Of Lawn Care and Poop Transplants

One of the keys to health Dr. William Davis emphasizes in Undoctored is using probiotics and prebiotic fiber to cultivate healthy bowel flora.

He says one of the significant sources of our health problems is that the good bacteria are disrupted, sometimes by a course of antibiotics but for other reasons as well, and as a result harmful bacteria can take over.

This is not a fringe idea: I have seen related stories through my work at Mayo Clinic, as highlighted by this Q&A post on fecal transplant to fight Clostridium difficile infection.

You read that correctly: transplanting poop from someone else into a patient with C. diff can help to restore healthy bacterial balance in the large intestine!

It’s kind of like maintaining a healthy lawn. The best way to prevent weeds is to have lots of healthy grass growing, as my before and after from the last 25 days demonstrates:

One challenge we have in cultivating healthy bowel flora (as opposed to a healthy lawn) is that we don’t know exactly what an ideal mix of intestinal microorganisms is. In Undoctored, Dr. Davis discusses isolated tribes such as the Hadza in Tanzania and the Matses in Peru who have not been exposed to antibiotics and industrial chemicals. Although they’re on different continents, their bowel flora are strikingly similar.

But instead of pursuing a Hadza poop transplant, Dr. Davis recommends a six-week course of a probiotic supplement with at least a dozen different strains of bacteria and at least 50 billion colony forming units (CFUs), along with ingestion of probiotic fiber to enable their growth.

Several strains of bacteria have been shown beneficial, and by planting those seeds (just as I did with my grass seeds) and providing probiotic fiber, Dr. Davis says we can alleviate dysbiosis.

Since publishing Undoctored, Dr. Davis has become enthusiastic about significant benefits he has seen from one particular strain called Lactobacillus Reuteri. Here’s a scholarly article from another source highlighting its many benefits. In the video below, Dr. Davis describes several:

Dr. Davis has been writing about L. reuteri on his blog for a little over two years, including how he is making tasty yogurt to add it to his digestive system from the top end instead of the bottom.

I’ve been making this yogurt and Lisa and I have been eating it regularly for about 15 months. At minimum, it’s the best yogurt I’ve ever eaten. I also think it has definitely contributed to the health improvements Lisa and I have seen, including some major weight loss.

When we’re changing many variables, it’s hard to know exactly which changes are responsible for which health improvements, but I think this yogurt has played at least a supportive role.

In my next post I’ll include a video of how I make it, and some of the benefits we’ve experienced.

See the whole series about my health journey. Follow along on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Going UNDOCTORED

I first heard about UNDOCTORED in early January 2019 I was out grocery shopping at our local ALDI, when I ran into a high school classmate, and my former primary care physician, Dr. David Strobel.

David is currently practicing in a clinic that serves the Pipefitters union, and he said he was seeing lots of benefits for his patients in encouraging them to follow these prevention-oriented practices.

Dr. William Davis, the book’s author, is an interventional cardiologist. After having performed more than 5,000 cath lab procedures, he was jarred by the loss of his mother to sudden cardiac death into taking a fresh look at what he believed about heart health.

The first book that came out of his investigation was the New York Times bestseller Wheat Belly, which advocated a grain-free diet and launched the grain-free movement. I hadn’t heard of that, but given my celiac disease and the need to avoid wheat, barley and rye because of gluten, I was already partway to the grain-free lifestyle.

That, along with my friend David’s vote of confidence, led me to seriously explore the recommendations in UNDOCTORED. Dr. Davis’ point is that many of our diseases of civilization have common roots and can be prevented or in many cases reversed through diet and lifestyle changes.

While he has a somewhat jaded view of the medical industry, Dr. Davis doesn’t believe prevention is the solution to everything. He just believes, and has validated to some extent through his online community, that many conditions can be significantly improved through these upstream interventions.

Highlights of his recommendations:

  • Avoid all grains, not just those that contain gluten. He argues that eating the seeds of grasses is a relatively recent innovation, and our bodies are not genetically adapted to process them.
  • “Don’t buy lean cuts of meat; buy the fatty cuts. If you eat a steak, eat the fat.”
  • Count your blessings, not your calories. Eat until you’re satisfied.
  • Don’t drink cow’s milk. No other mammal drinks the milk of another mammal.
  • Eat “wild, naked and unwashed.” Food should be as close as possible to its natural state, not excessively processed.
  • Cultivate your bowel flora through probiotics and consumption of prebiotic fibers.
  • Don’t take multivitamins. Instead, focus your supplementation on a handful of vitamins and minerals that are seriously deficient for most modern humans.

The last section of UNDOCTORED makes recommendations on those supplements Dr. Davis says are helpful:

  • Vitamin D
  • Iodine
  • Fish Oil capsules high in EPA + DHA
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc

This is a 400-page book, and I’ve only touched some of the broadest points. If you want to check it out further before diving into the book, see Dr. Davis’ blog.

Lisa and I have been implementing most of the recommendations for about 18 months. She has noticed that the Magnesium seems to help her restless legs and has enabled her to sleep better, and I believe the Zinc has contributed to substantial improvement in some skin problems I had experienced.

Given the research about the role of Vitamin D in fighting COVID-19, we’re especially glad we’re doing that supplementation.

In a future post I will share more on the probiotics angle, including some homemade yogurt I have been making for more than a year at Dr. Davis’ recommendation.

Have you read either Wheat Belly or UNDOCTORED? If you have adopted these recommendations, what has your experience been?

See the whole series about my health journey. Follow along on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Can you gain muscle mass in your 50s?

That was my question for my good friend, and our medical director for social media at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Farris Timimi.

It came up in one of our informal conversations about 18 months ago, as I was getting more serious about restoring and preserving health.

I had been reading about how loss of muscle mass is one of the big problems as we age. The medical term is sarcopenia. I read really depressing studies that told how muscle mass in the legs decreases by about 1% a year, and that strength is reduced even more.

So that’s why I asked the question. It was kind of like the question I had asked myself when I was at about 260 lbs., working out 30 minutes a day on an elliptical trainer, and not making much weight loss progress.

It’s kind of cool that in my job I get to have these conversations with Mayo Clinic doctors. And so I’m glad to share the answer with you:

“Yes, you can gain muscle, but it’s not as easy as when you’re younger.”

Armed with the understanding that even though the general trends in muscle mass in a population are downhill, it’s possible to reverse the decline even after 50, I started looking for guidance in how to do it.

That’s when I stumbled across a book recommendation I’m glad to be able to pass along to you: The Barbell Prescription.

This book was tremendously helpful for me, partly because I didn’t have a lot of experience with weightlifting. In my high school basketball days, it wasn’t generally recommended as it is today. The feeling back then was that it would affect your shooting touch. I focused on cardio.

This book emphasizes use of free weights, and four main barbell exercises:

  • Bench press
  • Overhead press
  • Squats
  • Deadlifts

Jonathon Sullivan and Andy Baker do a great job providing an overview of each and an introduction to good technique, along with an explanation of what happens when you stress your muscles through weightlifting and the indispensable role of rest and recovery.

They start with everything a novice needs to know, but also provide a program for those who want to continue and push further, with separate chapters for those in their 60s, 70s and beyond, as well as for females.

I had begun to do some weight training using machines at our local YMCA and following a variation of what Tim Ferriss calls Occam’s Protocol.

But after reading The Barbell Prescription I learned how much better free weights are, especially these big exercises with a barbell, because they involve so many muscles throughout the body.

Instead of pushing a weight through a fixed path as on a machine, you have to maintain control of a loaded bar, using scores of muscles instead of an isolated few.

After I had used the free weights at the YMCA consistently for several months and Lisa knew it wasn’t a fad, I went online and found a used weight set and bench for about $250, paying for it with about 4 months of savings from cancelling my Y membership.

In our current COVID-19 confinement, that has turned out to be a savvy move. In a future post I’ll show my home gym setup and routine, and some of the benefits.

But for now, I just want to definitely answer my opening question in the affirmative: in the last year my bench press maximum has increased 40% and my maximum deadlift is up 33%.

The original values weren’t all that impressive because I had been out of shape and a weightlifting novice.

But the point is that even past 50, with perhaps 90 minutes a week of lifting, you can make a noticeable difference in your body composition over a period of months.

Have you incorporated weight training in your fitness routine?

If so, what benefits have you seen?

If not, what questions do you have?

See the whole series about my health journey. Follow along on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

20 Years at Mayo Clinic

It was 20 years ago today, on April 3, 2000, that I began a new career working in the Division of Communications at Mayo Clinic.

My 2005 Mayo Clinic staff photo

After working in politics and government for 14 years in various roles at the local, state and federal level, I was ready for a career change. I had been on a pre-med track in college, but having met my future bride (now my wife of 35 years) during the first months of my freshman year, the prospect of college, medical school and residency seemed daunting. That contributed to me taking a different direction for my first career.

Having an opportunity in 2000 to get into health care in a supportive role was therefore really exciting, and to do it at Mayo Clinic was amazing. My initial role was as part of the media relations team, and also providing support for some of Mayo Clinic’s diversification strategies, including some of the consumer books and the launch of what was then MayoClinic.com.

I’m so grateful for all of the opportunities for exciting, interesting and important work I have had at Mayo Clinic. There’s no way I could have imagined the full spectrum of what I would get a chance to do.

Until I started at Mayo Clinic, I had only been on an airplane for trips to Washington, D.C.

I didn’t have a passport.

With the evolution of media, and what became social media, my role at Mayo Clinic evolved and led to opportunities to visit places including

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • China
  • France
  • Italy
  • Kenya
  • Mexico
  • The Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Russia
  • Sweden
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United Kingdom
  • and something like 40 of these United States.

I often say my life has become “Norman Rockwell meets The Jetsons.” We live in my hometown of 25,000 people, and yet because of Mayo Clinic (and social media) I have gotten to make these global connections.

Teleworking on my 20th anniversary

A few months ago I wouldn’t have expected that I would spend my 20th anniversary at Mayo Clinic teleworking from my bedroom in Austin, Minn. And yet that was the case today, as it has been for the last two weeks.

I’m thankful that technology allows this, and there’s obviously a big need for health care communication right about now. I’m also proud to be able to work at Mayo Clinic, and of the contributions our staff are making to fighting this global, from development of new tests to leading this national study of convalescent plasma treatment.

More than all of that, though, I feel blessed to have made so many good friends in health care and communications, certainly within Mayo Clinic but also literally around the world.

As we work and pray toward the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, may that day come soon.

Weekend Watching: Another Look at Dietary Guidelines

Conventional dietary wisdom tells us that we should limit intake of fat, and that saturated fat is the worst!

Right at the top of the Nutrition Facts panel on any of the processed food we buy is a declaration of its fat content: Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, Polyunsaturated Fat and Monounsaturated Fat.

Total Carbohydrate doesn’t even get second billing: it’s below both Cholesterol and Sodium.

There was a time when I was extremely grateful for the product at right, when I had recently been diagnosed with celiac disease.

Other cereals I had tried were gluten free, but that was the most you could say for them. They were not at all tasty. Chex cereals were the first ones made for the mass market that also were gluten-free, and Corn Chex was my favorite variety.

I ate it for breakfast almost every day, and as you can see on the label I definitely wasn’t getting too much fat, even with 2% milk. But each serving did have 33g of carbohydrates, even when I didn’t add any extra sugar.

Over just a few years it played a significant role in me gaining 40 lbs. and getting to Peak Lee.

Knowing that I had been on a diet that was rich in so-called “healthy whole grains” and yet was anything but healthy, when I started to run across messages challenging this dietary consensus I was open to at least trying a different approach.

Of course it was not without a bit of concern: after all, if I lost a bunch of weight but was setting myself up for heart disease, that wouldn’t be a net benefit.

That’s why I found it really helpful to have serious scientists like Dr. Peter Attia review the literature and outline what the research on diet and heart disease really says.

I think you’ll find this video fascinating, as I did. Watch it for yourself and let me know what you think in the comments.

If you doubt that it’s worth the 79 minutes to watch, I’ll provide a few bullet point highlights below.

  • Studies of Benedictine and Trappist monks, Navajo Indians, Irish immigrants to Boston, Swiss Alpine farmers and Maasai and other African pastoralists report no association of saturated fat to heart disease.
  • A 1957 study of 5,400 male employees of Western Electric Company compared the 15 percent who ate the most fat to the 15 percent who ate the least. “Worthy of comment, is the fact that of the 88 coronary cases, 14 have appeared in the high-fat intake group and 16 in the low-fat group.”
  • A follow-up study of the Western Electric cohort in 1981 found “The amount of saturated fatty acids in the diet was not significantly associated with the risk of death from CHD.”
  • The Minnesota Coronary Study, which involved 9,000 men and women whose diets could be strictly controlled because they were in mental institutions, found 269 deaths in the intervention group (with low saturated fat and cholesterol) and 206 deaths in the control group. The results, available in 1973, went unpublished for 16 years. Why? “We were disappointed in the way they turned out.”
  • 2001 Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis involving 27 well-controlled randomized trials with 10,000 subjects followed for an average of three years each found No effect on longevity and No “significant effect on cardiovascular events.”
  • A second Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis in 2006 “Multiple risk factor interventions for primary prevention for coronary heart disease” with 900,000 patient years of observation concluded: “The pooled effects suggest multiple risk factor intervention has no effect on mortality.”

OK, now go back and watch the video. It’s a pretty compelling story.

What do you think?

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