“We are what we eat”. What is your gut reaction to this?

Your correspondent is not generally considered a food faddist, nor a health nut. Just an ordinary, healthy individual who, nevertheless, can consume a packet of biscuits at one sitting, has a predilection for chocolate, and maybe, just maybe, drinks a little too much whisky. So, why, in the last couple of weeks has he been hit by the proverbial train? Not a wreck, mind you. Rather a vehicle moving towards an amazing new world of physical and possibly mental understanding.


By way of further preamble there is a little story of a man who came, a few years back, to buy a used car from your correspondent’s son. An entrepreneur, this used car buyer regaled us about his new passion, probiotics, which, he claimed, could cure all manner of diseases and conditions. He was, in all probability, a nut case. But perhaps there was some truth in what he was postulating. After all probiotics work in the gut, and that is what this blog post is all about.


Gut bacteria is the issue, and the complex interplay between bacteria in the intestinal tract and its effect on the host. The host? That’s you and me. Consider this:


“Microbes in the gastrointestinal tract are under selective pressure to manipulate host eating behaviour to increase their fitness, sometimes at the expense of host fitness. Microbes may do this through two potential strategies: (i) generating cravings for foods that they specialize on or foods that suppress their competitors, or (ii) inducing dysphoria [a profound state of unease or dissatisfaction] until we eat foods that enhance their fitness.” [i]


There is more: “mechanisms for microbial control over eating behaviour [include]…microbial influence on reward and satiety pathways, production of toxins that alter mood,…..and hijacking of the vagus nerve, the neural axis between the gut and the brain”[ii]


So what, you may ask. But think for a moment what this could mean, if indeed it is true. Perhaps the response to the current epidemic of obesity should not be more self-control and less fast foods, but rather a simple dietary shift to allow a different balance amongst the bacteria in the gut. And the thought, first expressed to your correspondent by his wise and diligent daughter: “When they find a cure for obesity, they will have found a cure for all eating disorders”.


While it may be early days in pursuing this general hypothesis, there is incredible evidence in other medical fields that a relatively simple change in gut bacteria can have outstanding results. There is another epidemic going on, of which this non-medico was not aware: severe Colitis, known as Clostridium difficile infection (CDI). The usual treatment practice with antibiotics is no longer working as drug resistant strains have developed. Happily an “inexpensive, safe, and highly efficient treatment” has emerged “which achieves results current pharmaceuticals cannot achieve.”[iii] The treatment? Infusion of a fecal suspension from a healthy individual into the gastrointestinal tract of an individual with colonic disease, also known as Fecal Microbiota Transplantation or even, colloquially “a transpoosion”.


Readers who wish to get some insight into these developments could do worse than view two recent episodes of the ABC TV program “Catalyst” Series 15 Episodes 5 and 6 both available currently on iView (http://ab.co/1uJFsfX).


It seems as if the world may be on the brink of some amazing new developments in the field of health. The work on gastrointestinal microbiota has potential ramifications for a wide spectrum, including autoimmune disease, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, eating disorders and even mental health. Let the research roll. It seems we are only at the beginning of what was known to Hippocrates more than 2000 years ago: ”Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Wise words indeed.



[i] Bioessays 36: 1-10 by Alcock, Maley and Aktipis. Pub. Wiley Periodicals.

[ii] Op. cit.

[iii] Fecal Microbiota Transplantation, Techniques, Applications and Issues. Borody and Campbell, Gastroenterol Clin N Am 41 (2012) 781-803


About johnofoz

An occasional correspondent, with particular interest in music.
This entry was posted in Medicine and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s