Our Lactobacillus reuteri yogurt never ceases to amaze me with its varied and wonderful biological effects. No commercial yogurt can even come close to yielding the benefits of our L. reuteri yogurt—it’s not the yogurt; it’s about the fermenting microorganism, in this case two specific strains of L. reuteri. (Remember: In the world of microorganisms, strain matters hugely.)
Recall that the L. reuteri (from BioGaia, the Swedish company that has provided the bacteria or funded much of the research surrounding this microorganism and from whom all of us obtain the strains of L. reuteri that yield these effects) that we propagate with lactic acid fermentation achieves its health benefits via two unrelated mechanisms:
- Increased oxytocin—L. reuteri, via a not-yet-identified component, transmits a signal through the vagus nerve to the hypothalamus to release oxytocin. This is the effect responsible for increased skin thickness and dermal collagen/reduced wrinkles, accelerated healing, increased or preserved bone density, increased strength and muscle mass, etc., essentially turning back the clock, I believe, 10 or 20 years.
- Probiotic effects—L. reuteri has unique probiotic effects in that it “prefers” to colonize the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract, rather than the colon as with most other bacterial species. L. reuteri colonizes the stomach, duodenum, jejunum, and ileum at higher counts than the colon. L reuteri also produces bacteriocins, i.e., natural antibiotics effective against Enterobacteriaceae such as E. coli and Campylobacter that proliferate in small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, that is now at epidemic levels in the U.S. In other words, L. reuteri is likely a useful species to prevent SIBO from developing and/or prevent recurrences (which are exceptionally common once you’ve had it).
But, besides restoring health, how else could L. reuteri change the world and make it a better place? I think that this is potentially such an important topic that, although I’ve mentioned it before, I’d like to explore it further.
Several additional observations surrounding L. reuteri’s effects on humans are important. The oxytocin boost provoked by L. reuteri, particularly by the bacterial counts we generate with my unique method of fermenting yogurt, amplifies emotional effects that include increased empathy for other people, a heightened sense of connection to people close to you, a feeling of camaraderie with others. I felt this personally. I am on the board of a local charity that helps educate inner city kids and involve them in sports. I was at a recent board meeting of about 20-some business people, smart, ambitious, but follow-the-rules people who, because I lead such a contrary, break-the-rules life, always made me feel a little out-of-place. At our most recent meeting, however, the most contentious of any board meeting I’d ever attended given some shortfalls in fund-raising, I looked around and thought, “Wow, what an incredible meeting-of-minds, a collaboration of really good people.” I soon realized that this train of thought was unlike my usual fact-finding, flaw-seeking way of thinking. Then it struck me: Ah, oxytocin. I’ve felt the effects in other situations, as well.
There are two other phenomena surrounding L. reuteri/oxytocin that got me contemplating its role in human social health:
- According to its discoverer, Dr. Gerhard Reuter, L. reuteri was present in the majority of people in the Western world up until the mid-twentieth century. It is now carried by less than 10% of modern people. In other words, L. reuteri is among the latest of bacterial species disappearing from modern microbiomes.
- If L. reuteri is disappearing and associated with lower levels of oxytocin, could this be one of the underlying explanations for modern destructive social phenomena such as increasing isolation, booming rates of suicide, fragmentation of the family, teenage angst, increasing reliance on opioid drugs, record-setting divorce rates, even gun violence? Granted, there have always been angry, isolated, violent humans. But doesn’t it seem like it’s gotten a lot worse in the last several decades? There are surely other factors at work, but I believe that many of these social trends pre-date such things as the proliferation of screen time and the disappearance of family dinners that may have contributed to the deterioration of social interaction. The answer, I believe, may lie in the composition of our microbiome.
I therefore predict that, as we get our L. reuteri yogurt into the mouths and bellies of more people, we will begin to see a transformation in human interaction: increased empathy, increased connection between children and parents, decreased isolation, an appreciation that we are all in this together, less contentious political interactions . . . even less divorce, less family fragmentation, less gun violence?
The composition of your microbiome has potential for profound effects on your emotions, moods, dreams, thinking, and relationships with others. I think that you and I have the potential to truly impact the behavior and emotions of the people around us. I also believe that we are onto something powerful that could begin the process of unwinding some undesirable human social trends—and it goes really well with blueberries.