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The Cause of Kidney Stones: Modern Life


The Cause of Kidney Stones: Modern Life

Written by Robert Reed, The A Team Foundation

Growing evidence reveals that the incidence of kidney stones is increasing steadily throughout the developed world. We all know someone who has suffered this painful infliction, it’s not nice.  

A recently launched scientific paper by Jeff Leach of the Human Food Project and his collective of international colleagues, indicates that the loss of a specific bacteria strain from our internal micro-biome is behind this recent rise. It is also highly suggestive that the prevalence of kidney stones can be attributed to our sterilised, modern lifestyle and the use of medicines such as antibiotics.

The bacteria Oxalobacter formigenes lives in our colon and it is externally acquired through diet and our environment between the ages of 1 and 2. It is naturally incorporated into our body at a very young age from the outside world through what we eat, what we touch, and what we smell.

Oxalobacter formigenes

The study of the bacteria O. formigenes is a growing area of interest. It is truly unique, it has the natural ability to consume oxalate. In fact, it solely ingests oxalate for energy. Oxalate is a useless and unfortunate by-product of our metabolism. If there are complications in the excretion of this by-product, it clusters and eventually forms calcium-oxalate urinary stones (aka kidney stones).

Scientific understanding is that the presence of O. formigenes in the colon, breaks down the calcium oxalate before they become a problem and therefore, they can be excreted more easily. The current trend is that incidences of kidney stones is rising while simultaneously the prevalence of O. formigenes falling.

Jeff Leach and Co., directs attention to how modern medicine can be viewed as a culprit;

“O. formigenes is known to be susceptible to many commonly prescribed antibiotics. In a previous study, antibiotic treatment resulted in lasting suppression of O. formigenes”.

Amerindians, The Hadza, and America

A 4x4 in Tanzania

In their paper, Comparative prevalence of Oxalobacter formigenes in three human populations [Nature Scientific Reports], the international collective studied the prevalence of O. formigenes between three populations of adults and infants.

Two populations live in remote locations away from westernised civilisation; the Amerindians of the Yanomami-Sanema and Yekwana ethnic groups in Venezuela and the Hadza in Tanzania. They have had only very recent exposure to Western medicine, providing a rare window on the pre-industrial intestinal microbiome of humans. These two groups were compared with a community in the USA.

The results show that, O. formigenes was detected in 60–80% of adult subjects in Venezuela and Tanzania, higher than what has been found in adults from USA in this and all prior studies. Among the US participants, only 38% detected O. formigenes.

O. formigenes in Infants

To our knowledge, the study by Jeff Leach & Co. is the first in 20 years to examine O. formigenes during its colonisation within the formative years of the microbiome of children. It is also the only study that has examined a cohort of mothers and children longitudinally from birth through the first years of life.

A comparison of O. formigenes colonisation in children from the US with that in tribal populations from Africa and South America showed that the US children had the lowest prevalence (19%) compared with Amerindians (68%) and with Hadza (82%).

What is very interesting, is that colonisation occurs in stages and isn’t necessarily passed down by the mother. In the USA, there was no evidence of colonisation in the children until 12 months of age, but prevalence reached around 90% by age 2.  Whereas O. formigenes was detected in some of the youngest subjects sampled in the Hadza and Amerindian populations: the earliest at 3 months of age and 9 months respectively. Nearly all children appeared to be colonised by age 8.

Environmental Not Maternal

Jeff Leach with a Hadza child, Tanzania.

Jeff Leach with a Hadza child, Tanzania.

Due to these correlations, Jeff & Co.’s leading conclusion is that the acquisition of O. formigenes comes from outside ourselves; our natural exchanges of bacteria with the environment (including our diet). Or alternatively, the child acquires a very small population from birth, for it to only bloom later in the child’s development as the advancement of diet, maturation of the micro-biome, and the acquisition of commensal species required for O. formigenes colonisation occurs.

This simply means that if we sterilise or limit our external environment and the food we eat, we remove good bacteria as well as the bad. Good bacteria that we physically require to thrive and survive. The fact that our bodies require a physical external relationship with something other than ourselves, strengthens the concept that all things are connected. Our actions effect the whole, ‘we are a part of all that we have met’.

As O. formigenes disappears in the context of socioeconomic advances and medical treatments, it continues to potentially contribute to the rise of global incidences of kidney stones. A recent report of the association of kidney stones with prior antibiotic treatments, is also consistent with that hypothesis. O. formigenes is a part of the ancestral human gut microbiota. Changes in our environment, diet or antibiotic use may significantly contribute to the loss of this commensal organism and consequently effect the micro-biome ecosystem beyond what is known by modern science.

The paper can be downloaded with all accompanying references via:



READ MORE: Skipping breakfast may help you lose weight - what hunter gatherers can teach us





Written by Fran Price, Gaia Foundation.

It’s been just over month since we closed the doors on the We Feed the World exhibition at the Bargehouse Gallery on London’s Southbank and packed away the 350 iconic images of small-scale farmers, that told the extraordinary and very moving stories of 52 incredible communities around the world.

This flagship exhibition was the culmination of three and a half years of work for The Gaia Foundation and many other  groups, organisations and businesses who collaborated with farming communities and 47 celebrated photographers to create a body of work that would tell the global story of an agroecological food system in action. 

The vision was to bring to life the statistics that we seldom read about in the mainstream press – that 70 percent of our food is produced by small scale farmers – and to challenge the myth created by the big food corporations – that we need an industrial food system or quick fix technologies like GM to feed a growing global population.

 The images of the men, women and their families who provide the majority of the worlds were photographed in locations as diverse as the deepest Amazon to the icy fishing waters of Northern Sweden, and told a very different story; of resilience, traditional knowledge, community cohesion and the celebration of diversity in all its many forms. It was a unique opportunity for people everywhere to understand the complexities of the global food system, the many issues it currently faces and their own role in its future.





 We Feed the World was a ground-breaking project which brought together the arts and environmental movements in order to a use a different way of communicating critical messages about our food system. As well as the exhibition in London, 47 simultaneous exhibitions were launched in many of the farming communities we worked with, giving each of them the opportunity to celebrate their successes as well as draw attention to the challenges they face. 

 It was a project that required great faith from all who supported it as nothing had been attempted on this scale before.  There were many challenges along the way but when it was opened in London on October 11th by environmental activist, Vandana Shiva, it was hailed as  the largest simultaneous photographic exhibition ever launched.   In her opening speech Vandana said “Agriculture is the one of the most creative acts that human beings can be engaged in. And the fact that the creativity of the photographers and the creativity of the small farmers has come together in this exhibition makes for a very powerful story.”

This enormous level of enthusiasm continued to reverberate throughout the ten days the exhibition was at the Bargehouse with nearly 7000 visitors flooding in to see the images as well as to participate in the 50 + talks and workshops about everything from agricultural policy to foraging to veganism.  Many of the farmers, photographers, NGO’s, organisations and businesses, who had taken part in the project hosted their own sessions, from Austrian farmer and bread-maker, Roswitha Huber to US activist Anna Lappe who came with a stark warning from the US.  Delivering the key note address she said “We don’t have to guess where the industrial path, if pursued globally, would take us. We don’t have to imagine that future; in the United States where I come from, we’re living it. In the United States, industrial agriculture and processed diets have dominated for the last half a century, we’re experiencing record rates of diet-related illnesses and water and air pollution driven by petrochemicals and synthetic fertiliser.” 

As well as the many visitors the exhibition welcomed at the Bargehouse, the images and stories from We Feed the World reached out to a global audience of nearly ten million people through the phenomenal press coverage it generated. Within the first few days of opening, the exhibition had been featured in articles in the GuardianIndependentTelegraph, National Geographic and the British Journal of Photography.  At the same time, the community exhibitions were welcomed by farming and fishing communities around the world.  We were delighted to get feedback from Slovakia, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Kenya and many other countries letting us know how images were being received. In some communities like Shashe in Zimbabwe or Chagford in Devon, the images were shown as part of their annual ceremonies to celebrate the rain or harvest.

The We Feed the World team is now taking stock before it launches into the New Year with plans to take the exhibition on tour and to produce a beautiful photographic book of all the images and their stories, as well as recipes by celebrated chefs which reflect the diet of each community.  As well as communicating a critical message about our food system to a large, global audience, the triumph of We Feed the World has also been to demonstrate how important creativity and collaboration are to navigating our future. Rational thought and competition may have led to some of mankind’s greatest achievements but unless we now embrace a new way of working, we could end up destroying it all. It is worth reflecting on wise words of Albert Einstein when he said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them”. 









A Race Against Time for Paradigm Shifting Science


A Race Against Time for Paradigm Shifting Science

By Robert Reed, A Team Foundation

It is a race against time as paradigm shifting science resists the encroachment of modern life upon the world’s last nomadic hunter-gatherers.

As a new article from Jeff Leach and his network of microbiologists is released (with evidence making leaps in proving the links between environment, diet and health), the existence of the very tribe who are the study’s focus is under threat.  

The Human Food Project has been working in remotest Tanzania, studying the people who truly align their lives within the flow and cycle of the seasons. Their way of life has been a magnet for researchers for 60 years, and the subject of hundreds of scholarly papers, because they may offer the closest resemblance to our ancient ancestors.  

 A Team Foundation Hadza Jeff Leach

Life in industrialised countries push nature to the fringes, not just in parks and reserves but also in our homes through sterilisation. What are the effects of being devoid of an authentic connection to nature, particularly to our own physical health?

The concept that everything is connected can be perceived not just a purely metaphysical level, it is grounded in physical truth. Humans are able to walk, this gives us an illusion that we are separate from the Earth, which sustains us. If we focus our perception on scales that are significantly smaller than us, unification is obvious. Our blood carries the oxygen from the trees, our guts process the nutrients from the soil.

Our bodies and specifically our guts, are formed of millions of microbiotas. Types of microbiota include bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi and viruses. They pass through life’s flow; shaking hands, eating food, going to the loo, chopping wood, drinking water. Some of these microbiotas have creative tasks to do, some have destructive tasks to do, but each have a job that in turn, creates balance.

Jeff’s previous work showcased that the more diversity in your microbiota, the more resilience your body (a fractal of the bigger ecosystems). These small microbes have a role to play in diseases such as obesity, autoimmune disease, heart disease, IBD/IBS, cognitive disorders, atopy and some cancers.

Modern life has had an impact on all ecosystems and this is particularly the case of our microbiome. Pharmaceutical antibiotics and household cleaning products are unspecific to which bacteria they wipe out. Our food offers only the limited microbes that make it through the methods of food hygiene. Even in childbirth, a cesarian baby doesn’t pass through the mother’s birthing canal where their mother’s microbes would have been transferred.  If it was a fight, microbiota would appear to be losing badly. But it is not a fight.

We are reliant on microbes for our holistic wellbeing, they effect our hormones, immune system, and metabolism. Our Homeostasis (the state of internal bodily conditions maintained by living things) is utterly dependent on them. Microorganisms outnumber human cells in our body by as much as 10 to 1. Microbes are natural and so industrialised attitudes falsely push them away as 'non-human', another manifestation from the mentality of separation and an increasing disconnect as our lifestyle spreads across the globe

 A Team Foundation Hadza Jeff Leach

Yet, in one remote corner of Tanzania, there is a tribe who are resisting being absorbed by modernisation. It is here, that the frontier of microbial science is being played out. The Hadza hunt and gather their nutrition direct from the ‘wild’ resources at their disposal. They live in synchronicity with the Earth, they hunt and butcher wild animals, they consume fruits, nuts and tubers, all grown in natural soils.  From being breastfed - until they are four or five years old - they are immersed in the richest of microbiota diversity.

The Hadza are more widely known as the people who speak in their ancient ‘click language’ and dance in tribal robes, but they now regular wear western clothes, speak Swahili and carry mobile phones.

Although change is always immanent, it is a tragic story as hunter gatherers are treated as ‘the bottom of the pile’ and are gradually being displaced by more politically and economically powerful settlers. Researchers are now warning that this tribe face a daunting convergence of threats.

Their territory is being encroached by pastoralists whose cattle drink their water and graze on their grasslands and farmers clear the woodlands to grow crops. Simultaneously, the changing climate dries up the rivers and stunts the grass. These pressures drive away the animals that the Hadza hunt such as Antelopes and Buffalo. Simply put, if the food goes, the Hadza cannot protect their way of life.  


Ironically, the decades of research have now made the Hadza somewhat well-known and through Government efforts, tourism has increased. Coming with it are the microbes of modern life but more impactful; money. Some of the tribe have played up to tourism expectations and their way of life has become a novelty, putting on hunting shows and dancing in dress. Tourism has its impact on their livelihood, diet, residence, and nomadic patterns.

Researchers who have been studying the tribe for several decades are worried about their future. As each day progresses, the petri-dish becomes more diffused. But more importantly, the researchers have a duty of care at a humanitarian level. The work with the Hadza involves a great appreciation of ethics. Jeff and his team have joined the network of researchers who are vying to ease the pressures on this tribe and they work personally to assist in their needs where it is appropriate.   

If they are unsuccessful, there is potentially an awful lot to lose. In essence, the microbiome of a Hadza tribes-person can be considered as an endangered ecological site of great scientific interest and that needs to be preserved. Without it, we may irreversibly lose many of the microorganisms and never know how they could have helped humanity.


You can read more about the Hadza tribe from the article ‘Hadza on the Brink’ in Science and the article ‘Links between environment, diet, and the hunter-gatherer microbiome’ by Jeff and his network of microbiologists.  


Creating a Good Food Culture at School


Creating a Good Food Culture at School

By Stephanie Wood, School Food Matters

Much has been written about the increase in overweight and obese children recently and to be honest, the figures are shocking. With one in three 10 and 11-year-olds being either overweight or obese, and all the potentially life long health issues that come with this, it is a major public health challenge.  

Children spend 190 days a year at school and eat at least one meal in school on each of those days. This gives us an opportunity to influence children’s attitude to food, their eating habits and food choices.

At School Food Matters, we specialise in working closely with schools to support them to make improvements to school food provision and food education.  It isn’t easy working with schools, especially in the current funding environment where teachers are so stretched and money is so tight. However, School Food Matters now has 11 years experience engaging with schools and can provide advice and access to food education programmes to support schools to improve their food culture. 


At School Food Matters we know that every school is different and every head teacher has competing priorities, so practitioners working in schools need to be flexible and responsive to changing circumstances. 

Once a school has decided that they need to improve health outcomes for their children, we can give them the impetus and knowhow to make the necessary changes to become a ‘healthy zone’; a place where children’s health and wellbeing is consistently and actively promoted through the policies and actions of the whole school community.

The term ‘healthy zone’ comes from a report published in November 2017, which shines a light on what is currently happening in schools across the country. Food Education Learning Landscape (FELL) surveyed teachers, pupils and parents on their views of the food and food education offered at their schools.  It demonstrates how varied the picture is, with some schools doing a fantastic job at teaching children about where food comes from, modelling good eating habits and encouraging children to make healthy choices. Other schools are sadly much more part of the obesogenic environment seen beyond the school gates. 

We see a common scenario in some secondary schools; healthy lunch dishes are available but often they are the most expensive options, and hidden behind the pizza slices and chips. Some young people reported that it is actually quite difficult to eat healthily at their secondary schools. And instead of modelling good behaviour, overworked teachers are regularly seen eating chocolate bars and devouring fizzy drinks between lessons.

Students are receiving and understanding public health messages such as ‘five a day’ and ‘sugar smart’ during lessons, but what they see in the corridors and in the canteen is contradictory and confusing.

But there is good news too.  Some schools are doing an amazing job in supporting children to keep themselves healthy.  We have found schools where children are involved in designing the school menu, introducing food that is both healthy and enticing; they grow their own fruit and vegetables; they learn to cook healthy meals and through visits to farms can reflect on where food comes from. 

 Pictures shows children from Greycourt School, Ham Nr Richmond Upon Thames.

Many primary schools have made dramatic improvements in the last ten years, but secondary schools need some help. That’s why School Food Matters is joining forces with Sustain; the alliance for better food and farming, to develop a campaign called Healthy High Schools, looking at ways to support secondary schools to become healthy zones.

Big steps have been made legislatively.  Universal Infant Free School Meals is an enormously positive policy that has, at a stroke, increased take-up of school meals across the country and normalised healthy eating, making unhealthy packed lunches the exception rather than the rule. This is important as only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards of a school meal and for too long head teachers have spent lunchtime policing packed lunches leading to tensions between parents and the school.  

The next step must be to monitor and evaluate school meal provision and the Healthy Rating Scheme, proposed by the Department for Education in the Childhood Obesity Plan, presents an opportunity to do this. School Food Matters, along with campaign partners at Jamie Oliver and Sustain, is pushing government to deliver on its promised rating scheme and to include secondary schools in the scheme.

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman recently said “We must recognise that schools cannot provide a silver bullet for all societal ills ... Families, government, industry, and other parts of the public sector all have a role to play in making food and drink healthier, and supporting children to make better choices.” We agree.  Obesity is everyone's problem but, unlike Ofsted, we see schools as a unique environment to positively influence children's choices around food and health and we must seize this opportunity and play a part in tackling what the World Health Organisation describes as “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.”


The Main Feature in the journal Science

The Main Feature in the journal Science

What impact does modern life have on our gut? 


Science Magazine Front Cover, Human Food Project

Written by Robert Reed, A Team Foundation.

During August, one of our projects appeared as the main feature for Science Magazine. The journal featured the following peer reviewed paper by Dr Jeff Leach of the Human Food Project:

 "Seasonal cycling in the gut microbiome of the Hadza hunter-gathers of Tanzania".

The paper gives evidence that the microbiome of a hunter-gathering tribe configures with the seasons, individual taxa disappear and reemerge through the annual cycle accordingly. A comparison of the evidence with data (from 18 populations, over 16 countries, with varying lifestyles), proves that modernisation has a direct influence on our gut and its overall well-being. 

The Abstract from Science Magazine: 

"Although humans have cospeciated with their gut-resident microbes, it is difficult to infer features of our ancestral microbiome. Here, we examine the microbiome profile of 350 stool samples collected longitudinally for more than a year from the Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania. The data reveal annual cyclic reconfiguration of the microbiome, in which some taxa become undetectable only to reappear in a subsequent season. Comparison of the Hadza data set with data collected from 18 populations in 16 countries with varying lifestyles reveals that gut community membership corresponds to modernization: Notably, the taxa within the Hadza that are the most seasonally volatile similarly differentiate industrialized and traditional populations. These data indicate that some dynamic lineages of microbes have decreased in prevalence and abundance in modernized populations".


Read the full article here.

Food Issues Census 2017

Food Issues Census 2017

Written by Robert Reed, A Team Foundation

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The 2017 Food Issues Census is an account of the changing trends of issues within the food and farming sector. Issues such as food poverty, animal welfare and environmental concerns are reviewed by popularity and by how much financial support they are receiving. 

The first Food Issues Census was launched in 2011, since, there have been numerous and major changes in the food and farming sector, some obvious and some subtle. The 2017 census provides an updated overview, a wider picture, that can be used as a tool for funders and those seeking funding.

By highlighting the breadth and scope of current issues, the census notes the importance of a sector that is under pressure. In general, food and farming is underfunded yet its impact affects each individual person and the Earth on which we live.

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 10.09.14.png

You can read the full census here (via

The Food Issues Census was written and published by the Food Ethics Council and funded in part by the A Team Foundation (in collaboration with the Esmee Foundation, Environmental Funders Network, Big Lottery Fund, JMG Foundation and Sustain).