From gut health to women’s health, nutrition plays a role in supporting all sorts of pathways and mechanisms in the body. In this week’s Nutrition News, find out whether your spicy curry could actually be doing your gut microbiome the world of good and how vitamin E could be the key to menopause support.

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Study suggests herbs and spices influence gut health

Researchers from the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon, recently delved into a study to explore the potential impact of polyphenols, commonly found in foods, herbs, and spices, on gut health. As reported in the article “Can herbs and spices influence the health of the gut microbiome?” the researchers leveraged data from the International Cohort on Lifestyle Determinants of Health (INCLD Health), to investigate the relationship between polyphenol intake and gut microbiota composition. Their findings shed light on the intricate interplay between dietary polyphenols and gut health.

Understanding the importance of a healthy gut microbiome is paramount, given its role in various bodily functions, including digestion, immune function, and skin health. The gut microbiome, composed of trillions of microorganisms, can be influenced by numerous factors, including diet and lifestyle choices. While probiotics and fermented foods are known to support gut health by promoting beneficial bacteria, researchers sought to explore whether polyphenols could offer similar benefits.

Polyphenols, abundant in plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and chocolate, have been linked to reduced disease risk. However, previous studies had not extensively investigated the potential benefits of dietary polyphenols from standard diets. To address this gap, researchers analysed data from 96 healthy adults, focusing on their dietary habits and gut microbiota composition.

Their analysis revealed that participants with higher polyphenol intake exhibited an increase in beneficial microbes, such as Lactobacillus, known for promoting gut health, while harmful bacteria were less prevalent. Notably, microbial diversity remained consistent across all groups, indicating that polyphenol intake did not affect overall microbial abundance but rather influenced specific microbial taxa.

The study identified several herbs and spices rich in polyphenols, including black pepper, onion, garlic, cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric. While participants primarily consumed these polyphenol-rich spices, variations in polyphenol content were observed. For instance, cinnamon boasted the highest polyphenol count, followed by black pepper, ginger, and turmeric.

Researchers emphasised the need for additional research to validate these findings and explore the broader implications of polyphenols on human health.

Dr. David D. Clarke, a clinical assistant professor of gastroenterology emeritus, highlighted the preliminary nature of the study, emphasising the importance of further research to elucidate the complex relationship between polyphenols and gut health. Similarly, registered dietitian Chrissy Arsenault underscored the significance of this research in informing medical nutrition therapy for gut health, suggesting that future studies may offer valuable insights for healthcare professionals.

While the study provides compelling evidence of the potential benefits of dietary polyphenols on gut health, more extensive research is warranted to fully understand their impact and guide clinical recommendations effectively.

The link between apple cider vinegar and weight management

Apple cider vinegar, a popular condiment, has garnered attention for its potential health benefits, including weight management and improved metabolic health. A recent study discussed in the article “Drinking 1 Tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar Daily Linked to Weight Loss” explored the effects of daily apple cider vinegar consumption on body weight, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and metabolic markers.

The study, conducted among 120 adolescents and young adults from Lebanon, focused on individuals with obesity or overweight conditions. Participants were randomly assigned to drink varying doses of apple cider vinegar or lactic acid (placebo) mixed with water three times a day for 12 weeks. Researchers monitored changes in participants' body weight, waist circumference, BMI, and metabolic markers throughout the study period.

Results revealed significant reductions in body weight, BMI, and waist circumference among participants who consumed apple cider vinegar compared to those in the placebo group. Individuals who drank higher doses of apple cider vinegar experienced more pronounced weight loss, with an average reduction of 15 pounds over 12 weeks. Additionally, improvements in metabolic markers, including blood glucose, triglycerides, and total cholesterol levels, were observed among apple cider vinegar consumers.

The study highlighted the potential role of acetic acid, a key component of apple cider vinegar, in supporting weight management and metabolic health. Acetic acid may increase feelings of fullness, suppress appetite, improve insulin sensitivity, and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. However, the precise mechanisms underlying these effects warrant further investigation.

While the study results are promising, experts advise caution and emphasise the need for a comprehensive approach to weight management, including dietary modifications, physical activity, stress management, and adequate sleep. Sustainable weight management requires holistic lifestyle changes and individualised strategies tailored to each person's needs and circumstances.

The nutrients that may support menopause symptoms

Menopause, a natural biological process occurring in women around the age of 50, is characterised by various physiological and psychological symptoms, including hot flashes. Hot flashes, experienced by more than 75% of menopausal women, are transitory episodes of heat sensations, flushing, and excessive sweating, often accompanied by palpitation, anxiety, and irritability. While hormone therapy is the most effective treatment for hot flashes, alternative options are sought due to various reasons.

The physiological and molecular mechanisms underlying hot flashes are complex and not fully understood. They involve endocrine, neuroendocrine, and epigenetic processes triggered by decreased oestrogen levels. Recent research, reported in the article “Review explores alternatives to relieve hot flashes in menopause” has identified potential molecular factors and signalling pathways associated with hot flashes, such as the kisspeptin-GnRH pathway, adipocyte-derived hormones, and aryl hydrocarbon receptor signalling.

In a recent review, researchers analysed data from the last five years, focusing on genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and selected molecular factors and signalling pathways related to hot flashes. They identified potential natural therapeutic agents, including specific nutrients and bioactive molecules found in food, that influence these molecular pathways. The nutrients highlighted were curcumin, vitamin E, genistein, an isoflavone found in soybeans, lactic acid bacteria, such as bifidobacterium, Lactococcus, and lactobacillus, vitamin B12, and folate (vitamin B9).

These findings highlight the importance of diet in maintaining overall health and potentially alleviating menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes. The review suggests that certain food-derived nutrients may modulate molecular mechanisms involved in hot flashes, offering a promising avenue for future therapies.

Further research is needed to clarify the exact roles of these nutrients and their interactions with molecular pathways associated with hot flashes. However, understanding these relationships could lead to the development of novel, dietary-based interventions for managing menopausal symptoms and improving women's health and quality of life.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is the Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.