I was fortunate this week to attend a seminar with Dr. Kharrazian, well-known for The Thyroid Book and Why Isn’t My Brain Working? Dr. Kharrazian is a faculty member of the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), which is one place I study Functional Medicine. He’s a brilliant guy, both in terms of evaluating research, and getting successful results with patients.
The seminar was called The Neuroendocrine Immunology of Mucosal Immunity – and the fancy name matched the depth and quality of the information. Here I excerpt some nuggets that we can all put into practice right away.
microbiome: what do you know?
If you are a practitioner or any type of health-buff, you probably know that your gut microbiota is really really important. But, you may not understand why. None of us have the whole picture. Let’s absorb (or re-absorb) some interesting microbiome nuggets:
• Your microbiota can completely change within 3 to 4 days of changing what you eat. This means it is fast and easy to change, for better or for worse! What happens when you travel? Take antibiotics? Go on a restrictive diet, even with the best of intentions?
• Diversity in bacterial species is ultimately the BEST! The more diversity the better. People in the United States have the lowest diversity of all countries. We are not leading the planet in this area!
• You simply can’t eat the exact same foods day after day and get microbial diversity. It’s just not gonna happen.
• You have to eat plant foods in whole forms to feed beneficial microbes. The more diverse plants you eat, the more diverse your microbiota becomes. Whole plants only, not juiced and not refined. The best sources are every single type of vegetable, and also legumes (beans). Meat and fat are not going to do it.
In utero to age three
• Now we know that babies don’t get all their microbes from mom’s birth canal, their exposure actually starts in utero. Your uterus is not sterile. However, if babies don’t go down the birth canal because of a C-section, smearing vaginal fluid all over their faces can make an enormous difference in lifelong gut and immune function. YES.
This is common knowledge among birth practitioners these days – however at Dr. Kharrazian’s seminar I heard men and women health practitioners groaning and grossing out over this. Come on, adults!
• With microbiome sequencing, you can tell if you were born vaginally or via a C-section! You can also tell if you were breast-fed 100%.
• Approximately one-third of your microbiota is set by age 3, and the other two-thirds change based on your food and environment. So, in utero and through age 3 are important times to set a good microbiome – by a pregnant mother nurturing her own diverse microbiota prior to pregnancy, birthing vaginally or using vaginal swabs, and breast-feeding 100%. Even partial formula-feeding will affect the delicately developing microbime.
Moms, we can’t beat ourselves up for not doing any of this. I’m a practitioner and I didn’t know any of this 14 years ago! But now we know. So if you read this and are planning a pregnancy, you get to do it differently! Do nurture your own microbiota, do use vaginal swabbing with C-section babies, and do use breast milk even if it’s not your own. So instead of formula… Get in touch with La Leche League and find out what breast milk sources you can get your hands on. Fortunately women who have an abundance of breast milk often donate their surplus. Next best thing to a wet-nurse!
• Your gut bacteria do so many things for you, we can consider them to be a very active metabolic organ. They do more metabolic processes than your liver!
• One of the things they do is control your metabolism. How do they control? They secrete signaling messages, just like your own body does with hormones and neurotransmitters. Your gut microbes put out signals for all sorts of processes in your body, including neuropeptites to signal your brain, and signalling molecules to regulate appetite and cravings. The gut – brain connection is a very real thing.
• Back to metabolism. Certain microbes make you burn energy efficiently, other microbes make you store energy as fat. There is absolutely no question that obese people have a disrupted gut microbiota. Plenty of research demonstrates this, both with mice and with people. So for those of you who are overweight, yet don’t eat excessive calories, it’s very likely you have too many of the wrong microbes, and not enough of the right ones to make you lean. It is not all about calories in = calories out. This belief has been debunked.
women and hormones
Women with hormone imbalance? This is my specialty, and in almost every single case we work on gut microbiota. Why? For one, your gut microbes transform hormones into metabolites for use or excretion. Two easy to understand examples:
- Gut microbes convert the T-4 your thyroid makes into metabolically active T-3 that your cells use.
- Gut microbes break down harmful estrogen for excretion. This includes the environmental estrogens you get from the endocrine-disrupting chemical soup we live in.
These are just two examples. So just like with obesity, hormone balance inevitably requires fixing or optimizing your gut microbiota.
• Your microbes make a lot of your vitamins, including B vitamins and 50% of your vitamin K. They also activate most botanical medicines. If you’ve taken herbs that have done nothing, it may be because you don’t have the right microbes to activate them.
• Making out with your dog? Don’t do it, because you can get a rotavirus infection which is a disaster. However, living with the dog, and letting your dog lick your skin, helps microbial diversity in a good way!
More nuggets to follow in the future, but for now, let’s get to tips for microbial diversity.
• Don’t eat the same damn food every day! This really narrows your diversity big-time.
• Get whole vegetables and legumes in your diet. Daily, in abundance. Ironically, these are the best foods for microbial diversity, yet they are the least consumed food group in the very sad American diet. If you eat the Standard American Diet (SAD), you get 11% of your calories from actual plant foods, however up to half of these calories are estimated to be from French fries. Ouch, that IS SAD!
• Do choose a wide variety of vegetables and legumes. Not just iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots. Pick ones you don’t know about and find out how to prepare them. Aim to try out every single vegetable and legume at your grocery store, and then start exploring other stores and farmer’s markets.
• Dr Kharrazian’s prescription: Purchase a variety of vegetables, the more unrecognizable the better. Chop them up. Toss them in the vitamix with some water. Blend. Drink a glass. Voila! Diversity expands. Rinse and repeat, varying the vegetables frequently.