Today is World Microbiome Day, a day devoted to celebrating all things microbial worldwide. The theme of the 2019 World Microbiome Day is ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE.
The day is dedicated to introducing international microbiome researchers to the public to raise awareness of the diverse world of microbes and how they need to be protected.
“Microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, fungi, viruses, archaea, etc) can be found everywhere in and on plants, animals, water, soil, food and humans. Within each of those habitats, microorganisms live together in communities called microbiomes. Microbiomes have an effect on (amongst others) human health; therefore, scientists are exploring how these communities of organisms co-exist with each other, with us and our environment.
“The 2019 World Microbiome Day theme is ‘Antibiotic Resistance’. Antibiotics are life-saving drugs against harmful bacterial infections that also affect the beneficial bacteria of the human, animal and plant microbiome. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics can lead to bacteria becoming resistant to the antibiotics making them ineffective. That’s why we need everybody to help raise the profile of this important issue and empower people to use antibiotics responsibly.” (World Microbiome Day, 2019)
World Microbiome Day 2018: “Mind Our Microbes”
HUMAN & OTHER MICROBIOMES
The human body contains collections of micro-organisms that include bacteria, protozoa, fungi, viruses and other one-celled organisms living in and on the body. Our bodies’ interactions with these microbes are crucial to the state of our health. These microbes live both INSIDE us – in our digestive organs and lungs — and externally ON us – on our skin, mouth, genitals. Our microbiomes serve many essential functions in the body: aiding digestion, supporting the immune system living in our guts and preventing infections. In addition, the gut microbiome continually interacts with the brain, making it possible to support mental health through changing your gut microbiome. Humans are actually ECOSYSTEMS made up of our human cells and billions of these other micro-organisms. (World Microbiome Day, 2019)
Other animals on earth living on the land, in the water and the sky also need ecosystems made up of their own cells and a healthy variety of micro-organisms. The same is true of plants’, the soils’, food sources’, oceans’, rivers’ and lakes’ ecosystems.
The poisoning of the ecosystems on our planet and climate change have done serious damage to the planet – with dire consequences.
I’ll let Jasmina Agranovic, whose principal interest is the skin microbiome (she’s the president of Mother Dirt*), speak in her own words to explain the importance of the various microbiomes in the human body:
“There’s an important dynamic at play between consumers and scientists right now. These two worlds were once far apart, but have recently started to overlap. This is especially evident in the field of the microbiome, where it could even be argued that public demand has become a driver of the science. Never before has a topic been spoken about so publicly and marketed ahead of extensive clinical and scientific validation.
“The gut microbiome has done a lot of the heavy lifting in reframing our relationship with bacteria. As people are becoming more aware of the benefits of good bacteria in digestive health, there is also a shifting view our bodies as ecosystems, rather than simply tissues and organs. While still a stretch, it is slowly becoming less of one to see how the same is true for their skin….
“The impact of this ongoing and prevalent conversation is something you can see already: It’s now becoming more common for primary care doctors to prescribe a probiotic in conjunction with antibiotics. Kombucha has transformed from a specialty item found only at health food stores to something you can pick up at your local drug store. Kimchi and Sauerkraut have become dietary staples, along endless other fermented and probiotic-infused foods.
“This public interest has placed more scrutiny on the science. Together, these are driving a big financial appetite by investors, creating support for entrepreneurs and researchers with big ideas in the space.
“Companies like Ubiome specialize in at-home gut and vaginal biome screenings. OpenBiome works in stool donations, enabling people to get live-saving fecal transplants. Seres Therapeutics was also the first publicly traded microbiome biotech company based off of their work on treatments for C Diff. In 2016 the FDA banned triclosan, which is the active ingredient in many antibacterial soaps, stating it’s no more effective than washing with soap and water, and that it could actually do more harm than good over time.
“Even museums have started to showcase the microbiome as part of our future. The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has an exhibit on display until Nov 2018 called “The Future Starts Here: 100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow” where one of the projects included in the show is Mother Dirt representing the skin biome and what might exist in a future home.
“So what’s the next big thing in bacteria? We earnestly believe that relationship with the microbial world is one of the most important shifts in public health of our generation. For many, the microbiome and the importance of good bacteria in and on your body might be the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to many of the health issues we are still trying to solve. We don’t know what we don’t know, but many are rightfully excited at the prospect of exploring this field for all the potential it seems to hold. The public interest has helped push the gas pedal on the scientific progress. As we continue to make progress in new discoveries in the field, it will be increasingly important that the science remains rigorous and that we also temper expectations.
“Keep asking questions, keep challenging the norm, and keep pushing for more, and together we’ll create a world where clean comes with healthy.”
Mother Dirt is a company in Cambridge MA that makes skin biome-friendly products based on extensive research on the skin microbiome and the Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB) our skin needs to stay healthy .
“For most of human existence, there was a peacekeeping Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB) that lived on our skin. It wasn’t until the last 100 years when indoor lifestyles and personal care products removed it. This bacteria is still found on untouched indigenous tribes, whose skin is in a native, healthy state.” (Mother Dirt, 2019)
We believe that the diverse world of microbiomes deserves more recognition due to its effect on human, animal and environmental health! Join us in celebrating World Microbiome Day 2019 and communicating the effects of antibiotics on the microbiome.
(World Microbiome Day 6/27/2019)
You can go to the World Microbiome Day 6/27/2019 site to learn more about the importance of microbiomes and take some quizzes to test your knowledge about six microbiomes: Food, Plant, Soil, Animal, Marine and Human.
If you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), you know its difficult to get a definitive diagnosis. Confusingly, its symptoms resemble many other health conditions and there’s no single test for identifying it. You also know its symptoms seriously interfere with living your life as you’d like.
The principal characteristic of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is extreme fatigue. The fatigue may worsen with physical or mental activity but doesn’t lessen with rest. CFS is also sometimes referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID).
People with CFS – and other energy-sapping chronic conditions as well – often use Spoon Theory to describe their experience of being chronically exhausted and the limitations that imposes on their lives. Spoon Theory is a clever metaphor created by Christine Miserandino, a woman with both lupus and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, to explain to friends and family what it’s like to have limited and unreliable energy. (MEpedia, 2017).
Lupus, by the way, is a chronic autoimmune disease “in which the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue. Symptoms include inflammation, swelling, and damage to the joints, skin, kidneys, blood, heart, and lungs.” (Brazier, 2018)
There’s still ongoing discussion about whether CFS is also an inflammatory, autoimmune condition. Considerable research indicates that chronic low level inflammation in the body leads to the constellation of symptoms described as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. (Dellwo, 2018 A)
This is my shorthand description of how autoimmune conditions and diseases develop:
Chronic imbalance in the contents of the gut microbiome (gut dysbiosis) -–> leaky gut -–> chronic low level inflammation in the body, which eventually -–> one or more autoimmune diseases
Autoimmune diseases develop when the body’s immune system produces an inappropriate immune response against its own tissues. Because the vast majority of our immune system (70-80%) is located in the composition of our gut microbiome, this is where we need to focus to understand how we come to develop an autoimmune disease (probably more than one) and also how to reverse these types of diseases.
When the immune system stops recognizing as “self” something that’s a normal constituent of the body, it starts producing autoimmune antibodies that attack the body’s own cells, tissues and/or organs. This produces chronic inflammation that damages these body parts and leads to full blown autoimmune diseases.
A MORE THOROUGH EXPLANATION OF CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME
Michael B. VanElzakker, PhD
Researcher Michael B. VanElzakker, now a neuroscientist affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Tufts University, has proposed a more specific explanation for how Chronic Fatigue Syndrome develops.
In the 2013 paper he pointed out that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome researchers mostly agree that CFS symptoms seem to reflect an intense, ongoing immune response, possibly due to a viral infection. They therefore were focusing their research on trying to uncover the specific pathogenic agent in plasma and blood cells responsible for the syndrome – without success. (HHV-6 Foundation, 2018)
Instead, VanElzakker proposed that CFS develops from an infection of the vagus nerve.
Herpesvirus infections of the trigeminal nerve cause shingles. Do human herpesvirus infections of the vagus nerve cause chronic fatigue syndrome?
“When immune cells of otherwise healthy individuals detect any peripheral infection, they release proinflammatory cytokines. Chemoreceptors of the sensory vagus nerve detect these localized proinflammatory cytokines, and send a signal to the brain to initiate sickness behavior. Sickness behavior is an involuntary response that includes fatigue, fever, myalgia, depression, and other symptoms that overlap with CFS.”
His Vagus Nerve Infection hypothesis of CFS contends that the syndrome’s cluster of symptoms are “a pathologically exaggerated version of normal sickness behavior that can occur when sensory vagal ganglia or paraganglia are themselves infected with any virus or bacteria.
“Drawing upon relevant findings from the neuropathic pain literature, I explain how pathogen-activated glial cells can bombard the sensory vagus nerve with proinflammatory cytokines and other neuroexcitatory substances, initiating an exaggerated and intractable sickness behavior signal.”
Following this new hypothesis, it’s possible any pathogenic infection of the vagus nerve could cause CFS, resolving the ongoing controversy about identifying a single pathogen.
VanElzakker’s hypothesis integrates two of the most important actors in CFS, the autonomic nervous system and the immune system, offering an explanation of what causes the brain to receive a non-stop stream of messages instructing it essentially to shut down the body by producing fatigue, pain and other disabling symptoms. It proposes that “nerve loving viruses trigger a difficult to detect immune response which produces the fatigue and other symptoms present in chronic fatigue syndrome.” (Cohen, 2019)
The VNIH focuses on sensory nerves, “an increasingly hot topic in ME/CFS/FM” and coincides with an established model of fibromyalgia. If this hypothesis is correct, it will change how Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is viewed, researched and treated. (Johnson, 2013)
VanElzakker’s work on CFS has zeroed in on the human herpes viruses – with the human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6) at the top of his list of suspects. (HHV-6 Foundation, 2018)
Histological slide of the human herpes virus-6 (HHV-6)showing infected cells
The following two paragraphs from the HHV-6 Foundation’s article CFS: a herpesvirus infection of the vagus nerve? discuss, in fairly technical terms, VanElzakker’s theory of how a human herpesvirus-6 infection of the sensory vagal ganglia or paraganglia could produce the intense symptoms found in people with Chronic Fatigue:
“During infection, the sensory vagus nerve sends a signal to the brain to initiate “sickness behavior,” an involuntary response characterized by fatigue, fever, myalgia, depression, and other symptoms that are often observed in patients with CFS. However, VanElzakker proposes that when sensory vagal ganglia or paraganglia are themselves infected with any virus or bacteria, these symptoms would be exaggerated. He notes that many of the symptoms of sickness behavior (such as fatigue, sleep changes, myalgia, cognitive impairment, depression and zinc depletion) are also mediated by proinflammatory cytokines and observed in CFS.
“Herpesviruses and certain intracellular bacteria establish latency in the vagus nerve and reactivate during periods of stress or illness, causing the release of proinflammatory cytokines. HHV-6 is a highly neurotropic virus and potent inducer of cytokines such as IL-6 and NFkB, which many groups have proposed as an etiological theory for the role of HHV-6 in neurological conditions such as seizures and epilepsy. If this low-level “chronic” infection is localized to the vagus nerve it would be undetectable in the plasma, but could be demonstrated through analyzing tissue biopsies of the vagus nerve, VanElzakker suggests. HHV-6 is well-known for invading the hippocampus and other parts of the limbic system, and also establishes residence in the human sensory ganglia along with other neurotropic herpesviruses including HSV-1 and VZV.” (HHV-6 Foundation, 2018)
THE VAGUS NERVE
The vagus nerve, historically called the pneumogastric nerve, is the 10th cranial nerve and interfaces with the parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. The vagus nerves are paired but are normally referred to in the singular. It’s the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system in the human body. (Wikipedia, 2019)
As the two branches of the vagus nerve make their way between the brain and the gut, they connect to every organ they pass along the way.
THE VAGUS NERVE & THE GUT MICROBIOME CONNECTION
I’ve been intrigued by the vagus nerve since discovering it’s a key player in the Gut/Brain Axis – the constant, two-way communication taking place between our brains and our guts.
“Maybe you’re used to thinking of the brain in your head as your only brain – but your body actually has TWO BRAINS: In fact, the ‘brain’ in your gut does a lot more than digest your food. While this brain doesn’t produce thoughts, it contains its own independent nervous system along with more neurotransmitters and serotonin than the brain in your head.
“Sheaths of neurons are embedded in the walls of the entire alimentary canal. Technically known as the enteric nervous system, this gut brain measures about 9 meters (29.5 feet) from esophagus to anus and contains about 100 million neurons, more neurons than exist in either the spinal cord or the entire peripheral nervous system. Equipped with its own reflexes and senses, this second brain can control gut behavior independently of the brain. Here’s a single example to give you an idea of the importance of the gut brain for the entire body: About 90% of the fibers in the vagus nerve, the largest of the visceral nerves, carry information FROM the gut TO the brain – but not the other way around.” (Hardin 2015)
“During vertebrate embryonic development a single clump of fetal tissue divides to grow into the gut and the brain. One section becomes the central nervous system (the brain and spinal nerves) while another migrates lower in the body to create the enteric nervous systemembedded in the sheaths of tissue lining the espohagus, stomach, small intestine and colon.
“The two separate nervous systems connect via the vagus nerve running from the brain stem into the abdomen. This major trunk line is one of the longest nerves in the body. The gut and the brain are constantly signaling each other, back and forth, along the vagus nerve and also via chemicals released by the gut and transported to the brain. When one brain gets upset, the other becomes upset too. They work in conjunction with each other along the Gut-Brain Axis, each heavily influencing the other.” (Hardin, 2015)
HEALING VAGUS NERVE INFECTION WITH ESSENTIAL OILS
Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils, an author, speaker, nutritional therapist and a leading international authority on essential oils. These are her strategies for how to heal vagus nerve infections with essential oils:
Vagus nerve stimulation – Parasympathetic essential oil blend was designed to activate the vagus nerve to trigger the parasympathetic response. Parasympathetic is formulated with the highly stimulatory clove oil and works much like more invasive techniques such as Transcutaneous Vagal Nerve Stimulation by stimulating the Vagus Nerve near the outer ear and allowing action potentials to be sent down the nerve to stimulate the normal anti-inflammatory reflex of the Vagus Nerve along with helping to regulate exaggerated signaling that contributes to sickness behavior and excessive fatigue and pain related symptoms…. To stimulate the vagus nerve, apply 1 drop of Parasympathetic™ to the vagal nerve (behind ear lobe, on mastoid bone on the neck).
Glial cell inhibitors can be used to calm the immune activation of glial cells in your brain. Natural plants remedies, like essential oils, have been proven to suppress microglial activation and neuronal damage in research such as “Inhibitors of microglial neurotoxicity: focus on natural products” and “Development of a neuroprotective potential algorithm for medicinal plants”.
Essential oils are especially powerful as glial cell inhibitors as they unique chemistry (super small, fat soluble molecules), allows them to easily cross the blood brain barrier and suppress glial cell activation. Research has found that Cinnamon Bark is highly effective at inhibiting microglial activation. According to the research, Cinnamon Bark “may recede neuroinflammation by suppressing microglial activation and play a key role in neuroprotection”. Immune Support™ oil is high in levels of cinnamon and can be topically applied to the bottom of the feet or around the neck (dilute before applying to the neck) to help inhibit glial cells from over-activating the vagus nerve. Anti Inflammatory™ also helps to turn off the inflammatory response in the brain and inhibit an over-active glial cell response. To apply, place one drop one the base of the skull or place a drop of Anti Inflammatory™ oil on your fingertip, and rub fingers together to disperse oil. Take your fingers once over the entire scalp.
Antiviral treatments: Essential oils are known for their anti-viral properties.
More specifically, research studies have found that essential oils ‘inactivate’ viruses in one of two ways: by inhibiting their ability to replicate and/or inhibiting viruses’ ability to fuse to cell walls and infect a host cell.
Essential oils have also been shown to positively support our own immune system, enhancing its ability to ward off pathogens and help modulate your immune system.
Anti viral blends like Immune Support™ can be applied 2- 3 times daily on the throat (diluted) or the bottom of the feet, or Thymus™ can be used stimulate immune function against infections, viruses and bacteria by apply 2-3 drops on the thymus (on breastbone at third rib) in a clockwise motion for 30 seconds and then stimulate the thymus by gently tapping. Finally, supporting your lymphatic system with Lymph™ can help supports your immune response by both bringing nutrients to and helping to clear toxins and waste from every cell in the body.
– (Cohen, 2019)
My take away from all this:
Since it’s known that –
Chronic imbalance in the contents of the gut microbiome (gut dysbiosis) -–> leaky gut -–> chronic low level inflammation in the body, which eventually -–> one or more autoimmune diseases
– avoiding a vagal nerve infection and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is yet another good reason to get and keep your gut microbiome in good balance.
An article titled “Do Probiotics Really Work? in the current (July 2017) issue of Scientific American really irked me so I decided to send a Letter to the Editor responding to it. Since the chances my letter will get printed are slim and I think it addresses several important issues, I’m putting it into this post.
Much research is now being done on the gut-brain axis – the biochemical and neuronal communication that’s constantly taking place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. The gut-brain axis works in both directions – from gut to brain and brain to gut – and affects GI functioning as well as hormones, immunity, mood, motivation, and higher cognitive functions.
That’s all pretty amazing in itself but how’s this for mind blowing?
A new study shows that the composition of a person’s gut microbiome can be improved through electromagnetic brain stimulation – leading to weight loss. The technique is called deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS) and is non-invasive.
Research has found that an imbalance in the mix of beneficial and harmful micro-organisms inhabiting the gut microbiome affects the brain’s signals for hunger and satiety (fullness), leading to obesity.
Building on that, a team of researchers at the IRCCS Policlinico San Donato and the University of Milan worked jointly to examine how dTMS could improve the make up of obese subjects’ gut microbiomes, causing them to lose weight.
“This study expands on the researchers’ previous finding that dTMS reduced food cravings and induced weight loss in obese individuals. Unlike deep brain stimulation, dTMS does not need an operation or implantation of electrodes. Instead, an electromagnetic coil is placed on the scalp and sends magnetic pulses to stimulate specific deep regions of the brain. Currently approved in the U.S. for treating major depression, dTMS is being studied in some countries for the treatment of other neuropsychiatric disorders, especially addiction.” (Endocrine Society, 2017)
By the end of the five weeks of treatment, the people who’d received dTMS lost over 3% of their body weight and more than 4% of their fat, significantly more than the control subjects.
The most interesting finding: At the end of the five week study, stool sample analysis of the dTMS-treated subjects showed the quantities of several beneficial bacterial species possessing anti-inflammatory properties in their gut microbiomes had also greatly increased. And more good news: The dTMS-treated subjects had more abundant bacterial species correlated with improvements in metabolic and hormonal functions, including glucose, insulin, some pituitary hormones, and norepinephrine.
“These changes suggest a beneficial effect of dTMS on both weight loss and change in microbiota composition,” Livio Luzi, MD, head of the research team, said. “Our research shows the innovative ability of dTMS in exerting anti-obesity effects through alteration of the gut-brain axis.” (Endocrine Society, 2017)
In recent years, transcranial magnetic stimulation has also shown promise as a treatment for a variety of health problems, including major depression, migraines, and boosting memory function. (Haridy, 2017)
Many thanks to Leni Fuhrman for sending me the Haridy article about this fascinating work.
It may strain the imagination to hear that several pounds of organisms live inside your gastrointestinal tract and that they are in constant communication with your brain, but it’s true. Actually, the communication is two way – gut to brain and brain to gut – and operates via biochemical signaling. This process is called the gut-brain axis. The gut microbiome is so so important to the body’s functioning it’s often now referred to as our second brain.
Recent research has also demonstrated that our mood is greatly affected by certain bacteria living in our gut microbiome. These bacteria profoundly influence how anxious or depressed we are. Having lots of friendly probiotic bacteria in there exerts anxiety-reducing and antidepressant effects on our emotions and physical bodies.
Fortunately for us, there is an emerging field of neuroscience called psychobiotics that is studying how changing the bacterial composition in the gut affects the brain. (Atlay, 2016)
Psychobiotics researchers are beginning to identify which probiotics have psychotropic (mind-altering) effects – boosting mood and cognitive function; decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression.
Functional Medicine doc Kelly Brogan, along with numerous others, is convinced that mood disorders and many other psychiatric problems are the result of imbalances and chronic inflammation in the gut microbiome and that psychobiotics will become the treatment of choice for mood disorders and will also be used to prevent them. She wrote:
“For two decades now, pioneering researchers have been substantiating inflammatory models of mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Research has focused on markers that indicate immune distress in an important subset of patients, many of whom are labeled “treatment resistant.” Through this body of literature, we have identified that depression can be induced, in animals and in humans through inflammatory agents, that it is correlated with blood levels of inflammatory markers, in a linear way (more markers = worse depression), and that symptoms can be reversed through pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories.” (Brogan, 2014)
The well respected scientists who authored an article called Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria–Gut–Brain Signals published a few months ago in Trends in Neurosciences believe that prebiotics (nondigestible plant fibers that nourish our probiotics) should also be included as actors in the gut-brain communication process and propose the diagram below to show how it all works (Sarkar, 2016):
Systems-Level Overview of Psychobiotic Action
If you’re interested in a deeper understanding of how the process works, take a look at this explanation of the diagram provided by the authors:
“Probiotics directly introduce beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria into the gut. Prebiotics (e.g., galacto-oligosaccharides) support the growth of such bacteria. SCFAs and gut hormones: Both probiotics and prebiotics increase production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which interact with gut mucosal enteroendocrine cells and catalyse the release of gut hormones such as cholecystokinin (CCK), peptide tyrosine tyrosine (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide- 1 (GLP-1). Prebiotics may have stronger effects in this regard in comparison to probiotics. SCFAs and gut hormones enter circulation and can migrate into the central nervous system. Gut hormones are also secreted by tissues other than enteroendocrine cells. Neurotransmitters: psychobiotics enhance neurotransmitter production in the gut, including dopamine (DA), serotonin (5-HT), noradrenaline (NA), and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which likely modulate neurotransmission in the proximal synapses of the enteric nervous system. Vagal connections: the vagus nerve synapses on enteric neurons and enables gut–brain communication. Stress, barrier function, and cytokines: barrier dysfunction is exacerbated through stress-induced glucocorticoid exposure. This enables migration of bacteria with pro-inflammatory components, increasing inflammation directly and also triggering a rise in pro-inflammatory cytokines via the immunogenic response. These cytokines impair the integrity of the blood–brain barrier and permit access to potentially pathogenic or inflammatory elements. Pro-inflammatory cytokines (red circles) also reduce the integrity of the gut barrier. Psychobiotic action restores gut barrier function and decreases circulating concentrations of glucocorticoids and pro-inflammatory cytokines. They also increase concentrations of anti-inflammatory cytokines (blue circles), which enhance integrity of the blood–brain barrier, the gut barrier, and reduce overall inflammation. Cytokines clustering at the brain represent cytokine interaction with the blood–brain barrier. Central lymphatic vessels: cytokines may interact more directly with the brain than previously appreciated through the recently discovered central lymphatic vessels.” (Sarkar, 2016)
THE GUT-BRAIN AXIS AND MOOD
The gut microbiome and the brain, working together via the gut-brain axis, are jointly responsible for maintaining health in the body – including mental health. If a body has an unbalanced gut microbiome containing too few or unbalanced probiotics and prebiotics (dysbiosis) – because its owner consumes a nutritionally impoverished diet, has taken antibiotics that have killed off many probiotics in the gut, has been exposed to toxins, and/or isn’t doing a good job managing stress, the body’s intestinal lining may become too porous (a condition called leaky gut), creating chronic inflammation in the body and eventually a series of autoimmune diseases – and apparently mood disorders too.
In the diagram above from the Sarkar article, blue arrows indicate psychobiotic processes and effects, while red arrows indicate processes associated with leaky gut and chronic inflammation.
RESEARCH FINDINGS ON PSYCHOBIOTICS FOR ANXIETY & DEPRESSION
Here are some intriguing results from research studies on probiotics’ and prebiotics’ effects on anxiety and depression:
A 30-day human study found these two probiotics helpful for reducing anxiety as compared to a placebo (Sarkar, 2016)
Lactobacillus helveticus R0052
A mixture of these probiotics compared to a placebo, taken for four weeks, substantially reduced depression in human subjects (Sarkar, 2016)
Bifidobacterium bifidum W23
Bifidobacterium lactis W52
Lactobacillus acidophilus W37
Lactobacillus brevis W63
Lactobacillus casei W56
Lactobacillus salivarius W24
Lactococcus lactis W19 and W58
In a study of academic stress, healthy medical students took either this probiotic or a placebo for eight weeks before an exam. The day before the exam, plasma cortisol was substantially lower in the probiotic group compared to the placebo group. (Sarkar, 2016):
Lactobacillus casei Shirota
In another study, student athletes who were given this probiotic had elevated mood and reduced natural killer cell activity after strenuous exercise, relative to placebo:
Lactobacillus gasseri OLL2809 LG2809
When the probiotic was taken along with this protein in milk,
the students also experienced less fatigue. (Sarkar, 2016)
Irritable bowel syndrome is known to be associated with disturbances in the gut-brain axis and composition of the gut microbiome. IBS is a chronic inflammatory condition and is often accompanied by anxiety and depression. After human study participants with IBS consumed this probiotic, their level of inflammation was reduced (as measured by the ratio of interleukin-10 to interleukin-12), compared to those who took a placebo (Sarkar, 2016):
Bifidobacterium infantis 35624
In a clinical trial of people with major depressive disorder, patients were given these probiotics:
Lactobacillus acidophilus (2 billion CFUs)
Lactobacillus casei (2 billion CFUs)
Bifidobacterium bifidum (2 billion CFUs)
Compared with placebo, the people who took the probiotics were less depressed at the end of the eight week study and also had significant decreases in systemic inflammation, reduced insulin resistance, and a significant rise in glutathione (the body’s master anti-oxidant). (University Health News, 2016)
A study looking at the effects of these probiotics (given as Probio’Stick®) on anxiety, depression, stress, and coping strategies in healthy human volunteers found a reduction of psychological distress (particularly depression, anger/hostility, and anxiety) and improved problem solving ability at the end of the 30 day study (University Health News, 2016):
Lactobacillus helveticus R0052
Bifidobacterium longum R0175
Harrington states, “For anyone experiencing anxiety and/or depression, regular supplementation with this probiotic combination seems a natural and worthwhile practice. It is conceivable that such supplementation could reduce reliance on prescription medications and deliver freedom from the burdens of these common mental illnesses.” (Harrington, 2016)
Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome were given either this probiotic or a placebo daily for two months. The people who took the probiotic experienced a significant decrease in anxiety (University Health News, 2016):
Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota (24 billion colony forming units)
Animal studies have shown that this probiotic reduces depression by increasing dopamine and serotonin. This same probiotic decreased cortisol and increased dopamine and serotonin, normalizing the stress response system in depressed mice subjected to early-life stress (University Health News, 2016):
Lactobacillus plantarum strain PS128
These two probiotics have been shown to reduce anxiety-like behavior and improve performance on cognitive tests in anxious mice (University Health News, 2016):
Bifidobacterium longum 1714
Bifidobacterium breve 1205
The same probiotic shown to help people with chronic fatigue syndrome has also been shown to help humans and lab animals undergoing other kinds of stress. This probiotic (consumed as kefir, a fermented milk drink that’s loaded with a variety of probiotics) prevented stress-related cortisol increases and raised serotonin levels in stressed medical students. The kefir also decreased stress-related physical symptoms such as abdominal pain and colds (University Health News, 2016):
Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota
Animal studies have also identified other probiotics that reduce stress-related depression and anxiety by affecting serotonin, cortisol, and other neuroactive compounds. These two, in combination, normalized anxious behaviors along with learning and memory impairments in immune-deficient rats (University Health News, 2016):
Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 combined with Lactobacillus rhamnosus R0011
This probiotic was more effective than the SSRI citalopram (Celexa) in reducing stress-induced anxiety, depression, and cognitive dysfunction in rats. It lowered their cortisol and restored their serotonin and other brain neurochemical levels back to normal (University Health News, 2016):
Lactobacillus helveticus NS8
Prebiotics, like probiotics, have also been identified as regulators of mood and brain function. A recent study found that this prebiotic decreased the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol and improved emotional processing and lowered anxiety in healthy human volunteers (University Health News, 2016):
A study of people with IBS, who typically have decreased microbial diversity in their gut microbiomes and often suffer from anxiety, found that daily consumption of this prebiotic mixture for four weeks reduced their anxiety (University Health News, 2016):
a galactooligosaccharide-containing prebiotic mixture in powder form
An informative article called 10 Best Probiotics For Depression & Anxiety: Gut-Brain Axis Modification names the following as the most helpful probiotics for mood regulation, describes their functions in the body, presents relevant research results from studies in which they were used as psychobiotics, and recommends some specific probiotic products. The first nine in the list are probiotics; the 10th is a prebiotic:
The article also discusses pathogenic bacteria that may CAUSE anxiety and depression:
Interestingly, these pathogenic bacteria have also been found to be associated with other serious physical problems, including GI disease, stress-induced memory dysfunction, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, and heart valve damage.
COMMERCIAL PSYCHOBIOTIC SUPPLEMENTS
If your interest in the relationship between the probiotics in your gut microbiome and your mood has been piqued, perhaps you want to pick out one or more of the probiotics mentioned above to experiment with. Start with the one that interests you most and take it for a month so it has a chance to colonize in your gut.
If deliberately encouraging a strain of bacteria to colonize your gut sounds too much like a scary science fiction movie, please remember that we’re talking about GOOD (probiotic) bacteria, ones that create health in the body, not HARMFUL (pathologic) bacteria that create illness.
Here are a few commercially available probiotic supplements that provide psychobiotic and other benefits:
This supplement contains 3 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of a blend of two probiotic strains demonstrated to improve mood, reduce perceived stress, and promote relaxation in humans.
Lactobacillus Helveticas strain R0052
Bifid bacterium longum strain R0175
“Research suggests specific probiotics positively influence biochemical signaling between the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system- resulting in positive effects on mood.” (Amazon.com, 2017)
Contains milk and soybeans. The ingredients may be from GMO sources.
Life Extension says this about the GMO issue:
“Q. Should I be concerned with the usage of genetically modified plants (GMOs)?
“A. Soybeans are an example of a crop that has used extensive genetic engineering to increase crop yield. The reality is that soybean oil and soy lecithin are highly processed derivatives of soy … far removed from their soy origin. Genetic modification doesn’t alter the entire plant… only a specific gene. Thus, specific molecules like soy lecithin are the same whether they come from a GMO or non-GMO soy source. However, due to our sensitivity to customer concerns, products with corn and soy-based active ingredients are in process of having the labels updated to list when soy and corn-derived active ingredients have been certified to be from non-GM food crops. As the labels are updated the information will be transferred to the product descriptions on our website and directory. Currently Life Extension already offers several premium quality non-GMO soy isoflavone extract products.” (Life Extension, 2017)
At time of manufacture, contains 5 billion Colony Forming Units per BIO-tract pearl, equivalent to 75 billion CFU. Contains a minimum of 1.5 CFU at time of expiration date.
The 15 Group, B. (2015). biotic strains in this supplement are:
Lactobacillus plantarum – Secretes the oxidant hydrogen peroxide which acts as a weapon to protect your body and must be present for your immune system to function correctly. Creates a healthy barrier in your colon and helps lower luminal pH, creating an unfavorable environment for the growth of pathogens including molds, yeasts and bacteria.
Lactobacillus fermentum – highly antimicrobial and antioxidative. Helps inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, yeast and other pathogens and has demonstrated clinical efficacy within immune health.
Lactobacillus acidophilus – Creates a fortress of good colonies that helps keep unwanted organisms out of your gut. Studies show that L. acidophilus helps to reduce occasional diarrhea and enhances your immune system and may help to reduce cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that those taking L. acidophilus experienced significantly more relief from their gastrointestinal discomfort than did those taking a placebo.
Bifidobacterium Infantis – Has been shown to reduce the major symptoms of GI disorders, including diarrhea, flatulence, bloating, cramping and constipation. It is particularly popular as a means of combating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and has been shown to improve digestion and the body’s ability to absorb and process nutrients.
Lactobacillus casei – Along with L. Acidolphilus, converts lactose into lactic acid, helping those who are lactose intolerant. Helps to encourage the growth of other beneficial bacteria.
Bifidobacterium longum – Assists in breaking down carbohydrates and fighting free radicals. Provides potent antioxidant support and helps reduce the effects of seasonal allergens.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus – Helps reduce occurrences of traveler’s diarrhea and food poisoning.
Bifidobacteriumlactis – Helps decrease H. pylori (a bacterium associated with the majority of stomach ulcers) and helps the production of the front line cells in your immune system.
Lactobacillus reuteri – Improves cholesterol levels, reduces H. plyori, protects female urinary tract and vaginal health and aids infants’ GI health.
Lactobacillus salivarius – Helps with GI problems (especially diarrhea caused by antibiotics), helps lactose-intolerant people digest dairy. It may lower cholesterol and blood pressure, maintain dental health, help with IBS, and boost the immune system.
Lactobacillus paracasei – Is key for digestive function, boosts the immune system, and energy levels, resolves infant diarrhea. It may help fight infections and relieve symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Lactobacillus gasseri – May speed up metabolism and encourage weight loss, protect against harmful organisms, lower cholesterol, reduce allergic response, ease symptoms of asthma in children, and lessen menstrual pain in women with endometriosis.
Bifidobacterium bifidum – Protects the intestinal lining from damage from toxins and pathological germs. Produces important vitamins like B12, biotin, and K2. Helps digest sugar and reduces incidence of colds and flu.
Bifidobacterium breve – Protects colon function, alleviates constipation, reduces gas and diarrhea. Stimulates the immune system, inhibits E. coli and suppresses the fungus Candida. Ferments sugars and produces acetic and lactic acids. Helps digest plant fibers typically thought of as undigestible. May reduce intestinal irritation and allergic responses.
Streptococcus thermopholus – Breaks down lactose into lactic acid and helps boost the immune system. May lower the risk of colon cancer. May protect intestinal tissues from irritation during chemotherapy . Correlates with better growth in children.
plus 25 mg of prebiotic:
This supplement is vegetarian; non-GMO; and free of yeast, lactose, soy, iron, gluten, wheat, nuts, preservatives, sugar, and artificial colors or flavors.
– Information provided by Hyperbiotics on Amazon.com (2017), Dr Edward Group at Global Healing Center (2015A-F), and Examine.com (2011-2017).
This supplement contains a single probiotic strain:
Lactobacillus plantarum 299v
Each veggie cap contains 10 billion viable cells of L. plantarum 299v, a clinically-documented, human-origin probiotic strain that resists stomach acid and bile salts and has been found to successfully colonize the human intestinal mucosa.
This strain reduces bloating, gas and Intestinal discomfort, and supports regularity. The product is vegetarian/vegan and gluten free but contains trace amounts of soy.
This supplement also contains a single probiotic strain:
Bifidobacterium infantis 35624
align was developed by gastroenterologists to promote and support a healthy digestive system. It’s especially useful for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – sometimes called spastic colon. IBS is characterized by abdominal cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. (Amazon.com, 2017)
In the intestines of infants, B. infantis helps break down lactic acid in human breast milk.
“Adults who keep their B. infantis levels in balance enjoy better overall health, an active metabolism, and less discomfort after eating. British researchers reported it only took four weeks for women who took B. infantis to enjoy a significant improvement in their IBS symptoms. Another study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found B. infantis supports stomach health and digestion. But it does more than aid digestion. It also supports your immune system against unwanted bacterial growth in the intestines. And some strains even produce B vitamins.” (Group, 2015B)
The beneficial bacteria in BioKult are freeze dried, a process which protects them from the harsh acidic environment of the stomach so they survive to colonize the intestinal tract. Each capsule contains a minimum of 2 billion probiotic microorganisms. BioKult is gluten free, uses no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It may contain traces of soy and milk from the growth medium of the strains. Lactose intolerant people shouldn’t have a problem with these traces of milk. BioKult is non-GMO. (Amazon.com, 2017)
Bio-Kult contains 14 probiotic strains:
Bacillus subtilis PXN 21
Bifidobacterium bifidum PXN 23
Bifidobacterium breve PXN 25
Bifidobacterium infantis PXN 27
Bifidobacterium longum PXN 30
Lactobacillus acidophilus PXN 35
Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus PXN 39
Lactobacillus casei PXN 37
Lactobacillus plantarum PXN 47
Lactobacillus rhamnosus PXN 54
Lactobacillus helveticus PXN 45
Lactobacillus salivarius PXN 57
Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis PXN 63
Streptococcus thermophilus PXN 66
Here’s information on the probiotic strains in Bio-Kult that haven’t already been discussed:
* Bacillus subtilisis ubiquitous in soil, produces an endospore that allows it to survive the stomach’s acidity. It is beneficial to the digestive system in general and is known to improve symptoms of IBS. It suppresses the growth of harmful pathogens, strengthens the gut’s mucosal lining, and enhances the growth of other good probiotic strains. (Jockers, 2014)
B. subtilis‘s other benefits include decreasing triglycerides, LDL levels and total cholesterol; increasing immunity; fighting viruses; improving leaky gut; decreasing inflammation; decreasing diarrhea and nausea; improving dairy digestion; decreasing tooth decay; managing HIV symptoms; and fighting dyspepsia. (Jerkunica, 2009-2015)
* Lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies bulgaricusis one of the bacterial strains used to turn milk into yogurt and is also found in other naturally fermented foods.
*Lactobacillus helveticus provides many health benefits – including inhibition of pathogenic bacteria, anti-mutagenic and anti-tumorigenic activity, anti-hypertensive activity, immunomodulatory activity, control of diarrhea, reduction of lactose intolerance, and enhancing recovery from gut atrophy induced by malnutrition. It has also been found to improve bone mineral density and bone mineral content, calcium and bone metabolism, arterial stiffness, and blood pressure. (Swartzburg, 2009)
* Lactococcus lactis ssp. lactis, a strain of L. lactis, is used widely in cheese making as a starter culture. It’s added to milk to make a variety of cultured dairy products: sour cream, buttermilk, blue cheese, Colby, Cheddar, and cottage cheese.
L. lactic ssp. lactis protects against strep throat, respiratory and non-respiratory diseases, L. lactis also delivers antigens that stimulate mucosal immunity to non-respiratory pathogens, including HIV, HPV, and the malarial parasite. It’s related to other lactic acid bacteria, such as L. acidophilus in the intestines and S. salivarius in the mouth. (Todar, 2008-2011)
I love this: In 2010, L. lactis was named Wisconsin’s Official State Microbe!
This is another probiotic supplement in pearl form, containing 4 billion cultures. The pearls contain no gluten, lactose, wheat, soy, eggs, shellfish, tree nuts, chemicals, or artificial ingredients.
About the Product
Increases the probiotic bacterial profile in the gut microbiome.
Pearls versus capsules: The Time Release Patented Technology, BioTract, allows pearls to be smaller than capsules and easier to swallow. The manufacturer says this product is 15X more effective than capsules and delivers 15X more live bacteria into the intestinal tract.
Provides relief from gas, bloating, IBS, diarrhea, constipation and other bowel discomforts.
Boosts immunity, energy and mood.
Improves vitamin absorption, which gives a big boost to your immune system.
Protects the body from yeast overgrowth and improves digestion, contributing to overall well-being and more energy.
Earth’s Pearl Probiotics support and improve healthy digestion, improving the bio-availability of nutrients from the healthy foods and supplements you are taking.
This supplement is good for yeast infections, diarrhea, gas, bloating, diverticulitis, colon issues, leaky gut, digestion issues, poor immune system, constipation, IBS, lactose intolerance, allergies, antibiotics.
This probiotic supplement is for those who can’t or don’t like swallowing capsules. Each stick contains 3 billion active cells (guaranteed to expiration date). You tear the stick open and pour its contents onto your tongue, allow the powder to dissolve, and swallow. You could also mix the powder into water or juice, even stir it into a smoothie.
Each stick contains:
Bifidobacterium longum (R0175) 3.18 x 108 CFU
Lactobacillus helveticus (R0052) 2.682 x 109 CFU
Probiotic Sticks balance the intestinal microflora and help decrease stress-related GI symptoms – such as bloating, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. They are micro-encapsulated and gastro-protected. The powder is a red plum flavor. (Amazon.com, 2017)
An Amazon customer reported, “It is the best probiotic I have ever used. It really helps with anxiety.”
These are only a few of the probiotic supplements on the market. Some research should help you find one that’s high quality and addresses your health issues.
TIPS FOR CHOOSING A PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENT
When selecting probiotic supplements, you want to make sure you’re getting something that your body can use. Many probiotic supplements on the market may start with billions of CFUs of various bacteria but they’ve died by the time you get them or they perish in the acidic environment of your stomach as they pass through on their way to your intestines (where you need them) and won’t do you any good. Do some research before purchasing. In general, try to get the highest quality supplements you can afford.
Dr David Williams proposes these four criteria for evaluating a probiotic supplement (Williams, 2017):
The specific probiotic strains included
The product’s packaging and delivery system
Product expiration dates
I would add to his list:
Free of other common allergens
No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
Is able to survive stomach acid to reach the intestines
Kefir is a fermented drink that’s loaded with probiotic bacteria, including many of the ones discussed above that have been found effective for anxiety and depression. It can be made from any type of milk – usually cow, goat or sheep, and also from coconut water, juices, rice, soy – even plain water. It has impressive medicinal benefits for healing leaky gut and can be given to newborns to improve their gut microbiomes. It also contains high levels of Vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium and other essential minerals, Vitamin K2, biotin, folate, and digestive enzymes. The fermentation process breaks down the lactose in milk, rendering kefirs 99% lactose-free, so they’re tolerated well even by those who are lactose intolerant.
Kefir has been consumed for thousands of years for its numerous health benefits.
Lifeway organic plain kefir is an example of a tasty commercial kefir that’s widely available. Its culture contains 15-20 billion Colony Forming Units (CFUs) of live and active kefir cultures per cup. Kefir cultures include these probiotics:
See these resources for more information on the probiotic superfood kefir:
Adding lacto-fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles to your daily diet will provide a good dose of probiotics. If you’re buying commercial versions of these foods, be aware that ‘pickled’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘fermented. Most pickles and pickled foods are made with vinegar and provide NO probiotic benefits. They’re also usually made with lots of processed salt, which isn’t good for us. Real, lacto-fermented pickles, sauerkraut, etc contain no vinegar. Instead, they are brined with water and salt, and are sold refrigerated because the culture in the jar is alive with probiotics that would be killed if exposed to heat .
EXAMPLE OF PICKLES MADE WITH VINEGAR
Ingredients: Pickles (Cucumbers, Salt, Calcium Chloride), Original Curing Brine, Water, Salt, Distilled White Vinegar, Lactic Acid, Potassium Sorbate as a Preservative, Natural Flavoring, Polysorbate 80
EXAMPLES OF LACTO-FERMENTED PICKLES AND SAUERKRAUT
Pickles Ingredients: Cucumbers. Artesian Well Water, Garlic, Salt, Dill, Spices
Sauerkraut Ingredients: Cabbage, Artesian Well Water, Salt
You’ll notice that the Heinz Premium Genuine Dills are made with vinegar and require a preservative. They don’t contain probiotics and are sold at room temperature.
Bubbies’ Pure Kosher Dills and Sauerkraut are full of healthy probiotics created by lacto-fermentation, contain no vinegar or chemical preservatives and are sold refrigerated. My only objections to them are that the company apparently uses processed salt in its culture and the ingredients are probably genetically modified.
A note on yogurt: The probiotics in most commercial yogurts get killed off by heat during processing. Look for yogurts that are still tangy tasting. You can also make your own.
Functional Medicine doc Kelly Brogan says in “Psychobiotics: Bacteria For Your Brain?” regarding getting your probiotics from food:
“Given how little is known about therapeutic applications of different strains, it may make sense to defer to ancestral practices that confirm the importance of probiotic exposures. In these foods such as lactofermented kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, and other traditional vegetables, microbes are acting on the food, and the food is then acting on our microbes.” (Brogan, 2014)
“In the centuries before we had refrigeration or freezing, foods were often preserved by fermentation. In eating and drinking those fermented foods, we regularly ingested prebiotics and probiotics that kept our gut flora balanced and happy.
“Live, lactic acid fermentation is the simplest and usually the safest way of preserving food. Before we had refrigeration, canning and chemical preservatives, humans in every culture preserved foods by fermenting them – sauerkraut, tempeh (fermented soybeans), miso (fermented soybean paste), kimchi, dry sausages, pickles, cheeses, yogurt, kefir, sourdough bread starters, beers and wines, among others.
“We pretty much stopped eating those digestion-enhancing foods when we started relying on foods kept ”fresh” by refrigeration and other artificial means – and even worse, started eating heavily processed, essentially fake and genetically altered foods. What we gave up in turning away from fermented foods was ingesting enough of the friendly bacteria our bodies need to maintain good health, the prebiotics and probiotics created by natural fermentation. (Hardin, 2011)
“Natural fermentation develops vast amounts of lactic acid bacteria, friendly bacteria our guts need to maintain good health. Take sauerkraut for example: The numbers of different lactic acid bacteria in live sauerkraut can reach concentrations of 10 (to the 8th) to 10 (to the 9th) per gram. ( Zdenka Samish, 1963)”
When selecting probiotic supplements, you want to make sure you’re getting something that your body can use. Many probiotic supplements on the market may start with billions of CFUs of various bacteria but they’ve died by the time you get them or they perish in the acidic environment of your stomach as they pass through on their way to your intestines (where you need them) and won’t do you any good. Do some research before purchasing. In general, try to find the best supplements you can afford.
Dr David Williams proposes these four criteria for evaluating a probiotic supplement (Williams, 2017):
The specific probiotic strains included
The product’s packaging and delivery system
Product expiration dates
I would add to his list:
Free of other common allergens
No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
Is able to survive stomach acid to reach the intestines
RESOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT PSYCHOBIOTICS
“The best psychobiotics and the best dosages for those psychobiotics have yet to be determined, but a number of them used in the studies described above are commercially available in probiotic supplements. Generally, at least 10 billion CFU’s per day are recommended for most probiotics, including psychobiotics, but higher or lower amounts may also be beneficial. Just make sure to give your psychobiotic a try for at least a month before deciding whether it’s working or not.” (University Health News, 2016)
A tip from my own experience: If the dosage instructions on your new probiotic supplement recommend taking more than one/day, it would probably be wise to start with one to see how your body reacts to it, stay on that dose for a while (at least a few days, maybe even a week), then work up to the recommended dose slowly.
PSYCHOBIOTICS VS PHARMACEUTICALS
While researchers currently can’t recommend doses for these probiotics and haven’t yet tested their long-term effects, if you’re suffering from chronic anxiety and/or depression and are the sort of person who’s willing to be a pioneer, you might want to try adding them to your daily diet as an experiment and see if they help you.
I’ll point out here that the taking of prescription pharmaceuticals isn’t as scientific and safe as we’ve been led to believe.
RESOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION ON PROBIOTICS IN GENERAL
If you’re willing, it would be helpful if you’d share information about your experiences with any of these or other psychobiotic supplements or foods. The field is still in its infancy and we can learn from each other’s experiences – what worked for you and what didn’t.
If you’ve read that bacteria in our guts influence our moods and have wondered how that works, here’s a new clue towards solving this piece of the recently enlivened mind/body axis puzzle.
THE NEUROTRANSMITTERS GABA & GLUTAMATE
The amino acid called GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid) is the principal INHIBITORY neurotransmitter in the mammalian central nervous system, sending chemical messages through the brain and nervous system and helping regulate communication between brain cells.
GABA’s chief role is to reduce the activity of nerve cells. It plays an important role in behavior, cognition, and how we respond to stress. Research suggests that GABA helps control fear and anxiety when neurons become overexcited. Below normal GABA levels in the brain have been linked to depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and schizophrenia.
Pharmaceuticals called benzodiazepines bind to the same receptors as GABA, mimicking GABA’s natural calming effects. Examples of popular benzodiazepines for anxiety and insomnia are Valium (diazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam). They slow down the body’s central nervous system and cause sleepiness. (Konkel, 2015)
Glutamate (also called L-glutamate or glutamic acid)) is another important amino acid neurotransmitter released by nerve cells in the brain. It is involved in most aspects of normal brain functioning, including cognition, memory and learning. It is the major mediator of EXCITATORY signals in the mammalian central nervous system. (Danbolt, 2001)
GABA & GLUTAMATE IN BALANCE
Calming GAMBA restrains the release of excitatory glutamate. So you can see that a balance between GABA and glutamate production is needed for proper functioning. It’s a Goldilocks situation: The brain needs to release just the right amount of both GABA and glutamate. Too much or too little of one or the other causes problems.
IT TURNS OUT THAT A TYPE OF BACTERIA IN THE GUT LIVES ON GABA
Researchers have now observed gut bacteria consuming the brain chemical GABA. They found that a type of recently discovered gut bacteria, called KLE1738, can survive and reproduce only if it has GABA molecules to feed on. The researchers tried providing KLE1738 with other types of neurotransmitters but the bacteria couldn’t survive on anything but GABA. Without GABA, these bacteria die.
This is an important clue about how our gut bacteria influence our mood. “GABA acts by inhibiting signals from nerve cells, calming down the activity of the brain, so it’s surprising to learn that a gut bacterium needs it to grow and reproduce. Having abnormally low levels of GABA is linked to depression and mood disorders, and this finding adds to growing evidence that our gut bacteria may affect our brains.” (Coghlan, 2016)
An earlier experiment, in 2011, demonstrated that a different type of gut bacteria, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, dramatically altered GABA activity in the brains of mice as well as affected how well they responded to stress.
When the researchers surgically removed the vagus nerve, the communication pathway between the gut and the brain, the effect on the mice disappeared – more evidence on how gut bacteria influence the brain. (Coghlan, 2016)
The research team, led by Philip Strandwitz at Northeastern University in Boston, is now searching for other gut bacteria that consume or even produce GABA. They plan to test their effect on the brains and behavior of animals. Such work may eventually lead to new treatments for mood disorders like depression or anxiety.
“Due to this unique growth requirement, we provisionally name KLE1738 Evtepia gabavorous. Using growth of E. gabalyticus as an indicator, we then identified novel GABA producing bacteria from the gut microbiome. Reduced levels of GABA are associated with depression, and we found fewer GABA producers in a human cohort of depressed individuals. By modulating the level of GABA, microbial producers and consumers of this neurotransmitter may be influencing host behavior.” (Strandwitz et al, 2016)
Researchers are just at the beginning of looking into the many ways the gut microbiome influences, if not regulates, many bodily processes and how unbalance in the gut microbiome eventually leads to poor health.
This finding of a dependence of a type of gut bacteria on the neurotransmitter GABA doesn’t mean you should start yourself on one of the GABA supplements you’ll find for sale online. But do stay tuned! Neurotransmitters and specific microbes may become the treatment of choice for mood disorders – or, even better, for preventing mood disorders in the first place.
Keep your gut microbiome health, keep your body healthy.
Danbolt, N.C. (2001). Glutamate as a Neurotransmitter – An overview. Center for Molecular Biology & Neuroscience, The Neurotransporter Group – Dynamics of extracellular transmitter amino acids. See: http://neurotransporter.org/glutamate.html
This short interview with Dr Stephanie Seneff is quite interesting. She explains how supplementation with folic acid during pregnancy can interact with the glyphosate in genetically modified foods to produce an autistic brain in the fetus. Dr Seneff work is a good source of research information on the various health dangers created by glyphosate.
Folates, a group of water soluble B-vitamins (also known as Vitamin B9) and naturally found in food, are vital for health. Folic acid is an oxidized synthetic compound used in dietary supplements and food fortification.
“Despite the risks associated with high levels of folic acid intake, it is well established that adequate folate intake from the consumption of folate-rich foods is essential for health. Folate aids the complete development of red blood cells, reduces levels of homocysteine in the blood, and supports nervous system function. It is well known for its role in preventing neural tube defects in newborns, so women of childbearing age must be sure to have an adequate intake prior to and during pregnancy.” (Kresser, 2012)
If you’re interested in reading more about how GMOs and glyphosate are harmful, see the “So What’s the Problem with GMOs?” section in my earlier post Genetically Modified Organisms – Our Food (Hardin, 2014)
A major conclusion from the findings Dr Seneff describes in this video is that glyphosate has profound negative effects on the probiotic bacteria making up the gut microbiome, home to most of our immune system. Glyphosate destroys the beneficial bacteria in our guts, triggering an enormous range of health problems.
At a talk by Bruce Hirsch on FMT and he just said, referring to antibiotics, “What happens in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut.” I thought that was well put.
– Christian John Lillis on 3/9/2016
Well put indeed! Dr Hirsch succinctly summed up, in one short sentence, antibiotics’ huge, deleterious impact on the probiotic bacteria living in our gut microbes … and from there to the rest of the body. Wreck your gut microbiome and you’re wrecking your health.
Bruce E. Hirsch, MD
Specialist in Infectious Disease & Geriatric Medicine
The mission of the Peggy Lillis Foundation is to build a nationwide clostridium difficile awareness movement by educating the public, empowering advocates, and shaping policy.
The PLF envisions a world where C. diff is rare, treatable and survivable.
What is Clostridium difficile infection?
“Clostridium difficile [pronounced Klo-STRID-ee-um dif-uh-SEEL], also known as “C. diff” [See-dif], is a germ that can cause diarrhea. Most cases of C. diff infection occur in patients taking antibiotics. The most common symptoms of a C. diff infection include:
Loss of appetite
Belly pain and tenderness “
– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015
Our gut microbiomes, the several pounds of micro-organisms living inside our intestines and often referred to as OurFriends with Benefits, affect pretty much every aspect of our health – keeping us well or making us sick.
I wrote about INCREASED GUT PERMEABILITY – CAUSES & CONSEQUENCES in a 10 May 2015 post. Here’s part of that article as background for appreciating the value of a supplement called IntestiNEW that strengthens the intestine’s mucosal lining, where our gut microbiomes reside:
DIGESTION – FROM MOUTH TO ANUS
The human digestive tract runs from the mouth at the top to the anus at the other end. Foreign matter (food) is taken in and partially broken down by chewing in the mouth. It then travels down through the esophagus to the stomach and from there into the small and large intestines, where it is selectively digested. During this trip, various phases of digestion take place and nutrients are extracted and absorbed. The liver, gall bladder and pancreas, organs that aid in the digestive process, are located along the length of the GI tract.
The total length of the GI tract varies from person to person. In an adult male the range is 20 to 40 feet. On average, the small intestine in adults is 22 feet long and the large intestine is 5 feet.
As you can intuit, a lot could go wrong during that long trip – and much of that depends on the quality of what you deliver to your mouth as ‘food’.
You can see the location of the mucosal layer (called ‘mucous coat’ in the diagram below) and the intestinal villi in this cross section of the human small intestine. The empty space in the center, just below the villi (the spikes you see in the image of a healthy mucosal membrane in the image to the left above), is called the lumen, the tube in which food travels through the intestines.
INCREASED GUT PERMEABILITY – AKA LEAKY GUT
Increased gut permeability – also known as hyper-permeable intestines or “leaky gut” – describes the intestinal lining’s having become more porous than it should be so the process of what is allowed out into the body no longer functions properly. Larger, undigested food molecules and other bad things (such as yeasts, toxins, and other forms of waste that normally would continue on and get excreted through the anus) flow freely through these too-large holes in the intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream, where they don’t belong and are treated as dangerous invaders.
The gut’s mucosal layer is thin, delicate – and very important. This is where our probiotic bacteria live, so degrading it also degrades the strength of our immune systems. The probiotics residing in the gut mucosal layer make up 70-90% of the human immune system.
Damage to the gut’s mucosal layer leads to a whole range of serious problems as the body tries to cope with the invaders being released into the bloodstream. Once this lining has become disturbed, allowing problematic things to flow through it into the blood stream, a cycle of chronic irritation begins, leading to chronic inflammation in the body and a whole series of autoimmune conditions.
It is well-known that the composition of the gut lining and its microbiota changes during animal development and can be influenced by environmental factors such as diet, lifestyle, and habitat. (Barker, 2013), (Conlon, 2014) & (Renew Life, undated)
So you can see the importance of keeping your gut lining, where those critters live, in good shape.
REGENERATION OF THE GUT LINING
The thin lining of our intestines is semi-permeable: a healthy lining membrane allows nutrients to pass from the intestines into the bloodstream and prevents toxins, pathogens, and undigested food from exiting the digestive tract too early. When the lining becomes chronically damaged, allowing toxins, pathogens, and undigested food to enter the bloodstream, chronic inflammation occurs in the body and many negative, autoimmune health conditions may ensue. (Renew Life, undated)
A healthy intestinal lining serves many functions, most critical among them:
Continuing the digestive processing of food after it leaves the stomach
Absorbing nutrients from this partially digested food
Preventing harmful bacteria and undigested food particles from entering the bloodstream
Like our skin, the delicate mucosal lining of our small and large intestines sloughs off a layer of cells every 3-5 days and produces new cells to maintain its semi-permeable state. This process requires the amino acid L-Glutamine. (Renew Life, undated).
“Small populations of adult stem cells are responsible for the remarkable ability of the epithelial lining of the intestine to be efficiently renewed and repaired throughout life.” (Barker, 2013)
The human body’s GI tract is lined with mucosal tissues primarily comprised of epithelial cells attached to the underlying membrane. Tiny, finger-like projections called villi protrude from the intestinal walls and greatly increase their absorptive and surface areas.
“Digested nutrients (including sugars and amino acids) pass into the villi through diffusion. Circulating blood then carries these nutrients away. Unlike the mucosal tissue of the inner surface of the eyelids or the mouth, the epithelial cells which line the inside of the stomach are exposed to much harsher conditions, e.g., acid (i.e., hydrochloric acid), sometimes alcohol, enzymes (e.g., pepsin) for digesting food and waste generated therefrom. Mucous secretion essentially protects the cells on the inside of the stomach and duodenum from damage by acid or enzymes, for example by presenting bicarbonate to neutralize some of the effects of acid on the stomach’s inner lining, as well as inhibitors to block the enzymatic activity. Once the mucous secretions of the epithelial cells stop, the inner lining of the stomach or duodenum would eventually be eroded by the combined action of acid and enzymes, leading to ulcer.” (MEBO, 2009)
IntestiNew is a dietary supplement designed and produced by Renew Life to soothe the digestive system and benefit the health of the mucosal lining of the intestines. It is available as a powder or in capsules.
The capsule form contains L-glutamine, N-acetyl D-glucosamine, gamma oryzanol, cranesbill root, ginger root, marigold flower, marshmallow root, vegetable fiber, and water.
The powder form contains the same ingredients with the exception of the vegetable fiber and water.
The glucosamine, L-glutamine, and the herbs in IntestiNew soothe and support the integrity of the intestinal lining. The gamma oryzanol, a natural extract of rice oat bran, delivers essential antioxidant benefits to the digestive system. (Holt, 2016)
Both forms of the supplement are gluten free and contain no artificial ingredients.
Women who are pregnant, nursing, or trying to conceive are advised to consult their physicians before taking IntestiNEW, as are people taking pharmaceutical medications or having a medical condition. The supplements contain an ingredient derived from crustacean shells (shrimp, lobster, and/or crab) so aren’t suitable for people with a shellfish allergy.
Although I couldn’t find any scientific papers on IntestiNEW, it has been well reviewed by customers on Amazon, iHerb, The Vitamin Shoppe, Vitacost, and National Nutrition. I second those reviews: Since I’ve been taking IntestiNEW, I’ve seen a big improvement in my digestive health. I started with a scoop (5.4 grams) stirred into an eight ounce glass of filtered water before breakfast and now take two capsules before each meal, with water)
Some of the many ways our gut bacteria affect our health:
My thanks to David Miller, MD, Supplements Specialist at Life Thyme Market in New York City, for recommending IntestiNew to me.
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Here’s an opportunity for people interested in understanding how the trillions of micro-organisms living in and on the human body contribute to their health – or lack thereof: uBiome, a Silicon Valley company, offers microbiome sequencing, allowing you to explore your body’s own unique microbiomes.
Scientists now know that various microbes living inside and on the human body outnumber our human cells by 10:1. Like a rain forest, the healthy human microbiome needs to have a balanced ecosystem in order to maintain good health – and the balance needs to be in the types and amounts of good microbes as well as between those good microbes and pathological ones.
Our symbiotic microbial populations perform essential functions – including digesting food, synthesizing vitamins, and regulating all the metabolic functions in the body. Studies have also linked the gut microbiome to gut health and healthy development.
A poor mix of microbes in the gut microbiome impairs the immune system, playing a role in the development and progression of autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, asthma, acne, other skin conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid imbalances, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, chronic Lyme Disease, fibromyalgia, and many more – including probably some cancers.
Gut microbial imbalances may also aggravate common obesity.
Certain microbes are known to modify the production of neurotransmitters in the brain so research is being done on how to use them to relieve depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other neuro-chemical imbalances.
See here for a list of and information about autoimmune diseases and here for information on the role of probiotic and pathological bacteria in oral health.
Male vs Female Microbiome Proportions
You can get a kit from uBiome to obtain samples from these microbiomes living on and in your body and have an informative report of the findings sent to you:
uBiome‘s SAMPLING KITS
uBiome offers three types of kits:
GUT KIT – $89 for a one-time purchase/ $71.20@ to subscribe for a kit to be delivered monthly:
From just your gut sample, you get a comprehensive picture of how your microbiome compares to other lifestyles. A starter kit for curious beginners.
Sample three times: before, during and after a diet or lifestyle change. uBiome’s most popular bundle allows you to submit multiple samples to see how your microbiome changes over time. This kit is a 25% discount off the normal Gut Kit, and allows you to use three time points for comparison.
FIVE SITE KIT – $399 for a one-time purchase/ $391.20@ to subscribe for a kit to be delivered monthly:
This kit lets you sample all five microbiomes – your gut, mouth, nose, genitals, and skin – to get a complete picture of the workings of your body.
This is how easy it is to obtain the microbial samples to send to uBiome for sequencing:
Open the tube you want to sample and the follow the site-specific instructions below:
Swab your used toilet paper to collect a tiny amount of poop.
Note – this probably way less than you think you need – just enough to change the color of the swab.
Vigorously rub the swab across the inside of each cheek for 30 seconds.
Note – do not touch your teeth or gums to the swab.
Wet the swab with the PCR water included in your kit. (Do not use regular water.)
Swab along the lower half of the crease behind your ear for 1 minute.
Note – pull your ear forward with one hand and pull your hair out of the way if necessary.
Wet the swab with the PCR water included in your kit. (Do not use regular water.)
Swab around the inside of each nostril at the depth of the cotton on the swab for 30 seconds each.
Wet the swab with the PCR water included in your kit. (Do not use regular water.)
Swab in a circular motion around the base of the head of the penis for one minute (where the head of the penis intersects the shaft).
Note – if your penis is uncircumcised, pull back your foreskin first.
Wet the swab with the PCR water included in your kit. (Do not use regular water.)
Swab the area just inside the vaginal opening, to the depth of the cotton on the swab for one minute.
Note – spread your labia with one hand and use the other to swab.
3. STIR AND SHAKE
Put the used swab into the vial and stir it for 1 minute to transfer the bacteria.
Discard the swab in the trash.
Close the tube tightly and shake vigorously for 1 minute.
All of kits include a secure mailer, so that you can send your samples right back to us.
US kits come with prepaid postage. Just drop the envelope in the mail.
I highly recommend you take a look at uBiome’s website. It’s written in plain English, is user friendly, contains several interesting short videos and lots of information about our human microbiomes – plus you can order your sampling kits directly from the site.
For more information on those microscopic critters living in and on you – our important friends with benefits who keep us functioning properly – see these other posts:
Gut microbial diversity may be diminished for up to a year following oral antibiotic use, suggests a small, industry-conducted study published in mBio.
Sixty-six healthy participants in the U.K. and Sweden were randomized to receive placebo or an antibiotic (clindamycin, amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, or minocycline). They provided saliva and fecal samples before and after receiving antibiotics.
Over the long term, the salivary microbiome was largely undisturbed by antibiotic administration. Meanwhile, microbiome diversity in fecal samples was reduced for up to 4 months in patients receiving clindamycin and up to 12 months in those receiving ciprofloxacin. Specifically, bacteria that produce the short-chain fatty acid butyrate — which is linked to lower inflammation, carcinogenesis, and oxidative stress in the gut — were significantly reduced.
In addition, genetic testing found more genes associated with antibiotic resistance in the fecal samples.
The authors conclude: “Clearly, even a single antibiotic treatment in healthy individuals contributes to the risk of resistance development and leads to long-lasting detrimental shifts in the gut microbiome.”
Updated 8/29/2014, 9/7/2015, and 4/15/2016. NOTE added at end of post on 9/6/2015. Last updated 10/22/2016.
In the global diabetes epidemic, rates of new cases are rising rapidly. I hope this post will help you avoid becoming one of them.
Number of People Diagnosed with Diabetes
Millions, by region
Source: IDF Diabetes Atlas, Sixth Edition; Managed Care calculation of percentages using data from The World Factbook, published by the CIA
TYPES 1 & 2 DIABETES: AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES
During digestion, most of our food gets broken down into glucose (a form of sugar that’s the body’s main source of fuel), which then passes into the bloodstream. Insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas) must also be present in the blood for glucose to be able to make it into our cells to nourish them.
Type 1 diabetes is known to be a serious autoimmune problem of the metabolism. An autoimmune disorder or disease is a result of chronic inflammation in the body’s immune system, causing it to turn against a part of the body – to attack it as if its cells were dangerous, invading pathogens. In Type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. (WebMD, 2008)
Type 2 diabetes is now also largely viewed as the result of a different type of autoimmune reaction: one in which B and T immune cells cause inflammation in the fatty tissue surrounding organs in the body. The inflammation occurs when rapidly growing fat cells outstrip their blood supply and begin to die off. These dying cells spew out their contents, and macrophages (another type of immune cell) are called in to clean up the dead cells. “The resulting onslaught by the immune system inhibits the ability of the remaining fat cells to respond to insulin and causes fatty acids to be shed into the blood. This sets in motion a physiological cascade that leads to fatty liver disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and further insulin resistance throughout the body.” (Conger, 2011)
TYPE 1 DIABETES
In Type 1 diabetes, which used to be called juvenile diabetes, the immune system mistakenly kills off pancreatic cells that make the blood-sugar-regulating hormone insulin. The body’s immune system attacks and destroys these pancreatic cells so they no longer make enough insulin.
Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 10% of diagnosed diabetes in the US.
TYPE 2 DIABETES
In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas usually produces enough insulin but the cells in the body have become unable to make effective use of the hormone, a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin production eventually decreases. So, as in Type 1 diabetes, glucose builds up in the blood instead of being properly delivered to the cells in the body where they’re needed for fuel.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity, older age, family history of gestational diabetes, and physical inactivity. About 80% of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight. Unfortunately, Type 2 diabetes is also increasingly being seen in younger people, even children and teens.
A prediabetic condition indicates the amount of glucose in the blood is above normal but not yet high enough to be called diabetes. Prediabetic people are at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
DIABETES STATISTICS IN THE US
Statistics from the American Diabetes Association Report, 2014 show the magnitude of the problem in the US:
PREVALENCE: In 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population, had diabetes.
Approximately 1.25 million American children and adults have type 1 diabetes.
UNDIAGNOSED: Of the 29.1 million, 21.0 million were diagnosed and another 8.1 million were undiagnosed.
PREVALENCE IN SENIORS: The percentage of Americans age 65 and older remains high, at 25.9%, or 11.8 million seniors (diagnosed and undiagnosed).
NEW CASES: The incidence of diabetes in 2012 was 1.7 million new diagnoses/year; in 2010 it was 1.9 million.
PREDIABETES: In 2012, 86 million Americans age 20 and older had prediabetes; this is up from 79 million in 2010.
DEATHS: Based on the 69,071 death certificates in which diabetes was listed as the underlying cause of death in 2010, diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in the United States that year. In 2010, diabetes was also mentioned as a cause of death in a total of 234,051 certificates.
CAUSE OF DEATH UNDER REPORTING
Diabetes may be under reported as a cause of death. Studies have found that only about 35% to 40% of people with diabetes who died had diabetes listed anywhere on the death certificate and only about 10-15% had it listed as the underlying cause of death.
DIABETES IN YOUTH
About 208,000 Americans under age 20 are estimated to have diagnosed diabetes, approximately 0.25% of that population.
In 2008—2009, the annual incidence of diagnosed diabetes in youth was estimated at 18,436 with Type 1 diabetes, 5,089 with Type 2 diabetes.
Some other diabetes statistics showing the seriousness of the problem:
Below are diabetes prevalence data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of reported cases tripled between 1980 and 2008. The CDC estimates that “the number of Americans with diabetes will range from 1 in 3 to 1 in 5 by 2050.”
And here’s information from the International Diabetes Federation comparing reported cases of diabetes in 2013 with projected cases by 2035 for countries around the world – an expected increase of 55%.
GUT BACTERIA & DIABETES
Researchers are discovering changes in normal gut bacteria that take place before either Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes turns into a clinical condition. Since we now know that 70-80% of our immune system is located in our GI tract, where digestion takes place, you can see how a serious imbalance in the bacterial make up of the gut microbiome could lead to the development of diabetes in people with a genetic predisposition for it.
“Mounting evidence suggests that the bacteria resident within our GI tract – and the immune response to those bacteria – influence the permeability of the gut mucosa. This idea — which has become to be known as the “leaky gut” hypothesis — proposes that a cycle of dysbiosis, dysregulated immune response, and unintended gut permeability leads to the peripheral host immune system being unbalanced towards a pro-inflammatory response. This in turn is suggested to lead to (some of) the imbalances that are thought to be causative of diabetes and other non-metabolic disorders.” (Moore, 2015)
GUT BACTERIA, ANTIBIOTICS & RISK FOR DIABETES
A team of scientists led by Dr Ben Boursi, a Post Doctoral Researcher in Gastroenterology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, found people who have taken multiple courses of antibiotics were 37% more likely to develop Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The team also found the greater the number of courses of antibiotics, the higher the risk for developing diabetes.
Dr Boursi notes, “Our findings are important, not only for understanding how diabetes may develop, but as a warning to reduce unnecessary antibiotic treatments that might do more harm than good.”
Several studies in humans have shown that early childhood exposure to antibiotics is associated with increased risk of obesity in later life – and obesity has long been recognized as risk for developing diabetes.
There’s also growing evidence that imbalances in the gut microbiome’s composition contribute to the development of both Type 1 and 2 diabetes.
The Boursi team’s future research will focus on identifying the species of gut bacteria necessary to prevent and reverse diabetes, potentially working towards the possibility of transplanting prebiotic and probiotic microbes into the gut as a therapeutic strategy for diabetes. (Arendt, 2015) & (Davenport, 2015)
PREDIABETICS HAVE FEWER & LESS DIVERSE GUT BACTERIA
A research team led by Dr Elena Barengolts, an Endocrinologist at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, found irregularities in the composition of the probiotic bacteria in the guts of prediabetic patients: Compared with subjects whose glucose tolerance was good, the prediabetics had fewer and less diverse populations of bacteria living in their gut microbiomes.
There were 116 participants in the study, all African-American veterans. Their ages ranged from 45 to 70. Their intestinal bacteria were measured by stool samples at the start of the study and again 12 months later.
Participants were divided into four groups based on their body’s ability to regulate blood sugar:
Group 1 – Those with stable glucose tolerance (normal)
Group 2 – Those with stable impaired fasting glucose or stable impaired glucose tolerance
Group 3 – Those with worsened glucose tolerance
Group 4 – Those with improved glucose tolerance
The study found that men whose blood sugar control remained normal over the year (Group 1) had higher numbers of beneficial gut bacteria while the men who continued to be prediabetic had fewer beneficial bacteria and higher numbers of harmful bacteria in their guts.
Furthermore, the group whose blood sugar management improved over the course of the year (Group 4) had a higher number of a strain of healthy bacteria (Akkermansia) than the group who had maintained normal blood sugar control over the year (Group 1). (Gray, 2015)
At the phylum level, this study found significant differences in the bacterial composition between Groups 1 and 2: Group 2 (people with impaired but stable fasting glucose or glucose tolerance) had higher levels of Bacteroidetes and lower levels of Firmicutes than people in Group 1.
The Bacteroidetes/Firmicutes ratio was 1.9 vs 0.9 respectively for Groups 1 and 2 and 1.9 vs 1.1 respectively for Groups 1 and 3.
The number of Proteobacteria decreased over the 12-month study period in Groups 2 and 4 compared with Group 1. Proteobacteria are a major phylum of gram-negative bacteria that include a variety of pathogens – such as Escherichia, Salmonella, Vibrio, Helicobacter, and Yersinia. (Wikipedia, 2015)
At the family and genus levels, Group 2 had fewer Prevotella and a higher Bacteroides/Prevotella ratio than Group 1: 5.6 vs 2.7. Group 2 also had fewer Enterobacteriaceae (a large family of bacteria that includes the pathogens Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Yersinia pestis, Klebsiella and Shigella) and more Ruminococcae and Veillonellaceae.
“We speculate that lower abundance of Prevotella may be associated with worsening glycemia, and, conversely, higher abundance of Akkermansia might be associated with improving glycemia, thus corroborating suggestions from previous studies,” the researchers said.
Barengolts notes, “Changes in the gut microbiota occur in the early stage of diabetes development. The gut bacteria signature — the composition and abundance — could be a useful tool in assessing a person’s risk for developing obesity and diabetes.” (Ciubotaru et al, 2015) & (Brown, 2015)
Other studies are currently underway in Italy and China investigating gut bacterial transplants as a treatment for diabetes.
ALTERED GUT BACTERIA PRECEDE TYPE 1 DIABETES IN CHILDREN
A small study followed 33 babies from Finland and Estonia who were at increased genetic risk for developing Type 1 diabetes. Analysis of their stool samples charted changes in the multitude of microorganisms living in their guts.
By age three, four of the children developed Type 1 diabetes. Huge alterations in the gut microbes of those those four children were seen about a year before onset of the disease. As with the men in the veterans’ study, there was a marked drop in the diversity of the overall microbial community. This drop in gut diversity was accompanied by spikes in inflammation-favoring organisms, gene functions, and serum and stool metabolites. These changes in gut microbial levels did not occur in the at risk children who didn’t progress to Type 1 diabetes.
Researcher Dr Aleksandar Kostic, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Computational Biology and Experimental Biology at MIT and Harvard, hopes the study’s results will lead to an early diagnostic test for Type 1 diabetes. (Kostic et al, 2015) & (Norton, 2015)
PREVENTING & TREATING DIABETES VIA THE GUT MICROBIOME?
Bacteria in the Human Gut
Given what we already know about the gut microbiome’s role in keeping the body in a balanced state so it remains healthy, it makes sense to focus on diet and nutritional supplements for preventing and treating diabetes.
For example, we know there is considerable variation among people in the microbes that live in and on us. We also know that an individual’s microbial populations are always changing.
The following is from an easy to read summary of changes in the various human microbiomes from birth through old age. It was prepared by the University of Utah’s Genetic Science Learning Center (2015). You might want to take a look at it – it provides useful information along with some delightful drawings:
“Before birth, we’re all more or less sterile—we have no microbes. Within a few years, we’re covered in thousands of different species of microbes, and they colonize every millimeter of the body that’s exposed to the outside world. By the time we enter kindergarten, we have vastly different populations living in the different habitats around our bodies. Even as adults and into old age, our microbiota continue to shift.
” … Because so many things affect our bodies’ ecosystems, there is a huge amount of variability in microbial populations even among individuals of the same age. Just like our fingerprints vary, we vary in the microbial species we have as well as their relative abundancies. Our microbes vary with gender, diet, climate, age, occupation, and hygiene. Even differences in our genes influence our microbial populations—indirectly by affecting things like the acidity of the digestive tract, and also more directly through variations in proteins on our cells that communicate with microbes.
“Even with all this variability, there are some trends. Microbial populations differ more among body sites than between individuals. For example, the microbes living on the forearms of two different people tend to be more similar than the microbes on the forearm and ear of the same person. And there are certain species of bacteria that will only live in the gut, others that will live only on the teeth, and so on.”
GENETICS VS EPIGENETICS
We also know this about autoimmune diseases: DNA IS NOT DESTINY
Chronic diseases, especially autoimmune ones, are only 25% determined by genetic inheritance. The other 75% is affected by other factors. It’s a matter of genetics vs epigenetics. You may have a genetic predisposition for diabetes but also have a large say in whether your DNA expresses that predisposition in your body.
“We know from twin studies, from identical twin studies, that 25% of autoimmunity is your genetics, and 75% is from the environment. … So that’s an enormous amount that we have control over and can influence.”
Amy Myers, MD. (Sanfilippo, 2015)
If we know that both the composition and abundance of micro-organisms living in our guts change over the course of a lifetime, shouldn’t it be possible to learn how to make deliberate changes to our gut microbiome – changes that prevent diabetes from developing even if we have a genetic predisposition for it?
TO AVOID OR REVERSE INSULIN RESISTANCE
These are Dr Robert Mercola’s suggestions for turning insulin resistance around (Mercola, 8/23/2015) & (Mercola, 8/27/2015):
EAT REAL FOODS INSTEAD OF PROCESSED ONES
Almost all so-called foods that come in a bottle, can, jar, bag, or box have had sugars added to them, usually in the form of high fructose corn syrup.
EAT FRESH FRUIT INSTEAD OF PURCHASED FRUIT JUICES
Commercial fruit juices are loaded with added sugar.
AVOID “DIET” FOODS AND DRINKS
They promote insulin resistance and other health problems. “The artificial sweeteners saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame decrease function in pathways associated with the transport of sugar in your body, and can induce both gut dysbiosis and glucose intolerance. Research also shows that artificial sweeteners promote diabetes and weight gain by disrupting your gut microbiome. Sucralose (Splenda) was found to reduce beneficial gut bacteria by as much as 50 percent!”
AVOID GRAINS, ESPECIALLY WHEAT, BARLEY, OATS & RYE
Grains turn into sugar in your body, sharply raising your glucose and insulin levels, and contribute to insulin resistance. Many grains also contain gluten, which triggers inflammation in the intestines, leading to a state of chronic inflammation in the body and autoimmune diseases.
Consuming a lot of refined grains (and even whole grains) is also highly inflammatory for another reason: Humans are designed to eat a diet containing a ratio of 1 or 2 parts of Omega-6 essential fatty acids to every 1 part of Omega-3. This ratio is what we get when we eat real, unprocessed, highly nutritious foods – non-GMO veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, and pastured animals. Our typical diet now has come to contain 10 to 20 parts Omega-6 to every part Omega-3 – producing a highly inflammatory state in the body. (Kratka, 2011)
“Grains are almost single-handedly responsible for the removal of omega-3 fatty acids in the modern diet…. There have been over 2000 studies done on omega-3 and for good reason: the omega-3s in our diet (or the lack their of) have massive implications on our health. It all boils down to ratios: the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your diet is so crucial, it goes down to the cellular level.” (Kratka, 2011)
Better alternatives to grains are non-GMO almond meal, coconut flour, buckwheat groats, and sweet potatoes. They are much gentler on your blood sugar than grains. Mercola points out that even these healthier alternatives will hamper your body’s ability to heal if you’re already insulin resistant. “Once the clinical signs of insulin resistance have resolved, you can relax your carb restriction.”
Eat fewer saturated and trans fats (unhealthy) and more mono and poly unsaturated fats (healthy). Examples of healthy fats include avocado, butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, cheese, raw dairy, organic pastured eggs, raw nuts, grass-fed meats, and coconut oil.
Due to the high percentage of nutrient-poor foods, refined carbohydrates, bad fats, and refined sugars in the Standard American Diet (SAD), along with consumption of multiple OTC and prescription pharmaceuticals, we are far from getting the optimal ratio of 1:1 for Omega-6s (inflammatory) and Omega-3s (anti-inflammatory). The ratio in our modern Western diet is often as high as 20:1, creating excessive, chronic inflammation in the body – and chronic inflammation is a precursor to many diseases.
GET ENOUGH VITAMIN D3
Having a sufficient blood level of Vitamin D is essential for maintaining good health and preventing a wide range of autoimmune and neurological diseases: Type 1 and 2 diabetes, asthma, allergies, cancer, Alzheimer’s, MS, susceptibility to infection (including viral respiratory infections) among them.
Vitamin D3 is vitally important for healthy immune functioning – and most of us are seriously D3 deficient. Unless we work mostly naked outdoors in a sunny climate without slathering our skin with sunscreen, we can benefit greatly from adding a high quality D3 supplement to our daily diets.
Some good sources of Vitamin D3 are:
Exposure of the skin to sunshine (without sunscreen), salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, cod liver oil, egg yolks, cheeses, butter, shiitake and button mushrooms, sunflower seeds and sprouts, and high quality supplements.
Guidelines for the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin D were updated by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2010 and are currently set by age: For those 1-70 years of age, 600 IU daily; for those 71 years and older, 800 IU daily; and for pregnant and lactating women, 600 IU daily. This is thought by many as far too low.
Due to a mathematical error, the IOM’s widely cited RDA’s for Vitamin D underestimate the body’s need for it by a factor of 10.
The IOM recommends a Vitamin D serum level of 20 ng/ml but we should actually aim for a blood level of 40 ng/ml, supplementing with whatever amount is necessary to reach and maintain that level. (Mercola, 5/10/2015)
One of my alternative health care providers recommends 5,000 IU/day in the summer time and as high as 10,000 IU/day the rest of the year. (Miller, 2011). I like Metagenics, D3 5000, 120 Softgels (1 2X/day).
Vitamin D serum levels should be monitored with periodic blood tests.
(4/15/2016: I reduced my D3 intake to 5,000 IU/day after my D blood serum level was too high.)
(10/22/2016: A few months ago, I needed to reduce my D3 intake even further – to 5,000 IU/day during the darker months and the same amount every other day during the sunnier months.)
Over 10,000 studies show that prolonged sitting harms your health. 8-10 hours of sitting a day, even if you exercise 30-60 minutes daily and are very fit, promotes dozens of chronic diseases – including obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
“The reason for this is because, at the molecular level, the human body was designed to be active all day long. When you stop moving and sit still for extended periods of time, it’s like telling your body to shut down and prepare for death. As soon as you stand up, a number of molecular cascades occur that promote and support healthy biological functioning.
“For example, within 90 seconds of standing up, the muscular and cellular systems that process blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol — which are mediated by insulin — are activated. Surprising as it may sound, all of these molecular effects are activated simply by carrying your body weight upon your legs. These cellular mechanisms are also responsible for pushing fuels into your cells and, if done regularly, will radically decrease your risk of diabetes and obesity.
“So, the remedy is simple: Avoid sitting and get more movement into your life. Ideally, aim to sit less than three hours a day. Also consider walking more, in addition to your exercise regimen. In short, rest is supposed to break up activity — not the other way around. This kind of non-exercise physical movement appears to be really foundational for optimal health, and if you’re currently inactive, this is the place to start even before you get going on a workout routine.” (Mercola, 8/23/2015)
Don’t let this be true for you:
NOTE ADDED ON 9/6/2015
I’d asked Warren Fraser, MD, to look over this post. Dr Fraser is an experienced board certified endocrinologist and Co-Chair of the Institutional Review Board at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA. He sent these helpful comments:
I think your post is very good.
I hadn’t thought of autoimmune diseases as being a result of chronic inflammation, but it makes sense. It’s seems as if more and more disorders are being linked to chronic inflammation. Cardiovascular disease has, and one of the studies I reviewed this week is looking at a drug which reduces chronic inflammation (the drug is already approved for use in Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, now commonly called Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis) to see if it will lower the incidence of a second cardiovascular event in people who have had one heart attack.
In reference to the TYPE 2 DIABETES SECTION:
The pancreas actually over secretes insulin in the early phases of the disease to combat the insulin resistance. This was quite a surprise to investigators when the insulin assay was developed (late 60’s or early 70’s I think). As you pointed out, insulin production eventually decreases, which may be due to, at least in part, pancreatic ‘exhaustion’ from chronic hypersecretion. High insulin levels are almost always seen in prediabetes (insulin resistance syndrome) and measuring insulin levels is useful in making the diagnosis.
In reference to the section on DIABETES STATISTICS IN THE US:
The increase in new cases may be due in part to a greater awareness of the disorder and more people being tested for it.
I certainly concur that diabetes is under reported as a cause of death. The cause is often attributed to a complication of the diabetes. Back in the 80’s, when Lee Iacocca addressed the annual meeting of American Diabetes Association, he said that he wanted his wife’s death certificate to tell the truth: she died from diabetes.
In reference to the section on GUT BACTERIA, ANTIBIOTICS & RISK FOR DIABETES:
I certainly agree with the harmful effects of excessive antibiotic use.
Again, this is a very good review and my comments aren’t meant to be suggestions to change anything.
– Fraser, 2016
GMO vs NON-GMO FOODS:
In the section AVOID GRAINS, ESPECIALLY WHEAT, BARLEY, OATS & RYE, I’d written “Humans are designed to eat a diet containing a ratio of 1 or 2 parts of Omega-6 essential fatty acids to every part of Omega-3. This ratio is what we get when we eat real, unprocessed, highly nutritious foods – non-GMO veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, and pastured animals. Our typical diet now has come to contain 10 to 20 parts Omega-6 to every part of Omega-3 – producing a highly inflammatory state in the body.”
Dr Fraser also asked for clarification on the meaning of “non-GMO”. Here it is with respect to the foods we consume:
The short answer is that NON-GMO plant foods are ones that have not been genetically modified and NON-GMO animals are ones that have not been fed genetically engineered grains or other plants.
GMO foods have been genetically engineered, for reasons completely unrelated to health or nourishment, to withstand heavy applications of potent herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup (a glyphosate-based weed killer). GMOs are created using the gene-splicing techniques of biotechnology to inject DNA from one species into another species, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that don’t occur in nature or through crossbreeding methods.
Glyphosate causes serious damage to the beneficial microbes living in our guts (our gut microbiome) and is regarded by many scientists as the most important factor in the development of the many chronic diseases and conditions plaguing Westernized societies.
The process of genetically modifying foods is relatively new in agriculture. The first genetically modified seeds for commercial use were planted in the US in 1996. In 2014, 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted biotech crops, with the highest acreage by far here in the US. Worldwide planting of GE crops covered 181.5 million hectares (448 million acres) by 2014.
The Center for Food Safety estimates that about 3/4 of all grocery store products now contain one or more genetically modified ingredients.
England, France, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, China, Indonesia, and more than 25 other countries around the world require GE foods to be labeled so consumers can choose to avoid them. England, Japan, Brazil, Norway, India, Thailand and some other countries have even completely banned some GE food crops.
Monsanto and the other big biotech companies have joined together to spend huge sums of money to make sure these GMO foods remain unlabeled in the US.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has declared genetically engineered food unsafe for consumption. They cited animal studies indicating serious health risks associated with GM foods – “including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM advised physicians to tell their patients to avoid GM foods.
“Before the FDA decided to allow GMOs into food without labeling, FDA scientists had repeatedly warned that GM foods can create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects, including allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems. They urged long-term safety studies, but were ignored.” (Institute for Responsible Technology, 2014)
Studies of people in the US and Germany have found high levels of glyphosate in human urine, blood, and breast milk as well as in drinking water supplies.
Kostic, A.D. et al. (2015). The dynamics of the human infant gut microbiome in development and in progression toward type 1 diabetes. Cell Host & Microbe, 17:2, 260-273. See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25662751
Other brand names may have gone on the market since Dr Oz’s list was published, in March of 2014. For example, aspartame has been rebranded as a so-called “natural sweetener” named AminoSweet.
WHERE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS GO AFTER THEY PASS THROUGH OUR BODIES
These chemical sugar substitutes are manufactured to register as sweetness in our mouths but then pass through the body without ever being broken down (except aspartame, which is therefore particularly poisonous). Ever wonder what happens to them after they get excreted from our bodies?
They work their way through the sewer systems to waste water treatment plants, which are also unable to break down these complex chemicals. So most artificial sweeteners pass out of water treatment plants in virtually the same form in which they were consumed. Scientists have found the presence of artificial sweeteners in water leaving treatment plants – and also in ground water, surface waters (rivers, lakes, and oceans around the world), and tap water. (Boxall, 2013), (HealthFreedoms, 2015), (Science Daily, 2009)
OUR GUT BACTERIA ON ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
Before these artificial sweeteners reach water treatment plants, while they’re still working their way through our GI tracts, they’re also upsetting the critical equilibrium of the probiotic microbes living in our intestines, the ones that are the primary regulators of our immune functions and overall health.
Results from an Israeli study, published in Nature in 2014, found both mice and humans who consumed artificial sweeteners developed adverse alterations in their gut microbiomes along with glucose intolerance, changes consistent with metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels — that occur together, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes).
In the part of the study on human subjects, researchers asked people who didn’t usually consume artificial sweeteners to add them to their diet for seven days. It took only one week for these people to develop a poorer glycemic response. (Faherty, 2014) (Suez et al, 2014)
More bad news about artificial sweeteners: The changes they produce in the composition of your gut bacteria can actually make you gain weight! And here you thought you were using these sweeteners in your tea, eating diet processed foods, and drinking ‘lite’ soft drinks so you could keep your weight down.
“Our relationship with our own individual mix of gut bacteria is a huge factor in determining how the food we eat affects us,” says Eran Elinav, MD, of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s department of immunology. “Especially intriguing is the link between use of artificial sweeteners—through the bacteria in our guts—to a tendency to develop the very disorders they were designed to prevent; this calls for reassessment of today’s massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances.” (Merz, 2014)
WHAT DO YOU SUPPOSE THESE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS IN OUR WATERS DO TO MARINE LIFE?
Some researchers have used some clever thinking to track the path of artificial sweeteners after they exit our bodies: measure their amounts in treated sewage sludge or, further down the line, in rivers, lakes, and drinking water taps.
Here are three examples:
In a 2013 Canadian study, researchers found artificial sweeteners in Ontario’s Grand River in amounts equivalent to about 81,000 – 190,000 cans of artificially sweetened soda flowing through its waters EACH DAY. (Spoelstra et al, 2013) The 300-kilometre river empties into Lake Erie. Lake Erie empties into Lake Ontario (via Niagara Falls), then into the Saint Lawrence Seaway and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.
The study tested for the presence of only four artificial sweeteners: sucralose, cyclamate, saccharin and acesulfame. (You can check their brand names in Dr Oz’s list above.) It also found three types of sweetener coming out of the water faucets in Brantford, a town along the river. Brantford’s water supply comes from the Grand River before being treated at the town’s water treatment plant.
Grand River, Brantford, Ontario
Amy Parente, a biochemistry professor at Mercyhurst University in Erie, PA, conducted her own study in Lake Erie looking for sucralose (used in Splenda). Her team also found the sweetener in the water. Unlike the Canadian study which tested water coming out of waste water treatment plants, Parente’s group tested the water at Lake Erie beaches, after it had had a chance to dilute.
She and her team found 0.15 micrograms of the sweetener for every liter of water. This translates to up to 72 metric tons of sweetener in the waters of Lake Erie.
Since Parente’s results came out in 2012, she and her students have been looking at how sucralose affects a foraging snail living in Lake Erie’s waters. They found the presence of sweetener fooled the animals into believing there was nutrition in the water, leaving them with fewer calories to grow healthily and reproduce. This could well be true for other foraging animals – and the impact would have a domino effect. (HealthFreedoms, 2015)
A third study, published in 2014 by Environmental Science and Technology (a publication of the American Chemical Society), found large amounts of sucralose, saccharin, aspartame and acesulfame in sludge collected from two waste water treatment plants around Albany, NY.
The authors suggest that artificial sweetener could harm plants’ ability to perform photosynthesis, leading to less food for animals dependent on plants, creating a ripple effect all the way along the food chain. (Subedi & Kannan, 2014)
Albany’s Waste Water Sludge – Contains Artificial Sweeteners
After reviewing all this research on artificial sweeteners’ adverse impact on our health and the environment, I’m hard pressed to think of any good use for them.
Those of us living in developed countries where we have multiple food choices often focus on our calorie intake while neglecting the health of our gut microbiome – the vast numbers and variety of microorganisms inside our intestines. We’re talking about several pounds of tiny critters – 10’s of trillions of them, including about 1,000 different species of bacteria made up of over 3 million genes all living and working in our intestinal walls to digest our food and keep our bodies healthy.
Some of the important functions of those multitudinous microorganisms in our guts (Gut Microbiota WorldWatch, 2015):
Helping digest foods that the stomach and small intestine have not been able to digest
Helping produce some vitamins (B and K)
Helping combat aggressions from other microorganisms
Maintaining the integrity of the intestinal mucosa
Playing an important role in the immune system, performing a barrier effect
If you’re not keeping those pounds of critters healthy and in balance, you’re likely to become ill – perhaps not in the short run but as you move along through your life. The kinds of illnesses and conditions we’re talking about include acne, allergies, asthma, autism, cancer, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, depression, diabetes, eczema, endocrine imbalances, endometriosis, Graves’ disease, some heart disease, infertility, juvenile arthritis, lupus, Lyme disease (chronic), MS, myesthenia gravis, peripheral neuropathy, psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis, rheumatic fever, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, vitiligo … and many more.
A HEALTHY VERSUS A DAMAGED GUT LINING
Isn’t the image below graceful and beautiful? It shows the villi, mucosal cells in the lining of a healthy small intestine. The mucosal layer is where our probiotic microorganisms live and work. It’s also home to the body’s largest population of immune cells.
Now compare that lovely image to the one below. This person’s intestinal villi have been seriously damaged by celiac disease:
Here’s another image of damaged intestinal villi. There are holes where there should be intact cells that allow only needed nutrients to get through the intestinal walls into the blood stream. These holes allow larger particles of undigested food and toxins through and the body attacks them as invading pathogens, producing an inflammatory response.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN AN UNHEALTHY GUT MICROBIOME, CHRONIC INFLAMMATION AND AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES
As someone who’s now having to work hard to repair a very damaged gut lining and reverse several autoimmune conditions – the result of being given infant formula instead of breast milk, childhood exposure to heavy metals (fluoride in my formula and in my city’s water supply, mercury fillings), many courses of antibiotics in adulthood – I assure you it’s wise to nurture your gut microbiome so your gut lining resembles that first, beautiful slide above and is never allowed to turn into the second or third.
A diagram of how damage to the intestinal lining leads to increased gut permeability – also called Leaky Gut:
And another graphic depicting how damage to the gut’s mucosal lining allows undigested food particles and toxins to escape into the body, where they cause an inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation –> autoimmune responses –> disease.
POLYPHENOL PREBIOTICS HELP HEAL DAMAGED GUT LININGS
Now that we’ve covered the importance of the probiotic microorganisms living in your gut microbiome, I hope you’re ready for some really good news!
It’s about polyphenols and how they can help us repair our overall health by restoring the health of our gut linings. Polyphenols are a type of PREbiotic, the kind of nutrient that feeds your PRObiotics.
PREbiotics and PRObiotics
Polyphenols are anti-oxidant micro-nutrients derived from a variety of plants that increase the amount of good bacteria (probiotics) and inhibit the amount of bad bacteria in our guts. They also act as PREbiotics. (Marksteiner, 2014)
Prepare for a radical improvement in your digestion and your general health! Greenteaspoon’s Good Gut Daily is a tasty, liquid dietary supplement containing antioxidant, PREbiotic polyphenols for protecting or rebuilding a healthy gut.
Preliva™, the proprietary active formula in Good Gut Daily, is made from plant extracts rich in bio-available polyphenols. The results of a large double-blind and placebo-controlled clinical study, published in the peer-reviewed publication the World Journal of Gastroenterology (Noguera et al, 2014), strongly support the prebiotic potential of the polyphenol blend in Preliva™ to:
Strengthen the protective digestive lining
Nourish the body’s good microflora (the friendly digestive microbes living in our guts
Reduce digestive distress – diarrhea, stomach discomfort and bloating
Strengthen your immunity
Fight immune burnout
Combat symptoms of stress
Support your overall well being
Greenteaspoon makes three versions of Good Gut Daily in a variety of flavors and sizes:
GOOD GUT DAILY NATURAL IMMUNE HEALTH
Good Gut Daily Natural Immune Health is formulated to strengthen your immunity and support your overall well-being.
Good Gut Daily Natural Immune Health is designed for people with ongoing digestive problems, food sensitivities or ‘leaky gut’ symptoms – including acute digestive issues like gastroenteritis, travelers sickness, diarrhea, gas, bloating, or an upset stomach. Taken daily, it protects your digestive system and can decrease digestive distress.
What it does:
Fights immune burnout
Clinically proven to calm digestion
Reinforces your digestive lining
Combats symptoms of stress, diarrhea, stomach discomfort and bloating
Who it’s for:
Good Gut Daily Natural Immune Health is for people actively trying to improve and manage their ongoing immune health.
Mango Passion Fruit
Available in three sizes:
2-oz quick-shots (sold in 12-packs)
12-oz bottles (12 servings)
32-oz (32 servings)
Safe for children over age 2 and for adults of all ages.
GOOD GUT DAILY NATURAL DIGESTIVE HEALTH
Good Gut Daily Natural Digestive Health is designed to help you manage your ongoing digestive issues. Taken daily, it protects your digestive system and can decrease digestive distress.
What it does:
Calms Your Digestive System
Clinically Shown to Alleviate Occasional:
Gas and bloating
Nourishes Your Body’s Good Microflora
Who it’s for:
Good Gut Natural Digestive Health is for people with ongoing digestive problems, food sensitivities or ‘leaky gut’ symptoms – including acute digestive issues like Gastroenteritis, travelers sickness, diarrhea, gas, bloating or an upset stomach.
2-oz quick-shots (sold in 12-packs)
12-oz (12 servings)
32-oz (32 servings)
Safe for children over age 2 and for adults of all ages.
GOOD GUT RESCUE
Double strength Good Gut Rescue rapidly soothes the symptoms of digestive distress, alleviating occasional diarrhea, upset stomach, gas and bloating. Good for rapid-onset upset stomach and handy for travel.
What it does:
Clinically Shown to Alleviate:
Gas & Bloating
Who it’s for:
Good Gut Rescue is for children and adults ages 2 and up with acute digestive issues like gastroenteritis, travelers sickness, diarrhea, gas and bloating or upset stomach.
How it works:
Strengthens the protective digestive lining
Supports friendly digestive microbes
Reduces digestive distress
2-oz quick-shots (sold in 12-packs)
Safe for children over age 2 and for adults of all ages.
Ingredients NOT in Good Gut Daily
All the versions of Good Gut Daily contain NO calories, sugar, gluten, soy, dairy, or GMOs – and come with a 30-day money back guarantee.
TO BUY GOOD GUT DAILY
Good Gut Daily isn’t available at stores yet. You can order it on the Greenteaspoon website to try it for yourself.
Remember: If your gut microbiome is balanced and healthy, the rest of your body will be a nice happy place to live too.
A Personal Note:
My experience with Good Gut Daily is that it greatly improved my GI health (which had become bad again a few months ago) in just a few days (4 to be exact) – alone, without taking any of my usual PRObiotics or other nutritional supplements.
I started with a single 1-oz dose of Good Gut Daily’s Natural Digestive Health (the Mango-Passion Fruit flavor) and then increased to 1 oz in the AM (on an empty stomach, 30 minutes before breakfast) + another 1 oz 30 minutes before dinner. This 1 oz twice a day dosing calmed down my over-active gut and gave me back my energy, which had been disturbingly low during the previous weeks of GI upset.
I’ve been taking Good Gut Daily for about seven weeks now. My gut and the rest of my body never want to be without it. Rob Wotring, Greenteaspoon’s Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, is currently engaged in clinically testing a pill version for travel. I’m hoping it’ll be available before I leave for a long vacation this fall.
Rob Wotring at Greenteaspoon told me: “We’re convinced polyphenol prebiotics will play a huge role in advancing our understanding of the importance of the gut mucus layer in health and wellness.” Many highly respected scientists, doctors, and other health care professionals agree.
In the developed world, we have become brainwashed into regarding ALL bacteria and microbes as DANGEROUS to our health. We use antibacterial soaps and ointments on our skins, mouthwashes that promise to kill 99% of the germs in our mouths, disinfectant and antiseptic sprays and wipes in our homes. We’ve become like real life players of a version of Rampage: Total Destruction – on a mission to destroy all the bacteria on, in, and around us.
In Rampage: Total Destruction, players destroy the environment to earn points. In our fear of all microbes, we too are working to destroy our internal and external environments by targeting the bacteria that keep us healthy (called PROBIOTICS) along with ones that make us sick (called PATHOGENS).
PROBIOTICS are live bacteria, yeasts, and other microscopic life forms that SUPPORT GOOD HEALTH in our our digestive systems – and throughout the body. If they’re not in good balance, we become sick in a whole variety of ways – from digestive problems to skin rashes, allergies, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
The next time you look in a mirror, think about this: In many ways you’re more microbe than human. There are 10 times more cells from microorganisms like bacteria and fungi in and on our bodies than there are human cells. But these tiny compatriots are invisible to the naked eye. So we asked artist Ben Arthur to give us a guided tour of the rich universe of the human microbiome.
I also recommend another interesting video by NPS MedicineWise, called The human microbiome and what we do to it.
Dr David A. Relman, who’s the main speaker in the film, is the Thomas C. and Joan M. Merigan Professor in Medicine, and Microbiology & Immunology at Stanford University. He’s also Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto (CA) Health Care System. Dr Relman’s research focuses on the indigenous human microbiota and the identification of previously-unrecognized microbial agents of disease. He has advised the US Government on emerging infectious diseases, human-microbe interactions, and future biological threats. He is Chair of the Forum on Microbial Threats at the Institute of Medicine (National Academies of Science) and Past President of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and a Member of the Institute of Medicine.
In other words, he knows what he’s talking about.
NPS MedicineWise’s description of the video:
Did you know that you and I are only 1% human — we’ve 90 trillion cells which don’t belong to us. Yes we are more bacteria than human.
Have you ever wondered what it means to be human? It turns out that only a tiny percentage of what you and I are made of is actually human — and we need our non-human bits to survive. This part of us now has a name — it’s called our microbiome. But we’re doing dreadful things to this hidden majority and it’s damaging our health as a result. From the Tonic series produced with the assistance of NPS.
If you want to get a good basic understanding of what’s going on in your gut and how the several pounds of micro-organisms in there affect your health, mood, sleep patterns, eating preferences and more, I highly recommend taking a look at this recently published little book by Rob Knight. It’s short, amusing, informative – and even has lots of charming drawings.
The small text to the left on the cover says:
“Microbes are integrated into almost all aspects of our lives, redefining what it means to be human.”
Rob Knight was just named a 2015 Vilcek Prize winner for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science for his groundbreaking research on microbial communities and the development of computational tools that honed the analysis of microbial data. He’s Professor of Pediatrics, Computer Science, and Engineering at the University of California, San Diego. He’s also Director of the Microbiome Initiative at UCSD and co-founder of both the American Gut Project and the Earth Microbiome Project.
One of award-winning science journalist Brendan Buhler’s drawings from the book:
Celiac disease can be tricky. It often presents with a wide variety of disparate symptoms, many of them not seeming to be a gut problem at all. People with celiac frequently spend many years suffering before finding a proper diagnosis.
“Celiac disease can be difficult to diagnose because it affects people differently. There are about 300 known symptoms which may occur in the digestive system or other parts of the body. Some people with celiac disease have no symptoms at all. However, all people with celiac disease are still at risk for long-term complications, whether or not they display any symptoms.”
– The Celiac Disease Foundation (2015-a)
The most common celiac symptoms found in children are digestive (Celiac Disease Foundation, 2015-a):
abdominal bloating and pain
pale, foul-smelling, or fatty stool
irritability and behavioral issues
dental enamel defects of the permanent teeth
delayed growth and puberty
failure to thrive
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Celiac in adults is less likely to present as digestive problems – only a third have frequent bouts of diarrhea but may experience these symptoms instead (Celiac Disease Foundation, 2015-a):
unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
bone or joint pain
bone loss or osteoporosis
depression or anxiety
tingling numbness in the hands and feet
seizures or migraines
missed menstrual periods
infertility or recurrent miscarriage
canker sores inside the mouth
an itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis
For the 300 possible symptoms associated with celiac disease, see this list from the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center.
CELIAC IS AN AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE
Celiac is one among the 100 or so recognized autoimmune diseases. This is important to note because we now know that the various autoimmune diseases can get expressed in people with a genetic predisposition for them – but expression can be prevented by building a robust immune system in the gut microbiome. (Hardin, 2014)
It’s also important to note that chronic autoimmune diseases in general are occurring in ever-increasingly numbers. At best, they are a nuisance (eg, acne and psoriasis). At worst they are life-threatening (eg, type I diabetes, lupus, MS, rheumatic Fever). (American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, 2015).
In celiac disease, ingesting gluten damages the small intestine, creating serious long-term health complications. Celiac is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide, many of them undiagnosed and/or misdiagnosed and undergoing incorrect treatments – even unneeded major surgeries.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and some other grains – and a common ingredient in most of the processed foods many people rely on as their diet. When gluten is consumed by a person with celiac disease, an autoimmune response begins that attacks the villi in the small intestine, damaging them with severe inflammation. The villi are finger-like projections lining the small intestine that promote nutrient absorption. Damage to them means nutrients aren’t properly absorbed into the body.
Damage to the villi allows gluten proteins to leak through the intestinal barrier, producing a condition called ‘leaky gut’ which is associated with autoimmune conditions/diseases in general.
The good news is that improving the health of your gut microbiome can keep a genetic predisposition for celiac disease (or any of the other autoimmune diseases) from expressing itself in your body. And, of course, avoid gluten.
It is estimated that approximately 2.5 million Americans have undiagnosed celiac disease and are at risk for serious life-long health complications. (Celiac Disease Foundation, 2015-b)
SCREENING TESTS FOR CELIAC DISEASE
There are several easy tests for celiac disease. the following information is from the Celiac Disease Foundation (2015-c):
A simple blood test is available to screen for celiac disease antibodies. People with celiac disease who eat gluten have higher than normal levels of these antibodies in their blood. You must be on a gluten-containing diet for antibody (blood) testing to be accurate.
The First Step: tTG-IgA Test
There are many screening blood tests for celiac disease but the most sensitive and commonly used, whether symptoms are present or not, is the tTG-IgA test.
Tissue Transglutaminase Antibodies (tTG-IgA)
TG-IgA test will be positive in about 98% of patients with celiac disease who are on a gluten-containing diet. This is called the test’s sensitivity. The same test will come back negative in about 95% of healthy people without celiac disease. This is called the test’s specificity. There is a risk of a false positive especially for people with associated autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes, chronic liver disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis and heart failure, who do not have celiac disease.
There are other antibody tests available to double-check for potential false positives or false negatives.
IgA Endomysial antibody (EMA): The EMA test has a specificity of almost 100%, but is not as sensitive as the tTG-IgA test. About 5-10% of people with celiac disease do not have a positive EMA test. It is also very expensive in comparison to the tTG-IgA and requires the use of primate esophagus or human umbilical cord. It is usually reserved for difficult to diagnose patients.
Total serum IgA: This test is used to check for IgA deficiency, a harmless condition associated with celiac disease that can cause a false negative tTG-IgA or EMA result. If you are IgA deficient, your doctor can order a DGP or tTG-IgG test.
Deaminated gliadin peptide (DGP IgA and IgG): This test can be used to further screen for celiac disease in individuals with IgA deficiency or people who test negative for tTg or EMA antibodies.
While it is very rare, it is possible for someone with celiac disease to have negative antibody test results. If your tests were negative, but you continue to experience symptoms, consult your physician and undergo further medical evaluation.
CELIAC SCREENING & POLICIES IN OTHER COUNTRIES
Unlike the US, the countries listed below have official government policies protecting people with celiac disease and those who must eat a gluten-free diet. Some even have mandatory celiac screening programs. The US has none of these.
The information below is from the Celiac Disease Foundation (2015-d):
Argentina recently implemented its “National Program for the Detection and Control of Celiac Disease.” The program not only promotes awareness and knowledge regarding celiac disease, it also implemented an impressive array of labeling restrictions and created a national logo for all certified-GF packaged foods. For residents, Argentinian health care providers must cover the cost of alternative flours and gluten-free mixes.
Australia and New Zealand have the toughest labeling laws in the world; these have been set by the Australia New Zealand Food Standard’s Code and apply to all food sold or prepared for sale, including imported food. The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code require the following:
Foods labeled as “gluten free” must not contain any detectable gluten; and no oats or their products; or cereals containing gluten that have used malt or their products.
Ingredients derived from gluten containing grains must be declared on the food label, however small the amount.
Foods labeled as “low gluten” must contain less than 200 parts per million of gluten. Australia does not have a very large range of low gluten foods and be aware low gluten foods are not recommended for a gluten free diet.
Canada has labeling restrictions on all packaged gluten-free foods. All foods considered certified gluten-free by Health Canada must contain under 20 parts per million of gluten. Any intentionally added gluten-containing ingredient must be listed on a product. In addition, Canadian residents receive tax deductions for the extra cost of gluten free foods versus their non-gluten free counterparts.
The European Union has adopted universal labeling laws for gluten free food. If the food contains less than 100 mg/kg, it may be labeled “very low gluten” while if it contains less than 20 mg/kg it may be labeled “gluten free.”
Irish citizens may claim tax deductions for the extra cost of gluten free foods versus their non-gluten free counterparts. Ireland used to have a program that entitled some celiacs to specific gluten-free foods free of charge. However, the program has been discontinued.
All Italians are tested for celiac disease at an early age (by 6). Each Italian citizen over the age of 10 with celiac disease receives a monthly stipend of 140 euros, which can be spent on specific gluten-free foods (regulated by the Ministry of Health). Italians with celiac disease also receive extra vacation time to shop/prepare GF food. The Italian Celiac Association and government have done an excellent job educating restaurants on how to deal with celiac disease. There are even gluten-free meals in schools, hospitals, and all other public eating establishments.
Over 90% of British celiac patients receive gluten-free food as part of their prescription for the gluten-free diet. Essentially these patients receive gluten free food and mixes at a heavily discounted price (the cost of the prescription).
Film maker Michael W. Frolichstein is working on a highly informative documentary film about celiac to raise awareness about the disease. The film showcases the extraordinary lives of people on their long journeys to diagnosis and the obstacles celiac sufferers face trying to live gluten free lives.
Here’s a trailer for “The Celiac Project” documentary.
Frolichstein was motivated to use his skills to create this first-of-its-kind documentary about life before and after the diagnosis of celiac disease after his own 20 year struggle with unexplained health problems before finally being diagnosed in 2009. Then, a few years after his diagnosis, a blood test and endoscopy on his 3 year old daughter showed that she too had celiac.
He started talking with others with celiac and “was blown away by the unbelievable stories that I heard–so many of them worse than mine. They were hospitalized, unable to keep food down, misdiagnosed with MS (and other serious conditions), had multiple miscarriages; the list goes on and on. When I learned that 83 percent of Celiacs in this country are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, I felt compelled as a filmmaker to unravel the mystery of this illness. We have talked with dozens of people who struggled to get diagnosed and also interviewed the top Celiac doctors in the world and are excited to share their stories in this compelling documentary.” (Frolichstein, 2015-a)
If you wish to contribute to the film’s funding campaign or add information about your own struggles with celiac disease, go to CeliacProject.com.
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that gradually worsens over time, affecting memory, thinking and behavior – eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with all aspects of daily life. Alzheimer’s involves the progressive loss of brain function, is the most common cause of dementia and the 6th leading cause of death in the US.
In 2013 over 5 million American had the disease. The rates rise yearly and are expected to reach 16 million by 2050.
Maybe you regard the whole idea of pooping as icky and weird and you’d rather not think about it. Or maybe the topic fascinates you.
The facts of the matter are: We all poop, our food is the fuel that keeps our bodies going and the composition of that fuel is very important to the state of our health, and checking out the characteristics of our poop provides valuable information about our health.
This post was spurred by some of the more unusual information about poop I’ve come across on the journey this website and blog about the gut microbiome has taken me on.
SOME INFORMATION ABOUT OUR POOP (EverydayHealth, 2014)
COMPOSITION OF OUR BMs:
About 75% water. A smelly combination of fiber, living and dead bacteria, other cells and mucus. Soluble fibers from foods like beans and nuts that have been broken down during digestion to form a gel-like substance. Foods packed with harder-to-digest insoluble fiber (such as carrots, corn and oat bran) may emerge looking pretty much unchanged.
This depends on what we’ve eaten. For instance, beets produce bright red stool, leafy veggies can cause green stool and some medications can turn out white or clay-colored stool. Jet-black poop could be from having taken iron supplements or having eaten black licorice – or it could be a sign of bleeding in the upper GI tract.
Perfect human poop is log- and slightly S-shaped, not broken up into pieces. These are the ones that easily slide out of the body when we go. That ideal shape is achieved by eating enough fiber to bulk up the stool and act as glue to keep it together on its way out of the body. Pencil-thin poops might be a sign of rectal cancer narrowing the opening the stool has to pass through.
Particularly pungent smelling BMs are often a sign of infection. For example, anyone who’s suffered through a Clostridium difficule infection can tell you if it has returned by the particular smell of their poop. Terrible-smelling poop likely indicates the presence of the parasite giardia in the stomach, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s or celiac disease.
Some doctors say we should have a good poop every day. Others say the important thing is that you poop at a rate that’s consistent for you. A significant decrease in output could be the result of eating less fiber or working out less often. A decrease or increase in output could come from a GI disorder, an overactive or underactive thyroid, or colon cancer. Culture can also play a role: Indians in South Asia produce three times as much poop as the British due to the higher fiber content in the typical Indian diet. The average American man produces about one-third of a pound of poop daily – the equivalent of 5 tons in a lifetime.
Food typically takes anywhere from 24-72 hours to make the trip from mouth to anus. Diarrhea is your stool on speed – the result of food passing much too quickly through the large intestine, where most of its water content gets absorbed. Loose stool can be the result of stomach viruses, food-borne illness, food allergies or intolerances, or other digestive problems.
Constipation occurs when the stool takes too long passing through so its water content becomes much reduced.
POOP SHOULD SINK
Floaters are often an indication of high fat content in the stool, possibly from malabsorption of the fat and nutrients from your food. They’re often associated with celiac disease or chronic pancreatitis. Vegetarians and vegans often have floaters too.
Having some gas is normal. It’s produced as bacteria in the colon break down the food passing through. The body absorbs some of this gas into the bloodstream. From there it gets breathed out through the lungs. The rest of it gets expelled from the other end. The American College of Gastroenterology says it’s normal to pass gas 10-18 tunes a day.
A fecal transplant involves placing stool from a person with a relatively healthy gut microbiota in the colon of a person infected with a Clostridium difficile infection or someone with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to stop debilitating diarrhea. The trillions of good (probiotic) bacteria in the healthy person’s stool can help re-colonize the ailing digestive tract of the sick person.
READING ON THE TOILET
Studies indicate a positive correlation between time spent on the toilet and developing hemorrhoids (swollen blood vessels inside and around the anus). The longer you’re sitting there trying to poop out hard stool, the more pressure you’re exerting on those vessels. Hard stool is generally a result of a diet containing too little fiber. Americans consume an average of 10-15 grams of fiber a day. We should be consuming 30-35 grams to keep us regular, prevent constipation and hemorrhoids.
POOP ON CELL PHONES
Wash your hands well with soap and water after using the toilet or you may be spreading a bit of poop around via your phone. British researchers collected samples from 400 cell phones in 12 cities and found 1 in 6 of them were contaminated with fecal matter.
Still want to keep your cell phone next to your plate while you’re eating?
OTHER INTERESTING POOP INFORMATION
The Parrot Fish eats coral and poops out sand, helping create many of the small islands and beaches in and around the Caribbean.
Scientists were monitoring whale stress levels by analyzing their poop and found that their stress was greatly reduced immediately following the 9/11 attacks. It turns out this was due to all air traffic being halted, which calmed the oceans of external low frequency noise. Whales communicate with each other at these low frequencies.
3 billion people around the world still relay on charcoal and dung to cook their food.
In the early years of the 20th century, the voluminous shit produced by horses used for drawing carriages and delivery vans was causing so much pollution in city streets that automobiles were regarded as a healthier alternative.
Wombats, those adorable Australian marsupials, have cube-shaped poop which they use to remember where they live.
Japanese toilet manufacturer giant, Toto, has produced a motorbike that runs exclusively on human poop. The bike also writes messages in the air as it whizzes along – and the toilet storage tank can talk.
Toto hopes the bike will help raise awareness about human poop in the environment and lead to a 50% reduction of CO2 emissions in bathrooms by 2017.
The creative Japanese again – there’s an exhibit at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo called TOILET!? HUMAN WASTE & THE EARTH’S FUTURE. It features a giant toilet bowl slide and provides children with poop-shaped hats. Aside from being fun, its goal is serious – to teach visitors about human waste and toilets and especially to draw attention to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to sanitation or toilets.
You can read about the museum here. The article also has some wonderful videos.
3-TOED SLOTHS AND THEIR ODD POOPING HABITS (Soniak, 2014) (Thompson, 2014)
3-toed sloths spend most of their time hanging around chilling out in trees amid the tropical rainforest canopy in Central and South America. They are very slow moving, live on the green leaves growing on their home tree, have very slow metabolisms … and poop only once a week. That’s unusual – and so is this: They slowly make their way down their tree to the rainforest floor to take that weekly dump.
Scientists have pondered why the animals would leave the safety of the treetops and risk getting eaten by predators just to take a shit.
A Mammalian Ecologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison named Jonathan Pauli says, “It’s like if you had to go to the bathroom, and you were programmed to go run a 5K on an interstate before you could go to the bathroom. It’s really risky, and it’s really energetically costly.”
That weekly trek also uses up a hefty proportion of their daily energy production.
So why do they do it?
Scientists have several theories about this:
Pooping near a sloth’s home tree fertilizes the tree’s roots.
Its poop notifies other sloths of its location so they can mate.
The most complicated theory has to do with the variety of organisms that make their home in sloths’ thick fur: algae, fungi, arachnids and insects – including moths from the genus Cryptoses, AKA sloth moths. These moths depend on their host sloth’s weekly poop trek. Females lay their egg’s in the sloth’s dung. The emerging larva then feed on the dung until they become adults, when they fly up to move into the fur of their own sloth.
Researchers’ thinking is that the sloths are just as dependent on the moths. They found that sloths having more moths on them also had more nitrogen-rich hair and more algae growth. Analyzing the contents of the sloths’ stomachs, the researchers found the algae in there had been easily digestible and was rich in carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
So maybe the risky pooping process keeps the moths around and provides the sloths with a nutritious supplement to their nutrient-poor leaf diet .
And perhaps you thought your toilet habits might be a bit odd ….