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Gut Feeling – Taking Care Of Our Microbiome

Hippocrates taught us that, ‘All diseases begin in the gut’. If I was asked to draw your attention to just one statistic, it is the following:

PRIMAL CURE FACT: SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH NOW SUGGESTS THAT UP TO 90% OF ALL KNOWN ILLNESSES CAN BE TRACED BACK TO AN UNHEALTHY GUT.

Wow! Doesn’t that suggest we need to knuckle down and learn a little more about this extremely complex organ? Grab a cup of black coffee, green tea or glass of water and let’s begin…

Our bodies are not just single living individuals, but thriving ecosystems comprised of 100 trillion mi­croscopic creatures living and working in and on us. We are less likely to inherit diseases or illnesses that runs in our family than we probably fear, and one of the reasons for this is that only 10% of our cells contain any human DNA! The other 90% is made up of bacteria, fungi and microflora, all of which can’t pass on anything genetically.

In 10% Human: How Your Body’s Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness, author Dr Alanna Col­len writes, “Over your lifetime, you will play host to bugs the equivalent weight of five African elephants. Your skin is crawling with them. There are more on your fingertip than there are people in Britain”. Our 100 trillion microbes can be divided into more than 10,000 different species. This array of vastly differ­ent creatures living on and in our body are collec­tively referred to as our microbiome. As Dr Martin J. Blaser explains in Missing Microbes, “In ecology, biome refers to the set of plants and animals in a community such as a jungle, forest or coral reef. An enormous diversity of species, large and small, inter­act to form complex webs of mutual support. When a keystone species disappears or goes extinct the ecology suffers. It can even collapse”.

A lot of today’s research into the human body and how it functions is now focusing on the importance of our microbiome. While these tiny creatures exist all over our body, inside and out, it is primarily their accumulation in our gut that has the biggest impact on our health. Getting the varieties of microbes in our gut balanced is now believed by cutting-edge science to have positive effects on all aspects of our health. From weight control to a healthy heart, from food metabolism to a good memory, these little creatures need to be respected and controlled.

They say a picture paints a thousand words, and when I am trying to create an image of what’s hap­pening in my gut - where many creatures are so tiny you wouldn’t even see them under a normal microscope - I close my eyes and visualise ants! Just like ants working in a cohort to perform tasks beyond our imagination, the bacterial army in our gut affect not just our health, but also our mood, emo­tions and behaviour. In 10% Human, Dr Collen writes, “Imagine, for example, one strain of bacterium that feeds on a particular compound found in our food. If we eat that food, thus feeding these bacteria, and they are able to ‘reward’ us with a dose of happiness through the chemicals they produce, so much better for them. The chemicals they produce in us could cause us to crave the food they feed on, and even to remember where we found it”.

It will come as no surprise to you that one of the best ways to get our microbiome under control is to fol­low the principles laid out in Primal Cure – avoiding CARBS and other sugars, eating protein, fibre and lots of berries and nuts. If possible, we should try to avoid taking any antibiotics and, if we do take a course, then make sure we immediately rebuild our microbiome by taking a quality course of probiotics.

Back in 2009, my wife and I were in India visiting one of our gemstone cutting factories, and in the evening we went out for a meal in one of the most popular restaurants in the city of Jaipur. When the waiter served me chicken, my wife commented that it didn’t look properly cooked, but I told her that I thought it was just the colour of the spices making it look pink. The next morning on the flight home, I practically didn’t leave the tiny toilet cubical. I had the worse diarrhoea and stomach cramps I have ever experienced. Little did I know at the time, but for the next five months I could never be more than 30 sec­onds from a toilet!

Our guts are a bit like a coral reef. While coral reefs can be devastated by a rapid rise in sea temperature, the colonies living in our microbiome can be eradi­cated by either a strong virus or antibiotics, and of course sometimes both. Just like the physical coral is still intact after bleaching, our intestines remain in place too, but they become barren. For months, maybe years afterwards, the gut’s environment rests on a knife-edge. While some species are completely wiped out, one strand (firmicutes) seems to feed on disaster - and either avoid being exterminated, or are very quick to regroup after a big environmental event.

Firmicutes are the bacteria that make us fat by rins­ing every last calorie out of the food we eat. While fir­micutes survive, overall diversity is greatly reduced, and some species never return. This imbalance is known as dysbiosis (sometimes referred to as dys­bacteriosis). While antibiotics and major infections can cause complete wipeouts, medicines, poor di­ets and mild illnesses can all knock our microbiome ecosystem off balance.

So, could it be that the dodgy chicken I ate in 2009 affected my microbiome and has contributed to me

struggling to lose weight over recent years? I can’t say for definite that this is the case, but this was the same year that, even though I was constantly on the toilet, my weight started to balloon!

PRIMAL CURE BELIEF ON RECONSTRUCT­ING OUR MICROBIOME: THERE ARE SEVER­AL THINGS WE MUST DO, BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TO AVOID CARBS AND OTHER SUGARS AND TO EAT A DIET RICH IN FERMENTED FOODS AND FIBRE.

How important is the state of our microbiome? In truth, we don’t fully know yet. After all, with 100 tril­lion microscopic creatures in our body across 10,000 different species, it is an area of science that we will probably never fully understand. But logic suggests that, as the bacteria in our gut aid the breakdown of toxins, help in the creation of vitamins and are ulti­mately responsible for our immune system, then we should do everything we can to nurture them and keep them on our side. And talking of our immune system, did you know that 80% of it is located in our gut? What’s your gut reaction to that fact? Hopefully it is to start taking better care of it!

With such a diverse range of tasks and skills, many scientists regard the gut as the second most com­plex engine in our body, only surpassed by the brain. It is now believed that a lot of the feelings that we can’t always easily explain, such as depression, anx­iety and stress, are driven from the gut and not from the brain. It is becoming increasingly evident that there is a connection between gut health and mental illness.

Many medical journals go as far as claiming that the gut is, in fact, our second brain. In her book Gut, with the apt subtitle, ‘The inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ’ Giulia Enders says, “Cooperation between the gut and the brain begins very early in life. Together, they are re­sponsible for a large proportion of our emotional world when we are babies”.

PRIMAL CURE BELIEF: WHEN IT COMES TO OUR HEALTH, HAPPINESS AND LONGEVITY, OUR GUT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR FAR MORE THAN WE MAY EVER KNOW. WE MUST BE MINDFUL TO ENSURE WE GIVE IT THE TRUE CARE AND RESPECT IT DESERVES.

WHAT ROLE DO BACTERIA PLAY IN OUR BODY?

It’s important to point out that not everyone will agree with everything that comes next, but what you will read is both highly researched and backed by lots of up-to-date independent data.

Whenever you participate in an activity, say a game of football, golf, tennis or a netball match, there is always a result. Put simply, the activity leads to a conclusion. Similarly, the bacteria in our microbi­ome participates in a whole host of activities, which in turn eventually lead to a whole host of different results.

Let’s look at just some of the activities the bacteria in our body’s microbiome play a part in: detoxification, inflammation, the functions of our immune system, neurotransmitter production, nutrient absorption, the synthesis of vitamins, the control of many hor­mones and how we utilise or store our macronutri­ents. Those activities in which our bacteria play an attacking role may lead to the following conditions (to name but a few): ADHD, Alzheimer’s, asthma, autism, cancer, depression, diabetes, gum disease, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, obesity and Parkinson’s disease.

To highlight how important our microbiome is to our health and wellbeing, let me start by asking you another question. The bacteria inhabiting our body are microscopic little things, containing just one cell each. If you could remove them all in one go and place them on your bathroom scales, what weight would you predict they would be? How about if I told you the bacteria in our body weighs about the same as our brain? I hope that shocked you, because it certainly caused me a mild panic.

WHY DO MICROBIOMES COLLAPSE?

Before I scare you half to death with what I am about to say, even if our microbiome is currently completely shot, broken beyond what you might be­lieve repairable, I am pleased to announce that it is a graceful ecosystem, and with the right nurturing and conditioning we can return our intestines back to the positive working bacterial environment that nature designed. As Dr David Perlmutter reminds us, “Thankfully, the gut’s microbiotic community is won­derfully receptive to rehabilitation”.

It is now believed that, while in the womb, we don’t have any bacteria in our body. But as we travel through the birth canal, a female organ rich with friendly bacteria, our skin acts like a magnet attract­ing billions of wonderful bacteria to climb on board. Those born by C-section never benefit from this mi­crobiotic kick-start. What’s more, most caesarean births (and according to recent research over a third of births now include major surgery) are conducted simultaneously with a course of antibiotics. As their name suggests, antibiotics are ‘anti’ our body’s ‘biot­ics’, aka our bacteria. Sadly, they are not all that good at isolating and attacking just the bad bacteria, but often cause complete genocide, mass-murdering the good bacteria too. If you were born by C-section with antibiotics, and then didn’t benefit from bacte­rial-rich breast milk, then your microbiome really did get off to a poor start (not that it was your fault!)

There is also mounting evidence that people in built-up cities experience more immune diseases than those living rurally. Why is that? Because those of us living in built-up environments are living in a clin­ical, overly sterilised bubble. Our kids no longer bring muddy boots into the house, and at the first sight of a bit of muck, antibacterial wipes are whipped out! My daughter Lili screams at me every time I leave the toilet, “Wash your hands Daddy!” The whole world seems obsessed with cleanliness, when the reality is that we are mass-murdering our friendly bacteria. As I am writing this sentence, Lili is sitting next to me on the sofa, still insisting that I need to wash my hands - and while she might be right when it comes to toilet visits, there are many other instances where we would be better off just being a little bit grubby!

Many scientists now believe that our obsession with hand sanitisers and bacterial wipes is not only kill­ing off the bad bacteria, but the good bacteria too. Dr David Perlmutter in Brain Maker says, “There’s immense value in being un-hygienic. Astonishingly new studies show a relationship between our in­creasingly sterile living environments and incidence of chronic illness, from heart disease and autoim­mune disorders to cancer and dementia”.

PRIMAL CURE COMPLAINT TO GOVERNMENTS: SADLY, AS OF YET THERE IS LITTLE PUBLICITY ABOUT HOW PROTECTING OUR MICROBIOME IS AS CRUCIAL FOR OUR HEALTH AND LONGEVITY AS PRESERVING OUR RAINFORESTS, OCEANS AND CORALS ARE TO THE SURVIVAL OF OUR PLANET.

HOW TO RE-COLONISE OUR MICROBIOME

Fermented foods, some rich in positive bacteria, have been missing in action from supermarket shelves for the past few decades. But recently, these probiotics foods - which were the norm - are mounting a resurgence. Reg­ularly eating fermented foods (probiotics) such as yoghurts, kefir, sauerkraut and certain pickles will undoubtedly help rebuild most lacklustre immune systems.

Getting the gut back in good working order is actual­ly a two-step process. We need to eat foods that are rich in healthy bacteria, as well as foods that the bac­teria themselves like to feed on. These are known as prebiotics, and they are insoluble fibrous foods that cannot be absorbed or broken down by the gut, and as a result they remain there long enough to feed and fertilise our legions of healthy bacteria. While we can take prebiotics as a supplement, artichokes, raw garlic, chicory, onions (raw or cooked), raw aspara­gus and raw leeks are all natural sources.

Another way to take care of our microbiome is to reg­ularly put our body into a ketogenic metabolic state. Research has shown that this increases the healthy variety of bacteria known as bacteroidetes and de­creases the undesirable firmicutes. Let’s remind ourselves what this means. Among other things, firmicutes are able to extract the most energy out of food, effectively stripping out maximum calories and leading to us putting on weight, getting fatter and eventually obese. Being ketogenic is effectively a spiral of upward health benefits. Our body not only consumes its own fat for fuel, but also removes the bacteria that over-extracts calories from food too.

PRIMAL CURE MICROBE MANTRA:

A KETOGENIC DIET IS A POSITIVELY HEALTHY DOUBLE DOSE OF GOODNESS, WHERE IN COLLABORATION WE BURN OUR OWN BODY FAT AS OUR PRIMARY FUEL SOURCE AND THE GOOD BACTERIA REDIRECT ANY EXCESSIVE INCOMING ENERGY STRAIGHT TO THE EXIT!

MICROBIOME CONCLUSION

It might just be that we eventually discover that our microbiome plays the dominant role in the control of our weight. Those who live in modern society, where antibiotics and antibacterial wipes are the norm, where packaged food is stripped of nutrients, are in danger of developing a microbiome depleted of so many spe­cies of microbes that the human body was designed upon. To restore the very foundation on which nature created the human body, we all need to take steps to rebuild and then maintain our microbiome.

GUT FACTS:

  • THERE ARE 100 TRILLION MICROSCOPIC CREATURES LIVING ON AND IN OUR BODY.
  • THREE-QUARTERS OF THE WEIGHT OF OUR FAECES IS BACTERIA.
  • THERE ARE MORE THAN 10,000 DIFFERENT SPECIES IN THE HUMAN MICROBIOME.
  • OUR FAECES IS MADE UP OF MORE THAN 4,000 SPECIES.
  • INDIVIDUAL BACTERIA CELLS LIVE FROM A FEW DAYS TO A FEW WEEKS.
  • AROUND 90% OF ILLNESSES CAN BE TRACED BACK TO THE GUT.
  • WE ARE 90% BACTERIA, FUNGI AND MICROFLORA AND ONLY 10% HUMAN.
  • 80% OF OUR IMMUNE SYSTEM IS LOCATED IN OUR GUT.
  • MICROBES HAVE THRIVED ON OUR PLANET FOR MORE THAN 3.8 BILLION YEARS.
  • FIRMICUTES MAKE US FAT.
  • AS MUCH AS 90% OF SEROTONIN IS CREATED IN THE GUT.
  • OUR GUTS CONTAIN ABOUT 1.5KG (3.3LBS) OF BACTERIA.

Probiotic foods:

Fermented foods:

  • Yoghurts (live-cultured yoghurts)
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Certain pickles

Prebiotic foods:

  • Artichokes
  • Raw garlic
  • Chicory
  • Onions (raw or cooked)
  • Raw aspara­gus
  • Raw leeks
  • Flaxseed
  • The Fab 4 Berries
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