We have, as a society, experienced numerous health misadventures due to such factors as dietary guidelines that got it all wrong, exploitative Big Food practices that prey on low-income people, a misguided and greedy pharmaceutical industry that has no understanding of genuine health, doctors trained in pharmaceuticals and procedures but not in health. But it’s the health mess created by these blunders that have also taught us new lessons: the dangers of reducing dietary fat, the creation of an obesity epidemic due to consumption of grains and sugars, and the damage done to health by antibiotic overprescription. Another important lesson to emerge from these mistakes: recognizing the power of muscle mass on health. It has also taught us that the GI microbiome is a major factor in maintaining muscle mass and strength, including the so-called “gut-muscle axis.”
It has become clear that the amount of muscle you carry (not to be confused with the obscene musculature of bodybuilders, but the musculature of youth) is a major determinant of health. A number of factors, many of them originating with diet and from the gut, work to reduce healthy musculature, factors that include:
- Aging—As we age, we lose about 35% of youthful musculature, a downward trend that begins around age 30. Loss of muscle is accompanied by loss of strength such as the ability to climb stairs, get in or out of a car, of doing lawn work, etc.
- Inflammation—People who have higher levels of silent mediators of inflammation, such as tumor necrosis factor-α and nuclear factor-κB, reduce muscle mass and strength.
- Insulin resistance—The majority of Americans are insulin resistant. This is the process that leads to pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cognitive impairment, fatty liver and other conditions. It also leads to loss of muscle mass and strength, along with deposition of fat into muscle itself, so-called “myosteatosis.”
- Loss of GI microbial species diversity—Repeated exposure to antibiotics; food additives such as preservatives, emulsifying agents, and synthetic sweeteners; pharmaceuticals such as stomach acid-blocking, anti-inflammatory, and statin cholesterol drugs; chlorinated drinking water; glyphosate (Roundup) and other herbicides; and many other factors have literally killed off hundreds of microbial species. Loss of species diversity is associated with loss of muscle mass and strength.
- Colonic dysbiosis and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)—Loss of beneficial microbes has allowed over-proliferation of fecal species such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter that, upon microbial death, release toxins into the intestinal lumen that then gain access into the bloodstream. This is especially a problem if it occurs in the 24-feet of small intestine because the small intestine is, by design, permeable, since that is where we absorb nutrients such as amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. The entry of bacterial toxins into the bloodstream, “endotoxemia,” is a potent amplifier of inflammation and insulin resistance, thereby adding to loss of muscle.
- Loss of Lactobacillus reuteri—I cite this microbe specifically because it is the only microbe that has been demonstrated to provoke release of the hormone oxytocin from the brain. Oxytocin has many functions body-wide. One crucial function is to stimulate muscle growth and strength, essentially reversing age-related muscle loss. When I added L. reuteri and thereby oxytocin to my lifestyle, I gained 13 pounds of muscle and increased my strength by 50% over 3 weeks going to the gym for strength-training 15 minutes once per week—minimal effort, in other words.
- Failure to consume fermented foods—Convenience and absurd dietary guidelines that leave out critical components of diet caused the majority of people to regard fermented foods as rotten or dirty. But inclusion of fermented foods increased GI species diversity, increased butyrate levels in the GI tract, blood, and elsewhere, and reduce inflammation and insulin resistance.
- Failure to consume collagen-rich foods—The “cut your fat and saturated fat” nonsense caused most people to abandon consumption of organs such as heart, tongue, stomach, intestines, liver, etc. rich in collagen. Collagen is a major component of muscle, as well as joint cartilage, arteries, and skin. Misguided low-fat advice has therefore caused accelerated aging of these organs, including worsening of age-related loss of muscle mass and strength.
Combined, these factors conspire to accelerate aging, impair your ability to navigate the world unassisted, increase risk for numerous modern diseases. Doctors and other providers of “health” information continue to echo useless advice such as “move more, eat less,” or “everything in moderation” while never addressing any of the above factors.
To therefore counteract the above factors and restore or maintain youthful musculature, be sure you:
- Avoid foods that raise blood sugar and insulin—i.e., wheat, grains, sugar
- Address common nutrient deficiencies that amplify insulin resistance and inflammation—vitamin D, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine
- Take steps to rebuild a healthy GI microbiome and push back SIBO in the small intestine—plentiful consumption of fermented foods; restore keystone species, especially L. reuteri and L. gasseri, cultivated with my method of prolonged fermentation to generate high microbial counts as, for instance, L. reuteri yogurt or as SIBO Yogurt.
- Include collagen-rich foods in your diet—Even if you cannot stomach adding back organ meats, consider sausage made in natural casings, eat the skin on poultry and fish, make “carcass broth” (NOT bone broth that contains toxic levels of lead), and add a collagen peptide powder to your regimen.
- Include some form of resistance exercise or work—It really requires only modest effort because, thrust into the context of restored oxytocin, collagen, etc., a little bit goes a long way.
You therefore want to restore muscled thighs that allow you to take stairs two-at-a-time, muscled arms that allow you to cart heavy bags of groceries or wield garden tools, a strong back that allows you to stand erect and discourages back pain. If this is unclear or new to you, consider starting with my Super Gut book in which all this is laid out in detail.