Animals, Gut Bugs, & Your Health: A More Serious Point

There were some pretty good reactions to the last post on animals and health care. But I wanted to do a slightly more serious follow up now on something I came across in the aftermath.

Following that post, this study arrived in my inbox (h/t Dr. BG of AnimalPharm), titled “COMPANION ANIMALS SYMPOSIUM: Microbes and gastrointestinal health of dogs and cats.”

It’s a broad overview of the microbial roots of inflammatory bowel disease in cats and dogs. Fascinating, I know. But I wanted to zero in on one bit of the study that I found pretty interesting:

Similarly to humans, a microbial dysbiosis has been identified in feline and canine IBD. Commonly observed microbial changes are increased Proteobacteria (i.e., Escherichia coli) with concurrent decreases in Firmicutes, especially a reduced diversity in Clostridium clusters XIVa and IV (i.e.,Lachnospiraceae, Ruminococcaceae, Faecalibacterium spp.). This would indicate that these bacterial groups, important short-chain fatty acid producers, may play an important role in promoting intestinal health.

In case you don’t know by now, that’s the microbiota pattern we’ve sort of been obsessing about. We see it everywhere. Call it the “golden ratio” of the microbiome and disease. So there’s that again!

But there’s also another thing we’ve been going on about lately, and that’s the power derived from being able to take two factors that are very different (like, say, plant fiber consumption and smoking) which are correlated to something similar (heart disease) in order to isolate a mechanism of action. In other words, a cause.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Imagine I came to you and told you that both cigarette smoking and cigar smoking contribute to heart disease, and they do so because they both make your teeth yellow. You’d call me an idiot. Cigar smoking and cigarette smoking are very similar things, and have all sorts of similar effects because of that. So the probability of teeth yellowing being the explanation for their causing heart disease is quite low.

But what if both cigarette smoking and a diet low in plant fiber both made your teeth yellow? You’d probably be more willing to hear me out.

The more different the factors are, the more probable it is that the shared effect you’ve isolated is the cause you are looking for.

What are the chances that eating plant fiber and quitting smoking (or the inverse), very different actions which are both factors correlated to heart disease, are going to have the exact same (and previously unknown) effect in the human body, but that effect has nothing to do with the heart disease correlation? And given that effect (the microbial shift) has been already implicated not only in disease, but in metabolic disease — a class to which heart disease belongs — well haven’t we done something kind of notable?

I make this point because this study sort of does something similar. In this case, we find the “golden ratio” again, but in a completely different species of animal. That cats and dogs are so completely not human, yet experience disease as a result of this microbial pattern, is extremely corroborating information. It’s a pattern detected in human disease. It’s a pattern detected in human actions that are not only related to general healthfulness, but strongly correlated to those very diseases. And now we detect that pattern in diseases of a completely different species of animal. What are the chances that this information belongs in the file drawer labeled: Irrelevant?

Not sure? Let’s play the game again.

Let’s say I showed you a human being who ate a tennis ball and as a result could do highly complex physics equations without ever having studied physics. In order to convince you that this could be duplicated in ANY other human being, what would be more convincing to you: showing you the trick in another human being, or showing you a cat eating a tennis ball and then spouting off Einstein’s theory of relativity?


I just wanted to make one other point, and this goes back to the point I made in the original post. Perhaps this is a small thing, and maybe only someone like me who consumes a lot of this kind of research would notice, but: the study quotation above is by far the clearest statement I have yet to see of the dysbiosis pattern that we have identified on this blog. And it’s in a study about dogs and cats. At this rate, we truly are going to solve chronic disease in our pets before we do in ourselves.

— Heisenbug


20 thoughts on “Animals, Gut Bugs, & Your Health: A More Serious Point

  1. WIthout wanting to pester too aggressively….I’m going to ask my question again, as your research is pushing directions that matter.

    What’s your fast/easy/”not too much thinking for Mr. Heisenburg” recommendation for something to DO in the direction of improving your prebiotic consumption to build a better “other you”.

    Greek Yogurt (or Kefir preferred?) and Honey daily? 1/2 cup and a tablespoon?
    Resistant potato starch ?
    Leafy Greens daily?
    All of the above?

    • The shortest recommendation I could make is to simply eat a lot of fibrous plants.

      Fermentable foods and probiotics are fine/good, but probably not the primary way to impact your microbiome. It’s really about prebiotic fiber.

      Leafy greens are not a particularly good source of prebiotic fiber.

      To find good plant foods for prebiotic fiber, just do a search for these fibers: Fructooligosaccharides, inulin, resistant starch, mucilage, pectin.

      If for some reason sourcing a diverse variety of plants is not possible, or if you were suffering with something that you thought could be significantly treated by prebiotic fiber, then you might consider supplementing with resistant starch (raw potato starch) and/or a FOS supplement. Adding a psyllium supplement to these could help as well.

    • Jeff Leach has a great description of a suggested diet here (3rd paragraph I think)

      I try to eat as much of the whole plant as possible (I grow my own in my garden when I can). For apples, I eat everything except the seeds and the stem.

      Regarding greens: does eating the stems of greens like collards and kale up the fiber content a bit? Sometimes it’s like chewing on strings. I try not to cook them very much.

      • Thanks, Greg. Great link.

        It does up the fiber content to eat stems. Jeff often advocates eating the tough, fibrous ends of asparagus. “Chewing strings” is a pretty good sign you are eating fiber 🙂 It’s going to be mostly cellulose and other polysaccharides.

    • Aretae, here are the building blocks of a powerful RS smoothie I ingest most mornings

      2 TBLS Bobs Red Mill potato starch
      1 tsp psyllium
      1/4 cup yogurt containing bifidobacterium

      i usually add some stevia to sweeten and sometimes fruit. Sometimes green superfood powder too.

      Before bed i just have the starch, psyllium and yogurt mixed with water

  2. Ok. Without doing any real research, I Wik’d your 5 terms, and looked for overlap.
    My takeaway from that is that barely ripe Bananas and Gumbo (okra, onions, garlic) are really good for you, bre-biotically. Do you know if pectin is easily gotten from, say, dried apricots?

  3. If animals (cats and dogs) aren’t eating the food that they were genetically programmed to do, i.e. raw meat, then they are going to get the same illnesses we do: overweight, diabetes, heart problems. I remeber a neighbor’s dog had diabetes and had to have injections every day.
    Let’s face it, a dog is a scavanger, and so eats meat and not dry dog pellets and tinned food.
    There are a couple of zoo’s in the UK that have stopped giving monkeys bananas, as they are bad for them…. They are now being fed green leaves and stems (fibrous matter).

  4. @Greg
    “For apples, I eat everything except the seeds………….”
    Why not the seeds ? Amygdalin(Vit. B17) !!!
    Better yet………. Apricot kernels (air dried).

  5. But this doesn’t tell us that the dysbiosis causes IBD, right? Couldn’t it be just as possible that dysbiosis is a result of IBD? That’s what keeps me up at night. I want scientists to test THAT.

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