from the world's big
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.
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Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
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