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Role of the Gut Microbiome in Heath, Longevity and Behavior

What you may ask is the “gut microbiome?”  The microbiome describes the organisms—bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, and parasites—that live in the bowels of all vertebrates, including mammals like ourselves, pets, livestock and wildlife. They can be both beneficial and live together with their host in symbiosis (harmony) or be detrimental and cause a process called “intestinal dysbiosis.”

As these microbes are estimated to be 10 times more plentiful than the cells of their host, the challenge before us is to allow the healthy gut microbial flora to flourish while suppressing production of the harmful flora. However, these harmful microbes can replicate rapidly whenever the body and it’s cells undergo an increased state of cellular oxidative stress, which causes them to release the reactive oxygen species (ROS) that lead to inflammation, infections, obesity and even cancers. These detrimental and potentially harmful effects can be predicted and documented by measuring the levels of biomarker enzymes and lipids, with tongue-twisting names such as malondialdehyde, glutathione synthetase, TBARs, isoprostane and MicroRNA.

Hemopet’s novel CellBIO assay quantitates the isoprostane level in dog saliva to determine if the pet’s body is undergoing harmful cellular oxidative stress.

The good news is that balancing the gut microbiome in a healthy manner with selected nutrients and supplements can help counteract this cellular oxidative stress and ROS production. One proven way this can be accomplished is with so-called functional foods that activate the body’s Nrf-2 pathway: e.g. turmeric, chili pepper, ginger, green tea, soybeans, tomatoes, berries, raw honey (not for the very young), garlic, cabbages and broccoli.

Another clinically important role for monitoring levels of cellular oxidative stress is in assessing behavior and its emotional impact. While the brain is well-recognized to control behavior and emotions, current research is focusing upon how the gut-brain axis also regulates emotions such as stress, depression, anxiety and aggression. Fortunately, a group of functional superfoods can help brain health, cognition and memory:

  • Leafy greens (supply folate, vitamin B- 9) – kale, spinach, collard and mustard
  • Cruciferous vegetables (supply folate, carotenoids) – broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussels sprouts
  • Beans/legumes (supply choline)
  • Whole grains (gluten-free = quinoa, millet, rice, soy, corn, flax, TEFF, tapioca)
  • Berries/cherries (supply anthocyanins, antioxidants, vitamins C and E)
  • Omega 3 fatty acids (are anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory)
  • Yellow squash, asparagus, tomatoes, carrots, beets (supply folate, vitamin A, iron)
  • Nuts (supply omega fatty acids, vitamins E and B-6, folate, magnesium); but not macadamia, walnuts, hickory nuts or black walnuts, pecans and Brazil nuts for dogs
  • Seeds (supply zinc, choline, vitamin E)
  • Spices (are anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory; g. turmeric)
  • Herbs such as Ashwagandha, an anxiolytic to help reduce chronic stress

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Bovsun, M. Gut feeling. The Family Dog: The Gut Issue, May/June 2019; 30-31.

Kirchoff, NS, Udell, MAR, Sharpton, TJ. The gut microbiome correlates with conspecific aggression in a small population of rescued dogs (Canis familiaris)Peer J. 2019; 7: e6103. doi.org/10.7717/peerj.6103

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