Causes of obesity…the Microbe Wars, take 2


That wonderful moment when you wake in the middle of the night and realize that your last blog post was rubbish. Not wrong just I didn’t really explain why the insight about Microbes is so brilliant. SO here’s another take on why the Jaminet’s think microbes are a leading cause of obesity and for help, I turn to another insightful book : Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS), by Natasha Campbell-McBride (lets shorten that to McBride).

McBride’s brilliant insight is why your gut health and microbiome are unexpectedly so important. So go with me here on this imaginary exercise. Your skin is a defensive barrier between “you” and the big scary world of “not you”. Imagine you (sorry to put you through this) cut your finger potentially letting in all sorts of deadly bugs. The body responds with clotting the bleeding, closing the breach and sending emergency phase 1 immune response; tagging stuff around the breach as an invader “not you”. It tends (for survival reasons) to be overly enthusiastic (better safe than sorry). Even if tagged bugs escape the site of the injury, the tags mean the invader gets hit with all the full force of your immune response (an inflammatory reaction).

Then, and this is an important plot twist, in a quieter moment of reflection, the phase 2 immune response comes around and thoughtfully reconsiders its tagging spree. It goes around saying “oops, sorry, didn’t recognize you, all is forgiven” and calms down the immune response back from the brink of Defcon 1. Skin kept your ancestors alive after being scratched by a saber-tooth.

Now bear with me. Topologically you are actually a tube, with (you cannot unthink this) a hole at the top and bottom of your digestive system. Inside, you have a barrier all the way down…your guts. Now think, how much area of skin do you have compared to guts? Skin 2m2 (20ft2); digestive system 40m2 (450ft2). The gut is the 200kg gorilla compared to the bantam weight skin. And the guts have a harder job, because they have to let food in, like soldiers at the border checking passports. So the immune response in the gut is huge deal. The gut also does quite unexpected stuff; it makes neurotransmitters like the brain. So keeping your gut happy is a really big deal.

Probiotics, our symbiotic microbial friends, help in lots of ways but in this story, there are two relevant to the plot. Purely in the interests of self-protection, they work to make the environment to suit themselves and to kill their competitors. This benefits us, because if you have bad bugs you don’t want them either. And again to protect themselves) they don’t want to be tagged by your immune system), they stimulate your phase 2, anti-inflammatory, immune response. So your guts calm down. Google inflammation and heart disease, cancer or Alzheimer’s and this anti-inflammatory effect is another really big deal.

Another insight from GAPS is how ‘leaky gut’ works. You might have heard that your digestive system is all convoluted with lots of wavy fronds called villi, like little boneless fingers waggling around. This increases the area that food can be assimilated through. I didn’t know that the new cells covering the villi, the defensive barrier, grow from the valleys between the little finger-fronds, and as they grow they move towards the fingertips. Like hair growing I suppose. Anyway, if you’re say celiac eating wheat, the wheat kind of ‘burns’ these cells and they die off before they reach the end of the fingertips, leaving bare bits. Instead of being like long healthy flowing hair, celiacs’ villi are kind of like little nubs where fingers used to be, all damaged and burnt.

So when the gut is damaged, it’s border security breaks down. The immune system is sent into hyperactive ADHD overdrive, with lots of activity around the gut wall, but also throughout the body. The body is under threat, and cascades of systems are affected.

People have heard about bits of food going through holus bolus (see what I did there?) and the immune system tagging these proteins as ‘invaders’ and so attacking bits of our own body that have protein patters like these bits of food (autoimmune diseases suspects include Hashimoto’s thyroid, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes). This is bad enough, but McBride makes the quite startling point that its not only food that is the problem. The microbiome produces waste products; some bacteria produce extremely toxic wastes (think tetanus and botulism, potent neurotoxins causing paralysis and death). Most of us have tiny numbers in our gut and our intact gut barrier prevents these from causing harm in normal life. (Philosophical question: are any of us really truly normal?).

McBride asserts that inflammatory responses, food particles and bacterial toxins flooding our system can be an unsuspected cause of severe mental issues for some people. And this includes substances (beta-casomorphin from A1 milk, gluteomorphins in wheat) that trigger the addictive opioid receptors in the brain (and thereby lies another obesity clue). McBride implicates schizophrenia, depression and ADHD. The deadliest mental illness, eating disorder anorexia nervosa, was recently linked to gut infections and irritable bowel syndrome (New Zealand, world capital of IBS); it’s distorted body image parallel the altered reality of schizophrenia. Is there a microbiome angle?

So in addition to good bugs, McBride highlights healing the gut; a process of removing things that annoy your gut (there is a GAPS diet; no surprise wheat is a smoking gun, but other grains are also suspect) and adding things that improve the gut, like gelatins, bone broth, root vegetables and fermented vegetables.  An intact gut lining turns off the body’s alarm klaxon ( conserving your immune response for real emergencies); and stops bacterial toxins poisoning your brain. Good bacteria signal the immune system to ‘calm the farm’ and a calmer body has less stress hormones; lowering insulin and better targeting inflammation.

McBride’s conclusions throw accelerant on reasons to eat ‘nose to tail’; and have a lot in common with Western Price (WAPF), Paleo-land ancestral eating, Wheat Belly and the Jaminets’ Perfect Health Diet, particularly their emphasis on those ‘healthy whole grains’.

So after that digression, I promise I will go back to the main story: circadian rhythm, microbes and micronutrients…but now you’ll have a better understanding of the importance of the Microbe Wars.


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