Day 21 & 22 of Panchakarma – a tale of bloated microbes

Eleven days of the core Panchakarma treatment are done. That means only ten more to go! Woohoo. Only ten more days – I can almost taste freedom.

The last couple of days have been quiet on the treatment front, more of the same as before. So in lieu of anything Panchakarma-entertaining, I thought I’d re-post an edited version of something I wrote last year about the microbes playing havoc inside our guts:

“Mindful Microbes – What’s your gut telling you?

A while ago I read an article in New Scientist magazine, Gut Thinking: There are strange forces at work behind our food desires. The author of the piece, Chloe Lambert, reported on new findings concerning food desires. The article was well-written, the key information presented cogently, and new directions for research identified. Unfortunately, having read the article I’m not really the wiser about what I can do to mitigate my own food cravings.

Despite the lack of anything more than a damp branch of hope to grasp in the tumbling river that is weight gain, loss, gain, unhealthy food cravings and exercise struggles, I think there is value in sharing some of the key information contained in the article. Namely, what’s going on in our guts is potentially wreaking havoc on our weight management efforts.

But first, and at the risk of sounding like an ad campaign for a new diet (faddy or otherwise), a few questions:
Q1: Are you overweight?
Q2: Have you ever been overweight?
Q3: Have you ever been on a diet?
Q4: Did it ever work?
Q5: Do you continue to struggle with keeping your weight down, with reducing your food intake, with making different and better food choices?

I can answer those questions in the blink of lizard’s eye….
A1: Yes, again
A2: Repeatedly
A3: Of course!
A4: Not for long (see answer to Q1)
A5: Yes (please refer to previous answer), yes – always, Oh god yesssssss.

In the article Ms Lambert gives a couple of interesting quotes an endocrinologist at Imperial College London (Tony Goldstone), one of which was used to highlight the futility of telling overweight people to change their eating habits, i.e. “We don’t just tell asthmatic people to breathe more.” Exactly! Telling overweight and obese people simply to eat less is equally pointless, meaningless and downright offensive. Obviously if you’re overweight and give a crap about your body you’ll have tried that very thing – to eat less – and probably failed repeatedly.

A Little Bit of Science:
In case you didn’t already know this, and in fewer words than should be allowed for such a complex physical function, here’s how the whole hunger-eating-satisfaction cycle apparently works:
• hormones in the gut assess what’s been eaten and when
• the hormones then send notifications of hunger to the brain to tell us we need to eat
• we go foraging, hunting down a meal or snack – from the kitchen larder, the fridge, the canteen at work, or the nearest vending machine

Unfortunately the brain, with reward pathways hard-wired when food was scarce, gets a stronger hit from foods that would ordinarily be off the weight-management list. Yep those scrummy fatty and sugary ones of course. So those vending machines and convenience stores, with their easy to grab goodies we can immediately stuff down our gullets, are frequently what we reach for.

But Here’s the Interesting Bit:
Recent research has discovered that it’s not just hormones and brain chemistry involved in our food desires and cravings, but also some rather clever microbes deep inside our guts. Our gut microbes and bits of bacteria hanging out in our bellies outweigh the brain. And our brains are apparently the heaviest organ in the body – not anymore it isn’t.

That explains my bloated belly then.

And – get this – our microbes might even be clever enough to control the kinds of foods we crave with the sole purpose of selfishly feasting. Essentially, our gut is full of gluttonous, self-serving microbes having a wild time partying on all the fatty, sugary foods we keep consuming.

It’s Not My Fault!
This then means the mass of microbes lurking in my gut are probably the bastards that have caused all my years of shame about my weight and erratic eating habits. At last, I have something other than my non-existent willpower to blame. At last, I can begin to understand why the power of some foods seems to overcome any rational thinking or judicial assessment or even the gainfully-acquired food and health knowledge I’ve taken time to investigate over the years. It’s not my fault! It’s the microbes. Being able to say it’s not my fault feels a bit like saying the cat peed all over my homework – but a lot less smelly – and backed up by science! Wow.

Willpower No More
Fortunately, Ms Lambert states in her excellent article, “…expecting people to rely purely on willpower…is misguided.” And in the end, that’s what all diets suggest you use – willpower. I’m taking solace in her words.

If willpower is out of the equation what else can we do? Here’s what Ms Lambert’s article pointed to that might help chubby folk:
1. Surgery – specifically gastric bypass surgery. If you’ve been tussling with the idea of either a gastric band or gastric bypass surgery (and who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to have the help of some outside agency in the battle for a better body?) – go for the bypass. Gastric bypass surgery will affect those all-important gut hormones in a way that a gastric band won’t ever.
2. Wait for hormone or genetic therapies to mitigate the gut’s hormones and microbes – in the meantime keep letting your gut do the talking.
3. Add fibre to your diet. Ms Lambert reported on a study that had shown some success with adding fibre to familiar and popular foods. But again, this finding is new and undergoing further research. For example, what kind of fibre are we talking about, and in what quantities, etc?
4. Include probiotics in your diet. Probiotics can potentially produce a better balance of hormones and microbes. Once more, further research is ongoing into how this is applicable in the real world.”

As you can see, no mention of deep, month-long health treatments. But I think the Panchakarma approach is a goodie if you suspect microbes are interfering with either your weight management or health.

As a side note – I did try high-density probiotics for a while, which seemed to help calm the microbes down a bit, but not enough. Although undergoing a rigorous Panchakarma programme is not for everyone, I felt I had no other meaningful alternatives to getting my health back on track. I’m glad I took on the programme. That said, only ten more days to go. Dee-lighted!

So if you suspect microbe mania or other internal mayhem are giving you and your body gip – you might want to consider some kind of gut cleanse. Just a thought.

In the meantime, how about this – clear the diary, clear the dishes, and give yourself a whole day without any commitments. Apparently that’s also a great way to detox.

But whatever you do or don’t do, remember – keeping things real and keeping it loving can be a good way to go to it.