I might have recently referred to fiber as the scrub brush of the intestines. Move it along, fiber says, slapping its little nightstick in its little palm. Without it, your poop has no motivation. That’s sort of the way people looked at fiber for a long time, but it turns out to be not exactly true. Fiber is way more important than that, and it is implicated in way more health issues, although unmotivated poop is no bag of giggles.
It all has to do with those bacteria we’re all harboring. Bacteria, some of them, eat what we can’t eat, like fiber. We didn’t invite them, actually, but they go where the food is, like everyone else, and we’ve set up the big buffet in our intestines, and word got out.
Every living thing is all about finding energy to operate. Plants, bacteria, us, we’re all looking for fuel. If it were not so, the people who study us would be called geologists. So we eat plants and animals for energy and bacteria finish off the bits we can’t. If we never had them, all our food would slide out with the nutrients removed but otherwise recognizable and ready to plate up again. But because we have evolved with the bacteria, at this point we need them. And since they’re here, we have to figure out what to do about them. That’s where mucus comes in.
Gut snot, basically. We’ve got lots, and maybe at one time we thought it was about slicking up the poop delivery system, but there’s more to it than that. We need lots of mucus to keep the bacteria away from our delicates. They ride on top of the mucus layer and do their thing and don’t bother us. They also send little chemical messages to our intestinal lining to beef up the mucus. But if we don’t get enough fiber, our bacteria falter and our mucus thins out. That puts the bacteria a little too close to our intestinal walls and that triggers an immune reaction, and ultimately chronic inflammation, which is bad news all around.
Not all bacteria get energy from the same sources. Some of our bacteria get energy from the fiber, and other bacteria get energy from the first bacteria’s poop. It’s an ecosystem, and fiber is what holds it together. You withdraw the fiber, and the populations crash. The bacteria that are left behind might start attacking the mucus layer. Out of spite, probably. Then you get your inflammation and that War On Terror that the heightened immune system represents. Nothing good can come of it.
It all seems as though it was designed, but that kind of misrepresents what’s happened. Any kind of working ecosystem is basically a truce. If we didn’t have bacteria foraging around us for whatever they like to eat, but instead had packysnappers, we’d look quite different. Maybe packysnappers like to eat fingernails and claws and such, and if we evolved with packysnappers, we’d judge each other’s attractiveness on the basis of the plumpness of our cuticles. Instead, we’ve got bacteria and gut snot.
So that’s the system we’ve got. And that’s why we should be stuffing kale and sweet potatoes into it. And not throwing in stuff like antacids. That’s like putting up a wall. Or threatening to nuke. Not good. That’s asking for trouble. That’s when you get your headache, your nausea, irritability, weakness, reduced kidney function, fascism, and acid rebound.
Kale is diplomacy.
I learned a lot reading your post today — and I hope others take your message to heart. When I started eating "real food" (organic vegetables, fruit, whole grains, dairy, fish, meat and poultry) and cut out processed food (frozen dinners, anything with a list of chemicals on the label, sugar, trans-fats), I noticed a big difference in how I feel and how I look. I think that a lot of the maladies that plague people these days can be traced back to an industrial diet. Throwing prescription or even non-prescription drugs at the problem does not make it go away. It makes it come out in some other more sneaky, devious way.
A lot of people shop price when they shop for food, saying organic costs too much, or produce doesn't give you enough food for the dollar. This is a false economy. The way I see it, you spend the money either way. You can pay it up front for the real food. Or you can pay at the end with doctor bills.
I'm sorry, I got so puffed up when I read that I have a "message" that it took me a while to read the rest! I'll tell you what. I'm eating so many more vegetables and greens these days that I'm pooping for MILES.
That was a song by the Who. "I can poop for miles and miles and miles…"
I call that stuff food-like substances, never to function like real food.
I buy lots of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables and they are tasty and good enough for me. organic does cost more and I'm on a very limited budget, but I do avoid processed foods and frozen "meals".
Why do we even chew corn?
No need. They're just in there as tracers.
Let me geek here for a second. This month's American Bee Journal contains an article about the honeybee gut microbiome. There's a layer of bacteria living right the wall of the gut. Another ring of bacteria live on the inner surface of that bacteria. The outer bacteria are aerobic, and get oxygen from the hemolymph surrounding the gut. The inner bacteria are anereobic, and are preserved from contact with the air by the outter bacteria. It gets even odder, as the inner bacteria don't have all the required bits to complete the Krebbs cycle, so they pass off the components to the outer bacteria to take over that function.
Now, I don't know about you, but I find it fascinating that even within the tiny niche of a bee gut, there are tinier niches of habitats for bacteria to inhabit.
Bees don't care for kale, and neither do I. Bees and I also agree that honey is a pretty fine food, even if it lacks fiber.
That is awesome. And you know perfectly well about me, that I'd find it awesome. I love kale. I do like it chopped up pretty good though, with dressing, if it's going to be in a salad.
Truly amazing. Thank you.
So you don’t have to look up Krebs cycle, here it is:
The Krebs cycle refers to a complex series of chemical reactions that produce carbon dioxide and Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a compound rich in energy. The cycle occurs by essentially linking two carbon coenzyme with carbon compounds; the created compound then goes through a series of changes that produce energy. This cycle occurs in all cells that utilize oxygen as part of their respiration process; this includes those cells of creatures from the higher animal kingdom such as humans. Carbon dioxide is important for various reasons, the main one being that it stimulates breathing, while ATP provides cells with the energy required for the synthesis of proteins from amino acids and the replication of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA); both are vital for energy supply and for life to continue. In short, the Krebs cycle constitutes the discovery of the major source of energy in all living organisms.
The Krebs cycle was my undoing in biology, and then later it turned out I was more interested in chemistry, and what is the Krebs cycle if not chemistry? Apparently I can only learn certain things in certain years.
Hoo-boy! I find discussions of bio-chemistry to be fascinating, but they always make me wish that I hadn't been too distracted to pay attention in high school biology and chemistry class…..
That said, all this talk about the transmogrification of ATP *did* ring a very faint bell. And the bell it rang was the moment I realized that I wasn't going to go far with chemistry — I flashed on a textbook diagram of "The ATP/ADP Cycle". I remember that I had to memorize the diagram by rote, because at the time I first encountered it, I couldn't quite grasp what was really going on. So when I saw the reference to the Krebs Cycle, I had to Google it to see if it was just a new name for the ATP/ADP cycle of the past. Alas, when I saw the results, my chemistry-anxiety got the best of me and I shut down and didn't read any more about it.
This is the amazing power of the interwebs — you write something 3,000 miles away, someone (who I don't know) in a different location makes a comment, and voila — I'm momentarily catapulted back to the land of High School Academic Anxiety.
Over the years, I've gotten better at handling this kind of thing — in this case, I reminded myself that I can still conjugate a few irregular French verbs in the historical past tense, and still know how and when to inject the subjunctive mood/tense into a conversation about the rising cost of baguettes.
And after I calmed down a bit more, I remembered that I'm really OK as I am, and don't have to trot out evidence of my strengths, as if to compensate for my self-perceived deficiencies.
MURR, you see what you've put me through this morning? Honestly, I'm going to have to take a nap now……..
Well Jeez, Ed, now I do too! I never had High School Academic Anxiety, in spite of which I still have those dreams about taking finals in a math class I never attended. I DO have Junior High School Social Anxiety.
I'm so sorry. I just thought it was cool that bacteria have assigned seating in the gut. For reasons.
Whatever are you apologizing for? I wonder if competition has taken away the seat spacing and now the middle bacteria are all crammed in whining about the size of the peanut packets.
An emphatic yes from this household. The person I share a house/life with doesn't eat much fibre. And used to eat less. That inflammation you talked about caused his bowel to rupture. Not a fun time. (And how I wish he would join me on the fibre/mucus train).
Hmm. Maybe this post will turn him around. Right!
I hadn't thought about the Krebs cycle for some time. I mostly eat whole food, but once in a while succumb to the call of a burger and fries. Guilt drives me immediately back to fresh veggies. My innards appreciate my guilt.
I do too (burger and fries), and it bothers me more now. I guess I'd gotten used to that kind of food because I never had any complaints. Possibly age makes one more delicate…
Truly excellent blog, Murr. I wish I could go back and get my MS in bacteriology all over again. However I'm torn between studying the soil ecosystem or the gut ecosystem.
Poop in the soil and study that.
Kale can be as diplomatic as it likes, it still isn't getting much of an appearance on my dinner table. A very small amount in a coleslaw mix is enough. The rest of the coleslaw being almost pure roughage material is good enough for me. Antacids are good in the short term if you eat something that unexpectedly gives heartburn. But it shouldn't be used as a fixer-upper forever.
I do have a bottle of Tums in the bedside table. I've gone sixty years without needing any, but now, about once a quarter, I can use one in the middle of the night.
Find out why and stop eating that.
Oh. I always know why. Sometimes you just have to have it…whatever it is.
Having made a few long-haul flights in cattle class, I know how those bacteria in the middle seat feel.AND the poor little buggers have to cope with airline food!
Love your perspective on anatomy. If it been taught this way in school, more people would realize how their body works. It always surprises me that so many people have no clue about their own body when it functions for you all your life if you care for it properly.
I can't say I care for mine properly. I marinate it pretty often.
Those of us for whom eating fibre is akin to handling a bomb are looking at you with narrowed eyes . . . snot a problem, though, is it?
WHAT?? A bomb? Are you Norwegian?
Well, the outside is a mongrel mix of English and Lord Knows, but the innards have got to be something else. Something that doesn't handle fibre well a-tall. I don't really like fish, though, so probably not Norwegian. Maybe A Delicate Flower? That's what my husband calls me, he of the cast iron constitution . . .
Norwegians LOVE fish! Soaked in lye for a couple months and rinsed off.
I've noticed a theme in your recent posts….are you having issues or just starting a small commercial kale farm? I know a good GI doc up on the hill if you need a number.
I'm in the pink, thank you. And sometimes when I do a teeny bit of research (that's the kind I do) I keep finding out more and more stuff and more posts ensue.
I'm trying to imagine you as a patient, and I think I'd have the receptionist schedule you as the last patient of the day……
HEY. Don't you be visualizing me as a patient!
Packysnappers…the new take-along camping food. I like how you just flang out that new word for me to digest, along with my kale.
Very nice post really ! I apperciate your blog Thanks for sharing,keep sharing more blogs.