Science Says Sunday – Probiotics

Instagram, like Facebook, will often remind you of the pictures you posted on your feed years ago. This one is from 2014 when I attended the See Jane Write bloggers conference organized by the one and only Javacia Harris Bowser. What a fun time in blogging that was! I was a newbie, talking all things sartorial and very much still finding my footing in academia.

2014 is when I started my faculty position, and hadn’t yet found the confidence to share all things science. I felt more comfortable talking about fashion and lifestyle, how they related to life in academia, and some about my journey as a woman and person of color in academia as well.

I’m glad that this blog’s focus has evolved and I’m now talking about public health and health topics generally, with sprinkles of fashion and lifestyle here and there. 🙂

Today, I’m covering probiotics because I was recently introduced to the scientific work of Dr. Patricia Hibberd, Infectious Disease specialist and Chair of Global Health at Boston University. Together with information I’ve read, here are some points that you should consider if you are or want to take probiotics. Some, even I found surprising!

  • Is there convincing evidence that commercially available probiotics have been found to be beneficial to
    • treat or prevent the diarrhea after taking antibiotics?
      • No
    • decrease allergies?
      • No
    • treat irritable bowel syndrome
      • No
    • improve gut health in babies (via baby food and baby formula?)
      • No
  • Is this better than that?
    • Cold probiotics vs room temp
      • yes; and you’re not consuming good bacteria just because you’re eating yogurt. All yogurts with live bacteria contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, but some manufacturers add other probiotic bacteria after pasteurization, such as L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. rhamnosus and L. casei.
    • Probiotics vs medication
      • probably not. There is no evidence that taking a probiotic over medication for any illness is proven more effective than the medication intended to treat the problem.
    • Prebiotics vs probiotics
      • apparently not mutually exclusive. In order for probiotics to be most effective, you need to have good representation of prebiotics in your daily nutrition. What does that mean?
        • “Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers. They act like fertilizers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. These carbs aren’t digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the bacteria and other microbes.”

Even I, a scientist, was convinced that taking probiotics while taking antibiotics would help prevent diarrhea. Wow!

Interestingly, two other scientists in the field – Eran Elinav and Eran Segal found at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science – carefully studied the effects of probiotics on the gut and collected samples from a small group of volunteers. What did they find:

Strikingly, in about half the people, the probiotics went in and went right back out. In the other half, they did appear to stay in the gut:

“Although all of our probiotic-consuming volunteers showed probiotics in their stool, only some of them showed them in their gut, which is where they need to be,” says Segal. “If some people resist and only some people permit them, the benefits of the standard probiotics we all take can’t be as universal as we once thought. These results highlight the role of the gut microbiome in driving very specific clinical differences between people.”

Their second study “questioned whether patients should be taking probiotics to counter the effects of antibiotics, as they are often told to do in order to repopulate the gut microbiota after it’s cleared by antibiotic treatment. “

“Contrary to the current dogma that probiotics are harmless and benefit everyone, these results reveal a new potential adverse side effect of probiotic use with antibiotics that might even bring long-term consequences,” Elinav says. “In contrast, replenishing the gut with one’s own microbes is a personalized mother-nature-designed treatment that led to a full reversal of the antibiotics’ effects.”

So, what does this mean?

Well, I think it means you’re probably better off eating a healthy diet and saving that money you’re spending on off-the-shelf probiotics, on something else! Sure, there seems to be no harm in consuming yogurt with live cultures, for example. But there is certainly greater benefit to eating – as my registered dietician colleague, Dr. Amanda Willig, says – other gut-health foods like “beans, oatmeal, and vegetables”.

Until we have better studies and better understand the gut biota, continue to learn about the products being thrown your way, but for now save that extra money for a rainy day.


  1. Niv Zmora, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Jotham Suez, Uria Mor, Mally Dori-Bachash, Stavros Bashiardes, Eran Kotler, Maya Zur, Dana Regev-Lehavi, Rotem Ben-Zeev Brik, Sara Federici, Yotam Cohen, Raquel Linevsky, Daphna Rothschild, Andreas E. Moor, Shani Ben-Moshe, Alon Harmelin, Shalev Itzkovitz, Nitsan Maharshak, Oren Shibolet, Hagit Shapiro, Meirav Pevsner-Fischer, Itai Sharon, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Eran Elinav. Personalized Gut Mucosal Colonization Resistance to Empiric Probiotics Is Associated with Unique Host and Microbiome FeaturesCell, 2018; 174 (6): 1388 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.08.041
  2. Jotham Suez, Niv Zmora, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Uria Mor, Mally Dori-Bachash, Stavros Bashiardes, Maya Zur, Dana Regev-Lehavi, Rotem Ben-Zeev Brik, Sara Federici, Max Horn, Yotam Cohen, Andreas E. Moor, David Zeevi, Tal Korem, Eran Kotler, Alon Harmelin, Shalev Itzkovitz, Nitsan Maharshak, Oren Shibolet, Meirav Pevsner-Fischer, Hagit Shapiro, Itai Sharon, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Eran Elinav. Post-Antibiotic Gut Mucosal Microbiome Reconstitution Is Impaired by Probiotics and Improved by Autologous FMTCell, 2018; 174 (6): 1406 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.08.047

Science Says Sunday – COVID-19 Nutrition

And…I’m back! Took a nice two week break from writing the blog to focus on some other things, but I’m officially back! As such, and because I’ve been experimenting with some cooking lately, I thought I would share a little bit about COVID-19 nutrition, because we’ve all been doing a whole lotta eating at home lately…at least I know I have!

The Centers for Disease Control has a great page on ‘Food and COVID-19‘ that I reviewed for today’s post. The main takeaways are (for those tl;dr folks):

  • There is no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with COVID-19 (aka takeout/delivery is safe to pick up and consume at home). Just remember wash your hands thoroughly and for 20 seconds before eating.
  • The risk of getting COVID-19 from food, treated drinking water, or food packaging is very low. Don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly and for 20 seconds before eating.
  • You should NOT use disinfectants designed for hard surfaces, such as bleach or ammonia, on food packaged in cardboard or plastic wrap. Also, don’t drink bleach or any other non-food/drink. Yikes.
  • To help cope with stress that may be related to the pandemic, take care of your body including good nutrition, as part of self-care.
  • Most importantly, dietary supplements aren’t meant to treat or prevent COVID-19. Certain vitamins and minerals (e.g., Vitamins C and D, zinc) may have effects on how our immune system works to fight off infections, as well as inflammation and swelling.
    • The best way to obtain these nutrients is through foods: Vitamin C in fruits and vegetables, Vitamin D in low-fat milk, fortified milk alternatives, and seafood, and zinc in lean meat, seafood, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
    • In some cases, dietary supplements may have unwanted effects, especially if taken in too large amounts, before surgery, or with other dietary supplements or medicines, or if you have certain health conditions.
    • If you are considering taking vitamins or dietary supplements, talk with your pharmacist, registered dietitian, or other healthcare provider before taking, especially when combining or substituting them with other foods or medicine.

There may be a lot of people out there pushing you to buy supplements and other things during this time, but rest assured that the best way to get the best nutrition and dietary nutrients your body may need is through eating well-balanced, nutritious meals! So stay away from people tryna sell you bottles of “covid-prevention liquids, pills, or mixtures” and run to the grocery store and stock up on veggies and fruits instead. Might be cheaper too! If you do decide to take supplements like Vitamin D, for example, make sure you consult with a physician or registered dietician to determine what you need and what specific dose you need.

Some of you have asked me about edelberry. While this has not been studied in the context of COVID-19 specifically, the best advice I found was from the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at The University of Arizona. Some evidence suggests it may ‘help boost immunity’ and possibly lengthen the duration of flu symptoms for example, though this evidence has not been rigorously tested (eg, unknown whether people who take edelberry are more likely to be healthier, younger, etc in general, or, if there is some placebo effect at play. That aside, what is cautioned with respect to edelberry is its potential contribution to the ‘cytokine storm’ we are seeing in some COVID-19 patients. The site states, “For this reason, to minimize the possibility that elderberry could aggravate the inflammatory “cytokine storm” associated with the more severe COVID-19 infections, it is recommended to stop elderberry at the first signs of infection (fever, cough, sore throat) and/or if you test positive for the virus.” Because you can test positive and NOT have any or only mild symptoms, it might be advisable to lay off the eldeberry juice or gummies.

Taking all that into consideration, we have cooked at home a lot lately, and today, sharing this salad, as it is one of my absolute favorites. You can make it with any combination or raw veggies, really, but the key if using kale, is to massage the kale with olive oil to soften it, and then squeeze some lemon over the entire salad. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on it, and voila! You have a healthy, nutrient packed salad!

Here’s another salad I love, and one that my mom has made for years. Use as a garnish, or eat alone. Made out of cactus and what is best known as ‘pico de gallo’!

I’ve also engaged the kids in cooking a lot lately. In fact, I have found that if the kids are involved, they take sooooo much pride in their cooking, that that they are more likely to eat it, especially if it’s something new like kale.

Anyway! So, after all that you want to know how to prevent getting sick with COVID-19?

  1. Wash your hands
  2. Watch your distance (stay 6 feet away from others)
  3. Wear your mask
  4. Avoid Crowded spaces
  5. Avoid Close Contact with others
  6. Avoid Closed spaces (indoors is worse than outdoors)

Six easy things, and they don’t cost you any money! Except of course unless you don’t already have a mask. Here are some you can buy if you still don’t have any at home. Oh yeah, and eat those healthy meals as much as possible. I won’t be mad at ya if you throw some fries on the side though, because honestly, that’s how I roll. It’s called balance. 😀

Science Says Sunday – Men’s Health


First and foremost, a Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers and father figures! Today’s post is focused on reminding all the men in our lives about keeping healthy habits. Did you know that the week leading up to Father’s Day (happy day to all the Father’s out there!), is National Men’s Health Week? A week to remind us all there are easy things we can do to help all the men in our lives stay healthy.

According to the CDC, leading causes of death in the US include:

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As such, here are five things to remember to ensure healthy lives for all men in our lives:

  1. Remember to get regular check ups
    • It’s important for men to know their family history. This can help doctor’s provide guidance for prevention and care when they go in for annual visits.
    • Schedule regular checkups with a
      • primary care physician
      • dermatologist
      • dentist
      • specialist (as needed)
    • Because not everyone has access to health care providers, some may have and/or inadequate or no health insurance, it’s important to also know how to perform some self-checks like knowing signs and symptoms for things like skin cancer and heart attacks/strokes.
  2. Know symptoms for heart attacks and strokes
    • Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death among men in the US? Knowing the signs and symptoms is important to help secure help in a timely manner and get treatment that can be life saving!
      • Every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a heart attack. If you think you or someone you know is having a heart attack call 911 immediately. Major signs of a heart attack include:

        • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
        • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint
        • Chest pain or discomfort
        • Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder
        • Shortness of breath

        For more information, visit the

  3. Practice healthy habits
    • Diet
      • Eat healthy and include a variety of fruits and vegetables every day
    • Exercise
      • Controlling one’s weight can reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers, and can improve your mental health and mood. Adults need 2½ hours of physical activity each week.
    • Safety
      • Did you know that ‘unintentional injuries’ are the third leading cause of death in the US??
        • Practicing safety means wearing a seatbelt and wearing a helmet when biking, for example. Examples of unintentional injuries include traffic injuries, poisoning, falls, fire and burn injuries, and drowning. Practicing safety when involved in any of these activities is important!
  4. Seek help to ensure good mental health
    • Depression is also one of the leading causes of death in the US, for both men and women. Very important to also recognize the signs and symptoms of depression or anxiety to help maintain good mental health. According to the CDC,
      • Signs of depression include persistent sadness, grumpiness, feelings of hopelessness, tiredness and decreased energy, and thoughts of suicide.
      • Those that suffer from depression or anxiety should seek help as early as possible. If you or someone you care about is in crisis, please seek help immediately.
        • Call 911
        • Visit a nearby emergency department or your health care provider’s office
        • Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) to talk to a trained counselor
  5. COVID-19 safety
    • I’d be remiss to not remind you about COVID-19 safety when so many states are being affected by increasing rates of transmission of the virus that causes this disease. While you’re probably tired of hearing about it, COVID-19 is not tired of you. Many people have lost their sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, etc to COVID-19, so I implore you to take it seriously. Three simple ways to help prevent COVID-19 infection are the three W’s:
      • Wear a mask
      • Wait distanced from others, 6 feet is preferable
      • Wash your hands North Carolina COVID-19 Information Hub

    • Three other simple ways include avoiding the three C’s
      • Crowded spaces – bad news bears! But if you also find yourself in a crowded space, wear a mask and also try to stand physically distanced from others.
      • Close contact – stand 6 feet apart and try not to be in close contact for longer than 15 minutes without a mask on
      • Closed spaces – avoid close spaces if possible, and if you find yourself in one, definitely wear a mask and stand away from others

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