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Ginger

What are its benefits?

Scientists have long known that ginger is one of the plants that facilitates digestion and increases bioabsorption of dietary nutrients. Newer research (“Prebiotic Potential of Culinary Spices Used to Support Digestion and Bioabsorption”) shows that ginger changes the microbiome and causes shifts in microbial populations: “Both fibers and phytochemicals in medicinal herbs used as spices appear to promote the growth of beneficial microbes and inhibit the growth of potentially inflammatory species.” Ginger led to an increase in Lactobacillus gut bacteria, a beneficial bacteria that helps the body break down food, absorb nutrients, and fight off “unfriendly” organisms that can cause diseases such as diarrhea. Another study indicated that the components in ginger promote tissue repair and antimicrobial immunity.

 

As a home remedy, ginger is a common treatment for upset stomach and nausea. It seems to aid digestion and saliva flow. There’s evidence that ginger eases muscle and joint pain, as well as pain from arthritis, headaches, and menstrual cramps.

What is it?

Ginger is a flowering tropical plant that grows in China, India, Africa, the Caribbean, and other warm climates. The root of the ginger plant is well-known as a spice and flavoring. The root doesn’t have many vitamins or minerals, but it has a lot of antioxidants.

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Piper Longum

What are its benefits?

Piper longum has been the subject of many scientific studies, one of which showed that a combination of piper longum, turmeric, black pepper, and ginger produced a distinct beneficial shift in the gut’s microbial community in less than two weeks. In addition:

  • Piperine, the major active incredient in piper longum, has been shown to have anticancer and antioxidant properties.
  • Other studies have noted that piperine plays a large role in piper longum’s antiarthritic (anti-inflammatory) attributes.
  • Some extracts of piper longum have shown good antibacterial activity against certain pathogens.
  • Piper longum is also thought to benefit diabetics because it can regulate the rate at which glucose is released in the blood.

What is it?

Piper longum (long pepper) is a flowering vine whose dried fruit is used as a spice. The fruit contains a large proportion of alkaloids and related compounds, the most abundant of which is piperine. Long pepper also contains various nutrients, such as fats, proteins, sugars, carbohydrates, calcium, vitamins C and A, dietary fiber, and sodium ions.

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Red Reishi Mushroom

What are its benefits?

Used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat diabetics, red reishi mushroom is included in the shake base blends based on research that indicates it does reduce body weight, inflammation, and insulin resistance in mice fed a high-fat diet. The study in question concerned obesity, which is associated with low-grade chronic inflammation and imbalance in the intestinal microbiota. The results showed decreased Firmicutes-to-Bacteroidetes ratios and lower levels of endotoxin-bearing Proteobacteria, indicating that red reishi mushrooms help balance the microbiome. Furthermore, results indicated they help maintain the integrity of the intestinal barrier and reduce metabolic endotoxemia.

 

Other research shows red reishi mushroom has antioxidant properties, which helps reduce oxidative stress in cells. In addition, reishi has been shown to help increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy while protecting against some of its damaging effects.

What is it?

Red reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) are highly nutritious, containing polysaccharides, proteins, minerals, vitamins (B, D), are low in fat (5%, mostly linoleic acids) and are free of cholesterol.

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Maca

What are its benefits?

Nutritious maca root is a great addition to the diet. It is a good source of carbs, is low in fat, and contains a fair amount of protein and fiber. It’s also high in some important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, copper and iron. Further, it contains various bioactive compounds, including polyphenols and glucosinolates.

 

Various studies have looked at maca’s health benefits:

  • Randomized clinical trials in humans indicate that maca has a positive effect on energy and mood, may decrease anxiety, and may improve sexual desire in men and women.
  • One review of four studies in menopausal women found that maca helped alleviate menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and interrupted sleep.
  • The polyphenols and glucosinolates in maca have an antioxidant effect.
  • A handful of studies show it may boost endurance and performance in sports.

In terms of polyphenols’ effects on the microbiome, recent research is encouraging. Due to the chemical structure of most polyphenols, they are not easily absorbed, so they have a longer time in the intestine to interact with microbiota. Studies support that dietary phenols reaching the gut microbes (along with the metabolites generated) modify and produce variations in the microbiota through their prebiotic effects on beneficial bacteria and antimicrobial action against pathogenic microflora.

  • Specifically, dietary polyphenols can affect populations of bacteria by interfering with their “quorum sensing” ability, membrane permeability, and sensitizing them to chemicals that are seen by the body as foreign. Polyphenols have other effects as well – they can affect gut metabolism, immunity, and can have anti-inflammatory effects.
  • The mechanism is thought to be that the gut microbiome changes polyphenols into bioactive compounds, which then influence the intestinal ecology and affect health. Studies in animals and in humans have shown that prescribed amounts of particular polyphenols may inhibit certain bacterial groups, while others can then flourish in the now-available ecological niche.

What is it?

The maca plant (Lepidium meyenii) is found in the Andes and is sometimes referred to as Peruvian ginseng. It is a cruciferous vegetable with a long history of culinary and medicinal use in Peru. The main edible portion of the plant is the root. It exists in several colors, such as white, golden, red, and black. It is dried and ground into powder and has an earthy, nutty flavor.

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Flax Seed Meal

What are its benefits?

Flax seeds and ground flax seed meal are considered by many to be a “superfood” for their healthy fats and fiber. Recent studies highlight some reasons for this claim.

 

A 2019 review of scientific literature focused on herbs used in European countries to treat gastrointestinal disorders and that were shown to work via their effect on the microbiome. The review found that the fiber in flax seed meal is fermented by bacteria in the gut into short chain fatty acids (SCFA), providing a prebiotic effect.

  • Evidence indicates that short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are important to gut and metabolic health. It is likely that SCFAs produced by microbial fermentation of indigestible carbohydrates are the intermediators of the benefits measured in the gut microbiome. These SCFAs perform a number of functions: they regulate pH, produce mucous, feed epithelial cells, and support mucosal immune health. They are also believed to affect metabolic processes such as appetite regulation, energy expenditure, glucose homeostasis, and immunomodulation.

A 2015 Danish study of overweight but otherwise healthy post-menopausal women found that consuming flax seed meal had these significant effects:

  • Increased populations of 33 beneficial intestinal bacteria species (including Bilophila wadsworthia, Parabacteroides merdae, and Parabacteroides johnsonii)
  • Decreased populations of eight pathogenic bacteria species (including Eubacterium, Ruminococus, and Faecalibacterium)
  • Increased insulin sensitivity (which allows cells to use blood glucose more effectively)

What is it?

Flax seed (Linum usitatissimum) meal is a great source of alpha-linolenic acid — a heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid, and it is high in lignans (small water soluble polyphenols found in plants, seeds, whole grains, and vegetables), which contain phytoestrogens. Flax seed meal consists of approximately 42% fat, 18% protein, and about 28% carbohydrate. Almost all of the carbs are fiber, which is composed of 20–40% soluble fiber (mucilage gums) and 60–80% insoluble fiber (cellulose and lignins, which are undigestible complex polymers that are used in cell walls and other support tissues of most plants). Flax seed meal also provides calcium, iron, and potassium.

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Fenugreek

What are its benefits?

An herb long used in traditional medicines and in Indian cuisine, fenugreek is the subject of modern research. The results of human studies suggest that consuming fenugreek improves elevated blood glucose and lipid levels associated with diabetes and obesity.

 

In addition, a 2020 study found that fenugreek had a beneficial impact on the gut microbiome of mice that were on a high fat diet. While improving the metabolism of the mice (measured by lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar), the population and diversity of the gut bacteria were also improved.

 

Results of another study indicate that the extract of fenugreek seeds contains antioxidants and protects cellular structures from oxidative damage.

 

Nutritionally, fenugreek seeds contain a good amount of fiber and minerals, including iron, manganese, and magnesium.

What is it?

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an annual herb with yellow flowers and seed-containing pods. The hard, yellow-brown mature seeds possess an unusual aromatic odor and are used in curry recipes, chutney, spice blends, and some vegetable soups. They have a slightly sweet, nutty taste.

 

Fenugreek seeds are composed primarily of carbohydrates (mainly mucilaginous fibers in the cell walls), proteins, and lipids. Other important components include alkaloids, free amino acids, saponins, and glycosides.

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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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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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