Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Japanese Microbiome Calls: 共生生物どうぞう!(Welcome, Symbionts!)

  T   he Japanese microbiome must be vastly different from the Western one.

Contrary to popular Western beliefs, the Japanese don't dine on sushi for breakfast, have sukiyaki for lunch and then grill a nice Steak Teriyaki for dinner, all accompanied by their sticky rice.

What they actually eat is so vastly different from us (but catching up, no doubt about that!) that I can't even describe it to you. It involves lots of vegetables you've never heard of and treats that would make you puke.  And yes, there is lots of rice.

The thing is, they do eat rice often, but not in large quantities. Their microbiomes love the extra sugars and carbohydrates, but they're extremely complex carbohydrates with multiple compounds that benefit the microbiome in ways vastly different than our slice of all-dressed pizza.

But yes, I'm going to make my two-week stay in Japan yet another experiment—because I live to be a guinea pig. (Moru-motto in Japanese—their fucked-up interpretation of the word "Marmot." They use this to talk about all lab animals, irrespective of species.)

I will take a sample the day before I leave—conveniently on a Sunday again—and then eat my "Japanese" diet while I'm there for two weeks. The day I come home I'll take another sample.

Regrettably, I won't be eating sushi and ramen every day. Because the area around my hotel, in downtown Nara, is populated by Italian and hot dog places.

This chain café is everywhere in Japan and serves great hot dogs. I won't be eating them, but my son, Tai-chan, loves them. I might ask HIM to take a sample. Now that might be interesting! I think I'll take a kit with me to Japan . . .
There are no places that serve the so-called Japanese food that everyone is familiar with. There is no steak teriyaki—there is something called teppan-yaki (鉄板焼き) but it's frequented by high rollers and you'd better be ready to flash a wad before entering. Sushi places are also for high rollers. The average Japanese go to places like robata-yakis which are fairly cheap and you can drink like a fish.

I will not be drinking like a fish. In fact, I will not be drinking at all—and my biome cheers.

But back to my biome, and my test results. It's all very curious—and unsettling.

Let me explain: I did my first test at the second week of the grand experiment—for two weeks I had been eating my regular diet, allowing all sorts of things like whipped cream and cake and Clamato, all sorts of other things I don't consume any more. It was meant as a control—in other words, went my thinking, this will be the bad test, the one which will show how fucked up my diet really is.

So when I went to do the sample, I actually used two test "kits," which actually are small vials containing some sort of preservative clear liquid. The idea is, you swab a small tissue (provided) with your "contribution sample," and then swish the tip of the swab in the vial containing the liquid. You screw back on the top, shake it up, and voilà. It's ready to ship.

Thing is, they provide a "spare" vial—I guess just in case you screw up the first sample.

Well, I didn't screw up the first sample, but I contributed to the "spare" vial, with a swab from the same sample on the tissue that I had used for Sample One. So if you're following, the Spare vial should have contained roughly exactly the same quantities and kinds of bacteria that the Main vial contained.

Except it didn't.

When I got the results of my first test, I kind of ignored the fact that they'd done a complete test on my Spare sample as well—when I finally came to the realisation that I actually had two sets of results from the same test, I was naturally expecting the results to be identical. I mean, the swabs had come from the exact same sample on the tissue. How different could the results be?

Well, take a look. I'm not sure which one is the Main sample and which is the Spare, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is how different they are from each other. (Right-click to open the images in a new window; then magnify.)

For example, look at the "Diversity percentile." It differs by an incredible 8%. If that is the case there, how much should I trust the figures on all the other pages?

Then, I got the results from my second test. When I did the second test, it was three weeks after the first test, to the day. The first of those three weeks, I had radically eliminated everything from my diet. No sugar—at all. No dairy, at all, No gluten, at all. I was truly deprived, for a week.

The second and third weeks before Test #2, after the week of the Great Purge, I started with the pre-and probiotics—Prebiotin powder in kefir for breakfast, with a probiotic pill containing 50 billion bacteria, and the rest of the day with very careful and measured reintroduction of only the healthiest comestibles that I could come up with. Viz. lots of broccoli, lots of fruits and nuts and no added-sugar anything. At the end of those three weeks I did Test #2, in exactly the same manner I had done the first test.

So I was expecting radically different results.

What I got, however, was just a puzzle . . . (remember, the dates on these tests are not the dates I took the samples—they're about a month delayed).

Notice how my "Diversity percentile" has plummeted—exactly the opposite of what I thought would occur. Even my "Wellness match" is disturbingly reduced.

How can this be?

But don't take my word for it—take a look for yourself (link and password in my mass email of this post. (Email me here if you want the link and password).

I took Test #3 a couple of weeks ago and am waiting for the results. But it takes a keen eye and a head for figures to analyze the results—a degree in microbiology wouldn't hurt, either.

But the Japan trip opens up a new realm of possibilities. Can I really radically reshape my microbiome just by being in another country?

Results at juu-ichi-ji!

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