by Ron Hunninghake, MD
Are we human, or are we bacteria?
Bacteria are the oldest living organisms on the planet. As simple single-celled microorganisms, they absorb nutrients from their environment, grow until they have doubled in size…then they divide. They have only one long strand of DNA that encodes all their traits and genetic functions. When they divide, this strand is replicated. Given a nutrient rich environment, bacteria can multiply very rapidly to large numbers.
Most people know that their digestive tracts are home to what are commonly referred to as “the friendly bacteria.” The actual number is over 100,000,000,000,000 (100 trillion) bacteria including other symbiotic microbes. Counting the gut, the bacteria in anatomical cavities such as our sinuses, and then the large numbers on our skin, these microbes outnumber human cells by a factor of 10 to 1!
Even more striking is that the microbial genes of this “human microbiome” (as renamed by the National Institutes of Health in 2007) outnumber human genes by a factor of 100 to 1! Since all life is carried out by genetic information, this amazing statistic begs the question—are we more bacterial than we are human?
The biomass of the human microbiome actually outweighs the human liver. As previously unsuspected functions of the human microbiome are being discovered, scientists are now speaking of it as the body’s “forgotten organ.” Unlike medicine’s strictly anatomical understanding of what and where an organ is located, the human microbiome is “disseminated.” This word refers to the amazing fact that microbes occupy every square millimeter of our skin. They live in all the nooks and crannies of our body (sinuses, vagina, and ear canals, etc.) as well as the entire surface area of our gastrointestinal tract—which is estimated to be equal to that of two tennis courts!
This evolving picture of the human microbiome is challenging our antiquated ideas of the “location” and origins of various diseases and disorders. For instance, “neurological/brainbased” disorders such as depression or autism may very well have their true root origins in the gut! Science now knows that there are more neuronal cells in the GI tract than in the human brain, making the gut a kind of “second brain.” These second brain neurons are tightly wired to the first brain.
All neuronal cells “talk” to one another through the production of chemical messages called neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. The big discovery here is that the microorganisms in our gut also make these neurotransmitters! During times of stress, our gut bacteria may be talking to our “first brains” through the neurons located in lining of our GI tract! Anxiety may indeed be a “gut feeling” coming from our human microbiome.
The following chart represents a current sampling of human microbiome functions in regulating and maintaining health:
control of unwanted pathogens in the gut regulation of inflammation and immunity
synthesis of vitamin K and biotin enhanced mineral bioavailability
synthesis of many neurotransmitters liver health and detoxification pathways
regulation of hormonal metabolism blood sugar and appetite regulation (weight control)
Probiotics Are “For Us”
The first yogurts and kefirs probably occurred in the milk-filled goat stomach bags draped over the backs of camels in the hot deserts of North Africa. Temperatures reaching 110°F were ideal for lactic acid-producing bacteria found in the stomach linings to go to work. Since this early period in human history many races have fermented dairy to improve “shelf life” and to enjoy diversified tastes.
Nobel laureate Metchnikoff, in the early 1900s, reported on the enhanced health effects and improved longevity of those consuming fermented milk products. Because these bacteria were found to be working symbiotically “for us” instead of “against us” the terminology of “probiotic” was introduced by Lilly and Stillwell in 1965. Probiotics are found in fermented milk products and in food supplements that add to and promote healthy bacteria in the gut. Antibiotics are pharmaceutical agents used to kill disease-causing bacteria, but inevitably they disrupt the healthy microbiome. The following chart lists typical symptoms that can be improved by the regular consumption of probiotics.
diarrhea vaginitis bloating
flatulence lactose intolerance indigestion
constipation food allergies “brain fog”
Because the gut is considered to be the largest organ of the immune system, it is not surprising that probiotics are associated with better immune function. How do bacteria in the gut help our immunity?
The Mighty Macrophage
The defensive linebacker of the cellular immune system is the macrophage. These “Pacman” cells not only gobble up invading viruses and bacteria, they generally direct the other elements and various cell types in a synchronized immune defense.
There are two branches of the immune system in which the macrophage functions: the innate (non-specific
immune defense) and the adaptive (specific immune defense mechanisms).
Macrophages are themselves signal-directed. The signal that activates macrophages (and subsequently the whole immune response) is a glycoprotein (a molecule made up of a sugar and a protein) called “Gc protein-derived Macrophage Activating Factor.” The abbreviation for this long name is GcMAF.
The important precursor to GcMAF is “Gc”, a big protein with 458 amino acids containing three domains. The first domain of Gc binds vitamin D. For this reason Gc is sometimes called “vitamin D
binding protein”. There’s a small sugar attached on the threonine amino acid at position 420 of Gc. This makes position 420 “glycosylated.”
When injury, inflammation, or any immune challenge is detected in the body, the sugar at position 420 is then “deglycosylated” by enzymes produced by B and T-lymphocytes. The result is the conversion of Gc into GcMAF—one of the most powerful activators of the entire immune system discovered to date.
The Nagalase Nemesis
Why doesn’t our innate GcMAF do a better job of protecting us? Why are there so many vexing immunologic disorders? The following chart is a summary of the many medical mysteries that involve significant immune
AIDS Cancer Autism Crohn’s Colitis Psoriasis
Chronic Fatigue Fibromyalgia Candidiasis Rheumatoid Arthritis Heart Disease(?)
MS Lupus Severe IBS Parkinson’s Obesity (?)
It turns out that there is a nemesis enzyme at work that is also activated by viruses, cancer, and the very causes of chronic inflammation in the first place. The very conditions that are begging for a more effective natural therapy actually sabotage the Gc before it can be activated to GcMAF. This nemesis enzyme’s technical name is: alpha-N-acetylgalactosaminidase—mercifully abridged to the name NAGALASE.
Nagalase inactivates Gc—the precursor of GcMAF. So, ironically, when the body needs immune support the most, it is often left with inadequate “ammunition” to arm and activate its troops, the macrophages.
Nagalase activity has been used as a biomarker for tumor activity (i.e. melanoma). Nagalase levels are elevated in AIDS patients. Nagalase levels also correlate with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
The good news here is that GcMAF is itself NOT inactivated by nagalase. This fact opens the door of possibilities for treating the myriad of chronic immune disorders weighing on humanity.
GcMAF has been synthesized in the laboratory and can be given by injection with excellent results. However this approach is expensive and unlikely to be used by the masses for a long term treatment.
Is there a way to economically and safely get GcMAF to those who need it?
Enter the Super Probiotic
Interestingly, the same enzymes used by the immune system to transform Gc into GcMAF appear to occur during fermentation of milk.
Perhaps Metchnikoff’s observation of “favorable health effects” in those people consuming fermented milk products was, in actuality, the first documentation of enhanced GcMAF formation in the body from a natural food source. (Please note that this is the author’s speculation.)
It is reasonable to assume that the many and various strains of bacterial cultures in fermented dairy and the ever-growing list of probiotic bacteria probably represent different levels of effectiveness in the production of these Gc-to-GcMAF transformative enzymes.
This thinking leads to an intriguing question: would it be possible to create a “super probiotic food” made
from an original sequence of milk fermentation processes to take optimal advantage of nature’s method of making GcMAF?
This has been the working hypothesis of Dr. Marco Ruggiero, an Italian MD with a PhD in molecular biology, who for the last three years has been diligently attempting to “crack the code” so as to harvest this potential bounty of enhanced natural immune function. Marco has rounded up bacterial ferments from all over the globe, skillfully combining the art and science of milk fermentation to create a special “medical food” which holds tremendous possibilities for humankind.
Dr. Marco came to the United States this past October and made a presentation at the 3rd Riordan Symposium on IVC and Cancer. Marco introduced us to over 40 published studies from different research groups that document the effects of GcMAF in vitro and in patients with cancer and other diseases. He discussed the human microbiome and GcMAF’s potential role in helping humankind re-establish a healthier relationship with its “bacterial heritage.”
Since October, the Riordan Clinic has the opportunity to serve as a test site for these discoveries in the re-formulation of milk fermentation with the explicit purpose of optimizing the production of GcMAF from a natural food. In order to set this food apart from table yogurt or kefir, this healthy (or functional) food is designated MAF314®, a name that underlines the precise algorithm used to obtain the final product.
Currently the Riordan Clinic Research Institute is initiating a comprehensive program to study MAF314® from both a basic science and a clinical science perspective. Phase one will be designed to compare participants consuming MAF314® to a control group consuming a more standard fermented milk preparation.
A broader study looking at the long term effects of MAF314® on nagalase levels, CRP, CD4, and other inflammatory markers is currently being structured. We are excited about this new research and will continue to provide updates.
A famous naturopathic truism goes like this: “Death begins in the gut.” As I grow in my knowledge of natural medicine, I have learned to appreciate the profound truth of this warning. As the digestive system goes, so goes the patient’s health. Digestive health is highly influenced by the health of the living organisms that occupy it. So, take good care of your gut bacteria…science is showing that they’re as much you as you are!