As a human being living on Planet Earth, I sometimes ponder where my species fits in to the planet’s ecosystem. I know, it’s not really a normal thought, and it might be more entertaining to see what one of the Kardashians wore yesterday (Who? LOL) but as the author of The Symbiont Factor I really do think about such things. You see, from a physics point of view (yes, I was initially an engineering major before biology) this planet really only has one source of incoming energy to keep “the circle of life” going. That incoming source of energy is of course sunlight. Only photosynthetic organisms can convert sunlight into biomass that is usable by other life forms such as humans. Photosynthetic organisms are all some version of a plant, simple or complex. Yes, cyanobacteria and algaes, it could be argued, are not plants-but they have chlorophyll and they photosynthesize, so they could for this purpose be grouped as “plants” in a looser way of thinking.
Here’s where things get interesting, because the only organisms which can digest cellulose are bacteria. The only remaining photosynthetic organisms are cyanobacteria, which are bacteria. It is therefore accurate to say that the processing of all “incoming energy” beyond the plant is dependent on bacteria. Think about it for a moment-termites cannot digest wood fiber, being completely dependent on their microbiome (gut bacteria!) to digest it. The same thing can be said of any other organism on the planet which eats plant material! Cows, horses, rabbits-all depend on a complex gut microbiome to digest plant fiber. We humans also depend on our gut bacteria to digest plant fiber. Nothing can digest plants without the aid of bacteria.
Why is this important? The above discussion should point out that without bacteria there could not be much life beyond the plant world and cyanobacteria. Indeed, some researchers have stated the belief that cyanobacteria may have been the first organisms on the planet, with complex groups evolving into what we see as plants and algaes today. Our present life form would not exist if it were not for our symbiont bacteria. Symbiont organisms, as explained in The Symbiont Factor, have provided us with a fast acting rapid evolution capability that has aided our survival and permitted our continued development. These symbiont organisms guide the development of our brain, endocrine system, and immune system. Without a balanced microbiome we cannot develop normally. Our microbiome greatly enhances our ability to cope with famine, stress, or immune challenges without having to resort to inter-generational evolution. The microbiome has at least 100x the gene count as our human cells and can change the activation of those genes (and our own!) to help us adapt and survive.
When you consider the above discussion and realize that we are routinely destroying our internal microbiome as well as the planet’s microbiome, it should be food for thought that our present level of function at the top of the food chain may be more precarious that we believe. The delicate microbial balance that allows our brain and body to function at a high level is easily disturbed by poor nutrition (think McDonald’s) and high levels of antibiotics from both medicinal use and residues in meats, as well as other factors discussed in my book. Learning the importance of the microbiome is essential to understanding life itself!
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!
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
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.
If you have been following my blog posts and tweets, you know that I’m really against gluten in the diet. Many people have antibodies to gluten itself, resulting in gut inflammation, systemic inflammation, discomfort and a whole host of cascading health problems. Some people do not have antibodies to gluten, but have a type of autoantibody: antibodies to transglutaminase, the enzyme that breaks down gluten in the digestive process. And, some people have antibodies to gliadin, a protein that is one of the by-products of the breakdown of gluten. We perform blood tests for gluten sensitivity in our office (well, we obtain the sample and mail it to the lab!) as well as salivary tests for transglutaminase and gliadin. But, once you suspect or know you have a sensitivity, how do you avoid it? Traditionally, that answer is straightforward: avoid wheat and most grain products. Meat should be safe, right? The Paleo diet is considered a gluten free diet, and yet…what if some meats contained transglutaminase? How could that be, you ask? It is apparently used as a “glue” to bind smaller pieces of meat together to make a bigger piece of meat. Think…cold cuts. Many brands of cold cuts are not shaped like normal meat! When I was a teenager and worked in a deli, a big roast beef was tied together with string. Today, it’s just…a big piece of unnaturally shaped meat. Transglutaminase is used to glue these together. Here’s an article about it: http://bit.ly/1n9neeI plus a research article on antibodies: http://1.usa.gov/TU1Seh
The moral of the story? If it doesn’t look like a normal piece of meat…it probably isn’t. Ironic that people avoiding gluten could still have similar reactions while eating meat, isn’t it?
One of my large containers of kombucha had grown such a thick scoby (probably close to 3″ thick!) that I decided to peel off the bottom layers and leave the nice clean top layers. The other reason is that the original bottom layer had some spots where the scoby growth had been inhibited by a competing organism-this did not continue through the top, so peeling off this layer made it like new again. I placed the layer of scoby on a plate for examination, and this was what I found looking back at me!
The entire scoby looked like this:
Not a very happy scoby, is it? They never look too pretty…but are rarely this expressive!
This image does clearly show three or four areas of inhibited growth, a good reason to peel away the affected layers. You should occasionally give your scoby a once-over; a quick physical exam. It should smell like kombucha and not have holes or discolorations other than the light to dark seen here. The bottom left shows two areas that are too dark-some other microoganism is trying to take root there! The scoby appears to have successfully prevented its further growth but peeling off the layer keeps things on the safe and less-unattractive side.
I continue to share scobys with local contacts, but run out of people and always have more scoby than I can give away. Maybe these could be made into some type of food! I have seen some recipes for how to eat them but have yet to try it. My kids are daring me…I will keep you posted!