (2012).  Many of the substrates are things that are likely present in our diet (whether we know it or not).


Collagen (tendons, ligaments, skin, cartilage, bones, etc.)

Glucosamine-chondroitin (cartilage)

Glucosamine (chitin from shrimp exoskeleton? exo bars made with cricket flour?)

Rabbit bone, hair, and skin (Chicken McNuggets?)

Depauw ferments

The positive control, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), was clearly the most fermentable substrate; however, glucosamine and chondroitin weren’t too far behind.  Chicken cartilage and collagen were also well above the negative control (cellulose).  Rabbit skin, hair, and bone weren’t particularly good substrates.

As to fermentation products, collagen, glucosamine, and chondroitin were actually on par with FOS in terms of butyrate production:

Depauw SCFAs

Glycosaminoglycans (glucosamine and chondroitin) are found in cartilage and connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) and may have been mediating some of these effects as they’re some of the carbiest parts of animal products.  Duck Dodgers wrote about this in a guest post at FTA and in the comments of Norm Robillard’s article (probably elsewhere, too); very interesting stuff.

The authors also mentioned that the different fermentation rates in the first few hours suggests an adaptive component (some took a while to get going), or that certain substrates induced the proliferation of specific microbes.  “Animal prebiotics.”

Depauw close up

This is particularly noticeable for FOS (solid line), which is a plant fibre that wouldn’t really be present at high levels in a cheetah’s diet, so the microbes necessary to ferment it were probably not very abundant (initially).  Chicken cartilage (long dashes), on the other hand, started immediately rapidly fermenting, perhaps because this is more abundant in the cheetah’s diet.

Depauw took this a step further and fed cheetahs either exclusively beef or whole rabbit for a month (2013). Presumably, the beef had much less animal fibre than whole rabbit.  When they initially examined fecal short chain fatty acids, there were no major differences between the groups:

SCFAs per gram

However, if you take into consideration that the whole rabbit-fed cheetahs produced over 50% more crap than meat-fed cheetahs, then some other differences become apparent.  For example, the concentration of total SCFAs is actually greater in the feces from whole rabbit-fed cheetahs:

updated table

edit: la Frite pointed out that the table in the original manuscript is incorrect; the total SCFA numbers are reversed. The excel table above is corrected.

Further, the mere fact that there was 50% more fecal mass per day pretty much confirms way more animal fibre in whole rabbits.  And while neither of these studies were accompanied by microbial analysis, a more recent study on cheetahs fed primarily meat, “randomly interspersed with unsupplemented whole rabbits,” showed low levels of Bacteroidetes and Bifidobacteria, two potentially health-promoting groups of microbes (Becker et al., 2014).  I suspect this may have been at least partially due to a relative lack of animal fibre, compared to the Depauw’s exclusive whole rabbit diet.

Human digestive physiology and gut microbes are certainly far different from that of a cheetah, but maybe we too receive some prebiotic benefits from these animal fibres… just something to think about next time you’re eating sardines or pork ribs.

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Fermented meat & probiotics

From Slate: “Sausage made with bacteria from baby poop isn’t as gross as it sounds.” 

and my favorite: “Pooperoni? Baby-poop bacteria help make healthy sausages.

Much ado about: Nutritionally enhanced fermented sausages as a vehicle for potential probiotic lactobacilli delivery (Rubio et al., 2014)

The media seems to have missed the ball, but not by far.  They focused on healthy microbes being incorporated into fermented meats, whereas the scientists seemed to want to make a “healthier” low-salt, low-fat sausage.

The low-salt part seems to partially make sense from a fermentation-perspective: using probiotics instead of salt to reduce the potential for pathogenic microbial contamination.  However, I doubt reducing the sodium by 25% will have any appreciable impact on health outcomes.  The effect of adding beneficial microbes, on the other hand, might.

They also mentioned making it lower in fat, but that doesn’t make as much sense; I don’t think there’s a big contamination risk of having a higher fat content.  #lipophobia

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Gut microbiome & short-chain fatty acids: resistant starch vs. prebiotics

Bifidobacteria undoubtedly like resistant starch (RS).  They bind and hold on tight, an effect mediated by cell surface proteins.  Big thanks to Tim Steele for passing along many of the studies cited here.  One of said studies showed that treatment of bifidobacteria with proteases abolished the RS binding; but even dead critters would bind if their cell surface proteins were intact (Crittenden et al., 2007).  

I suspect fermented foods have this all figured out.  The microbes in sauerkraut are going to be embedded in & all around the cabbage polysaccharides; likely protected from digestive enzymes (to a degree) and holding on tight.

Something similar has been shown for galactooligosaccharides (GOS) (Shoaf et al., 2006).  In this study, GOS, but not a variety of other fibres, inhibited the binding of pathogenic gut microbes to intestinal epithelial cells.

These mechanisms are likely not mutually exclusive, and both seem like they could benefit the host (us).

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Guts ‘n GOS, Op. 142

Part 1.  Guts

Nice review article about the great diversity of carbohydrate-modified diets used in the treatment of gastroin-testiness.

Short-chain carbohydrates and functional gastrointestinal disorders (Shepherd, Lomer, and Gibson 2013)

this handy table:
handy table

the full version (click to enlarge, print, and use as a cheat sheet):full table

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Dark chocolate meets probiotics; the bifidobacteriomance continues

or the next big thing in functional foods, Op. 84

Altered gut bacteria can cause a whole host of problems, anywhere from depression and fatigue to ADHD and heartburn.  Thus, while running my daily search for “bifidobacteria,” I happened across these little goodies: 

The Attune Foods Dark Chocolate Probiotic Bar.  Combining probiotics (e.g., bifidobacteria, acidophilus, etc.) with chocolate?!  And with 68% cocoa, I’d expect this bar to deliver at least some of the benefits of dark chocolate (e.g., improved insulin sensitivity). They’re gluten-free and even contain inulin! (my second favorite bifidogenic prebiotic.)

And it packs a big, or rather huge, probiotic punch (6.1 billion B. lactis HN019, L. acidophilus NCFM, & L. casei LC-11).  Attune loses a little cred by trying to disguise their sugar as “evaporated cane juice,” like it’s something inherently healthier than plain old sugar… just like all-natural agave syrup, honey, and organic coconut blossom sugar.  just own it for crying out loud.  On the other hand, at only 6 grams, the sugar in Attune’s bar is harmless especially in the context of the high cocoa content, inclusion of inulin, and whopping dose of probiotics.

But, chocolate & probiotics?  Alas, the curiousity bug had bitten.

Apparently, a lot of companies think dark chocolate is a good vehicle for probiotic delivery.

GI Health’s Probiotic Chocolate is gluten-free and contains a half billion L. helveticus R0052 and B. longum R0175 per serving.  A half-billion is low by conventional standards*, but such standards might be irrelevant if the delivery vehicle (i.e., chocolate) is superior.

*Most probiotic products are rated (by me) by the number of live bacteria per serving, or “colony forming units (cfu).”  This is usually in the billions because most die in transit, thus the importance of the delivery method.  Yogurt and apparently now chocolate seem to be good delivery vehicles, however, yogurt and most probiotic pills require refrigeration; these chocolate products do not.  And neither do Nature’s Way Probifia Pearls, although they are the only pill that doesn’t (I suspect alien technology).

gimme Probiotics Dark Chocolate Candies, Youngevity Triple Treat; the list goes on and on.  Apparently, I was late to the game… (expect to see these in your local grocer soon.)

Enough shameless promotion, what about the data?

Possemiers (2010) set out to test how well probiotics survived in a robot gut simulator when mixed in chocolate.  1 billion L. helveticus CNCM I-1722 and B. longum CNCM I-3470 were mixed with either chocolate or milk.  An astounding 85% of the probiotics survived when administered in chocolate compared to only 25% with milk.  FYI the study was funded by Barry Callebaut, a fancy Belgian chocolate maker who is currently developing their own line of probiotic chocolates … it’s not a conflict of interest, it’s what companies should be doing IMO (while an independent third party would be optimal, any data are better than none).  I have no idea how well their robot gut simulator emulates actual human digestion, but these results suggest that chocolate is [at least] potentially a good candidate to deliver probiotics.

An additional benefit of loading probiotics into chocolate is that cocoa itself can function as a prebiotic.  Tzounis (2011) gave real-life live humans cocoa every day for 4 weeks and showed that bifidobacteria increased dramatically.  These findings were confirmed by Fogliano (2011), who showed (via another robotic gut simulator) that water-insoluble cocoa fractions (e.g., cocoa fiber) alone markedly stimulated the growth of bifidobacteria.

So: 1) chocolate is a good vehicle to deliver exogenous bifidobacteria; and 2) cocoa promotes the growth of endogenous bifidobacteria.  win-win.

Why is this relevant?  because probiotics by themselves don’t survive the trip!  They die off somewhere between the factory and your large intestine.  In a study by Prilassnig (2007), 7 people were fed one of 6 different commercially available probiotics for a week.  2 of the products contained bifidobacteria, Omniflora and Infloran.  None of the bifido in Omniflora survived in any of the volunteers, and the bifido in Infloran was detectable in only 1 out of 4.  Feeling lucky?

Thus, chocolate may be not only viable, but an optimal way to administer probiotics.  The bifidobacteria can feed on the cocoa while in transit (from the factory to your cupboard to your bowels), and the cocoa can directly stimulate them along with your native gut flora.

And chocolate with GOS?!  according to Davis (2010), chocolates enriched with 10 grams of GOS increased endogenous bifidobacteria a whopping 3-fold.

Formula for the healthiest chocolate on Earth? >70% cocoa, a billion bifidobacteria, and a few grams of GOS… don’t get your hopes up, however, this won’t likely be made any time soon.  Despite all of the data showing the remarkable health-promoting properties of GOS, it’s still not widely commercially available.  In the meantime, Attune’s use of inulin will have to suffice.


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taking the fun out of FODMAPs

bring a gun to a knife fight, part II: why “oligosaccharides” are the odd-man out.

The “O” in FODMAPs refers to “oligosaccharides” and includes a very important group of gut-friendly nutrients: prebiotics.  While some specific oligosaccharides are problematic, others are highly beneficial.

The good guys: isomalto-oligosaccharides (MOS), inulin and FOS, and galactooligosaccharides (GOS).  These nutrients stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria (bifidobacteria), alleviate gastrointestinal distress, and promote overall well-being.  These are all oligosaccharides, which are unfortunately excluded from the low FODMAPs diet.

support for the above claims:

MOS: Yen et al., (2011)

FOS: Costabile et al., (2012)

GOS: Walton et al., (2012)

Yen showed that at doses of 11 – 22 grams of MOS increased both bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, and improved gut symptoms in a dose-dependent manner.  Similar symptomatic improvements were seen by Chen et al. (2001) with 10 grams MOS per day.  MOS are rarely found in the diet but are present in physiologically relevant doses in Quest Protein Bars.

Inulin is a more complex version of FOS and the form found in the diet (garlic, onions, endive, etc.).  In 1995, Gibson and colleagues showed that both inulin and FOS were roughly equivalent in efficacy: 15 grams of either one increased bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.  Later, Menne et al. (2000) showed that as little as 8 grams of inulin per day increased both bifidobacteria and lactobacilli (moreso than 22 grams of MOS) with a greater effect on the former.  And Kleeson (1997) showed that up to 40 grams was even more effective and was relatively well-tolerated (confirming my suspicion that not all oligosaccharides are created equal…).  Both NOW Foods and Jarrow make high quality inulin/FOS supplements.

Overall, GOS is the most promising.  Depeint and colleagues (2008) showed that 3-7 grams of GOS per day for a week caused a huge and selective increase in bifidobacteria in healthy adults.  Silk (2009) showed even greater benefits in IBS patients.  IBS patients usually exhibit some degree of dysbiosis; indeed, while it isn’t a perfect comparison, Depeint’s healthy subjects had 10 times more bifidobacteria at baseline compared to Silk’s IBS patients.  Unfortunately, however, GOS is yet to go mainstream.  It can be found in Bimuno, which isn’t cost-limiting  until you factor in shipping charges (only sold from the U.K.).  GOS are also present in a variety of infant formulas, which, given their relative scarcity, is a pretty good indicator.

Why is this article sub-titled “bring a gun to a knife fight”?  Because supplementing the bifidobacteria or lactobacilli directly have little impact on the gut microflora.  Even at doses in the billions, almost none of them even survive (see Larsen et al., [2006]; and Tuohy et al., [2006]).  But when combined with some of these oligosaccharides, their effect is markedly improved (Bartosch et al., [2005]).  Probiotics are far more expensive than these prebiotic oligosaccharides, so unless someone had severe GI symptoms, inulin/FOS is the way to go.  On the other hand, if you have IBS, are experiencing gastrointestinal distress, or have recently undergone a course of antibiotics, then a combination of a blend of bifidobacteria combined with inulin/FOS is probably the best treatment.

Be good to your gut.

“Death sits in the bowels; a bad digestion is the root of all evil” – Hippocrates, circa 400 BC

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a novel gut health diet paradox, Op. 75

The low FODMAPs diet

FODMAPS  – Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols.  Basically, FODMAPs are a bunch of sugars that are poorly digested in some people and cause a fantastic variety of health problems ranging from bloating and abdominal pain all the way to chronic fatigue and anxiety.  AND a low FODMAPs diet seems to provide some relief (Ong et al., 2010; Staudacher et al., 2011).

Just like it’s weird name, it’s difficult to simplify the rules of the low FODMAPs diet, so here it is graphically:


Grains are excluded from GFCF due to gluten and from FODMAPs due to oligosaccharides.  Dairy is excluded from GFCF due to casein and from FODMAPs due to lactose (not sure where FODMAPs stands on fermented dairy like kefir or FAGE).  Thus, both GFCF and FODMAPs exclude grains and dairy.  However, GFCF doesn’t restrict fructose, which is excluded in FODMAPs (monosaccharide).  And last but not least, GFCF but not FODMAPs allows polyols, but as I’ll explain later, I don’t think polyols belong on this list (perhaps “FODMAPs” was just more pleasant-sounding than “FODMAs”).


FODMAPs vs. low carb

A low carb diet is low in both FODMAPs and gluten.  But perhaps similar to polyols, some leniency should also be applied to casein, as standard low carb diets don’t restrict casein but still improve a variety gastrointestinal symptoms (and quality of life in IBS patients; Austin et al., 2009).  Alternatively, a dairy-free low carb diet would cover all your bases.

or you could bring a gun to a knife fight, part I.

Alterations in gut bacteria are frequently associated with gastrointestinal problems, and two classes of nutritional supplements aimed at modifying the gut flora seem to help.  “Probiotics” contain the buggers themselves, while “prebiotics” contain their fuel.

divide and conquer


With regard to the former, “bifidobacteria” seem to be the major player.  Bifidobacteria are the highest in the gut of breast fed babies and lowest in elderly folk.  They are lacking in IBS sufferers (Kerckhoffs et al., 2009; Parkes et al., 2012), and supplementation with bifidobacteria-containing probiotics improve a variety gastrointestinal symptoms (B. infantis 35624 [Whorwell et al., 2006]; B. animalis DN-173 010 [Guyonnet et al., 2007]; B. bifidum MIMBb75 [Guglielmetti et al., 2011])

B. infantis 35624 is found in Align.

B. animalis DN-173 010 is found in Dannon’s Activia yogurt.  But as with most yogurt products, it comes unnecessary added sugars.

Personally, I’d recommend a blend like that found in Jarrow Bifidus Balance (which comes preloaded with its own stock of prebiotics, to be discussed later).

Back to the paradox (or a shameless teaser for next week’s episode): the low FODMAPs, GFCF, and low carb diets all have beneficial effects on gut health but reduce bifidobacteria.  Bifidobacteria supplements and bifidogenic prebiotics are also good for the gut.

a far more enigmatic paradox than the French one, IMO, to be continued…


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