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!
After a year and a half of having a second job as a new author, my first book is finally available in print! A comprehensive, thoroughly referenced guide to how our gut bacteria influence physical and mental health: The Symbiont Factor is now available on Amazon as a paperback! If you ever wondered if and why probiotics are healthy you should read this book. Please share with your contacts 🙂 http://tinyurl.com/pe2g4xt
Ok, so most of what I’ve written in regards to probiotics and gut bacteria is about humans-but much of it applies to other species as well! Yesterday, my kids informed me that Jill, our oldest dog, had been nibbling grass for a couple of days and had thrown up all of her food in the morning. I made the suggestion to give her about 3/4 cup of goat milk kefir, surmising that it would help settle her stomach the same way it does a human’s. I found out when I got home that it worked, and really well! Not only did she love it, but she perked up completely, ate all of her food, and had no nausea. Another victory for kefir!
The HPA axis is not a part of the body that is often discussed. It is a functional “axis” that is used to describe the relationship between three parts of the body: the Hypothalamus, the Pituitary gland, and the Adrenal glands. All three of these organs have critical functions with far-reaching implications for physical and mental health. Many psychiatric drugs have been found to affect the HPA axis, resulting in the therapeutic benefit of the drug. Imbalances in HPA function have been implicated in a wide array of neuropsychiatric conditions including in autism. The gut microbiome, gut bacteria, exert control over the development and function of the endocrine hormone system, in particular the HPA axis. Why does this matter? Because imbalances in gut bacteria can therefore result in imbalances in HPA axis development in early life-and this imbalance has the potential to make the person develop autism (as well as other problems in different individuals). It is important because the gut bacteria are so vulnerable to birth practices (c-section vs. natural), antibiotic use, antibiotics in food, pesticides, herbicides such as RoundUp, and even stress levels perceived by the individual. Higher stress is harmful to the gut bacteria through alterations of the digestive functions, secondary to autonomic nervous system imbalance (more sympathetic, or “fight-or-flight”, function). Many of these are factors under our influence if not control! Gut bacterial populations are one of the most variable factors in human health, and yet one of the most neglected. My work on The Symbiont Factor is my contribution to spreading knowledge about the gut microbiome, so that more people can take control of their health and more conditions like autism can hopefully be prevented or successfully treated. The book is being configured/edited/reconfigured/formatted so that it works well on all Kindle download platforms, a task that is keeping me quite busy the last two weeks! Almost there, almost there…It will be so exciting when it is finally published! The book will also be available as a print format following its release as an e-book. Until then, stay tuned in and take care of your gut bacteria!
And, best of all, a slide show from one of the head researchers in the field, Ted Dinan: http://www.genome.gov/Multimedia/Slides/HumanMicrobiomeScience2013/33_Dinan.pdf
Kefir is a fermented milk product with at least a two millenium history of human use. Native people such as the Maasai have used fermentation to preserve their milk products. Kefir is the most popular fermented dairy product in Russia and is thought to have originated in the Caucasus mountain region. Milk that is fermented into kefir has been found to last at least six weeks in refrigeration with no spoilage or loss of probiotic organisms! This is significantly longer than pasteurized and unfermented milk, and works the same way whether with camel, cow, goat or sheep’s milk. Kefir has been found to have many health benefits, among them:
-Kills drug-resistant myeloid leukemia cells
-Slows the progression of kidney disease
-Improves fatty liver disease
-Reduces obesity/body fat content
So, how do you make your own? It’s really simple, actually! All you need is milk, a starter culture, and a jar. Starter cultures can be obtained from someone else who is making kefir, or started from commercially available packets:
The culture that ferments kefir is known as a SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Over time, this culture will grow until it looks a bit like soggy cauliflower:
If making kefir for the first time using a package mix, it is best to follow the directions provided with the kefir grains. When you strain out the grains as shown above, they will grow over time and form a bigger SCOBY. This SCOBY is fairly advanced-it’s a good time to share with someone else! This one can ferment a quart of milk into kefir in 24 hours.
The first step to making kefir from a SCOBY is to add the SCOBY to the fermenting vessel (fancy word for quart mason jar in this case!)
The next step is to add the milk:
Then cover the top with a coffee filter or paper towel, to keep dust and insects from contaminating your kefir culture.
and use either a rubber band or one of the threaded rings (since this is a canning jar) to keep the filter attached tightly:
At this point, I place the jar on top of my refrigerator.
It works best if you take it down and stir it lightly 2-3x/day, or at least give it a good swirling-about, to distribute the bacteria more evenly in the milk. If you prefer a lighter fermentation, 24 hours may be sufficient. I prefer a thicker, stronger fermentation, and often leave it 48 hours or place it in the refrigerator the last 24 hours before removing the SCOBY. The next step is to strain out the SCOBY:
The SCOBY culture can then be put into a smaller glass jar with some fresh milk and stored in the refrigerator, or the process can be repeated to start the next batch of kefir. Using this information, you can create your own healthy kefir at home! We use goat milk obtained from a local farm, but it will work with other types of milk or store-bought goat milk also. Fermentation of milk in this manner preserves the milk, as the bacterial culture will actively inhibit or kill any invading bacteria that might cause spoilage or disease. It has been shown to last at least six weeks, as mentioned above. Will pasteurized milk last six weeks if not fermented? Hardly-it would be a horrid stinking mess! In the same manner, unfermented milk that is fermented is safer for consumption than pasteurized milk that is unfermented. Once finished, kefir can be enjoyed as-is, blended with fruit to make smoothies, or added to other drinks and dishes. So get started and enjoy this healthy probiotic beverage!
Breakfast at the Matthews household, aka “Symbiont Central,” is often a rushed affair. The reality of several dogs, cats and two horses to feed, plus getting five people prepared for their day, makes it challenging at times to follow our own advice. This is when the right power tool comes in hand…enter the NutriBullet. No, this isn’t an ad and we don’t sell them. But, they work really well! So, what was in my breakfast this morning?
-3/4 cup of raw fresh baby kale and mixed organic greens
-3/4 cup of homemade goat milk kefir
-3/4 cup of frozen mango chunks
1 tsp glutamine powder
1 tsp creatine powder
1 tsp Multidophilus probiotic powder
2 opened capsules N-Acetylcysteine or NAC
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp Tahini (sesame seed butter)
Organic Almond milk, probably 1/2 cup or so, to bring the fluid level up in the cup
This odd-sounding combination, when blended and liquified in the NutriBullet, is actually quite tasty and extremely nutritious! It will carry me through most of the morning till lunchtime. Poured into a cup, with a lid and straw, it is breakfast-to-go, Symbiont style! It is also a good example of a Probiotic and Prebiotic combination, also referred to as a Synbiotic
What do all the ingredients do for the body? The kefir is chock full of beneficial bacteria and yeasts, and has much research evidence showing its benefit to the human body and mind. The greens also provide fiber for the gut bacteria, and the way the NutriBullet cuts up the fiber to tiny fragments dramatically enhances its surface area, permitting more bacterial digestion of the fiber. Sesame is metabolized by beneficial gut bacteria to produce byproducts that inhibit cancer growth and stimulate the immune system. The probiotic powder and kefir both improve immune system function and brain function. Creatine is good for muscle energy (I swam about a kilometer last night and plan to again today). Glutamine helps muscles too, and also helps to heal and maintain the integrity of the intestinal lining-preventing excess inflammation. Immune control is important to preventing inflammation, and excess inflammation limits how hard we can exercise as well as destroying health. NAC has a whole host of benefits, including being neuroprotective so that I don’t fry my brain cells trying to finish editing The Symbiont Factor! NAC also has been shown in multiple studies to promote mental and emotional stability-it has even been shown to help with many psychiatric conditions. Mango provides vitamins and fiber, plus it tastes really good! Maple syrup makes the whole combination taste better and provides some short-term carbohydrates to compliment the fats and protein in the combination. Sometimes I add soft tofu to the drink mix instead to supplement the protein content. It also tends to make it thicker and creamier!
The overall effect is a breakfast that takes about 5-6 minutes to create and is an incredibly healthy boost to the day. It also adds some time to relax and not rush, since it is easy to consume and fast to prepare! Almost every ingredient listed is available at WalMart, though I would rather get them from Whole Foods if it were close enough!
I watched a fascinating interview today, with Dr. Deepak Chopra interviewing Professor Larry Smarr about the microbiome and its implications. Many topics were covered, including our identity/”who we are” as a metaspecies or Holobiont. They also spoke about the influence of the microbiome on the brain and on mood. For any of you reading this who have not come across the term before, holobiont theory is the concept that humans (and all eukaryotic organisms actually!) are not singular organisms but function as a “superorganism” that is composed of a larger host organism (human in our case) and all of its symbiont organism populations. In our case this is the trillion-plus population of symbiotic gut bacteria that extends to much of the rest of our body. The reason for considering us a superorganism or holobiont is that without these bacteria, the human brain, immune system, hormonal/endocrine system and digestive systems do not function normally at all. Our mind itself, that refuge of “self” that we mentally and emotionally exist within, is influenced and even somewhat controlled by populations of gut bacteria. As Dr. Smarr states, “If your microbiome is unhappy, you will be unhappy.” It is truly wonderful to see the core concepts of hologenome theory being discussed from an increasingly diverse group of people. Since the symbiont bacteria outnumber the host cells at least 10:1, to not acknowledge the microbiome is to ignore 90% of what we are! Dr. Chopra points out also that meditation can help the microbiome, as can proper diet. Dr. Smarr is a fascinating individual, an astrophysicist and computer scientist now working on quantifying and understanding the human body and its microbiome. The interview is worth watching/listening to!
Link to video:
More about Professor Larry Smarr: