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About Episode 4
Gut Health | It May Influence Your Health More Than You Thought
In this episode of Discover | Dr. Dan Proactive Health Dr. Dan discusses all of the scientific information around gut health or the health of the microbiome. He covers information starting from what the microbiome is, the effects of antibiotics, and the influence of gut health on many well-known diseases. The information he shares is scientifically proven and sure to help individuals who are thinking about taking steps to understand their gut health and improve it. Listen to the full podcast below.
What is the Microbiome
Dr. Dan starts off by explaining what the microbiome is and its importance in the body. It acts as a second brain because it can communicate with the brain and influence the function of the body. Dr. Dan mentions the gut-brain theory, pioneered by Hippocrates by stating, “the gut and the brain could communicate with each other. Scientists have now found that this is more than just a theory. The two organ systems can actually communicate with each other. Bacteria in our gut secrete small molecules that travel to the brain and influence its function.” The microbiome is made up of several different types of bacteria, both good and bad. There is a constant war between the levels of these different types of bacteria in the microbiome. As one increases, the other decreases. The key to a healthy gut is getting rid of as much bad bacteria as possible while promoting the good bacteria.
Promoting Good Gut Health: Why Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer
The first response to almost any problem involving bacteria is to prescribe an antibiotic. There have been several phases in history where antibiotics or anything antibacterial has been considered the most important thing to have around. The COVID-19 pandemic is just one example of this. However, Dr. Dan notes a big problem with always turning to antibiotics. He emphasizes, “Antibiotics are not discriminant. They don’t selectively kill bad bacteria, but kill both bad and good with equal intensity.” So while antibiotics do help kill the bad bacteria in the gut and on the skin, they can also kill the good bacteria that we need to function. While some circumstances require antibiotics, there are other ways to promote good gut health. First is proper nutrition and feeding the body prebiotics and probiotics. These directly help feed good bacteria to promote health from within. Second, Dr. Dan suggests exercise. Exercising helps increase the concentration of good bacteria in the gut to continue to promote a healthy gut.
How Gut Health Affects the Body
There are several common conditions and diseases that science has shown are affected by gut health. The first is obesity. Dr. Dan quotes a study of the microbiome of obese and lean mice. As the microbiome of the lean mice was planted into the obese mice and vice-versa, the obese mice began to lose weight and the lean mice began to gain weight. Having a healthy microbiome full of good bacteria might be the key for an individual trying to lose weight. There are also many health conditions that having a healthy microbiome could either help prevent or treat. Dr. Dan notes the following:
Good bacteria in the gut have been identified that lower blood glucose levels and restore insulin sensitivity, high insulin levels, and insulin resistance as we’ve talked about in previous episodes is one of the major drivers for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases.
As for diseases that affect the microbiome itself and thus the rest of the body, insomnia can be a cause of decreased gut health.
To learn more about gut health and the impact it has on the body, check out the Discover | Dr. Dan Proactive Health podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Tuesday.
Dr. Dan: Intro: (00:14)
Welcome to the Discover with Dr. Dan, the Proactive Health Podcast. I’m Dr. Dan, your host.
Dr. Dan: The Microbiome & The Gut-Brain Connection: (00:19)
The phrase, “Go with your gut” or “I have a gut feeling” might be more true than we realize. Today we’re going to talk about gut health and its importance in all aspects of proactive wellness. For every one human cell in our body, we have 10 bacterial cells that reside in our gut. Inside our gut are thousands of different species of bacteria that live symbiotically with us. If you gathered all the bacteria residing in our gut, they would weigh over three pounds, which is about the weight of the human brain. This collection of bacteria, living symbiotically within our bodies is called the microbiome. These facts about the microbiome have caused scientists to reconsider what it means to be human. There are 20,000 genes or chemical switches in the human body and over 300,000 genes in the human microbiome. Genes are chemical switches that turn on and off the thousands and millions of chemical reactions occurring in the body every second. With more genes in the microbiome, it’s interesting to think that bacterial cells might be playing a larger role in the human body than human cells. Hippocrates, a Greek physician who lived around 400 BC and is considered one of the most influential physicians in the history of medicine, proposed what he called a gut-brain access, which was that the gut and the brain could communicate with each other. Scientists have now found that this is more than just a theory. The two organ systems can actually communicate with each other. Bacteria in our gut secrete small molecules that travel to the brain and influence its function. This is why the microbiome is also called the second brain.
Dr. Dan: Good and Bad Bacteria: (01:51)
This new information debunks the theory that all bacteria are bad, which led to the rise of the anti-microbial product, Craze in the eighties and nineties. Everything was antibacterial; soaps, shampoos, lotions, hand, sanitizers, cleaners. Every conceivable thing that you can think of was antibacterial. The goal was to essentially live in a bubble and be free from contact with bacteria of any sort. Alcohol based hand sanitizers are not selective. They kill both good and bad bacteria indiscriminately. Hand sanitizers are necessary in this age of COVID-19, but excess use of sanitizers can actually kill good bacteria on your skin and cause our skin microbiome to be out of balance. If your skin microbiome is out of balance, you might have more bad bacteria that could come in and take the place of the good. Bad bacteria also resides in our gut. Good and bad bacteria are constantly fighting for position. It’s a land war. Since the amount of surface area in the gut is finite. If levels of good bacteria are going up, then levels of bad bacteria must be going down and vice versa. The microbiome is living and dynamic. The bacteria present in the microbiome turn over every three to four days. So think about that. Every three to four days, we have a new second brain. Bad bacteria, as we will see below, can negatively impact every aspect of proactive wellness. So what destroys a microbiome? Well, the following factors can increase amounts of bad bacteria in the gut; the modern process diet, excess antibiotic use, pollution, pesticides, stress, parasites, and lack of sleep among others.
Dr. Dan: Microbiome and Obesity: (03:30)
So here are some examples of how the microbiome influences many aspects of proactive wellness. There is a positive correlation in the United States when you look at the percentage of obese adults per state versus a number of antibiotic prescriptions given. Antibiotics, as you know, kill bacteria. And again, antibiotics are not selective. They’re indiscriminate. So that’s interesting. People living in rural areas where inhalation of pesticides are present have significantly decreased levels of good bacteria in the gut. High levels of bad bacteria in the gut are likely the cause of health issues related to pesticide exposure. The microbiome plays a huge role in obesity. An article published in the journal, Nature, took 31 sets of identical twins where one twin was lean and the other one was obese. The microbiome of both the lean and obese twins were implanted into two different groups of mice. They observed that the mice with the obese human microbiome started to rapidly gain weight while the mice implanted with a lean human microbiome maintained and even lost weight during the course of the study. Then they switched the microbiomes in the two groups of mice and the opposite happened. The lean mice became obese and the obese mice lost weight. This concept was further extended to humans where lean and obese twins had part of their microbiome transplanted through fecal microbial transplant. And the same effect was observed. The lean became obese. The obese became lean. This is really cool stuff. I mean, look at that, think about that. Bacteria in our gut causing obesity or not. Very cool. It’s been shown that the offspring of obese parents have a much higher risk of being obese. Some initial studies have shown that this is likely due to the unhealthy concentrations of bacteria that is passed on during birth and perhaps even before birth. It was recently discovered that people that live over a hundred years old, centenarians, have a different microbiome composition than those who live the average 76 years old. In looking at these centenarians, it was found that they contain one species of bacteria in particular called bifidobacterium longum. Longum for longevity, you know, as scientists, we’re not very creative in our words. How did this species of bacteria get into the guts of some people, but not others? This is still a mystery science is not yet discovered. And in fact, there’s so much left to be discovered and explored about the microbiome. Some ambitious people are experimenting with ways to collect this longum species of bacteria from the centenarians and incorporate it into their own bodies to try and live longer.
Dr. Dan: Bad Bacteria and Gut Health : (06:14)
Bad bacteria in the gut have been shown to be closely linked with intestinal health issues like inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, colitis, and c difficile infections. It was found the consumption of bacteria in the gut is directly related to the health and strength of our immune system. This gives us new information to think about. If we want to support the health of our immune system then one of the first places to start is to focus on taking care of gut health. In the future, we might be given a mixture of bacteria to boost the immune system rather than traditional antibacterial and traditional immune health ingredients.
Dr. Dan: A Good Microbiome and Child Health: (06:53)
Babies born via vaginal birth have a quite different microbiome than babies born via Caesarean section. This is because vaginally born babies get a shot of bacteria in the eyes, nose, mouth, and skin, as it passes through the birth canal and into the new world. Related to this, breastfed infants have a markedly different microbiome composition than formula fed infants. This is an interesting scientific discovery and piece of information that could help mothers in their decision-making process on how to have their baby delivered and whether or not to breastfeed. The microbiome of a child, not taking antibiotics is quite different than the microbiota of a child on antibiotic treatment. Obviously, antibiotics are a good thing. They’ve saved millions of lives, but excess use can kill off good bacteria in the gut. Antibiotics are not discriminant. They don’t selectively kill bad bacteria, but kill both bad and good with equal intensity. This is food for thought when we are at the doctor’s office with our child and they want to prescribe antibiotics for every little health issue rather than waiting to see if the body will resolve the issue on its own.
Dr. Dan: Microbiome Health and Proactive Health: (08:03)
Lack of sleep or different sleep schedules, degrade health of the microbiome. Insomnia has been shown to change the microbiome and has been linked to the reason why lack of sleep can increase levels of obesity, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer. Shift workers also have an unhealthy microbiome due to a different sleep cycle. These interesting results suggest that is not only how much you sleep, but when you sleep that can impact proactive wellness. And when you sleep can change the composition of good and bad bacteria in your gut, it’s pretty wild. How would that happen? Very cool. Another mystery that we need to solve as scientists. Certain species bacteria in the gut have been discovered to produce molecules that can lower cholesterol levels. These good bacteria decrease cholesterol production in the body and lowering the amount of cholesterol and other fats in the bloodstream so that arterial plaquing is reduced. Perhaps in the future, we will be swallowing a pill of good bacteria that lower cholesterol, rather than taking statin drugs. Speaking of pharmaceutical drugs, it is thought that many of the negative side effects of pharmaceutical drugs could be due to the drastic change of bacteria in the gut that happened when taking certain drugs. Good bacteria in the gut have been identified that lower blood glucose levels and restore insulin sensitivity, high insulin levels, and insulin resistance as we’ve talked about in previous episodes, is one of the major drivers for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases. Interestingly, Alzheimer’s has also been termed type 3 diabetes due to the high insulin levels and insulin resistance found in the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients due to a misregulated microbiome. Bad bacteria in the gut can negatively affect the blood pressure system in the body and lead to hypertension. From these results we can see that gut health impacts all five of the criteria for metabolic syndrome. There’s a lot of fascinating research on good bacteria and recovering from chemotherapy. Taking good bacteria daily was found to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. As we’ve talked about earlier, specific good bacteria in the gut produce neurotransmitters that travel to the brain and can improve brain health. Neuro-transmitters produced from good bacteria like dopamine and serotonin helped to stabilize mood, sharpen memory, and focus and help us go to sleep at night. One of the reasons that certain foods like tea, chocolate fruits and vegetables can improve mood is because they contain bioactive compounds that the brain health increasing bacteria in the gut like to eat. Proliferation of this type of bacteria as the good bacteria start to grow, they produce more neurotransmitters that go to the brain and lead to the mood enhancement effect that we see. People with mental health challenges like GAD, OCD, MDD, bipolar, PTSD, schizophrenia, and others have completely different species of bacteria in their gut. This is why some scientists are calling the microbiome, the cycle biome. Just as good bacteria can help alter brain health in a positive way, bad bacteria in the gut does the opposite. It is amazing to think that these debilitating mental health conditions could be influenced by bacteria living in our gut. Individuals with autism and down syndrome have different good and bad bacteria ratios than individuals without these conditions. Certain species of good bacteria in our gut produce compounds that possess potent anti-inflammatory properties. These molecules help to resolve and diminish inflammation before it turns into a chronic state. The actual structures of these molecules have not yet been identified. Again, one of the many things we know about the microbiome. New scientific papers showing additional benefits about the microbiome on human health are being published every single day. This is a very active and interesting area of research. It’s been found that elite athletes contain a radically different microbiome composition than people who are not athletic. Increased athleticism might be coming from the availability of these bacteria to produce Nitric Oxide. Nitric Oxide is a very powerful vasodilator that increases blood flow and boosts ATP production. ATP, as you know, is the energy molecule of the body. Acne is caused by bad bacteria, getting into small lesions in the upper dermal layer layers of the skin and causing inflammation. New research is starting to show the bad bacteria in the gut can cause and influence the presence of bad bacteria on the skin. So they can actually talk to each other. Really interesting.
Dr. Dan: How to Increase Good Gut Bacteria: (12:49)
So given all this, what can we do to increase amounts of good bacteria in our gut? Well, when it comes to nutrition, there are two traditional options. And number one is to feed the bacteria, what are called prebiotics. Prebiotics, they’re the good food that the bacteria like to eat. So examples of prebiotics include fiber like guar gum, psyllium, husk fiber, gum arabic, and citrus pectin. This is a major reason fiber is essential for proactive wellness. Fiber does more than just keep you regular, fiber feeds the second brain. In a simplistic sense, good bacteria like to eat fiber while bad bacteria like to feast on simple sugars. The idea with prebiotics is that feeding the bacteria prebiotics while not eating added sugars will allow the good bacterial army to grow and bad bacteria to starve and die. This theory has some merit to it. The hard science regarding this is lacking a bit. The other option is to add good bacteria directly to the gut via oral consumption. Good bacteria in this form are called probiotics. Probiotics flood the gut with large amounts of good bacteria. This is a kin to adding reinforcements to the good bacterial army so it can gain surface area and overcome the bad. Probiotics have been shown to beneficially influence many aspects of human health. Probiotics were the fastest growing supplement category from 2013 to 2017 before it was overtaken by CBD. Probiotics are still very popular today. To make probiotics more effective, we need to better understand the different species of good and bad bacteria in the gut and develop designer strains, designer probiotic concoctions that can help benefit health with greater selectivity and bioactivity. There are several products on the market like yogurt, apple cider vinegar, kefir, kombucha that claim to be good for gut health. We’ll talk more about the science or potentially the lack of science about these ingredients and future episodes. So that’s the second thing that we can do, nutrition is the first; the second thing we can do to increase amounts of good bacteria in our gut is exercise. A paper published in 2018 showed that exercise has the ability to increase concentrations of goods, bacteria in the gut. And this happened in both lean and obese subjects. It is likely that alteration of good bacteria during exercise is largely responsible for weight loss. It’s interesting to think that every time we exercise, we are improving the health of our gut.
Dr. Dan: Future of Gut Health: (15:22)
So what does the future of gut health look like? A brand new, patent-pending strategy to improve gut health and thus many other aspects of human health is based on a cool area of science called quorum sensing. Bad bacteria talk to each other by releasing small molecules called autoinducers that are picked up by neighboring bad bacteria. When the concentration of autoinducer compounds gets large enough, it turns some new switches or genes in bad bacteria that give them the ability to cause infection, form biofilms, hide out in the body, and other nasty things. This new technology uses natural compounds from plants called quorum sensing inhibitors that are able to inhibit the ability of bad bacteria to chatter with each other. When bad bacteria are not able to talk to each other, they die off. The communication language of bad bacteria thankfully, is different from the language of good bacteria thus enabling this QSI technology to selectively kill off bad bacteria without harming the good or hoping that the good bacterial army will overcome the bad by itself as seen with older strategies. It will be interesting to see how this QSI technology might start to take the place of probiotics. Additionally, this QSI strategy could be used in different applications outside of immune health. So research on the health promoting properties of the microbiome is continuing and is just in its infancy. There’s so much we don’t know about the microbiome. My friends, we actually know more about the surface of Mars than we know about the collection of bacteria residing in our gut.
Dr. Dan: FAQ’s: (16:57)
So let’s now answer some questions. I get a lot of questions about essential oils. Are essential oils good for your health? Well, we need to realize essential oils are molecules that are pulled out of plants. Some of these molecules are called terpenes. So most of the compounds from essential oils that give them their aroma, their volatile properties are called terpenes. Terpenes or actually, if you’ve heard of turpentine before, which is a paint terpenes are from turpentine. Terpenes were used to strip paint and varnish from wood. And so some terpenes are not good for you to rub that on your skin or your gums or other places. You need to be really careful with that. The biggest thing about the essential oil industry is all the oils there’s no standardization to it, right? When you take a drop or two of oil, you have no idea it has X milligrams of compound Y or Z milligrams of compound A. So there’s no standardization. It’s kind of the Wild West. That’s why you should be very, very careful when you take essential oils. So when it comes to workouts, you know, CrossFit is the big thing. What about CrossFit for exercise? CrossFit does have, there’s a few scientific papers starting to come out on CrossFit, showing its benefit for muscle bulking and building muscle mass. But when it comes to normal health for the everyday person like me, CrossFit actually isn’t beneficial. It puts undue strain on the muscles, which can actually cause damage. It’s interesting. I was reading a paper the other day and they were talking about the number of people coming into urgent care with torn muscles and tendons because of CrossFit. It’s a huge, huge number that’s increasing with the popularity of CrossFit. So think about that, think about what you want to do with your goals and where your muscle bulk is at before trying CrossFit. I get a lot of questions about synthetic versus natural, right? Is synthetic bad and is natural good? It depends. So when we talk about vitamins and minerals, like vitamin C, vitamin C pulled from an orange and highly purified is exactly the same as vitamin C synthesized in a lab. Now, obviously when we talk about bioactive compounds from plants, you definitely want natural; synthesis cannot compete with the beautiful compounds that nature has embedded in plants. So obviously when we’re using botanicals, get them natural and make sure they’re standardized to bioactive compounds, good levels of bioactive compounds, where they actually show you what they’re standardized to on the label. One other thing to talk about is fact checking, how do we know good science? There’s so much information out there now, especially with COVID-19 and people talking about what’s going on based on their own opinions. So a lot of you, we read the news, right, and we read scientific articles in the news from the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or wherever. Rather than just reading that section, that article by itself, they’ll always click, they’ll always show you a link of where they’re getting it from. You need to click on that link and it’ll take you to the whole paper. Read the summary of the paper and make sure that that paper is saying exactly what’s in that article. A lot of times people will write articles that has a little bit of science to it, but isn’t exact, and they could leave out important details that can actually skew the entire story one way or the other. So don’t be afraid. Click on that link for scientific publications, read through it, and you’ll have accurate information on how to take on the opinions that are flying around us.
Dr. Dan: Exit Statement: (20:44)
So I hope that helps. Thank you, my friends, for joining us today, it’s a delight to be with you to talk about science. I hope you find this content interesting. Let me know if there are different topics, questions you’d like me to talk about. Appreciate it, grateful to be on this health journey with you as we discover and release our innate brilliance. This Dr. Dan signing off.