Ross Wilkinson talks GUTS

 I am no military historian, but I do know a little as it relates to what I am going to talk about today which is military service, and the importance of gut health and general health which are closely related.

Until about 1980, a soldiers worst enemy was not bullets or bombs. A soldiers worst enemy was disease. Even in Vietnam Malaria caused more injury and illness than any other battlefield problem. Fortunately, by the time Vietnam came along, our ability to treat Malaria had improved greatly. (check this stat)

If we go back 500 years or so to the great Navies of the world, the biggest killer of soldiers/sailors was Scurvy. Scurvy is popularly believed to be a lack of vitamin C, which is strictly speaking not true, but Vitamin C does prevent and treat Scurvy. Scurvy is actually a lack of collagen. You can only eat collagen from fresh meat, and this was not available on long sea voyages. You cant get collagen from plants, only animals, but you can make collagen from plants if you add vitamin C. That’s another story for later.

Back in the 1500s and 1700s more sailors were lost to scurvy than any other cause. Ships could routinely return with half or sometimes 10% of their original crew without ever having been engaged in battle.

All this changed after some experiments conducted by our glorious captain cook who conducted experiments with diet and found that lime juice alleviated the scurvy. Hence the name Limeys for British soldiers. Only fresh limes worked, and they were hard to come by and didn’t keep long enough, so the term Limey is not really correct. They should have been called Krauts, like the Germans because it was found that Sauerkraut also fixed Scurvy, and Sauerkraut kept well for long periods, and it was Sauerkraut that made the British Navy the strongest in the world, while everyone else still struggled with Scurvy.

The Civil War in The US was really won by the Mosquito.

The North/ or the Union soldiers led the south into swamps during mosquito season. The North also had access to Quinine, but because of Naval blockades, it could not be imported to the south.

In that civil war you were 5X more likely to die from disease than you were from a bullet. Not just Malaria but also dysentery and Typhoid or cholera.

Now mosquitos sometimes carry malaria, but its not the mosquito itself that gives you Malaria, it’s a tiny micro-organism that lives in the mosquito’s stomach that is transferred to you when a mosquito bites you. Obviously not all mosquitos carry Malaria, like in Australia its very unusual.

This is a bit like the Black Plague in Europe. The rats didn’t carry the plague, it was the fleas that lived on the rats. But it wasn’t the fleas either, it was a bacterium that lived in the fleas’ gut that spread the plague.

There were a number of small places in Europe that were never conquered by the romans or Mongols, like the Island of Sardinia. The reason appears to be that the Sardinians have a gene that makes them resistant to Malaria. All the conquerors would do would be take over for a while and then die in their thousands from Malaria. After a few attempts, invading armies just stayed away. Of course, no one knew where Malaria came from until the late 1800s, and so it was named Malaria, which translates to Mal=Bad aria=air or bad air. Indeed, swamps being the breeding ground for mosquitos did have “Bad Air”

Anyway dial a few years into the future on the Western front, the Germans were losing more men to dysentery and other diseases than they were to bullets. The Germans at the time were the most advanced in science and esp. microbiology, so they set their mind to find out why. They located a soldier who was healthy while all around him were sick. They analysed his poo and found a bacterium that he seemed to have in abundance compared to the other soldiers. That bacterium is called E. coli.

The Germans then cultured those bacteria and made it into a pill. Its called Mutaflor and it was the worlds first probiotic pill. It is still sold today over 100 years since its invention. The Germans gave Mutaflor to their soldiers and bullets again became the number one threat to German soldiers.

The worlds second probiotic was also invented by the Germans in WW2 in North Africa. Food poisoning was the number one threat to German soldiers. The scientists were sent out again to hand out with the natives and see why they didn’t seem to suffer food poisoning.

A German scientist watched in horror as he observed a camel herder reach down and eat some fresh dung from a camel. He asked why and was told the herder didn’t know, but that’s what you did when you had a stomach upset. The herder stated that the dung had to be fresh and that dried dung would not work.

The Germans analysed the camel dung and found a bacteria called Bacillus subtilis which is still sold today as a probiotic, especially for travellers diarrhea. They gave it to their soldiers and solved their food poisoning problems.

So what I am trying to establish is that these bacteria which live in your gut are very important for your general health, and in particular your mental health.

So what happens when you get sick from a bacterial infection. You get aches and pains and possibly a fever, but also you feel lousy mentally usually. You are tired and grumpy. So what happens is that bacteria modify your behaviour. The bacteria tell your body to rest, to stay indoors perhaps, and often you feel like not eating. That is to try and starve the bad bacteria from food. You probably drink lots of fluids to try and wash the bad bacteria out, and you sweat a lot because your body temperature increases to try and kill the bacteria with heat.


So, what we have done so far is talked about bad bacteria and how they make you sick.

What we haven’t talked about so much is the good bacteria that live in your gut all the time.

A healthy person should have about 100 trillion good bacteria living in their colon all the time, and 1000 different species. These bacteria do a lot of good for us. They manufacture vitamins. They keep the gut clean. They stop bad things getting into your bloodstream, but most of all for the purposes of this talk, they modify your behaviour. If you have any experience with PTSD or depression, which are pretty similar, then you should have heard of Serotonin. Serotonin is the feel-good chemical that tells you are in good shape and ready to take on the energy of the day. The thing is that 90% of your serotonin is manufactured in your gut by your gut bacteria. Then there is a nerve stem that connects your gut to your brain and its called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is like the internet of the body. It connects all the little computers in your body/your organs to the supercomputer that is your brain. The vagus nerve by the way is a two way street. Sometimes your brain affects your gut and sometimes your gut affects your brain. The important thing to remember is that even if you have seen or experienced awful shit, it will affect your gut, but, if you fix your gut you can reverse the process. You can never unsee the awful things that military people experience, or any of us. But you can undo their consequences to your psyche by fixing your gut and therefore soothing your brain.

Oh, I forgot to mention, your gut is not your stomach. Not even close. Your gut is your large colon which is the last 6 feet of pipe before your arse. Your stomach is just a sack full of acid. It basically kills any bacteria and stops bad shit getting into your system.

So, when you get depression or PTSD you can be sure that something has gone wrong with your serotonin system. Every drug that you will be given for depression or PTSD modifies the way serotonin gets used in your body. Basically, the drugs slow down the destruction of serotonin, and make more of it available for longer. The problem is though you are not making enough serotonin.

Why would that happen? Why would you stop making enough serotonin? The reasons are a few but it is because your gut bacteria have been disturbed. What disturbs your gut bacteria, well number one is Antibiotics. Antibiotics kill bad bacteria and, in some cases, save your life, but they also kill the good bacteria, the ones that make serotonin. Usually, it takes more than one dose of Antibiotics to make you depressed, but I can speak of one study where they found that one course of antibiotics increases your chances of depression by 25%, and 2 to 5 courses increases your chances of depression by 50%.

Now all you guys are ex-soldiers and I am certain that the government wants you as fit as possible to meet the demands of modern soldiering. So, you are likely the most medicated group of people on earth. You would have many courses of antibiotics, you would have had injections against every disease known to man, your food would be sterilised and preserved to ensure that nothing bad gets into your system. You would be given synthetic vitamins. All of these things can be devastating to your gut bacteria. Well, it’s a little difficult to believe that taking lots of antibiotics and every injection known to science, that there wont be some side effects or downsides. The downside is that your gut biome can be devastated. It doesn’t just change your metabolism, it doesn’t just change your disease status, it wreaks havoc on your gut biome and leaves you depleted in serotonin and other important neurotransmitters.

(Not sure if this fits here) I’m sure you would have heard of giving antibiotics to Chicken and cattle. This is not done for the health of the animals. Generally. This is done because the farmers know that animals fed on antibiotics put on weight faster. Personally, I think this is largely to blame for the obesity epidemic.

Your government and the military want you to be the healthiest soldiers on earth. They just don’t recognise that there are downsides to all of these drugs and interventions.

You enter the forces as young fit men probably with healthy guts. Hopefully you’ve been fed a good diet of proper real home cooked food. Then you are looked after by the army. You train hard, you eat pretty well, but you are worn down by drugs and medical interventions and poor-quality food. Yes, I am sure you are subject to see and experience some awful things. To get over those awful experiences, you need strong guts. This is not to say you are not courageous or dedicated or are weak, but to get over these things you need extra serotonin and a healthy gut.

So how do you do it? That is if you believe me at all.


Well one way is probiotics. There are dozens of them available as pills in stores. Sadly, they don’t seem to all work, perhaps they are not strong enough and they only come in limited species of bacteria, but it’s a start. The best ones always come from the refrigerator and have a high bacterial count like 50 billion CFU or around there. You can also buy probiotic food like yoghurt and kefir and perhaps Kombucha, but again these products are often not high in bacteria. Sauerkraut is very high in bacterial count and quite good for you. Kimchi is like a Korean version of Sauerkraut with spices. Only the refrigerated Sauerkrauts are any good because they are not pasteurised and the bacteria is still alive.

Probably the best way to improve your gut health is with prebiotics. Prebiotics are like food for your good gut bacteria that you already have. Sauerkraut is a good one here too. Most fruits and vegetables contain some fibre, and its thought that fibre is mainly what feeds gut bacteria. Because most of us don’t really get enough fibre, we have been starving our gut bacteria for years and it takes a while to build them back up. Having said that, if you get tested and get yourself targeted probiotics and prebiotics, you can turn around depression and perhaps PTSD in a short time like weeks or even days. There is a good reason for this. Bacteria have a very short life. Sometimes its minutes or occasionally days. The point is with the right treatments, you gut biome can recover really quickly. I have seen it and experienced it. In my first experience of depression which lasted about two years, once I got the right probiotics, I was better within a day. True I needed to keep taking the stuff for a few months, but I felt the difference straight away, like within 18 hours.

Now if you really want to get techy, and I suggest if you have a problem then you should spend some money and look into it properly, then go and get your gut tested for what bacteria are there, and what are not. Occasionally it can be a bacterial overgrowth that you are not aware of, and that can be fairly easy to deal with like antibiotics or drugs.

Usually though the problem is not enough bacteria, and a well-trained Naturopath that has some expertise in this area can interpret the results and direct you to things that can help. Sometimes its food and sometimes its supplements, and it might seem expensive compared to doctors’ visits and drugs prescribed at very low cost, you deserve to rid yourself of PTSD and depression and you are worth spending the money on. Many if not most naturopaths will tell you to get a whole lot more vegetables in your diet, and they may be right. The point is you don’t have to give up T-bone steaks or pork Crackling. In fact, pork crackling is a great prebiotic, as is home made chicken soup and apple peels and skins of animals and fruits.

Now even you tough military types will have a problem with this next treatment I’m going to mention, but it is done 1000s of times a year and was pioneered in Australia. Its called a faecal transplant. Basically, you get someone else’s’ poo and squirt it up your bum. Then you hold it in for a couple of hours and you do this about 5 or 10 times/once per day.

It has a very good safety profile and actually has some evidence of curing a number of diseases like multiple sclerosis, depression and also something called colitis or ulcerative colitis.

And just to let you know there are all sorts of documented experiments where giving say a thin person’s bacteria to a fat person and the fat person becomes thin. There are all sorts of experiments doing the same with probiotics and there are probiotics that help with post-natal depression, with cancer, with COVID, with Alzheimer’s, with Parkinsons disease and other diseases. I cannot say with certainty that cures have been found, but there are promising results. The science is still rather new. There are probiotics for acne, for joint inflammation for athletic performance. I have no doubt that in the not-too-distant future that many medicines will be based on probiotics rather than chemicals.

I know you guys have guts because you have served in the military, but have you got the guts to solve your PTSD? I’m sure you have but you might have to work on it.

A final thought is that Hippocrates said 5000 years ago that All disease begins in the Gut. I believe he is right and that includes PTSD and Mental Health.


Additional topic if needed.


There are two additional things in would like to mention. They are probably connected to your gut too, but if they are not doesn’t really matter.


I have made a long study of some things that cause me mild depression which is short lived, but if you do it all the time, or if I was to do it all the time, it may become more permanent, or cause actual depression.

I never take Panadol/paracetamol. It causes me a kind of depression. Panadol is actually quite bad for your health, especially your liver. I suspect it affects your gut bacteria, but I have no specific knowledge of that. Aspirin or ibuprofen are much safer drugs. I personally don’t believe Panadol has much pain relief either. Panadol is the number one drug for overdose causing hospital admission. The number one by a long way. In fact, of all the drugs that cause hospital admissions, the first 7 of those drugs are all legal. Heroin comes in about no7 and cocaine number 11.

The point I really want to make is that all drugs have side effects. If you are taking any drug or supplement long term, you should familiarise yourself with the side effects. Depression is a side effect of many drugs, and for example in the US there are 200 drugs listed for legal sale and prescription that have depression as a side effect. It is also estimated that at any one time that 30% of the US population are taking 1 or more of these drugs.


Now another thing I never touch is Chardonnay. I can drink all sorts of wine and spirits, but not Chardonnay. There is a chemical in it that does not agree with me. I’m not entirely sure what it is.

The point is even food and drinks can cause this to you. There are tiny bits of poison or chemical compounds in most food, especially processed food that can cause you problems. Its like the red cordial affect in children. Certain foods and drink can make you crazy. Most people recognise that Rum for example has a tendency to make people more violent. Some years ago, I bought Chivas Regal instead of Johnny Walker Black label, and that made me depressed, as well my wife noticed it with herself.

Now I know that you will say we are all different and what works for or against me will not be the same as for you. It has a seed of truth to it, but that’s it. We are far more the same than we are different. We even share about 95% or more of the same genes. If its happening to me, chances are it’s happening to you.

Even all the so called health products out there are not as friendly or healthy as they may seem. Most vitamins you buy are synthetic, not natural. Sometimes synthetic vitamins can help and sometimes they can make you worse. I would be especially careful of multivitamins that tend to contain all the cheapest forms of vitamins available.

I certainly know that vitamin B12 makes me depressed. But its not all vitamin B12, its just the synthetic one.

I have to declare an interest in Avinica. All I can say is that these guys go to great lengths to ensure their supplements are first grade. The stuff you buy at the chemist, I would be very cautious about.

The other thing is that when you make concentrates of anything, you tend to concentrate the good and the bad. This is what happens when people get ill or die from Moonshine whiskey. Don’t get me wrong it can be quite ok for you, but when you make whiskey, you also make methanol which is a poison. Even wine and beer will have tiny amounts of methanol in them. But its when you concentrate the alcohol, that you tend to concentrate the methanol too. Legitimate companies take extra precautions to remove the methanol, but bootleggers don’t always do this. I lived for a while in Indonesia where you could buy the locally made spirits for $2 a bottle. It happens less often today, but every now and then a bad batch gets through and people die.

The point is you want to be careful of foods and drinks that may put you in a bad mood. You might be eating them all the time, and they could be contributing to your depression.

I mean a lot of health professionals talk about keeping a food diary, and its probably a good idea. But you guys probably don’t want to do that. Just be careful of what you eat, keep it natural if possible and don’t drink too much cheap wine or spirits, it makes a difference.


Now for a disclaimer and some advice.

Antidepressants work. Do not be afraid to take them. Not all of them work for everyone, but I can assure you just about every AD is sold in every chemist in Australia so plenty of people do take them, and if you are prescribed one you should take it. Heres my little trick however. They take a while to work. In the meantime take some of my gut protocols on board and also always keep on hand some Valium or clonazepam. Valium and clonazepam work really quickly if you get into a bad situation. I don’t recommend these things long term as they do create a dependence. I would rather though that you took a drug like clonazepam than making a really bad and irreversible decision. Listen to your psych doc, but listen to me as well.


Ross Wilkinson, author of Kick Depression in the Guts.

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