Is human suffering just collateral damage in a territorial fight going on inside us? Scientific articles are sprinkled with clues that addiction may be one of the human problems caused or exacerbated by the trillions of microorganisms that live in the human digestive system. The sway they hold over physiological processes is undeniable, and evidence continues to suggest that their power extends over our mental, emotional, and psychological well-being. Their sphere of influence overlaps everything involved in addiction.
One random example of a reference to the connection between the microbiome and addiction is a book by Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, titled Beat Sugar Addiction NOW!. It urges the reader to “customize your diet” to escape from sugar addiction, and consequently lose weight. The author says, “This book teaches you to understand your individual metabolic makeup.” If a person’s metabolic makeup influences addiction, and if the gut microbiota influence the metabolic processes, then it seems that the gut microbiota must have a role to play in addiction.
Teitelbaum enumerates four distinct types of sugar addiction, one of them “driven by depression and anxiety caused by hormonal shifts.” (Coincidentally, a lot of work is being done on the influence exerted by the microbiome on hormone production.) Another of his categories is “sugar addiction driven by yeast/candida overgrowth,” which he explains as “often associated with digestive problems” such as irritable bowel syndrome. Although the microbiome apparently can reach out and touch any organ or system, the part most directly affected is its home, the bowel.
The Wars Inside Us
The body’s mucous membranes are supposed to contain a certain amount of the fungus Candida, and not just the media-familiar Candida albicans, but several species. When antibiotics or steroids knock out whole populations of “friendly” gut bacteria, the opportunistic Candida rushes in to fill the gaps, and the resulting overgrowth can cause innumerable problems. For example, Candida has been indicted in such diverse maladies as airborne allergies and celiac disease.
Let’s temporarily digress to locusts, which normally exist as relatively harmless loners. When food scarcity crowds them together, their bodies produce more serotonin, their muscles get bigger, their colors change, and they turn into a mob with an ability to devastate the countryside that rivals that of Genghis Khan and his hordes.
Candida, being dimorphic, can exist in either of two states: as a round yeast cell or in mycelial (fungus-like) form. When the gut is in a state of dysbiosis, Candida organisms make that locust-like change. They produce extrusions called hyphae that can pierce the intestinal wall and cause Leaky Gut Syndrome.
In fact, rather than devote energy to forming more hyphae, or other life activities, they prefer to penetrate any accessible part of us. As a report published in the journal Cytometry phrased it, “Epithelial invasion outcompetes hypha development.” The researchers, from several German institutions, go on to say:
This analysis revealed that the initiation of hyphae formation represents an ultimate commitment to invasive growth and suggests that in vivo, the yeast to hypha transition must be under exquisitely tight negative regulation to avoid the transition from commensal to pathogen invading the epithelium.
An ultimate commitment! Like Napoleon invading Russia, Candida would rather be death-defying gangsters than peaceful neighbors, which is what “commensal” means in the intestinal context. Instead, they pursue their goal of poking holes, a habit which is said to facilitate the development of at least 90 autoimmune conditions. Many practitioners believe that the treatment of any autoimmune disease should commence with prebiotics, to try and restore balance to the thousands of populations inside us that jostle each other for space.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Q&A with Jacob Teitelbaum, MD,” JacobTeitelbaum.com, undated
Source: “Candida and Gut Dysbiosis,” Ei-resource.org, 01/27/15
Source: “Epithelial invasion outcompetes hypha development during Candida albicans infection as revealed by an image-based systems biology approach” NIH.gov, 11/20/13
Image by Niv Singer