How to Develop a Healthy Gut Ecosystem

How to Develop a Healthy Gut Ecosystem


“How to Develop a
Healthy Gut Ecosystem” As I’ve explored before,
whether you’re young or old, male or female, smoker or non,
high blood pressure, low blood pressure, high cholesterol or low, having
high levels of a toxic compound called TMAO–trimethylamine oxide— in one’s blood stream is associated
with a significantly higher risk of having a heart attack, stroke,
or dying over a 3 year period. Where does TMAO
come from? The choline in foods like eggs can
be turned by gut bacteria into TMAO, which is then absorbed
back into our system, and the more eggs we eat
the higher the levels climb. Given the similarity in structure
between carnitine and choline, the same group of Cleveland
Clinic researchers wondered if carnitine, found in red meat,
energy drinks, and supplements, might also lead to
TMAO production, so they put it to the test. If you feed someone a steak
their TMAO levels shoot up. Now this was someone
who regularly ate meat. Those who eat strictly
plant-based may start out with almost
no TMAO in their system, presumably because they’re not
eating any meat, eggs, or dairy, but even if the vegan eats a sirloin
almost no TMAO is made. Why? Presumably, they don’t have
steak-eating bacteria in their guts. No TMAO is produced if you don’t have
TMAO producing bacteria in your gut. If you don’t regularly eat meat,
then you’re not fostering the growth of the meat-eating microbes
that produce TMAO. This suggests that once we develop
a plant-based gut ecosystem, our bacteria will
not produce TMAO even if we eat meat
every once in awhile. However, we still don’t know how
rapidly gut bacteria shifts after a shift in our diet, but it does not appear
to be all or nothing. If you take men eating
the standard American diet and have them eat two sausage,
egg, and cheese biscuits before and after just 5 days of eating
lots of high fat meals like that you can boost TMAO
production even higher. So it’s not just, do you have
the bad bugs or not, you can apparently breed more
of them the more you feed them. On the other hand, meat-free diets
have been demonstrated to have a profound influence
on human metabolism. You can analyze a urine sample and
tell what kind of diet people eat based on measurements like
how low their TMAO levels are in the urine of those eating
egg-free vegetarian diets. You can even take the same people
and rotate them through 3 different diets and you can tell who is who. Who is on a high meat,
low meat, or no meat diet, in part based on the
different compounds churned out by the different gut
flora or different flora activity after just about two weeks
on the different diets. It’s possible that some of the
beneficial effects of whole plant foods may be mediated by the effects
they have on our gut bacteria. At the same time,
the standard American diet may increase the relative
abundance of undesirables that produce toxic compounds
including the cardiotoxicant TMAO. Strictly plant-based diets have gained
acceptance as a dietary strategy for preventing and
managing disease; perhaps in part because of
their rather unique gut flora, less of the disease-causing bacteria
and more of the protective species. So all along we thought the
reason those eating plant-based had lower heart
disease rates was because they were eating less
saturated fat and cholesterol, but maybe their
lower TMAO levels may also be contributing
to their benefits thanks to the reduction of
ingestion of carnitine and choline. I talked about the egg industry
response to the choline revelation. How has the carnitine
supplement industry reacted? The former VP of Advocare,
a multilevel marketing company that sells carnitine
supplements like “Slam” while getting slammed with lawsuits,
finding them for example guilty of false, misleading
or deceptive practices, forced to pay over
a million dollars in response to the research implicating
carnitine in TMAO production he questioned whether there was a secret
vegan conspiracy at the Cleveland Clinic. Restricting our intake of
meat or carnitine supplements to prevent our gut bacteria
from making TMAO, he argues, “is like trying to prevent car accidents
by restricting the sale of fuel.” Uh, OK, but there are
benefits to transportation. We’re talking
about TMAO, which may be fueling our
epidemic of heart disease, the #1 killer of men and
women in this country. As far as I’m concerned, the more
we can cut the fuel for that… the better.

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