#140 How to Heal Your Gut in 5 Simple Steps

January 18th, 2016 by

How to Heal Your Gut

New research shows that having the wrong gut bacteria may cause weight gain, illnesses, allergies, autoimmune diseases, and problems with your heart.  Indeed, a study this past week showed that within 4 generations on a low fiber “modern diet” your beneficial gut microbes may become forever extinct.  In this article, I will share with you 5 simple things you can do to heal your gut and prevent chronic medical problems.

The Challenge

The number of bacterial cells in your gut out number the rest of the cells in your body by 10 to one.  The modern diet, low in fiber and high in sugar and saturated fat, wipes out healthy gut microbes.  Even worse, modern foods promote unhealthy strains of gut bacteria which may cause chronic medical conditions.

Weight Gain

Regardless of your willpower, you may never lose weight with the wrong gut bacteria in place.  Likewise, pre-diabetes and diabetes may also be caused by these same “bad” bacteria living in your gut.  To better understand the science of gut bacteria and weight gain, please read my previous blog.

Illnesses, Allergies, and Autoimmune Diseases

Do you seem to catch every cold going around?  Do you suffer from allergies?  Are you battling an autoimmune disease?  If so, your immune system challenges may be from the wrong gut bacteria.

Fully 70% of your entire immune system is in your gut.  What is happening to your gut’s immune system may also be affecting the rest of your body.

Cardiovascular Disease

In addition to weight gain and diabetes, new research shows that high cholesterol and heart disease may also be caused by the wrong gut bacteria.  Until recently, researchers were not sure how the bad gut bacteria caused heart attacks.

The link between bad gut bacteria and heart attacks may be due to TMAO.  TMAO, or Trimethylamine N-oxide, is a chemical produced by the wrong strains of gut bacteria.  TMAO in the blood may be a bigger risk for a heart attack than even high cholesterol.

People eating foods high in carnitine and lecithin produce a lot of TMAO.  Carnitine and lecithin are especially high in meat and eggs.  Red meat seems to be the biggest offender of TMAO creation by the gut bacteria.

Interestingly, studies show that people on antibiotics produce little TMAO.  Likewise, a vegan who suddenly eats a big steak also won’t produce much TMAO either.  However, if the vegan starts eating meat daily then their gut bacteria will start making large amounts of TMAO.  The bottom line is that if you eat a lot of meat and eggs on a daily basis, you will grow large amounts of the TMAO producing bacteria in your gut.

One puzzle to the TMAO theory of heart disease is fish.  While fish eaters have long been known to have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, fish eaters also have TMAO in their blood.  One theory to explain this conundrum is that the TMAO produced from fish is eliminated easily by the kidneys.

Are Good Gut Microbes Becoming Extinct?

A very sobering study on the gradual extinction of beneficial gut microbes was just published this past week by Drs. Erica D. Sonnenburg and Justin L. Sonnenburg from Stanford University.  It is well known that beneficial gut microbes thrive on fiber.  Fiber is their fuel source.  If fiber is not available, these healthy microbes die from starvation.

In their place will emerge strains of “bad” gut bacteria causing weight gain, poor immune system function, and heart disease.  These “bad guys” in your gut love the modern diet.  They especially love massive quantities of sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fats from animal products.

Although this Stanford study was done in mice, the findings may apply to you as well.  To study the effects of fiber on the human gut, they bred mice without any bacteria in their guts.  Next, they populated the guts of these germ free mice with healthy gut bacteria taken from humans through a procedure known as a fecal transplant.  In this case, they transplanted healthy “poop” from humans into the guts of these germ free mice.

With healthy human gut microbes in place, the Sonnenburgs then put these mice on a low fiber diet similar to what most Americans eat.  After several generations of mice, here is what they found:

1. A low fiber diet kills off beneficial gut microbes.

2. Healthy gut microbes gradually become extinct on a modern diet.

With each generation of mice on a Western diet, healthy strains of gut microbes became progressively extinct.  By the 4th generation, the mice had forever lost 75% of the beneficial strains of gut microbes.

3. A healthy diet alone can’t bring back healthy gut microbes.

While a high fiber diet allows the surviving beneficial gut microbes to multiply, a healthy diet alone could not bring back healthy gut microbes from extinction.

The finding that healthy strains of gut microbes can become extinct is a new scientific finding.  This finding has serious implications for the health of your children and grandchildren.  On a bigger scale, if healthy strains of gut microbes are forever lost from the human race, chronic medical conditions will afflict even more people.

Of course, it is possible that after thousands or possibly even millions of years your body may learn to adapt to a low fiber diet.  In the meantime, what can you do to prevent the extinction of healthy gut microbes from your family line?

Heal Your Gut in 5 Simple Steps

1. Eat a High Fiber Diet

While our ancestors once ate more than 100 grams of fiber daily, the average American now eats just 15 grams of fiber each day.  Even our government has set the bar very low by recommending just 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat.  Thus, a person eating a 2,000 calorie diet only needs a mere 28 grams of fiber daily according to our government.

Since reading this article, I have tried to significantly increase my fiber intake.  Even while traveling most of last week, I still averaged 81.1 grams of fiber each day.  All of this fiber was from natural whole foods.  No supplements were taken.

To increase your fiber intake, eat more fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.  If you enjoy grains, make sure they are only whole grains which are high in fiber.

If you currently don’t eat much fiber, talk with your doctor first.  Suddenly switching from a low fiber diet to a high fiber diet could cause abdominal distress and possibly even an intestinal blockage.  You may need to gradually increase your fiber intake.

2. Eat More Fermented Foods

While fiber allows good bacteria to multiply, to introduce new healthy strains of gut bacteria you will need to eat more fermented foods.  Some examples of fermented foods include yogurt, kefir, natto, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.  One ray of hope from the Stanford mouse study was that if researchers did a fecal transplant and fed the mice a high fiber diet they could restore a healthy gut.

Most of my patients are not willing to sign up for a fecal transplant.  Besides, a fecal transplant is still considered “experimental” and is only indicated to treat the most severe cases of C. diff colitis.

Thus, to introduce more healthy gut bacteria, eat more fermented foods. While I still don’t like fermented foods, I make it a point to eat them on most days.

If you have a weak immune system, talk with your doctor first to make sure it is safe to consume fermented foods.

3. Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics

While antibiotics can be life-saving, most antibiotics currently used in the United States are unnecessary.  Unnecessary antibiotics in human and animals are breeding superbugs that can no longer be treated.

In addition to killing harmful bacteria, each course of antibiotics also wipes out billions of healthy gut microbes.  These healthy gut microbes may forever be eliminated from your gut and family line.

Work with your doctor to make sure any prescribed antibiotics are absolutely necessary.  Also, if you must take an antibiotic, be sure to quickly replenish your healthy gut microbes with plenty of fiber and fermented foods.

4. Give Your  Children Every Advantage

Many mothers have no choice but to undergo a C-section or feed their baby formula.  The beneficial gut microbes a baby starts this life with is determined, to a large extent, by a normal delivery and drinking mother’s milk.

As children grow older, do everything possible to encourage high fiber and fermented foods.  Work under the direction of your pediatrician as to when these healthy foods can be safely introduced.

Yes, children will fuss about eating healthy foods.  Don’t give up.  Starting off life with a healthy gut can help them to avoid weight gain, allergies, and future heart problems.

5. Don’t Live in Too Sterile of an Environment

Anti-bacterial soaps, toxic cleaners, hand sanitizers, and too much time spent inside may wreck havoc on your immune system and your gut.  Sadly, your contact with the microbial world is shrinking with each new generation.

It has long been recognized that farmers, children from big families, or people with pets suffer less from allergies and asthma.  Indeed, exposure to microbes in the dirt, microbes from a sick sibling, or microbes from a pet may help to fine tune your immune system.

These observations provide the basis for the hygiene hypothesis.  The hygiene hypothesis states that if your hygiene is too sterile then your immune system may not function properly.  If your immune system doesn’t get enough exposure to the microbial world then it could look for the wrong things to attack and cause conditions like allergies and autoimmune diseases.

The Big Picture

More and more studies are pointing to a healthy gut as one of the most important things you can do to maintain an ideal weight and prevent chronic medical problems.  The study by Erica and Justin Sonnenburg is a call to action now to prevent healthy gut microbes from forever becoming extinct in your family.

Please leave your experiences below on how you have healed your gut.  Also, if you have any questions about what you have just read, please leave your questions below.  I will do my best to answer every question.

#086 10 Surprising Ways to Stop Allergies

March 29th, 2015 by

10 Surprising Ways to Stop Allergies

Increasingly, more and more Americans are suffering from seasonal allergies.  Is it climate change or are we too “clean?”

Regardless of the cause, I will share 10 surprising ways to stop allergies.  What we eat may be more important in controlling seasonal allergies than taking medications or locking ourselves inside.

My AllergiesAllergy Season Ahead

I remember dreading my lawn mowing duties as a child.  My parents had an acre of land and it would take me a couple of hours to mow and trim the yard.

Each time I mowed the lawn my eyes became itchy, puffy, and watery.  If I rubbed my eyes too much they would sometimes become swollen shut.

My nose was even worse.  It would get so bad that I would have to breath from my mouth.

In those days we did not have any non-sedating antihistamines.  All that was available was Benadryl.  To survive the lawn mowing experience each week, I had to pretreat with 50 mg of Benadryl.  The problem was that Benadryl would make me so sleepy that I walked around like a zombie for the rest of the day.

Interestingly, my seasonal allergies seemed to disappear at about the same time I starting eating healthy.  At the time I did not give this much thought.  Could there be a scientific basis as to why my seasonal allergies resolved?

Is Climate Change Causing More Seasonal Allergies?

Many scientists have speculated that rising global temperatures are too blame for more seasonal allergies.  Warmer temperatures mean longer growing seasons for plants and longer pollen exposure for us.  Indeed, scientific studies have now shown that climate change is making the allergy problem worse.

Hygiene Hypothesis

The hygiene hypothesis states that because we are not being exposed to enough dirt, bacteria, fermented foods, etc. during childhood, our immune systems fail to develop properly.  Indeed, studies show that an immature immune system may lead to a higher risk of allergies, autoimmune diseases, and even Alzheimer’s Disease.  While the hygiene hypothesis is most important for children, even adults might benefit from getting dirty once in a while.

Crete: The Land without Seasonal AllergiesChania, Crete

Is it possible to live in a place where people don’t suffer from allergies?  Crete is one such place.

Crete, the legendary birthplace of Zeus, is a small Greek island in the Mediterranean.  Besides being known for their exceptionally healthy lives, the people in Crete also rarely suffer from seasonal allergies.

As researchers have studied this phenomenon, they have concluded their their exceptionally healthy Mediterranean Diet protects them from the usual seasonal allergies.

While I am not suggesting that allergy sufferers should move to Crete, what I am saying is that there are powerful lessons we can learn from these people to prevent seasonal allergies here in the U.S.

10 Surprising Ways to Stop Allergies

While most people assume that the key to fighting seasonal allergies is to lock yourself up indoors or take medications, few understand how our diets can determine if we will even react to pollen in the first place.  To help you conquer your seasonal allergies this year, let me share with you 10 surprising ways to stop allergies.

1. Eat Fermented Foods (Probiotics)

Through mechanisms that have not fully been worked out, fermented foods or probiotics seem to protect us against seasonal allergies.  Many studies have confirmed this finding.  Perhaps by introducing fermented foods we are helping to retrain our immune systems through the “Hygiene Hypothesis.”

2. Eat GrapesLarge bunches of ripe black grapes on vine

Interestingly, half of all children living in Crete eat grapes each day.  Those who eat grapes regularly are 81% less likely to suffer from seasonal allergies or asthma.

In particular, red grape skins may be the most protective part of the grape.  Researchers aren’t sure if it is the antioxidant effects or the resveratrol in the red grapes that offers allergy relief.

3. Go Nuts

In addition to protecting your heart and brain, nuts also seem to protect against seasonal allergies.  Indeed, eating nuts 3 or more times a week has been shown to cut seasonal allergies in half.  Once again, it could be the antioxidants of nuts or even the vitamin E that is protective against seasonal allergies.

4. Eat Oranges

Orange eaters experience 70% less seasonal allergies.  Other studies have shown that even vitamin C, from any source, may help to protect against allergies.

5. Love Fish

In addition to the heart healthy effects of fish, fish has been shown to decrease the risk of seasonal allergies by 55%.  The high omega 3s of oily fish are known to decrease inflammation and may help the immune system to better behave when exposed to pollen.

6. An Apple a DayPicking An Apple

While an apple a day won’t keep the pollen away it just might keep the allergy doctor away.  Studies show that apple eaters are 86% less likely to suffer from seasonal allergies.

7. Eat Fresh Tomatoes

Tomatoes are yet another superfood when it comes to preventing seasonal allergies.  Indeed, studies have shown that tomatoes can reduce seasonal allergies by 68%.

8. Minimize Animal Meat

In a large study of 156,035 Australians, researchers reported that those who ate the most animal meat were 18% more likely to develop seasonal allergies.  Animal meats are well known to increase inflammation and oxidative stress.

As this was just an observational study, it is not clear whether it was how the meat was prepared or whether it was animal meat from fast food restaurants that contributed to the increased risk of seasonal allergies.

9. Minimize Dairy Except for Yogurt with Live Bacterial Cultures

From the same Australian study, dairy also appeared to increase the risk of seasonal allergies by 18%.  This is not surprising as dairy is one of the most common causes of food allergies as well.  However, yogurt with live bacterial cultures, has been shown to consistently decrease the risk of seasonal allergies.

10. Avoid Processed Foods

One thing that has been consistent with many studies is that people eating the “Standard American Diet” (SAD), which is high in processed and prepared foods, have a much higher risk of developing seasonal allergies.  For example, even eating margarine once a week more than doubled the risk of developing allergies.

The Anti-Allergy Diet

To put all of these data together, the best way to avoid seasonal allergies is to eat a healthy diet.  The diet which has been shown to fight allergies is one high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and fermented foods while low in animal meat, dairy (except yogurt with live bacterial cultures), and processed foods.  In other words, this is the Mediterranean Diet or the diet eaten faithfully by most people living in Crete.

While living in Crete would be nice, a Mediterranean Diet may be all that is needed to escape your allergies this year.

Have you found that a healthy diet has helped you with your seasonal allergies?  If so, please share your experiences below in the comments section so that others may benefit.


If you suffer from seasonal allergies, please work with your physician to treat this condition.  You may have specific health conditions that require a diet different from the Mediterranean Diet.  Please do not self diagnose or treat based on anything that you have read in this article.