Longevity and the Gut, and How Gut Health & the Gut-Brain Connection Affect Your Health
Longevity and the Gut is Article 1 in a 3-part series.
The buzz word is “Anti-Aging”. It’s everywhere…on book titles, anti-aging product labels, marketing ads and YouTube. I believe the best approach to living healthy and long is to use the framework of Holistic Health, consisting of natural medicine in such forms as Acupuncture, Food as Medicine and other Functional Medicine, various types of therapeutic Massage, Reiki, Yoga, Polarity Therapy, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and Theta Healing. These are a good menu of modalities supportive of basic human health. That’s why they are all available at Lotus Blossom Clinic. These treatments each protect, balance and help our body systems, cells, key microorganisms–and even our organs–to thrive.
“Live Long and Prosper.” – Lieutenant Commander Spock, StarTrek
This is a Big topic which we will bring to you in three articles. This first article explores the topic of longevity and the gut (aka “anti-aging”) focusing on the digestive and gut systems, widely acknowledged to be responsible for 80-85% of our immune health. We will propose one way to get our minds pointed in the right direction to achieve longevity. You’ll gain insights into how the balance of microbes in your gut (bacteria, fungi, yeast) and the gut-brain connection have a direct correlation to how healthy and how long your life is likely to be. Will you or a loved one experience a brain problem such as Parkinsons’…which is yet another disease growing rapidly in our older generation? These things and more may well be determined, in some large or small way, by the type of microbes, and their relative “balance” in your gut.
Chinese Medicine recognizes the longevity and the gut relationship. it says you need to have your digestive/immune systems in balance and working well in order to properly convert Yin Energy (food) into Yang Energy (activity). Contrary to popular opinion, you are not “what you eat”. Eat the healthiest of diets, but have a weak digestive system, and you can still be unhealthy. Why? You are really “what you absorb from your food!” Chances are, if you have a chronic problem or a disease, your gut is in need of healing and rebalancing. Doing so will likely add many healthy years to your life.
Eating well is like safe driving. Driving safely does not ensure you won’t get into an accident, but it decreases your risk. Eating right does not guarantee great health, but it improves your chances significantly.
Anti-Aging Won’t Get You There
Back to that buzz phrase: What is the reason for the “Anti”, as in “Anti-Aging”? Mother Theresa said, “I won’t march AGAINST War, but I will march FOR Peace.” I suggest we begin to focus our energies on what we DO want rather than what we DO NOT want, and we will all have a better chance of achieving it. Why? Because it’s one of those mental constructs our brain is stuck with. We can’t “not do” something in our brain. Attempting to “not do” has the brain going thru the process first of doing and then undoing.
It’s a relatively safe bet that we all want a long and vital/vibrant life, one where we enjoy great health, pursue our passions, relax and enjoy ourselves, and still continue to give our gifts to others and society well into our advanced years. So, let’s dive in and look into using Food as Medicine, Functional Medicine, and other forms of Natural Medicine to do just that. We begin with this first article on the all-important Gut and Gut-Brain Connection.
THE BIG NEWS: WE ARE MORE MICROBE THAN HUMAN
We all intuitively know that our gut has intelligence. The common statement: “I had a gut feeling” has more truth to it than we realized. Science has now confirmed that there are more neural networks in the gut than in the brain! Plus there is a connecting pathway between the gut and the brain. Someone or somethings are communicating. This exploration of the brain-gut relationship is a major, new area in Medicine.
Do you recall the Human Genome Project, a mammoth international science project which formally began in 1990 and finished in 2000? Big Pharma was excited because they expected scientists would find over 100,000 human-specific DNA. It was quite the disappointment for many involved to initially discover only about 23,000 human-specific cells and TEN TIMES more bacteria, fungi, and other life forms inside us than human DNA. In fact, we have about the same number of DNA as a worm.
This unexpected and curious discovery threw a spotlight on the fact that humans are really a Community of Symbiotic Relationships with non-human microorganisms which live within and on us. We are their host, their container, and we feed and care for them as part of ourselves. Without them, our brains and hearts (and many other organs and functions) don’t work well. This is either a disturbing or exciting idea: The microorganisms inside us directly affect our health.
THE HUMAN MICROBIOME PROJECT
A few years after the Human Genome Project came the next huge research and data-gathering effort launched by the U.S. Government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH). Kicked off in 2008, it was called the Human Microbiome Project, and it unleashed a new era of medical science exploring disease and healing processes involved with friendly and unfriendly microorganisms inside and on us. These studies highlighted the longevity and gut connection. One result of this massive study is that we know there are over 35 strains of one of the primary friendly bacteria in our guts: lactobacillus. And today, natural medicine practitioners and health food stores carry specific probiotics (mostly bacteria) designed to reverse specific health issues such as urinary tract infections (UTI), sinus infections, weight loss, and a diverse set of other health conditions. And they work!
Germaine to the topic of brain health, a gaggle of researchers on the Human Microbiome Project (all working between 2009 and 2016) made many discoveries, among them that 78% of Parkinsons’ patients are deficient in specific bacteria (mainly Bifidobacterium, but also several other species). The Bifidobacterium, and its colleagues Clostridium, Eubacterium, and Butyrivibrio0, produce Butyrate, a needed fatty acid involved in the creation of and interaction with dopamine. This is a BIG deal in the brain. A lack of dopamine in the brain is akin to being a race horse with a sprained ankle. It may stumble along, but it doesn’t “run”.
So how do we “get” Butyrate?
The scientists weigh in with this 2016 science study, which dives deep into the gut-brain connection:
In this review, we will integrate evidence from the disparate fields of gastroenterology and neuroscience to hypothesize that the metabolism of a high fiber diet in the gut can alter gene expression in the brain to prevent neurodegeneration and promote regeneration.
Translation: The scientists dug into many studies on gut health and brain health, and along the way they discovered we must feed our guts the “food” required by the microbes (Probiotics, or “for life”) in our guts to perform their individual functions. It is a general class of foods called “Prebiotics”. We’ll cover more specifics below in this same article.
THE VAGUS NERVE: OUR BRAIN-GUT CONNECTION
As part and parcel to this discovery of the import of our Microbiome, the function of the Vagus Nerve came under scrutiny. It is a direct-connect highway with signals, directives and other communications going back and forth between our gut creatures and our brains! It has been discovered that the microorganisms in our gut, called the “Microbiota”, have sway with our brains in ways hitherto unimagined. And our brain’s critical neurotransmitters are produced in the gut. The landscape of the microbiota, the types and numbers of different bacteria, yeast, and fungi makes a huge difference to our health and longevity, for good or bad.
WHO USES THE BRAIN-GUT PATHWAY?
The microbes in our gut definitely use this pathway to the brain. Let’s look at a common example. Although it does have a purpose in the scheme of things because it eats dead bacteria, Candida is often considered a “bad” fungus. After a series of antibiotics or bad foods, candida can take more than its fair share of space in our gut, and health effects include weight gain, inability to lose weight, fuzzy brain, skin rashes and, more importantly, can begin serious disease processes.
Treatment plans in a holistic healing center like ours would be to put a patient on herbs and a candida-free diet to kill off a large portion of the candida. We also add probiotics in capsule and food forms to get the gut back into balance. The candida won’t like this and will send urgent signals to the brain over the Vagus Nerve highway. This causes cravings. As the danger of starvation grows, the candida “calls” become more urgent and frequent to “FEED ME NOW” (e.g. get me some sugar immediately)!! Thankfully, this stage is not long, and we can diminish these cravings with acupuncture. When the candida has mostly died off, the cravings are gone and the itching, rashes, etc. can stop almost instantly. Healing can begin with this newly-balanced gut.
A WORD ABOUT PREBIOTICS
Everything that lives eats something. That includes the critters in our guts. Some foods are more known than others as having the characteristics of “food” for friendly bacteria. Basically, those who eat a mostly plant-based diet eat plenty of foods which contain indigestible fibers. That means your stomach enzymes don’t break down some fibers, and they pass into the intestines as food for microbes. If they are a bit slimy, the microbes really love them! Chocolate is a particular favorite. Goat, sheep, and Buffalo dairy are all high in butyrate. Here are a few more examples of foods to feed our microbiota who produce butyric acid for us: onions, asparagus, beans, and mushrooms such as Reishi, known as a longevity mushroom.
Remember the 78% of Parkinsons’ patients who lack the fatty acid called Butyrate? It is made in our guts when we eat certain types of indigestible fibers found in plants and fungi. This is great news for our vegan friends. Feeding our bacteria prebiotic fibers allows them to do the work to produce this essential fatty acid called Butyrate which is required by our brain for long-term health.
You can also consume this oil directly. Butyrate (or butyric acid) is the smallest-chained fatty acid found in butter and other forms of diary—especially goat, sheep, and buffalo milk. The animals’ gut bacteria makes it in the same basic manner our gut bacteria does. (Note: If you consume dairy, we highly suggest the non-cow dairy, for a variety of reasons.)
GUT BALANCE AFFECTS MORE THAN YOU KNOW
Want more proof of the power of your microbiota? Hospitals are beginning to perform fecal transplants to heal and save lives. It is effective in treating non-stop diarrhea, C. Diff infections, ulcerative colitis and other GI diseases. Veterinarians are onboard too, using it for similar issues as well as parvo and serious cases of giardia. A fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) is a procedure in which stool from a healthy donor is transferred to the colon of a sick patient.
We hope you have gleaned a new set of insights about the complex oneness of you, how the gut microbiota affects your overall health, and therefore how it impacts your longevity potential. This is just a peek into the breadth of effects of your microbiota. I leave you with a few more functions at which to marvel: Your moods, your sleep, your cravings, how regularly your heart beats, how much pain and inflammation you may experience, your metabolism, and oh, so much more are all directly impacted by the landscape (types and numbers) of microbes in your gut. Functional Medicine has tests to discover your individual landscape, and the ultimate proof that you are in balance is in your healthy life and longevity of years.
JOIN US NEXT TIME…
…for Article 2 in our “Live Long and Prosper” series. We will delve into Chinese Medicine’s approach to Longevity. We’ll also highlight specific foods and other nutrients which support the health and longevity of our guts and brains.
Other Articles in this Series:
Staying Younger & Living Longer,
Deb Martin & Dr. David Martin
And all the Providers at Lotus Blossom Clinic
Serving the Greater Fort Myers area with Natural and Holistic Medicine: Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, Massage, Science-backed Food as Medicine, Energy Medicine
Bifidobacteria and Butyrate-Producing Colon Bacteria: Importance and Strategies for Their Stimulation in the Human Gut, Front Microbiol. 2016; 7: 979. Published online 2016 Jun 28. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.00979 ; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4923077/
Conquering ANY Disease, The Ultimate High-Phytochemical Food-Healing System, Jeff Primack, Press on Qi Productions, 2015
The Atlas of Natural Cures, Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld, Copyright 2016 by NewMarket Health, LLC, Baltimore , MD
Medicine is Changing Drastically, Part 4; Deb Martin and David Martin, D.O.M., AP; Published online Nov 3, 2016; https://www.acupunctureinfortmyers.com/medicine-is-changing-drastically-part-4/
Brain Diseases and the Oils You Eat, https://www.acupunctureinfortmyers.com/brain-diseases-the-oils-you-eat/; Deb Martin and David Martin, D.O.M., AP; published online Feb 4, 2016