What is “the best diet”? Have you ever noticed that what works for one person does not work for another? We all have gut bacteria, and those gut bacteria are literally a functional part of us. Really, it would be more accurate to say that “we” are not an organism with symbionts living in/on it, but an organism composed of trillions of smaller organisms. They influence the function of our nervous system, immune system, brain, hormones and probably everything else to an extent! There is a relationship between the human immune system and the gut bacteria such that the bacteria help program the immune system, and the immune system “agrees” to not kill the gut bacteria. Which species of bacteria and how much of each in the microbiome is variable over a person’s lifetime as well as their individual genetic profile. So the “optimum gut bacteria” is different for each person, though all are within a certain spectrum of course. The healthiest diet is one that supports the most diverse and healthy microbiome (gut bacteria), so….the perfect diet is a little different for each person. The human body has been evolving for millions of years (ok, that includes some near ancestors) and the current age of grains and processed foods is just a heartbeat in the lifetime of our species. Our bodies are not adapted to eating these foods! Understanding what helps your gut bacteria and what is bad for them, and why that is important, is a big part of why I wrote The Symbiont Factor. I based all of my statements on published peer-reviewed research, so this book has the most reliable accurate information I could find. tinyurl.com/m4agxd5
Did you know that a woman’s microbiome, her resident population of symbiont bacteria, plays a critical role in her susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection? How could bacteria protect a person from disease? If you would like answers to questions like this one, check out my newly released book, The Symbiont Factor. Find it here: http://amzn.to/1jz3kPt
Today is the day I finally got to click on the “submit” button and make my book available on Amazon. After a year of hard work writing and making edit corrections, it’s done! A print copy will be available soon-for now only the e-book version is available.
Here is the link to the book on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1jz3kPt
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!
Many endurance athletes experience an increase in upper respiratory infections, with symptoms such as difficulty breathing and ear pain. These problems account for many missed training opportunities, and for some athletes may pose a “limiting factor” to the level they attain in their sport. A study was performed last year to evaluate the effect of probiotic yogurt on endurance swimmers performing 400 meter freestyle (crawl) swims. The researchers found that 8 weeks of daily probiotic yogurt intake reduced the number of upper respiratory infections, also reducing their duration as well as ear pain and difficulty breathing. The probiotic yogurt also improved the athletes VO2 max, which is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen the body can absorb and utilize in a unit of time. VO2 max is considered the ultimate limiting factor to aerobic performance, so improvement in this equates to better fitness! It is amazing how scientific research is proving how necessary symbiotic organisms truly are. So, make sure you get your yogurt-and make sure it’s “real yogurt” with active cultures!
Autism is a rapidly growing problem, affecting 1 in 68 people today. It affects some people more than others, hence the use of the term “autism spectrum.” Autism and ASD have a “cousin” called Asperger’s syndrome. All of these conditions have several features in common, resulting in problems with social situations, communication, perseveration on thoughts or tasks, issues with expressive or receptive communication verbally or with body language, anxiety or becoming overstimulated/overwhelmed and sometimes self-harming. These are viewed as developmental neurologic problems with some genetic/inherited component. It has been found that the human microbiome plays a critical role in assisting the developing brain. Yes, that’s right, no typographic error!-symbiotic bacteria help build the human brain. If they are not present in sufficient numbers and correct species, functional imbalances can result-problems such as autism. The symbiotic bacteria not only help build the brain, but also to run it properly and keep it tuned up for optimum function. The details, pulled from several research studies, are quite specific. The study of the microbiome has progressed so exponentially in the last few years that some of these conclusions can seem very surprising at times. During the first five years of life, the human brain is a firestorm of remodeling activity, with neurons being pared off if not needed and others branching out to form new synapses. This is the time of the most dramatic plasticity, where the brain learns how to control the body and form intelligence, personality and emotional response. Early damage to the resident microbiome, that population of a trillion-member bacterial colony that runs things from behind the scenes, results in a loss of proper brain development. Some of this damage also results from by-products produced by the non-beneficial bacteria that take up residence in the gut if beneficial bacteria are not present (Propionate, for example, that is in much higher concentrations in autistic individuals and has been implicated in autistic dysfunctions at higher levels). Damage is also caused by loss of immune system control (one of the other systems partly governed by bacteria). Without the symbiont bacteria monitoring and programming the immune system, it can cause an inflammatory response that damages the brain, or even an autoimmune response that targets the brain. This immune dysfunction and resultant neuroinflammation is thought to be one of the causative mechanisms behind autism. Another factor causing autism/asd is a problem with forming serotonin (normally the pleasant/feelgood/happy reward neurotransmitter). Serotonin is made from tryptophan, through conversion to 5-HTP and DHEA-s. In an autistic person, the conversion takes a “left turn at Albequerque” and produces cortisol. This is a bad outcome, as cortisol is toxic to brain cells in this scenario and contributes to the damage from neuroinflammation. Part of why the conversion fails turns out to be microbiome related, as research shows that an absent microbiome causes accumulation of tryptophan and 5-htp and lowered levels of serotonin. Another way the microbiome is implicated is the neurotransmitter GABA. This neurotransmitter is inhibitory and is used in the brain to block out/filter stimulations. When it fails, a normal environment is overwhelmingly stimulating to an ASD sufferer, resulting in stress/anxiety or a behavior such as self-harm (cutting, for example) that helps to block out some of the overstimulation with a simpler stimulation such as pain. In this mechanism, pain brings relief! The microbiome modulates GABA receptor activation in a site-specific manner, such that GABA receptors work more in some parts of the brain and less in others. This permits a type of partial gating of activity through control of receptor activation! The net result is reduced stress and anxiety-two of the very things that autism sufferers experience the most when placed in social situations. Researchers have found that genetics play a role in autism, with some children having a genetic predisposition to the condition. The catch is that genetics are variable; gene sequences can be activated or suppressed through a process called epigenetics. The tremendous genetic resources of the microbiome (estimates are from 100-1000 times the number of genes as there are human genes) indicate that the microbiome is an epigenetic entity itself. Certainly the microbiome plays a role in human epigenetics, with the ability to “turn on” certain gene sequences and cause their expression. It is probable that not every child who is genetically prone to autism will actually express the disease due to this process. If the microbiome is imbalanced and damaged, the genes can more easily be expressed. The mechanisms described show that an imbalanced microbiome early in life is a major risk factor for autism, and furthermore that microbiome imbalances later in life perpetuate the symptoms of the condition. Our modern society has inadvertently created a multi-front assault on the human microbiome through the use of antibiotics, herbicides such as RoundUp, pollution, Caesarian childbirth, interrupted or absent breastfeeding, chlorinated drinking water, sugar-laden foods, and a myriad of harmful chemicals in our food. The demise of the microbiome opens a Pandora’s box of disease possibilities as the body’s immune, endocrine, and digestive systems function in an uncoordinated and destructive manner.