Something like 60 to 100 million of us live with a severe form of dysbiosis called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, in which bowel microorganisms have ascended up the ileum, jejunum, duodenum, and stomach, a massive onslaught of infection and inflammation that results in increased intestinal permeability and entry of bacterial lipopolysaccharide, LPS, and other factors into the bloodstream that increase body-wide inflammation—an absolute bowel disaster.
But what sets this enormous disruption of human health in motion? Why would a perturbation of human health of such huge proportions get rooted in the first place?
We swim in a sea of factors that disrupt bowel flora. They’re in the air, water, food, things we touch. Among the factors that change/disrupt bowel flora, altering the normal order of life and the coexistence of humans and microorganisms:
- Antibiotics–There are certainly times when antibiotics are truly required. But there are many more times when they are not. Each and every exposure to antibiotics alters bowel flora in ways that we can only begin to imagine.
- Antibiotic residues in food–Because farmers and agribusiness make such enthusiastic use of antibiotics (e.g., to accelerate growth), many foods now contains substantial antibiotic residues.
- Herbicide/pesticide residues in food—Just as Roundup kills weeds in your lawn, so it does in your bowels. This and MANY other herbicides and pesticides in your non-organic food exert peculiar effects on the composition of microorganisms in the bowels.
- Stomach acid-blocking drugs—H-2 blocking drugs such as Zantac and Tagamet and proton pump-inhibitor drugs such as Prilosec and Protonix, because they block production of stomach acid, eliminate the first barrier to entry of unhealthy microorganisms into the gastrointestinal tract, while failing to inhibit the ascendance of colon microorganisms up into the small intestine and stomach.
- Wheat and grains—Wheat and grains are a mixed bag with some components that help cultivate healthy bowel flora, such as prebiotic fibers arabinoxylan and amylose, but a substantial collection of factors that disrupt bowel health such as amylopectin A, wheat germ agglutinin, gliadin-derived opioid peptides, and others.
- Synthetic sweeteners—Synthetic sweeteners aspartame, sucralose, and saccharine have been shown to alter bowel flora in a way that increases potential for weight gain and type 2 diabetes.
- Chlorinated/fluoridated water—Yes, in modern society we must filter our water in order to not be exposed to E. coli, cholera, cryptosporidium and a host of other microorganisms. But, in order to sterilize drinking water, we also in effect sterilize the upper gastrointestinal tract, an open invitation to allowing colon microorganisms to ascend up and create SIBO. (Lactobacillus reuteri, for instance, preferentially colonizes the upper gastrointestinal tract, but suppressed/killed by chlorine.)
- Lack of melatonin—This is a new item on the list. But melatonin is proving to be a major influence over control over stomach acid. While much of the body’s melatonin is produced in the brain (pineal gland), many hundreds of times more is produced by the intestines. Because of its influence over stomach acid production, modulation of melatonin levels may prove to be among the most important factors in regulating stomach acid and thereby bowel flora composition.
- Stress—You’ve had stress, haven’t you? For not entirely clear reasons—heightened cortisol, association with unhealthy habits such as smoking or excessive alcohol, sleeplessness, etc.—stress can be a big player in disrupting bowel flora. Stress is one of the most intransigent, difficult factors to resolve, given that not all stressful situations can be fixed or escaped, such as providing care for a demented parent, child with autism, unhappy relationships.
- Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)—Apologists for GMOs argue that the genetic changes introduced intro corn, soy, and other crops do not fundamentally change the effects of foods on humans who consume them. But this ignores the fact that the hervbicides/pesticides associated with such crops are KNOWN to alter bowel flora, such as glyphosate (in glyphosate-resistant crops) and Bt toxin, or those that are “stacked,” i.e., containing both genetic modifications.
- Smorgasbord—Who knows whether plasticizing agents, xenoestrogens, and numerous prescription and over-the-counter drugs alter bowel flora . . . since there are virtually zero data on their bowel flora effects.
In short, we swim in a sea of factors that modify bowel flora. Just as we no longer see grasshoppers galore in fields or fireflies lighting up the backyard on summer nights, suggesting that we have massively screwed up our external environment, so we have also massively disrupted our internal environments. Recognize, then correct, all the factors that led us here in the first place in your quest to restore healthy bowel flora and regain control over health, weight, and youthfulness.