Monday, March 31, 2008

What My Gut Says

I have a coupon for $1 off a new cereal that claims to promote better digestive health because it has a “prebiotic fiber.” So is it still worth it even with that savings?

If I lived in Europe, I’d probably be used to all these pre- and pro-biotic claims. But here it is all new marketing to us. Probiotics and prebiotics – loosely – are foods that keep our “good’ digestive microflora thriving. The thing is, the benefits of the living microorganisms in our food has been apparently common knowledge for-like-ever. The Old Testament apparently says that Abraham owed his longevity to drinking sour milk. And Roman historian Plinius raved about fermented milk products too. (I found these references in a AJCN article published in 2001). Sugar-free, plain yogurt is a probiotic….so is sauerkraut and pickles. Anything fermented and live cultures growing on it is technically a probiotic, from what I know so far. Prebiotics are foods that help your good gut flora to flourish. Examples include veggies high in a fiber called inulin (found in chicory root or asparagus) so we’re not exactly talking about rare rainforest produce here that is just being discovered….

So a cereal touting its prebiotics seems to be a harbinger of products to come that are throwing out a fancy word from items that we’ve had available already in the supermarket aisles—and perhaps more important, containing bacteria that we JUST MAY NOT NEED. It’s just a gut feeling I’m having…

Friday, March 28, 2008

Gout, Go Figure

This week, I've been thinking a lot about gout, a condition that conjures up images of big, fat men with big bellies dressed in suits from the 19th century. I think of it as a disease of fat cats, wheelers and dealers, masters' of the universe.

The image isn't entirely inaccurate. In the past, the cause of gout appeared to be due to a high level of purines in the blood. What are purines? According to, they are

Definition of Purine

Purine: One of the two classes of bases in DNA and RNA. The purine bases are guanine (G) and adenine (A). Uric acid, the offending substance in gout, is a purine end-product.

The purine-rich foods include organ meats (think liver, sweetbreads, etc.), beer, sardines, anchovies and gravies. These are foods I would imagine were for the wealthy in the 19th century. But there are some other foods that have purines too that I find surprising, namely yeast products and some veggies including mushrooms, spinach asparagus and cauliflower.

So is it because of the sweetbreads or broccoli that is causing the rise in gout today in women? Or is it another purine-rich food--or beverage--that is causing this painful condition (where joints become incredibly painful, especially at the extremities like feet) in more and more females.

I guess I've been thinking about it today because I've been fielding emails from a pal who's worried about a breast cancer biopsy coming up. So as I've been trying to soothe the stressed-out one that breast cancer incidences have been falling -- because of more preventative care like early biopsies -- I've thought about gout.