My Diet Evolution contains strong recommendations about the importance of a daily dose of friendly bacteria, usually referred to as PROBIOTICS. But in the interest of space in the book, the reasons behind their importance to your health was truncated. Well, now it’s time to get to know your “Old Friends”.
Your intestines contain about 4.4 pounds of microbes, at least 500 of which have been categorized. While our body has about 100 trillion cells, our gut organisms consist of 1,000 trillion cells. In fact, the gut flora has 100 times as many genes as our human genome! Wow! That’s a lot of computing power rumbling around your gut! And it’s the amount of that genetic information that has made researchers wonder if there is more to “poop” than meets the eye, so to speak.
As animals have evolved over millions of years, the residents in their intestines have evolved as well. The totality of these residents are now called the Human Microbiome. For those of us who have forgotten high school biology, the intestinal tract from your mouth to your anus is actually your skin turned inside out. In fact, the contents of the entire passageway are officially “outside” of you. Your gut flora takes up residence inside of you at the moment of birth from contact with mom’s vagina and feces: yes feces! Amazingly, babies born by Caesarean section take up to 6 months to have a normal intestinal flora inhabit their gut. So in a sense, you inherited your mother’s gut flora, just like you inherited half of her genes. Your mom inherited her gut flora from her mom and so on. So what? Well, all those genes in all those bugs, over all that time must be doing something; and the things they’ve been doing are absolutely startling!
First of all, we humans have evolved from a long line of midgut and hindgut fermenters. (I know you’ve had your suspicions about this). Okay, I’ll make it simple. Cows chew their cud because they are foregut (stomach) fermenters. Their gut bacteria “eat” the grass and hay, thereby “digesting it” for the cow. The cow then reswallows the digested plant material along with the trillions of bacteria bodies and then absorbs the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The cow and its intestinal flora are thus a hybrid eating machine; a symbiotic relationship between the cows feeding the bacteria, which in turn feed the cow.
But we are humans, not cows! Not so fast. Gorillas and to a lesser extent Chimps and other great apes are mid-gut and hind-gut fermenters. Gorillas have most of their bugs located in their small intestine where the bacteria digest the woody plant material, producing protein and (are you ready for this?) a large amount of fat! In fact, a gorilla gets about 40-50% of its calories from fat that its microflora have produced. That’s right, your cousin “eats” a high fat diet! That’s why Gorillas appear to have such huge stomachs. They are just giant fermentation factories.
Now on to humans. Humans are hindgut fermenters; your gut bacteria ferment (eat) all the left over stuff that arrives in your colon. The healthy gut bacteria will provide you with about 500 calories a day, and it’s mostly a fat called butyric acid. Stay tuned on why you want this fat.
Okay, you have evolved from a long line of leaf and plant eaters whose bacteria have enjoyed eating those plants for millennia. Not to sound too out there, the bacteria colonies in your colon have evolved in association with us for millions of years. They actually have a preference for what they like to eat! They prefer two leaf plants (dicotyledons) and really hate one-leaf plants (monocotoledons), the grasses. In fact, if they had a preference they would much prefer eating cruciferous vegetables: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc). I’m not making this stuff up! They let you know how happy they are by producing a by-product of their fermentation: GAS!
Okay, we have happy microbes producing fat and gas. So what? Remember how this has been going on for millions of years? The fat actually feeds the cells that line your intestines and colon. Not only feeds them, but makes them fat and happy. If they are not fat and happy, what do you get? Polyps, colon Cancer! What else happens with that fat? It goes to your lymph nodes and immune cells and tells them what a great day it’s been, that everybody is happy, and that they ought to be happy! What else? It tells your brain that if they are happy, you ought to be happy! Honest!
Okay happy bugs, eating two leaved plants, making fat, making your intestines happy, your immune system happy, and you happy. Happy Happy Happy. This is the now famous Mind-Gut connection.
So, what happens if you are given an Antibiotic (“anti” means against) for an infection? Well imagine a nuclear bomb going off in your intestines wiping out all those happy bugs! Imagine a few hardy bugs surviving, but not kinds you and our family would like to hang around with. Eventually some more of your good bugs grow back, but not to the level like before. Imagine they are getting fed single leaf plant products (grains). Not so happy anymore. How about another round of antibiotics just for fun? More death and destruction of the good guys, more growth of bad guys, and so on. Before long, thugs, drug dealers, etc overrun the lovely neighborhood. The buildings go into decay: your intestinal cells go into decay! Your immune system is figuring out that things aren’t very pleasant in Pleasantville any more and start sending armored cars on patrol with orders to shoot first, ask questions later. Not only in your gut, but also throughout your body. Wow, now there is inflammation everywhere! Wonder why there is so much asthma in kids? Now you know. And if your gut bugs aren’t happy, guess whose brain isn’t happy anymore? Now you know where the expression “Sh—ty outlook on life” came from.
Want more? Those bad guys who have taken over have a new agenda. They are hungry! Guess what they like to eat? If you said sugar and starches, you are correct. Its like the famous blood eating plant Audrey II from “The Little Shop of Horrors” saying to you “Feed Me Seymour!” And just like the play, the more you feed them, the more they want. Preposterous? You can take the gut flora from overweight mice and put them in normal weight mice and the mice will get fat! You can examine the gut flora of thin African children and they will be totally reversed in type of bugs from fat English children.
It gets better. Thank goodness. If you take skinny mouse fecal bugs and give them to fat mice, and give them enough, the fat mice will become thin! You can take depressed people, clean out their colons and fill them up with feces from happy people and, you guessed it, they get happy. You can take asthmatics and MS sufferers, give them a few worm eggs to swallow, and the MS and asthma goes away! Really. Now you know why your “old friends” are so important. They are your GUT BUDDIES!
So what does all this mean? It means that your microbiome and its composition are just as much a part of you and your health as any other part; maybe more so. It also means, that which bugs are down there and what you feed them go along way in determining your overall health, mood, and freedom from cancer.
Enjoy your probiotics! Do like me and buy two different brands with different bunches of bugs. Buy 10-20 billion bacteria per capsule. When you run out, buy two more brands. Alternate. Keep reseeding. If you are taking antibiotics, double your dose. One of my favorite manufacturers of Probiotics is PB-8 and Floragen 3. Both can be found in the refrigerator section of health food stores and some drug stores. To find Floragen, just type your zip code into their website search feature (Floragen.com). Please keep probiotics refrigerated; but you can travel with them, as they will only lose about 25% of their potency over two weeks at room temperature.
Feed your friendly bugs! Give them two leaved plants, particularly the cabbage family. Give them prebiotics, mainly Fructooligosaccharides better known as FOS, which you can remember as Friends of Steve! Inulin, derived from chicory, or aloe, or agave is my favorite and can be found in any health food store. It can be used as a no-calorie sweetener in your smoothies. Add Chia seeds to your salads or smoothies. WATCH WHAT HAPPENS!