When your body turns against itself …

When your body turns against itself … they call it an AUTO-IMMUNE disease.  autoimmune

And there are plenty of them … and they range from the uncomfortable – to the downright debilitating.

The one thing that they all have in common is inflammation. Why am I not surprised therefore, that Dr Perlmutter cites a  disrupted gut-biome as the main cause of auto-immune diseases.

We need a good immune system, it protects us from the things outside of us that will do us harm if they end up inside. However, an immune system must know what it is fighting. Without a functioning immune system then the simplest of infections can lead to trauma and even death. However, an over-active immune system can lead to other complications – allergies (some of which can also lead to death in an anaphylactic shock reaction) or to our immune system failing to recognise parts of our own body and starting to attack them. The classic auto-immune diseases (like Rhematiod Arthritis or Lupus) leave the sufferer in chronic pain – usually treated with drugs to suppress the immune system (leaving the patient open to other dangers and altering the gut-biome even further from the optimum) and strong medicines that often cause almost as much pain as the condition.  autoimmune2

So where does the gut-bacteria come into all this? The fact is of our whole immune system 80% is created by our gut bacteria and lies within our gut. This makes sense when you acknowledge that the gut is the boundary between outside our body and inside. (As I said  at the beginning of these articles – the mouth-to-anus gastrointestinal tract can be seen as being an extension of outside our body.) The gut immune system is also in touch with every cell in the remaining immune system, if it meets a problem within the gut then the message to be alert travels throughout the body. They are the body’s first responders. The right gut bacteria teach the immune system what is safe and what is not – so that the immune system become vigilant but not in full defence mode all the time. They educate the system to know that food stuffs are safe (not requiring an immune response).

It seems that pathogenic bacteria (very bad bacteria) can not just cause us upsets but they also interact with the immune system causing a release of inflammatory molecules and stress hormones. With the wrong balance of bacteria the protective layer to the inside of the ileum is not there – the tight-junctions are vulnerable to being crowbarred open by constituents found in substances such as Gluten (there are others – but gluten is by far the biggest culprit) and the pathogenic bacteria get in (along with the over-large proteins that also cause inflammation) This is called a leaky-gut.

On the other hand –  the right bacteria can actually do the opposite – turning off the stress hormones, soothing the inflammatory responses, protecting the lining of the ileum and therefore the tight junctions.

So, if this is the case then it would seem possible – that by changing the balance of the gut bacteria and preventing the leaky-gut problem –  an auto-immune disease could be reversed – or at very least made less chronic – less painful, less disruptive to the body.

I have already written about depression in an earlier blog – it is a fact that having and auto-immune disease and having depression has a very high correlation. Logically, I think if you are in chronic pain it would be depressing – however, the suggestion is not that the chronic pain causes the depression but that both the autoimmune condition and the depression my be caused by the same thing.

Because auto-immune conditions generally grow slowly in intensity (often in the run-up to being diagnosed) it is rare that anyone can pin-point when it started. If they could it would be interesting to know how often it was triggered by a life-event that required antibiotic treatment, or another treatment or experience that adversely affected the gut-biome.

I read with interest the reports from people who suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis, in particular, who had taken up the ‘Paleo’ life-style diet only to find that it also reversed their condition sufficiently to come off medication and to feel stronger and healthier than before. This Paleo diet would, inadvertently, have produced the same balancing of the bacteria – through the recommended foods to eat (organic veg, grass fed meats, pastured poultry, fermented foods, whole-foods) and the avoidance of gluten and many of the other inflammatory ingredients in the Paleo-diet. The aim was a different eating style – the result was a change in the gut-biome, a reduction in gut attack (leaky gut) … and a healing process.

The take- away again this week is, if you suffer from an auto-immune condition – cut out the gluten (and maybe some of the other main known irritants) and top up with the right type of bacteria and eat the fibrous fresh foods that sustain them, whilst cutting back on the carbs and sugar that encourage the wrong type of bacteria to grow. It certainly couldn’t do any harm and yet may just help your system to turn the corner and start to help itself recover to some extent.

Any experience of this out there?

Do share – I’d love to hear from you


The next book is getting restless …

The next book is getting restless – I need to start writing it!

I know, I know… the book I have finished isn’t out yet … and I’m talking about writing the next one.  You see, it isn’t as simple as finishing one altogether; writing, editing, checking and getting it ready for publishing before I start thinking about the next one.

The next one has been brewing for a long, long time, but recently it is as if the stars have become aligned and the book is asking to be written.

When I am not doing anything else (that requires my verbal brain) the words start coming in – I watch the pictures – like watching a movie, and describe it to  myself. Tuesday, as I drove over to Milton Abbot to the climbing centre, a whole scene was revealed… and this keeps happening – too many times – I have to start writing some of it down in case I forget it.

In the meantime I have two projects I must finish before I complete A Respectable Life. One is preparing another person’s book for publishing – and as such is my job so has priority – and the other is preparing the first volume of my father’s autobiography for printing in time for his 90th birthday this summer. So those of you who are waiting for A Respectable Life – I apologise for the delay – but it should be out this summer some time … and I’ll carry on catching the new one as it arrives 🙂

Writing a book is just the beginning … here’s Fascinating Aida’s take on writing a best seller.


The gut and the Autism question

Autism is a delicate condition to talk about. autism As Dr Stephen Scherer, director of the Centre for Applied genomics at Toronto who has just completed the largest-ever autism genome study says ‘Each child with autism is like a snowflake – unique from all the others’. Contrary to what had been assumed – it turns out that even siblings who share the same genetic parents and a diagnosis of Autism don’t always have the same autism-linked genes. This has raised the suspicion that the mechanism that creates Autism is not only genetic even where it appears to run in families.

Dr Perlmutter points out that despite the many difference between people with autism, one thing is certain – they are all people whose brains function a little differently. It is suggested that during their early development something triggered changes in their physiology and neurology that led to this disorder.

One indicator of this is that individuals with Autism almost uniformly suffer from gastrointestinal disorders. (This is something that I have come across myself in children with Autism I have known. The expression of the behaviours associated with the autism increased as the child’s extreme constipation built up over four or five days and then, after the explosive expulsion of faecal matter, the behaviours lessened) 

Children with Autism are 3.5 times more likely to suffer from chronic constipation and diarrhoea than their peers without autism – and that a strong association between constipation and language impairment has been found.

When the contents of the guts of people suffering from Autism is examined it is found that they exhibit different patterns in their composition to that of people without Autism. The particular bacteria that are found in their guts in abundance are Clostridia, which are able to create a compound that adversely affect the immune system and brain, causing inflammation. This is Propionic Acid – PPA.

PPA has multiple deleterious effects. Firstly it makes the gut leaky – which, as we know, allows molecules that should never get through to the blood into the blood stream – including itself. When it gets into the blood stream it turns on inflammation and activates the immune system. It also affects  cell-to-cell signalling, and compromises the mitochondria, altering the brain’s ability to use energy. It also increases oxidative stress, which in turns harms proteins, cell-membranes and even DNA. If the brain is exposed to these chemicals, and the enhanced inflammation, at a formative stage it is quite possible for this to play a role in creating the autistic brain.

Clostridia bacteria also need to feed on carbohydrates – and may explain why children with Autism often crave carbohydrates, especially refined sugars, which feed these bacteria and thus create a vicious cycle.

autismAdd to this that scientist have also identified a multitude of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism. If you read the earlier blog which mentioned epi-genetics then you may already be wondering if this effect is at work here. Though the work has not yet been completed, the indicators are that the epi-genetic effect could well be at work. That there may be many other people who have the possibility of being autistic within their DNA but they have not had the environmental exposure (internal or external ) to have switched on or off the genes that lead to the symptoms that are recognised as Autistic.

However, as complicated as this is it is still not the whole story  – it is far more complicated, as a condition such as Autism surely is, there is an interplay of timing of exposure, of the on-going effect of the PPA and of the chronic gastrointestinal problems it creates.

This is a huge and very complicated subject – and I have not been able to deal with it in depth – but hopefully I have picked out his main points.

If you are concerned with someone suffering from Autism then I can only recommend reading this chapter of his book (Ch 5) if you haven’t already considered the way a compromised gut-biome may be affecting the condition – it holds some hope for some cases in that, without drugs, it seems it is possible to try to even-out the bacterial balance and perhaps help alleviate, if not everything, at least some of the gastrointestinal problems. The quoted scientific experiments are very interesting in this respect – as is this case study of Jason he quotes in this chapter and on his webpage here.

Again, Dr Perlmutter’s advice for people with this condition is to avoid gluten and sugary and simple carbohydrates and to enhance the diet with live fermented foods to balance the bacteria in the gut – though more drastic measures are also suggested.

Does any of this ring bells with your experience of this condition?



All adrift – a smile for Wednesday

The past week – and weekend – have been hectic – and fun. First there was our WI’s 70th anniversary to organise  – properly celebrated with a great night, meal and dancing! Followed by a Saturday night belly-dancing at our group’s Halfla – a party for lots of belly-dance groups – to also raise funds for Macmillan cancer care.

There – excuses made – so here is your Saturday smile – perhaps a Wednesday is a better day to have a smile  🙂

So before Saturday I was thinking about all sorts of anniversaries – and that brought me to thinking about age and being over sixty – and how I wish I had known how to be as confident about myself before now. old purple

But to get here there is the menopause to go through …

hot flashes

and all that comes with it …

50 forgetfulbut in the end I think that this philosophy works for meold hippiealong with the best advice from tigger … tiggerHappy Wednesday


ADHD and Depression – an unlikely couple?

ADHD and Depression –  What on earth could link these two conditions?

Well you know already what I am going to say based on the reading I have been doing.  Yes – the blend of gut-bacteria in your system.

So how does the blend of gut-bacteria affect something that seems so definitely rooted in the brain – your moods – your despair – your excitability – your concentration levels?  depression

Last week I mentioned that the gut bacteria can produce hormones. They also produce the chemicals that other parts of your body use to turn into hormones. Without the building blocks the hormone cannot be made. This is true of the hormones that control our moods. So a depressed gut biome – will produce a depressed brain (via the hormone controls)

Again Dr Perlmutter shows how the indicators for inflammation are inextricably linked to the symptoms of depression and of ADHD.

In the case of Depression he quotes a Belgian research team “There is now evidence that major depression (MMD) is accompanied by an activation of the inflammatory response system and that pro-inflammatory cytokines and lipopolysaccarides (LPS) may induce depressive symptoms”  {Antibodies to the presence of LPS has been cited before as a marker for inflammation} The same researchers also noted that depression was often accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms. LPS not only has the ability to make the gut wall more permeable, but it can also cross the blood-brain barrier and allow pro-inflammatory chemicals to attack the brain.

High blood-sugar is again cited as one of the factors – and the way that this can alter the gut-bacteria make-up has been already shown (with high fructose corn syrup – used to sweeten so much mass produced food and drink – being the worst type to ingest) as well as gut-permeability allowing these inflammatory substances into the system.

I do not know personally about depression – but I know enough people who suffer with it to know that it can be very complicated – and I hesitate to suggest that the gut-biome is the whole story. However, a happy gut-biome may be part and, as an easy part to deal with, seems to require at least a second glance. After all, unlike taking many prescribed medications, eating pro-biotics, (live yoghurt, live sauerkraut, kefir, etc or a tablet blend of bacteria) and feeding them with good pre-biotic foods stuff (onion, turmeric, jerusalem artichokes and more) does not have health-damaging side effects.

Somehow I think of Depression and ADHD as being almost opposites. One where there is no hope, nothing to be done, a state in which inaction is most likely and the other where everything captures the attention for a brief time – hyper-actively flitting between stimuli, getting nothing done through lack of concentration on any one thing.

adhdDr Perlmutter starts by pointing out that 11% of all American children are diagnosed with ADHD and two thirds are on medication for it. This is a frighteningly high number. He also points out that American children  are not genetically different to other children – and that there must be something else going on.

In one study it was found that there was a predominance of three markers in the lives of ADHD patients as opposed to those who did not suffer from ADHD – they were far more likely to have been born by C-section, and or, not to have been breastfed (or not for very long) and they were very likely to have had ear-infections requiring heavy antibiotic intervention.

Some of this must be sounding familiar by now – all the things that pre-dispose someone to a disrupted gut biome. The history is there, and when the investigations are made the  inflammatory markers are there too.

Symptomatically, most of these ADHD children also have gastrointestinal problems. From one huge study it was shown that they were threefold more likely to be constipated – and 67% more likely to have faecal incontinence. Here is something that chimed in with children I have known with ADHD from my time in teaching in Primary schools – in that parents have said to me ‘he’s so active he forgets to go until it’s too late’ (referring to a child that, even long after being potty-trained will mess their pants a bit before they get to the toilet) or ‘he never stays still long enough to go and it builds up’ about children that get constipated.

What if this wasn’t due to being too active – but to do with a disrupted gut-biome – which also resulted in one or other of these outward signs? This is the angle that Dr Permutter treats his ADHD patients from, correcting the gut-biome with pro-biotics (the right bacteria) and a diet including the pre-biotics, that those bacteria need to thrive, and cutting back on the carbs and sugars that feed the other bacteria; that unbalance the gut-biome –  and with great success. Children calming down almost to be unrecognisable as the child who first came for treatment. Yet – millions is spent on medication without trying to look at the underlying causes before treatment.

This still doesn’t explain how come the same imbalance may make one person depressed and another hyperactive … well, this is where the base genetics come into it. It is suggested that the genetic pre-disposition to ADHD could be ‘switched on’ by the imbalance (via the epi-genetic effect), and ‘switched-off’ again when the correct balance is restored.

Moreover, there is the evidence about GABA. GABA is a very important neuro-transmiiter that is made in the gut, and requires specific chemical inputs gained from food – and is has been found to be largely deficient in the brains of people with ADHD (and incidentally also of those with Tourettes) To make GABA (which is an inhibitory neuro-transmiiter) the gut needs the right bacteria (lactobacillus and bifidobacterium have been identified so far) to change glutamine to GABA, with the chemical co-factors of zinc and vitamin B6 (both only gained from food) to make the change. With GABA in the brain the electrical charges on neurons are subdued – making them less likely to excite and trigger nearby neurones – and thereby it reduces ‘impulsivity’.

Finally, in this section – I’m sure you’ve heard of Ritalin – a medication to calm down ADHD children. Back in 2003 – before the rise of interest in the gut-biome – a very small experiment was done using twenty ADHD children. Half were given Ritalin – the other half were given probiotics (like lactobacillus) and a nutritional supplement including essential fatty acids. To the researchers’ astonishment – the results showed the same outcome for both groups – both sets of ADHD children became more focussed and calm. I know which I would prefer my children to be taking if they had need to.

Any of this ring any bells out there?

Would you have ever linked depression and ADHD?

Do share – you know I like to talk 🙂


Find me on Facebook & Twitter @AnnFoweraker



Welcome to (funny) Cornwall

As March the 5th is St. Piran’s Day – I thought I’d go with a Cornish  theme for this blog!

st piran's flagHere’s St. Piran’s flag – flying briskly today – but it isn’t St Piran I’m focussing on for a bit of fun – it is the ‘Welcome to Cornwall’ sign that greets you as you cross the border!

It obviously starts with the proper sign – with the Cornish for Welcome to Cornwall underneath the English .

cornwall kernow

Then the wags get going  and it becomes Welcome to Cornwall … with advice for the traveller

cornwall moblie

cornwall wide carcornwall safeAnd the visitorscornwall bodyand a heartfelt plea (or prayer?) cornwall christmasbut my favourite – and it is not a funny – it’s simply …

cornwall heaven

I’m sure you have seen these – scattered over the internet –  funny Welcome to Cornwall signs.  I wondered if they were out there for every county (country) in the British Isles? I have looked – a bit – but they do not appear for other places!

What is special about Cornwall that people have taken this sign to their hearts and amended it to make others smile? Strange that the counties I tried (at random) didn’t have any)

(Note: I’ve seen a few others – but some are a bit rude – so I’ll not share those with you)

I also liked the real one I saw photographed where it said Welcome to Seaton –  Please drive carefully – but someone have carefully covered the word ‘Drive’ with masking tape and written ‘SURF’ instead.

Have you seen any better ones – or ones for elsewhere? Do share!

Find me on Facebook and Twitter @AnnFoweraker


The Guts of Obesity and Diabetes

Obesity and type 2 diabetes seem to go hand in hand – we are always being told of the rise in both – and that being obese puts you at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The temptation is to say – just stop eating the junk – that ‘these people’ must be lazy – must be eating too much and not doing enough exercise. How many times have you seen the guy (it usually is a guy) commenting on an article about obesity “it’s simple – food in must equal energy out or you will get fat!”

Fat and Thin Bronze courtesy Rui Fernandes
Fat and Thin Bronze courtesy Rui Fernandes creative commons

It is not as simple as that! Guy A may eat exactly the same as Guy B – do exactly the same amount of exercise … but  Guy B is Fat and Guy A is Lean.  Ah Ha! Metabolism – people say, Guy A must have a fast metabolism … well, probably not. Generally people’s metabolism is roughly the same if they do the same amount of exercise (excepting certain constant fidgeters) . It seems that Guy A may have a better gut bacteria balance – one that does the right things with the food he has ingested, one that isn’t compromised.

The Western diet – high carbohydrate, high sugar diet – and modern lifestyle – antibiotic treated, c-section opted, bottle-fed by choice, urban-clean living – has created a gut biome that is not as diverse or as balanced as it once was. This is pretty much agreed.

However, recent studies have shown that the balance between two groups of bacteria in the intestine can make all the difference as to what happens to the ‘food in’ side of the equation. There are two groups of bacteria that make up 90% of the gut bacteria – the Bacteriodetes and the Firmicutes.

First take the Bacteriodetes – this bunch of bacteria specialise in breaking down resistant starch plant molecules and fibres into Short Chain Fatty-Acid molecules that the body can use for energy (SCFAs). These short-chain fatty-acid molecules are good for our system, used in intracellular signalling and for creating Adenosine Tri Phosphate (ATP)  as an efficient form of energy, and more recently are indicated in causing colon-cancer cells to kill themselves (autophagy)

The Firmicutes are adept at breaking down carbohydrates and in extracting the greatest amount of calories from them. However they have another effect on our system – they can actually control the way our body uses energy – they do this by using the epi-genetic effect (turning on or off ‘switches’ on our genes) in this case telling our bodies to store energy – to lay down fat! epigenetic mechanism[Epi-genetics is another whole area of fascinating new research – not long ago we all thought we were stuck with whatever our DNA bequeathed us – it is now evident that ‘nurture’ (as in our environment, infections, treatments, food ingested and even the air we breathe) can turn on or off genetic expressions – so that even identical twins who have had different life experiences can end up with a different genetic expression from the same set of DNA]

The guts of naturally lean people (like Guy A) have a much larger proportion of the Bacteriodetes than the Firmicutes. The guts of obese people have a larger proportion of Firmicutes.

Indeed in a experiment where baby ‘humanised’ mice were given gut microbes from one of twin women, (one of whom is obese, the other being lean) then gave the mice the same food and in the same quantity to eat. Those with the microbiome from the obese twin started to put on more weight than those with the microbiome from the lean twin. When checked – their gut bacteria were far less diverse than those of the lean ones. More than this, when they allowed the mice to share a cage the natural behaviour of mice (to eat faeces) resulted in the obese mice eventually becoming lean – having taken in the correct bacteria and created the right balance to become lean (when checked their bacteria diversity had also increased).

Fecal transplants have been used to even out the bacteria in humans too, though mainly used as a treatment for C Difficile, the results have, co-incidentally, been the same.

Then, once visceral fat is being laid down, there is another layer of trouble ahead. Visceral fat cells create their own ‘hormones’ and when in possession of too much visceral fat this can become overwhelming to the system. They suppress the hormone that tells us we are full, they stimulate the brain into wanting MORE sweet and rich food – more than we need – more than we consciously want – by making our brain CRAVE these things – and they cause inflammation – fat-generated cytokines are found in elevated levels in all inflammatory conditions – from  arthritis and heart disease to auto-immune disorders and dementia. (note: you do not have to be overweight or obese to lay down viceral- fat- some people are what is known as TOFI ‘thin outside – fat inside’ and are just as much at risk)

A larger proportion of firmicutes than bacteriodetes is also indicated in increased gut permeability – and so then in inflammation – leading to many other inflammation-triggered diseases.

[It makes me wonder if ‘being fat running in families’ can be partially due to collecting the wrong balance of bacteria at a natural birth, if the mother has an imbalance in her gut-biome – and then this causes a yearning for the wrong foods that starts the vicious cycle – this doesn’t seem to be an area that has been researched as yet]

And what of Diabetes?

It is a given that Obesity and Diabetes are linked. There are more and more obese people – so it follows that we are on the edge of a diabetes explosion too. But what if they are not only consequential – but actually initiated by the same problem – an uneven balance and less-diverse gut biome than we ought to have?

An experiment, carried out by Dr Nieuwdorp in the University of Amsterdam, using fecal transplants showed that insulin sensitivity and the blood-sugar variation was improved when he transplanted fecal material from healthy, lean, non-diabetics  into  diabetic patients.  This was a blind test on 250 people – with the control group being given a fecal transplant of their own bacteria to rule out the placebo effect. To reverse the symptoms of diabetes in this way is a breakthrough as, at the moment, nothing else does this.

Fecal transplants do sound rather drastic, however, the good news is that is is relatively easy to change the gut bacteria – by ingesting probiotics (pills packed with the range of bacteria that we need) or eating the fermented foods that have these naturally in them – PLUS making sure that we eat the type of diet that feeds the bacteria that are better for us to have in abundance (bacteriodetes) rather than those that it is better to have in smaller numbers (firmicutes).

This doesn’t mean that once your gut is populated healthily that one could eat everything and anything and not put on weight, only that on a sensible diet, rich in fibre from plants, well balanced with proteins and good fats it would be possible to be lean – whereas with an unhealthy balance of bacteria it would forever be an uphill struggle.

Has this section been food for thought

Has it raised any questions for you – I may be able to find the answers if you ask

I look forward to hearing your responses …



Find me on Facebook and Twitter @AnnFoweraker


Enjoyed this blog? Please share :)