A little over ten years ago, I wrote a review for Dr. William Davis’s bestselling book Wheat Belly. I started that review with a description of the changes in health that came about when early man switched from a hunter-gatherer diet to an agricultural-grain-based diet.
The changes were not for the better.
Changing to a wheat-based, agricultural diet brought about changes in stature, rampant tooth decay, increased infant mortality, obesity, and a host of other maladaptations to such a diet. It also brought about a major change in the microbiome, the enormous number and types of bacteria in the gut.
At the time Dr. Davis wrote Wheat Belly, he was a cardiologist taking care of patients with heart disease. And he was a major proponent of coronary calcium scores as a measure of the extent of heart disease in his patients. Not long after, I emailed him with a question about a patient I had with an almost 600 calcium score–which is pretty high. In fact, it was the highest I had seen as of that time.
He emailed me back telling me that since he had started putting his cardiology patients on lower-carb, no-wheat diets, his life had changed almost miraculously. He said he was still seeing patients with bad calcium scores and bad lipid profiles, but what he wasn’t seeing were heart attacks. His on-call life had changed. Instead of running out to see his cardiac patients who were in the ER with chest pain, he was spending evenings home with his family. He said encouraging his patients to make those simple dietary changes had changed his life and theirs as well.
Once he changed his patients’ diets, he saw remarkable improvements, but there were still some who didn’t respond as well as others. At that time, the idea of the microbiome being of some importance was just starting to gain some traction. And the idea attracted Dr. Davis’s attention.
His extensive reading of the medical literature persuaded him that the microbiome was of huge importance to optimal health. And that the microbiomes of most people in the Western world were vastly different from those of hunter-gatherer societies that had been studied. He thought this difference significant enough that it might lie at the root of what was causing some of his patients not to do as well on the low-carb, no-wheat diet that worked so well with others.
After much study and working with many patients to help restore their microbiomes to what they should be, he has written an excellent book on his experience. Super Gut is absolutely chock full of valuable information on the microbiome and all the techniques he uses to return it to normal. And when I say, chock full, I mean it. Super Gut is an absolute cornucopia of information on what can go wrong with your gut and how to treat it. Specific supplement lists, probiotics, prebiotics, yogurt strains, and on and on–all listed and sourced. If it isn’t in this book, you probably don’t need it.
I spent a couple of days at a conference in Madison, WI a few years ago, and while there spent many hours deep in discussion with Dr. Davis. He and I both gave presentations at the meeting and found ourselves together at just about every meal. At the time, he was refining his ideas on how best to treat disorders of the microbiome. During his presentation, he mentioned a yogurt he had his patients make. I asked him about it in one of our many one-on-one conversations.
He told me it was a real life changer for many of his patients. He also said it was fabulously good to eat. High in fat and a little tart, but extremely tasty. He gave me the recipe.
It took MD and me a few months before we got around to preparing it. We bought the strain of lactobacillus from Amazon along with the inulin required to give it a start. MD mixed it up, added the half and half, and we put it in the sous vide for 36 hours. I don’t know what we expected, but it wasn’t what came out, which was kind of watery and not particularly yogurt-like. We went to Dr. Davis’s website to see how we screwed up, because something obviously wasn’t right.
On the website we learned that the first go round is often like this. If it happens, the blog post said, take three tablespoons of the watery stuff, mix it with the inulin, add it to the half and half and try again.
We did so. And what a huge surprise. The outcome was the best yogurt either one of us had ever eaten. That is not an exaggeration. It was so thick it was almost like sour cream or crème fraîche. It was tart, but a little stevia made it perfect. And it did indeed have a physiological effect on the gastrointestinal system. I don’t want to go into in detail, because it might be a little TMI. But I can say, based on all the family members–who now all make their own yogurt–there is a response. A beneficial one.
Plus, the list of health issues this yogurt impacts is long. One of the things it does is makes the body increase the production of oxytocin, the feel good hormone. I’m a pretty easygoing guy, and although I haven’t had my oxytocin measured, I have noticed–completely subjectively, of course–that I seem to have become more easygoing and even less irritable since starting the yogurt a couple of years ago. I haven’t noticed a big change in my pelt, which was one of the major changes found in mice that were supplemented with this particular strain of bacteria in a number of experiments. Mice developed thicker pelts and more youthful skin.
This yogurt is unique among the many health foods I’ve eaten during my life in one respect. As I’m sure most readers of this blog have noticed, you usually trade taste for health. Whenever you get a healthful snack, it’s rarely as good as the real thing it is replacing. A ‘healthful,’ low-carb chocolate-chip cookie, for example, ain’t shucks up to the real thing.
This yogurt is better than any commercial yogurt you can get your hands on. It is healthful and tastes great.
The yogurt is what made me take the idea of the microbiome seriously. I think it changed mine for the better, and everyone else’s in our family.
This phenomenal yogurt is just the tip of the iceberg of what you’ll learn by reading Super Gut.
You’ll learn about small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a condition in which bacteria, which should stay in the colon, migrate into the small bowel and cause a multitude of health issues as a function of both amount and type. If you get too many of the wrong bacteria where they don’t belong, you can develop some pretty severe health issues that respond to proper dietary changes. Same with small intestinal fungal overgrowth (SIFO).
Super Gut tells you how SIBO and SIFO set in, and what to do it if they do.
One of the ways SIBO is diagnosed is by a hydrogen breath test. These tests cost a couple of hundred bucks to get, plus whatever you have to fork over to your doc to get them to order them for you. Then you have to get repeat tests to see if your diligent dietary work has solved the problem, which is another fee. Dr. Davis has found a company that makes a device designed to be used with an app on your smart phone that allows you to take as many hydrogen breath tests as you want. The device plus the app costs about $200, the cost of one hydrogen test without whatever the doc charges.
Another issue he tackles, one that has vexed me somewhat over the years, is trimethylamine oxide (TMAO). This compound supposedly increases in those who eat a lot of meat, a staple, of course, on the low-carb diet. Many people have used this notion to speculated that low-carb diets cause heart disease. Here is what Dr. Davis has to say about it in his book:
TMAO AND OTHER SHINY OBJECTS
Another misleading distraction in the world of the microbiome is a
bacterial metabolite called trimethylamine oxide, TMAO for short.
Headlines have broadcast how foods that increase blood levels of
TMAO, such as fish, chicken, pork, and beef, have been associated
with greater risk for coronary heart disease and heart attacks.
TMAO is the product of Firmicutes (a large grouping of bac-
teria) and Enterobacteriaceae, the family of species that dom-
inate in dysbiosis and SIBO. Finding higher levels of TMAO in
those who eat meat has led to the overly simplistic conclusion that
consumption of animal proteins therefore causes heart disease.
You can readily identify the error in logic being made here: it’s not
the fish, chicken, pork, or beef causing heart disease via increased
TMAO; it’s disruptions of bowel flora composition, enriched pop-
ulations of Firmicutes and Enterobacteriaceae which produce
TMAO, that are more likely to blame. Microbial disruptions are
accompanied by increased bacterial endotoxemia, which is also
known to contribute to heart disease. We shall also discuss how a
diet rich in prebiotic fibers and polyphenols and the fat, oleic acid,
such as that in extra-virgin olive oil, turns off the adverse potential
of increased TMAO while also reducing endotoxemia.
Go ahead: enjoy the fat, ignore cholesterol content, have
some beef, pork, or fish–just as humans have for the last several
million years before dietary guidelines and flashy headlines mud-
died the waters.
I’ll give you yet another piece of info I wasn’t aware of before reading this book. And I don’t feel in the least guilty spilling the contents of Dr. Davis’s book, because it is so content rich these little give aways I’m serving up represent a tiny fraction of what you’ll learn when you read the entire book.
One of my favorite supplements is curcumin. I use it as an anti-inflammatory supplement, which prevents me from having to take ibuprofen, my pain killing drug of choice. One of the things I have long known about curcumin is that it doesn’t absorb well. Consequently, most supplement bottlers add a bunch of stuff to it to make it absorb better. And whenever anyone adds anything, it costs more. I’ve always purchase the expensive brands that promise high absorbability.
Dr. Davis has done a deep dive on curcumin and learned what a terrific supplement it is for bowel health. One of the things it does is to increase and maintain the mucus layer in the gut and strengthen the integrity of the gut lining. One of the reasons people tend to have joint pain is that small peptides sometimes make their way through the tight junctions of the cells lining the GI tract if those tight junctions aren’t as tight as they should be. Inflammation in the gut, driven by the wrong bacteria or bacteria being where they don’t belong loosen these tight junctions, allowing foreign peptides through. When this happens, in a process called molecular mimicry in the medical literature, these foreign peptides prompt an immune response from the body. Some of these peptides may mimic the protein structure of some of your own joint tissues.
When this happens, the immune system turns on these joints, attacking them and causing pain and inflammation.
Since curcumin strengthens the lining of the gut and protects the mucosal barrier, you want as much of the curcumin to stay in the gut as possible. Which means you want pure curcumin, not curcumin with all the additives to make it more absorbable. You want it in its least absorbable form, which is curcumin alone. I’ll link to a couple of the specific products Dr. Davis recommends here and here.
Another factoid–and believe me, this is one out of many in this book–involves one of my secret pleasures: ice cream. If I’m ever tempted to cheat on my low-carb diet, one of my strongest tempters is ice cream. When I do purchase ice cream–which isn’t often–I look carefully at the ingredient list to make sure there is plenty of cream, milk, eggs and other good stuff. I neglect looking at the ingredients at the bottom of the list, because they’re always the usual assortment of preservatives and flavorings.
After reading Super Gut, I’ve started looking much more closely farther down the list.
One of the ingredients that makes ice cream so creamy is an emulsifier. Often polysorbate 80, carboxymethylcellulose, and a handful of others mentioned. Not all ice creams contain emulsifiers, but most do. These emulsifiers join the fat in the cream with the liquid in the milk to make the ice cream smooth and creamy.
Unfortunately, they can also emulsify the mucus layer in the gut. The very layer that protects the underlying cells from damage. You should avoid emulsifiers, which are often found in commercial salad dressings, various nut butters, and, sadly, ice cream. Not all brands of any of the above contain emulsifiers, but you should check the labels before purchasing if you want to provide the optimal environment for your gut.
Many books start off with a bang, but end with a whimper. One of the things most authors don’t understand (and many publishers, apparently) is that some ideas are more suited to a long article than a book. The idea, whatever it is, may be phenomenal, but it just doest take that long to completely explain. But instead of writing a long article, the author wants to write a book. And the publisher wants to publish a book.
All editors–and I speak here from bitter experience–feel the need to push everything they can to the front of the book. In truth, editors have a poor opinion of readers. Many editors think of themselves as the intelligentsia and readers the great unwashed masses. Consequently, they feel readers will get bored quickly, and so must be spoon fed everything as early as possible. Which is why they want to front load as much as they can. And why many books run out of steam at the end.
Super Gut is the exception. Dr. Davis continues to provide valuable information right through the last page. His book definitely does not fade to black as it nears the end. And that includes the very end, which constitutes many pages of scientific citations to points he’s made and footnoted throughout the book. These kinds of reference lists are like catnip to me.
I haven’t checked all of them, but the papers I have pulled confirm the points Dr. Davis made when referencing them.
Read this book. Your gut will thank you.