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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!

The Myth of GERD: It’s Not the Acid, Stupid!

The Myth of GERD: It’s Not the Acid, Stupid!

There is a myth that GERD, popularly known as heartburn, is due to having too much stomach acid, a condition known as hyperchlorhydria. But there is ample research (1,2,3,4) demonstrating the opposite is true, that is, that GERD is most likely due to not having enough stomach acid.

How It Works

Lower esophageal sphincter (LES) tone is reduced and so the LES relaxes when there is not enough acid in the stomach, a condition known as hypochlorhydria. Hence, the sphincter does not close properly and acidic contents are much more likely to reflux upward from the upper GI into the esophagus. Interestingly, the hypochlorhydria theory of GERD, proponents of which include Jonathan Wright, M.D., author of Why Stomach Acid is Good for You (2001), has been called an alternative medicine theory, when it’s actually grounded in basic med school physiology.

Turn Off the Symptom Rather than Treat the Cause

To treat GERD, modern medicine prescribes drugs first-line in the on-average 7-minute visit: antacids like Tums which neutralize stomach acid; and H2 blockers like Tagamet and proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) like Prilosec, that temporarily turn off our stomach’s ability to produce stomach acid. But turning off stomach acid in response to gastric reflux is the equivalent of an auto mechanic pulling the automotive fuse for your sudden dashboard engine warning light, or worse yet, simply cutting the wiring which carries the signal, because it is bothersome and annoying, rather than troubleshooting to find the underlying cause.

Common sense tells us there will be downstream consequences for the life of any car (in medicine, these are known as sequelae) if any engine light warning goes unheeded for long enough. Stomach pH varies from roughly 1.5 (more acidic: normal fasting) to 3.5 (less acidic: with food), and proper pH is essential to breaking down proteins as well as a healthy microbiome (5).

Our Addiction to GERD Drugs Causing More Chronic Disease

Our use of drugs to treat GERD is supposed to be short-lived (for example, an initial course of PPI’s is supposed to last no more than 8 weeks), but millions of people end up dependent on these drugs for years, and even decades. And weaning off these drugs, particularly PPI’s, can be challenging. There is an ample body of research now linking chronic PPI use to osteoporosis, increased infection risk, magnesium deficiency, and depression and dementia. But PPI’s are blockbuster drugs, as the market is projected to generate $4.34 billion by 2025.

On a yearly basis:

  • More than 80 million experience GERD symptoms in the U.S. alone.
  • 25 million suffer from heartburn daily in the U.S. alone.
  • 60 million suffer from heartburn monthly in the U.S. alone.

Also, there is evidence that the body upregulates stomach acid production when it is blocked, because the body is smart enough to know that without proper stomach acid it will essentially starve.

Too Much Stomach Acid Actually A Rare Condition

Having too much stomach acid, a condition known as hyperchlorhydria, is actually rare, seen in cases such as Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome (ZES), where tumors in your pancreas produce excessive amounts of gastrin, which leads to excessive stomach acid and thereby causes stomach ulcers. HCl production declines significantly with age, and GERD onset presents on average at age 50, another fact suggesting that GERD is due to hypochlohydria. Though GERD can be due to a number of causes, such as stress, hiatal hernia, or ZES, it is most likely that it is due to not having enough stomach acid.

Treat the Whole Person, Treat the Underlying Cause, and Stimulate the Vital Force, to Help Improve GERD

In naturopathic medicine, we treat the whole person and usually that begins with diet and lifestyle, but people need to be met where they are at. The innate healing mechanism of the body needs to be stimulated and obstacles to cure need to be eliminated for symptoms to improve.

For people who have symptoms of GERD, it is important to determine if they are hypochlorhydric and if so, then to stimulate the production of stomach acid, so that not only can the lower esophageal sphincter maintain proper tone so that it remains closed when it’s supposed to, but so that healthy flora are maintained in the gut and digestion and absorption is optimized. Of course  a person must consult their doctor before engaging in any medical treatment.

Four natural ways to stimulate the production of stomach acid include:

  • Apple cider vinegar (ACV)
  • Digestive bitters
  • Betaine HCl
  • Deglycerrhizinated licorice (DGL).

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

Also, here are three excellent articles I greatly appreciated on GERD and hypochlorhydria:

Sources:

  1. Ayazi S, Leers, JM, Oezcelik A, Abate E, et al. Measurement of gastric pH in ambulatory esophageal pH monitoring. Surg Endosc. 2009 Sep;23(9):1968-73.
  2. Giles GR, Humphries C, Mason C, Clark G, et al. Effect of pH changes on the cardiac sphincter. Gut 1969;10:852-856.
  3. Kaye MD. On the relationship between gastric pH and pressure in the normal human lower oesophageal sphincter. Gut 1979;20:59-63.
  4. Giles GR, Mason MC, Humphries C, and Clark CG. Action of gastrin on the lower oesophageal sphincter in man. Gut 1969;10:730-734.
  5.     Shreiner AB, Kao JY, and Young BV. The gut microbiome in health and disease. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2015 Jan;31(1):69-75.