Gaze at your navel for a second. Use a mirror if you like. Go ahead, it’s OK, I won’t tell anyone.
Yes, the navel, the omphalos. To the Greeks it represented the Center of the World.
And now, we are learning, it might well be the very center of your health and well-being. The Gut that is. Your crazy sexy gut and all the crazy sexy microbes that live there. Kris Carr, the best-selling author of Crazy Sexy Cancer, said “Gut health is the key to overall health.”
You’re their Hilton Hotel, their innkeeper.
And they, in turn are the 7 Trillion Wonders of your Body’s World. You couldn’t make it to the bottom of the hour without their help. Those crazy sexy bacteria. After reading all the magic they perform in your behalf, you’ll never say Lysol again.
If you’ve been reading up on recent advances in health, you probably have been hearing more about your microbiome — the community of bacterial organisms found inside you that collectively works to keep you healthy and does much of the hard work of digestion and energy extraction. Turns out they could use some sauerkraut.
If there are a billion human cells in the body, there are something like “10-100 trillion microbes that reside in our gastrointestinal tract, representing thousands of species. The gut microbiota is a control center for multiple aspects of our biology including our immune status, metabolism, and neurobiology,” according to Stanford’s Sonnanburg Lab.
In some ways, you are a hotel for bacteria. And these microbial factories do not have, say, nuclear power plants. They need energy too. Turns out, we have to feed them. And we’ve been doing a poor job of it of late.
Biotechnology plays a role
“Each microbe makes a contribution to your health; some directly, indirectly, it’s an orchestra and they have to be in tune,” says our old friend Jack Oswald, a serial entrepreneur well-known in industrial biotechnology circles but for the last couple of years heading up ISOThrive, which produces and distributes dietary supplements for your microbiome.
“Some of your microbes consume one type of carb, some can consume others, some are finicky and some are omnivorous. But when you look at the modern diet, they’re not getting all of what they need, and part of the reason is that fermented vegetables, sourdough bread and heirloom wheat have fallen out of our diet, and these foods have specific prebiotic qualities. We benefit from certain types of digestion-resistant carbs, because when we consume them it is like a care-package for the microbes in our gut.”
How much of this is definitively established in peer-reviewed literature? Not all that much. Consensus is still not here. But companies like ISOthrive and some researchers have been filling in gaps in our knowledge of how to take care of the microbes that take care of us. There’s evidence that there are dramatic perceptions of health improvement among those who have changed their diets and are getting the metabolites they need. And two-thirds of those who have been taking ISOthrive have been showing “substantial improvement,” Oswald told us.
That got our attention. Clearly many of us are aware of obesity and diabesity issues and general digestive malaise — just watch television commercials sometimes on channels that reach an older audience.
What happened to gut bacteria?
“Microbiota composition varies considerably between individuals, and factors like variation in host genotype and diet impact the community. Changes in our microbial communities differentially influence aspects of host biology (e.g., immune function) and likely explain aspects of variation within and between human populations (e.g., predisposition to disease),” the Sonnanburg Lab adds.
Why is diet critical here?
“Diet is a major determinant of which microbes flourish in the microbiota. Dietary microbiota-accessible carbohydrates (MACs), the main component of dietary fiber, serve as the primary metabolic input for the gut microbiota. However, during times of dietary MAC scarcity, the microbiota turn to host mucus for sustenance.”
That back-up mechanism
Yes, when you don’t feed them right, they attack the gut lining. That can lead to disease in the long-term and digestive trouble in the short-term, researchers have found.
Where did we go wrong?
Consider three factors.
1. Refrigeration. We’ve revolutionized our diets. A hundred years ago, in winter we were eating vastly different foods than today. Been down to the root cellar lately? We live in a perpetual spring and summer.
2. The Bugs are Bad syndrome. We conceive of microbes in general, and bacteria in particular, as bad. How many people do you know who have taken an anti-biotic? Now, how many are taking pro-biotics? That’s an isolated example, but from the Lysol in your cabinet to the antibacterials from your doctor, we look to get rid of organisms, some of which are critical to soil health and personal health.
3. The industrialization of food. Nothing against big food companies, but you buy the cheaper product where you can, so long as it look right and tastes good, and these companies are making decisions every day around economics. Yeasts, for example, that produce more yield, and at a faster rate — those are prized. But they are not the ones always that produce products that benefit your gut. And foods that distribute well, get distributed — longer shelf life, less spoilage. You get the idea.
What is the fix?
Best fix is to eat better. Oswald agrees.
“it’s always better to eat all the right things and never need a food supplement of any kind,” he says. “But the reality is that most people aren’t going to do that. Food preferences have changed, and these days food is more about entertainment than survival. And not everyone is into sauerkraut.”
Then, there are prebiotic supplements, like ISOthrive.
Bacterial food — eew, what’s that made from?
Worry not, kemosabe. It comes from things like simple sugars, just as your food does. In the case of ISOthrive, it’s a prebiotic soluble fiber — in this case, a naturally fermented nectar that you take in 1/4 teaspoon daily doses. It’s slightly sweet, and zero calorie. Enjoy.
As it happens, ISOthrive uses some of the same bacteria that we use to ferment vegetables. These are short-chain sugars that enzymes in the gut do not break down well, so they pass through to the colon where the bacteria have the correct enzymes and break it apart.
What are reactions from those who use it?
ISOthrive has compiled a dossier based on customers describing their experiences. A couple that stand out: One, since your gut helps you regulate the signals for hunger, matching it to energy use and expenditure, there’s a change in hunger patterns, and in this way it doesn’t directly cause weight loss, but it changes internal signaling that can drive weight loss. Others report changes in energy levels throughout the day — not experiencing the sugar highs and lows.
Some are taking prebiotic supplements to help with condition like acid reflux, or typical digestive tract issues like gassiness or constipation.
Who’s the customer?
So far, it unsurprisingly skews older, with middle-aged people as the primary customers. So far, 60%+ have been women. Education levels are all over the map, but it generally correlates to people who believe in and care about health. Often, those who have had some issues.
Critical. Overwhelmingly, people looking at dietary supplements of this type say they want to hear about it from their doctor. There, the progress has been varied. Knowledge is often an issue. Advanced biology is not something that everyone studies in-depth at medical school or beyond — some docs are curious, and like to investigate new opportunities. Some are waiting for more consensus to emerge in the literature.
HMOs — a factor?
Not yet. But of course insurance companies and HMOs have a unique alliance with patients in receiving a string benefit from healthy patients, rather than having a business model based in treatment and therapy. For years, some HMOs have focused intensely on wellness in their quarterly communications to their customers. It could be that the insurance company helps promote this new approach to wellness.
Pets. The breakout segment you might not have thought about.
Think pets. As we’ve pointed out here, pet health and nutrition is of increasing importance int he economy — and emotionally, more people are turning to pets as the size and connectedness of the family declines.
“How many times I have seen people take a pet for a $10000 procedure?” Oswald muses. “It’s not something anyone ever saw a generation or two ago. People care so much for pets, and in some cases are willing to spend more time worrying about a pet then themselves. And it turns out that pets need something similar. Pet food is not in many cases what they evolved to eat.
“You wouldn’t know it,” said Oswald, “but in many cases it’s harder to get a new pet food into the market than human food. The regulatory environment is very complex, and a lot of it differs from state to state.”
How does a pet signal wellness, anyway?
“I feel better” is a phrase beyond most pets, and Polly Parrot might just be echoing you in saying it. So, how do you tell?
“For one thing, anxiety,” says Oswald. “Pets that feel better seem to be more calm, less agitated.”
What about the broader animal feed market?
That’s an interesting question. ISOthrive is looking into the potential implications of supplementing feed for chickens – to see how it helps with pathogens. Could be another avenue for this family of products.
Now, what’s the ISOthrive Challenge?
You can try it and see how it helps you. There’s a simple self-administered gut check before, you take the product for a month, then check again. Pretty simple. Think of it as an advanced version of the American Gut Project.
ISOthrive – a miracle cure?
No, not a miracle product. The claim is that it will set your body on the road to good guy health. And there may be wondrous benefits that come from that, directly or indirectly. If you eat what you need to eat, you don’t need it. But most contemporary diets leave us short on essentials. Especially for your microbial Super Friends.
The garbage chute
One thing that Oswald hopes for. That people will stop looking at their gut as a garbage chute, and that you simply throw anything down there just to get rid of it.
“It’s an organ,” he said. “Complex and important. You get real benefits from treating it right.” Just like heart health. Or lung health. Or liver health.
So, lay off those habits that cause heart disease and cancer and everything else. But also, consider the lowly microbes within you. The microbe you save might just one day save you.