Anti-Inflammatory Diet

All health care starts with diet. My recommendations for a healthy diet are here:
Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Lifestyle.
There are over 190 articles on diet, inflammation and disease on this blog
(find topics using search [upper left] or index [lower right]), and
more articles by Prof. Ayers on Suite101 .

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Contagious Health

Healthy gut flora: bacteria from family, friends, Fido and food provide the foundation for the complex microbial community of the intestines, which controls the immune system.  Antibiotics and hygiene are detrimental to gut flora and health.
Gut Flora Are Complex
Recent studies of the gut flora, e.g. the human gut biome, show that each individual maintains more than 150 different species of bacteria.  Worldwide, that means that about a thousand different bacterial species are common residents of the human gut and together those gut bacteria use more than 1 million different genes.  Many of those genes code for the enzymes used by gut bacteria to digest plant polysaccharides, i.e. soluble fiber.
Hygiene Isolates People from Healthy Sources of Gut Flora
Every time we speak, we release a mist of bacteria from our lungs, mouth and GI tract.  These bacteria are on our skin, clothes and personal items, and provide a source of the bacteria that make us healthy.  Parents and older siblings pass these bacteria on to younger children.  These donated bacteria are essential for the development of a healthy immune system and children growing up with healthy relatives and exposed to soil bacteria via pets, farm animals, etc. are healthier than children who are more isolated.  
In this sense, hygiene is unhealthy, because an individual is isolated from new sources of bacteria that could replace those lost by limited diets, antibiotics, etc.  Otherwise, health is contagious, since gut bacteria from healthy individuals can spread among the population.  Washing hands and food is unnatural and unhealthy.
Few Bacteria Make You Sick, but Many Are Essential for Good Health
Food intolerance can result from “good” family hygiene, limited diets and exposure to antibiotics.  A common intolerance results from the absence of bacteria that produce an enzyme to digest dairy lactose, i.e. lactose intolerance.  Lactose intolerance can be readily cured by eating a dairy product, such as yogurt, that contains both lactose and live bacteria (probiotics) that can digest the lactose.  Simply eating moderate amounts of live yogurt daily for a couple of weeks resupplies the gut flora with bacteria that can digest lactose, and the intolerance is gone.
Soluble Fibers Are Plant Polysaccharides that Are Digestible by Bacterial Enzymes
Humans only produce enzymes to digest one polysaccharide, starch.  All of the other hundreds of polysaccharides present in plants are only digestible by bacterial (and fungal) enzymes of the gut flora.  If the bacteria and enzymes needed to fully digest a particular food polysaccharide are absent, then digestive problems ensue and the polysaccharide can act as a laxative.  Continual eating of the problem food with a new source of diverse bacteria, e.g. lightly rinsed vegetables right from the garden, then the gut flora will incorporate new bacteria that can digest the problem polysaccharide and the gut is happy.  
Soluble fiber feeds the gut bacteria that convert it into short chain fatty acids that nourish the colon. Constipation results from the absence of the bacteria needed to digest dietary fiber and to produce the large volume of bacteria that make up well hydrated stools. 
Gut Bacteria Are Needed for Healthy Immunity
Cells of the human immune system are stored predominantly in the lining of the intestines.  Intensive study of the interaction of the gut bacteria with the gut has revealed that both the aggressive half of the immune system that attacks pathogens and the suppressive half that protects the body itself from attack, develop in the gut in response to particular types of bacteria.  Thus, the absence of one type of bacteria can cripple responses to infection, while other bacteria are needed to block autoimmune diseases and allergies.  Most diseases are caused by disruption of the normal interactions between gut bacteria and the immune cells developing in the gut.
Antibiotics Lead to Autoimmunity
Antibiotics have dramatic and lasting impact on gut flora.  Cattle treated with antibiotics and a high carbohydrate diet have an altered metabolism (obesity) that leads to rapid fat accumulation in their tissues.  This is good for making tasty beef, but the same approach in people produces the suite of diseases in affluent societies.  
Children treated with an antibiotic for a simple ear infection, are much more likely to return to pediatricians for treatments of subsequent obesity, infections and diseases.  Compromised gut flora can take years to return to normal function after antibiotic treatment.  Loss of the appendix, which is the normal source of bacteria to replenish gut flora after diarrhea, results in an increased risk of abnormal gut flora and numerous autoimmune diseases.  It is likely that most autoimmune diseases are preceded by prior treatment with antibiotics that disrupted normal gut flora and permanently altered the immune system.
Interventions to Treat Disease:  the Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Fecal Transplants
It should be obvious that a disrupted or unhealthy gut flora will compromise the immune system and contribute to disease.  Treatment of diseases is complicated by the use of drugs that also impact the gut flora and produce additional side effects.  An alternative approach would be to support the healthy gut flora and normal development of the gut immune system.  As always, the answer is a supportive diet and a source of gut bacteria.  The diet is obviously the Anti-Inflammatory Diet that provides support for almost anything that ails you.  Probiotics are not retained in the gut, but they can contribute a few of the genes needed for a healthy gut flora. The source of bacteria for a  healthy gut flora may range from minimally washed garden vegetables, to the more aggressive total replacement of gut flora with a fecal transplant from a healthy donor.  


Vladimir Heiskanen (Valtsu) said...

Thanks for a nice post! Only few people write about these bacteria things so it's interesting always to read your quite unique thoughts on western disease.

Hmm... I think I have to read all your texts from the beginning (I've read many, but more than 70% of your texts here and Suite101 I have not read yet) to understand these things a bit better.

Excuse me for writing a lot but there are a few questions... You probably do know both SCD diet and low-FODMAP -diet. Both are designed to solve problems in gut but they are so different and I can't really understand which one has better theory. FODMAP people probably limit onions (fructans?) and pears (fructose) to reduce IBS symptoms but SCD people instead eat the same foods to reduce their IBS symptoms... And it's also strange that usually inulin is considered healthy but FODMAP people say it's bad. OK, I guess it's related to bacteria but still can't understand the whole picture.

Sorry for bad english :S

Dr. Woody said...

Dr. Ayers,

I have been suffering with of and on constipation for as long as I can remember. I have been eating an anti-inflammatory low carb diet with cheat meals and cheat days every so often for about 4 years. I saw your post today and read through the other posts on your blog about constipation and gut flora and I am convinced I have poor gut flora. I have 2 questions:

1. What is the best way to replenish my gut flora?

2. How long must I avoid all harmful cheat foods like breads, sweets, pizza etc. to properly replenish?

I truly appreciate your help and advice. Thank you!


Dr. Art Ayers said...

Dr. Woody,
I agree. You can change your diet all you want, but unless you eat the needed bacteria, you will continue to be constipated.

As I indicate in many of my articles, to improve your gut flora, you need to eat lots of different types of soluble fiber, e.g. leafy vegetable, leeks and apples. That provides the nutrients to feed the gut flora. AND you need to introduce new bacteria that are clinging to minimally washed vegetables. If you buy organically grown produce, you don't need to wash it as much to remove pesticides.

Occasionally eating inflammatory foods is no big deal. The diet that I outline is very forgiving.

Let me know how you progress.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you were following the arguments advanced by Stephen from and Don on that high carb diets are healthy for you. They seem to advocate eating a lot of potatoes and feel that low carb may be harmful.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back Dr Ayers!

I was wondering if you could elaborate on the nature of fungal enzymes that you mention in your article. How important is fungus to proper gut health?

I've noticed a local allergist prescribing oral nystatin to reduce allergies. Is this a good idea or a bad idea?

If fungus is needed for healthy gut flora, then what are the best sources? Are common supermarket mushrooms enough to supply your flora?

Dr. Woody said...

Thank you Dr. Ayers. I have been looking at making yogurt at home with a bacteria culture starter supplement. Do you think this will be helpful and/or speed up replenishing my gut flora?

Thank you again for your help!


Lee said...

To chip in with my experience, Woody, fermented vegetables make a noticeable difference to my elimination, more so than I remember yoghurt doing. The effect occurs in just a few days so just see if yoghurt does it for you. Otherwise, try the veggies. I use fermented cabbage juice and the carrot and ginger recipe from Nourishing Traditions. Both recipes can be readily found on the web.

On the subject of defecation, I once tried the Newbold all-meat diet. Although hard to maintain in the long run, it resulted in excellent elimination, easily passed stools and no need for toilet paper. Dr Ayers, any ideas what may be happening in the gut in this case?


spacewoman said...

Great post!

I'm just getting over a yeast infection, so my guess is that my gut flora is less than optimal. I do eat fermented foods, but perhaps not enough. I will try not washing the veggies I get at the farmer's market (once I confirm that they weren't sprayed with any pesticides). I'm also going to up my intake of prebiotic veggies, as you suggested.

I have another worry, now, as my 18 month old son has taken antibiotics once. We are still nursing, drinks raw milk and he eats grass-fed yoghurt daily, so hopefully his gut flora is being replenished. Summer's here, so more playing in the dirt will help, too.

Thanks again, for the info!

Mrs. Ed said...

We have finally made some progress with our son's diet. He will eat apples and brocoli now, and eat them as fast as you can serve them. We started by having him lick a whole serving of vegetables or fuits at dinner, it took over a year but it's working. Eating apples/brocoli has helped his bowels some and he's noticeably more socially savy too, so I think there is a connection. When the weather is warm he plays in the dirt alot and I swear this helps the bowel/autism issues as well. Do you think there is a connection? I found this article:

I can't help but think it helps your brain by helping your gut.

Anonymous said...

I heard you on the LivinLaVidaLowCarb show - your interview was great.

I'd be very interested in anything you have to say about candida, and how it interferes (if at all) with healthy gut bacteria.

Cassandra said...

I have followed your blog for some time now and hope you continue to post frequently. I know it's time consuming, but what you tell us is so important.

I just listened to your podcast with Jimmy Moore and it was great. I have been following your diet for some time. I am a 5'5" post-menopausal female, also hypothyroid, and I have lost 88 pounds from 287 to 199 where I seem to be stuck. I have hovered around this weight for about 6 months. Any thoughts on how to kick-start more weight loss?

RC said...

So, does anyone have suggestions for probiotics or specific strains of bacteria?

I've been taking several strains of acidophilus and two bifidobacter in one pill, but I wonder if there are any more available in supplement form.

Peter said...

Welcome back Dr Ayers, nice post


Anonymous said...


You might find this article re fermented vegetables interesting:

Andrea said...

Hi Dr Ayers,

I have been following your anti-inflammatory diet for 5 weeks now after being on a strict paleo diet prior to that. So i have added some fermented veggies and dairy. However, my chronic constipation has become worse. I am able to manage this by taking 15ml of Lactulose just before bedtime. If I miss one dose I am constipated for days. My general Heath is so much better with regular bowel movements so I am reluctant to stop.

What are your thoughts on taking Lactulose for a few months while trying to restore gut health?


Lee said...

Thanks Anon,

The article is certainly food for thought. There are however other reports of sauerkraut being protective against cancer. Perhaps the colder climate of northern Europe (where I am) produces different fermentation products.

Stephen Paul said...

Great post Dr. Ayers! And what a fantastic interview with Jimmy Moore recently. Really enjoyed it and got a lot out of the detail you went into regarding gut flora. I also liked your comments regarding the source of funding of biomedical research as well as your idea regarding national diet leadership. Great stuff!


Anonymous said...

Google allows you to search this entire site for a specific word(s) by doing the following:


I read this in a comment on this site, and think it's worth repeating.

braeside_golfer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rpineau_2001 said...

Dr. Ayers: great post and a great interview with Jimmy Moore. If trying to introduce new bacteria by eating soluble fiber from vegetables, I assume you recommend eating the veggies raw or can they be minimally cooked? You also mentioned a way to eliminate lactose intolerance. What would you recommend for someone who has an intolerance to egg whites, but not egg yolks? Thanks for providing all of this great information. And welcome back. Ron

Jin said...

Yippee! A podcast! I can't wait!

Anonymous said...

Hello, I will looking after an 89 year old who is struggling with severe recirrent symptoms and period hospitalization from C-Dificile. Can you recommend some ways how I can keep healthy while in close contact? I'm wondering if I should add a probiotic product of sorts, or continue to eat yogurts, fermented veg/Krauts etc. I do not eat wheat or grains or sugar, and follow "The Perfect Health Diet" by Jaminetts. Can you comment please? Thank You Susan S

Unknown said...

Dr. Ayers,

Do you think this has any relation with pica?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your informative blog. I also just listened to the podcast of your recent interview by Jimmy Moore -- really excellent and helpful.

I love canned sardines and eat them usually every day for taste, the calcium from the bones and the omega-3. I am concerned about the potential damage of the omega-3 from processing. Do you think canned sardines are a good source of omega-3?

Do you think a person who follows a low-carb paleo style diet which is very much in line with your recommendations except for the exclusion of dairy would be able to maintain healthy gut flora in the absence of dairy products?

What are your thoughts about tree nuts? I favor hazelnuts and macadamia and almond. The almonds and to a lesser extent the hazelnuts have appreciable amounts of omega 6. I tend to eat them raw from the shell or lightly home toasted. Can raw nuts screw up gut flora? I would think the molds and bacteria on them might be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Ayers,

Just like to get your opinions on antibiotics cattle and it's impact on our own gut health. A lot of speculation seems to abound.

DO you think there is any real connection in that those antibiotics can impair our own gut health or is that fear mongering?

Nick said...

Dr Ayers,

I know this is off topic, but wanted to tell you I have been following an anti-inflammatory diet for three years now. My CRP has dropped from 2.47 to .63.

My white blood cell count also measured at the bottom of the range, which is a drop for me. Given how much you talk about anti-inflammatory cells, I'm curious if you have thoughts on how one might improve this marker to help the immune system?


Peter M said...


Having a white cell count at the lower end of the spectrum can be a good thing as white cell count is often just a marker for inflammation. Do a little research on the Baltimore Longitudinal study. Over decades the lowest WBC counts correlated to the greatest longevity. Optimum count? 3500. Seems counter-intuitive until you think about it. Higher counts correlate to greater inflammation at least in the absence of some specific underlying problem--which it is unlike you have.

Peter M

Michel said...

Bonjour doc
I am an avid cheese eater(raw milk only)most of these cheeses are cover with fungi;I recently find out that one of my favorite (a local goat cheese) is cover with penicillium;what is your opinion of interference between fungi and bacterias in the gut , are those fungi contributing to healthy gut flora?
thanks a lot for your blog

Lionel said...

Dr Ayers,

I hope you can answer this somewhat related question to the blog. Is a high fiber intake really a good idea, and what is the optimal intake? I read - up to 50 grams. But some people argue that high fiber diets will cause bacterial overreliance on fiber and in the long run will cause more probs, i.e. constipation, especially once you lower the amount. Also, GI specialist Leo Galland advocates for IBS insoluble fiber and to stay away from soluble, as it will irritate a leaky gut. Yet, on other places a high soluble fiber diet is advocated as insoluble fiber is too harsh and irritating in high amounts. What to think?? It does occur to me, that from an evolutionary perspective a high good fat / meaty diet would not have included such high quantities of fiber, except perhaps for the inulin/prebiotics. But couldn't find this question in your other blogs. Hope you can answer it with your opinion.


Kristina said...

Hi Dr. Ayers,

Great post - thank you. Just what I needed to read right now. I have been on an all meat diet since 2009 desperately trying to switch back to eating veggies.

My questions - is lettuce beneficial at all re getting good flora in? Which veggies are best for this?


Marley07 said...

Hi Dr Ayers
We have just had a beutiful litle girl but unfortunately there were some complications and mum and baby had to be on IV antibiotics post birth for a few day. I have a history of allergies and autoimmunity so I realise the importance of getting our girls gut flora into good shape. Would you recommend using baby probiotics, or any will she be ok if she is breast feeding? Thankyou for all the great info- : )

Steve Cooksey, Diabetes Warrior said...

Glad to see you posting again Dr. Ayers! You have meant much to expanding my understanding.

Welcome Back!

Anonymous said...

Attitudes seem to be changing on fecal transplants. About time too.

Unknown said...

Pardon me for composing a great deal yet there are a couple questions... You most likely do know both SCD eating routine and low-FODMAP - diet. Both are intended to take care of issues in gut however they are so distinctive and I can't generally comprehend which one has better hypothesis. FODMAP individuals most likely cutoff onions (fructans?) and pears (fructose) to lessen IBS manifestations yet SCD individuals rather eat the same sustenances to diminish their IBS indications... Furthermore, it's likewise unusual that as a rule inulin is viewed as sound however FODMAP individuals say it's awful. Alright, I get it's identified with microorganisms yet at the same time can't comprehend the entire picture.
Good Health tips

Unknown said...

I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!….. I’ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work

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