Human beings are essentially tubes – long channels open at both ends. The walls of our human body tubes can be described as the most complex tube in the world, so bear with me – this is actually a valuable concept. To understand our tube-like nature is to begin to grasp the relationship between the inside of the tube (our guts), the outside of the tube (our skin), and what connects the two – the wall of the tube, our bodies. Our bodies’ health and the very experience of a human life depends on the way in which the inside and the outside of our “tube” interacts with the world around us.
For our bodies to achieve good health we must be careful with how we
- Eat (fill the tube)
- Treat our skin (coat the tube)
- Avoid agents whose harm can penetrate the walls of the tube (our gut and our skin)
At the recent Weston Price 2012 Conference in Santa Clara, CA, Chris Kresser discussed the interconnections of these aspects of health in a presentation entitled “Gut, Brain, Skin”, emphasizing the nervous system connection between the inside and outside of the tube. He presented ample evidence linking specific health conditions on the outside to co-existing health conditions on the inside. For instance, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have a high rate of diagnosed anxiety or depression (60% by his estimate) and their brains sense pain far more sensitively than people without IBS. You might know that dietary tryptophan helps our brains produce serotonin (helpful for good moods) and melatonin (helps us sleep), but did you know that our guts produce hundreds of times as much serotonin and melatonin as our brains do. We don’t completely know what function is served by those neuro-transmitters in our guts.
Inflammation in the gut can cause an increase in inflammatory molecules that in the brain depress the frontal cortex, leading to mood changes, particularly depression. Certain species of probiotics living in the gut are associated with increased depression and improving gut flora can improve mood. Interest in gut bugs is everywhere: a recent New Yorker article (Germs Are Us, The New Yorker, October 22, 2012) acknowledges the requisite symbiosis we share with our bugs and envisions a future where we can map and replace defects in our internal flora landscape.
The real take home message from Kresser’s presentation for me was the need to revise my “patient intake” form. I have been in the habit of asking people if they have taken any antibiotics in the “last 10 years”, having read in several articles that it can take four years for the guts to recover. Now it seems, from Kresser’s information and from the New Yorker article, that alterations in gut flora, or “dysbiosis”, can last for decades. “By the age of eighteen, the average American child has received from ten to twenty courses of antibiotics.” I am horrified by that average, and – like average sugar intake: if my my child had only one course of antibiotics, some other child had twenty to forty.
Now that I’ve mentioned sugar, let’s just draw one little simple line between gut dysbiosis and obesity. Do you know the main reason the meat industry likes to give antibiotics to all their animals, whether they are sick or not? They are given “as dietary supplements to promote growth” (The New Yorker again), and antibiotics probably have the same effects when given to human animals.
Have you taken a lot of antibiotics? Do you have stubborn weight you are having trouble losing? My recommendations for “recovery” from antibiotics are two-fold:
- Take the chlorine out of your water
- Consume a wide variety of valuable probiotics, including yogurt, lacto-fermented sauerkraut, and a broad spectrum probiotic. A great one that is easy to take (no need for refrigeration) is Garden of Life Primal Defense which contains some healthy bugs particularly vital if you don’t grow your own food and get your hands in dirt fairly often. Remember that farmers’ kids have less asthma, allergy and eczema symptoms, and dirt exposure seems to be a part of it!
Come to think of it, those are great steps for anyone wishing to improve the health of the inner lining of their human tube, and hoping to see health benefits on the outside of the tube, and the tube walls. I will have a lot more to say about the complex connections between our digestive tract, especially what we put into it, and our good health or health problems. What are your questions about our human tube? - about our digestive health and skin health?