Henrik Ennart

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Cancer treatment, common medications and the food we eat

What an exciting impact my recent article series (in a swedish paper) had! The series was about correlations between food and cancer and got thousands of shares not to mention that several of those I interviewed ended up in TV interviews in the following days!. Pretty cool!

It’s about time for some debate on this issue! After talking with doctors, nurses, researchers, patients and dieticians, there’s no doubt that everybody only means well.  What separates them, is their perspectives. Doctors focus often on the short term and on the patients who are the worst. For patients with severe weight loss or nausea and vomiting, it can be about life or death and the need to supply their bodies with enough nutrition. So if it only works with juice or ice cream and nothing else, then serve juice and ice cream for heaven’s sake!

But not all patients have such difficult symptoms, and for those who may have undergone a breast or prostate cancer surgery that very same ice cream and juice or cold ham sandwich could almost be considered offensive.

A research group at Sahlgrenska who has surveyed how Sweden’s cancer clinics work with this issue have concluded that “the advice to avoid fiber should no longer be given”. Partly because good food reduces the risk of a new cancer later in life, and partly because radiation therapy can quite often cause chronic intestinal problems which, according to a new study, appear to be reduced among those who early on ate most fiber.

It seems that the emergency diets for those with the worst symptoms in many places have become the standard diet offered to everyone. Not how it should be obviously and many in health care are working to push the recently updated recommendations from the World Cancer Research Fund, WCRF, who says that anyone who does not suffer from weight loss or eating problems should be advised to follow WCRF dietary advice, which are for example to eat fiber rich foods and avoid sugary drinks.

However, the links between food and health care has more dimensions than this. Some might have noted the report that was published last spring, which showed that common drugs affect our intestinal bacteria.

In work with my and Niklas Ekstedt’s new book Happy Food 2.0  I called Peer Bork, research director at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany. It was his team who did the study and went through 923 common drugs which were not antibiotics and discovered that 250 of them killed or affected in other ways the bacterial species that inhabit a healthy intestinal flora.

He thought the results were alarming.

– It is highly probable that the effect is actually much greater. We only measured the effect on 40 of the approximate one thousand bacteria most common in the intestine. The doses we gave correspond to those given on a regular basis, says Peer Bork.

This is the first time this question has been investigated. Until now, no one has the slightest idea that many of our most common drugs affect our intestinal bacteria. Peer Bork emphasizes that it is difficult to determine so far whether the effect in individual cases is good or bad. Occasionally, the effects on the intestinal bacteria may be a part of the positive effects of the drugs and sometimes something that causes side effects.

– This is the first time this is being investigated and I am convinced that it will be of great significance. In future, a doctor will need to consider how the drug affects the patient’s individual intestinal flora, “says Peer Bork.

Henrik Ennart together with Niklas Ekstedt is the author of the recently published book Happy Food 2.0. Currently only available in Swedish however you can get their first book Happy Food in english on amazon here.

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Henrik Ennart

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110-Year-Old Panchita’s Healthy Breakfast

Two years ago, 110-year-old Maria Francisca Castillo Carrillo died (her name was a bit long and complicated so everyone called her Panchita). A few months earlier, I met her when I visited the blue zone on the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica. Blue zones are places where you would have the highest chance of living to 100 years old, and other such zones are located on the Japanese island of Okinawa, on the Greek Island of Ikaria and in the Sardinian mountains.

I have visited all these blue zones and interviewed both researchers and elders, always surprised by the well-being, energy and health of the elderly living in the blue zones. The most alert of all was Panchita. For more than 60 years, she had lived in a wooden shed in the tropical forest. She shared the house with her oldest son Pablo, 93, who would soon move out to live with his new girlfriend.

A large number of seniors are aging with a combination of vision loss and hearing loss, and most of the 110-year-olds that I have met get tired in social situations. Panchita, however, was full of energy and did not look a day over 75. She could easily talk for an hour about everything from the story of her life to politics. Turned out, Panchita was a feminist who never married because she despised the macho culture in Costa Rica. “Men are much better nowadays”, she explained.

In order not to become the husband’s property, her lovers were the fathers of her five children. Exactly how many descendants she had, she did not know. Last time someone counted there were 165 children, grandchildren and, believe it or not, great-great-grandchildren’s children.

Panchita had also served as the village’s medicine woman. She prescribed traditional herbal medicines, a knowledge that had been inherited for generations.

So what did she eat for breakfast, I asked? Here is Panchita’s daily breakfast. Unfortunately, the ingredients are not always easy to find outside her Costa Rican forest.

  • 2 oranges
  • Costa Rican sweet lemon (I would compare it to the bergamot orange, grown in France and northern Italy)
  • Zapotillo tea (also sapodilla) – the tea is made from both the green fruits, the bark and the leaves, and is used to treat everything from cough to gastrointestinal disorders. Seems to be available online.
  • A little bit of strawberry yogurt. Homemade.


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Henrik Ennart

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What You Need to Know About Alcohol

During the summer season, most of us socialize more, and maybe drink a bit more alcohol than usual. In the short term, alcohol can cheer you up and relieve stress, but let’s make one thing clear: in the end, alcohol will make you more depressed – not less!

That said, you have probably heard of studies indicating benefits from drinking one (women) or two (men) glasses of wine a day. According to these studies, it’s linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

But think twice! Higher quantities are harmful to one’s health. That’s also why alcohol is considered the world’s third largest risk factor for disease and disability, and it’s linked to 6 percent of all deaths. In the world. Also, studies have found an increased risk of breast cancer associated with increasing alcohol intake.

But ok, I’m not here to preach. I just want to remind you of what your intestinal bacteria think about all this.

I’ve traveled a lot in so called blue zones – places where you would have the highest chance of living to 100 years old – and realized that many of the very old men and women drink a lot of wine. But not all of them. On the Japanese island of Okinawa, old women drink a small cup of rice wine once in a while, if even so. And alcohol consumption is low on the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica as well.

However, alcoholic beverages are more than popular on the Greek Island of Ikaria and in the Sardinian mountains, especially among men. But you still can’t compare it to the habits and behaviors we have here. Unlike them, we don’t drink pure wine made from grapes from the backyard, we don’t walk miles in the mountains every day, we don’t breathe the same fresh air as they do, we don’t eat their fresh vegetables or raise our own animals for food.

The obvious conclusion is, therefore, that you don’t have to drink wine to get old and stay healthy. Some do, as part of an extremely healthy lifestyle. Perhaps they would have lived longer without the wine? Who knows.

When mice drink alcohol, they react as if they were given sugar: it destroys the good gut bacteria, and helps the bad bacteria thrive in the digestive tract. In general, alcohol consumption alters the gut flora and leads to poor bacterial diversity within the intestine. And that’s usually a bad sign.

If you’re looking for a reason to have a glass of red wine, it’s supposed to boost the Lacto and Bifidobacteria in the intestine. Also, feel free to eat some unpasteurized cheese and a piece of dark chocolate. If you’re looking for arguments against that same glass of wine, it will lead to lower levels of good Prevotella bacteria.

Also, a new study suggests that bacteria in the gut may play a role in alcohol addiction. During the first three weeks of sobriety, the addicts suffered from increased inflammation in the intestine. As a result of this, they felt even more anxious and depressed.

Other findings suggest a link between imbalance in the intestine and the risk of developing an addiction. For example, if you disturb an animal’s intestinal flora with antibiotics, it will experience a stronger sense of reward when they get cocaine. 

Ok, this is early research, but it provides new and interesting input to ongoing research.

So, who’s asking for that extra glass of wine? Is it you, or is it your intestinal bacteria?

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Henrik Ennart

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Families and Dogs Share Microbiota

Our dog Lovis doesn’t like it when I’m writing. I totally get it, it’s much more fun when we play together. They say dogs are our best friends, and now, scientists suggest they have similar intestinal flora to humans. They are actually more similar than we would like to believe, especially thinking about all the things Lovis would chew on if given the chance.

Researchers in Heidelberg have studied Labrador Retrievers and Beagles and they found that, just like in humans, their daily diet have a significant influence on the balance of microbes in the gut. In that respect, humans and dogs are much more similar than humans and mice, and yet we use mice for experiments all the time. However, I don’t want scientists to perform lots of laboratory tests on dogs…

Among other findings, they observed that dogs fed a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet had decreases in the ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes bacteria – just like in humans. If the dog was overweight, it would also lose weight. Also, dogs that ate a high-carbohydrate diet had instead higher abundances of Bacteroidetes. The researchers hope to see the research translate into real-world ways to modify pet food.

There are a lot of theories about this. Researchers say that simply owning a dog can have an effect on overall microbe-sharing. People share microbes on the surfaces they touch, and therefore, family members who live in the same household tend to have more similar gut flora if they have a dog. Also, married couples share more microbes with one another if they have a dog. Interpret that as you will.

Ok, dogs can be pretty dirty, especially after playing around outside. And, they spread the dirt to their surroundings as soon as they come indoors. But remember, this is actually beneficial to your health, and even more, to the health of your children as they crawl around on the floor. Children who grow up around animals are less likely to get allergies, especially if there was already a dog in the family when they were born, or even better, before they were born.

Some scientists suggest that dogs have played a key role in every stage of human development.

The earliest strong evidence for domestication, dating back 14 700 years, is the remains of a dog found buried with its owner. However, some findings suggest that there was a strong connection between humans and dogs more than 40 000 years ago – long before the agricultural revolution and the domestication of other animals.

A theory suggests that early humans and their dogs drove Neanderthals to extinction. Mainly because of the fact that the dogs helped our ancestors hunt more efficiently, and that they could be used as guard dogs.

Well, I’m not sure Lovis would be much use as a guard dog, or what would happen if she ran into a mammoth. But ok Lovis, I’ll stop writing now. Our joint gut feeling tells us it’s time for a walk.

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