Horse and rider: that combination throughout history, until the last century, painted a picture of a symbiotic relationship. The modern version might be “car and driver,” which is a synergistic relationship, but a symbiotic relationship requires two living beings which need each other, such as the horse and rider. The rider sees to the care of the horse, protecting it from the myriad of dangers in the wild and making sure the horse has food throughout the year. The horse gives the rider greatly improved mobility and hauling capacity. Together they form a powerful pair which exceeds the abilities of either alone.
Nature gives us many examples of symbiotic relationships. Some of these are within your own body.
You’ll be lichen the result…
Fungus and algae are both primitive forms of life, which can survive by themselves. But when they join forces, they create a sort of a sandwich which becomes lichen. The algae is the inside layer, and fungus forms the outer layers which protect the algae. In return, the algae provide nutrients to the fungal layers. The combination can survive in extreme environments where neither can survive alone. This is symbiosis, where two living organisms cooperate to make a new, better organism.
An even tighter, special symbiotic relationship is called symbiogenesis, where two organisms join to become something that can no longer be separated: they depend upon each other. You would not live without mitochondria: these are the energy factories of your cells. Yet mitochondria have their own DNA, largely independent of the cell’s DNA. Your mitochondrial DNA comes from your mother alone, while the rest of the cell’s DNA comes from both your mother and father. Mitochondria unique DNA traces back to the stem cells. Our cells require these mitochondria to provide the levels of energy our cells require for life. Not only do our cells profit from the mitochondria — they cannot live without it.
In our intestinal tracts is another example of symbiogenesis….
Just can’t live without you
The “microbiota”, or gut bacteria, consists of millions of bacteria symbiotically living within us. It is a crucial part of our digestion process. Without microbiota, we would not be able to digest food properly, and likely would not survive for long. Somewhere between 300 to 500 different bacteria strains live in your gut. They form a complex, interactive community which, in the correct balance, greatly aid our digestion. Out of balance they can wreak havoc.
Microbiota do not form a one-way connection to our health: we impact the health of the bacteria colony as well. This complex mix of bacteria is affected by:
- Our food: what we eat can feed, and thus favor, good or bad bacteria.
- Our immune system: at least 70 percent of our immune system resides in the gut.
- Our brain: our thoughts not only affect microbiota through the immune system, but also through a direct connection via the vagus nerve.
Put all together, these interactions are the “gut-immune-brain axis”. Not only is the composition of the microbiota very complex, but the interactions with the immune system and the brain form an extremely complex system.
The gut microbiota is essential to our existence. Symbiogenesis has occurred. We cannot separate from it and maintain health. But we can influence it: by providing the right environment, the microbiota strains will balance themselves. The mainstream medical community treats the gut flora balance rather casually: they may suggest that you take probiotics after wiping out your good bacteria with rounds of antibiotics, as though it is that easy to fix the damage, but rarely is much emphasis placed on the value of good microbiota in avoiding or minimizing all diseases. They sometimes suggest probiotics without also stressing the proper food to eat to keep those good bacteria alive and well. Since we are in a symbiotic relationship with them, their health is our health.
Why so important?
Gut flora is not merely vital to good digestion. It is vital to all health, and particularly that of the immune system and the brain. The “gut-immune-brain axis” refers to the various ways that the microbiota is tied in with them. Published in Cell Host & Microbe, researchers at the University of Vienna observed the development of 60 highly premature infants who were receiving standard hospital care to better understand why they were at high risk of brain damage. They observed that a strong connection with the overgrowth of certain bad gut bacteria was contributing to brain damage. The reason appeared to be that the overgrowth led to increases in the ?? T cell levels, which led to increased T cell secretion of a vascular growth factor and a decreased secretion of certain neuroprotectants which would protect brain neurons during development. The gut bacterial overgrowth caused an immune system reaction which, because the immune system circulates throughout the body, affected the delicate brain neurons.
The intestinal tract is lined with an extremely thin layer totaling more than 4,000 square feet of surface. This lining is “semi-permeable”, meaning that only certain small particles are able to pass through it. This is the interface where food nutrients get to the blood stream and nourish our bodies. But much of what enters the intestines is never meant to reach the blood stream, at least not until it is broken down sufficiently and the nutrients are in their simplest, basic forms. The bacteria in the intestines digest the food you consume and use some of the nutrients from the food, and if they are good bacteria, their waste products are nontoxic, so in essence doing some of the digestion work for us. However, bad bacteria give off toxic waste products, which cause inflammation in the delicate intestinal lining, leading to gaps or holes in the semi-permeable membrane that lets larger food particles and even bacteria through to the blood stream when it should be blocking them, as well as some of the toxic bacterial waste products. Once in the blood stream, they can cause great damage, so the immune system is engaged to eat them and remove the danger. These immune cells come with a cost to the body however: they are not available to fight other disease, and they can also be inflammatory as they sometimes cause collateral damage while they do their work.
The brain is extremely delicate and susceptible to damage — so much so that it has its own protective barrier. The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is similar to the gut lining in that it strictly limits what can pass through. Specifically it allows water, oxygen and some other gases, and fat-soluble substances to pass, and it has a special transport mechanism to selectively carry hormones, glucose, and amino acids across. Also like the intestinal barrier, it is very thin and easily damaged. If this barrier is weakened by toxins that leaked in through the gut, neurotoxins can cross, killing brain cells, and immune cytokines can attack the myelin sheath around nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Even small disruptions of the BBB can reduce brain function, causing cognitive issues. Published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers at the University of California Berkeley showed a strong correlation between induced BBB leakiness and vulnerability to seizures, aberrant brain wave patterns, and cognitive impairment. They saw an over-activation of transforming growth factor-? (TGF?) signaling in astrocytes, which are cells that regulate the transmission of electrical impulses within the brain in reaction to the leaky BBB. TGF-? is a cytokine used in wound healing — the brain cells were reacting as though wounded, but cytokines are inflammatory and especially dangerous to brain cells.
The link between leaky gut and leaky BBB appears to be inflammation. Leaky gut allows foreign and potentially dangerous particles into the bloodstream, and the immune system must respond to the threat — this causes the all-body inflammatory response because the bloodstream travels throughout the body. The delicate BBB can be easily disrupted by inflammation, which also explains why keeping chronic inflammation low is vital to brain health and maintenance of brain function into older age. Also published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden compared BBB permeability in mice with normal gut flora against those with pathogenic (bad) gut flora and found that, so long as the pathogens remained in the gut, the BBB showed increased permeability, showing a direct link between leaky gut and leaky blood-brain barrier at all stages of life.
Finally, the gut is connected directly to the brain via the vagus nerve. This major nerve carries two-way signals between them, so not only can the brain control digestion, but the gut can signal the brain, providing feedback on how the digestive system is working. Around 80% of the nerve fibers signal from the gut to the brain, while only 20% go the other direction. Both good and harmful gut flora cause signals to go to the brain. Bad flora cause stress signaling to the brain, which results in release of stress hormones such as cortisol, so the intestinal distress is passed on to the rest of the body. So a distressed gut is a distressed brain and body.
Our bodies intertwine with their environment in many ways. We have formed symbiotic relationships with elements of the environment, including bacteria, so that we actually need them to survive. We are inextricably tied to our environment. That is how we were designed. We can either work in harmony with that environment, or harm ourselves by embracing the bad elements rather than the good.
As we grow and develop, we use the elements of the environment to build our bodies. What we take in either works for us or against us. What we promote, such as healthy food choices and feeding of good gut flora, can strengthen our health. By controlling our internal environment, we greatly influence our bodies and mind each day.
Dr. Nemec’s Review
What you do to the gut you do to the brain and vice versa. If you become stressed and emotional it affects your digestion, and if you eat a cooked, inflammatory Standard American Diet then you are opening up the intestinal lining and letting chemicals, toxins, neurotoxins, harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites into the circulating blood — which goes everywhere and affects every cell, tissue, gland and organ in your body, including your brain. This is why food choices are so critical. You are what you eat and it affects you on a cellular level. That is why at Total Health Institute we do nutritional genetic testing and food sensitivity testing to make sure your diet is promoting good bacteria, a good ecosystem for your unique genetic blueprint and makeup. Healthy food is best, but what might be healthy for one person can actually can set up an inflammatory reaction in another person. Most people are aware that the SAD diet we all grew up on is not health promoting our whole life. What we got away with when we were 18 years old we will not get away with when we are 38 years old, because at 18 we were still living off the energy and vitality of our birth, but there comes a time when the table turns and the body and gut will no longer tolerate some of your favorite foods. This does not mean that when you eat it you get diarrhea, constipation, or bloating and gas, but you will on a microscopic level be breaking down the gut lining and letting chemicals and toxins, along with pathogens into your blood which will do damage that will eventually manifest as a symptom, condition or disease. Do not wait until you feel bad from SAD food because the damage is being done right now. Customized food choices are essential for gut and brain health. So start reevaluating what you eat and ask yourself is this food going to be a good choice when I am 100 years old and will this food choice help me live to be 100 years old?
Here are the ways we can help you in your health journey:
- Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
- Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
- Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Total Health Institute but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.