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What if I told you that simply by targeting specific strains of bacteria in the gut you can increase your testosterone levels?
Not only is it possible, it is one possibility from an emerging universe of new outcomes via what the sciences are calling microbiota targeting. In fact, we have been doing it since 2009.
Before I touch on the specifics the really fascinating thing to understand is the specifics themselves are derived from a revolution in our foundational understanding of not just the nutritional sciences, but the biological sciences at large.
Over the last 7 years the foundations of much of what we believe to be true on a foundational level in biology and subsequently the nutritional sciences has quietly been under assault by an avalanche of new data about how the body and ultimately, biology itself operates.
In short, this revolution can be summed up as the end of “reductionism.”
Reductionism is the idea that we can explain things by reducing them to their smaller components or as the end product of simple things becoming more complex.
Writing in the New Atlantis Journal of Technology & Society, Stephen Talbott, senior researcher at the Nature Institute, sums up this revolution by saying, “… life does not progressively contract into a code or any kind of reduced ‘building block’.”
In short, our understanding of biology has reached the point where things can no longer simply be seen as the sum of smaller parts. The way to understand biology (and yes, ultimately food) is as an operational whole. It is as if biology operates from a top down instruction map. The same is true of food.
The simplest way to explain it is to say that up until now we have understood food simply as energy. The new way to think of food is much more startling. Food is for all intents and purposes most akin to instructions. Breakthroughs in epigenetics, where foods can modify DNA instructions in real time, have helped shape our understanding of this as a newly discovered fact.
Lets see how this applies in a practical sense. In the old paradigm, the way to explain the impact of food was to reduce it down to two numbers – calories and glycemic index.
And yet in paper after paper in recent years, unique foods are shown to have unique effects independent of calories or glycemic index.
If the old way of thinking of food was based in reductionism, the new way to understand the impact of a food parallels depends on what we are seeing in the biological sciences. The way to understand the impact of a food is to understand it as a unique whole.
Lets take the example of a blood orange compared to a regular orange.
In the old way of thinking with reductionism, the two are identical — 100 calories and 40 glycemic index. In our new way of thinking blood oranges contain anthocyanins and other compounds that may possibly inhibit fat accumulation; regular oranges do not share this property. Blood oranges are unique. The way to understand the impact of a blood orange on the body is to understand it as a unique whole.
So how does all this relate to increasing testosterone via microbiota targeting? Part of our new understanding in recent years is that gut microbiota communities engage in active information signaling that modulate and even exert defacto control over numerous physiological processes like hunger signaling, inflammation and even fat metabolism.
Different foods influence the populations of different species of the gut microbiota and subsequently influence a host of metabolic process. So in our old reductionistic understanding of foods, like calories and glycemic index, we didn’t have a frame of reference to even consider the impact of a given food on a strain of microbiota. Our new understanding of food, in effect, the new paradigm of food, now takes into account the global impact a given food will have. In particular, the new paradigm looks at specific effects a given food can in turn exert upon the body as a whole by modifying whole or entire systems like the microbiota.
One of the exciting new areas of research has to do with microbiota targeting, such as targeting the production of specific strains of a given microbiota species to stimulate functional or desired outcomes. This goes beyond the shotgun approach of just taking probiotics or prebiotic foods to instead target specific outcomes by targeting specific strains of bacteria, which influence those outcomes.
For example, Lactobacillus reuteri is a strain of the Lactobacillus genera. Lactobacillus reuteri suppresses inflammatory signaling molecules like Tumor Necrosis Factor by converting L-histidine into histamine. Lately there is this idea floating around that histamine overload from eating certain foods is the cause of all things bad in your gut flora, and you should reduce histamine-producing bacteria. Closer to the truth is that most of us simply need the gut to be properly recolonized, which in turn promotes the health of the digestive tract and intestinal mucosa. This also creates the ability to digest many foods you would otherwise have issues with.
In short, when the gut is unfavorably colonized you are going to have all sorts of issues with different foods. Recolonizing the gut favorably tends to make most of those issues go away. Over the last several years time and again, we have had people come through our system claiming all types of intolerances to foods – gluten, dairy, and so on – and once the gut recolonization is done they no longer report those issues.
Stepping us through proper recolonization of the gut will have to be for another article. For now, the idea that Lactobacillus reuteri is a bad thing is because it acts on histidine/ histamine metabolism in a flawed way. The conversion of histidine to histamine by L. reuteri suppresses pro-inflammatory TNF signaling and in turn exerts anti-inflammatory properties by blocking the inflammatory signaling molecule Interleukin 17. In turn, at least in mice so far, spinning up Lactobacillus reuteri sees to have the effect of proliferating Leydig cells and subsequently increasing serum testosterone levels. As an interesting side note, one study has shown that oral ingestion of L. reuteri was sufficient to reprogram the gut and prevent abdominal fat pathology.
In theory, both a prebiotic and probiotic approach could be taken to maximize this particular protocol. While a probiotic approach at first glance seems a no brainer ( “Hey, just take L. reuteri!”) in fact, strains of Lactobacillus reuteri seem to be specific to each type of mammal. For example, the one we find in mice is not the same strain we find in humans. While this does not rule out supplementing with a Lactobacillus reuteri supplement, I would caution that specifics regarding the source of the strain are questions you should ask when considering supplementing with L. reuteri.
In simplest terms you want a massive amount of cabbage and you want to combine that with egg whites, timing the whole thing in the evening or closer to bed time. Let’s dig in a bit into the mechanisms at work here.
The thing to understand is that certain foods like cabbage are loaded with glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are a class of glycosides common to cruciferous veggies. Certain bacteria like the lactobacilli and bifidobacteria have a genetic advantage to use them for energy and in general, increasing both lactobacilli and bifidobacteria at large correlate to the overall health of the host.
To make this work you need a lot of cabbage. A bag of shredded cabbage is an easy way to do this. Timing matters here – a lot. What makes this work is being proximal to your sleep cycle, where short chain fatty acids from cabbage digestion can begin to work for the gut favorably.
Egg whites help to hold butyrate in the caecum where lactobacilli can metabolize it longer, and thus provide a more favorable environment for lactobacilli production.
And there you have it. By targeting lactobacilli production by timing and the combination of specific foods, we in turn promote the production of strains like L. reuteri, which in addition to several other benefits may indeed promote testosterone production via microbiota targeting.