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Black Pepper

What are its benefits?

Long enjoyed around the world for its flavor and pungency, black pepper has caught the interest of scientists in recent decades. While little research has been done so far on black pepper’s effect on the microbiome specifically, many studies indicate that the bio-active compound in black pepper, piperine, may have a wide range of health benefits:

  • Has antioxidant properties
  • May effectively fight inflammation
  • Has been shown to improve brain function in animal studies
  • May improve blood sugar control
  • May lower cholesterol levels
  • Has anticancer and antitumor activity
  • Has been shown to improve depression when consumed with turmeric

What is it?

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a perennial climbing vine and the spice is made from its fruits (the peppercorns). Native to India, it is one of the earliest spices known. Used in cuisine worldwide, pepper is also used in medicine as a carminative (to relieve flatulence) and as a stimulant of gastric secretions. Black pepper is a good source of manganese and vitamin K, among other vitamins and minerals.

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Turmeric

What are its benefits?

Turmeric is one of the herbs used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine as an aid to digestion. Modern researchers have found that it, along with ginger, black pepper, and piper longum, promoted strong shifts in the gut bacteria that are known to regulate metabolism. Other studies have shown that turmeric and one of its active components, curcumin, tended to increase bacterial species richness. Curcumin has also been shown to help prevent multiple inflammatory diseases.

Turmeric is also used to support the digestive system in several ways:

  • Intestines: Curcumin supports digestion by relaxing the smooth muscles on the walls, helping food through the intestines. It also helps to prevent gas and bloating as food is being digested.
  • Colon: Curcumin supports the balance between your microbiota and the immune response by encouraging the glands on the surface to regenerate and heal when harmful bacteria are present
  • Stomach: Turmeric helps the stomach lining by inhibiting harmful enzymes and increases the secretion of stomach mucous, guarding against damage from gastric acid.
  • Liver: Turmeric helps to increase cholesterol elimination by boosting bile production. Combining turmeric with high-fiber foods can help the liver be more efficient at trapping cholesterol and moving it to the colon for elimination.

What is it?

Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family and is native to Southeast Asia. Its rhizome (underground stem) is used as a common culinary spice (a major ingredient in curry powder) and a traditional medicine. Curcumin is a major active component of turmeric and is what makes turmeric yellow. 

Turmeric is also rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, and other antioxidants. Additionally, it is a good source of:

  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Dietary fiber

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Spirulina

What are its benefits?

Research has shown benefits from spirulina’s protein, phycocyanin, may include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, pain relief, and brain-protective effects. It has been shown to block tumor growth and kill cancer cells. It can reduce absorption of cholesterol, lowering cholesterol levels. It reduces triglyceride levels. Spirulina increases nitric oxide production in the body, which can help blood vessels relax. Furthermore, spirulina’s vitamin and mineral content supports a healthy immune system.

 

Specific microbiome studies have been carried out:

    • A recent study showed the prebiotic qualities of algae like spirulina. A sugar in algae, sulfoquinovose, stimulates the growth of very specific key organisms in the gut microbiome. These key organisms include the bacterium Eubacterium rectale, one of the ten most common gut microbes in healthy people. It ferments sulfoquinovose via a metabolic pathway only recently deciphered, producing a sulfur compound, dihydroxypropane sulfonate, which in turn feeds other beneficial intestinal bacteria that eventually produce hydrogen sulfide gas. The delicate balance of these metabolic pathways was also noted: in low amounts, hydrogen sulfide can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the intestinal mucosa. But increased hydrogen sulfide production by gut microbes (typically seen in people with diets high in fat and meat) is associated with chronic inflammatory diseases and cancer.
    • A second study demonstrated that spirulina might help protect against age-related liver inflammation by modifying pathways in the microbiome.

What is it?

Spirulina is a blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) that is a highly nutritious food component. It is a source of thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), copper, iron, and magnesium. It also contains a protein called phycocyanin.

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Matcha

What are its benefits?

Matcha powder packs a healthful punch whether prepared as a unique soothing hot beverage or added to a morning shake. Matcha is one of the richest sources of polyphenols classed as catechins.

  • Catechins act as antioxidants that can head off cell damage and decrease inflammation in the body.
  • One of matcha’s catechins called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) has been shown in lab studies to have strong anti-cancer properties.
  • Other studies show that tea polyphenols have antiviral properties.

Matcha comes from leaves of green tea plants that are specially handled: they are covered to prevent exposure to direct sunlight for 20 to 30 days prior to harvesting. This causes the leaves to boost chlorophyll production and amino acid content, including one called theanine. Theanine has been shown in some animal studies to increase brain serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters that can stabilize mood.

 

Another difference in matcha processing compared to other tea leaves is that it is put through a steaming process instead of an oxidation process. This helps retain its colors, fragrances, and nutritional content. And matcha powder consists of the whole leaf with all of its nutrients, which can then provide more catechins than would come from just steeping green tea leaves in hot water.

What is it?

Matcha powder is ground from tea leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The special shade-growing process gives the leaves their unique nutrient profile and color. Matcha does not have a lot of vitamins or minerals, but it contains valuable components like chlorophyll, the amino acid theanine, and antioxidant polyphenols.

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Galangal

What are its benefits?

In the same family as ginger, galangal root looks similar but has a different flavor – sharp, citrusy, and piney. It is proving to be a powerful ally in maintaining gut health. Various studies on galangal have identified promising effects of consuming this spice, long used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.

  • Anti-inflammatory: Galangin, a polyphenolic compound derived from the galangal root, has been shown in multiple studies to have anti-inflammatory effects. The mechanisms varied based on the specific study but included suppression of proinflammatory gene expression as well as reduced production of components that cause inflammation.
  • Antibacterial: In one study of 68 spices, galangal was one of five that exhibited the highest antibacterial capacity against pathogens Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella enteritidis. Another study identified four pathogens against which galangal had an antibacterial effect: E. coli, clostridium, staphylococcus, and salmonella.
  • “Clean up” via autophagy: Galangin has been shown to induce the process of autophagy, which is a natural method by which the body gets rid of damaged and old cells. This process inhibits the malignant transformation of cells, and in the case of the gut, can help maintain the barrier between the small intestine and the gut bacteria.

What is it?

Galangal root is a spice native to Southern Asia. The most commonly used forms are greater galangal (alpinia galanga) and lesser galangal (alpinia officinarum). It is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Used in traditional medicines, it is also used either dried or fresh to flavor savory dishes. Galangal contains some carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, and vitamin C. Plus is has compounds methyl cinnamate, eugenol, resins, tannins, starch, gingerol, and flavonoids.

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Cranberry

What are its benefits?

Bright red tart cranberries are as healthful as they are pretty. Research indicates their health benefits are thought to be due to their flavonoid and phytonutrient content. These naturally occurring compounds have antioxidant and antimicrobial benefits that are seen in studies of the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and urinary tract.

  • A specific type of flavonoid in cranberries, called proanthocyanidins, supports urinary tract health by interfering with the ability of pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli) to adhere to cell walls, thereby helping to prevent infections.
  • Studies also show that proanthocyanidins have a similar effect on gut bacteria: they interfere with colonization by pathogenic E. coli and lessen gut barrier dysfunction caused by dietary “insult” (for example, antibiotics).
  • Additional research points to beneficial interaction between cranberry components, the bioactive products of their catabolism, and gut microbiota. For example, mechanisms involving adhesion of bacteria and biofilm formation may contribute to clinical benefits on gastrointestinal tract infections and anti-inflammatory actions that are mediated by the gut microbiome.
  • Growing evidence from other clinical trials indicates positive effects of cranberries on various heart and metabolism markers, such as serum lipid profiles, blood pressure, endothelial function, blood glucose regulation, and measures of inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • Cranberries may provide numerous cardiovascular benefits. Research shows they can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-oxidation, maintain or improve high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, reduce aggregation of platelets, and improve vascular function.

What is it?

Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is a low-growing woody perennial plant. It produces horizontal stems up to 6 feet long, with vertical branches, 2 to 8 inches high, some of which produce buds, flowers, and then berries. The plants are pollinated primarily via honey bees.

Along with flavonoids and phytonutrients, cranberries also provide fiber and vitamin C.

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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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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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