In this fourth segment of this popular interview series, Rob focuses upon questions relative to the human microbiome. Discover what to embrace and what to avoid, if you are seeking to nurture your life within. The 100 trillion organisms living in your 30 ft digestive tract have now been linked to multiple aspects of physical and mental health.
Robert: I understand you are heading back to India in a few days, so I thought we might get one more interview completed before your 30-day hiatus. What are you doing in India this time around?
Graeme: I have decided it is time to look after myself a little better. It is quite a challenge to be travelling the world as much as I do. The long flights are particularly hard on the body. A few weeks back I picked up that bad flu that has killed so many locally. I could barely move for a couple of days. I usually just ignore these kind of things and just get on with it. However, this time was different, and I saw this as a wake-up call to boost my resilience. I decided to head to India for a three-week regeneration in an Ayurvedic clinic. I did this once before a few years back and returned home in really good shape. I figure I can also use the time to work on my new book between treatments.
Rob: That sounds like my workaholic mate. You can’t even embrace a rejuvenation opportunity without thinking what else you might be able to achieve. Haha!
Graeme: I guess you are right. I remember a segment from the first Ringing Cedars book, where Anastasia, the fascinating Russian sage at the centre of this series, lamented the pitiful lot of workaholics. Their productivity drive pushes them on an eternal path towards more and more achievement, but it becomes an addiction where they don’t even allow themselves the time to savour each achievement. As soon as they have completed one project, they are immediately seeking the next one, like an addict seeking the next fix.
Rob: If you are aware of this, why don’t you change your behavior?
Graeme: Uh oh! Another poisonous question from my venomous friend. He he! I guess I figure that my workaholism delivers something positive for many farmers around the globe. Many positive changes have been initiated by workaholics, although I guess there are also many arsehole overachievers. Hitler never seemed satisfied. First I grab Poland, then France, then Russia. If he had eventually controlled the planet, he probably would have started looking elsewhere. Actually, in my own defense, it may not be workaholism this time around. Writing is a great pleasure for me, so it can be seen as a form of relaxation.
Rob: Are you doing anything else in India before your three-week workaholic session?
Graeme: Of course I am, a workaholic never misses an opportunity!
I intend to launch the world’s first Nutrition Farming® Certification in India. There are some very advanced coffee producers and table grape growers in the region, who are interested in this alternative to organic certification.
Rob: How will it differ from organic certification and what are the requirements?
Graeme: It will involve adherence to 15 parameters but, unlike conventional organics, these requirements will be about what you need to do to create superior, chemical-free food with forgotten flavours, extended shelf life and greater medicinal qualities. Organic certification is largely about what you are not allowed to do.
There will also be a strong emphasis upon the carbon farming equation, where growers are required to build humus each season, as a planet saving strategy. It will dovetail with our Soil Therapy™ and Plant Therapy™ guidelines and there will be an auditing process based upon adherence to these and other guidelines.
Rob: It sounds like a good plan. I am sure buyers and consumers will be attracted to superior food.
Today, I thought we might initially focus upon human microbiology. You often refer to the similarity between the life beneath the roots and our gut organisms.
Graeme: The organisms crowded around the plant roots, awaiting their daily feed of glucose exudates, look after their host, the plant, in much the same way that our gut organisms support us. In fact, many of the same supportive nutrients are generated in both systems. The brilliant Russian microbiologist, Nikolai Krasilnikov, used to monitor relative soil health through the measurement of key B vitamins. These B group nutrients are produced by bacteria, as a gift to the host plant, in this “give and you shall receive” relationship. It turns out that exactly the same group of B vitamins are produced by our microbiome, to support their host – us.
Rob: I guess we have assaulted both systems and are paying the price. In what ways do we mess with our microbiome?
Graeme: Antibiotics are probably the most destructive influence, as they are often indiscriminate, taking out the good with the bad. I had a professor specialising in probiotics speak at one of my health seminars a while back. He stated that a single dose of antibiotics requires 6 months of probiotic supplementation, just to get back to where you started. Some of my integrative doctor friends believe that misuse of antibiotics may be the most destructive aspect of the modern medical machine.
Rob: I doubt that many of our readers ever took probiotics for six months after a course of antibiotics? My greatest health challenges over the years have been linked to the side-effects of antibiotics, so I am not a big fan.
Graeme: I have had similar major challenges linked to their misuse. It makes me wonder how many others have suffered silently. Actually, that professor I mentioned shared new research suggesting that it is best to take probiotics while you are taking antibiotics, as well as after… apparently it can reduce the damage.
Rob: What are the other killers of our good bugs?
Graeme: Stabilisers in our food are major players. Food is only supposed to last a week at best, unless it is dried, salted, fermented or frozen. What changed, that allowed stadium-sized buildings to house countless food items, with up to 2 years shelf-life? It was the introduction of chemicals called food grade stabilisers. These are biocides that kill single-celled spoilage organisms. Why would we think this effect stops at the mouth? When our children shovel back the junk foods, the biocidal effect continues to impact our life within. We have a gut full of single-celled organisms, and every aspect of our health depends upon them.
Rob: It strikes me that there is a need for basic nutrition education. The only problem is that the experts often get it wrong. Have you looked at what the so-called nutritionists serve up to help those trying to recover in hospital?
Graeme: I know, it is shocking. It’s pretty basic really. We were designed to eat whole foods. Nothing we have ever done in the name of food processing has ever improved a food. There is 80% less nutrition in white bread vs wholemeal bread, for example. In fact, the white bread becomes something called an anti-nutrient. Digestion is an energy-intensive process fueled by nutrients. The end result when you start with very little, as is the case with white bread, is a net loss of nutrition. Our children represent the first generation in history that will not live longer than their parents. In fact, there is a progressive degeneration involved. In this context, we should almost ban white bread because almost 9 out of 10 children cart it to school in their lunchboxes each day.
Rob: Can you cite some examples of this progressive degeneration in our children?
Graeme: Perhaps we should have taken more note of the message provided by Francis Pottenger some years back. He conducted experiments with 900 cats over three generations.
Half of the cats were fed enzyme lacking, cooked foods, while the others were fed raw meat. There was a progressive degeneration of these carnivores consuming the cooked food to the point that by the third generation none survive beyond the six month of life.
Rob: Wow? That’s a grim indictment, but how does it relate to our children?
Graeme: Well, it doesn’t relate to your two children, because you have done a wonderful job in ensuring they are thriving, with a whole food diet and all of the nutrient-dense food you produce on the farm. However, there are many stark indicators of progressive degeneration amongst children in general.
When I was a child of 12 in New Zealand, there was one child in my class of 40 with glasses, and one child with braces. They were cruelly called “four eyes” and “metal mouth”, from memory.
When my youngest son, Daniel, was 12 years old, in a class of 40 in Queensland, half of his class had braces and one third had glasses. This suggests progressive degeneration. When, the nutritional anthropologist, Dr Weston Price, evaluated the health, happiness and longevity of any given culture, the first thing he looked at were the jaw bones. If the diet was good, the jawbones were fully formed and the teeth were perfectly positioned in those jaws. Braces are about compromised nutrition, progressively degenerating our capacity for our jaws to evenly house our teeth.
Rob: There are certainly no shortages of compromised jaws out there, if braces are the marker. Returning to the bug killers, what else impacts our good guys?
Graeme: Interestingly, stress is a big player. It seems that “stress kills” in unexpected ways. One of the most abundant B vitamins produced by our gut organisms is vitamin B6. This is often called the stress vitamin because it is sucked up when we are anxious. The organisms produce it in abundant quantities and sometimes they require it for their own metabolic processes. When this supply has been depleted by our stress, the gut organisms die in the absence of their own B6.
There are several other players including the birth control pill, prescription drugs, alcohol and a low fiber diet.
Rob: It is a great idea to include prebiotics in your diet to feed your microbiome and help compensate for these negatives. I know you are enthusiastic about yacons for this purpose. Would you like to explain this?
Graeme: I must admit yacons are a major passion at the moment. They are a unique root vegetable from South America. They look like a sweet potato but they are a sweet, juicy treat, when eaten raw. They are often called “Peruvian apples” because of their crunchy texture and taste, but they are actually nicer than apples. Yacons are a genuine medicinal food with multiple attributes, but their biggest claim to fame relates to their stimulation of your beneficial gut organisms.
Substances that boost your microbiome are called prebiotics. According to research, the most powerful of these are called fructo-oligosaccarides (FOS) and insulin. Yacon is the highest known source of both. It is a genuine gut medicine that can be a game changer for many. It is also delicious dried, and then the prebiotic impact is concentrated four-fold. The dried form is a chewy, savory/sweet flavor like a vegetarian form of biltong. It is delicious with a glass of wine. These dried treats will soon be available from our Nutrition Farms website.
Rob: It is also delicious when roasted or cut into salads.
Graeme: As long as it is not diced into tiny pieces He he! I guess I had better explain that comment to the readers. Rob likes to cut his vegetables into pieces small enough to feed baby birds. I like my beans whole, so it has become a running joke between us, when he comes to stay at the weekend. I have to slap his back to stop him from choking, if he eats anything bigger than a peanut. His response is to serve me up whole pumpkins on a plate.
Rob: I just feed you appropriate food for your big mouth! Ha ha! You are one of the few people who can swallow a whole yacon between words. OK, let’s get back to business. What else is in the yacons?
Graeme: Well, it’s quite a package. There is plentiful soluble and insoluble fiber to keep you regular. There is a significant component of tryptophan, to keep you relaxed and happy. Tryptophan is the building block for serotonin, the feel good hormone. Depression is often linked to a lack of serotonin. Yacons are also a source of resveratrol and other phytonutrients. They are a genuine superfood.
Rob: That’s pretty impressive. You also favour this crop as a problem-free, money spinner on the farm?
Graeme: It is so easy to grow. It is a member of the sunflower family. It grows to 2 metres and has large leaves and an attractive, daisy-like flower that my bees seem to enjoy, it can be grown in all climates and I think it is an ideal high-profit crop to consider for anyone. Each plant produces around 5 to 7 kg of tubers although I have a good friend in Perth who has achieved over 20 kg per plant. We sell the tubers for $7 per kg but it has a secondary income stream from the rhizomes. These are the nubbly, red, yam-like bulbs that are the growing material for the next crop. Each plant produces at least 1 kg of rhizomes and they sell for $20 per kg. That makes for a total $50 turnover per plant and there are very few crops this profitable. We have quite a number of rhizomes available this season if anyone wants to experiment with this new crop.
Rob: I understand that there is also a good market for yacon syrup.
Graeme: Yes there is a big demand amongst the diabetic community, as it is a sweetener that does not spike blood sugar. It is a low-tech process to boil down the yacons and extract the syrup and it retails for up to $20 per 100 mL bottle.
Rob: Let’s explore more about our beneficial gut-life. What else can we do to nurture them?
Graeme: It is important to realise that 85% of your immune system is located in your gut in the form of a vast array of microbes. It is a silly idea to wipe every surface in your house with antiseptic wipes or to produce squeaky clean, completely sterile dishes with your dishwasher. Actually, that reminds me of a joke. Do you want to hear it?
Rob: Sure. I guess the readers might enjoy it. You pepper your longer courses with humour and it is largely well received. Except for those that can’t handle the more bawdy punch lines.
Graeme: There are only really about seven different joke themes on the planet. The humor comes from a surprise punchline and often the biggest surprises seem to be linked to more offensive themes. I believe there is no room for political correctness in humour. If you have lost the ability to laugh at everything, including yourself, then you need to wake up and realise you have become a miserable bastard, and you are wasting your short life.
Rob: That seems a bit harsh, but it’s probably true. This had better be a funny joke!
Graeme: An elderly couple had finally saved enough to commence their grey nomad trip around Australia. They had lovingly prepared their luxury mobile home with everything conceivable, to ensure all of the creature comforts on the road. Finally the big day came. They drove for several hundred kilometres through spectacular countryside and eventually pulled up at a free camping site to spend their first night in the van. They rolled out the awning, set up the deck chairs and were soon enjoying a glass of Rosè with some delicious dried yacons. It was then that they noticed their neighbor. Parked beside them was a rusty old van with a plastic tarp attached with baling twine. This ramshackle construction housed a rugged, unshaven character who was setting up a little campfire. An old mangy dog sat beside him, as he sang “Waltzing Matilda”, while tending his billy tea. They were just musing about their brush with genuine, rustic Australiana, when their neighbor yelled out, to invite them over to share a dinner of sausages, beans and eggs. They had planned a first night feast of minted lamb, very finely chopped vegetables, roast yacon and salad, but they had vowed to be spontaneous and live in the moment during this adventure, and this was their first opportunity to walk the talk.
Wine in hand, they walked next door. The old boy set up some seats and the old dog growled his discontent at sharing the fireside with strangers. “You behave yourself, I don’t want any of your snarling around my special guests”.
The fry-up sizzled and some rugged tin plates were set up on the card table in front of them. The travellers were shocked at the greasy residue on the plates and the wife sought her tissues to clean them up. The old boy noted their concern, laughed heartily and said “you need to toughen up old mates, that’s just a cold water wash up”. The travellers were duly embarrassed and they struggled through their meal trying not to think about the diseases, not cleansed by cold water.
The conversation flowed then slowed and soon it was time to test the new bed in their new home. They thanked their host, bid goodbye, and arose from their chairs to head home. At that moment the old dog sprang to his feet. Fleas jumped from the crusty scabs adorning his flaking skin as he snarled rabidly at the visitors feet. “Don’t worry about him” yelled the old boy above the growls. Most of his teeth have rotted out so he can’t hurt anyone. He then pointed at his dog and yelled “SIT DOWN NOW COLDWATER! YOU NAUGHTY BOY!”
Rob: (laughing) Yes, that was a surprise ending and a tough beginning for the grey nomads. You say we need to avoid compete sterilisation with the dishwasher, but this particular “cold water” option might be a bit extreme.
Graeme: Yep, I think so. Hand rinsing with hot water is sufficient to ensure that there is still a small amount of remaining bacterial action to always provide a challenge that will fine tune and strengthen your microbiome and immunity.
Rob: What are the best ways to boost your microbiome?
Graeme: It is a good idea to avoid the hidden sources of antibiotics. That includes factory farmed animals that are propped up with these protectants. Feedlot beef and pork are the worst examples. Here, the hapless creatures are also pumped up with estrogen to fast-track their fattening. Estrogen feeds breast and prostate cancer, so it is a good thing to avoid. The animals suffer inflammation because they are fed omega-6 fats from grains, when they were designed to eat omega-3 fats from grass. An omega-6 overload pushes inflammation and requires more chemical intervention. The livers from feedlot cattle are often discarded as a result.
Saturated fats are required in our diet but we don’t want to overdo them because they can clog our arteries and create serious problems. The meat from grass-fed animals contain 10% palmitic acid. This is the long chain fat that can block the pipes, but is still required in small amounts. The fat in Grain-fed beef is 50% palmitic acid, and that is way too much. It is crazy that the supermarkets sell the grain fed option as better beef. It is nonsense, grass-fed is vastly superior.
Rob: How does farmed salmon rank compared to the wild alternative.
Graeme: It doesn’t! It is actually junk food. They often feed the fish GM soy as a protein source. The omega-6 overload makes them inflamed so they are often injected with antibiotics. The nutrient profile is a pathetic joke compared to the wild fish. The pink color in the wild version is a wonderful antioxidant called astaxanthin, which the fish accumulates from krill. There is no krill in the farmed fish diet so they inject a dubious pink dye, so that it looks the part. Always ask the question at the restaurants where salmon is served, and choose something else if the fish is farmed.
Rob: It is a sad story when you realise what we have done to our food.
Graeme I agree. I just heard 16 year old Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech relative to the sickening lack of action on climate change. She said, “You have taken my childhood and my future, all in the name of money and the fairytale promise of permanent economic growth. How dare you!” She might just as well have been speaking about the abominations we have created in food production.
Rob: I guess the glyphosate contamination of our food chain is another example.
Graeme: Yes, this is a hard one to avoid. The world’s most widely used chemical is applied to all of our sorghum immediately before harvest. This is a primary grain fed to livestock, including chickens. There is no way that the residues are not present on the grain. Wheat is often dried off in the same manner. Cheap supermarket bread contains 30% soy flour that is derived from imported, Roundup Ready soy, complete with the three sprays of glyphosate that crop receives. We are sending our children off to school with a known carcinogen in their lunchboxes. You can’t get more screwed up than that!! It makes me so angry!!
Rob: Glyphosate shuts down the shikimate pathway. Does that affect our microbiome?
Graeme: It most certainly does! The shikimate pathway involves the utilisation of two amino acids integral to a fully functioning immune system. It was argued that mammals are unique in that they don’t have a shikimate pathway so “no worries mate”. We can negatively impact the immunity of all other living creatures to kill a weed, but mammals are safe. There was a fatal flaw in this arrogance. We are, in effect, a community of ten trillion cells. However, our 30 ft digestive tract houses 100 trillion cells. There are more of them than us. We are actually in partnership with these creatures. In fact, every aspect of our health is determined by this life within. This all-important life within does have a shikimate pathway. When we compromise the immune system of this massive workforce, there is a huge price to pay. The plagues of autoimmune disorders, autism and Alzheimer’s disease are just part of that story.
Rob: My goodness. Let’s move on to some positive stuff before our readers start looking for a rope and a tree. What are the best strategies to improve gut health?
Graeme: It is really easy to include beneficial organisms in your daily diet. Yogurt is good, but kefir is better. All you need is a kefir “mother”, and you will have a great source of probiotics for your family, each day. All you do is fill 20% of a glass with the starter (the mother) and top up with milk or coconut juice. 24 hours later the milk version will be like runny yogurt. It is a pleasant, tart flavour that is nice as a stand-alone. However, you can add fruit and honey, if you want to sweeten it up. Just leave 20% in the bottom of the glass and top up with milk and you will a great supply of DIY probiotics every day. Just split a full glass into five, if you want to boost the whole family.
Rob: I seem to get some good benefits from your probiotic, Bio-Bubble™. There are many ways to use this fizzy brew including in bread and muesli. I understand you can even brew it on, is that correct?
Graeme: Yes, you can use it as a starter like kefir. You can use any food source like fresh juice to multiply the organisms, but the very best food to expand these guys is raw sugar cane juice. We did some work in the lab and the counts are amazing when you grow Bio-Bubble™ on this medium. It makes me wonder about the use of sugar cane juice as a biostimulant. I suspect it might have a similar effect.
You can pour a little Bio-Bubble™ on a plate full of muesli with a little water and it will multiply overnight. This makes for a wonderful probiotic breakfast. The organisms love cereals, dried fruits and nuts. They partially digest the muesli to bring out all the flavours, while also removing the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors that are the negatives associated with both cereal grains and nuts. This also has an enzyme-sparing effect, so you don’t draw from your own limited enzyme bank account during breakfast.
Kombucha is the other DIY probiotic option. Here you feed up a strange, jellyfish-like creature called a scoby with black tea and sugar. You can flavour the tart ferment with all sorts of things but I like the combination of ginger, lemon and a little honey.
Rob: Making kombucha tea has become really popular so it shouldn’t be too hard to source the scoby starter.
Graeme: I worked up at the Stanthorpe farm over the weekend with one of my interns, a bright, passionate young English guy called Saul. We were trading stories of April Fools’ Day hoaxes as we worked. One of his flatmates tossed a scoby into his bed while he slept. It was a horror show to awake to this slimy, alien creature on your chest.
Rob : What is the worst hoax you have experienced?
Graeme: I had a prankster I flatted with at university and he sought to terrify. As a university student I would arrive home to my flat late at night, reach for the light switch in the darkness and there was a hand already on that switch. For some reason, that is the worst feeling ever. I definitely do not suggest you try it as it has genuine heart attack potential.
Rob: That would be frightening to be sure. I guess we had better wrap up this session now. Thanks for sharing mate.