One of the current most popular diets is the Paleo diet. I’ve written in my book, The Symbiont Factor, about how there is fossil evidence supporting the Paleo diet as the way ancient humans ate, and have some additional thoughts on this controversial subject. Like many diets, the Paleo diet has evolved as many individuals and organizations promote their own vision of what a Paleo diet would have been or should be. This is normal, but for someone trying to learn how and why to eat a certain way, it can be bewildering! On one extreme is a Paleo vision that seems really more like an Atkins diet with some vegetables, on the other more like a Vegetarian diet with a little seafood added in. So, with that in mind, why would someone choose a Paleo diet? The basic concept is that our species has spent the majority of its evolutionary trajectory consuming a diet that did not include simple carbohydrates, large percentages of grains or any processed foods. This part of Paleo seems to be univerally agreed on as the building blocks of the diet movement-but what about proteins? I’ve read a great deal about our ancestral origins, and I’m going to run it up the flagpole to see who salutes! I grew up spending much of my childhood in the woods hunting or picking food, fishing or catching things to eat along streams and ponds, and catching blue crabs in the Hudson River (and yes they were yummy). I’ve always followed the licensing and bag limit rules, but since being a child I’ve also somewhat kept tally of those times that I could have taken game if I were starving, yet didn’t because it was out of season in some way. Now I know that many people who follow a Paleo diet likely have an image of ancient hominids that is a bit more romantic or idealized than what I’m about to describe, but hang in there and consider it! First, if we had to survive by hunting and fishing, most of us would starve-some quite quickly. Even if there were no rules, as in ancient paleo societies, hunting and fishing as we think of it today would not work well at all. There is too much energy expenditure involved in an individual capturing an animal for meat. Ancient humans worked around this in a few ways: group cooperative hunts, trapping, and alternative sources of protein. Native Americans, for example, let their children hunt small game while the men either raided other camps and tribes or hunted larger prey in groups. This strategy raised the odds that somebody would catch something! There is evidence that ancient Man had similar divisions of labor, with men hunting game while women and children foraged for other sources of nutrition such as tubers, plants, and…insects. Plains Indians of course had different strategies for hunting Bison, including stalking under cover, chasing on horseback (technically not until they had horses after the Spanish brought horses to the Americas) and driving herds toward pit traps, ambushes or ledges. Fishing is a similar example, with fish being far easier to net or trap than to catch! Fossil remains suggest that any civilizations living near the ocean probably subsisted more on shellfish than anything else for protein. This is evidenced by huge fossilized piles of shells that have been discovered. Having moved to Downeast Maine recently, I can attest to the difference in energy expenditure involved. Any game animals I’ve seen are distant and fleeing, yet I can walk down to the shore and pick a bucket of mussels off the rocks in a few minutes, getting enough to feed several people. Ancient man almost certainly spent much time near or in the water foraging for food. Our bodies come equipped with a functional dive reflex that makes short underwater excursions easier than many would believe! With this in mind, where does it leave ancient people that lived further inland? If you were in the wilderness and had to survive, what would be the easiest and safest source of high-quality protein, fats and nutrients? No, it isn’t that deer that you may or may not ever get…it is insects. They are plentiful and nutritious, and rarely fight back much. I know this sounds “gross” and might not fit what most Paleo afficionados would like to think, but consider it for a moment. Other primates eat insects, survival experts have touted them as a food source, and it doesn’t take nearly as much energy to get enough to sustain life. Some modern businesses have emerged to supply a modern version that is more accessible and perhaps more presentable, in forms such as protein powders or flavored varieties. One of the criticisms of Paleo diets is the need for meat, and the environmental cost/footprint to produce meat. Readers of The Symbiont Factor will also know that commercial meat has a huge number of chemicals included, antibiotics and pesticides, hormones and other goodies, which wreak havoc on our microbiome and our health. Organically raised meat is the way to go, and yet from a global perspective, would it even be possible for many more people to raise and eat organically grown meat? Probably not, as the yield per-acre is lower (don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing compared to feedlot beef, but not necessarily possible on a global scale). While some of us are still hunters and occassionally can stock the freezer with the original organic, free-range meat, there is still a large part of the population that doesn’t hunt for ethical, geographical or practical reasons. In many families it may have been several generations since anybody hunted! Insects can produce more protein and nutrition with less global impact. I’m not ready to give up completely on meat, but when considering a true Paleo diet, an ento-diet (entomology is the study of insects) is worth study. We’ve been a bit spoiled by sanitized, clean, packaged, pretty foods that don’t resemble their original source in any way-and yet, several times each year there are outbreaks and recalls of such foods due to infectious organisms found in them. Is “sanitary” really an illusion after all? Is it even better for us? Again, in The Symbiont Factor, I reviewed something known as the “Hygiene Theory,” which is the observation that the human being requires a certain degree of bacterial and allergen exposure in order to develop a balanced immune system. When all food is sterile and has no contribution to our inner microbiome, and our children grow up in a sterile, Mr. Clean type of household, the risk of autoimmune diseases is far greater. These can be simple allergies or as severe as ALS, MS, Rheumatoid Arthritis and other modern plagues that are largely the result of our attempts to isolate ourselves from the microbial world. Maybe it is time to consider what we would call “alternative” sources of protein, though they were probably a central source of nutrition for much of mankind’s life. I know, it feels like more of a Paleo thing to eat a Bison steak than chili-lime crickets, but…don’t let it bug you!
A new study published recently has shown that bacterial colonies have an additional channel of communication than previously thought-they can communicate through ionic channels between cells. This allows bacteria in a colony to exchange data through electrical impulses; electrically charges particles (ions) in a manner remarkably similar to how a brain’s neurons communicate with one another!
This new study is fascinating to me, as one of the principal concepts in The Symbiont Factor was that a bacterial colony acts more like a multicellular organism than a group of single celled organisms. Professor Eshel Ben-Jacob had shown this communication ability through his many research studies, and was the first (as far as I know) to profess that colonies functioned in a logical intelligent manner. In my book, I show how gut bacteria influence the host organism to facilitate their continued survival and reproduction (traits normally attributed to far more complex organisms) by altering our metabolism, gut function, appetite for different items, brain function and many other variables.
This new study should make the health of your symbiont bacterial colony even more of a priority!
I’ve been working on rewriting my book description, as I’ve never liked the one I used. So, today’s post is all about updates on TSF. I’m working on the next book too, and it’s all about applying the information from TSF to everyday life! So, here’s the update so far, with a linky at the bottom:
What if many of the things you thought you knew about being human did not actually work the way you were taught?
What if scientific research into gut bacteria had revealed huge amounts of information about their role in human function, health, emotions and appetite and healthcare hadn’t caught up at all?
What if you could find out the key to controlling your weight without starving yourself or undergoing dangerous surgery?
What if the book you’re looking at could teach you about the explosion of scientific research on the microbiome, without you having to read a few thousand studies to understand it?
You’ve probably heard that our gut bacteria vastly outnumber our human cells, and our gut bacteria’s gene pool includes more than one hundred times the gene count as our human cells. What does that mean and how does it work?
If you’re interested in knowing more about “what makes us tick” physically and emotionally, how to hurt less and age more gracefully, then this book is for you!
If you’re tired of books that state the author’s opinion or make broad claims without scientific backing or support, this book includes about 1300 peer-reviewed research studies, and the e-book has links to those studies on the National Library of Health/National Library of Medicine.
One of the inspirations for this book was research published by the late Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob, a brilliant Israeli researcher. I was able to share this book with him before he passed away, and this is what he said about it:
“This excellent and long needed book presents in a clear and sound manner the recent dramatic findings about our gut bacteria. These thousands of trillions microorganisms living inside us play a crucial role in regulating our well-being throughout life. The new message is of great importance to the entire medical community, life sciences researchers, as well as the general public. Realizing the role of gut bacteria can help each of us to better understand the effect of nutrients, as mediated by the gut bacteria, on our body in health, in disease and in special times, such as pregnancy, nursing or periods of high stress. For example, we now understand that the massive use of antibiotics in children, adults and agriculture has endangered our vital microbiome and is liable to cause diseases such as Type 2 diabetes on a global scale. The gut microbiome is emerging as a vital part of humanity, without which health and happiness are severely compromised. The time has come for this knowledge to be widely understood!”
Professor Eshel Ben-Jacob, International member of the American Philosophical Society
Professor of Physics
The Maguy-Glass Professor
in Physics of Complex Systems
School of Physics and Astronomy
Tel Aviv University, 69978 Tel Aviv, Israel
Thanks for visiting my blog! First, a brief bit of news: In the next series of blog posts, I will be focusing less on theory and more on practical information about what to do. This signifies a shift that goes along with my working on my next book! And, now you know more about the next book-it will be quite a bit more how-to, still backed up by peer reviewed research but of a more practical nature than The Symbiont Factor is.
Ok, the first thing to cover? There is apparently no perfect universal microbiome. There is, however, an optimum microbiome for each particular individual, at least in theory. There are patterns that researchers have revealed, however, and these can serve as a guide to improving our own microbiome and health.
Last week a research study was published indicating that pomegranate consumption boosted the levels of Akkermansia mucinophilia, one of the (usually) beneficial healthy bacteria. Akkermansia has been the subject of many recent articles, as it has been found to reduce body fat accumulation and helps build more lean muscle while reducing inflammation. Using prebiotics to preferentially nourish desirable organisms can be a vital part of your symbiont strategy.
Pomegranate is available in many forms; it is available as a juice, it is available in capsule form and of course as a pomegranate fruit. For long-term use I recommend capsules. The study was 4 weeks in length, and resulted in a 47-fold increase in Akkermansia so it is important to consume it regularly for best results.
Of course, Pomegranate has many other health benefits, but its prebiotic tendency to improve the microbiome is very significant. The microbial by-products of metabolizing pomegranate have powerful anti-cancer effects as well!
(remember to register as a patient on Progressive Labs, and specify me, Dr. Richard Matthews, as the person who referred you there. Thanks!)
The lowly microbiome appears to be capturing an ever-increasing audience in the news these days. This explosion of new knowledge about our microscopic symbionts and how they contribute to who we are prompted me to write The Symbiont Factor. It has been exciting to see the continued flow of news stories that support and contribute to the concepts I wrote about in my book. This article is about one of those concepts and recent news that supports it.
There are many aspects to how the microbiome is crucial to human function, with one of the most significant involving the immune system. Our human immune system depends on the microbiome for its early development, as well as continued “target practice” to maintain its functional accuracy throughout life. This is one reason that the diversity and integrity of the human microbiome in the first few years of life is of such crucial significance. If the microbiome is lacking in diversity or imbalanced in some other way, the immune system will not develop normally. The result is often a lack of specificity, with many body tissues falling prey to friendly fire as the immune system begins to mutiny against the body and autoimmune disease manifests.
The newborn baby receives a huge dose of gut bacteria “starter culture” from the mother during normal childbirth. Children born via Caesarian section (“c-section”) do not receive this gift of microbiome, instead developing a microbiome characterized by the interior of the hospital room. Recent studies suggest that newborns are not born sterile and may receive some bacterial symbionts prior to birth, yet this is a small amount compared to that received from vaginal birth.
A large, long-term study was recently completed in Denmark to evaluate whether being born via c-section resulted in increased incidence of autoimmune disease. The study spanned 35 years and included 2 million individuals, providing substantial support for the different outcomes from birth methods. The researchers found an increased incidence of several autoimmune diseases in those who were born by c-section compared to those born via vaginal section. The researchers did not claim that the different outcomes were a result of differences in microbiome, yet the study does lend considerable weight to that argument! It is the largest, longest-running study yet published showing different health outcomes for the two birth methods. Other studies have already established the connection between altered infant/early life microbiome and a variety of chronic health conditions. Many of these are discussed in The Symbiont Factor, and I’ve included some references below as well.
If you were about to have a baby and had to choose a hospital (with a safe outcome being your top concern) would you choose a hospital that provides free or low-cost care to an indigent or poor population? Surprise! that hospital might actually be safer. San Francisco General is just that hospital, and boasts a very low rate of c-section (and great outcomes). Why would that be? This article identified one major difference: SFG has its physicians on salaries, so they make no additional money if they perform a c-section than if they help a mother deliver naturally. In addition, they are not on a “time-table” to complete a delivery during their shift, as they lose no income if the next physician does the delivery instead! It has been estimated that many (potentially more than half) of all c-sections are not medically necessary and are instead performed for convenience. This is not necessarily the convenience of the mother, but often that of the physician as the example above illustrates. If you’re a physician, please don’t take that personally-just contemplate how it would be if your paycheck never changed regardless of how many procedures of any kind you performed. It might actually be less stressful!
Once again, the microbiome seems to be central to human function and health. If the microbiome is compromised, then problems result-making it extra critical for us to learn the signs of dysbiosis (imbalanced microbiome), what can be done to ensure its health, and how it affects us physically, mentally, and emotionally. All of these concepts and more are discussed in The Symbiont Factor, and referenced with 1327 references-most of them from peer-reviewed professional journals. Now is the time to learn about symbionts and their powerful influence on our lives, so check it out!
Ok, so I still drink coffee, and from the statistics I’ve read, most of you readers probably drink coffee too! I decided to try to make the coffee as healthy as possible, stacking some other health benefits along with reduction of Parkinson’s probability/severity and making the world seem like a happier place. Coffee has also been found to inhibit some types of cancer. Cocoa also has cancer-preventive properties. Cayenne pepper reduces the effects of high cholesterol, helping prevent oxidative stress to heart cells. I’ve read that the Aztecs used coffee, and cocoa and of course cayenne pepper-so why not combine the three? I know I’m not the first to do this, but it certainly does have a particular taste and kick to it! Especially (espressoly?) when made with espresso.
Recently I have been reading quite a bit about Yacon syrup and its health benefits. It turns out that yacon, which is a South American root vegetable, is processed into a molasses-like syrup that is a natural sweetener. If that wasn’t good enough, most of the carbohydrates in the syrup are not digestible, so it is a low-calorie sweetener that isn’t poisonous like Splenda. Yacon is also a prebiotic, with fiber that some of our gut bacteria just love. The species that thrive on it include Bifido and Akkermansia. Why, you ask, is that significant? Bifido is a “colonizer” species that helps to heal gut wall damage, and Akkermansia makes us burn up fat faster-increasing lean mass and lowering BMI. Akkermansia is also helpful in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes and immune system regulation.
Since Yacon is also from the same continent (and possibly region) as the Aztecs were, I reasoned that it should be good in coffee! Now, to a double shot of espresso or a mug of normal coffee, I add a teaspoon of cocoa powder and a tablespoon of yacon syrup, and a couple of sprinkles of cayenne pepper. On occasion, I’ve also added half a teaspoon of powdered inulin (another beneficial prebiotic; this one is from Jerusalem Artichoke). The inulin seems to disappear and not add any particular flavor, but the yacon gives the coffee a slight sweetness and the molasses-like flavor complements the cocoa/coffee/cayenne trinity quite nicely! Some who have tried it say that it’s too strong a taste, while many have adopted it as a coffee drink. Our local coffee shop, the Jitterbug, will make an Aztec espresso if asked, though I have yet to introduce them to yacon as a sweetener.
So there you have it-a new coffee drink has been invented and it has some powerful health benefits!
What are the causes of dysbiosis and resultant dysfunction/disease? One cause that seems to be greatly underestimated may be simply our mood! Human beings, having been gifted with large frontal lobes, are capable of experiencing and expressing a variety of moods. Our bodies respond to these moods with different functional states, some of which have been categorized. These are “fight or flight (or sometimes, fight/flee/fortify)” or “wine and dine”. There are many more physiological functional arousal states that we could elaborate on, but many of them could make this blog post NSFW. We’ll just assume that your imagination can fill in the blanks with how the body responds to the mind! With the brain-gut connection in mind, and being also cognizant that it’s a two-way street since the gut influences the brain, what would be the influence of stress? One that comes to mind right away is a reduction in gut motility. This changes the environment in which the microbiome exists, and will change the demographics of the microorganisms. What about the effects of peristalsis on the small intestine? If there is less peristalsis, wouldn’t it make it easier for colonic organisms to migrate to the small intestine? If transit times increase, different stages of food digestion could release different nutrients, feeding different organisms. When do we cross from fermentative to putrefactive dominance? Using one of the concepts in The Symbiont Factor, this two-way function of gut/brain/gut axis can cause a positive feedback loop. If gut organisms that flourish during emotional stress can also alter neurotransmitter function at the brain, wouldn’t that predispose the brain to perceive stress following stressful events? What if that is why sometimes after a stressful day we just have more stress, no matter what happens? It is as if our very perception of our environment is vulnerable to plasticity. If this is allowed to happen without our conscious intervention (things like deciding to meditate or do some yoga even though you’re angry) the combination of evoked brain plasticity with gut symbiont evolution could be what makes it hard to shake off stress! Ironically, this same plasticity is probably an evolutionary advantage, allowing genetic selection of the microbiome on an ongoing real-time basis to adapt to circumstances. The problem is that our modern circumstances provide constant chemical and emotional pressure to this system, resulting in “learned dysfunction” of both the gut and the brain! This highlights the importance of “mental housekeeping” and lifestyle choices in determining our “perceptual future”. If you don’t want the world to seem as stressful, start taking care of mind, body, and symbiont health!