Feeding your gut microbes a new key to health

Some of the most fascinating revelations in science these days are coming out of the study of microbes living in our guts.

Michael Pollan wrote an 8-page article for the New York Times Magazine about his experience and some of the findings. Excerpts (and click the link just to see the photo of a dirty baby playing with dirty toys, licking the wheel of a toy car):

It turns out that we are only 10 percent human: for every human cell that is intrinsic to our body, there are about 10 resident microbes — including commensals (generally harmless freeloaders) and mutualists (favor traders) and, in only a tiny number of cases, pathogens. To the extent that we are bearers of genetic information, more than 99 percent of it is microbial. And it appears increasingly likely that this “second genome,” as it is sometimes called, exerts an influence on our health as great and possibly even greater than the genes we inherit from our parents. But while your inherited genes are more or less fixed, it may be possible to reshape, even cultivate, your second genome….

A similar experiment [to one performed on mice] was performed recently on humans by researchers in the Netherlands: when the contents of a lean donor’s microbiota were transferred to the guts of male patients with metabolic syndrome, the researchers found striking improvements in the recipients’ sensitivity to insulin, an important marker for metabolic health. Somehow, the gut microbes were influencing the patients’ metabolisms….

Our resident microbes also appear to play a critical role in training and modulating our immune system, helping it to accurately distinguish between friend and foe and not go nuts on, well, nuts and all sorts of other potential allergens. Some researchers believe that the alarming increase in autoimmune diseases in the West may owe to a disruption in the ancient relationship between our bodies and their “old friends” — the microbial symbionts with whom we coevolved….

Yet whether any cures emerge from the exploration of the second genome, the implications of what has already been learned — for our sense of self, for our definition of health and for our attitude toward bacteria in general — are difficult to overstate. Human health should now “be thought of as a collective property of the human-associated microbiota,” as one group of researchers recently concluded in a landmark review article on microbial ecology — that is, as a function of the community, not the individual.

The saying “You are what you eat” can be modified to “Your health is determined by what you feed your gut microbes.”

Although scientists typically like to say there’s not enough data to say something is once-and-for-all proven, it’s good to know how the growing evidence may have influenced them to make changes in their daily lives. Scientists working in this field were asked about how they’ve changed their own and their families’ lifestyles:

  • They don’t take probiotic supplements.
  • They eat a variety of plant foods — fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • They eat more “prebiotics” that encourage the growth of good bacteria — fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
  • They let their children play in the dirt and with animals.
  • They eliminated or cut back on eating processed foods.
  • They avoid (and help their children avoid) taking antibiotics whenever possible.

Also, they are aghast at the number of Caesarian-section births occurring and recommend vaginal delivery if at all possible, as a means of “inoculating” newborns with their mothers’ bacteria, thus seeding their own gut microbe, enhancing their immune systems, and perhaps giving them an edge on health in other ways.

One of the scientists’ wives gave birth by C-section, and they used cotton swabs to transfer vaginal secretions to the newborn’s skin.

For the same reason, they highly recommend breast-feeding over using infant formula.

Pollan concludes:

I began to see how you might begin to shop and cook with the microbiome in mind, the better to feed the fermentation in our guts. The less a food is processed, the more of it that gets safely through the gastrointestinal tract and into the eager clutches of the microbiota. Al dente pasta, for example, feeds the bugs better than soft pasta does; steel-cut oats better than rolled; raw or lightly cooked vegetables offer the bugs more to chomp on than overcooked, etc. This is at once a very old and a very new way of thinking about food: it suggests that all calories are not created equal and that the structure of a food and how it is prepared may matter as much as its nutrient composition.

This is one of the most fascinating areas of science, with implications that touch everyone, because everyone eats, and it is beginning to look like achieving good health is not as out of reach for many problems as was long thought. I will definitely be posting more on this.

Advertisement

Anne Lamott on how to become yourself

lamottI love Anne Lamott. I follow her on Twitter (oh, my, she’s fierce and funny!) and have read her wonderful Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and other books. She’s open about being a screwed-up human being, and she has a lot of wisdom to share and the writing skills to convey it truthfully, with humor.

Somehow I stumbled upon a post she’d written for O, The Oprah Magazine (does anyone ever say, “I got my copy of O in the mail”?), that I want to share.

Excerpts:

We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be. The only problem is that there is also so much other stuff, typically fixations with how people perceive us, how to get more of the things that we think will make us happy, and with keeping our weight down. So the real issue is how do we gently stop being who we aren’t? How do we relieve ourselves of the false fronts of people-pleasing and affectation, the obsessive need for power and security, the backpack of old pain, and the psychic Spanx that keeps us smaller and contained?…

I had to stop living unconsciously, as if I had all the time in the world. The love and good and the wild and the peace and creation that are you will reveal themselves, but it is harder when they have to catch up to you in roadrunner mode. So one day I did stop. I began consciously to break the rules I learned in childhood…

Dealing with your rage and grief will give you life. That is both the good news and the bad news: The solution is at hand. Wherever the great dilemma exists is where the great growth is, too. It would be very nice for nervous types like me if things were black-and-white, and you could tell where one thing ended and the next thing began, but as Einstein taught us, everything in the future and the past is right here now. There’s always something ending and something beginning. Yet in the very center is the truth of your spiritual identity: is you. Fabulous, hilarious, darling, screwed-up you.

Actually, not on purpose, I’ve left out the funniest parts! Read more and enjoy: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/How-To-Find-Out-Who-You-Really-Are-by-Anne-Lamott/2#ixzz2Q5EhI88x

Become a living question for Halloween!

 

 

I’m adding this to my Favorite Quotes page here on my blog:

 

 

 

The most important part of the practice is for the question to remain alive and for your whole body and mind to become a question. In Zen they say that you have to ask with the pores of your skin and the marrow of your bones. A Zen saying points out: Great questioning, great awakening; little questioning, little awakening; no questioning, no awakening. ~ Martine Batchelor (from Tricycle Daily Dharma)

 

Try this: Sit in an upright posture. Chair, zafu, floor, doesn’t matter. Spine straight but not rigid. Breathe. Get yourself centered.

 

Zafu. Roma

Zafu. Roma (Photo credit: Roberto Poveda)

 

Ask yourself this question:

 

 

 

Who am I?

 

Ask very slowly and don’t expect an answer, but really, really listen.

 

 

 

What do you notice?

 

 

 

Day 9 of The Work: Who would you be without the thought?

The fourth question to ask when you are doing inquiry (i.e., “The Work” of Byron Katie) about a situation that is emotionally painful is this:

Who would I be without the thought?

Applying this question to my statement that my father didn’t care about me is astonishing.

Without the thought, I am free of these painful feelings. When the thought leaves, the feelings leave.

What’s left is an empty openness. I feel it in my chest. There’s a freedom there that wasn’t there before. It’s as if that thought never existed.

Who would I be? Well, I experience myself as more expansive, more open, lighter.

“Who I am” is my identity, composed of my thoughts, emotions, sensations, and emptiness or spaciousness. Who I am is pretty much how I experience myself in each moment. (Everything else is about me, not me.)

What are you experiencing this very moment as you read this?

It’s so easy to think that who I am is my story: “the woman whose father didn’t care about her” or “the woman whose father had Asperger’s” and so many more stories I’ve bought into and perpetuated about myself. Whenever I think a thought that’s accompanied by emotional pain, I can do inquiry, starting with question #1.

Who I am is not my story.

My father is also not who I formerly believed him to be. When I think of him without this thought, a series of images comes into my mind. Without my story and its emotional baggage, they are neutral snapshots: my father sitting on the sofa, my father at the dinner table, my father driving, my father standing outside his office building waiting for his ride home, my father kissing my mother.

These are much kinder images than those of a father who didn’t care about his daughter.

Man, where did that thought ever even come from? Never mind. Who cares? I’m just glad to have busted this painful, limiting story.

To recap, I’ve already asked:

  1. Is is true? (if no, skip to #3)
  2. Can I absolutely know it’s true?
  3. What happens when I believe the thought?

“Who would you be without the thought” can also be asked “What would you be without the thought?” And whatever your answer is, you can ask again, “What would you be without that thought?”

See where that takes you! (It takes me into a vast experience of empty presence where anything can happen.)

Next: the first turnaround.

More wit and wisdom from Byron Katie, and a 21-day challenge to do The Work

Byron KatieThis weekend I got to experience the wonderful presence and work of Byron Katie again. I’ve lost track now of how many times I’ve seen her. I love The Work, her four questions and three turnarounds that you can apply to any thought you have that causes you to suffer.

This time my friend Glenda drove down from the Metroplex to attend with me, and I reconnected with several friends who also hold Katie’s work in high esteem. I remembered to bring my copy of her book Loving What Is: Four questions that can change your life. She signed it for me, and we chatted a bit about using The Work in trauma recovery. (She says it works well.)

Glenda bought her book for children, Tiger-Tiger, Is It True? Four questions to make you smile again, to use with her young grandson as well as an audiobook of Loving What Is and some cards.

My dear late Neuro-Linguistic Programming teacher Tom Best included The Work in his master practitioner training. Even though The Work is not NLP, it is very NLP-like in that it uses questions to induce profound shifts at the belief and identity neurological levels of experience. Tom thought very highly of it, and I cannot think of any other non-NLP techniques that made it into his practitioner and master practitioner trainings.

I’m feeling inspired to start a new 21-day challenge: 21 days because that’s how long it takes to develop a new habit, because I would like for The Work so become so ingrained that as soon as I even start thinking a thought that is less than loving, I can ask “Is that true? Nope! What happens when I believe the thought? Who am I without the thought?” and immediately shift my state.

When I discard painful thoughts, I always feel “returned to myself” with a sense of peace, pleasure, wonder, and expansion. Imagine: We could live from that state nearly all the time!

Katie is onto something of huge importance, in my opinion, with her distinctions between what’s my business, someone else’s business, and God’s business. If what I cannot control is either someone else’s business or God’s business, then what is my business? It is being present in my own life, attending to my own experience, knowing and doing what is right for me, letting go of all stories about how things “should” be.

For my challenge, I need to make 21 copies of her Judge Your Neighbor worksheet (available online if you would like to participate too — I invite all readers willing to do the inquiry of The Work to join me). I plan to blog about it occasionally.

Here are some of her memorable words from the weekend (and here’s a link to the last time I noted her wit and wisdom if you want even more inspiration):

In my world…

Are you being thought?

You can’t feel my pain and vice versa. It’s a projection. I’m the only one who can hurt me.

We’re all innocent.

I asked with the intention of really listening.

They will or they won’t mind you.

I want to know what’s real and what’s not.

Nothing has ever happened, except I believe it happened.

I love everything I think. I’m the best company I know.

Who needs God when you have your opinion?

The ego loves to play.

Apologize to yourself.

You said thank you, so I’m thanking me.

Smoking quit me as I became sane.

Live in your own business.

Prior to thought was pure awareness, joy, the unnamed.

Inequality is not possible when the mind is right.

We’re a human race. We need your help.

Would you hold me now?

I’m always asking what I want.

The mental produces the physical.

From Brain Pickings: Maira Kalman on identity, happiness, and existence

The awesome website/newsletter Brain Pickings features a video, with quotes and illustrations below, of the fabulous artist/writer Maira Kalman.

Maira Kalman on identity, happiness, and existence

How do you know who you are? There are many parts to who you are, so there isn’t one static place. And then, the other part of that is that things keep changing.

Happy Easter!

I want to share this wonderful quote from Jean Houston:

Resurrection is essentially a remembrance of one’s true nature and a waking up to this remembrance.

This Easter, may you wake up and remember who you really are.