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Cocoa

What are its benefits?

Cocoa is a treat for our taste buds, and because it is rich in antioxidant flavonols and polyphenols, cocoa also is a real treat for our microbiome. It feeds the organisms that can ferment cocoa fiber into short-chain fatty acids like butyrate and acetic acid that help to fend off harmful microbes and reinforce the gut barrier against antigens and invaders. The polyphenols found in cocoa enhance the growth of other beneficial gut bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, while reducing the number of pathogenic ones, such as Clostridium perfringens.

 

Studies on cocoa point to additional benefits:

  • Cocoa has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect. A study of animals that were fed a high-cocoa diet noted that expression of inflammatory markers was reduced. Another study concluded that the friendly bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have been associated with anti-inflammatory processes in our intestines, which can help keep the gut healthy.
  • Cocoa is thought to be good for the heart because of fermentation by gut bacteria, creating anti-inflammatory compounds that improve blood vessel function, including arterial flow. It is known that plant polyphenols promote vasodilating factors such as nitric oxide, and cocoa is one of many foods that can increase the production of endothelial nitric oxide.
  • Cocoa has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. A 2014 study showed that the polyphenols in chocolate improved insulin sensitivity even in people who did not have diabetes.

What is it?

Cocoa is the dried and fully fermented fatty seed of the fruit of the cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao. It can be made into a variety of forms.

  • Cocoa liquor is a paste made from ground, roasted, shelled, and fermented cocoa beans, called nibs. It contains both nonfat cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
  • Cocoa powder is made by removing some of the cocoa butter from the liquor, leaving nonfat cocoa solids.

Nutritionally, cocoa powder provides:

  • Lots of fiber and protein
  • B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6, thiamin)
  • Minerals (manganese, copper, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, and selenium)

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Clove

What are its benefits?

Clove is familiar as an aromatic spice used in cuisines around the world. It also has been used in traditional medicine for centuries as a topical oral analgesic, among other uses. With the goal of demonstrating scientific evidence of clove’s health benefits, many studies have been done.

 

  • Researchers have determined that essential oil of clove has a number of bioactive ingredients. The phytoconstituents of clove include monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, phenolics, and hydrocarbon compounds, and the phytochemicals in the essential oil are eugenol (at 70-85%), eugenyl acetate (15%), and beta-caryophyllene (5-12%). Derivatives have been shown to have biological benefits such as antibacterial, antifungal, insecticidal, antioxidant, and anticarcinogenic capacities.
    • Clove essential oil, used as an antiseptic in oral infections, was shown to inhibit bacteria (Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa) as well as yeast, in a 2012 study.
    • A 2019 study found that certain compounds alter the gut microbiota by influencing viruses. Researchers identified compounds that trigger prophages – dormant viruses called bacteriophages – to return to their active form and attack bacteria. The study identified that clove was one of the stronger components tested in terms of the level of phages produced, which in turn inhibited the growth of bacteria.

 

  • In one study of six phytonutrients (including eugenol), all were shown to affect the expression of immune genes in the colon, but only eugenol stimulated production of the inner mucus layer, a mucosal barrier to microbes. The mechanism was thought likely to involve stimulation of microbes because analysis of the gut microbiota composition showed eugenol treatment led to an increase in abundance of specific families of beneficial bacteria (Clostridiales order). Additionally, eugenol treatment interfered with colonization by the pathogenic bacteria Citrobacter. This study suggested that eugenol acts to increase the thickness of the inner mucus layer, which protects against pathogens and disease.
    • Since we commonly ingest ingredients that disrupt the intestinal mucus lining (such as emulsifying agents, chlorinated drinking water, food additives such as maltodextrin, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and since a compromised mucus barrier is a component of inflammatory gastrointestinal disorders (like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and small intestinal bacterial and fungal overgrowth), adding clove to the diet to strengthen the mucus barrier can be beneficial for health.

What is it?

Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) are the flower buds of the evergreen clove tree, which grows in Indonesia and is cultivated in many parts of the world. In addition to the phytoconstituents noted in the first section, cloves also contain fiber and nutrients, including manganese and vitamin K.

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Cinnamon

What are its benefits?

The familiar, warming flavor of cinnamon is enough of a benefit to include it in our shake blends, but there are many studies indicating its health benefits:

  • Cinnamon contains large amounts of highly potent polyphenol antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory effects. The Arthritis Organization includes cinnamon (along with black pepper, turmeric, and ginger) on its checklist, “Shopping for Your Microbiome”, as part of their guidance on the gut-arthritis connection. Evidence suggests that autoimmune diseases may develop when microbes in the gut, mouth or skin send the wrong signals to the immune system.
    • Studies of people with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) show their microbiota composition is often less healthy than those without RA. One explanation for this is the ‘leaky gut’ hypothesis, in which the gut becomes more permeable. While this mechanism is not certain, researchers feel it’s clear that microbes play a significant role in immune regulation and that alterations in microbiome composition can cause an abnormal immune response.
    • One study in mice showed that the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects of cinnamon essential oil (CEO) enriched with cinnamaldehyde contributed to protection against inflammatory bowel disease in mice fed the compound. These mice had an improved diversity and richness of intestinal microbiota, and had an improved microbiota composition with a decrease in opportunistic bacteria and an increase in beneficial bacteria.
  • Cinnamon has been shown to increase sensitivity to insulin, a hormone which regulates metabolism and is essential for transporting blood sugar from the bloodstream to the cells. Studies have indicated that cinnamon can reduce the insulin resistance seen in some diabetics. One mechanism of cinnamon’s anti-diabetic effect may be that cinnamon decreases the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream after a meal by interfering with some digestive enzymes. This slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in the digestive tract. Secondly, a compound in cinnamon (methylhydroxychalcone polymer) can act on cells by mimicking insulin, improving glucose uptake by the cells. Studies indicate that cinnamon may lower fasting blood sugar levels by 10–29%.
    • Cinnamon may improve some key risk factors for heart disease, including cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. In people with type 2 diabetes, cinnamon has been shown to have beneficial effects on blood markers — reducing levels of total cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while “good” HDL cholesterol remained stable or, in another study, improved. In animal studies, cinnamon has been shown to reduce blood pressure.
  • Cinnamon is high in cinnamaldehyde, which is thought to be responsible for some of cinnamon’s health benefits. Cinnamaldehyde has a role as a hypoglycemic agent, a vasodilator agent, and an antifungal agent.

What is it?

Cinnamon is made by cutting the stems of cinnamon trees. The inner bark is then extracted and dried into strips that curl into rolls, called cinnamon sticks. These sticks can be ground to form cinnamon powder.

Cinnamon provides a wide variety of nutrients. It is rich in fiber and manganese and contains calcium, iron, vitamin K, vitamin E, niacin, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and copper.

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Camu Camu

What are its benefits?

One remarkable feature of camu camu is its nutritional richness: it has a higher amount of vitamin C than any other plant known, having 30 to 60 times more vitamin C than an orange. This, along with camu camu’s other bioactive contents (phenolic compounds and beta-carotene) may account for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. These were noted in a study of smokers who had decreased stress-related chemical markers after drinking camu camu juice for seven days, compared to smokers who were simply given vitamin C tablets.

 

Furthermore, indications are that camu camu has a positive effective on gut bacteria. In a 2018 animal study, camu camu prevented fat deposits through brown adipose tissue activation and increased energy expenditure, a mechanism that is dependent on the gut microbiome and linked to improvements in bile acid levels and composition. This study also concluded that camu camu lessened metabolic inflammation and endotoxemia (bacterial toxins in the bloodstream), through drastic changes in the gut microbiome (e.g., increase of beneficial bacteria Akkermansia muciniphila and a reduction of Lactobacillus).

What is it?

The camu camu berry is the fruit of a shrub native to the Amazon rainforest. It’s about the size of a ping pong ball and has a strong sour taste. In addition to its antioxidant components mentioned above, camu camu fruit is also good source of potassium, iron, calcium, and phosphorous, as well as various kinds of amino acids such as serine (which helps digestion), valine (used by the nervous system) and leucine (which fuels muscle growth).

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Bee Pollen

What are its benefits?

Bee pollen has been shown to stimulate the growth of important probiotic bacteria in our gut:

  • Bee pollen was able to dramatically enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria (Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium animalis, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium animalis spp. lactis).
  • Additional research has shown that bee pollen is antibacterial against the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus.
  • One study looking for possible ways to address the toxin-producing bacteria in the gut that cause bowel problems in autistic patients studied bee pollen and propolis as prebiotics. It concluded that these prebiotic treatments showed ameliorative effects, and together with probiotic supplements, may be effective to revive healthy digestive system function in these patients.

Furthermore, bee pollen has been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years. Many modern studies point to its antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antiatherosclerotic, antidiabetic, and immune-boosting activities, in addition to its nutritional benefits. For example:

  • Antioxidative effects (inactivation of oxygen radicals) of bee pollen may be due to the activity of its enzymes as well as its secondary plant metabolites, such as phenolic substances, carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E, and glutathione. It has been shown that flavonoids (phenols) present in bee pollen can scavenge free radicals, thereby preventing them from becoming mutagens.
  • Evidence suggests that pollen compounds (e.g., polyphenols or flavonoids) may exert beneficial effects on the body’s “defense” cells (such as macrophages and T cells), which play an important role in inflammatory processes and against invading pathogens. This anti-inflammatory action may result from the activity of quercetin, which indirectly reduces the level of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and provides an anti-inflammatory effect.

What is it?

Bees collect pollenthe male reproductive cells of flowerswhile they’re searching for nectar and then moisten the pollen with their secretions, so pollen gathered from bees contains digestive enzymes from the bee’s saliva.

 

Pollen is rich in vitamins, minerals, trace elements, enzymes, carbohydrates, and amino acids. In addition to the micronutrients, bee pollen contains plant phenolics, unsaturated fatty acids, and lipids. Its exact makeup varies, due to the flowers from which it was collected, the season, and the habitat.

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Ashwagandha

What are its benefits?

Ashwagandha has been used in traditional medicine to treat various conditions, including mental stress, anxiety, depression, and memory loss. The plant extract has many bioactive compounds and thereby exerts antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory activities.

 

Some studies on ashwagandha have concluded that it has significant anti-stress activity, lowering amounts of stress indicators in the body, such as cortisol, the “stress hormone”, produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. More specifically, daily doses of 125 mg to 5 grams of ashwagandha for 1–3 months have shown to lower cortisol levels by 11–32%.

 

Other studies have shown that ashwagandha improved performance on cognitive tasks, executive function, attention, and reaction time. Ashwagandha also has been shown to have neuroprotective benefits, perhaps stemming from its antioxidant nature and its ability to inhibit free radicals from damaging cell membranes.

What is it?

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a subtropical undershrub commonly used in traditional medicines for more than 3000 years. Its main constituents are alkaloids and steroidal lactones. It contains other beneficial elements, including flavonoids, antioxidants, iron, calcium, carotene, vitamin C, and amino acids, among others.

How does it work?

According to a study conducted in 2018, the observations suggest that modulation of physiological functions of gut microbiota are involved in the mode of action of ashwagandha root extracts.

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Alpha-Ketoglutarate

What are its benefits?

The gut microbiome is important in maintaining intestinal health, and imbalances in the microbiome may result in chronic intestinal inflammation and lead to colorectal cancer. A chemical produced in the body, alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG), is an intermediary in the pathway that maintains intestinal homeostasis and prevents intestinal inflammation.

 

A 2019 study found that supplementary AKG offered significant protection against colorectal cancer development in mice and exhibited immune support. In addition, the researchers saw another positive result: the supplementary AKG minimized the frequency of opportunistic pathogens while increasing the populations of beneficial microbes. Another study found that AKG promotes a longer, healthier life associated with a decrease in levels of systemic inflammatory cytokines, a regulatory protein produced by cells of the immune system.

What is it?

Alpha-ketoglutarate occurs naturally in the body. It is essential in metabolism, contributing to the oxidation of nutrients (i.e., amino acids, glucose, fatty acids) and providing energy for cell processes. It can be manufactured for use in dietary supplements.

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Allspice

What are its benefits?

In addition to adding flavor to foods, allspice is one of the top spices known to kill food-borne bacteria and fungi. Allspice also contains a large amount of phenols, which have antioxidant properties. Research has shown that two compounds isolated from allspice, eugenol and gallic acid, have some antitumor properties on human cancer cells.

What is it?

Allspice comes from the unripe, dried berries of the Pimenta dioica tree, a tropical evergreen native to Central America and the West Indies. Its spicy, somewhat sweet flavor is similar to cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Allspice contains phenols, and it is an excellent source of manganese, calcium, iron, vitamin B5, copper, gallic acid, quercetin, and ericifolin.

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Creatine

What are its benefits?

Creatine helps to build muscles, and it works with a beneficial bacteria that maintains the mucosal lining of the intestines, thought to reduce “leaky gut” syndrome.

What is it?

Creatine is a molecule that the body can naturally produce – though we make less as we age. In the body, creatine is made primarily in the kidneys (and completed in the liver) by three amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine. The amino acids are converted into creatine phosphate and phosphocreatine which are then stored in the skeletal muscles and used for energy.

 

Creatine is synthetically produced by reacting sarcosine, a sodium salt, and cyanamide, a white organic amide compound. (Although these two chemicals are not fit for human consumption individually, when combined they react to form a compound that is completely safe for human intake.)

  • First of all, sarcosine and cyanamide are combined in a steel reactor. Inside the reactor, these chemicals are heated under pressure to form creatine in crystal form. The crystallized creatine particles are further passed through the centrifugal process to remove any unwanted residual particles.
  • To improve the dissolvability and absorption rate, crystalline creatine is passed through the milling process. The final result is fine creatine monohydrate powder which is packed and sold.

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