Anyone who works in a hospital is probably familiar with Clostridium difficile (C. difficile or C. diff for short). It’s a bacteria that causes diarrhea, and worse can kill people who are already sick and compromised in the hospital. Routine hospital room cleaning and antibacterial hand sanitizers don’t kill C. diff, so patients who are diagnosed with it are quickly given precautions. When entering their room and before touching the patient, everyone is required to put on a disposable gown and gloves, and remove them before leaving. They are also required to wash their hands thoroughly. Basically, in the hospital setting it’s a big deal- something you don’t want being transmitted to other patients.
People who have taken antibiotics, particularly broad-spectrum antibiotics that disrupt the normal bacteria in the intestine, are at risk for C. diff. Traditionally, additional antibiotics are used to treat C. diff, but they are not always effective.
One new treatment that is being used to treat C. diff is stool transplant. It involves taking the presumably normal bacterial flora from a healthy person’s stool, and transplanting it into the patient with C. diff. By re-establishing normal intestinal flora, it can treat the disease. Yes, it sounds disgusting but there is evidence that it can be effective. It’s still a fairly new treatment, though.
Well, I came across a very interesting article related to this. There is a case report of a woman who was treated for C. diff by receiving a stool transplant from her overweight/obese daughter. After the treatment, her C. diff was successfully treated, but she rapidly gained 40 lbs despite a medically supervised diet and exercise program.
Of course this is a single case report, so there could be other reasons for the weight gain, but this isn’t the first time I’ve heard suggestions that the gut flora of obese people may be different from that of normal-weight people. According to the case report, there are animal models that suggest that “an obese microbiota can be transmitted.”
I bring this all up because I think it’s very interesting how important one’s intestinal flora (bacteria) can be. Kind of like how our skin is a barrier from the outside world, the gut (gastrointestinal tract or GI tract) also serves a protective function, among other things. In other words, in addition to the food we ingest, we also are potentially ingesting bacteria and allergens. The GI tract serves to protect us from many of those potentially harmful things from getting into our body. So the gut is kind of like an interior barrier- if these harmful things stay only in the gut and get pooped out, then they’re not absorbed into the body itself to potentially cause harm.
This system is quite complex, and not being a GI specialist, I won’t pretend to fully understand it myself. But there is a significant immune function of the GI tract. Also, the enteric nervous system (the nerves and such of the gut) communicates with the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). We call this the brain-gut connection.
What it comes down to is that it’s very important to keep this whole system healthy. This whole immune function of the gut, and keeping the normal healthy bacterial flora- it’s all key to our health. It is thought that there are a lot of things that can disrupt this. A high glycemic diet, processed foods, pesticides and other toxins in food, too much burnt/charred food, unhealthy fats, and unnecessary antibiotics are all thought to negatively affect the gut’s health. Also, lifestyle factors like obesity, stress, poor sleep, sedentary lifestyle, and even poor social connections are thought to affect it as well. Eating fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, or one of my favorites, natto (Japanese fermented soybeans) can help maintain a healthy gut flora. And one can also take probiotics in pill form as well.
So if you didn’t already need the motivation, more reason to follow not just the dietary aspects, but all of the aspects of the Paleo/Primal lifestyle: limit sugar and processed foods, stay active, get quality sleep, control stress, play, and stay connected with loved ones in your life.