Our allergies are caused by an imbalanced microbiota.
During my keto challenge in February, I became fascinated with how our body processes food, fat and everything in between. During my search on the ketogenic diet, I came across a book titled "10% Human: How Your Body's Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness". It was a fascinating read. I have to give props to the writer because she made science writing easy to read given some of the topics were straight up complex Here are some of the takeaways I found reading the book that you may find interesting. I do recommend picking it up from the library especially if you are looking to supplement any health reading material regardless on if you are on keto, whole30 or paleo. If you have an autoimmune disease or are suffering from allergies, this book may help you understand what is happening and figure out ways to experiment and find a cure for yourself. Of course as a disclaimer, I am not a medical professional. Speak with a professional before embarking on such journey, but do keep in mind that it’s time that we do start doing our research and experimentation when it comes to the human body. A doctor who was trained many years ago may not be aware of the latest research available given their schedules and time commitments. Our bodies are also very unique to us, down to the microbe level and a doctor will not be able to specifically treat you in a manner that is unique to you. Regardless, I feel that good microbes is needed to live an optimal life and probiotics will be one way to get them.
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There are a few sessions scheduled to discuss the future of microbes and gut biomes at this year's SXSW. I'm curious what comes out of being able to map the human microbiome and how we can take advantage of it.
Here are the events scheduled on biomes and microbes at SXSW. Would love to get your thoughts if you attended:
The Human Body Is Made of 100 Trillion Microbes
That’s right 100 Trillion. Microbes help us fight infection, break down food and keep us from harmful substances. Even microbes determine our ability to extract energy from our food so while it may not be the food or the exercise that is preventing your from losing weight, but the microbes may be determining how efficiently it is processing the food you are eating.
Unfortunately, modern medicine and modern agriculture have damaged our microbiotas. While modern medicine has helped rid us of major diseases like small pox, measles and many others, it has also created new strains of disease. This is the scary part. In the book, Alanna Collen goes through hundreds of research and samples of how this happened. She compares lab research along with longitudinal studies comparing remote populations not exposed to our Western diet and medicine against those that are to see how their microbiotas differ. Here I've pulled some of the main drivers that may be causing us to fall into illness.
A note too that every living thing on the planet evolves to keep their species protected. The flu viruses evolve every year to ensure it lives on and is spread by humans. For us humans though, our evolution is low and gradual, however, we have “reached a point in human history that redesigning and re-routing the human digestive system is the evolution that we need to keep from eating ourselves to death.” This is not right.
Vaccines and Antibiotics
Vaccines and antibiotics have saved the human population on so many occasions. We have eliminated life threatening diseases and saved populations. The problem that has arisen with antibiotics is that it is a broad spectrum drug. So when our doctor prescribes an antibiotic for whatever illness we come in with, there is no proof that the antibiotic will actually work because doctors don’t test generally for any microbial bacteria in our body. This results in good microbes from being killed off from the broad spectrum antibiotics. For a few, killing off these good microbes could result in complete restructure of the inner workings of the microbes in our body. A lot of research has linked the use antibiotics to autism, obesity, asthma and so many other auto immune diseases. Whole correlation is not necessarily causation, there is a hint that since the time antibiotics were introduced post World War 2, this started the rise of all of these personal auto immune diseases in which the body over reacts to potential bad microbes in an extreme way.
The standard American diet has also benefited from antibiotics. At one point, antibiotics were used as growth promoters to speed up the growth of animals. The faster the animal grew, the faster it could reach our dinner tables. The consequence is that this antibiotics just doesn’t stop at the animal, it ends up in us. Antibiotics are easily transferred via fatty tissues of animals and as we all know, the standard American diet (SAD) diet is rich in fat. This is not good fat. This is antibiotic rich fat. Additionally, while animals are ingesting antibiotics, their excretions are also ending up as manure for our vegetables so regardless of whether we are a vegetarian or a full omnivore; we are commonly ingesting antibiotics into our system. Couple this with regular antibiotics from normal hospital visits and our bodies are drugged up at the onset of our lives.
This is a fascinating fact that the rise of Caesarean has increased the amount of autoimmune diseases throughout the world. The correlation is there though not definitive. Amazingly, apparently when a baby is in the water sac inside the mother’s womb, it is a germ free being. It is that way until the water breaks that the baby gets exposed to germs. Vaginal births were preferred because during the birthing process, the baby natural faces towards the vagina so that it can get some bacteria from the vagina. This bacteria (lactobacillus) travels to the stomach to help the baby to digest milk (lactose). So believe it or not, we are not born to digest milk, we have help from our environment. For many other mammals, the microbes from the mother also changes as the baby grows so that it gets passed down to the baby to help the baby grow and face their environment. This completely blew my mind. Of course, I had to look this up. Apparently for babies born from Caesarean, because the baby is taken from their germ free environment, their first contact is the hands of the doctors and nurses. To help promote the right microbial growth, babies can be swapped with the mother’s vagina microbes. You could find the science paper here and some writeup on the NYTimes, and NPR, ScienceNews.
Triclosan and Antibacterial
For many years now, we’ve also been marketed that we need to be using antibacterial constantly to reduce our exposure to bacteria, but similarly, this has also made us more susceptible to new strains of bacteria, weakened our immune system and opened doors for more unwanted chemicals. The use of triclosan was a prevalent chemical found in antibacterial products. Studies have linked to a range of health and environment effects including hormone disruptions, bacterial resistance, water contamination. As of September 2016, the FDA finally banned triclosan from antibacterial hand soaps confirming. This is a great step in the right direction, but it seems may be a bit late for some who’ve relied on antibacterial soaps for all of these years.
So What Can We Do About It
In the book, Collen suggested a few ways we can restore the microbiotas in our bodies.
- Eat fiber-rich foods in the form of vegetables. This seems to be the common ground across most of the research on how to eat healthier. Vegetables are key and should make up the majority of one’s diet. When eating meat, select meats that are antibiotic and hormone free. This may be opting for the more expensive organic option, but as long as this is in moderation, it should not be too costly.
- Eat natural probiotics found in yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables. The key is to make sure that when you do take your probiotics that it has not been degraded by sugar and other chemicals. A lot of probiotic yogurts are sugar filled which reduces its effectiveness. Look for good microbial bacteria in probiotics.
- Reduce antibiotics exposure. If you come down with something and the doctor recommends an antibiotic, question your doctor. Ask if there are ways you can help your immune system fight the bacteria infection instead. Ask if monitoring it for a few more days for your body to naturally fight it will be OK. Antibiotics are not the one and only solution. Your body is a powerful force, provide it the means to fight for you.
- Get a little dirty. Let your kids be exposed to a good range of bacteria (within means of course). Don’t be too quick with the wipes. Our bodies have to learn to adapt and fight.
After reading this book, I’ve decided to take a probiotic with a few good bacterial strains. Time will tell how my body will react to this, but I want to help my body fight the food fight. Growing up in the Philippines, I don’t remember getting sick as often and I did not grow up with allergies, but my sister who was born here has allergies every spring and I am now very curious about how our exposure to antibiotics may have affected that.
I have chosen Renew Life's Flor Extra Care Probiotic after much research and back and forth. My plan will then be to take this for 30 days, stay on the ketogenic as much as possible and monitor my progress. I hope to provide an update by next month.
Update: I moved towards intaking VSL #3 because it's the one that they do the most clinical trials with. I take one every few weeks or so when I'm feeling under the weather or my stomach is acting up. Moderating my consumption and eating more plant-rich has helped a lot. I'm now also experimenting with fermented vegetables. You can get VSL #3 at Costco for around $55 and it won't come with the unnecessary cooler and packaging waste. It does not need to be refrigerated so get it last on your Costco trip.