Forget your genes, which you can’t influence, says cardiologist Dr Steven Gundry, and focus instead on the trillions of bacteria in your body, which you can recruit as your best health buddies from today on.
Some two decades back, eminent cardiologist and heart surgeon Dr Steven Gundry was obese. He suffered with daily migraines and, although only in his forties, he had such bad arthritis he wore braces on his knees to run. Despite the pain, he ran 30 miles a week, did a daily stint in the gym and ate what he‘d been taught was a healthy diet.
But it was all to no avail. He blamed ‘bad genes’, believing he was destined to be ‘fat and sick’ like his father.
At that point Dr Gundry’s ‘world was rocked’, as he wrote in a recent email to Sarah. He discovered that, ‘to put it bluntly, I had been dead wrong. I met a patient called “Big Ed” who had reversed his inoperable coronary artery blockages by changing his diet and taking supplements he bought in a health food store.’
This top heart surgeon was so impressed that he changed his diet, started taking different supplements and wrote a Yale University Thesis about it. And the obese cardiologist lost 50 lbs in the first year and then another 20. ‘I have kept off those 70 lbs for 20 years now,’ he says.
Over the last half of the 20th century, mapping the human genome was believed to be the open sesame to treating disease of all kinds. But, as Dr Gundry discovered from a growing volume of research, there has been a paradigm shift in scientific thinking. ‘The answer to living and ageing well lies in the trillions of bacteria in our bodies.’
Over the last 20 years, Dr Gundry has published papers showing that ‘most chronic diseases begin with a leaky gut and can be cured by eliminating certain foods in our diet, plus lifestyle choices’.
His recent best-selling book The Longevity Paradox delves deep into the role of these evolutionary organisms. Dr Gundry quotes a paper published in the leading science journal Nature in 2018, which supports his contention that gut bacteria directly influence the state of health of every part of your body, from your skin to your hormones to your cellular energy levels.
More than that, the state of your gut bugs plays a huge role in helping to defend you against the diseases of ageing, from neuro-inflammatory conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, to heart disease and cancer. Keeping your gut bugs happy can also reduce the symptoms of arthritis and other joint aches and pains.
‘This list is literally endless,’ says Dr Gundry. ‘I am continually amazed at what can be changed with diet and lifestyle choices.’
What’s also recognised today is the information superhighway between the gut and the brain (the gut/brain axis). The gut is often called our second brain but, according to Dr Gundry, it’s really the one in charge. So problems affecting our minds are often responding to the state of our gut bugs. Dr Gundry explains that ‘There is now increasing evidence that anxiety and depression are driven by an altered microbiome, so we see a lot of reversal of these conditions [ie anxiety and depression] as well.’
I wrote about other pioneers in this exciting scientific arena recently, here.
According to psychiatrist and leading researcher Professor Ted Dinan of University College Cork, ‘we are witnessing a paradigm shift in neuroscience that could revolutionise the way we prevent and treat mental health problems and neuropsychiatric conditions’. Professor Dinan’s work centres on how these ‘moody microbes’ influence depression and other stress-related disorders.
Getting your gut bugs balanced also seems to balance people’s weight issues. ‘Weight loss is a pleasant side effect of this program but, equally, chronically underweight patients gain weight and energy,’ says Dr Gundry. Sleep apnoea, which is strongly linked to overweight and obesity, usually reverses, he says.
Dr Gundry has seen the effect in his close family. ‘About a year and a half ago, I asked my oldest daughter and her husband to change their diet, not for me but for the future of my young grandchildren. Wow, did that work! They each lost over 50 pounds and my daughter’s chronic headaches and depression cleared. The kids are thriving as well.’
How to look after your gut
There are two priorities in looking after your gut bacteria. First, keep the good bugs happy and get rid of the bad ones. And second, keep the gut lining strong so the bugs stay in their place. Leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability), where the bad bugs get into the bloodstream and whiz around your body creating havoc, is at the heart of most of the common diseases of ageing, says Dr Gundry.
The most important nutrients are prebiotics. These are the fibres and sugars that feed the good gut bugs. So, feast on great sources of prebiotics such as radicchio, chicory, Belgian endive (a close relation to chicory), garlic, yams (sweet potatoes), onions of all kinds, leeks, Savoy cabbage, apples, Jerusalem artichokes, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soy beans, bananas, watermelon, grapefruit, ground flaxseed, almonds and pistachios. Also consider a supplement of inulin such as Lepicol.
Eat lots of greens and avocadoes, limit animal protein and use lots of olive oil on everything. ‘The only purpose of food is to get olive oil in your mouth’ is Dr Gundry’s favourite saying.
Treat yourself to very dark chocolate and good black coffee. They’re full of polyphenols – micronutrients found in certain plants that are full of antioxidants with all the health benefits those bring.
Say goodbye to all grains except millet and sorghum. In general avoid gluten free products as they tend to have more sugar.
Limit fruit, also fruit juices and smoothies (particularly from children) because of the amount of sugar they contain. Compare an apple and a glass of apple juice. The whole fruit will take you five to ten minutes to eat and contains valuable fibre as well as nutrients. A glass of apple juice is gone in a trice, contains sugar from about four/five apples and no fibre.
Choose organic vegetables and foods as much as possible to limit your exposure to glyphosate. ‘This herbicide is massively destroying our gut and our microbiome,’ warns Dr Gundry.
Space your meals. Dr Gundry is a supporter of time-restricted eating – where you give your body time to recover between its digestive duties. Many experts now recommend a window of 12 hours or more between your last meal in the evening and the first one next day.
Eat your evening meal early. Try to eat your final meal of the day three to four hours before bedtime at least once or twice a week, says Dr Gundry, to allow your brain to ‘wash out’ impurities. (I find eating earlier and lighter makes me sleep much better by the way; high tea anyone?)
Supplement with vitamin D3 and omega-3 essential fatty acids These are the two supplements everyone should take. Pharmacist Shabir Daya recommends BetterYou DLux 3000 spray and Lion Heart Pure Omega 3 Fish Oil.