I’m thrilled that mainstream media such as the CBS TV show, 60 Minutes, is bringing conversations about the microbiome into public consciousness. While increasing awareness is terrific, Dr. Jon LaPook is also guilty of ignorance in talking about something that he clearly has little to no knowledge of. To his credit, he did include statements by a number of microbiome experts from the conventional healthcare and science world, but even they were guilty of providing a relatively narrow view of all things microbiome.
The opening interview with Dr. Jeff Gordon of Washington University, St. Louis, begins with some useful insights, such as the ability of microbial species to produce B vitamins and the role of microbes in the immune response.
While I agree that over 90% of commercial probiotics are useless, it does not mean that all probiotic preparations or probiotic species do not provide benefits, and you should not conclude that there is no benefit to addressing the microbiome.
Among the critical issues misrepresented or not addressed in the 60 Minutes piece:
- The undeniable effects observed with specific probiotic species—Lactobacillus reuteri (DSM 17938 and ATCC PTA 6475), for instance, did not gain even single mention despite the wealth of science on its huge benefits to humans that includes acceleration of healing, preservation of bone density, and restoration of empathy by replacing a species lost by 96% of Americans. L. reuteri even has potential to reverse the lost immune function of aging by reversing thymic involution.
- How about the respiratory virus protection afforded by Lactobacillus casei Shirota borne out by three human clinical studies?
- No mention of the well-documented health benefits of Saccharomyces boulardii—acceleration of recovery from post-antibiotic diarrhea, reduction in Clostridium difficile enterocolitis from antibiotics.
- No mention of the key concept of restoring “keystone” or “foundational” microbial species, i.e., bacterial species that support the proliferation and persistence of many other microbial species. Just as ocean plankton support the nutrition and health of creatures from jellyfish to whales, so do keystone microbial species provide crucial support to other species. Akkermansia muciniphila is a perfect example, a species that, by its unique production of metabolites, supports the proliferation of other species, while also contributing huge effects on reducing blood sugar, insulin resistance, and triglyceride levels. Bifidobacteria infantis in newborns is another, able to metabolize milk oligosaccharides to metabolites that, in turn, support the colonization and proliferation of other beneficial species. The future of probiotics, I believe, is in providing keystone species, not just slapping together a random collection of species.
- The mucus production-stimulating effects of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, and other species to maintain the critical mucus lining, most severely damaged in the small intestine in many people.
- What about small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, or its cousin small intestinal fungal overgrowth, SIFO, that are now present at epidemic levels in the U.S.? No, a probiotic alone is rarely sufficient to reverse these conditions but, by dismissing the value of probiotics, LaPook and others make it seem that efforts to right a microbiome gone haywire in SIBO/SIFO is useless. This, of course, is farthest from the truth. Eradicating SIBO/SIFO and thereby the endotoxemia that accompanies these conditions is among the most important discoveries of the century that holds potential for gaining control, even reversing, conditions as disparate as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, restless leg syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.
- Restoring the B-vitamin producing capacity of the microbiome—Because B vitamins are produced by probiotic species, but not the Enterobacteriaceae of SIBO, increased homocysteine levels and low B vitamin levels (especially B6, B12, folate, and riboflavin) are virtually certain to be markers for SIBO.
- No mention is made about the unquestionable and considerable health benefits of prebiotic fibers that have been demonstrated to facilitate weight loss, help reverse insulin resistance, reduce visceral fat, reduce triglycerides, increase intestinal butyrate, and many other benefits.
Dr. Jeff Gordon was the best at conveying the enormous potential of investigations into the microbiome while recognizing the limitations of current knowledge.
Just look at what we are accomplishing with our L. reuteri yogurt: deeper sleep, restoration of youthful muscle and strength, preservation of bone density, appetite suppression, restoration of the social effects of oxytocin, perhaps even prevention of SIBO or prevention of recurrence after antibiotic eradication.
You would think that gastroenterologists like LaPook would be experts in the gut microbiome, but we all know that is farthest from the truth. We are indeed at the model-T stage in probiotic formulation. Rather than the attention-grabbing title “Do probiotics actually do anything?,” they would have done a greater public service by sticking to a broader and more accurate discussion titled “The emerging and powerful world of the microbiome.” The limited views of productions like this remind me of experiences we’ve had over the years commenting on the Wheat Belly lifestyle: “Is there any benefit to going gluten-free if you don’t have celiac?” “Isn’t Wheat Belly just low-carb?” Those of you following these Wheat Belly and Undoctored conversations understand how misleading those questions can be, while an understanding of the real answers is hugely liberating and empowering.