When I was a kid, grasshoppers were everywhere. I walked through a field every day to get to school and grasshoppers were everywhere, jumping back and forth across my path, frequently banging off my legs. At night in summer, the backyard was filled with fireflies that we’d chase and capture in jars to watch up close. And there were butterflies of many colors and varieties everywhere, flitting from flower to flower.
Today, I don’t see any grasshoppers. In fact, I haven’t seen one in over 40 years. I saw one—just one—firefly this past summer in my backyard. And I can count the number of butteries I’ve seen in the past year on two fingers.
We have managed to massively alter our external environment with widespread use of herbicides, pesticides, and other factors, sufficient to wipe out huge populations of creatures that used to be plentiful. Just as we have messed up our external environments, so we have also dramatically distorted our internal environments, specifically our microbiome.
Given the many factors that distort the composition of the human microbiome, such as prescription antibiotics, antibiotic residues in meats, acid-blocking drugs, sugar consumption, synthetic sweeteners like aspartame, synthetic emulsifying agents like polysorbate 80, etc., we have changed the species and number of microbes inhabiting our intestines, skin, mouths, sinuses, airways, vaginas, and other areas. As a reflection of how far adrift we’ve come from primitive Stone Age microbiome composition, compare the bowel flora composition of people such as the Hadza of Tanzania or the Matses of the Peruvian Amazon, hunter-gatherer cultures unexposed to antibiotics, processed foods, aspartame, etc. These populations, while exposed to infections and injury, have virtually no colon cancer, ulcerative colitis, constipation, stomach ulcers or esophageal reflux, type 2 diabetes, obesity, autoimmune diseases, hypertension or heart disease, i.e., the so-called “diseases of civilization” that plague modern populations.
The change in the modern human microbiome doesn’t end at shifts in species and numbers. It also involves allowing potentially pathogenic species, primarily those in the order Enterobacteriaceae such as E. coli, Shigella, Salmonella and many others, to ascend up the ileum, jejunum, duodenum, stomach, even esophagus, the condition that I have been discussing a lot lately, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO.
Modern dysbiosis therefore represents a dramatic shift in bacterial (viral? fungal? bacteriophage?) populations, their metabolites, and their location. Obviously, modern health problems are due to a variety of causes such as the absurd “cut your fat and eat more healthy whole grains” diet advice, consumption of sugary soft drinks and aspartame-sweetened diet sodas, vitamin D deficiency, as well as the many diseases caused by modern healthcare (witness the opioid epidemic and prescription medication side-effects). How much can we blame on our altered microbiome?
The answer is not yet entirely clear. But it is likely that a huge amount of human disease has its foundation in alterations of the microbiome. Just as we wiped out grasshoppers and butterflies in most urban and suburban areas, so we’ve caused dramatic shifts in bowel flora that likely underlies numerous health conditions. Gout, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, diverticular disease, colorectal cancer, and psoriasis, for example, are looking like they are largely due to distortions in bowel flora, while conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, while not entirely caused by changes in bowel flora, are worsened by it. I believe that, by recognizing the enormous potential that the microbiome plays in human disease, we are on our way to enjoy many very powerful strategies to better deal with these conditions. Witness what we are achieving with our Lactobacillus reuteri yogurt: Consumption of 1/2 cup per day boosts hypothalamic release of oxytocin that, in turn, thickens skin and smooths wrinkles starting within weeks, accelerates healing, improves bone density, increases muscle strength and mass, and boosts libido, effects that are essentially age-reversing. I believe that this is just a taste of things to come.
And, even better, because these strategies will largely be nutritional, they are less likely to be co-opted by Big Pharma and its predatory and exploitative ways.