Why the American Diet does not Deserve all the Blame

The concept of a “healthy diet” was described by the early nutritionists starting in the 1930’s and 1940’s. There were two B  vitamin deficiency diseases that did come from a poor diet. Pellagra and beriberi both resulted from very limited diets, pellagra from cornmeal only, beriberi from rice only. Clearly a “diet” made up entirely of a daily serving of a single starch is not a “healthy diet” but when they added back meat and vegetables they were able to cure the disease, so from then on we’ve been taught that “the B vitamins come from food”. ( See the blog “Healthy Bacteria Healthy Sleep” to learn why the B vitamins come from the intestinal bacteria, not from the food.)

At the time that the first “healthy diets”, (the five food groups etc.) were proposed, in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, most people still lived outside and the term “irritable bowel syndrome” had not come into common use. Most of the population still had the healthy bacteria living inside them. All of the primitive diets that are described as a solution for our modern ills were also eaten by humans who lived outside and had a healthy gut! Therefore, all of us who have unsuccessfully tried to find the “right diet” really need the “right bugs” and probiotics alone are not successful. In order to live inside us the “healthy” bacteria need our vitamin D and the “B vitamin soup” that they create to support each other. When we lose them our digestion suffers, our immune system suffers and even our sleep suffers.

Though I would agree that a diet of hamburgers and donuts is not a healthy diet, I do not agree that our eating habits alone have caused the epidemic of obesity and sleep apnea. Many of my patients tried so hard to lose weight by following a healthy diet, and were unsuccessful. There is really much more to this picture! Remember what I said about hunger being involuntary, it’s run by your brain, it’s also affected by the bacteria inside you. The bacteria in our intestine are now known to have very important effects on our appetite. Certain bacteria make chemicals called short chain fatty acids that are absorbed into our blood, go up into our nose and make donuts smell very good! In the past a change in the intestinal bacteria that promoted hunger in the winter, when the D was low, would enhance our survival, it made us try harder to find high fat, high calorie foods to sustain us until the winter ended. But this change in bacteria and increased appetite was not supposed to continue through one’s whole life while abundant food was all around. After converting the intestinal bacteria back to the healthy foursome most of my patients found it easier to be successful with a healthy diet. The diet was easier to follow, their hunger was less and their weight loss was more successful. Because the bacteria that live inside us affect our diet, our sleep and our pain level most patients also found that they had enough energy to start exercising and suffered less pain afterward. Thus, even those who do not have gut complaints still need to have the right bacteria in order to live the healthy life we were meant to have.

The cells in the brain that help us sleep correctly need B vitamins too, to do their job. At least one of them, pantothenic acid (B5), is not in any of the foods we eat. I will explain in a later blog why the statement “pantothenic acid deficiency doesn’t exist because it is in every food” is not true, despite being widely accepted. And, why this one mistake produced a global change in our sleep and our health.

Yes, Your Poop Bacteria Can Affect How Well You Sleep

How could our intestinal bacteria affect our sleep? The bacteria actually make chemicals that we steal from them in order to sleep normally; those chemicals are called the B vitamins. (And, those of you who don’t like vitamins and are about to skip this part, you do need to understand this or you will never sleep normally, or fix your headaches, or get out of your doctor’s office.)

The B vitamins are 8 chemicals that our bodies are unable to make. They were first discovered as bacterial “growth factors”, chemicals that had to be added to the petri dish to grow bacteria. Bacteria had just been discovered and scientists were experimenting with how many different types of bugs they could find and name after themselves. Just like making beer or bread, the recipe had to be just right. They discovered that the same yeast preparation we cooked with would encourage specific bacteria to grow. There were actually bacteria already in the yeast preparation, and those bacteria were making chemicals that other bacteria liked and needed.

Eventually the scientists figured out that our human cells needed these “growth factors” too. We couldn’t live without them but we couldn’t make them ourselves. (Which a bit odd when you think about it,  every cell in our body needs this chemical to run properly but we can’t make it ourselves? Sort of bad planning!) For humans they called these chemicals “vitamins”, instead of growth factors. Once they got around to purifying the different chemicals they started naming them the “B’s” because they came after vitamin A was named.(duh!) Several chemicals were eventually grouped together as “B vitamins”, partly because some came from the same yeast broth, partly because they were all water soluble but also because they seemed to need each other to do their jobs. There were originally more than 8 (thus cyanocobalamin was named B12) but some,  B4, B8, B10 and B11 that were originally numbered eventually lost their status as “vitamins” because it turned out we could make them ourselves after all, so now there are only 8 B vitamins.  They are numbered and named, which makes the whole thing very, very confusing! Thiamine is B1, riboflavin B2, niacin B3, pantothenic acid B5 , pyridoxine B6, biotin B7, folate B9, and cyanocobalamin B12. You do not need to memorize this, you just need to know that they were meant to come together as an “eight-pack”, the 8 chemicals work together. We learned about how these chemicals work together from the study of bacteria. Bacteria need these chemicals to make energy and grow, just like we do, and there are certain bacterial species that can make some of them but not all of them. The only one we can make ourselves but is still considered a vitamin is niacin (if we have protein in our diet we can make niacin from tryptophan).

The first microbiologists (study of tiny, living things) found that there were bacterial species that could make riboflavin, B2. The bacteria made it for their own use but also released it into their surroundings. Next, they discovered that the riboflavin-producing bacteria wouldn’t grow by itself in a petri dish because it couldn’t make folate, B9. But if there was a second type of bacteria, that did make folate (but couldn’t make riboflavin), and the two were grown together, they could trade riboflavin for folate and both would be happy. Because of their shared needs the two types of bacteria appeared together and were said to have a “commensal” relationship; they each benefited from the presence of the other.

Now, back to our intestinal bacteria……The reason why the same foursome of bacterial species is found in every human with a “healthy gut” all over the world, is because each of the four makes at least one B vitamin and needs other B vitamins that the other three make and share. In other words, they need each other. They are a “commensal foursome”. And, they are secreting those vitamins into our intestine, making a sort of “B vitamin soup”. Picture all those little bacteria happily growing in their vitamin soup, which happens to be inside us!  Why did they desert us? They were so happy in there, and we needed them!  They deserted us because we stopped giving them what they needed from us, they need our vitamin D. We give them vitamin D, they give us B vitamins, everybody wins, we’re both thriving and happy! We had a commensal relationship with the bacteria in our intestine. Then, oops….. we go inside, stop making vitamin D on our skin from the sun and we can no longer provide our side of the bargain. The good guys are now slowly replaced by bacteria that don’t need vitamin D. Now we have the “wrong” bacteria and all the bad things associated with that “wrong” bacteria; irritable bowel syndrome, multiple allergies, or autoimmune diseases. The B vitamins don’t really come from the food, they come from the normal bacteria inside us. It has been that way since the first multi-celled organisms evolved with bacteria in their gastrointestinal track. There was never any reason for us to make the B vitamins because we always carried our source inside us!

Healthy Bacteria Healthy Sleep


At the same time that sleep problems have become more and more common our gut bacteria have also been changing. The four healthy bacterial species; Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes and Proteobacteria have been shown to appear spontaneously in babies by the time they’re 3 months old. How do they get there? They are breast feeding they are not taking probiotics! The baby is sterile (no bacteria) inside of mom. Then, as he passes through the birth canal he gets covered with mom’s bacteria. It is not just breast milk that helps build a healthy immune system for the baby. We now know that the right bacteria living on and in us play a very important role in protecting us from the “bad” bacteria. Because the healthy foursome of bacteria needs our vitamin D to thrive, if mom’s vitamin D level was too low during her pregnancy she only has the “wrong” bacteria. That means she only has the “wrong” bacteria to pass on to her baby and he starts his life at a disadvantage in both his digestion and his immune system. Our normal bacteria are able to dissolve certain starches in mom’s breast milk. Without those bacteria the baby is unable to break down and use those starches. That suggests that the normal bacteria help baby’s nutrition even while he’s feeding on mom’s breast milk. The normal bacteria have the same effects for adults. They help our digestion, our immune system, and also…. our sleep.

Probiotics in pill form are just purified poop bacteria.  Despite their widespread use, they have not been successful in bringing back the healthy foursome. You can supply the “right” bacteria every day but if you don’t provide what they need to flourish they will not grow to replace the bad guys. It is not the supply of bacteria that’s the problem, it is the intestinal environment. We should think of the intestinal environment as a petri dish (as pictured above). We have to provide the friendly bacteria what they need in order to flourish. If we provide the right raw materials they will grow to replace the “wrong” bacteria and we’ll have a healthy gut again. When we don’t make enough vitamin D on our skin, we don’t have “extra” to pass on, in the bile, to the intestinal bacteria. Instead we suck up every little bit of it for ourselves. If we have enough vitamin D to share with our bacteria it favors their growth over the “bad” bacteria that don’t need vitamin D. The normal foursome of bacteria also needs other vitamins that you will need to learn about to have a healthy gut and healthy sleep for the rest of your life.

Those of you who are saying to yourself, “This doesn’t apply to me, there’s nothing wrong with my gut”, if your sleep is not right, your gut is not right. Even though you have no belly symptoms now you will still benefit in the long run from understanding why I will ask you to do certain things to help you sleep normally again. So this part is still important for you to learn. Go to the blog:

Yes, Your Poop Bacteria Can Affect How Well You Sleep

to learn how the gut affects the sleep.


What is Healthy Sleep?

You know what sleep is, right? Sure you do, because all of us sleep.  Actually, most of us sleep. There are people who don’t sleep, and those people are aging faster. They’re dying faster than the rest of us. What’s really sad is that they feel like they’re dying. They’ve asked for help, but we don’t really know why they don’t sleep, so we can’t help them. There are also people who sleep but stop breathing. Those people have “sleep apnea”. Most of us have heard of them, and the “masks” they wear at night. We’re either related to them, sleep next to them, or are wearing one of those ourselves. The masks do help but they don’t really cure the  problem; we’re not supposed to stop breathing while we’re asleep. That’s a big problem!

There are actually lots of people with sleep problems who are completely ignored.  “I sleep fine but I’m still tired in the morning”, “I sleep fine” but “my memory is lousy”,  “ I sleep fine but I have a headache every day”, “I’m in a bad mood every day”. They’re ignored because we have no idea what to tell them. We focus on the headache, the mood,  the memory,  and make pills for them, but the problem is really the sleep. A healthy, happy person has healthy sleep every night. That healthy sleep means no medical problems and no pain. Take a pill for a medical problem? You’ve  had to start relying on outside help. That means your repair last night was not normal. I’s not that using outside help is wrong, but it is a message; “You’re not sleeping normally.”

We’re all miraculous “self-repairing beings”. Every night we’re supposed to get into deep sleep and repair everything. All the tools our cells use to do their individual jobs for us are made at night and stored. And, they  have to make enough stuff to last 18 hours! We need enough insulin to match the sugar we eat, enough serotonin to keep us content and curious, enough adrenaline to keep us alert and safe on the drive home. If we run out of insulin by 10:00 am we need a doctor to give us insulin, because we’re “diabetic”, if we run out of serotonin we’re given an antidepressant. They’re all just replacements for the chemicals we used to be able to make ourselves.

While we’re sleeping all the moving parts of our body get repaired too! Tendon fibers that broke when you lifted that suitcase re-make themselves. Lubricants in your joints get topped-up. Muscles that you ripped mend themselves. In order to make those repairs all of our moving parts have to get paralyzed. If you get paralyzed just right, every night, the repairs get done and you wake feeling great, physically and mentally! But what if we are unable to enter into and stay in deep sleep? What if the paralysis gets goofed up and we get “too paralyzed”, what happens then?

Sleep apnea is not due to being fat or having a fat neck. It is the result of being “too paralyzed” during deep sleep. Sleep apnea was first noticed in fat men.  We really had no idea why it was happening, but it seemed logical that it might be their “fat necks” getting in the way. Now we know that obesity and sleep apnea may come together, but fat is really not the cause of the apnea.  Both problems started to show up a lot more frequently in the early 1980’s as air conditioning and sunscreen changed us from “outside humans” into “inside humans”. Over the last forty years sleep disorders  are everywhere! They’re just as common in children as they are in adults, and they’re all over the world.

We have always lived outside, in the sun. We rely on the sun as much as plants do. Turns out we need the sun to have healthy sleep.  I will teach you how to use the hormone, vitamin D, that comes from the sun, to go back to repairing normally. RightSleep® is what I’ve called it. It’s a process that includes both advice and vitamins to get you back to sleeping normally. You can learn about RightSleep® on this site and you can schedule an informational session with me if you still have questions. Read further at:

What if Your Poor Sleep is Not Really Your Fault?