Dysbiosis: How Primal Healing Cures What Ails Us

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Do you ever feel like something should be “scientifically proven” before you trust it?

In medicine, we worship the controlled, randomized trial. We believe in an objective reality that is not observer dependent, and we treat individuals as interchangeable cogs in the wheel of science. We are looking for cause and effect, stimulus and predictable, reproducible response.

But as we begin to awaken to a different truth about the nature of reality, our basic methodology for studying it also comes under review.

We have been allowed to wander, for several thousand years, into the territory of belief that supports the discrete and separate self – the flesh robot on a dead rock in the middle of space existence of purposelessness and meaninglessness – but we are being called back to the Continuum. We are being reminded that we are a part of the natural world, that we are, in fact the natural world itself.

Our reminders have come in the form of illness and crisis. We wake up and go to sleep with fear, unease, numbness, and pain coursing through our veins. We are hanging on for dear life, just trying to survive, waking up over and over to the monotony that disconnection affords.

Dysbiosis and How We’ve Gone Wrong

Our bodies and minds are telling us that we are living wrongly. In fact, our inner ecology is out of balance, and we call it dysbiosis, which literally means wrong living. We are suffering from chronic degenerative diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, autoimmunity, and depression. Conventional medicine has little to offer because it doesn’t understand the language of inflammation that ties all of these dialects together.

Inflammation is native to the human body. It serves a very critical tonic purpose, however, when it becomes chronic and lowgrade, the body adapts to a certain point, as if to say, “I will continue to remind you that you have strayed from yourself and from the web of being.”

The Web of Change – More Than a Pill

Listening to this reminder is a highly personal process, but there are some basic tenets, time tested, that send a signal of safety to the body, mind, and spirit. These tenets work in concert and essentially look like honoring the human organism. Movement, sunlight, sleep, clean food, water, air, rest, and contact with nature. It’s a simple recipe that is mostly defined by the strict removal and elimination of so many of the Trojan Horse gifts of modernity – technology, sanitation, transportation, processed foods, indoor modular living, and myriad conveniences that have led us down a path of mental, spiritual, and physical derangement.

This is why I jumped out of my skin to read this title in my Saturday morning abstract scroll: Influence of a 10­ Day Mimic of Our Ancient Lifestyle on Anthropometrics and Parameters of Metabolism and Inflammation: The “Study of OriginUp until this point, I had only read one other study which I reached back into my intellectual Rolodex to caress every so often. By O’Dea, this study from 1984 demonstrated that aboriginal Australians, returned to the Bush could meaningfully improve and even resolve their type 2 diabetes in 7 weeks. No pills, no program, just traditional living.

Since then I have believed passionately in what is called “N of 1 medicine” or the principle that each person is their own most relevant data, and that a multiplicity of interventions will work most powerfully in context in ways that conventional trials are not equipped to assess or quantify.

Measuring Lifestyle Change

With the tools of blood analysis, however limited, we have an opportunity to capture patterns and trends that may reflect this reality. In this study, 55 adults were offered a 10 day trip through the Pyrenees where they:

  • Hiked 14km/day carrying an 8kg bag
  • Unplugged completely from technology
  • Ate ducks, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, fish
  • Drank “in bulk” from an unchlorinated waterhole
  • Slept outside

They found that it took about 3 days for them to adjust to states of hunger and thirst, as well as to some chronic abrasions on their bodies from thorns in the terrain.

Assessed before and after, the laboratory parameters demonstrated that: “The trip caused decreases in body weight and BMI (median change 4.8%), hip circumference (3%), waist circumference (5.6%), and waist/hip ratio (2.5%) (Table 1Íž Figure 2). Among the clinical chemical indices we found decreases of glucose (12.5%), insulin (55%),HOMA­IR(58.1%), HbA1c (1.8%), triglycerides (20%), total cholesterol (13.7%), LDL­cholesterol (21.9%), and triglycerides/HDLcholesterol ratio (19.3%).”

Paleo Stress vs Urban Stress

The “eustress” meaning adaptive or beneficial stress of the experience may have contributed to elevations in liver enzymes and the inflammatory marker CRP. Perhaps this short term adaptation was a sign of appropriate stimulation of “hormesis” that would ultimately recalibrate the entire organism.

Participants reported feeling well, although ambivalent about the continuation of the experience by day 7. This is what I observe with the protocol I engage with my patients – the first 14 to ­21 days are challenging and rife with the struggle of adapting to a simpler version of life. We become familiar with our particular brand of struggle and love our habits. In many rubrics, it takes 40 days to truly shift, but this study confirms that meaningful change is available in ten.

Another unaddressed element of this study is the power of belief. The participants were psychoneuroimmunology students who clearly possessed a native interest in the principles behind the study design itself. In the conventional thinking, this is a handicap that corrupts and confounds the outcomes. From my perspective, this is a necessary part of the alchemy of healing and change – belief in the intervention.

New Data For Ancient Science

We have moved beyond the single intervention, the belief that the observer is outside looking in, and that the subjects are but disease entities interacting with a standardized chemical having a discrete effect with a known mechanism.

In fact, some recent efforts like this UCLA study used a 36 point therapeutic intervention to resolve Alzheimer’s dementia are attempting to orchestrate the complex symphony of factors that contribute to supporting the body’s self-­healing with remarkable results in 9/10 patients and notable side benefits.

We are asking, “how do we heal?” And the answer is simple. We must first believe that we can. Then, we must speak to our bodies in a language they understand so that we can recognize our minds for the distracting and potentially destructive forces that they are, and then come into contact with the souls that show us who we really are: a singular drop of the universe’s oceanic beauty.

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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More