In certain cultures, like middle class Jews growing up in Hyde Park in the 1950s, everyone remembers being chased through their home by a well-meaning mom armed with an enema bag. “Dr. Nachman said you needed this for a poopy!”
I am tearful, dressed only in whity-tighties until caught in the steel grip of my father, probably grateful he wasn’t next on the list. I lose the battle, but since I’m right at Sigmund Freud’s anal stage of development, I probably lay still and rather enjoyed the experience. I simply don’t remember, which is just what Freud expected.
Decades later, when I was establishing what would ultimately become WholeHealth Chicago, I sampled just about every form of alternative therapy available at the time. During my encounter with colon therapy, comfortably lying on my side, a hose snaking upward from an irrigating pump, my tummy being gently massaged by my therapist, I thought…of mom.
When I first encountered the research into using enemas containing probiotics, the whole thing made a lot of sense. With an enema, you’re simply inserting water into your rectum to clean it. A probiotic enema adds a small amount of powdered probiotic to the water. There are a lot of DIYs online, but here’s a good one.
Until recently, conventional medicine paid virtually no attention to the concept of good bacteria—probiotics—focusing its narrow-minded thinking solely on bad bacteria as the cause of most illnesses, battling them with the single tool in its arsenal: antibiotics.
Good-guy probiotics were highly suspect by MDs, since they were found in health food stores and the offices of clinical nutritionists, chiropractors, and naturopaths. Imbalances of intestinal bacteria (called intestinal dysbiosis) were so foreign to the conventional health care system that to this day, if a physician orders a test looking specifically for dysbiosis many health insurance providers will deny coverage, claiming it’s an unproven condition.
Our understanding of intestinal dysbiosis has changed dramatically over the past decade despite the deliberate reluctance of the insurance industry to keep abreast with the times. Read this piece for a solid overview. Scientists ultimately calculated the following, which still feels a little sci-fi to many of us:
- There are 100 trillion bacteria (approximately 3 pounds!) in our intestines.
- Bacteria represent from 1% to 3% of our entire body mass.
- In terms of numbers, we carry ten times as many bacterial cells as human cells, each with its own genetics and metabolic system.
They named this living creature the gut microbiome. And when scientists recognized how many areas of the body were affected by it, they began to consider it a nearly separate functioning organ within the body.
Microbiome bacterial mix
A poor mix of bacteria in your microbiome can increase your risk for a diverse selection of conditions, including:
- Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
- Mood disorders including chronic anxiety and depression. A very readable source of information is GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome).
- Susceptibility to intestinal inflammation (irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s) and colon cancer. Some gastroenterologists are treating these conditions by giving enemas containing stool material from a healthy donor, a process called a fecal transplant. If your doc recommends one, consider a DIY approach to save yourself $10K.
- Learning disabilities, including ADD and ADHD. In one recently published article, researchers gave a group of newborns an enema of good bacteria, another group no enema. Thirteen years later, in the group that didn’t receive the probiotic enema, the ADD/Asperger rate was 7%. In the probiotic group: 0%.
- Obesity and Type 2 diabetes Read more here.
- Autism. Some lab experiments using mouse models for autism have shown promising results with probiotics, and some nutritional physicians and autism support groups are encouraging this. However, the probiotics suggested are so potent they do require a doctor’s prescription.
- Lyme Disease. Our physicians recommend a low-volume retention enema using an extremely high-potency, prescription-only probiotic containing nearly a trillion bacteria.
Testing the status of your gut microbiome
Currently the best test available (and at least partially covered by most insurance companies) is the GI Effects Comprehensive Stool Profile by Genova Diagnostics. WholeHealth Chicago patients can discuss this test with their physician, chiropractor, or any of our nutritionists and we can order the kit for you. If you’re not a WHC patient, your doctor can order it or you can contact Genova directly.
If your test results show that your gut microbiome is a train wreck, our nutritionists will guide you through the process of making it healthful again. We can even teach you how to self-administer your own probiotic enema so you won’t have to call your mother. My mother is, well, unavailable.
David Edelberg, MD