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The end of Frankenbelly

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Dr William Davis, a cardiologist based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had an aha moment after discovering how modern wheat was grown. Scientists and farmers, Davis writes, had transformed “a traditional 1.5-meter-tall plant into a 45-centimeter-tall, thick-stalked, large-seeded crop, a change that required thousands of genetic experiments.” 

The result of their experiments proved highly successful for vastly increasing agricultural yield. Farmers were now able to harvest many more bushels per acre of wheat than before, a boon for the consumer and for third-world nations trying to feed their starving populations. The problem was the impact on the human body from all that messing about with a genetically manipulated “Frankengrain,” as Davis calls it—effects ranging from overeating and obesity to mental illness and temporal lobe seizures. 

Celiac disease increased by 400 percent. “Humans who used to eat to live were transformed into a population with insatiable ‘all-you-can-eat’ appetites,” he writes. Davis decided to start a revolution, kicking it off with the publication of his book Wheat Belly and follow-up books, which advocated a grain-free, low-carb diet plus supplements. 

Thousands of people lost 20, 30, even 50 pounds effortlessly. Their blood sugar returned to normal, and they were soon able to come off the cocktail of drugs they’d had to take. 

But something was still missing. Many of his followers had improved but still complained of food intolerances, joint pain, persistent insomnia or depression. 

Davis began digging further. He discovered evidence that a good deal of so-called mental illness was down to a bad population of gut bacteria. 

“An explosion of research made it clear,” he writes, “that common mental and emotional struggles such as depression, social isolation, hatred, anxiety and attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could be blamed on disruptions to the intestinal microbiome.” But that wasn’t all. The more he researched, the more it became apparent that a host of seemingly unrelated conditions, from autoimmune conditions to obesity to neurodegenerative disorders, all had a common thread: a problem with the microscopic population in the gut, the trillions of tiny creatures that inhabit our intestines. 

He realized that modern microbiomes are far different from those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. “A combination of factors associated with modern life— from modern processed foods to stomach-acid-blocking drugs—has created a gut that is almost no longer human; it’s something I call ‘Frankenbelly,’ and it’s as destructive to our health or perhaps more so than Frankengrain,” he writes. 

It also became clear to him that fixing the gut was more than a matter of taking a probiotic and eating more fiber. 

He began studying the various strains of bacteria present in a healthy gut and discovered something untoward: certain bacteria strains were responsible for restoring a normal appetite and helping with visceral fat loss, while others helped to increase muscle mass and strength, boost immunity, alleviate anxiety, reduce wrinkles, enhance mental clarity and focus—and even increase our ability to be empathetic toward others. 

“Bacterial species dwelling in the GI tract, for instance, produce B vitamins such as folate and vitamin B12, or increase feelings of love for family or friends, or stimulate vivid, colorful dreams during the restorative rapid-eye-movement (REM) phase of sleep, which are essential components for normal mental health,” his book explains. 

Evidence, says Davis, has linked a Frankenbelly to an even longer list of ailments than those caused by wheat: all the usual intestinal issues like constipation and an irritable bowel, but also polycystic ovarian syndrome, hypertension, anxiety, depression, isolation and even suicidal ideation. 

But restoring a Frankenbelly to a normal, healthy gut, he says, requires first dealing with the aftershocks of all this microbial disruption. 

An ongoing high-sugar processed diet and constant wheat consumption, laced with a host of pharmaceutical drugs, invariably produces the conditions that medics term small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or small intestinal fungal overgrowth (SIFO). 

The usual medical treatment for both of these conditions and other digestive problems, says Davis, is to remove more and more offending foods or to administer antibiotics, which just kill off more bacteria and make the issue worse. And most standard dietary advice is that this restricted diet is a diet for life. 

Davis’s solution is twofold: to kill the offending bacteria and fungi (usually Candida) with natural means, such as herbs, and then repopulate the gut with make-it-yourself yogurt and other fermented products. Davis offers a wide menu of possible yogurts, each simple to make with the right yogurt maker. 

To tackle SIBO and SIFO, he’s been experimenting with mixing three strains of bacteria in one brew and claims that many of his community members following his grain-free whole-food diet and eating just a half-cup of this yogurt every day have been able to overcome SIBO in a month. 

What Davis’s work suggests is that the current explosion of food intolerances we’re all suffering from may simply be an absence of the right bacteria to help us digest them. If he’s right, a healthy diet and a bit of yogurt may spell an end not just to SIBO but to allergies as well.

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Article Topics: Gut Health, yoghurt
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