British journalist, producer and TV presenter Dr. Michael Mosley is currently touring Australia with his wife Dr. Clare Bailey who is a GP. This tour is about his new revolutionary book The Clever Guts Diet. It is based on research started in the 1980's by two Australian scientists, up to the latest emerging research on the microbiome and its link to our immune system. Dr. Michael himself admits that he is not a scientist or a researcher, but he "speaks to a lot of scientists".
"Gut health is where medicine is going."
He has a large following and his books have also been very well received in Australia. Since his arrival late last month he has done many interviews and programs with the Australian media. There was one story of particular interest in the Gut Feeling episode of SBS Insight. It was about a mother Simone Langshaw and her son Darcey who had a Clostridium difficile infection.
Darcey was born with an immune deficiency and was prescribed multiple courses of anti-biotics before his second birthday.
His mum said in the program that the multiple doses of anti-biotics led to him contracting the spore C.diff which then led to him getting pseudomembranous colitis and attacking his gut. Physically he had severe diarrhoea and stomach cramps. He contracted other infections that caused him to become very hot and miserable.
The anti-biotics had killed off the native bacteria in his gut and led to the overgrowth of bad ones.
As a last resort Darcey received a faecal microbial transplant that changed his life within 24 hours. The aim was to replace a more normal ecosystem into his gut. He was a new boy and almost all his food allergies cleared up. His mum said that Darcy is now able to eat many things that he couldn't before; like dairy and eggs. Dr. Michael said that he has seen the same transformation occur within a day in many adults. It may still be a decade away before we can receive therapies like this one but Dr. Michael demonstrates that there are other things people can do to culture to a healthy microbiome now.
“Gut bacteria teaches your immune system to behave.”
“…That’s why we have seen a massive rise in things like hay fever, asthma, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease. These are all autoimmune diseases and they are all caused by the immune system inappropriately attacking the body. And the reason it appears to be on the rise is because we have lost a lot of what I call the old friends."
Dr. Michael say that the evidence around probiotic supplementations (commonly bought from the store) are thin at the moment and they have an enormous challenge to be able to be effective. "They have to go through your gastric system which means they are going to have to survive an acid bath attacked by gastric juices. They have to travel all the way down there and when they get down there, there are already 50 trillion bacteria down there who are not going to greet them friendly." The key is to frequently add an abundance of live, bio-diverse bacteria to supplement good supplies to crowd the bad ones out.
Pathogens like C. difficile may be able to grow out of control as a result of many of its competitors being killed off. Michael says it is the good ones that are keeping the bad ones in check. According to Wikipedia: "C. difficile is actually quite common in the human digestive system. However, C. difficile is a poor competitor, and is often out competed by other bacteria for nutrients in the digestive system. As a result, C. difficile is kept to a manageable amount. If the sudden introduction of antibiotic disrupts the microbiome, C. difficile may be able to grow as a result of many of its competitors being killed off."
"A 2015 CDC study estimated that C.diff afflicted almost half a million Americans and caused 29,000 deaths in 2011."
According to a Catalyst episode the human pathogen Clostridium Difficile releases a toxin that destroys the bowel lining. Ironically this shows why having access to a probiotic bacteria that protects the gut lining are important.
Dr. Michael say that the gut is an ecosystem more complex than a rainforest. There are many different individuals and there are also the ones he calls the old friends. They are the microbes we evolved with, which are essential to our health. In this interview he says the overuse of anti-biotics and junk food have been steadily wiping them out. "And as we have gradually wiped them out so we have seen the rise of autoimmune diseases like asthma, eczema, food intolerances and celiac disease. And most of these have doubled, tripled, quadrupled over the last hundred years. These are all linked to your microbiome..."
In the same interview he says that gut bacteria is like a granny with unruly kids; there to teach them good behaviour particularly early in life.
"If you don't have them (good gut microbes) then your immune system is likely to go a little bit crazy. It's going to grow up into an angry and difficult adolescent who is going to lash out..."
He says the link between the bowel and the brain is so strong they have created a term for it known as psychobiotics. "The influence of the gut on the brain is very profound in areas like depression, anxiety and even in things like autism and psychosis."
The six o'clock news are full of stories about youth crimes, gangs and bizarre behaviour like the story below. Many adolescents as young as 12 years old acknowledge that they have trouble with their behaviour. How much of this kind of behaviour can be ascribed to an unbalanced gut?
In this interview with Gareth Parker Dr. Michael say that there is a very strong link between gut bacteria and depression, anxiety and also some of the things that go wrong in the brain like stroke. They recently discovered there is a bacteria in the gut that produces a particular substance that weakens the brain vessels and leads directly to stroke. No one would have believed this is possible four or five years ago. He says we now know that a specific strain of bacteria living in your gut is causing stroke. Based on the information in his book it is now very useful that people can look at ways to block the activity of unfriendly bacteria or eventually eliminate that type of bacteria.
Dr. Michael say that you can influence your microbiome and make them work for you rather than against you. It is probably one of the hottest areas of science at the moment.
In another interview with David Prior he says the gut is like the second brain of the body. "Your gut and your brain is connected by this super fast broadband system known as the vagus nerve, and rather like the Russians the microbes in your gut are good at hacking into this system and therefore influencing the computer up in your head. That can manipulate how you think, or that seems to be what the evidence looks like."
The link between the gut and the brain is clearly profound. We only need to switch on the television to confirm that we have a major crisis on our hands. We have individuals in society who act in senseless ways or commit horrible crimes. Are they suffering from some form of psychosis related to the bowel? Do they perhaps need beneficial bacteria to crowd out bad or pathogenic ones? Are they suffering from the toxins produced by pathogens in their gut and have their protective gut lining been compromised? (Pathogens are microbes that are harmful to human health). How about a change in diet to include more dietary fibre to feed the good bugs? Perhaps we need to provide microbiome rehabilitation to sick and troubled members of society. This form of therapy and nourishment can be applied instead of drugging their symptoms or sending them to jail. It may be more successful than what we have been doing so far.
For more latest research about the profound link between the microbiome and the immune system, see the article: Gut Microbiota and the Immune Compromised. The article also discusses the modern phenomenon of conventional food containing less beneficial microbes and in some cases more pathogens, anti-biotics and even anti-biotic resistant strains than ever before. Immunity lies in the gut and affects our entire body according to researchers.
Why not just regulate raw milk in Australia as a more affordable preventative option? The probiotic bugs in it may help keep a bio-diverse protective layer in the gut to prevent bad ones from taking over.