In which my approach to diet is turned on its head

My introduction to the microbiome (otherwise known as gut bacteria) came through Elaine Gottschall’s Breaking the Vicious Cycle, the book that unleashed the Specific Carbohydrate Diet on the world. Elaine’s research and writings focus on the biochemistry of how food digests in the gut, and mainly focuses on reducing any undigested food that would feed the “bad bacteria” in our guts.

When I started working on my small-intestine bacterial overgrowth issues, I also started following the low-FODMAP diet as well, which is also concerned with what foods may or may not feed gut bacteria.

Both of these diets are mainly focused on the food/bacteria interaction, and so that’s what I always focused on, too. When you eat according to these strict diets for so long, following them becomes second nature and I kind of stopped questioning the “why” behind them. They were mostly working, so what’s there to question?

Not much, or so I thought…until I sat in on a lecture on TNF-alpha and inflammation pathways related to cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. Two of the lecturer’s comments stuck out to me:

  1. Microbiome research is mostly correlative, and
  2. The experiments this guy was running with TNF-alpha performed exactly the same with or without interaction from the microbiome.

If scientists don’t know that much about microbiome–gut wall–immune system interactions, that means that it’s entirely possible that these diets are based on partial (or even wrong) information. They work for some people, sure, but does that mean we know the reasons why? Maybe not.

I am very responsive to TNF-alpha blockers, so I would wager that the inflammation caused by TNF-alpha plays a big part in my disease. And if experiments with TNF-alpha gave the same data with or without the presence of a microbiome, that makes me wonder if the inflammation is a bigger deal than the gut bacteria1.

All along, I’ve been approaching diet from the angle that food helps or hurts gut bacteria, which then helps or hurts my own gut and causes inflammation.

Now, I’m now wondering if I have it completely backwards. What if the inflammation comes first? If there’s too much inflammation, that could cause problems with gut-bacteria-interactions, especially if my gut’s layer of mucus was affected.

If that’s true, then I should be working on inflammation first, and microbiome health second.

I will be looking into this.

More to come.


1 At least for me and the other 20% of Crohn’s people who respond well to Remicade and other TNF-alpha blockers.

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