As you all know I’ve been traveling the world these past months for The Gut Movie and in those travels I’ve been exploring one huge question: does the optimal microbiome exist?
It’s been a fascinating journey and has involved all sorts of experiences I never thought I’d have, including hunting in the African veld with a native tribe, physically collecting samples of these tribesmen’s poop alongside my own then sending it all off for scientific analysis and being privileged enough to capture a full-blown Faecal Microbial Transplant (FMT) on film with one of the procedure’s first ever advocates.
In my movie, I was lucky enough to interview some of the greatest minds on the gut and microbiome, including immunology & infections expert Professor Mimi Tang (MCRI – head of the Peanut Allergy Study), microbiologist and biochemist John Ellerman (developed the ‘super synbiotic’ recommend in the GHP), naturopath and chiropractor Dr Damian Kristof, head gastroenterologist at The CDD Professor Thomas Borody and molecular geneticist Dr Margie Smith (SmartDNA). Without ruining the story, some of the answers to my question, does the optimal microbiome exist were incredibly insightful and humbling. Most of the experts were extremely positive in their responses and genuinely excited about what the future holds when it comes to health. In short, the optimal microbiome may indeed exist!
We are now passing through a phase where the vernacular, ‘gut health’ will simply become ‘health’.
The gut microbiota are so pivotal to human health that these experts are saying that almost any health condition will have some ties to the actions of the gut microbiota.
Professor Charles Mackay at Sydney University, in fact, made this statement a few years ago.
“Any condition that exists now that didn’t exist (or was less common) 40 or 50 years ago, chances are it is relating to the actions of the gut microbiota.”
How is this the case? How is it that the trillions of microbial cells which live in our gut and on our skin have such a large impact on our health? Professor Mimi Tang says that this phenomenon is a symbiotic relationship. The microbiota play a critical role in proper immune, metabolic and neural development for the body, and in turn we provide them with safe haven and (hopefully) a constant supply of nutrients to feed upon.
“Bacteria don’t just sit there and chew on food remnants which have made it past your stomach,” says Dr Margie Smith. “Every time you take a bite of food, think about what the bacteria are going to have to eat.”
If you’ve been on the gut health band wagon for a long time now, this all will come as no surprise. But what may be a little more intriguing is where the future will take us!
“Poo may well be the future of medicine.” – Dr Margie Smith
It’s weird. That sentence. I mean could we make it less weird by saying something like, faecal microbiota may be the future of medicine? It still sounds weird. Pretentious even. Let’s just call it what it is. It’s poop!
How on earth will poop play a role in the future of medicine you ask?
It comes back to the antibiotic-induced damage many of us have been subjected to at some point in our lives. Simply put, antibiotics can wreak havoc on the gut microbiome, causing some species to be lost permanently from the gut (see Dr Martin Blaser at NYU).
This is important because these species are intricately involved with one’s unique immune system. The immune system develops over time in conjunction with the gut microbiota present in your gastrointestinal tract! If, all of a sudden, some species go missing, the immune system loses a piece of the puzzle, so to speak.
“Many of these bacteria that we’ve lost are not probiotics, so they’re impossible to replace.” – John Ellerman, BSc Micribiology & Biochemistry
The biggest question now in the gut health equation is how to reinvent or re-establish a healthy microbiome once antibiotics have exerted their deleterious effects. How can we replace those irreplaceable microbiota which have been destroyed and possibly lost forever? How do we find a lost piece of the puzzle in a messy living room?
The answer may well be, in other people’s poo. A poo sharing network, if you will, where we rely on the natural existence of a huge array of microbiota across the human population, some of which will be able to re-establish a healthy microbiome in a damaged individual.
This is what people like Professor Thomas Borody at he CDD are looking at, and even applying now! Borody has performed approximately 13,000 FMT (that’s Faecal Microbial Transplantation – a poo transplant) on patients with conditions such as Crohn’s, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis and the omnipotent C.difficile (for which the cure rate is almost 100%).
Many patients have ‘side effects’ to the treatment which have included losing their Parkinson’s symptoms and diagnosis, remission of depression, remission of motor neuron’s disease and a whole lot more.
Borody said traditionally medicine has been compartmentalised into different categories. Now we’re crossing categories. If a patient receives an FMT for their digestive condition but their neurological condition gets reversed, pretty soon we can expect neurologists to start prescribing ‘crapsules’.
Thirty years ago Borody was laughed at, now everybody wants to learn from him. The fact that we are looking to faeces as a viable treatment solution for human health issues is…. well it’s interesting isn’t it? Because it signals a decisive and serious intolerance of western medicines’ failures to permanently cure us of our ailments. I mean, in what world would we even accept the idea that FMT procedures can cure illness?? A desperate one!
Whilst filming in Namibia for The Gut Movie I collected samples of The San’s faeces to bring back to Australia for testing. I asked Borody if these types of tribes, who hadn’t been exposed to high levels of antibiotics could potentially provide the X-factor of poop. The poop we’ll all want in a desperate need to overcome our gut ailments. He said that these primordial, untainted microbiomes could be very valuable in the future – extremely valuable, in fact. It is definitely on the cards, we may well exist in a world where ‘crapsules’ are available from the doctor!
“Help me, Doc, my insomnia is ruining my life!”
“Ah, I have just what you need. 180 caps of Namibian Bushmen Poop with boosted lactobacillus.”
Sounds crazy, but this mightn’t be too far down the pipeline…. (see what I did there?)
There is still much to learn when it comes to immune and microbiota communication, how the microbiome develops over time and whether foreign microbiota transplants will contradict that which the host system is ‘used to’ and will tolerate. However after producing The Gut Movie, I look forward with a huge degree of optimism. Excitement, even, excitement that soon health will be taken back from the pharmaceutical-based approach to a more holistic one. One in which we all see that the microbes which live on and in us are the true healers of disease.
How far away is this reality?
Well, there are tens of thousands of papers being published on the microbiome every month, from prestigious universities like Harvard and NYU to Australian institutions such as the MCRI, however, such a significant shift from the conventional paradigm will take time. There is no direct answer to this question.
As I’m often fond of saying, though, you can do the best that you can now in regards to optimising your microbiome by following a whole foods, gut nourishing diet (like the one I outline in The Gut Healing Protocol) and waiting for science to catch up.
The reality is, you have so much more power than you think when it comes to your health. One of our ultimate freedoms is to choose what we put in our mouth and when we choose wisely, the possibilities are endless.
This post was brought to you by The Gut Movie Official Australian Tour!! Pre-sale tickets are on sale now – you can save 10% if you book in early so don’t miss it! Click here or the image below to reserve your seats before we sell out!