Monday Musings: Poop Transplants, Sleep Deprivation and Going Nuts

And now for another round of Monday Musings…

Let’s Talk Sh**

Poop is the new probiotic. Doctors have been using fecal transplants as a “last resort,” mostly to treat the rising scourge of Clostridium difficile, a gut bug that affects about 250,000 Americans every year and proves extremely resistant to antibiotics. Shooting a fecal extract from healthy people into the C. diff-ridden colons of the affected has a 95% success rate. Some docs are pushing for the last resort to be the go-to move. I can’t argue with that.

But gut health isn’t just about acute infection. It’s also about basic metabolic health. A study showed that sterile mice receiving a fecal transplant from obese mice gained more weight than sterile mice who received transplants from lean mice. And most recently, a Dutch pilot study gave 18 obese males with pronounced metabolic syndrome fecal transplants from lean individuals. They did not lose weight, but they did experience improved insulin sensitivity and triglyceride numbers. These improvements reverted after about 12 weeks.

It’s interesting, but I’m not surprised the changes were underwhelming and temporary. As we all know, you have to support a healthy flora population. You have to eat a healthy diet, avoid crappy food, and provide “food” for the bacteria. Were these Dutch guys eating prebiotics? Or were they keeping with the same inflammatory diet that got them into this mess?

Sleep Deprivation and Neural Gene Expression

Lack of sleep hits you pretty hard. It clouds your mind, sours your mood, and can even put you at a higher risk for chronic disease and early mortality. But these are generalities; “feeling crappy” isn’t really a clinical term with a well-defined physical corollary in the structure of the brain. A new “Sleep Study” examined the specific effects of sleep deprivation on neural gene expression in mice.

By looking at which genes were “turned on” by sleep deprivation and how they corresponded to regions of the brain, scientists found that missing out on sleep affects the vast majority of neurons in the forebrain. These areas, including the hippocampus, the neocortex, and the amygdala, are largely responsible for higher thought, cognition, emotion, and memory. Novel genetic expressions were also discovered, including those associated with the stress response, intercellular signaling, and regulation of other genes. Understanding how individual brain genes respond to sleep deprivation could allow better treatments for sleep deprivation (not always easy to avoid, especially these days).

If pea-brained mice are getting hit hard by sleep deprivation, imagine what it does to a bunch of big-brained apes like ourselves! We heavily rely on brain function. It makes us human. Get your sleep, people!

Human Ancestors Skipped Fruit, Went for Nuts

If you go back far enough, our ancestors were probably mostly frugivorous. How far? New evidence pushes it back past 4.2 million years.

Anthropologists examined the enamel microstructure of the teeth of Australopithecus anamensis and found that while they were not equipped to deal with acid erosion from flesh fruits, they were made for the heavy mastication of abrasive, tough foods, like nuts, roots, and insects. The jaws allowed shearing and lateral chewing.

This diet corresponded with our move down from the trees and on to two feet. No longer were we tree apes dining on fruit and leaves; we were ground dwellers, trawling the grasslands for dense calories, fashioning tools to dig up roots and bugs and crack bones, and standing upright to reduce our sunlight exposure and keep an eye out for predators (and, eventually, prey). This new evolutionary path set us apart and helped make humans, and their brains, what they are today. Fruit is a tasty and nutritious addition to the diet, but it can’t beat dense roots, nuts, and animal foods for spurring, aiding, and abetting higher evolution.

That’s it for this week’s Monday musings. Have you picked up on some interesting new research or a hot topic I should know about? Shoot me an email with a link.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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45 thoughts on “Monday Musings: Poop Transplants, Sleep Deprivation and Going Nuts”

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  1. I’m not quite sure what to say to this. I’ll give a little anecdote I find myself repeating more and more often. When my friends question how I can live without enjoying all the delicious wonders of pastries and pancakes, I respond with one simple question. Would you rather be eating that pancake, or my filet mignon? The same applies to snack time. Would you rather pound down a rice crispy treat and a soda to refuel you for the next .5 hours, or have a handful of nuts that will keep you going all day?

    1. honestly, the rice krispie treat. but i’m not doin that cuz, as mark puts it, it’s crappy…and it will make me feel crappy in the short-term and long-term

    2. I don’t know what kind of nuts you eat but none I’ve eaten have kept me going all day. Bone-in Rib Eye steak and some fried eggs are quite another story.

  2. I guess it’s only fitting that after studying the effects of a human diet on rabbit health (a flawed animal model from the start), they’re finally turning to study rabbit diet on human health. (For those who don’t know, rabbits are hind-gut fermenters and reinjest their feces to absorb the nutrients that were broken down after passing through the hind guts. Gorillas are another highly folivorous species that does this, too.)

  3. “No longer were we tree apes dining on fruit and leaves; we were ground dwellers, trawling the grasslands for dense calories, fashioning tools to dig up roots and bugs and crack bones, and standing upright to reduce our sunlight exposure and keep an eye out for predators”

    hhmmmm Mark – have you factored in the possibility that Ms. Elaine Morgan has substantively presented and fought establishment CW thinking about our ancestry (Aquatic Ape Theory)?

    The specific point that comes to mind with regards to your above quote is Ms. Morgans astute observation that when we were supposed to have “come down from the trees to the savannas and “stand upright to face our predators”, carbon dating of various vegetation show that the savanna theory is off my tens – even hundreds of thousands of years – that is – the savannas *did not exist* when we were supposed to have clamored down – Ms. Morgans (quite plausible) explanation about walking upright had nothing to do with the then-non-existent high-grassy savannas but instead, our need to wade through swamps and water. diet considerations would be a bit altered as well, yes?

    somethin’ to consider when perpetrating CW – and we all know how much we love nutritional CW – why should we accept face-value anthropological CW…?

    1. I hear you, moksha. I understand that there are competing theories as to the cause of bipedalism. May be post-worthy in the future.

  4. Being an avid poop-o-logist myself, I’m always searching for more details about the sh**. For some reason, people don’t expect that coming from me. Hee…hee.

  5. One of the pioneers of the fecal transplant is an Australian gastoenterologist. I saw him a few years back with abdominal pain and stool problems. I clearly recall him offering me the option of a fecal transplant at a cost of thousands of dollars. He seemed convinced about the efficacy of this approach, but I declined, because of the “ick” factor, cost, and doubts about whether the technique could really help. Now all better thanks to a strict paleo diet.

  6. My wife and I are always up for more information about Australopithecus and the other deep ancestors; it gives us a great idea of what we should be doing.

  7. Being in the symbiosis field as a microbiologist, the simple biggest thing missing from any talk about gut microbes is location, location, location. While we can certainly point to the Clostridium studies to show that general swaps do help, no one has yet be able to prove that probiotics, or other microbiome swaps, actually colonize at the level of tissue. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a few people who actually do this research (and I hope to do it myself one day) and the consensus is that we do indeed have a fabulous list now of microbes associated with the human microbiome. What we don’t have is where very specifically these microbes exist in/on the human, especially in the gut. I think once we have that answer, we’ll have a better idea of which actual bacteria are associated with leanness vs. obesity, and whether it is our diet that makes us lean, or if our diet supports a lean microbiome profile.

  8. i think sleep is often, often underrated when it is SOO important…my everything does a 180 when i lack sleep

    1. What’s too much sleep? And what is too little?anyone out there have factual advice as to what is in fact needed for me to be grok healthy and strong ????????

  9. Cool post! One small factual error.

    “Lucy” is Australopithecus afarensis.
    Australopithecus anamensis came before their kind, which is why the 4.2 mya date still fits. A. afarensis lived ~ 3.7-3.0 mya. Please correct this.

    Otherwise, good stuff here. The probiotic stuff kinda puts a sock in the mouths of the “pure human carnivory” crowd. The nuts thing is interesting. And the neuroepigenetics of sleep deprivation is definitely an interesting topic!

  10. Hey Mark,

    Think the whole nuts vs. fruit thing has something to do with fruit being much sweeter and fleshy than THEIR ancient cousins? I believe I read that the fruit of today is more or less “candy” compared to what it used to be.

  11. As a doctor, my husband has been involved with observing some fecal transplants. In treating c. difficile, a bacteria that kills patients in hospitals, the fecal transplant’s effectiveness was absolute. Still, my husband was disappointed when, at a presentation about the astounding effectiveness of such an inexpensive treatment, fellow doctors in the audience sneered and made comments about how icky the whole thing seemed.

    Much better to throw little pills, in a sanitary bottle at the problem, even if they don’t work.

  12. If I ever get to the point where I need a poop transplant, just shoot me.

  13. Thanks Mark, excellent food for thought.

    Sleep deprivation is such a serious issue today, one that very few people take seriously.

    Studies aside, it’s just basic common sense. Listen to your body. If you are tired, then sleep!


  14. I am completely full of poop. Wonder if I could get paid for donating it?

  15. This is certainly weird to me. I mean, a poop transplant? I’ve always been told to “eat shit and die.” No thanks. 🙂

  16. There is certainly enough research in to know that fecal transplants do work well.

    However the underlying problem of how someones gut got to the point where it needed this treatment remains.

    A bit like dieting – you can lose all that weight but if you continue eating in your old style you will put it back on.

    Be interesting to see some long term studies on fecal transplants.

    May the poop be with you!

  17. I’m worried about sleep deprivation. My job often begins before 5 am. How can I combat all the negative effects of sleep loss?

    1. Go to bed at least 8hrs before you need to get up, and take naps when you get the chance. Not being a smart alec – my start time varies from 3am to 8am and I sometimes work late as well – I was continuously tired until I decided sleep had to be a priority. And now that I’m not exhausted, it’s much easier to avoid all the sugary, starchy food I used to use to stay awake.

  18. The probiotic acidophilus is what I just started taking – for the simple reason that is IMPOSSIBLE for me to buy raw cheese in the US unless it has been aged over 60 days (FDA rules).

    Plus I hate yogurt and the other thingie you put on baked potatoes.

    But gut health has been shown to be the SOLE factor in immune system health (combined with adequate sleep!!!)

    Guess what else gut health depends on?

    Kick-butt enzymes!!! From raw vegetables! Dude!

    Veggies & bacteria – GROK [email protected]@@@!!

  19. Fecal Transplants???! You have got to be kidding…I don’t believe it.

  20. I have a client with Parkinsons Disease who is going to take part in an Australian study to see the effects of Fecal Transplants on Parkinsons. He had a gut infection 2 years ago and had Flagyl treatment and bowel evacuation of some sort and had no Parkinsons symptoms for 2 days. So he is confident. There is a theory that the organisms can get to your brain via the Vagus Nerve. I tried giving him some Paleo/Primal sites and thought there was a link between diet and possible causes of these things that are supposedly cured by the fecal transplant. It all seems related to me.

  21. I heard a programme about this several months ago. You can hear here:

    I would have found it earlier but forgot that we Brits can’t spell properly (fecal vs. faecal). “Available since Sun, 13 Mar 2011.
    Dr Mark Porter on faecal transplants, and the balance of good and bad bugs in our guts.”
    In case the link doesn’t work, the program(me) is ‘Case Notes’ –Gut Bacteria, Wed 9th March 2011. Happy Christmas presents.

  22. I nearly died of a C. Diff. infection just over a year ago (when I was 26 and previously healthy). C. Diff. produces toxins that poison you from the inside, and it did a doozy on me. It was honestly the worst experience of my life. I was on metronidazole and then vancomycin every 8 hours for over 40 days. During the worst period of the infection, I was only able to consume water, in very small amounts. I haven’t been the same since the infection. I have constant (hourly) stomach pain, no matter what or how much or when I eat. After a meal of only vegetables, I bloat so much I look like I’m pregnant. Meat seems to make the pain sharper. I had a piece of toast for my dinner and I’m six inches bigger around the waist than I was before dinner! I think I still carry the C. Diff. bacteria in my intestines, and I take probiotic supplemets daily, as well as vitamin D and B12, but nothing seems to make a difference. I’d like to try this diet to see if it provides any relief, but I’m worried things will get worse, and I’m in so much pain, I just don’t know if I could stand much more. I’m also worried I’ll relapse and have another bout of C. Diff. if I make any drastic changes to my gut flora, and a diet change like this could do that. My doctors are stumped and have called it Chron’s (though no testing done) or IBS or “the after-effects of the infection” or “stress” – none of which is at all helpful.

    Has anyone out there tried the Primal diet after severe GI problems or bacterial infections like C. Diff? Did it work or make things worse? I could really use some help here. Thanks…

  23. NorthernZephyr,
    sorry to hear about your rough experience. With altered gut ecology you need to modify diet that would be great for healthy guts a bit. You may notice that you suffer more from eating complex carbs and tolerate simple sugars like rice syrup better, as it’s absorbed higher in the small intestine, while fiber and complex sugars may feed the pathogens that you suffer from. I would definitely consider the fecal transplant, too. You might find the Perfect Health Diet book and site very informative, too. Wishing you good health!