14 min read

All Diseases Begin in the Gut

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This is Part One of the 3-Part Video Series "The Wiser Approach: A Holistic Approach" with Master Herbalist Paul Schulick and Holistic Nutritionist Andrea Donsky.

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Andrea:

Paul I'd love to start with your story back in 1986, what inspired you to formulate one of the first fermented supplements on the market?

Paul:

Well, I had a natural food store in 1979. I've always been attracted to, or as long as I can remember, attracted to whole foods. In my health food store, customers were coming in and they were taking in 1979, started taking vitamins and minerals much like I did. But like them I had an experience where I had kind of a queasy stomach after I took the vitamins and minerals. Having seen that now or then, hundreds if not thousands of times, I was moved to create a vitamin and a mineral that the body could utilize. It was a common sense thing, in that vitamins and minerals the way they were commonly used were in their isolated or more chemical form. What I did was turning the vitamins and minerals into a highly utilizable fermented food form. That was really at the root of the success of the company New Chapter.

Andrea:

That sounds so interesting Paul, thank you for sharing that. Given that you're an expert on gut health, why is gut health so important to you and really for all of us?

Paul:

Well, I think it goes way, way back in that back to the Greek physician Hippocrates, he said, "All diseases begin in the gut." There's immense truth to that. We've known that forever, and we each experience it, you get that queasy stomach and we know we haven't eaten something that's good for us, or it doesn't nourish us properly. For me, it was very clear that if you can get good digestion, you are not only what you eat, but you are what you absorb. Those food elements that we either digest or don't digest, that will to a great extent determine whether we're feeling healthy and vibrant, or whether we're feeling nauseous and not so good. You do that over a period of time Andrea, what happens is you're not listening to your body. Over time, six months, a year, five years, the body comes back with a disease. That's what ultimately why Hippocrates said diseases begin in the gut. Being in this field it's been a primary target of interest.

Andrea:

It makes a lot of sense. I think many of us understand that gut health is important, but we hear the word gut, we hear the word colon, we hear the word microbiome. What is the microbiome for those who are maybe new to the term?

Paul:

We're learning virtually every day a better and more complete answer to that question, Andrea. But approximately there's close to a hundred trillion cells, that's a big number, right?

Andrea:

A lot.

Paul:

At least 500 species that are living on us and in us. That those are composed of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, viruses. All of these elements make up our microbiome. It's considered by many scientists to be the forgotten organ. That forgotten organ some say is the most metabolically active organ of your body. Let me just give you a little frame here. Think of your body as human genetic activity. We count about 23,000 human genes. Contrast that to the microbiome that we walk around with in us and on us, that's about three plus million genes. Whoever we think we are, we must include this microbiome that's in us and around us, and is creating a host of compounds, vitamins, important enzymes, and a critical part of our immune system.

Andrea:

One of the first things that comes to mind for myself when I think of the microbiome is I think probiotics. Probiotics I mean a term that it's been around for a very, very long time. Can you explain please why probiotics are so good for our immune system? What's that tie in?

Paul:

Probiotics are creating literally, according to one reference, hundreds of thousands of compounds. When they're creating these compounds, they're basically doing it for their own, they take the food that we eat and they help in our digestion. There's a synergistic, friendly relationship between us and our microbiome. The degree to which there's friendship there determines to a great extent how healthy we are. When those fungi and bacteria and viruses are all in harmony and are all connected, what's happening is they're producing a host of important enzymes and vitamins and anti-microbial substances that go by a big word called bacteriocins. Those compounds are what's so critical for maintenance of a healthy balance in our microbiome.

Then what happens is, they're also creating a healthy barrier between determining what's going from your digestive system into your bloodstream. If they form a healthy barrier again, the body will then determine good stuff going in and bad stuff moving along. Probiotics also are able to activate key immune cells that release important anti-inflammatory cytokines. That's another big word, but those compounds, those cytokines can have significant anti-inflammatory potential. We now know over the past 15 or 20 years, that inflammation is at the root of so many of our chronic diseases of aging, like cancer and heart disease and obesity and diabetes. They're all related to inflammation. That's where, again, if you have too much inflammation, your immune cells can't hear and can't be wise. They can't do an appropriate surveillance to determine who's friend and who's foe.

Andrea:

Which makes a lot of sense. Maybe you could just explain really quickly what cytokines are.

Paul:

Cytokines are a host of compounds that are either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory in nature. These are compounds also known as immunoglobulins. These are compounds that are part of our immune reaction. Contrary to what most people might suspect, if I ask you Andrea now you're an expert so you know the right answer to this. But if I were to ask you as someone who hasn't studied the field, is inflammation good for you or is it bad for you? What would most people say?

Andrea:

They would probably say bad, but I'm going to say it's actually both.

Paul:

Exactly, well, that's the right answer. We need both pro-inflammatory cytokines because they're part of the immune reaction. If the immune cells sees a bad player or a player it needs to reduce, what's going to happen is the body is going to increase inflammation, that's why we get a fever. The body increases a fever in order to burn off the more unfriendly foes. Now in balance there has to be the anti-inflammatory component. That's why we refer to it as a wiser immune system. You can't just have a boosted amplified stimulated immune system. If you do that, then you've only got one part of the picture you've got to have both.

Andrea:

I think now what experts all agree on is that its chronic inflammation that is the root of diseases. Inflammation is good for us, but it's that underlining chronic inflammation that causes the issue. I just want to go back to probiotics for a minute. Are there certain probiotics that are more beneficial for us when it comes to immune system, to our immune system and keeping us healthier and boosting or supporting it?

Paul:

Absolutely. I don't want to undermine all of the hundreds if not thousands of species that are all hanging out there. I think they each play their role. Let me just put in one of these classes there's this whole class called commensals. Those are the class of bacteria that we don't really know what they're doing. They're just hanging out there. But they play a really, really important part in maintaining a healthy environment. Most importantly, one microbiologist told me, "The most important thing they do is they do no harm." Now on the very positive side, probably the most researched strain in the world is called Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. That is a strain that I've been really interested in for a long time, I take it myself. That strain the real beauty of that strain is it produces a group of compounds, one of protein that they've recently discovered called P40. This compound has a significant immunomodulating impact, and particularly as anti-inflammatory.

Another strain that I really like, and that I also take is Bifidobacterium breve BR03. That particular strain, when it interacts with certain foods like flax seed for example, another food that I love and use daily. Part of the reason why flax seed is so good for us besides the omega-3s, is that flax seed when it interacts with breve, remember I said earlier that hundreds of thousands of compounds are created. Well, one of the special compounds that's created with breve, Bifidobacterium breve is a flavonoid called herbacetin. That is a really important immunomodulating compound. It's been shown to have significant antiviral activity. I really, really love Bifidobacterium breve. Those are two examples.

The other one that I also am now utilizing as part of my daily routine is another Lactobacillus, and these are like superheroes in the world of probiotics. I've been making probiotics, my first product was in 1982 and it was a probiotic. We didn't know the term back then we just said friendly bacteria. But since then I have studied probiotics and this probiotic that is called Lactobacillus plantarum, a specific strain called DR7, activates an enzyme called AMPK, and that enzyme sustains your cellular energy. What we're talking about here, Andrea, is that you can imagine this incredible opportunity you have to reinforce your health, by just manipulating some of these co-pilots that are joining you in this journey we call life.

Andrea:

I love that you're saying that. As you're talking because you're such an expert when it comes to probiotics, my first thought, another thought that comes to mind for me is, should we be taking these probiotics every single day? From what it sounds like to me, based on what you're talking about it's that diversity of probiotics. That's what's the key to get into our body on a daily basis. Am I correct with that?

Paul:

Yes. When we eat sauerkraut like I eat sauerkraut daily and I have yogurt daily. There are certain foods that are going to give you your daily supplement of incredibly valuable probiotics. In that case, it's really important that we take them on a regular basis. Now what's really interesting to me, Andrea, is I have no idea the impact of stress on the microbiome. I don't know if you've ever experienced stress in your life. You don't look like you've-

Andrea:

No, not at all, stress I'm completely immune to it. Oh my gosh, I've got three kids, I run two businesses, I'm familiar with it.

Paul:

Along with stress within a few days have you ever been angry, have you ever experienced anger before?

Andrea:

Again Paul I think I'm immune to all of that. Of course, I get angry. Ask my kids they'll tell you yes.

Paul:

Anger or fear trigger within just a few hours, can trigger a fairly dramatic shift in your microbiome. It really highlights the importance of daily microbiome probiotic supplementation. One of the most exciting things about DR7, the plantarum species that I use, is that it's been shown to both modulate the cortisol levels, the stress response, serotonergic, dopaminergic, all those different responses, stress responses. They help your body because you go through anger or fear and you've got to quickly rejuvenate your microbiome.

Andrea:

Especially now, right? With everything that's going on in the world, stress is so rampant for so many of us. I think that's an important point that you're making.

Paul:

Yes, absolutely.

Andrea:

Paul, can you explain what the connection is between our digestion and our immune system?

Paul:

Yeah, I think the way I've described it that our inflammation is profoundly affected by the foods that we eat, and by the microbiome that we walk around with. There's a tremendous impact if we have the right microbiome, they can protect us. It can protect us from opportunistic species that are not wanting to play nice in the sandbox. The other side of the story is that there's recently been uncovered, not only do we know that there is a microbiome in our gut, and that that microbiome in our gut affects our immune system. But we also now know that it affects our lungs. In light of the fact that we now know that we have a microbiome issue with our lung health, considering we're in the midst of immune challenges, it's really, really important to always maintain a healthy microbiome for a healthy gut-lung access.

It's believed, and it's all new science, Andrea, but it's believed that a lot of this impact is through the lymphatic system. That there's a crosstalk between what's going on in your gut, everything is connected. It's like what was that old...your knee bone is connected to your whatever that thing is. It is absolutely a connection between all of these different microbiomes on your skin. I've studied the skin microbiome. It's absolutely amazing, and all the different regions, how they all crosstalk. Certain species like reuteri can actually produce the neurotransmitter or up-regulated oxytocin. Other ones can produce norepinephrine. These are all producing important compounds that impact daily our immune system and our lung health.

Andrea:

That's fascinating. What's the difference between prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics?

Paul:

Great question. A prebiotic is something you take that your probiotics are going to like to eat. Some things they may eat that they are going to produce a certain group of compounds that may not be as good for you. How does this sound, this word, putrescine? Does that sound pretty good?

Andrea:

No, not so good.

Paul:

Putrescine as in putrid. That doesn't sound very good. If you feed the bacteria in your gut certain types of compounds that are not necessarily the ones that bacteria are going to most like to digest, they could produce compounds that will not be as good for you. On the other hand, if you eat foods like bananas and onions and asparagus and apples, rich in compounds called polyphenols, that's a really important word. Is a group of compounds in our diet like blueberries and broccoli. These are the foods that the healthy friendly bacteria and the microbiome love to produce for us. I look at my microbiome, Andrea, much like a farmer would look at his land. I must take care of my microbiome and feed it the right foods. Prebiotic are those foods, probiotic are the friendly bacteria they're going to do the most good for you.

The ones that are ancient strains that have been part of the human microbiome probably for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years. Then postbiotics are the real jewels. They are the ones that are making they turn grape juice into wine, or they turn cabbage into sauerkraut or milk into yogurt or soy into miso. Those foods before they have been converted through fermentation, they're nowhere near as good for you. The reason why they're so good for you is because of the postbiotics that they're producing, the vitamin B12. All of these different compounds, like vitamin K2. These are really, really important compounds that sustained our long-term health.

Andrea:

Also like folic acid and glutathione, those are all considered those postbiotics.

Paul:

Right, very good.

Andrea:

Paul, one of the terms it's newer to me that I learned from you it's called parabiotics. How does that compare to the pre, pro, and postbiotics you just mentioned?

Paul:

Great. It's always fun to learn something new in the field, and I just learned this in the last few years. Paraprobiotics are actually cells that are no longer alive. What we do know is that when you take... You would think the probiotic must be alive in order to do its good work. There is some evidence, Andrea, that even when the cell is no longer alive, and has actually been heat sterilized, that the cell wall components can modulate an anti-inflammatory response. Part of what I'm attracted to when I create a fermentate, after I grow products, what I'm really, really interested in is the cells that are no longer alive, because they also have significant biological activity. In reality, I call it the four Ps: pre, pro, post, and para. Those are the four that a product really needs to offer.

Andrea:

This is why I love my job so much. I've been in the health industry for 20 years, but yet there's things I don't know. That's why looking to someone like yourself who's an expert and really when it comes to gut health and learning about all this, so thanks for sharing that, and you're right, I love learning new things. That's exciting. Is there anything else that you didn't cover today that you'd like to cover on gut health before we end the interview? Anything that's inspiring you lately that you'd like to share?

Paul:

I just want to re-emphasized the importance of the mind-body relationship. All this stuff is... One of my teachers used to always say, "If you sit down to a bowl of broccoli and you just had an argument with your loved one, it's not going to be any better for you than if you sat down to a McDonald's burger and were in a loving relationship." We have to be careful in our field to always emphasize the importance of a harmonious life around ourselves. I think that's really, really important.

Andrea:

That is so well said Paul, and such a great way to end today's interview.