Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Your Gut Feelings

How do you feel right now? Chances are, the way you feel right now is directly related to how your guts feel...literally.

The ancient Hawaiians believed that the guts were the seat of mankind's thoughts and feelings. The word for it was na'au (nah-ow). Here's the definition from the Hawaiian Dictionary:

NA-AU, s. The small intestines of men or animals, which the Hawaiians suppose to be the seat of thought, of intellect and the affections.
2. The internal parts, i. e., the inwards of animals. The bowels.
3. The affections; the mind; the moral nature; the heart; the seat of the moral powers.

Perhaps this came from their recognition that we humans often experience sensations in our gut when we go through extreme emotional fluctuations. From the giddy butterflies of ecstasy to the gnawing pain and ache of dread, we often don't really think too much about how our guts impact our overall health and well being.

But certain scientists have been researching the precise physiological role that the na'au plays in human health and the results of such research confirms that the Hawaiians were more more correct in their intuitive beliefs than they knew...

Dr. Art Ayers has a blog he only occasionally posts at...he's obviously a busy guy. But when he does post, it's well worth the wait. His latest deals with Gut flora - or bacteria.

Thanks to the modern day marketing messages and health scares associated with flu season, we now live in a germophobic society. We now have anti-bacterial soaps and hand cleaners all over the place. I see hand-cleaner dispensers at the entrances to buildings and grocery stores all over the place here in Hawaii. Art's post, Contagious Health, makes the case that this may actually do more harm than good:

Every time we speak, we release a mist of bacteria from our lungs, mouth and GI tract. These bacteria are on our skin, clothes and personal items, and provide a source of the bacteria that make us healthy. Parents and older siblings pass these bacteria on to younger children. These donated bacteria are essential for the development of a healthy immune system and children growing up with healthy relatives and exposed to soil bacteria via pets, farm animals, etc. are healthier than children who are more isolated.

In this sense, hygiene is unhealthy, because an individual is isolated from new sources of bacteria that could replace those lost by limited diets, antibiotics, etc. Otherwise, health is contagious, since gut bacteria from healthy individuals can spread among the population. Washing hands and food is unnatural and unhealthy.

Think of it this way - the vast majority of people you interact with at any given moment, are normally healthy and not suffering from some contagious disease...which means they most likely are exuding healthy bacteria in their exhalations. Fanatically washing your hands and wiping down all your surfaces after every interaction out of the misguided notion that you're keeping yourself healthy may actually harm you more than help.

As Art writes: "Few Bacteria Make You Sick, but Many Are Essential for Good Health".

Now granted, if you encounter someone who is obviously sick, some caution and avoiding exposure to their germs is certainly warranted.

But Dr. Ayers also offers a good piece of advice that is sort of buried in his post...for those who suffer from 'lactose intolerance' it has nothing to do with your "genes" -- many Asian folks mistakenly believe that Asian "genes" are the reason why they have trouble with dairy -- but the kind of bacteria that lives in your gut!

Food intolerance can result from “good” family hygiene, limited diets and exposure to antibiotics. A common intolerance results from the absence of bacteria that produce an enzyme to digest dairy lactose, i.e. lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance can be readily cured by eating a dairy product, such as yogurt, that contains both lactose and live bacteria (probiotics) that can digest the lactose. Simply eating moderate amounts of live yogurt daily for a couple of weeks resupplies the gut flora with bacteria that can digest lactose, and the intolerance is gone.

Nancy's Organic Whole Milk is my favorite yogurt. I've never had problems with lactose intolerance, but I found that since I began eating this stuff regularly, I have had zero digestive problems for quite some time now.

But it's not just issues with digesting dairy either.

Soluble Fibers Are Plant Polysaccharides that Are Digestible by Bacterial Enzymes
Humans only produce enzymes to digest one polysaccharide, starch. All of the other hundreds of polysaccharides present in plants are only digestible by bacterial (and fungal) enzymes of the gut flora. If the bacteria and enzymes needed to fully digest a particular food polysaccharide are absent, then digestive problems ensue and the polysaccharide can act as a laxative. Continual eating of the problem food with a new source of diverse bacteria, e.g. lightly rinsed vegetables right from the garden, then the gut flora will incorporate new bacteria that can digest the problem polysaccharide and the gut is happy.

Soluble fiber feeds the gut bacteria that convert it into short chain fatty acids that nourish the colon. Constipation results from the absence of the bacteria needed to digest dietary fiber and to produce the large volume of bacteria that make up well hydrated stools.

This MAY be the root cause of any so-called food allergies you may's not that your allergic to the food itself, per say, you just don't have the right gut bacteria to digest it.

Another issue may be a recent use of antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. You may find after having gone through a course of treatments that you have problems digesting foods you never used to have problems with:

Antibiotics have dramatic and lasting impact on gut flora. Cattle treated with antibiotics and a high carbohydrate diet have an altered metabolism (obesity) that leads to rapid fat accumulation in their tissues. This is good for making tasty beef, but the same approach in people produces the suite of diseases in affluent societies.

Children treated with an antibiotic for a simple ear infection, are much more likely to return to pediatricians for treatments of subsequent obesity, infections and diseases. Compromised gut flora can take years to return to normal function after antibiotic treatment. Loss of the appendix, which is the normal source of bacteria to replenish gut flora after diarrhea, results in an increased risk of abnormal gut flora and numerous autoimmune diseases. It is likely that most autoimmune diseases are preceded by prior treatment with antibiotics that disrupted normal gut flora and permanently altered the immune system.

I first really noticed this with my hunting dogs. Occasionally a wild boar can injure or kill a hunting hound with it's sharp, ivory tusks. I've had several dogs killed...and most eventually get injured and cut up pretty good. In some cases, I've had to sew up my own dogs wounds and administer antibiotics for days to prevent the wounds from getting infected. After a course of antibiotics, the dog would usually have bad diarrhea. My veterinarian recommended I feed the dog whole milk yogurt for a week after the antibiotic treatment was done, and sure enough, it worked like a charm.

So the last time I had to take antibiotics for a bad chest infection I had, I began eating the whole milk yogurt as well. Since that time, I've made it a regular part of my diet...along with other probiotic rich foods like sauerkraut, kim chee, cultured cheeses and poi. Perhaps it's mere coincidence...but since than, I've yet to get sick enough to require a Doctor visit and another prescription of antibiotics.


MWM said...

Yep, in India's ayurvedic health system the gut is considered the second brain as well.

Ryan said...

Ryan again said...


i said...

In case you still want to avoid dairy, water kefir works as well.

The bacteria is similar to the stuff in yogurt but feeds off sugar instead of lactose.

And tasty too..

amb said...

Great site, thanks for all the good info.
Have you tried Kombucha tea? It is good tasting and packed with healthy bacteria. You can make your own or buy a bottled brand.

WP said...

Any references/explanation to how poi is considered pro-biotic?

I thought it was just mashed taro+water. Didn't think fermentation or anything close to it took place.

Keoni Galt said...

Poi is definitely fermented. The moment it is mashed and mixed, it begins fermenting. Most poi served at restaurants and luaus are fresh, so it doesn't taste fermented, but that's only because it was poi made within 24 hours before serving.

Many of us Hawaiians will buy poi and deliberately let it ferment for a few days before eating it.

Sour poi goes really well with raw fish. It has an alcoholic bite to it.

AllanF said...

"feeds off sugar instead of lactose"

Um, lactose (hence the OSE suffix) is a sugar. Perhaps you mean sucrose, which is one glucose and one fructose combined? (Again, note the OSE suffixes).

Also, there is an enzyme that allows mammals to digest lactose. It's name is -- wait for it... :-) lactase. (Note the ASE suffix, it is used to identify enzymes.) Historically the gene for lactase production would naturally turn-off in humans as they became toddlers. Not coincidentally this is also the time humans left to their own devices typically self-wean. A relatively modern genetic mutation allows most caucasians and a some east african herding tribes to produce lactase through adulthood.

Now, if one does not have said genetic mutation, a proper gut flora can assist one in digesting lactose, however, it's not the same as having the ability of denovo lactase genesis. Too much lactose can overwhelm the gut flora, and the flora has to be maintained, so to speak. If one goes of milk for an extended period the lactose bacilli will die off.

Oh, and one other thing about yogurt and other fermented dairy. By definition it far less lactose to upset one's stomach -- most of it has already been digested by the fermenting process.

Thus concludes our bio-chem lesson for the day. :-) Seriously, HTH. I've always appreciated the blog here. Just trying to be helpful.