(This article is a condensed version of an ABC Catalyst program dated 21 August 2014, titled Gut Reaction Pt 2, which follows on from the article on Part 1 in our previous newsletter. We have taken out sentences and phrases to shorten the article without detracting from its content, and added headings. You can watch the full TV program, or read the entire transcript, at www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4070977.htm .)
New discoveries about food are rocking the foundations of medicine and nutrition. I think this is one of the biggest developments in medical research. I really think we’re encountering a revolution, that maybe we can prevent diseases by simply changing our diet. The bottom line is the modern Western diet could be making us very sick, contributing to heart disease, diabetes, asthma, emphysema, multiple sclerosis, even autism, and the list goes on.
The reason for the revelation that a good diet is even more important than we thought is the discovery of the many trillions of new contributors to our health – the tiny good bacteria living in our guts. In a nutshell, if you eat a bad diet, you end up with bad gut bacteria, and these bugs send the wrong messages to the immune system. You could wind up sick.
Now it’s all very well to know that the modern Western diet is causing health problems – but what do you do about it? Well, that’s what this second episode is all about and I can tell you now it’s more than just changing the food you eat.
The reason the modern diet is so unhealthy is it’s drifted far from the diets we evolved to eat. While there was no one caveman diet, there was one thing all these diets had in common – a lot of fibre. We saw this in the last episode with Africa’s Stone Age Hadza people.
An average man or woman in the West is consuming less than 20g a day of dietary fibre; six-month- to one-year-old Hadza kids are eating 50g to 200g of fibre a day, every day, and they do this throughout life.
The gut is a container with an entire world inside of it, with hundreds if not thousands of species. Just as all the plants and animals in nature live in harmony together as an ecosystem, so do the species in our intestines. And like any other ecosystem, the gut will be tipped out of balance if the creatures in it don’t get one of their fundamental foods. For the bugs living in our gut that is fibre. That’s why the low-fibre food we eat these days can be so damaging. To see the effects of that, in the last episode we met Gideon – a young, fit gymnast. The two of us took a junk food challenge. After a typical high-fat, high-sugar feed, we had our bloods measured to see the effects. And Gideon was shocked to learn that while he was fit on the outside, on the inside, my much older body was performing better than his. His body needed two to three times as much insulin as mine, and he was on the road to diabetes.
Gideon Cordover: “This is a huge shock to me and quite nerve-racking.”
Almost all of Gideon’s diet is processed food. When we eat these foods, it generates a whole lot of bad bacteria in our body that promotes inflammation.
So, we put a proposal to Gideon- four weeks of healthy meals.
Gideon: “I’m nervous that I won’t like the taste of some of the food that I’m gonna be eating, and I’m a bit nervous that I will feel hungry all the time because I’m used to eating huge quantities of fast food.”
The plan is we’ll look at Gideon’s gut bacteria before and after his new diet, and we’ll also remeasure his insulin response after four weeks of eating this healthy high-fibre food.
The most important thing is to have a balanced diet and lots of high fibre. But we’ve also shown that with a lot of the studies we’re doing in animals now that supplementing the diet by giving vinegar can actually stop things like asthma.
The idea of using vinegar medicinally has been around for thousands of years, back to the Egyptian times, the Greek times. The beneficial effects of vinegars in society have been known for a long time. Even Italians – a lot of vinegar on salads, a lot of vinaigrette – they have very, very low incidences of inflammatory disease.
In fact, even the research on eating a good diet has an air of ancient wisdom about it. Hippocrates said ‘Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.’ And we agree with that entirely.
The reason vinegar could be a medicine is because it contains acetate – the molecule we met in the first episode, the one our good bacteria make. We now know that acetate can stop the immune system from overreacting, which promotes good health. Professor Matt Cooper developed asthma at about 18.
Professor Cooper: “I ended up taking a puffer twice a day and I was taking steroids two or three times a day. I had several incidents where I was really worried, I was almost gonna go to hospital, it was that bad. I was taking puff after puff, I could barely breathe. It hurt my chest a lot when I coughed.”
“But now I’ve started eating more fibre and using liberal quantities of vinegar. Now I probably have one puff a year, if that.”
Dr Alison Thorburn showed she could reduce asthma in mice by simply feeding them high-fibre food. She then gave them acetate in their drinking water, which also reduced their asthma.
So the simple stuff we splash on a salad may help treat a disease that plagues the Western world. And when pregnant mice were given a high-fibre diet, their offspring didn’t develop asthma; they were protected against it developing.
Gut bacteria are tied up with a lot of other diseases, too. Mice that have emphysema get an improvement in symptoms after taking in the bacteria of healthy mice. The good gut bacteria have treated them.
They are trialling a procedure for another debilitating disease thought to be connected to bad gut bacteria – ulcerative colitis. It’s an inflammatory bowel disease and Anna has suffered it for more than half a decade.
Anna Demasi: “So I was sick at about 22, so I’m 29 now, and I had really bad diarrhoea, you know, I couldn’t control it, going to the toilet, you know, 30, 40 times a day. And I couldn’t sleep, fevers, sore back. Those 30, 40 times a day was not food, it was mostly just blood and water.”
“You can’t go anywhere. You can’t plan for trips, can’t plan anything, can’t even go to the shops to buy something.”
This inflammatory bowel disease can be treated with powerful drugs but they can have terrible side effects.
“My face would blow up like three times the size in a matter of days. I’d put 10, 15 kilos in a matter of a few weeks. And then the mental things, you’d get quite anxious and very aggressive. And you also couldn’t sleep at night. So just a horrible, really horrible drug.”
So a new treatment for the condition is being trialled at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital – a faecal transplant. You’re implanting live bacteria into another person’s system, to try to change their flora to that of a patient without inflammatory bowel disease.
And did it work for Anna?
“Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It worked. So I don’t think I’ve ever gone to the shops so much before. You know, I can go for walks, I can play with my kid in the park, I don’t have to sort of worry ‘Where’s a toilet?’, bring a change of clothes with me, all that sort of stuff.”
We don’t know yet if this works for everyone or even if it’s a permanent cure, but if it does treat inflammatory bowel disease, the way is paved for other ailments, like emphysema and even multiple sclerosis.
In many ways, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis are related on an immune level. The cells that attack the gut in inflammatory bowel disease are very similar to cells that attack the brain and the central nervous system in multiple sclerosis.
And the possibilities don’t stop there. It has even been found that autism seems to be related to gut bacteria. Small molecules released by gut bacteria can travel through the circulation, and potentially enter the brain and affect brain function.
Intriguingly, people with autism do often have gut problems and have different gut bacteria. When we administered a special probiotic to animals that had autistic-like behaviour, not only were we able to correct the gastrointestinal symptoms but we were able to also correct many of the behavioural symptoms that these mice exhibited, the behavioural symptoms that are associated with human autism.
Our long-term goal, is to potentially treat multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, asthma, a variety of different autoimmune and allergic disorders, because the immune response that we believe triggers all of these disorders is very, very similar, and so the tissues may be different for these diseases, but the immune response is similar.
Gideon: “I’m well into the second week now of my high-fibre diet. I’m so much better now. Last week, I was just complaining. I take it all back.”
How would Gideon’s gut bacteria be after his four-week high-fibre diet? Well, his results showed more good bacteria and a greater diversity. To see if that translated to better health, we gave him another fast food challenge and remeasured his bloods.
The results are spectacular- Gideon’s blood sugars, fats and insulin response were vastly improved. It took half the amount of insulin to clear the same amount of carbohydrate out of his system as it did the first time round. So everything is working so much better. The body senses food and responds to it almost immediately, so you can actually effect improvements in health within two or three days of changing your diet.
Gideon “It was relatively easy to get a really remarkable result and my insides are clearly much healthier now than they were before, so that’s really inspired me to keep going, because if it is that easy, why not keep it up?”
Using food as thy medicine is so simple yet so powerful… and open to all of us to put into practice.
From a natural therapy point of view, it is wonderful to see that modern medicine is starting to realise the importance of a healthy digestive system and immune system, and the crucial role that diet and a good digestive ecosystem play.
It is also important to include a variety of healthy foods in your diet, as there is a huge diversity of bugs in a healthy gut ecosystem.
If you have a health issue you would like to sort out, please book in for a Comprehensive Assessment at our Brisbane Naturopath and Acupuncture Clinic. We can then have an in-depth look at what is happening in your body, what is causing the problem, and what can be done to sort it out. These Assessments are very thorough, and you will learn a lot about how your body is working. Our clients find them very helpful and interesting.(Terms and Conditions- the Assessment is a completely free service, with no obligations whatsoever.)
We currently have a limited number of free Assessments available, so please contact the Clinic soon if you would like to book in for one.
Valued at $120, your Assessment will help to uncover:
All this will be fully explained to you, and you can ask as many questions as you like. That way we can be sure to give you all of the right information, understanding and advice you need. Terms and conditions: This is a free, no obligation offer.