According to Dr. Hyman, Director of the Cleveland Clinic for Functional Medicine, our “gut flora can be causing cancer” as different microbiome imbalances can be related to different chronic conditions. Microbiome imbalance is being linked to bowel disorders, diabetes, neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease, cancer and autism – all the prominent chronic conditions and killers increasing steadily at this time.
Activation of our immune system activates a general and specific inflammatory response according to the signal compounds triggering it and this affects our whole body. It becomes a problem when it’s prolonged or even permanently switched on. So how it is, that microbes that are part of our ecology can regulate our body cells and our immune response, without instigating a major immune response themselves? Recent science has identified Toll-like receptors (TLR’s) that recognise patterns or molecular signatures of symbiotic microbiota molecules versus pathogenic derived molecules. Put simply, TLR’s help our body identify which communication is from friend or foe. When receptors for TLR’s are low, or there is inappropriate or unregulated activation of TLR’s, our immune system becomes highly sensitised and begins to attack everything in its own unique way. This along with other factors like Immunoglobulin (IgG) activity can be tied in with the huge increases in sensitivities and allergies occurring in many people mainly since the industrial age.
Toxins in our foods bond with proteins in the food, stressing and reducing our oral tolerance to chemical exposure. These toxin bound proteins also activate our immune response and general inflammation that is related to most of our modern chronic illnesses.
Improving our tolerance to foods and environment is about supporting diversity and balance of our microbiota. A diverse primarily plant-based diet with moderate and regular exposure to pathogens in our environment educates and refines the immune system of our gut.
Mild sicknesses, especially as we are growing up or from a change of environment, can be our natural way of developing our immunity and resilience. Centenarian’s around the world today have mostly had childhood sicknesses we now inoculate against, sterilise our environments and try and avoid at all costs. Children are being prevented with medications, domestic products and separation from the natural environment of having exposure to environmental microbes. Low risk illnesses like mild fevers and headaches are prevented or halted by medications so the immune response is halted from its full cycle to encode lifelong resilience. Overkill measures to protect our young and lack of outdoor environmental exposure is robbing the latest generation from gaining adaptable microbiota that practice, refine and remember successful immune responses to pathogenic stressors.
Sayer Ji (Natural Health Researcher and Educator) says that health and good immunity is not about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria and viruses but how they work together. He gives an example of the viral aspect of our microbiome which includes bacteriophages who help regulate certain bacteria. Viruses are a necessary source of certain genetic information looking for chromosomes to convey a horizontal transfer of often important genetic information to host cells. About 7% of our functional protein coding genome is retroviruses. So despite feared ones, like HIV, this category of microbiota is important to us. For example, retroviruses are responsible for neuroplastcicity that has helped our brains develop through evolution and remain functional and adaptive throughout our lifetime. Retroviruses were needed to evolve the placenta in pregnancy. Viruses like bacteriophages in our system are not necessarily bad.
Future health treatments for acute and chronic conditions will not only need to work with our microbiome ecology but do so on an individual level. This is a new area of development with many approaches of integrative therapies combining traditional and modern medicine. Mostly, mild treatments that help but don’t interfere with our full immune response will best assist healing and ongoing development of resilience. Lifestyle adjustments to diet, our activities and way we deal with stress to suit our own unique pathology and microbiome will become more specific and clear as science and holistic approaches to health become integrated.
Helping our microbiota for immunity:
- Diverse locally grown foods are not only fresh but have their own helpful microbiome to provide useful information to our cellular and microbial compadres.
- Wherever possible, eat organic foods not contaminated with sprays and chemical fertilisers and other chemical residues.
- Playing and working or going barefoot in the dirt and natural environment exposure is an important part of our history, wellbeing as well as microbiome evolution and activation.
Chemicals in our environment (soil, air, living spaces, personal care and hygeine products, food and beverages) have been increasing exponentially. They impact our microbiome and gene expression. Additionally, deciding what microbes we allow and don’t allow in our living spaces, agricultural farming and elsewhere, without understanding microorganism ecologies, is causing great health issues for us and the environment.
Kiran Krishnan (Research Biologist) uses auto immune disease as an example, which can be triggered by medications or exposure to environmental factors like chemicals that “cause perturbations in the microbiome ecology that amplifies into a dysbiotic system we call disease”.
Epithelial cells line outer surfaces of organs, blood vessels and inner surfaces of cavities in internal organs (skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract). Researchers and practitioners like Aristo Vojdani consider them one of the most important cell types in our immune system as they are the front line and channel of information between environmentally introduced compounds and microbes and the microbiota of our body and body cells. Environment and diet then impact their function and communication.
Apart from understanding microbial ecologies much more, many professionals are echoing traditional and complementary medicine views that we need to make friends with our symbiotic and pathogenic microbes in our bodies and environment. Exposure to pathogens has driven development of our resilience to disease and environmental change throughout evolution.
Using environmental factors to help your microbiota:
- spend time outdoors in diverse ecosystems – research shows it impacts microbiome in the body and stress levels. The ocean, healthy rivers and forests provide this diversity in addition to outdoor time in your backyard or local parks.
- eliminate chemicals in your home and household by finding chemical free products
- growing your own food without chemicals and correct composting means diversifying microbial life in the soil that feeds the food you eat and contributes to better microbial diversity in your food.
Everyone has a unique microbiome make-up, however dietary fibre is a key part of the diet that affects type and amount of microbiota in everyone. It can only be broken down and fermented by enzymes from microbiota in the colon, one of the by-products being short chain fatty acids (SCFA). Apart from fibre enriching and supporting these microbiota, SCFA produced lowers pH of the colon limiting harmful bacteria like Clostridium difficile , and also stimulates healthy immune cell activity and helps maintain healthy glucose and cholesterol levels in the blood. Fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are generally good sources of prebiotic fibers.
According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian (Clinical Researcher, Functional Neurologist and Professor), when we change our diet, we change our microbiome balance and therefore our gene expression. Exposure to chemicals also changes our gene expression – when genes are activated, switched on or off. This is becoming a factor in many specialist areas of medical and health professions.
Dr. Michael Ash, D.O. (Research and Clinical Educator) considers the right nutrients as crucial to healthy communication between microbiota and mitochondria. He explains microbiota use nutrients to direct function and maintenance of mitochondria, while mitochondria produce metabolites in their activity that contribute to smooth healthy functioning microbiota. This loop of “dynamic dialogue is a new area of research”, its substrate being our food which also contains information from bacteria in the soil it grew in. This is a link to why eating locally grown fresh food is a big plus to helping our bodies adaptability in its local environment.
Foods that help our microbiome:
- Probiotic foods provide live microbiome and include live-culture fermented foods like kefir and certain yoghurts with a good range and concentrated active culture (look for recommended brands), pickled vegetables and sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kombucha tea and kimchi.
- In Japan some fermented seaweeds and fermented soy beans called nato (also providing Vitamin K) are good.
- Eat a diverse diet with plenty of wild and local plant based foods, preferably organically grown in local soils
- utilise water purifiers to eliminate consumed chlorines and flouridation and exposure in showers and baths
- Complex carbohydrates including tubers, root, fuits (separate from other foods) and vegetables provide pre-biotic fibre
- Include probiotic fermented foods, wild plants and probiotic supplements including spore based live cultures
- Our microbiome have circadian cycles related to our own circadian sleep and activity cycles. Intermittent fasting of 12 hours plus, which includes sleep time, is believed to increase microbiota diversity, strengthen our immune system and protect us against leaky gut [1,2]
In line with the great strides in this new and game changing approach to health, probiotic and prebiotic supplements are big business these days, expected to surpass $65 Billion by 2024.
Dr. Allan Walker, Professor at the Harvard Medical and Public Health Schools believes probiotic supplementation “can be be most effective at both ends of the age spectrum, because that’s when your microbes aren’t as robust as they normally are”. However, due to the added weight of research providing understanding about the large impact of dietary and environmental factors, many health professionals are utilising probiotic supplementation to support adjustments in diet and environment for people of all ages. Microbiome issues and treatments can be based on microbiome testing and symptomatic indications of microbiome imbalance. Many symptoms of microbiome imbalance or gut infections can resemble other conditions because they are so fundamental to so many systems and functions in the body.
A probiotic supplementation should have a good range and concentration of active microbiota, which should include spore base microrganisms that are activated in the acidity of the stomach and breed in the lower gut. Not all microbiota are capable of passing the acidity of the stomach alive to get to the needed sites. Some probiotics that meet this, also provide some organic pre-biotic nutrition for the pro-biotic content such as this one. Many gut specialists have their own recommended products and a range of probiotic formulas for different overall types of body and microbiome constitutions.
For specific issues there is no probiotic to suit everyone, as our microbiome are so unique. However, effective and quality probiotics to date have proving to be of significant help to people who have low numbers or diversity of bacteria.
As an example of future possibilities, a recent 2018 study of probiotics, combined a probiotic blend with an Aryurvedic compound of amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki medicinal fruits (called Triphala). The experiment looked at how gut microbiota composition can be impacted by probiotics to impact how foods are metabolised to lengthen life spans. The symbiotic formula (Triphala and probiotic) was tested based on research that indicated the combination would synergistically perform in enhancing microbiota activity while maintaining balance. Tests were done on fruit flies who have about 70% similarity in biochemical pathways and the promising results produced an impressive 60% increase in the lifespan of flies fed with the symbiotic formula. While humans are not expected to have as dramatic a result there is much optimism about such formulas promoting longer life and good health with possible applications to be tested with disorders like diabetes, obesity, neuro-degeneration, chronic inflammation, depression, irritable bowel syndrome and some cancers .
References – Part II
- V.D. Longo, Satchidananda Panda, Fasting, Circadian Rhythms, and Time-Restricted Feeding in Healthy Lifespan, Science Direct 2016 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2016.06.001
- C.A. Thaiss, D. Zeevi, et al., A Day in the life of the meta-organism: diurnal rhythms of the intestinal microbiome and its host, published online: 22 April 2015 https://doi.org/10.1080/19490976.2015.1016690
- Westfall, S., et al. Longevity extension in Drosophila through gut-brain communication, Scientific Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-25382-z
Many of the experts cited here have been quoted from the online series The Human Longevity Project at https://humanlongevityfilm.com/ and include:
- Dr. Mark Hyman (Director at Cleleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine)
- Kiran Krishnan (Research Biologist)
- Aristo Vojdani PHD, MSC (Professor of Neuroimmunology)
- Sayer Ji (Natural Health Researcher and Educator)
- Dr. Datis Kharrazian (Clinical Researcher, Functional Neurologist and Professor)
- Dr. Michael Ash, D.O. (Research and Clinical Educator)
- Dr. Allan Walker, Professor at the Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Photo credit: IBM Research on Visual hunt / CC BY-ND (quote added)