The Two Best Brains You Have (after the one in your head)
The nutritionist who saved my mother’s life from terminal cancer – Bernard Jensen – was fairly obsessed with bowels. He wrote a book called Tissue Cleansing through Bowel Management, which was a seminal book on understanding the relationship between the bowel/the gut and health. He also developed the colema board, a kind of home colonic unit that Ruth Sackman, founder of the Foundation of the Advancement of Cancer Therapies, had all her cancer patients using. My mother was one of Ruth’s patients, and she used it diligently as one of the methods of detoxifying her body. We attributed my mother’s cure from terminal cancer, in part, to her consistent cleansing of her bowel. (The other changes were committing to a nutritional program that emphasized live foods, and finding emotional balance through the process of psychoanalysis.)
Recently at La Casa, I was talking to a client who had come for a colonic. He’s a little older than I. He asked me if I remembered Mr. Baum back in the late 60′s/early 70′s. Indeed, I do. Mr. Baum was literally the only person in NYC who was giving colonics at that time. It was a kind of seedy place in mid-town. And he was a strange kind of guy. Going there almost had the feel of going for a backstreet abortion. But for bowel cleansing, he was the only game in town.
Now, colonics are almost downright mainstream. After Mr. Baum closed up his shop, La Casa opened its doors as the first NYC spa to offer colonics. La Casa now offers eight different kinds of colonics, each one affecting the body in a slightly different way, but each being a powerhouse of cleansing.
Since our first colonic administered 20 years ago, the world has changed in terms of what we have learned about the relationship between gut health and whole body health. The findings of even the last few years are nothing short of mind-bending.
Natural health people, for many years, have talked about the gut as the second brain. There is good reason for this. Developmentally, during fetal growth, the gut and the brain begin as the same tissue. Eventually, the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system differentiate and become separate entities within the body. But the close connection between gut and brain remain throughout one’s life.
Recently, researchers have identified yet a third brain: this is the brain that is not the digestive tract per se, but rather comprises the flora of the gut – all the little critters that live in the gut: microbes.
Since Pasteur’s discovery of the germ, we have become used to thinking about bacteria and viruses as causing illness. We have become obsessive about cleanliness as a way of getting rid of the tiny critters whom we see as malevolent enemies. But we now know that 99% of our microbial inhabitants provide essential services for our body’s health. As much as 80% of the immune system is located in the gut. Gut microbes have the various jobs of breaking down environmental toxins, regulating lipid absorption, creating energy, synthesizing vitamins, producing neurotransmitters as well as amino acids, directing our immune and neurologic functions; they probably do lots more that we don’t even know about yet.
Microbes live in every part of our bodies, in every crevice, and on every surface. There are more bacterial cells on our bodily surfaces–collectively amounting to 100 trillion cells–than there are human cells in the entire body. The difference is a factor of 10:1. The combined weight of all the different types of microbes in our bodies is about two pounds.
We are born 90% human, 10% microbes. Although babies begin their life’s journey in the sterile environment of the womb, rather instantly babies become colonized with microbes, picking up these little hitchhikers as the baby travels through the mother’s birth canal. In contrast, babies born by cesarean section are colonized with bacteria more commonly found on the mother’s skin, or on the skins of other infants, nursing staff, and even in the air in the hospital. This difference between children who are naturally born and those who aren’t are shown to have life-long differences in terms of health. For instance, cesarean-section babies are more prone to developing food allergies and asthma. The difference in initial colonization is certainly a contributing factor in why this difference occurs.
As we develop and grow, our microbes develop and grow with us. They grow much faster than we grow. They also develop complex ecosystems. An elaborate system of communication forms: eventually microbial molecules can tell how many neighbors they have and how friendly they are to the neighboring colonies. When there is enough of a collective growth, all the bacteria begin to act as a synchronized group – a kind of beautiful harmonious symphonic song and dance they do with each other.
By the time most of us die, we will have reversed the proportion of human to microbes, and we will have become 90% microbial. One might be tempted to say that at the time of our death, we are more microbial than human.
With a recently developed system of DNA sequencing, we have discovered vast numbers of microbes in and on our bodies that, until a few years ago, we had no idea were there. Researchers have found archaea, for instance, previously thought to live only in extreme environments – at the bottom of the ocean, or at the Arctic. But we know now that they colonize in the human mouth, teeth and gut.
The implications of this recent research are far-reaching. But, truthfully, we are only at the beginning of understanding the profound implications of our humanness converting over to a microbial existence.
Although most of the microbes we house are useful – even essential – it is the remaining ones that we have to worry about. Co-existing next to the friendly flora, we also give residence to bad guests. Think about the bad bacteria as a gang of evil creatures. Thieves that they are, they will eat your food. They will even eat you. And while they are having a scrumptious meal at your expense, they then do the offensive equivalent of pooping right into your bodily systems. They emit waste that is poison as well as carcinogenic; they create a multi-layer of dead cells wherever they nest. This putrefying gook prevents nutrients from being absorbed. Fecal liquids from the bad bacteria are reabsorbed, recycled over and over, resulting in an undernourished, toxic, tired, irritable, and eventually sick body.
Toxicity of the gut seeps out to the rest of the body/brain. It is thought to be a contributing factor in a wide range of diseases, including digestive disorders as well as the various mental disorders of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, depression and schizophrenia.
Colonics are internal baths to the intestinal tract. Yes, as opponents of colonics often argue, with intestinal washing the good bacteria as well as the bad bacteria will be swept away. But this is an easily remedied problem. Feed your body healthy whole foods (especially raw greens), and your gut will begin to normalize with the right ratio of good to bad bacteria. You can also supplement your diet with probiotics and digestive flora.
Do Colonics Make You Thinner?
OK. I admit. I’ve always been a snob about this kind of thing. I know that other colonic facilities answer “yes” to this question. But I thought they were just trying to drum up business for themselves. So when La Casa clients ask that question, we haven’t had an emphatic yes-answer. We explain that if there is gas in your belly, the colonic will reduce that bloating, and yes, your stomach will go down. But, of course, that is not really making you thinner.
But I have come across some recent research on the relationship between gut bacteria and body weight that makes me re-evaluate my position on this question. Researchers have now found that the balance of microflora in the gut can be an important predictor of obesity.
There are three major classes of microbes that populate the gut: Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, and Actinobacteria. Jeffrey Gordon, MD, a molecular biologist at my alma mater, Washington University, found that the gut flora of obese humans and obese mice have fewer than normal Bacteroidetes and more than normal Firmicutes. After his discovery, Gordon did something really interesting: he took bacteria from obese mice and transplanted them into the intestinal tract of thin mice. The result was that the thin mice became obese even though they continued to eat the same diet.
This is a very profound finding. All of us have had conversations with overweight people who claim to eat scantily. Mostly, we tend to not believe them. But Gordon’s finding leaves open various possibilities: maybe a person’s intestinal microecology has developed a microbial imbalance that disrupts the normal neurochemical feedback loops that control satiety. Or maybe the person isn’t really eating that much more food than a thin person, but intestinal bacteria are metabolizing the food in a different way.
Animal researchers had found that Firmicutes bacteria possess a wider array of digestive enzymes that make them more efficient at extracting energy from food than Bacteroidetes. Thus, higher concentrations of Firmicutes could lead to obesity even without an increase in caloric intake. It also appears that certain bacteria are better at metabolizing food than other types. As we can now see, the issue of overweight is much more complicated than we previously thought, and is intimately related to the condition of our gut microecology.
Colonics don’t replace bad bacteria with good bacteria. But they do wash out a supply of the bad bacteria, and thus leave room for the renewed growth of friendly flora. Consider the colonic as your first step toward health. What you do with your eating habits after you leave La Casa is the next step, and ultimately the most important step.
Are We Like the Mice?
A few adventuresome clinicians have assumed that we are. They have been conducting a procedure that has come to be known as fecal implants, or human probiotic infusions. It’s essentially the same procedure that Gordon did with the rats. Thomas Borody in Australia pioneered the procedure, and currently a number of centers around the world (and in NYC) are now performing this procedure on patients suffering from severe imbalances of flora.
There are a number of studies that show that it is possible to take an extract of fecal material from a healthy person, process it minimally, and then put the organisms into the GI tract of another person. This can be done by nasogastric tube, colonoscopy, or enema. The results are the produce of a significant and long-lasting alteration of the new host’s gut flora. Dr. Borody has published case studies of people with ulcerative colitis who have gone into permanent remission after getting fecal transplants.
Mice don’t generally get colonics. But we humans can. Even mainstream medicine understands the need for a clean gut before surgery. If you’ve ever had surgery, you will remember that nasty stuff they give you to drink to clean out your digestive tract, and the enemas, too. Better to just have a clean healthy gut all the time. Seasonal colonics are one step toward this goal.
La Casa’s Newest Colonic:
We call it the Bio-Colonic. Whilst you are having the colonic irrigation, you are lying atop the Bio-Mat, and your body is absorbing a surfeit of both negative ions and far-infrared waves.
Negative ions infuse the body with health-enhancing properties. Urban areas typically have much lower concentrations of negative ions in the air than rural areas. NYC is one of the worse offenders. Ionization is mandatory in most European and Russian hospitals. A recent study by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture found that ionizing a room led to 52% less dust in the air, and 95% less bacteria in the air (since many of the pollutants found in the air reside on floating dust particles).
Specific to digestion and elimination, negative ions promote better digestion by counteracting over-arousal of the sympathetic nervous system. Tension in the stomach and intestines Is eased, promoting the production of digestive enzyme and enhancing both digestion and elimination.
Other over-all effects on the body/brain of negative ions include:
- increasing oxygen levels in the blood and increase flow of oxygen to the brain;
- stabilizing brain function, effecting relaxation and calmness;
- aiding in blood purification by increasing the levels of calcium and sodium in the blood stream;
- restoring a healthy (slightly alkaline) pH balance to the blood;
- increasing metabolism by stimulating exchange of electronic substances in cells;
- strengthening the immune system by promoting production of globulin (proteins that are found extensively in blood plasma) in the blood, resulting in stronger resistance to illness;
- balancing autonomic nervous system by balancing the opposing sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system;
- revitalizing cell metabolism;
- enhancing vitality of muscle tissue and strengthening internal organs.
Far Infrared waves, also emitted in the Bio-Colonic, have far-reaching health benefits. Heart studies done by The Mayo Clinic found that infrared waves significantly improved blood vessel functioning in high-cholesterol, diabetes and smoking patients. The therapy also was found to increase circulation, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and help in weight loss.
Specific to its usefulness in the Bio-Colonic, the exposure to far infrared waves increases enzyme activity in the digestive tract. As well, it helps to break down trapped fat, waste, cellulite, and other toxic substances.