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Why You Should 'Rewild' Your Diet to Help Your Microbiome
The community of microorganisms that live inside of your stomach is one of the most important markers of health, physically and psychologically.
Tim Spector probably never expected to measure his poop, but so life goes. The professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London was invited by his colleague, visiting research fellow Jeff Leach, to travel to one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes in Africa. The purpose: to track his gut microbiome.
In a time of fractured nutritional advice with snake oil salesmen and saleswomen proffering wildly speculative claims, your bacteria and fungi don’t lie. Your microbiome is the community of microorganisms that live inside of your stomach. Research is showing that this is one of the most important markers of your health, physically and psychologically. So Spector measured his levels, hopped on a plane to Tanzania, and ate porcupine.
Not only that prickly creature. For three days Spector lived as the Hadza do: baobab porridge, Kongorobi berries, hyrax, honeycomb, and yes, porcupine (tastes like suckling pig!). As it turned out, a long weekend on this diet had spectacular consequences.
"The results showed clear differences between my starting sample and after three days of my forager diet. The good news was my gut microbal diversity increased a stunning 20%, including some totally novel African microbes, such as those of the phylum Synergistetes," writes Tim Spector.
The bad news is that the microbes fled shortly after his return to London. That’s okay, Emeran Mayer, a Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Physiology and Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, tells me. Author of the cutting edge book in this field, The Mind-Gut Connection, he’s devoted his career to studying the link between the gut and brain.
While Spector’s journey makes for solid journalism and great passport stamps, Mayer says we don’t need to return to hunter-gather diets like the Hadza or Amazonian Yanomami to make a difference.
"A review of worldwide dietary habits has made it pretty clear that largely plant-based diets rich in indigestible fiber have the greatest health benefits, and that this benefit is in large part explained by the beneficial effects of such diets on the gut microbiome," says Mayer.
Mayer points to traditional Mediterranean, Asian, and European diets as being sufficient in increasing good bacteria. These diets are high in polyphenols, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory molecules. Numerous problems, he continues, are evident with the “Western” diet that has created startling obesity and GI problems in America: a low ratio of plant and animal components, high animal fat and sugar, excess calories, additives like emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners, an abusive relationship with antibiotics, and pesticides.
The standard Western microbiome is so bad that Jeff Leach calls our guts “ecological disaster zones.” Leach has lived and worked with the Hadza for years and has written a book of his own, Rewild, which offers advice on how to create good habits for better guts. The process of rewilding your diet is possible anywhere, though cues taken from hunter-gatherer tribes can work wonders. While Westerners douse themselves in antibacterial soaps and celebrate “clean” diets, it turns out that a little—or a lot—of dirt is best.
"It is their persistent exposure to this rich pool of microorganisms that has endowed the Hadza with an extraordinary diversity of microbes; much greater than we see among people in the so-called developed world," writes Jeff Leach.
While Mayer admits that we’re only at the beginning of research in this field, he predicts that textbooks across the academic spectrum will have to be updated: medical, psychiatry, neurology, metabolism, and cardiology first to mind. Gut bacteria and fungi, which if isolated as a separate organ would weigh between two and six pounds, is revolutionizing our understanding of our nervous systems. This information far exceeds what we put on our plate; it could shift how we treat depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders, even diseases like Parkinson’s. (Indeed, earlier this year I wrote about my dietary shift curing me of longstanding anxiety disorder.)
There may soon be another cup next to the urine station in your doctor’s office as Mayer foresees microbiome levels integrated into your annual exam in the near future. There’s even ways to measure in the comfort of home: Leach is part of the team behind Map My Gut, a 23andMe for your feces. The information is designed to help consumers understand how their diet affects their lifestyle and may play a role in certain diseases.
With this wealth of data on nutrients and bacteria surfacing, Leach also writes about an ancient aspect of eating often overlooked today: the ritual of the meal. In Los Angeles I constantly watch people shove food into their mouths while driving—unconscious gorging over shared ritual. In Spector’s article there’s a photo of the tribe surrounding the campfire as the author details the porcupine meal: spines, skin, and organs dissected; organs immediately cooked and consumed; meat shared communally later that evening.
Mayer relates the ritual of eating with positive emotions, which runs counter to the stress of comfort foods and busy eating performed while running from task to task. He points to the grape and olive harvests in Italy as examples of communities uniting to celebrate sustenance. No television, no social media, just conversation and enjoyment. This isn’t only socially healthy, but it has a reverberating effect inside of your body.
"The reason that rituals are so important is because mental states are directly translated into the activity of the gut and modulate the behavior of gut microbes. We know that negative emotions affect these functions in a negative way. Being mindful of what we eat and in which context we eat is an essential part of healthy eating," says Mayer.
In The Mind-Gut Connection, Mayer writes that unfortunately there's no one-size-fits-all recommendation for specific dietary recommendations. There are too many individual and environmental elements at play. But he does admit that maximizing your gut's microbial diversity is key—increase your intake of multiple prebiotics in the form of plant fibers, as well as consume fermented foods and probiotics. And, of course, avoid mass-produced and processed foodstuffs with tons, or any really, preservatives. If you can't recognize the name as food neither can your digestive system.
Derek's latest book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, is out now. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.