13 Apr

Microbiome: Antibiotic for the 21st Century Diseases

Gut-Microbes

If you haven’t heard the word “microbiome”, this post is going to be the most important thing you read in a long time.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

I am working on creating an enterprise (Food Clinic) that will specialize on reversing/managing chronic diseases using food as the 1st medicine. Of all the knowledge we are going to use in our practice, the most fascinating and the strangest thing is the knowledge of the friendly micro-organisms that live within, and on, us. These little guys are collectively called our microbiome.

First, the fascinating bits:

  • The number of micro-organism cells we food and shelter is 10 times more than our own cells.
  • These microbes take active part in running our bodies. They even train our immune system and switch on and off our genes.
  • After our stomach and small intestine extract energy and nutrition from the food we eat, the microbes digest the leftovers in the large intestine, producing even more energy and nutrients for us.
  • The large intestine is not just a waste-bin like we were told in our schools.

What’s in it for you?

  • If you eat the food that is eaten by the good microbes in your gut, all good things happen to you. When you avoid feeding the good microbes, they die out and the gut gets crowded by the bad microbes. Then the hell breaks loose.
  • More precisely, the gut lining breaks loose and lets undesirable things from inside of the gut (e.g. toxic chemicals, food fragments, pathogens) to escape into the blood stream.
  • When that happens,
    • The toxins in the blood cause inflammation all over the body
    • The immune system over-reacts to the inflammation
  • When the immune system overacts, you get auto-immune diseases like
    • Allergies
    • Arthritis
    • Asthma
    • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
    • Eczema and psoriasis
    • Lupus
    • Irritable Bowl Syndrome
    • Crohn’s Disease
    • Insulin Resistance
    • Multiple Sclerosis
    • Obesity
    • And more
  • Till date, there are no reliable cures for any of these diseases.
  • But now, it is beginning to look like all these autoimmune diseases can be reversed by re-balancing the gut microbiome!
  • How come? If you remember, there is mounting evidence that most auto-immune diseases start with imbalance in the microbiome.
  • There are exceptions. Certain type of autoimmune diseases damage the body irreversibly. They don’t get better by re-balaning gut microbiome. Examples are Type-1 diabetes and autism.

How do you re-balance the microbiome?

There are five simple things you can do:

  1. Eat right: Eat stuff that the your good bacteria likes (fiber, sulfur, fermented food, etc.). These are also called prebiotics. Also, avoid sugar, simple carbohydrates, red meat and high fat diet (personally, I am not convinced about avoiding high-fat).
  2. Probiotics: Only if it is industrial strength and only if you take it for several months or years. Which, to the best of my knowledge, are not available in India.
  3. Medicines on the negative list: Unless your life depends on it, avoid antibiotics, long exposure to acid reducing medication, steroidal medication and toxin filled cosmetics. When you use these medication on kids, the effect is even more pronounced.
  4. Stay dirty: Be less clean. Play in the dirt. Don’t use anti-bacterial wipes. Bath less often (ahem). Don’t use mouth wash (ahem, ahem). Don’t use alcohol based perfumes (ahemn)
  5. Fecal Material Transplant (FMT): This is a stylish way of saying that the excretion of a healthy human being is pushed into the rectum of someone with poor gut microbiome. The material is held within the abdomen of the patient for an hour or so, and then pushed out. The process transfers microbiome of the healthy individuals to the unhealthy one.

Does it work?

Yes! BIG YES!!

Anecdotes from clinics around the world have it that patients with multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome are getting better, even  going into complete remission, after a few sessions of FMT!

There is research evidence, though with a small sample size, that FMT from lean individuals to individuals with insulin resistance makes the later become insulin sensitive! Let me translate it for you:

  • FMT can reverse diabetes
  • Diabetes is probably a disease of the gut

Reversing insulin resistance is a big deal because IR often leads to heart disease and several cancers.

For other diseases like C. Diff. (Clostridium Defficile) bacterial infection, IBD, Crohn’s, etc., balancing the gut flora, with or without FMT, is the only known possibility of a cure. 85% of C. Diff. infection gets cured within hours after an FMT. 95% cases are cured after just to FMT sessions. Other autoimmune disseases don’t have such fantastic success rate. But still, they are impressive.

Autoimmune epidemic

Incidence of every one of the autoimmune diseases I listed above started to climb around 1950. One number that has been etched in my mind is this: During 1940’s, 1 out of 10,000 American kids was diagnosed to be autistic (we are beginning to suspect that autism is an autoimmune disease). In 2010, the number was 1:68.

Many autoimmune diseases started skyrocketing starting 1950s to 1980s.

Several things happened around in the period between 1950 to 1980. They include introduction of certain pesticides to beginning of the usage of high fructose corn syrup.

One thing that seem to play a role in all  autoimmune diseases is this:  Antibiotics were introduced in 1944 and their usage exploded from the 50’s. This also includes usage of antibiotics on farm animals. Farmers discovered that when low dose antibiotic was administered to animals every day, they gained significantly more weight. With that, antibiotics were everywhere.

When humans use antibiotics for a long period of time, or if they are exposed to antibiotic while they were still infants/toddlers, their microbiome gets substantially damaged. If they are also on some other medication that can disturb the microbiome (e.g. acid blockers, steroidal medications), things get worse. If this person is a  picky eater who hates their veggies, or lives in a super-sterile environment that is an antithesis to microbiome diversity, God save them!

Looking in the wrong places

Whatever I’ve told you till now is summarized in the pyramid below:

 

Many of your chronic diseases start with bad microbiome (the technical term for this is “dysbiosis”). Unfortunately, instead of paying attention to the bottom of the pyramid and working on the root cause, we are busy treating the bio-markers (for example, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers). In medical field, it is called “treating the numbers”.

No wonder we have no medication to permanently fix any of the chronic/life-style diseases!

Take Home

When germ theory was understood, it demystified all the infectious diseases. Germ theory eventually brought us antibiotics, which put an end to infectious diseases. Till then, infectious diseases were periodically wiping out a substantial chunk of of human populations.

Take Home 1: Autoimmune diseases, lifestyle diseases and many mental disorders that plague us today are loosely called the 21st century diseases. We are beginning to understand that many of them are just one disease: Dysbiosis. With more understanding, treating the 21st century diseases is going to become surprisingly simple and elegant.

Take Home 2: Enriching your gut microbiome is a simple, but life-time, endeavor. If you put a little efforts to understand it, you can start enriching your microbiome today!

Some interesting books on microbiome

  • 10% Human (this is an intense book; but it’ll give you a nice foundation)
  • The Microbiome Solution (for the practical person, with oodles of how-to instructions)
  • Eat Dirt (five types of leaky gut and treatment for each one of them)
  • Brain Maker (effect of gut microbiome on the brain)

Localizing all this knowledge

These books constantly tell you to eat local. There are three reason for this:

  1. Local food is fresh. Processed food is nutrition depleted, sterile and destroys gut microbiome diversity. Though we don’t eat much of processed food in India, if we can eat food within few hours of farming, it brings us additional nutrition.
  2. Locally grown food, provided you live close to a place where your ancestors  evolved, must have evolved along with you. So, it must be more friendly to your guts.
  3. For a similar reason, local microbes are thought to be better than microbes that are shipped from far away land.

So, if you want to tend to the balance of your microbiome, localizing the best practices of the West is extremely important. This includes charting one’s gut microbiome. At Food Clinic, we have started to nibble at this problem from the edges. Send us a mail if you want to be posted about the exciting developments that are going to come.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

 

04 Sep

Laura Carstensen: Age brings happiness

Laura Carstensen

Laura Carstensen of Stanford had spent her life researching the state of mind of the elderly.  She and other researchers working in the field have come up with some eye-opening insights, which run completely counter to the conventional wisdom.

Psychological Stability

Contrary to the popular image of “grumpy old man/woman”, older people seem to be psychologically more stable!  Human brain seem to become more stable with age.  If an elder person is depressed, they are most probably suffering from what started when they were young.

 

Older Brains are Stable

Also, people who are neurotic seldom learn to become happier with age.  They often start from such a low baseline that any improvement in the inner happiness simply doesn’t muster enough force.

By the way, women of all age seem to be reporting more psychological distress than men.  It is not clear if this is due to self-denial that most men are known for.

Experience more Positive Emotions

Older people experience more positive emotions.  There are lesser threats in their lives and lesser uncertainties.  With age, sources of anxieties start decreasing, either because they have been resolved or because people learn to live with them.  Contrary to the popular wisdom, youth, it seems, is the most miserable period in one’s life!

More Positive Emotions

After about mid sixties, the number of positive emotions being experienced by a person seem to come down with age.  Part of it has to do with age associated impairment of health.  If so, with modern anti-ageing techniques, the dip will be postponed by a decade or two. Does it mean that the increase (in positive incidences) will continue for another decade or two is a different question. If the answer is yes, then age-extension programs will yield some of the happiest human societies we have seen till today!

Ignore Negativity

Older people emotionally disassociate themselves from negativity!

There is a module in the brain called amygdala, which lights up (becomes active) when people encounter emotionally charged stimulus.  When researchers put younger and older subjects in a brain scanner and showed them emotionally positive and negative pictures, something very interesting came out.  The amygdala of younger subjects was activated when they encountered both positive and negative stimulus.  Older people had much bigger spike for positive stimulus than younger people, and they ignored the negative stimuli!

Emotionally Ignore Negativity

Older people have learnt to ignore the negativity.  At the same time, they have learnt to appreciate positive emotions better.  No wonder they are happier!  This has become more obvious through another experiments conducted by the researchers.  They showed younger and older subjects pictures of positive and negative faces and measured the amount of attention they paid.

Positive Bias

 

Older ones paid poorer attention to negative faces and paid better (than younger people) attention to positive faces.  It is as if the elders have become really good at ignoring negativity!  It may not always be a good thing (what good can it be if one ignores all atrocities in the news paper).  At least, it, makes them happier!

Emotionally dense Social Network

With time, emotional life of people becomes richer and more complex.  As people get older, they tend to retain the emotionally close and meaningful relationships and the casual relationships fall off.

Social Network of Older People has much more meaningful realtionships

With age, people become more selective about who they socialize with.  The riff-raff, not-so-close, meaningless relationships dwindle in numbers.

In Laura Carstensen’s words, as people grow older, they tend to

  • Live in the moment
  • Know what’s important
  • Invest in sure things
  • Deepen relationship and
  • Savor life

From the teachers of positive psychology and the science of happiness, we know that these are sure recipe for lifetime of happiness.  Add to this a more stable brain, no wonder that people are much happier as they grow older (of course, we are only talking about healthy individuals, who are also financially self-reliant).

Even anecdotally speaking, when I look around, I see that everyone I know, including myself, is much happier now in the middle ages than we were in our twenties or thirties.  Carstensen must be on to something here!

To learn more about Laura Carstensen’s work, you can watch this Youtube video or read her book A Long Bright Future.

26 Aug

Naked self-portrait: Simplest life extension tool

Naked Self-portrait

Most of us have a huge inertia when it comes to working out and eating right.  Even though we have heard millions of times that eating right, sleeping well and shaping up will add one or two decades to your life, and more life to every year, we never got around to doing them.  There is a simple one minute exercise that will break down your inertia: Get yourself a naked self-portrait!

Are you not convinced that you have body image issues?  Here is a bunch of questionnaires (not-free) that will help you get a scientific self-calibration (but let me assure you, getting a naked self-portrait is lot cheaper, and easier, than dealing with these questionnaires).  If you think you weigh too much or too little, you are likely to have a poor body image.  If you are a perfectionist, guaranteed that your self assessment will be worse than how others assess you.  If you were out of shape during your formative years, you are likely to be carrying the cross throughout your life.

Feeling bad about your body is not some fancy thing for the pansies.  It sits in the core of your self-image and dictates everything you do, it is part of our personality.  For a starter, it dictates what you wear, who you hang out with, the places you go to and the things you do.  It transforms your life.  Body image is a much stronger force than we give it credit for.  Unfortunately, in most of us, it is too subtle a force that it remains under the radar.  Hence, we go through the life without feeling compelled to do anything about it.

Even more unfortunately, in some of us, the body image misalignment is too strong an urge to ignore.  These people go great lengths to correct the misalignment.

  • Chelsea Manning, Kristin Beck went through great pains to transform oneself from being a man to a woman (Beck has a book in Amazon on his/her transformation)
  • Cindy Jackson has the world record for maximum number of plastic surgeries conducted on a person (Cindy has self-published a book on “How to: Cosmetic Surgeries”)
  • Valeriea Lukyanova calls herself the living Barbie and uses her looks to give you a ‘message from the space’ (don’t miss the slide-show; and the video will give you an insight into a mind that is very, how shall I put it, unusual).

Whereas we sympathize these people, or call them desperadoes, they consider themselves brave.  They are right.  They knew what they wanted, they worked hard for several years to get to it.  And they wear their designer persona proudly, even though it might open themselves to ridicule, sometime severe ones.  But this post is not for these brave souls, from Venus or not.

This blog post is for the rest of us, who have lived throughout our lives with this nagging feeling of not having a body that we deserve, a body that we are too shy to reveal, a body that must be covered with clothes in order not make us feel bad, get depressed or wanna fling it over the bridge.  Muster yourself enough courage just for one minute: Get yourself pictured naked!  And force yourself to look at it, really look at it.

For most of us, this one minute, no-money, exercise will make you start genuinely looking for ways to fix your body.  If your inner nag is like that of vast majority of the people (i.e you don’t have issues like sexual self-identify, anorexia, etc.), chances are that you will start to eat right and exercise.  Or at least, consider it seriously.

That will add 10 to 20 years to your life!  Not a bad for mustering whee bit of guts isn’t it?

03 Aug

Refusing Anti-ageing is accepting Death

All Roads Lead to Death

For life to sustain, several million things must happen in a particular order.  But death can occur in any of the million ways.  There lies the secret behind the apparent immortality of mortality.  Death doesn’t have any special status in the greater scheme of things.  We just need to jump too many hoops to avoid death.  I believe that the Universe doesn’t care if we live.  And that It doesn’t care if we die.

We all avoid death for one reason or other.  For some of us, it is the fear of the physical pain.  For some, it is the pending responsibilities.  Others can’t bear the tears of near and dear.  Some don’t want to die without seeing the wonders that the future has to offer (detour: Isn’t it interesting that many of our reasons to live are driven by what we mean to others?).  And then, there are people who continue to live because can’t find a good reason to die.  I always find it surprising as to how so many people claim that they are not scared of dying.  Whereas, these same people won’t hesitate to kill if their life is threatened.

Even though everyone is scared of dying, we always ridicule the people who went chasing after immortality.  We have stories and legends where the chasers of immortality always have sorry ends (but often, in our legends, heroes who chase the noble are gifted immortality).  These stories are not far from reality.  People who went chasing immortality, longevity or youthfulness always failed.  It is nice for us to think of them as desperate and greedy.  It probably justifies our own laziness.

When it comes to wanting immortality, vast majority among us take the defeatist attitude.  Nothing else explains why we are uncomfortable with the idea of immortality.  After all, if we have a good reason to live today, there is no good reason to not want to live tomorrow.  Or the next year.  Why should it be OK for us to accept death in fifty years from now, when it not OK to want to die today?

Granted, in our youthful swagger, it is normal for us to want not to live into the frailties of senescence.  But when senescence creeps on us slowly, it turns out that it is not such an unbearable thing after all!  Our justification of accepting death on the ground that ‘senescence is unacceptable’ appears baseless.  But given that I am one of those people who vehemently cry “keep me fit or give me death”, I can look at this group sympathetically.

Modern anti-ageing techniques, though they are far from perfected as of now, can easily add one or two additional decades of healthy living to most of us.  But surprising number of people think too low of taking it up.  It is perfectly OK for them if the death creeps on them slowly.  But wanting to jump on the anti-ageing bandwagon is too painful to them for two reasons: One, it amounts to accepting our desperation to want to live another day.  Two, reminds us that death is real.

For the people among us who avoid anti-ageing, state of default seem to be safe and non-threatening. Having taken an emotional decision not to act, we go around inventing false justifications as to why we chose default over action.

Don’t.

Take anti-ageing seriously.  It looks funny to you because it is positive healthcare.  Healthcare is usually focused fixing things that are broken.  In other words, conventional medicine is about coming from negative to zero.  Anti-ageing takes something that may or may not be broken and makes it better.  It is a process where the final destination is positive.

Anti-ageing alone can add thirty to forty years to your life, at the very least.  You can absolutely not come across any other single action that can add so many healthy years to your life. Period.

19 Dec

Escape Velocity of Life Extension

Escape Velocity of Life Extension

One of the best kept secrets of medical industry is that life extension techniques are here and now!  We have known for decades that stuff like micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.), hormone balancing, etc. can easily give additional 10 to 20 ‘fit’ years to an ageing individuals. However, for incredibly silly reasons, these techniques are not widely known or practiced.

For example, benefits of most of the micro-nutrients have been known for several decades.  No one can take a patent on them and there is not enough money for pharmaceutical companies to promote them.  All over the world, unfortunately, most of the (not all) physicians limit their post-college education to sales presentations given to them by medical representatives.  With no medical representative to show a nutrition therapy in front of a physician, nutrition therapy has become an orphan that no one cares about.

Hormone balancing, on the other hand, has a different story.  During the later part of twentieth century, many pharmaceutical companies have sold poor mimics of human hormones, resulting in several adverse side effects.  Consequently, hormones replacement strikes terror in the minds of the lay public and under-educated physicians.  Given that hormones are used by the body as the elixir of youth and vitality, ignoring their potential benefit because we are ill-informed is really sad.

But things are changing fast.  More and more physicians are waking up to simple, yet effective, ways to dramatically increase the fitness levels of the ageing.  People in the anti-ageing industry and patients undergoing age-management therapy, routinely claim that their biological age has been reversed by 10 to 20 years.  If not more.

10 to 20 bonus fit years is no small thing.  But that’s all we can hope to gain from today’s science.  However, there is an interesting aspect: With the breakneck speed at which science is progressing, it is generally believed that before the bonus time (of 10 to 20 years) runs out, newer understanding will come along, giving us additional 10 to 20 fit years.  And…so…on.

This speed of medical breakthroughs, which will ultimately give us immortality, is loosely called the ‘escape velocity of age extension’.  Most of the people in the know believe that the escape velocity is already here.  I tend to agree with them!

Of course, they could be completely wrong.  But what if they are right?  If you were born in the 1960’s or earlier, it is time to sit up and take notice.

18 Dec

Human is Changing

Transhuman

Evolution, the blind watchmaker, has been toying around with various models of biological entities for the last three and a half billion years.  And if you subscribe to panspermia (that the first life form originated somewhere else in the Universe and floated to the earth as star dust), God know how many years of evolution was under play before the three and a half billion years of evolutionary drama started on earth!

Evolution builds on top of evolution.  Because of this, as the time progresses, evolutionary changes happen in exponential speed.  Unfortunately, or brains are not geared up to perceive geometric progression.  That speed of evolution picked up with appearance of intelligent humans on earth.

‘Natural vs artificial’ is a false dichotomy.  Brick and mortar, soot and sewer are products of evolution, just as a honeycomb is a product of evolution.  Extending that thinking…

all the human achievement, including science, technology, philosophy, arts, modern medicine are all products of evolution

Ray Kurzweil of MIT has figured out a neat way to predict the progress of information technology.  Kurzweil has proposed (this video) that

  • By 2020, we will have computer inexpensive hardware that are as powerful as a human brain (but we won’t have the software yet)
  • By 2029, we will have reverse engineered all the regions of human brain, giving us a good understanding of how the software of the human brain works.
  • By 2045, we will have machines that are just as powerful as humans.  While the intelligence of human brain is limited by its biology, capabilities of the machines will continue to grow in exponential pace.

Unbelievable as they might sound, Kurzweil has been accurately predicting major technological events from the mid 1980’s onward.  While Kurzweil maintains that it is hard to see how things will turn out beyond this point, it is obvious that the pace of improvement of technology will change who we are and what are our values.  As a result,

the very definition of human is changing!

These changes that are going to hit us with warp speed.  Understanding them will help us to prepare ourselves for both good and the bad that are in store for us.

Welcome to the future…

Where, you might be among the first to defy death!

Or, be among the last to celebrate life!!