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8 Secrets to Biohacking Your Gut

8 Secrets to Biohacking Your Gut

There’s an old adage that while chiropractic doctors specialize in the spine, naturopathic doctors specialize in the gut. Working with what Dr. Henri Lindlahr, M.D., calls “nature’s laws” and grounded in the natural sciences, here are what I call 8 Secrets to Biohacking Your Gut, and they all involve the letter ‘P.’

1. Purification. Another name for purification is detoxification. There’s an old word for toxicity in the blood, toxemia, which according to Henri Lindlahr, M.D., one of the founders of naturopathic medicine, is caused by the violations of nature’s laws, and is equivalent with disease. (1) In this article, we may gloss over some of these laws, but if you want to learn more about them, check out The Naturopathic Medicine Institute.

Toxemia, aka accumulated “waste matter, morbid materials, and poisons,” must be removed by the organs of elimination, known as emunctories, lest their unchecked accumulation of toxicity lead to various manifestations of chronic disease. According to traditional naturopathic medicine, the five main emunctories are:

  • Liver
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Genitourinary tract
  • Lungs
  • Skin

According to traditional naturopathy, toxemia can be primarily reduced via sweat (skin), solid waste (intestines), liquid waste (kidney and urinary bladder), and gaseous waste (lungs). Interestingly, one feature these five emunctories share in common is ample epithelial tissue, which in part serves a defense function immunologically. (2) In the skin, epithelium connects via ducts to sweat glands, a type of exocrine gland which can remove pthalates, BPA, and even toxic metals from the body.

Biohack 1: Take a 40 minute infrared sauna, followed by a cold shower, at least once a week. An interesting aside: Did you know there’s a longitudinal study showing that there’s a significant association between sauna bathing and the reduction of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. (3)

2. Pura Vida. This is the opposite of la vida loca, which induces stressWe know the expression of pura vida as the law of the land in Costa Rica, but at it’s core it really means living a pure life by reducing one’s exposure, as much as possible, to toxic substances, environments, and even thoughts. And yes, this means getting rid of processed sugar and industrial vegetable oils, because of the inflammatory byproducts they produce in our bodies. Because of epigenetics, as expounded upon by the likes of molecular biologist Bruce Lipton, we now know that we literally are what we eat, breathe, and think, and of course, as we follow food chains, we are what we eat ate, too.

Pura vida speaks for itself, but for illustrative purposes I’d like to briefly talk about the effects of stress on the gut. We have microvilli which comprise the brush border and extend into the lumen of our small intestine, responsible for nutrient absorption from our food breakdown. (4) Sloughed every seven days, these microvilli contain arteriovenous (AV) connections which provide necessary blood supply when closed, but in times of stress, the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine open the AV connections and the microvilli lose their blood supply as blood is shunted away from the gut (think fight or flight). As a result, the microvilli cannot survive and lose their absorptive surface, temporarily inducing malabsorption. This is particularly pronounced after, for example, a severe stress-inducing trauma, such as a car accident, as it may take two or three days for the dead microvilli to slough and fully regenerate. It can be said then that chronic stress will induce chronic malabsorption and/or malnutrition.

We all know about “rest and digest,” which occurs when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated and we are not pumping out cortisol and adrenaline into our bloodstreams. It is just this relaxing state that we need to cultivate in order for pura vida to truly take hold in our lives, so that our digestion and nutrient absorption is optimized.

Biohack 2: When you’re feeling particularly toxic or maybe you’ve binged on that pizza and beer that you’d been craving, or maybe you’re traveling for business and can’t help but eat less nutrient-dense food along the way, keep some activated charcoal or digestive enzymes on hand.

3. Probiotics. 70% of our immune cells reside in the gut (5), and the highest density all-natural, bacterial ecosystem in the world is inhabited by our 100-trilliion celled gut microbiome. Our gut bacteria ferment fiber or collagen protein in the colon, producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are the main source of energy for superficial colonic cells. The most common (and famous) SCFA is butryic acid, which densely resides in grass-fed butter, such as Kerrygold.

Studies have shown that glucose tolerance is affected by our gut bacteria independent of weight. (6,7) And unhealthy bacteria can cause leaky gut, which has been linked to type 1 DM, IBD, celiac disease, MS, and even asthma; more common conditions linked to an unhealthy microbiome include acne, rosacea, stomachaches, headaches, and fatigue. (8,9,10)

It’s well established that allergies and asthma are illnesses most likely caused by diminished gut function and a compromised microbiome. (11) Oh, and your gut microbiota make vitamin B12 (12), an essential nutrient for making red blood cells, proper neurological function, and DNA synthesis. And 75% of your vitamin K is produced in the microbiome, which helps our blood clot and can keep us from bleeding excessively.

When talking dosage of commercial probiotics, the number of live organisms are known as “colony forming units,” or CFU’s. In most people, 5 to 10 billion viable CFU’s of L. acidophilus or B. bifidum cells daily will suffice. (Pizzorno, Textbook of Natural Medicine – 13)

Biohack 3: Take a probiotic daily, and eat fermented, probiotic-rich foods.

4. Prebiotics. Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that help promote beneficial intestinal microbiomic growth, in particular fiber compounds. Like other high-fiber foods, prebiotic substances pass through the upper GI, remaining undigested until they arrive in the colon. Prebiotics are rich in foods such as garlic and onions, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, chicory root, and even dandelion greens. In the colon, prebiotic compounds are fermented microbiomically.

The most famous type of fiber prebiotic are oligosaccharides, but when researchers refer to fiber, they also mean fructo-oligosaccharides, polysaccharides, and even inulin. Some carbs rich in prebiotics include sweet potatoes, carrots (I prefer the non-orange ones, which have a lower glycemic load, such as polyphenol purple! We’ll talk more about the power of purple soon!), squash, and asparagus. Then, there are also the resistant starches, so named because they are resistant to digestion, which further promote fermentation and help produce SCFAs like butyrate. Some resistant starches include banana flour, plaintain flour, and raw potato starch.

Biohack 4: Eat prebiotic-rich foods, such as those listed above.

5. Purple Polyphenols. Many plants contain naturally-occurring polyphenolic compounds: fruits, veggies, coffee, tea, and even

wine. But only about 10% of polyphenols are absorbed in the small intestine, while the rest end up in the colon to be degraded to metabolic byproducts by our gut bacteria (14). Research shows a symbiotic relationship between polyphenols and our gut microbiome, making a plant-rich diet even more important. (15) Polyphenols can even act prebiotically, to increase
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. While dark leafy greens are perhaps the most polyphenolic, other polyphenol-rich foods include purple foods such as Concord grapes, black mission figs, prunes, plums, blueberries, and blackberries, as well as coffee and chocolate, and some spices. Oh, and polyphenols increase the presence of good bacteria such as Bacteroidetes, as opposed to the more so-called “bad” bacteria, such as Firmicutes. (16)

Biohack 5: Eat purple polyphenols, such as those listed above!

6. Proline and lysine. Did you know that in the lumen (inner part or tube) of your gut, the amino acids proline and lysine are hydroxylated (a fancy chemical word for the addition of an -OH group to a molecule), with the help of the cofactor Vitamin C, to make collagen?! (17) Pretty amazing, right? It means these nutrients are essential for gut tissue regeneration, which is occurring 24/7. Other nutrients required include L-glutamine and butyric acid.

Oh, and a couple of excellent demulcent herbs that aid in gut healing are slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), deglycyrrhizinated licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra or DGL), and marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis). 

Another interesting tidbit: Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant, particularly in lowering antioxidant stress in the gut. (18) Apparently Eskimos got plenty of proline and lysine, as seal and whale contain high amounts, but we should probably hold off on eating them.

Biohack 6: Eat plenty of seaweed (an incredibly rich source of proline and lysine).

7. pH (or Proper Stomach Acid). It is essential that our gut is maintained within a highly acidic, proper pH range of 1.5 (fasting) to 3.5 (full stomach of food). Did you know that over 90% of our endogenous serotonin is made in our gut, indicating that “gut feelings” are no joke. (19) Actually, the serotonin made in the brain is a slightly different isomer than the serotonin made in the enteric nervous system, though serotonin influencing drugs, such as SSRI’s, can impact gut function as well. The gut-brain axis oversees everything from satiety, food intake, and glucose regulation, to insulin secretion and sensitivity, and bone metabolism. (20)

Biohack 7: Because studies have shown that stomach acid decreases with age, some natural means to stimulate the production of stomach acid, thereby improving fat breakdown and protein digestion, include betaine HCl and digestive bitters.

8. Purpose and the Solar Plexus. Okay, so here’s the woo-woo biohack. Did you know that according to the Tibetans, the solar

plexus chakra is where fire of the will in the individual is said to be localized? Interestingly, this is also where the fires of digestion roar. So, it can be said that being aligned with our life purpose will also optimize our gastrointestinal gusto. I know it’s kind of a stretch, for which there is no randomized controlled trial, but your gut’s stretch receptors will thank you. 🙂

Biohack 8: Deep belly breathing, regularly, on 4 to 8 counts at a time, can not only stimulate the will to action, but the fires of digestion.

Recapping 8 Gut Biohacks

So, to recount the 8 P’s for biohacking the gut: Purify, live Pura Vida, eat a probiotic-, prebiotic-, polyphenol-, and proline- and lysine-rich diet, maintain proper pH or stomach acid, and find and live your life purpose, thereby firing your solar plexus on all cylinders. And make it #naturopathic.

By the way, consult your doctor first if you are considering trying any of these therapies. In no way does this blog consist of medical advice.

Resources:
1. Lindlahr, Henry 1862-1924., “Nature cure: philosophy and practice based on the unity of disease and cure” (1922). Naturopathic Medicine Historical Collection.
2. Janeway C. Immunobiology: the immune system in health and disease. London: Harcourt Brace & Company; 1999.
3. Laukkanen T, Khan H, Zaccardi F, Laukkanen JA. Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality EventsJAMA Internal Medicine. 2015;175(4):542.
4. Tortora GJ, Derrickson B. Principles of anatomy and physiology. New York: Wiley; 2006.
5. Vighi, G., Marcucci, F., Sensi, L., Di Cara, G. and Frati, F. (2008), Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clinical & Experimental Immunology, 153: 3–6.
6. Musso G, Gambino R, Cassader M. Obesity, Diabetes, and Gut Microbiota: The hygiene hypothesis expanded? Diabetes Care. 2010;33(10):2277-2284.
7. gshatyan L, Kashtanova D, Popenko A, et al. Gut microbiota and diet in patients with various glucose toleranceEndocrine Abstracts. 2016.
8. Campbell AW. Autoimmunity and the GutAutoimmune Diseases. 2014;2014:152428.
9. Gonzalez A, Hyde E, Sangwan N, Gilbert JA, Viirre E, Knight R. 2016. Migraines are correlated with higher levels of nitrate-, nitrite-, and nitric oxide-reducing oral microbes in the American Gut Project Cohort. mSystems 1(5):e00105-16.
10. Mosca A, Leclerc M and Hugot JP (2016) Gut Microbiota Diversity and Human Diseases: Should We Reintroduce Key Predators in Our Ecosystem? Front. Microbiol. 7:455.
11. Riiser A. The human microbiome, asthma, and allergyAllergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology : Official Journal of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2015;11:35.
12. Degnan PH, Taga ME, Goodman AL. Vitamin B12 as a modulator of gut microbial ecologyCell metabolism. 2014;20(5):769-778.
13. Pizzorno JE, Murray MT. Textbook of natural medicine. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone; 2013.
14. Tomás-Barberán F. Interaction of polyphenols with gut microbiota: Role in human healthPlanta Medica. 2014;80(16).
15. Duda-Chodak A, Tarko T, Satora P, Sroka P. Interaction of dietary compounds, especially polyphenols, with the intestinal microbiota: a reviewEuropean Journal of Nutrition. 2015;54(3):325-341.
16. Rastmanesh R. High polyphenol, low probiotic diet for weight loss because of intestinal microbiota interactionChemico-Biological Interactions. 2011;189(1-2):1-8.
17. Murad S, Grove D, Lindberg KA, Reynolds G, Sivarajah A, Pinnell SR. Regulation of collagen synthesis by ascorbic acidProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 1981;78(5):2879-2882.
18. Alzoghaibi MA. Concepts of oxidative stress and antioxidant defense in Crohn’s diseaseWorld Journal of Gastroenterology : WJG. 2013;19(39):6540-6547.
19. Yano JM, Yu K, Donaldson GP, et al. Indigenous bacteria from the gut microbiota regulate host serotonin biosynthesisCell. 2015;161(2):264-276.
20. Heijboer, A. C., Pijl, H., Van den Hoek, A. M., Havekes, L. M., Romijn, J. A. and Corssmit, E. P. M. (2006), Gut–Brain Axis: Regulation of Glucose Metabolism. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 18: 883–894.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Is Food Allergy Testing Really the Answer?

Is Food Allergy Testing Really the Answer?

In alternative healthcare, food allergy panels are routinely ordered. An estimated 20% of the world believes it reacts adversely to specific foods (1), while as many as 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies (2).

Food reaction can be non-immune mediated, as in food intolerance or sensitivity, or immune mediated, as in food allergy, but there is confusion even among the medical establishment. Alternative food allergy tests usually measure serum IgG antibodies, while conventional allergy tests measure serum IgE antibodies.

Do IgG Antibodies Really Identify Food Intolerance or Sensitivity?

IgG antibodies represent a delayed as opposed to an immediate, immune-mediated food reaction (IgE), and are purported by some, though scientific evidence is scant (3), to identify food intolerance or sensitivity.

How can an immune-mediated food allergy test measure something that is non-immune mediated, such as an enzyme deficiency? And is the $300 to $700 of an IgG food intolerance panel worth the cost?

While Cyrex is the most well-known food allergy lab, Great Plains Laboratory and US Biotek are also reputable. While many alternative practitioners pay lip service to root-cause medicine, food allergy panels may reveal food reactivities which are more symptom than etiology.

Are Dietary Restrictions Revealed by Food Intolerance Testing Possible to Follow?

Routinely revealing long lists of common foods to which a person is producing high serum antibody loads (titers), patients are often placed on ultra-restrictive diets, such as low-FODMAPS (4), which can be difficult to follow, induce stress, and produce low compliance.

The question is: Why are IgG levels high for these specific foods? The answer seems to lie in increased intestinal permeability.

Increased Intestinal Permeability

The immune system, merely doing its job, generates antibody labels to all foods consumed, and because these now-offending foods are crossing the gut barrier into the bloodstream, it’s working overtime. Trained to attack any invader, the immune system begins to recognize the offending foods as antigens. Later on, overwhelmed by constant vigilance and hyperactivity, the body is triggered to begin attacking its own tissues (autoimmunity), as seen in Celiac disease where gliadin antibodies attack the intestinal lining. (5)

Antibody titers will be highest, naturally, to foods consumed most often and in the greatest quantities. When these foods are dietarily removed, antibody titers to said foods gradually lower and disappear. This is why testing for tissue transglutaminase auto-antibodies (tTG-IgA) in Celiac disease, e.g., must be done before going gluten-free. (6)

Leaky Gut, Gliadin Fractions in Gluten, and Zonulin

Increased intestinal permeability, aka leaky gut, will naturally increase food reactivity, and recent research indicates that gluten plays a key role. Gliadin fractions in gluten upregulate the protein zonulin which modulates gut mucosal barrier activity, thereby causing intercellular epithelial gap junctions to expand and produce leaky gut in the intestinal lining. (7) Bad gut bacteria or SIBO can also cause leaky gut, which can lead to metabolic endotoxemia. (8) Higher systemic inflammation results, measured by biomarkers, such as hs-CRP. (9)

The Physiology of the Intestinal Lining in the Small Intestine

The epithelial lining of the small intestine is like a cheesecloth one cell layer thick, just beneath which lies connective tissue called lamina propria. (10) When this cheesecloth stretches out, undigested food particles move from the lumen (tubular inside) of the small intestine into the bloodstream. (11)

When this cheesecloth tears, it takes 3 to 7 days for it to heal, during which many food stuffs supposed to be digesting end up permeating through the intestinal lining and ending up in the blood. (12) A slight degree of intestinal permeability is supposed to be happening, as this is the immune system’s way of sampling what is being eaten, to be on the lookout for infectious organisms. But when too much occurs, autoimmune disease can develop.

Attached to the GI tract’s epithelial cells are microvilli, finger-like projections that increase the surface area of the intestines and absorb vital nutrients, fatty acids, and glycerol from food. Interestingly, tiny arteries (arterioles) go to the top of each microvilli, and tiny veins (venules) go down. (An artery carries blood to something, whereas a vein carries blood away from something.) (13)

In the middle of these arterioles and venules are lymphatic capillaries (lacteals) which absorb dietary fats taken in through the microvilli. So, basically the microvilli and epithelial intestinal lining have a blood supply their own, which nourishes and regenerates them. These microvilli are also sloughed off every 7 days, but only pieces at a time. This is why a large portion of our fecal matter is made of dead skin-like tissue, such as sloughed microvilli. (14)

The Role of Stress in the Absorption of Nutrients in the Small Intestine

At the microvilli base is an A-V shunt or connection, that’s supposed to stay closed. But when it opens, blood naturally shunts across. If this is occurring, then the microvilli will not have the required blood supply and so they will be sloughed off, inducing temporary malabsorption syndrome. Without properly functioning microvilli, zero nutrient absorption will occur, and this can last up to a few days, or be chronic. (15)

Two hormones in particular will naturally open the A-V shunt. These are epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine, which are released during fight or flight. Chronic stress will cause the adrenal medullae to release these stress hormones into the blood, inducing malabsorption and causing energy levels to plummet. (16)

The Real Cause(s) of Food Intolerance/Sensitivity and Allergy

While following the restrictive recommendations gleaned from food allergy panels may lower or resolve some chronic symptoms initially or temporarily, the jury is still out as to whether they are financially feasible or lifestyle-amenable. There is growing evidence that increased intestinal permeability (17,18,19) and subsequent low-level, systemic inflammation, due to a compromised microbiome, the consumption of excess amounts of wheat, and chronic stress, needs to be addressed in order to resolve food allergies, particularly of the delayed IgG variety. Of course, ultimately it’s up to the patient and to their healthcare practitioner.

  1. Lomer, M. (2018). Review article: the aetiology, diagnosis, mechanisms and clinical evidence for food intolerance.
  2. “Facts and Statistics.” Food Allergy Research & Education, www.foodallergy.org/life-with-food-allergies/food-allergy-101/facts-and-statistics.
  3. Lavine, E. (2012). Blood testing for sensitivity, allergy or intolerance to foodCMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal184(6), 666–668. http://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.110026
  4. Magge, S., & Lembo, A. (2012). Low-FODMAP Diet for Treatment of Irritable Bowel SyndromeGastroenterology & Hepatology8(11), 739–745.
  5. Meresse, B., Malamut, G., & Cerf-Bensussan, N. (2012). Celiac Disease: An Immunological JigsawImmunity,36(6), 907-919. doi:10.1016/j.immuni.2012.06.006
  6. Screening. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://celiac.org/celiac-disease/understanding-celiac-disease-2/diagnosing-celiac-disease/screening/
  7. Fasano, A. (2012). Zonulin, regulation of tight junctions, and autoimmune diseasesAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences1258(1), 25–33. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06538.x
  8. Ferolla, S. M., Armiliato, G. N. A., Couto, C. A., & Ferrari, T. C. A. (2014). The Role of Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth in Obesity-Related Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver DiseaseNutrients6(12), 5583–5599. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu6125583
  9. Tetzlaff, W. F., Meroño, T., Menafra, M., Martin, M., Botta, E., Matoso, M. D., … Brites, F. (2017). Markers of inflammation and cardiovascular disease in recently diagnosed celiac disease patientsWorld Journal of Cardiology9(5), 448–456. http://doi.org/10.4330/wjc.v9.i5.448
  10. Sollid, L. M., & Jabri, B. (2013). Triggers and drivers of autoimmunity: lessons from coeliac diseaseNature Reviews. Immunology13(4), 10.1038/nri3407. http://doi.org/10.1038/nri3407
  11. Kumar, V., Abbas, A. K., & Aster, J. C. (2015). Robbins and Cotran pathologic basis of disease(Ninth edition.). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier/Saunders.
  12. O’Bryan, T. (2016). The Autoimmune Fix: How to Stop the Hidden Autoimmune Damage that Keeps you Sick, Fat, and Tired Before it Turns into Disease. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books.
  13. Sauvanet, C., Wayt, J., Pelaseyed, T., & Bretscher, A. (2015). Structure, Regulation, and Functional Diversity of Microvilli on the Apical Domain of Epithelial CellsAnnual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology, 31(1), 593-621. doi:10.1146/annurev-cellbio-100814-125234
  14. Anatomy Of The Small Intestine. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://jonbarron.org/article/anatomy-small-intestine
  15. Tritz, G. J., & KCOM. (n.d.). Gastrointestinal Manifestations of Disease. Retrieved from https://www.atsu.edu/faculty/chamberlain/website/tritzid/gastro.htm
  16. Hasibeder, W. (2010). Gastrointestinal microcirculation: Still a mystery? British Journal of Anaesthesia, 105(4), 393-396. doi:10.1093/bja/aeq236
  17. Perrier, C., & Corthésy, B. (2010). Gut permeability and food allergiesClinical & Experimental Allergy, 41(1), 20-28. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2222.2010.03639.x
  18. Järvinen, K. M., Konstantinou, G. N., Pilapil, M., Arrieta, M., Noone, S., Sampson, H. A., . . . Nowak-Węgrzyn, A. (2013). Intestinal permeability in children with food allergy on specific elimination dietsPediatric Allergy and Immunology, 24(6), 589-595. doi:10.1111/pai.12106
    De Punder, K., & Pruimboom, L. (2015). Stress Induces Endotoxemia and Low-Grade Inflammation by Increasing Barrier PermeabilityFrontiers in Immunology6, 223. http://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2015.00223