We have all been exposed to numerous factors that disrupt bowel flora composition:
- Stomach acid-blocking drugs like Prilosec, Aciphex, and Protonix
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac
- Statin drugs like atorvastatin and simvastatin
- Wheat and grains–via a variety of mechanisms that include intestinal inflammation from gliadin and wheat germ agglutinin, activation of autoimmune gastritis and loss of stomach acid
- Glyphosate–present in virtually all corn and soy products. Glyphosate is an herbicide, but it is also an antibiotic. (Monsanto filed patents for glyphosate as an antibiotic.)
- Chlorinated drinking water
- Emulsifying agents such as polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose in ice cream, salad dressings and other foods
- Herbicides and pesticides in food
There’s more, but you get the idea: We swim in a sea of factors that disrupt the composition of microbes residing in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Many shifts in microbial composition have occurred, such as increased Enterobacteriaceae species such as Salmonella and Klebsiella, as well as a change in gastrointestinal location of microbes that have now ascended up the 24-feet of ileum, jejunum, duodenum, and stomach in many people, i.e., small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, and send their breakdown products into the bloodstream, a process called “endotoxemia.” Just as humans have introduced cataclysmic changes into the environment such as dropping ocean pH, shrinking coral reefs, and receding polar ice caps, so we have also introduced dramatic changes in our internal microbial environment. There are no forest fires or hurricanes in our guts, of course, but there is a wide range of health consequences for us from these shifts in microbial composition.
Among the changes are a loss of various bacterial species, microbes lost from the microbiome of most people. This is vividly illustrated when we compare the modern human microbiome to that of hunter-gatherers such as Tanzanian Hadza or the Yanomami of the Brazilian rainforest, populations untainted by antibiotics, glyphosate, or emulsifying agents. They have numerous species that we lack entirely and, despite being on two different continents–Africa and South America–their microbiomes are oddly similar, thus leading to speculation that these populations harbor something close to Stone Age microbiomes, i.e., the microbiota of our ancestors.
Can restoration of some of these lost species provide health benefits to those of us living in the 21st century buying vegetables from a produce department, eating pre-killed meats, drinking water from a faucet? I believe they can. In fact, some of the benefits we obtain by restoring lost species can be significant.
Among the microbes that we have lost that, when restored, yield substantial health benefits are:
- Lactobacillus reuteri—96% of us have lost this species. If you’ve been following my discussions, you already know that restoration of L. reuteri is associated with smoother skin with reduced wrinkles, deeper sleep, appetite suppression, restoration of youthful muscle and strength, increased libido, and increased empathy. Because L. reuteri also colonizes the upper GI tract where it takes up residence and produces anti-bacterial bacteriocins effective agains the Enterobacteriaceae, restoring this species may also provide protection against SIBO.
- Bifidobacteria infantis—B. infantis is a keystone species that 90% of modern newborns lack due to failure of their mothers to pass it onto them at birth or with breastfeeding. B. infantis possesses unique enzymes that allow it to digest milk oligosaccharides in breastmilk. Without this species, digestion of breast milk is impaired. Restore this species and wonderful things happen: fewer bowel movements (fewer diaper changes), less colic, less diaper rash, less eczema, longer sleep time, longer naps, and less asthma, type 1 diabetes, and autoimmune diseases later in childhood. The well-documented Evivo product provides the EVC001 strain of B. infantis that can be administered to babies, but I would go one better: Get the bacteria and ferment as yogurt, then consume it as a pregnant mother before giving birth. (I have a batch of B. infantis yogurt brewing in my kitchen right now.) This way, you are able to pass on this microbe onto the baby the way it is supposed to be passed on via passage through the birth canal and/or breastfeeding. Passing on a microbe in the context of other microbes makes it more likely that it takes up long-term residence, rather than taken as a probiotic in isolation.
- Oxalobacter formigenes—Hunter-gatherers have plenty of Oxalobacter, but most of us have lost this microbe. This microbial shift is believed to be at least part of the reason why calcium oxalate kidney stones have increased 400% in incidence since 1970 and why kidney stones are common following a course of antibiotics. Restoring Oxalobacter alone, however, may be insufficient to reduce blood and urinary levels of oxalate; it may require a consortium of Oxalobacter and other (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria) species that “collaborate” in reducing oxalate levels and thereby kidney stones.
This is a conversation that is just getting underway with many new lessons to learn. An experimental model of autistic spectrum disorder, for instance, suggests that restoration of three lost species of Clostridia reverses many of the characteristic features of the condition. Wow.