It might not contain acres of fields with crops waving in the breeze, nor cows or goats grazing on grass. There may be no barns or silos, nor heavy equipment to plow or harvest. And you certainly would not want to dig your hands into its “soil” or pick out weeds.
I’m talking about the farm you have housed below your diaphragm, behind your belly button, that gurgles and churns after a meal. I’m referring specifically to your gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome. Although it may not look like it, your GI microbiome is indeed a farm because you have a say in what grows there. It won’t, of course, be corn or squash, but you can choose to cultivate some nice Lactobacillus or Clostridia species that maintain the mucus barrier, keep bacterial breakdown products in the GI tract and not the bloodstream, and yield nutrients that nourish you. Or, by neglect, you might grow some nasty Klebsiella or Staphylococcus species that erode the mucus barrier, allow breakdown products to enter the bloodstream, and cause or worsen depression, joint inflammation, and cause weight gain. But you have some choices in what grows in your GI tract.
Given the current state of affairs, if our belly farms were real soil-based farms, we wouldn’t be growing healthy organic edible crops, but weeds and pest-infested rotten vegetables because we have really done a number in disrupting this ecosystem. As a species, in the external environment we have managed to acidify the oceans, accelerate shrinkage of the polar ice caps, caused the oceans to rise, and introduced extremes in hurricanes, tornadoes, rainfall, drought–is it a leap to believe that we have done something equally disruptive in the ecosystem of your intestinal microbiome? I don’t think it is. While there are no wildfires to run from or coral reefs that are dying, we have decimated the composition of our internal microbiomes.
The GI microbiome of the few remaining members of indigenous cultures, such as the Yanomami of the Brazilian rainforest or the Hadza of Tanzania, untainted by exposure to antibiotics, glyphosate, and other disruptive factors, represents adaptations to their unique environment and diet. They have, for example, species that better digest fibrous material, microbes such as spirochetes and Prevotella. As a result, these populations experience virtually no colon cancer, diverticular disease, constipation, hemorrhoids, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, as well as numerous other common chronic health conditions that are painfully familiar to modern populations.
Is it too late? Have we done too much damage? Are our modern microbiomes the intestinal equivalent of Paradise, California, a blackened and charred remnant of a previously vibrant community? Not yet.
But we are up against some staggering odds. Glyphosate is everywhere, including in all your body fluids, wiping out healthy species and cultivating pathogenic species. (Recall that when Monsanto filed its patents for glyphosate as an herbicide, they also filed patents for glyphosate as an antibiotic.) Doctors unknowingly dispense drugs that are massively disruptive to the microbiome, then dismiss your weight gain, depression, diverticulitis and other unintended effects as just another reason for more prescription pharmaceuticals. Many of us are exposed to repeated courses of antibiotics for reasons such as viral illnesses. Or you were falsely lulled by the upfront benefits of diets such as the ketogenic or low FODMAPs diet, unknowingly erasing healthy microbes from your GI tract that you may not be able to restore while also causing intestinal mucus-consuming species to proliferate out of control and cause intestinal inflammation and endotoxemia.
Stay tuned. I shall be discussing how to plant the “seeds” of various microbes back into your GI tract. Given current technology, we cannot reimplant all species, but we can at least identify some important species that we’ve lost and look for sources and methods to replace them. In future Wheat Belly Blog posts, in my new book called Super Gut (to be released February 2022), and elsewhere I will detail all these fermentation projects that can help achieve effects such as reduced joint pain, increased empathy, reduced anxiety in social situations, restoration of youthful skin, shrinking your waist and accelerating weight loss. You already know about the L. reuteri yogurt that really packs a wallop of health benefits—there’s more to come.