Tag Archives: holobiont

From the Zombie Files: Ampulex dementor, obesity, and brains. What’s the connection?

One of the central concepts of The Symbiont Factor is that there are times in nature that organisms can take control of another organism’s nervous system, rendering it “a zombie”. This isn’t a zombie in the Hollywood sense, just a host organism that no longer is singularly in control of itself due to the effects of other organisms that “hijack” its nervous system.

In this case, a new organism has been discovered, a fearsome looking wasp in Thailand. This wasp hunts cockroaches, and injects a neurotoxin into them. This makes the cockroach lose active control of its legs so that it cannot escape, and the wasp can eat it slowly while it is still alive. Nature really has some gruesome stories, doesn’t it?

In our own bodies, we have a colony of trillions of bacteria. The late Prof Eshel Ben-Jacob performed experiments and wrote articles documenting how large bacterial colonies were able to act with logic, more as multicellular  organisms. Like multicellular organisms, their activities have a goal: survival. In the case of our microbiome, it is beginning to appear that their ability to alter our nervous system function and our brain activity is not randomized. There is a bi-directional influence at work: as an example, the bacteria that thrive on a fatty diet make us crave fatty foods, and those that thrive on sweets make us crave sweets. If we eat the fatty foods or sweets, it of course preferentially benefits the organisms that thrive on it. This is why there seems to be a “tipping point” in gaining weight such that our energy level drops and our appetite changes, facilitating weight gain. The actual organisms that help us lose weight and stay lean have been identified (Akkermansia mucinophilia is one example), as have those that make us gain weight. Their effect is significant enough that they have been called “obesogens”. It isn’t a single organism but a pattern of demographic shift-more of these/less of those-that results in weight gain or loss.

The changes to brain function, sensory sensitivity (ie what smells tasty to you), mood and behavior shift (a stress microbiome!) make us just a little like a zombie too in some cases. Certainly our behavior and our function is the result of the activity of trillions of symbiont organisms as well as our own decision-making. In effect “we” are composed of many organisms!

Relevant links (many are in the bibliography of The Symbiont Factor: http://tinyurl.com/p3b9o9d):

http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/terrifying-new-dementor-wasp-species-named-evil-spirits-harry-potter.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3995701/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4380304/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26047662

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24430437

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25968641

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25401094

http://iopscience.iop.org/1478-3975/11/5/053009/pdf/1478-3975_11_5_053009.pdf

The Brain as a Puppet: Gut Bacterial Control of Human Development and Behavior

Human intelligence brain medical symbol represented by a close up of active neurons and organ cell activity related to neurotransmitters showing intelligence with memory and healthy cognitive thinking activity.

Human intelligence brain medical symbol represented by a close up of active neurons and organ cell activity related to neurotransmitters showing intelligence with memory and healthy cognitive thinking activity.

One of the most fascinating discoveries of the last decade is the extent of influence that our bacterial microbiome has on our brain. We are really quite used to thinking of “ourselves” as a singular identity and yet our very mind may be more of a chorus than a solo. Trillions of bacteria all compete to have their needs met and their voice heard, and all of them have the ability to alter the very function of our brain at the most fundamental level. Several research papers have documented this (see references below in case you feel I’m off my rocker for saying some of the things I’m going to say 🙂

Today’s researchers are examining the many ways that gut bacteria can communicate with the human brain, and have found many pathways. The symbionts can alter the sensitivity of our neurotransmitter receptors, can release molecules that mimic neurotransmitters, produce neurotransmitters and release them into blood circulation, inflict pain or stimulate pleasure. What is the motive and why would they do this? How did bacteria learn Pavlovian training and use it to manipulate our mood, behavior and activity? The answer goes back quite far, but comes down to one thing: survival. From the beginning of evolution, bacteria have influenced the development of the multicellular organism. In many ways, you could look at bacteria as the most basic unit of life although this is generally a title attributed to the cell. Cells themselves are composed of structures that may have originated as bacteria that learned/evolved cooperative relationships. Today’s robotics researchers are studying spontaneous collective functioning as well, a parallel interest of mine. We now are fairly certain that gut bacterial symbionts not only guide the development of the human brain after birth, but influence its development before birth as well. To take that thought a step further, previous generations of symbionts have guided and facilitated the evolution of the human brain itself. Their genetic reservoir of DNA “data” is orders of magnitude greater than that of the human host, and has the ability to evolve and adapt on-the-fly during a lifetime. This gives the potential for intragenerational evolution as well as intergenerational, allowing us to evolve a bit during our lifetime and then pass this on to our children (unless they are born by caesarian section or blasted with antibiotics and vaccinations at a young age, but…that is the subject of other posts!) During our lifetime, from our earliest moments, our symbiont organisms are constantly tweaking our behavior and senses to suit their needs. In a way, we are the machine that permits them to live as a multicellular organism in a far more advanced manner, and in a world that many of them cannot survive in without us. It’s as if we built a gigantic robot that could house the entire human population (except, well, there are more gut bacteria in one human than there are humans on the planet) and used this robot to live in places that we normally could not survive in. We would certainly guide the robot to find foods that we can benefit from and do things that aid our survival. Gut bacteria do exactly that, and very elegantly. It isn’t coincidence that obligate anaerobes cause us to be stressed, which makes us breathe shallowly, tense up our muscles so they burn up oxygen, and even begin to develop apnea during the daytime and at night. What is the result? less oxygen in the gut, and that is what an obligate anaerobe benefits from. Our eating behavior is controlled by gut symbionts, to the point that some can inflict pain directly if we don’t eat something they need or trigger euphoric feeling when we give in and eat what they need. This is the reason that “diets” are so challenging, and particularly so for the obese individual-we are Pavlov’s dog, and the trainer has a cattle prod in one hand and a direct brain pleasure stimulation in the other. What will be your choice today? Yes, we can overcome that and eat a diet of “our” choosing, but only successfully after that diet and behavior changes result in changes to the microbiome. You see, once the microbiome is fed a certain way, the organisms that survive on that diet are the ones that become dominant. You can “starve out” harmful/nonbeneficial organisms, but it isn’t easy or pleasant. During a recent podcast interview with the entertaining and brilliant Clint Paddison (The Paddison Program for Rheumatoid Arthritis) he explained to me that fasting is a primary step in recovery/healing from RA. So, you see, we are as much the puppet as the master-it’s a two way street and while the host influences the symbionts, it works both ways. Symbionts can change our very perception of our world, altering our senses to guide our behavior to their benefit.

Ok, so with these thoughts in “mind” consider what the true effect of our diet is. Every single thing you eat and drink or even breathe alters symbiont bacteria to favor those that thrive on the substances in question. Eat a lot of fast “food”? You’ve selectively feeding the organisms that thrive on that. The problem is that apparently most of them are not beneficial to host health! We should also consider that all of these changes to gut bacteria as a result of our eating/drinking/breathing have consequences to our mental function. Everything from mental clarity, intelligence, emotional stability, personality-our very potential as human beings-is influenced by the bacteria that live in our gut. So which do you want to feed, the ones that may make you feel ill mentally and physically or the ones that could help you reach your true potential and live as long and healthy a life as possible?

If you’re intrigued by this discussion even a bit, you should consider reading the reference articles below. If you’d like to understand the subject better but want to read it in English and not research-ese, then please read my book, The Symbiont Factor. You can find it on Amazon as an e-book or paperback at the following link: http://tinyurl.com/p7mx6hh

References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25401092

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25772005

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25103109

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25974299

Studying our own Microbiome! The search for answers continues…

I got my ubiome results back today! It is amazing how much data there is in the report-it’s possible to dig down to the genus level, even species, in most of the organisms listed. Comparing microbiomes with typical healthy omnivores, paleo diet followers, heavy drinkers, and other categories. Considering the tremendous impact that the microbiome has on who we are and how healthy we will be in our future, this test is vital. It’s still only as useful as you make it however! Keeping in mind that increased diversity is associated with health, and a loss of diversity is associated with dysfunction and disease, it’s also good to understand all of the influences of the microbiome on our physical/mental/emotional health and function. That’s where all of the information in my book, The Symbiont Factor, comes into play. Yes, it may sound like a pitch…but it really does have a great spectrum of information in it! Check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/m4agxd5

Mood: Does it affect gut symbiont health and intestinal function?

flow chart stress intestinal function inflammation

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!

The Symbiont Factor is now a paperback, available on Amazon!

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

Ebola and the Microbiome-Facts You Need to Know!

In light of the most recent microbial scare, the Ebola virus outbreak in Africa which threatens to spread to the United States, I thought that perhaps it would be interesting to research and review some potential connections to the microbiome. What do our gut bacteria have to do with Ebola? Read on to find out!

The first issue to consider is susceptibility. Are some people resistant? This is not readily available knowledge, as there is no way to conduct ethical research with a virus boasting a 90% mortality. However, it has been researched with animals-and some animals are resistant when others are susceptible. The difference between the two appears to be reduced levels of circulating B and T cells, a part of the immune system that builds antibody responses to pathogens. (Chepurnov)

A second issue is the difference in mortality between survivors and those who perished from the disease. What has been found (in humans this time) is that those who succumbed had depressed levels of CD3+, CD4+ and CD8+ lymphocytes and greatly elevated inflammation levels. The inflammation was termed a “cytokine storm” due to the activation of the cytokine system that causes the inflammatory cascade. (Wauquier)

Is there a connection between the immune system function and the microbiome? Yes, there is such a connection, and it is well documented in The Symbiont Factor. Deficiency of gut bacteria causes depression in the immune components involved, resulting in depressed levels described above as causing increased vulnerability to the Ebola virus (Huang, Chung). Adding probiotics helps to stimulate the development of the CD4+ and CD8+ immune components important for resistance (Qadis, Palomar). Antibiotics that disrupt gut bacteria and cause dysbiosis can result in greatly elevated inflammatory response (Bercik).

How did the Ebola (and HIV) viruses begin to affect humans, instead of remaining diseases of animals? One current theory that is gaining momentum has to do with our micro-microbiome. Most of the microbiome discussed in The Symbiont Factor is bacterial, but humans can also have viral microbiomes. Some viruses exist within us and serve useful purposes! One such virus is a “primate T-cell retrovirus” that occurs only in areas that have had high levels of malaria for many generations. This virus elevates levels of T-cells that combat malaria, providing greater resistance to malaria. The use of anti-malarial drugs has caused development of drug resistance in this virus, also providing a pathway for the Ebola and HIV viruses to cross species barriers and infect humans. So, it is possible that in effect, we caused the Ebola and HIV problem. (Parris)

What does this mean in the big picture of things? Encouraging innate immunity is always safer than resorting to drugs, particularly as a preventive measure. Building up your microbiome so that your immune system is in tip-top shape may actually reduce the odds of contracting the infection if exposed to the pathogenic virus. More reasons to learn about The Symbiont Factor that keeps our body and mind at its best!

Recommended Reading:

The Symbiont Factor: http://amzn.to/1jz3kPt

 

References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12152882

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20957152

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16290233

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24131856

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24016865

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22726443

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24997039

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16893612

 

Exercise, Bodybuilding, Testosterone and Probiotics!

Testosterone is central to growing muscle and getting in shape, for both men and women. Now before you think I’m endorsing injecting testosterone, understand that what I’m talking about is getting your body’s natural production and usage of testosterone up to where it should be. After all, if you could grow muscle or get in shape more like you did as a teenager, you would get more out of exercise, right?

There are many factors affecting testosterone, such as sleep (or lack thereof), inflammation, and gut bacteria. Yes, those microscopic organisms who outnumber human cells 10:1 and whose gene count dwarfs our human DNA! They don’t just help digestion, but also help manage our endocrine system which produces our hormones-including testosterone!

The bodybuilding community is beginning to catch on to the fact that gut health and probiotic bacteria can play a big role in muscle growth. Here is a great article about this very thing: http://bit.ly/1mVz5gE. A very well written and entertaining article, by the way!

It isn’t quite as simple as just taking probiotics, of course, although that is a great start. To establish and improve gut bacterial colonies, you should also learn about how mood and behavior impact gut bacterial health, and what steps can be taken to optimize diet and chemical exposure for maximum gut bacterial benefit. The result can be reduced inflammation (which permits harder workouts!) and better testosterone levels (which maximizes the benefits of the exercise!).

More information about how to accomplish these goals, as well as preventing health problems related to gut bacterial imbalances, can be found by reading The Symbiont Factor. You can check it out here: http://amzn.to/1jz3kPt