These simple habits can optimize your gut and brain bacteria

What you eat — and when — can make you superhuman.

DAVE ASPREY: One of the things that's come out, just in the last five years, is the importance of the microbiome. And the functional medicine crowd has been talking about it for 20-plus years, and we just didn't have good data. But today, there is a company that has more than 100,000 people's poop. And what they've done is they've gone through and sequenced everything. And I don't mean just high-level genetic stuff that's been available for a little while. They're using technology that was invented by a national laboratory for biowarfare detection, and this means that they're looking at viruses, fungus, bacteria, parasites, the percentage of human DNA -- how much gut shedding you have -- in a very simple test. And this company, called Viome, has actually added 10,000 new species to our database of bacteria that lives in the gut that we just didn't know about before. So it's the golden age of figuring out what's going on in the gut. And we found some shocking things.

We also have better imaging than we ever have. So people started looking inside cells when they're alive, and we can see this level of detail that you couldn't get from an electron microscope. And they found something that completely defies all understanding. Inside the brains of perfectly healthy people, there are bacteria. There is a microbiome in your brain. How weird is that? And we thought we knew everything about the blood-brain barrier. There's a lot of BS in the story of the blood-brain barrier. And it turns out these are the same species of bacteria that live in the gut. So these things are part of us. And that means that if you eat foods that disrupt your gut bacteria -- you don't eat enough fiber or you eat industrially raised meat that had antibiotics in it -- that you're probably not going to live as long. People who age well and live a very long time have way more diversity in their gut bacteria. There's more species present. And as we age, you can actually predict someone's age, within a couple of years, just based on looking at their gut bacteria populations. Old people have bad poop. Can I just say it? And how do we fix that? Well, it turns out what you eat is key.

When I started writing Super Human, I used the Viome test, and I quantified I had 48 bacteria in my gut. And one of the problems there is that I travel extensively, about 150 days of the year, and it's really hard to get enough vegetables when you travel. You can get veggies at home. But you go to a restaurant and you say, I would like a plate of vegetables, and they bringing three spears of asparagus. And then you say, I'll give you $1,000 for a plate of vegetables, and you get six spears of asparagus. They just don't understand what a plate of vegetables looks like. And the people who live a long time, they eat a plate of vegetables with a moderate to small amount of grassfed or wild-caught protein and lots of healthy undamaged fats. That's the recipe. You can't buy that. So I put together a prebiotic. And a prebiotic is a set of things that good gut bacteria will eat. It turns out prebiotics have more of an influence on what's going on your gut than probiotics. And both can be useful. Over the course of writing Super Human, I was able to raise the number of species in my gut from 48 to 196. And that is a very healthy, diverse population. And all I had to do was add a couple scoops of probiotics to my Bulletproof coffee every morning. It's not that hard to do. You can also eat a variety of spices and herbs and vegetables, there's all sorts of things. I do that too. But even when I did that, I wasn't hitting the numbers I wanted.

On the flip side of that, there is a type of bacteria that's responsible keeping your gut lining intact, and it's called Akkermansia. We didn't really know much about this, we just thought, oh, this is the stuff that eats the mucus that lines your gut. And yes, you have mucus in your gut. It doesn't sound very attractive, but it's way more attractive than having the food you eat soak through your gut lining into your blood and cause inflammation everywhere, which is what happens when you don't have healthy Akkermansia. This stuff, its job is to eat the mucus and then refresh the mucus. It's a really cool part of keeping your barriers intact so that you can extract the energy and the nutrients from your food without taking a biological hit from what you ate. That means you've got to eat the right stuff. But how do you make this bacteria stronger and healthier? It's pretty amazing: You do it by not eating. And the people who live a long time practice fasting.

Now, when I weighed 300 pounds, I ate six meals a day. I was sure that, if I didn't eat all the time, my body would go into starvation mode and I'd put on even more fat, as if there was room for more fat in my skin. And it turns out that's not how it works. Today, there's something called intermittent fasting -- that's been a core part of the Bulletproof lifestyle and the Bulletproof diet. You basically skip breakfast and you eat what you're going to eat for a whole day in a six- or an eight-hour window. So you have lunch and dinner. And it's not particularly painful to do that, even though it sounds like, oh, my goodness, am I eating enough fat? It's completely good to go. But that window where there's nothing in your stomach makes the good gut bacteria sort of wake up and say, oh, I guess I should refresh the lining of the stomach. Basically, it gives you a chance to run some repair systems. But if you're always full of food -- you have your midnight snack, you eat before bed, and you eat every little while -- your gut doesn't get to go through the normal cycles that a gut should go through.

So more prebiotics, and don't eat sometimes. Today, as you'll read about in the book, I oftentimes, once a week, once every couple of weeks, I just won't eat for 24 hours. And instead of feeling, oh, this is like running a marathon, it's so terrible, because I have metabolic flexibility, well, I get that because I eat enough fat and because I don't always have carbohydrates. And that means 24 hours without food, no big deal. I didn't have any food this morning. I probably will eat lunch, but I might not have time, and I won't notice that I don't do lunch.

  • The importance of the microbiome has really come to the fore in the last five years. Viome, a company that analyzed the feces of 100,000 people, has discovered 10,000 new types of gut bacteria.
  • Additionally, Improved imaging technology led scientists to discover you don't have just one microbiome, you have two. The second one is in your brain, populated by the same bacteria that live in your gut.
  • Simple habits can foster healthy gut and brain bacteria, which can help you live longer and age more slowly. Eat mostly vegetables, take fiber and prebiotics, and practice intermittent fasting, says Dave Asprey.

Your genetics influence how resilient you are to the cold

What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images
Surprising Science

Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.

Keep reading Show less

Harvard study finds perfect blend of fruits and vegetables to lower risk of death

Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.

Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
  • The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
  • Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.
Keep reading Show less

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

Cephalopod aces 'marshmallow test' designed for eager children

The famous cognition test was reworked for cuttlefish. They did better than expected.

Credit: Hans Hillewaert via Wikicommons
Surprising Science
  • Scientists recently ran the Stanford marshmallow experiment on cuttlefish and found they were pretty good at it.
  • The test subjects could wait up to two minutes for a better tasting treat.
  • The study suggests cuttlefish are smarter than you think but isn't the final word on how bright they are.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast