If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy


If “Mama” is the microbiome, the comparison is easy to make. When things are not going well in the digestive tract, where trillions of organisms make their home and partake of various relationships with their host, the rest of the body will not fare well.

A claim has been made that red wine contains polyphenols, which help beneficent gut bacteria to flourish. But as we have seen, the alcohol itself is hostile to bacteria. Probably it is wise to acquire friendly bacteria by other means.

On some topics, the state of knowledge is on firmer footing. For instance, there is agreement among most students of the microbiome that wheat and industrial seed oils are good for bad bacteria, or bad for good ones, or both.

Allergies are widely understood to be the result of dysbiosis, or disruption of the microbiome. This is an eminently logical position, as 80% of the body’s immune cells hang out in the gut. To grant entry to substances that tamper with the crucial balance is to invite permeability of the intestine, which nobody wants. Once the foreign molecules escape into the bloodstream, the entire confused system wages war on itself.

Paradoxes abound

Bacteria of the genus Clostridia help maintain the intestine’s integrity and contain the harmful molecules on their own side of the border. Can these critters be lab-cultivated and bottled as medicine? This is one of the million questions that scientists in this field face.

But — and in these early stages of getting to know the microbiome, it seems like there is always a “but” — as Chris Kresser writes:

Children with allergies tended to have increased abundance of Staphylococcus, Clostridium, and Escherichia species, while numbers of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria are significantly reduced compared to healthy children.

Microbiome science is full of as-yet-indecipherable mysteries. For instance, in the gut, health is associated with greater diversity of organisms. In the lungs and air passages, health is associated with reduced diversity. Yet the two very different locales share a similarity: Both asthma and obesity are associated with antibiotics introduced at a very young age; and with C-sections; and with formula feeding.

It all has to do histamine intolerance, and guess where histamine comes from? Gut microbes. Lactobacillus is an important and generally helpful bug which nevertheless produces histamine whose excess can be problematic. To avoid an overgrowth of histamine-producing microbes, it appears that one must avoid aged cheeses, citrus fruits, fish, shellfish, avocados, spinach, cocoa, and leftover meat.

Researchers at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science made a major advance by observing that artificial sweeteners perform “profound changes” on the microbiome to raise blood-sugar levels. In mice, this opens the way to glucose intolerance, diabetes, and obesity.

Jason Best reports that a small group of human subjects who normally never used artificial sweeteners ingested them for a week:

Half began to develop glucose intolerance after just four days, and further analysis showed these participants possessed the kind of gut bacteria that appeared to cause glucose intolerance when exposed to artificial sweeteners.

Aspartame, sucralose and saccharin apparently mess up the gut bacteria worse than actual sugar. Over 6,000 processed food products contain artificial sweeteners, and we would do well to remember the words of Dr. Billi Gordon:

Most processed foods are drugs, not food.

Bonus audio track: Tracy Byrd’s “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Doing Dry January? Your gut bacteria will be grateful,” OptibacProbiotics.co.uk, 01/05/16
Source: “Got Allergies? Your Microbes Could Be Responsible,” ChrisKresser.com, 04/28/16
Source: “Drinking Diet Soda and Not Losing Weight? Blame Your Gut Bacteria,” Takepart.com, 09/18/14
Source: “Much More Than a Gut Feeling,” PsychologyToday.com, 07/22/14
Image by: Spencer Means

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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