The Microbiome and the New Medical Paradigm – How It Can Save Your Life
While concern rises about the spread of a new virus known as COVID-19, it’s good to remember that the past century has seen a massive decrease in infectious diseases globally. Thanks to improvements in personal cleanliness along with better sanitation through proper garbage and sewage management, health authorities have been able to prevent the spread of infectious microbes and protect the public from disease and death. As a result, the mortality rate from viral epidemics has dropped over the past 100 years.
Instead, it’s the noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes that have taken over as major killers. These diseases have been traditionally described as not communicable from one person to the other. That is, until now.
In January, one of Canada’s most famous scientists sent shock waves through the medical community when he published a paper in Science magazine entitled: “Are Noncommunicable Diseases Communicable?” The paper’s author, Brett Finlay, a microbiologist at UBC, reported on his latest findings, stating: “The microbiota is dysbiotic (altered) in individuals with various NCDs. In animal models of NCDs, transplantation of dysbiotic microbiota into healthy animals results in disease, and microbiota composition is shaped by close contact with others. Therefore, we propose that some NCDs could have a microbial component and, if so, might be communicable via the microbiota.”
In other words, Finlay is suggesting that you may be able to “catch” obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, cardiovascular disease, cancer and more from those you live with, those you exchange body fluids with, and/or those you kiss. And it’s not about living in the same daily biochemical soup with others and sharing the same food and possibly bad habits. We are looking at these noncommunicable diseases as having the ability to behave like infectious diseases. The implications are staggering.
And the shock waves rolling over conventional medicine seem to keep coming. Standard medicine’s magic bullets have proven mostly to be more bullets than magic – their side effects have often proved to be worse than the disease (especially with chronic noncommunicable diseases for which the prescribed drugs usually cause other diseases and quite a terrible death toll). Standard drugs also destroy the microbiome in our guts.
Conventional medicine’s claim to healthcare domination has been largely based on its ability to control symptoms (making them disappear temporarily with drugs), because that’s all they can do. Symptom control does work of course, and is very profitable for Big Pharma. In fact, symptom-controlling patent medicines have become big business within less than a century. Unfortunately, controlling symptoms is not the same as curing disease. And research into the politics of medicine has revealed just what a multi-billion dollar con job we are dealing with.
In his Science article, Finlay cuts through all the conventional medical thinking, and through the pharmaceutical skullduggery. With wonderful simplicity he explains: “NCDs – defined as diseases that are not transmissible directly from one person to another – account for more than 70% of all deaths globally. The definition of NCDs rules out microbial involvement and instead focuses on genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.”
He goes on to point out that the microbiome in people with NCDs (chronic diseases) is consistently deficient. In addition, science knows now that the composition of your microbiome is shaped not only by what you eat and your own careful or thoughtless behaviour, but by close contact with others whose microbiome is not healthy for many possible reasons. So, while we may fight and argue over differing political views and religious ideologies, it turns out that humanity is most intimately related through our guts. We are far more alike, both in health and disease, than any ideology can fathom.
Nutritional Medicine Has the Best Tools
Environmental and nutritional medicine came along some fifty years ago and set the stage for these astounding, observations of the microbiome. The environmental / nutritional approach dealt very successfully with chronic illnesses, basing its approach on mindfulness in eating and living. Science discovered essential nutrients never dreamed of before, behaving in ways never guessed.
Nutritional approaches to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory illnesses – combined with lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, eating organic whole foods, identifying toxins in the environment to avoid and remove – have performed something closer to magic than any bullet ever did (except perhaps penicillin in its golden age before we wrecked its efficacy for profit in animal husbandry).
Yet, that stage of claiming personal authority by turning to so-called alternative medicine was just the start. Now we know that taking responsibility means primarily protecting or restoring our microbiome.
To gain a perspective of these upheavals in understanding, remember it is only recently, 1907 in fact, that Axel Holst and Alfred Froehlich suspected the existence of what we now call vitamin C. The word “vitamin” was only coined in 1912 by biochemist Casimir Funk. It was just in 1930 that the Hungarian biochemist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi actually discovered what Holst and Froehlich guessed at, for which he received the 1934 Nobel Prize.
Today we know that without vitamin C we have no functioning immune system and no biological development or repair mechanisms. Vitamin C is the conductor of the whole biochemical orchestra. Right now, in fact, it is being used as an intravenous treatment in China for the most seriously ill patients infected with the COVID-19 virus.
Back in 1988, scientists Linda R. Hegstrand and Roberta J. Hine, building on the work of Rene Dubos in the 1960s, proved the existence of the gut-brain axis and showed that gut microbes influence brain chemistry. That work formed the basis of the explosion of research into the microbiome starting around 2000.
Nutrition and health research dominates biochemistry in medicine and has shown how vitamin C enables the microbiome to function. The microbiome’s existence, now described as a newly discovered organ, makes all the difference between us and a banana, as we both have the same number of genes (about 25,000). The banana does not have a microbiome of 100 trillion bacteria, viruses, and fungi causing our complex systems to function, not like a banana, but like us, by instructing the genes to behave properly our way. Disturbances in the microbiome are the primary cause of disease – be it by infection or what was once known as “idiopathic”, that is to say: chronic, or what was called non-communicable diseases (NCD).
In his book The Whole Body Microbiome, Brett Finlay describes several areas of disease which are affected by the gut microbiome, pointing out that the part of the microbiome in teeth, on the tongue, and on skin have not been as yet thoroughly explored, but are now being studied intensely. To whit:
1) Obesity is a leading risk factor for many noncommunicable diseases and has an important microbial element. Germ-free mice become obese when receiving a fecal transplant from obese mice. A study conducted lasting 30 years involved “a social network club of 12,067 people and showed that having an obese friend was associated with a 57% higher chance of obesity… and a study of U.S. military families showed that being stationed in a country with high obesity rates was associated with an increased body mass index, whereas those families stationed in countries with lower obesity rates had a lower body mass index.” The observation was that the total picture included environment, diet, lifestyle and microbiota.
2) Since obesity carries the highest risk for Type 2 diabetes, that risk of making it a communicable disease comes through the microbiota. Hence, spouses get Type 2 diabetes often after one of them develops it. In mice, this phenomenon has been experimentally proven.
3) Inflammatory bowel diseases have been shown to have characteristic dysbiotic microbiota which can be transferred from person to person or mouse to mouse. “Spouses of such patients also have similar microbiota and much higher rates of disease than accountable by chance alone.”
4) India has a very low rate of ulcerative colitis, but when Indians move to North America, Canada, or the UK the migrants develop the disease at high rates.
5) These findings also apply to cardiovascular disease such as stroke and heart attack.
6) It is also known that “transmissible microbiota, especially early in life, may have a protective role against NCDs, including asthma, allergies, and obesity.” Finlay’s book, Let Them Eat Dirt, is a practical guide on that.
Gene Tinkering and Symptom Control –
No Longer Valid Approaches to Health Care
In his Science article, Finlay outlined a simple and easily understandable plan for testing these new observations by following the approach of the so-called Koch’s Principles developed in 1890. They constitute the gold standard for research in infectious disease. The details are described in his article.
This requires a huge adjustment in understanding. Simplistic hopes for finding one-to-one relationships between a gene and a disease have been dashed because it turns out that genes do not create chronic disease.
At the same time, Big Pharma’s dreams for yet another obscenely profitable symptom-controlling drug are evaporating, unless they now start protecting the microbiome, instead of destroying it with toxic chemicals innately foreign to our biology. Tweaking genes, which themselves are totally dependent on resident microbes telling them how to function, has also become a pipe dream. While disease causation has many components, the healthy microbiome is so important that it makes relatives of us all on planet earth.
The glory of our microbe-orchestrated chaos has revealed itself, and now we must understand how it has been in control all along. We better listen up because those bugs know something. So understanding and welcoming them makes the difference between health and disease and life and death. Don’t mess with them.
In other words, try not to take drugs without figuring out first if they may be harmful to your microbiome. Use alternatives if the suggested medication does not support the microbiome. Supplement with vitamin C and be kind to your microbiome.
Things used to seem so simple! Now they have become terribly complex and so much more exciting. We used to think we were so clever. Now we know that the cleverest thing we can do is listen to our microbes and do their bidding as our DNA does.
Sources and Resources
 B.B. Finlay, PhD, Are noncommunicable diseases communicable, Science, January 17, 2020 https://science.sciencemag.org/content/367/6475/250.summary
 Three Intravenous Vitamin C Research Studies Approved for Treating COVID-19, by Andrew W. Saul, Editor, Orthomolecular News Services https://tinyurl.com/IVVitC-COVID19
[3} B.B. Finlay, PhD, The Whole-Body Microbiome: How to Harness Microbes―Inside and Out―for Lifelong Health”; Jan 22 2019, Douglas & McIntyre, 2019 https://tinyurl.com/FinlayMicrobiomebook
 B.B. Finlay, Let Them Eat Dirt – Saving Our Children from an Oversanitized World, Windmill, 2017, https://letthemeatdirt.com/
• T. E. Levy, Reboot Your Gut: Optimizing Health and Preventing Disease with Microbiomes, Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, Oct. 25, 2019 available free online
• A. W. Saul, Coronavirus Patients in China to be treated with High-dose Vitamin C IVs, Orthomolecular News Service, February 13, 2020. Free online.
• S. L. Prescott, History of Medicine: Origin of the Term Microbiome and why it Matters, Human Microbiome Journal, issue 4, 2017
• M. Blaser, Missing Microbes, Oneworld, 2014
• R. Dietert, The Human Superorganism, Dutton, 2016
• R. Bud, Penicillin –Triumph and Tragedy, Oxford, 2007
H. Ferrie articles in Vitality on the microbiome:
- May 2016, on the history of the microbiome;
- July 2016, on the microbiome and obesity;
- February 2017 on how the microbiome has become the human super-organism.