In the light of recent discoveries about how much human health may depend on elements that until a few years ago were considered to belong only to organ pathologies (gut or heart or brain separately), it can now be said that the interaction of each cellular stigma, be it of the central nervous system of the heart, of the lung or regulating the immune system, must be understood as a complex and interacting entity, where it has surprisingly been seen that one of the conductors of the orchestra are the germs living in our intestines, far superior in number to the cells that make up our organism. A second aspect of maintaining an efficient state of health is the regulation of stress.

1 – The microbiota

The population of microorganisms that colonise our gut is called the MICROBIOTA, which differs from the microbiome that represents the genetic make-up of the microbiota itself.

The microbiota influences the regulation of digestion, metabolism, synthesising vitamins and releasing molecules that contribute to intestinal well-being, but it also has other important roles, such as cooperating with the immune system, assuming the ability to guide the body towards a protective system against pathogenic microbes and toxic substances; Furthermore, it has been found that metabolites produced by gut bacteria have an effect on the activity of the central nervous system, including the regulation of mood, stress and satiety, earning it the nickname ‘second brain’, also acting on the psychological state by helping to coordinate the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and on the system that regulates the production of important hormones such as serotonin and dopamine.

The microbiota is an entity that is subject to change, changing throughout life, from childhood to adulthood, adapting to the different stages and needs of the individual and is modified by external factors such as diet, environment or the amount of stress we are subjected to.

Maintaining the balance of the gut microbial population with our body is commonly referred to as eubiosis; while dysbiosis is the disruption of this balance, which may be associated with various pathological conditions.

1.1 – Microbiota research

It is precisely on the study of these aspects that our research wants to find a space that is currently lacking, because the ultimate aim is to demonstrate that through contact with nature in an environment free of stimuli other than the sea, the sky and a return to rhythms guided only by the astronomical clock can lead to a constant state of eubiosis.

1.2 – How do we care for the microbiota?

From a therapeutic point of view, one can resort to so-called probiotics, live micro-organisms that protect the microbiological balance or restore a state of health with respect to a pathological condition. However, there are still many difficulties in obtaining personalised therapies that are useful in a specific disease and in a specific patient.

Not to be underestimated, however, is how a state of stress control (metabolic, neurogenic, psychic) through lifestyle modification (meditation, regulated physical activity and dietary control) can consensually intervene positively on the intestinal microbial population.

2 – The regulation of stress

In the same way, it is now possible to determine our degree of stress, whether metabolic, hormonal or otherwise, by measuring HRV (Hearth rate variability) with simple devices. HRV is defined as an indicator that records how variable the time it takes the heart to make two consecutive beats changes, and numerous studies claim that it can be a valid non-invasive marker for estimating the activity of the autonomic nervous system.

The analysis of Heart Rate Variability makes it possible to understand, in just a few minutes, the state of activity of the Autonomic Nervous System and to know if there is an over- or hypo-activity, poorly functional, of one of the two branches and intervene to re-establish the correct balance. This assessment can be carried out using any biofeedback instrument or software, as long as it is equipped with good quality cardiac signal detection sensors (photoplethysmographic or pulse sensor) and a sufficiently powerful processor to handle a large amount of data while minimising opportunities for error.

For assessment activities HeartMath recommends using the emWave Pro Plus, the latest in training biofeedback tools, with which it is possible to carry out 1-minute assessments with the “1-minute HRV Deep Breathing Assessment” application to assess the activity of the vagus nerve during the respiratory act, or 2 minutes and more with “HRV Assessment” to assess the activity of the entire system in resting conditions.

Thus, in a simple and non-invasive way, it is possible to open a window for Heart Rate Variability analysis and scan cardiac activity at certain times of the day (morning – afternoon – evening) and understand, for example, whether there has been recovery from intense physical or emotional stress, but also whether the training load is sufficient or excessive. Furthermore, it is possible to understand how the persistence of certain moods and the repetition of certain negative emotions (emotional loop) can affect the autonomic nervous system and modify the normal course of Heart Rate Variability. (1,2,3)

3 – Purpose of the research

To assess changes in the intestinal microbiota under conditions of particular isolation and in this case during long ocean sailing trips, and with controlled feeding.

These experimental objectives arose from the objective evidence measured clinically in numerous subjects during various periods of being at sea for 4 or more days. These clinical evidences were expressed through the detection of regularisation of physiological parameters such as sleep-wake rhythm, sleep quality despite the shifts imposed by sailing, a constant regularisation of digestion and alvus as far as the digestive system is concerned, but with particular reference to mood tone, we can state that the clinical experience assessed on more than 50 subjects who have sailed with us over the years, have shown a condition of well-being that deserves scientific analysis. Indeed, clinical evidence has suggested a probable influence on the gut-brain axis, hypothesising a variation in the intestinal microbiota in favour of strains potentially responsible for hormonal regulation of serotonin (happiness hormone), GABA (gamma amino butyric acid), and Dopamine. (4-5)

In addition to these findings, particularly on long voyages (longer than a week), a progressive reduction in the desire for high-calorie foods (simple sugars) was also noted, with greater evidence in overweight subjects, leading to a weight loss which we consider physiological but not linked to malnutrition phenomena, but rather to an intervention by the regulation of further hormonal elements (leptin, insulin, etc.) which may originate from the intervention of particular intestinal germs, bringing the microbiota into play in this situation too. It has been noted, in particular, that in obese or overweight subjects, the relationship between the two bacterial populations that dominate our intestine, i.e. Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, changes: the former are in fact much more abundant than the latter, at the same time, weight loss is able to restore the normal intestinal microbial composition, confirming the link between microbiota and obesity. (6)

4 – Description of the research project with qualitative-quantitative microbiota analysis

The measurement of the microbiota in collaboration with Personal Next and the University of Florence will start at stage 0 (departure) where the basic composition will be recorded. Every 5 days the existing variation will be tested, with an additional faecal test, on the 10-person crew. Stages of 8-10 days and stages of 18-20 days are planned. The crew will consist of 5 stable persons always tested + 5 temporary guests according to the different travel stages.

5 – Feeding

One crew member will be in charge of preparing meals, which will be controlled and varied in protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, trace elements and fibre. We envisage dividing the research into 2 groups of people, one with a balanced and controlled diet, and the other using products supplied by Barilla to control the microbiota, with organisation divided into stages by randomising Group 1 (controlled) to Group 2 (Barilla) In the 8-day stages, the entire crew will belong to one group. In the longer stages (ocean crossings) they will be divided into two stages of 10 days each.

6 – On-board equipment for scientific research

On board, we are equipped with all the instruments needed to parametrise the data of the voyage participants at various times during the crossing period in order to determine whether the particular conditions in which the organism finds itself during long stays at sea can, in consensus with the supposed changes in the intestinal microbiota, bring about similar changes in the HRV.

The measurements will be processed remotely in accordance with the standards proposed by the Self.- Coherence group with which we already collaborate at the Hippocrates Centre in Parma. This aspect of the research is unique in the world in that no such studies have ever been carried out.

7 – Ariel’s journey

7.1 – Foreword

The scientific expedition of the brig Hms Beagle, in which the young Charles Darwin took part between 1831 and 1836, was an exploration that paved the way for the modern understanding of life on Earth. The scope of the results obtained, following Darwin’s observations during long ocean voyages and stops in some of the most remote places on the planet, was enormous. In scientific terms, one can speak of a before and after of Darwin’s voyage as a Big Bang in human history.

Since that legendary voyage, progress has brought great benefits, but it has also carved a deep chasm between man and Nature. Human beings have become their own worst enemy, creating the conditions for a destruction of the planet that seems to be unstoppable.

We believe that scientific research is still our hope. We do not believe that we must reverse course, that we must turn back, but that we must find other solutions by learning to live according to rules of environmental sustainability and humanity. We believe we must strive for common goals aimed at safeguarding our planet.

7.2 – Ariel

Ariel is a Hallberg-Rassy 53 designed by Germán Frers following the research programme conducted over the years by his America’s Cup studio. Its displacement, sturdy construction, generous sail area and high level of equipment on board make this yacht suitable for long ocean voyages.

7.3 – The crew

Paolo Casoni
Surgeon, former lecturer at the University of Parma, currently freelance. For three years he held on-board emergency medicine courses for crews departing for the Atlantic Odyssey. Owner and skipper of Ariel, he has more than eighty thousand miles to his credit with six Atlantic crossings (two complete Atlantic circuits), a half circumnavigation of the world to Fiji, and several ocean passages and every corner of the Mediterranean from Turkey to North Africa to Gibraltar.

Cecilia Casoni
She has always embarked alongside Paolo as head of the galley and crew relations and is a key exponent of the importance of food during long voyages.

Valerio Bardi
He has sailed over 180,000 miles in all the world’s oceans. He has been a member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club since 1995 and has participated in many of the most prestigious international regattas including Fastnet, Middle Sea Race, Cervantes Trophy, Caribbean RORC 600, Round Britain non stop, Mediterranean Cup, Giraglia, Swan Cup, Maxi Yacht Cup, Antigua Week, St Marteen, Les Voiles the St Barth. On Milanto, his Nautor Swan 46 MKII, he has won several regattas and participated 11 times in the ARC Rally, winning three editions in his category. In 2020-2021 he made his first round-the-world voyage with Milanto.

Lorenzo Cipriani
He has been sailing as a skipper for about 20 years mainly in the Mediterranean, but also in the Atlantic and North Seas. He holds RYA Yacht Master Offshore, ISAF safety, ENGI Seafarers Medical Certificate qualifications. In 2020-2021 he made his first round-the-world voyage as second skipper of Milanto. He combines his skills as a navigator with his activities as an art historian, writer, storyteller, tour guide and cultural planner. He is a researcher in biology at the University of Florence. His book ‘The Breath of the Ocean’, published by I libri di Mompracem in 2022, is in its second reprint.

7.4 – Itinerary description

We will set sail in November 2023 from Gibraltar to follow the historic route of the brig Beagle. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean, we will first reach the Canary Islands, then the Cape Verde archipelago to pass through the equatorial calms to the coast of Brazil; we will then begin to descend in latitude along Argentina, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. We will reach the Strait of Magellan, the Beagle Channel and Usuhaia in January 2024 to sail up the Chilean channels to Prt Montt; we will enter the Pacific to head for the Galapagos Islands via Selkirk Island (Robinson Crusoe Island). We will then pass through the Panama Canal and into the Caribbean Sea. From here we will head back towards Europe, touching Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Mexico, to reach the Bahamas, Bermuda and finally the Azores islands to enter the Mediterranean in July 2024. Ten months of navigation for a total of around 20,000 nautical miles.

8 – The health of the planet

Similar to the research on the organic (microbiological, hormonal and neuro-cardiological) response of man, this experience at sea, precisely because it involves different latitudes even in inhospitable environments still considered ‘primordial’, in agreement with the Institute of Microbiology of the University of Florence, we plan to combine environmental research to contribute to an analysis of the state of ocean waters and rivers far from inhabited areas concerning particular pollutants, including the density of microplastics and others.

Many of these pollutants sink to the depths of the ocean, or float far offshore from their source, and are consumed by maritime microorganisms, thus becoming part of the global food chain. Maritime pollution encompasses many types of contamination that are destroying the maritime ecosystem, including chemical, light, noise and plastic pollution. Chemical pollution refers to the introduction of hazardous contaminants. The most common man-made pollutants that fall into the sea include pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, detergents, oil, industrial chemicals and waste water.

Many pollutants are deposited in the environment upstream from the coastline. Nutrient-rich fertilisers used in agriculture, for example, are often washed into local river courses and end up being deposited in estuaries and bays. This excess of nutrients triggers the mass proliferation of algae that rob the water of oxygen and cause dead zones where only a few organisms can survive. Some chemical pollutants make their way to the top of the food chain, such as DDT, the insecticide that caused the white-headed sea eagle to be placed on the US endangered species list.

Scientists today are beginning to better understand how certain pollutants that have entered the seas from other materials are harming marine wildlife. PFAS, chemicals contained in many household products, accumulate in the blood of humans and marine mammals. Even chemicals ingested by humans and not fully digested by our bodies end up in aquatic food chains.(7,8,9)

These analyses will be complemented by the study of how certain animal species are unaffected or already involved in an intoxication process through digestive tract and DNA tests.

9 – Bibliography

  1. Breedlove S.M. e Watson N.V. (2013), Biological psychology: An introduction to behavioral, cognitive and clinical neuroscienze.
  2. McCraty R., Atkinson M., Tomasino D., Bradley R.T. (2006). The coherente heart. HeartMath Reserch Center, Institute of HeartMath.
  3. McCraty R., Atkinson M., Tomasino D., Bradley R.T. (2009). The coherente heart: Heart-Brain interactions, psychophysiological coherence and the emergence of system-wide order.
  4. Pier Luigi Rossi
    L’intestino, il sesto senso del nostro corpo. Alimentazione consapevole e biochimica della gioia”  edito da Aboca Edizioni
  5. Zhao Y, Wang J, Wang H, Huang Y, Qi M, Liao S, … Yin Y. Effects of GABA Supplementation on Intestinal SIgA Secretion and Gut Microbiota in the Healthy and ETEC-Infected Weanling Piglets. Mediators of Inflammation. 2020.
  6. Angiola Vanzo, Andrea Bolner, Giampietro Nordera, Ottavio Bosello
    Obesità, microbiota e stress ossidativo
    Servizio di Igiene degli Alimenti e Nutrizione (SIAN), ULSS 6, Vicenza
    Centro Stress Ossidativo (CSOx), Casa di cura privata Villa Margherita, Vicenza
    Dipartimento di Medicina, Università di Verona
  7. Atlante mondiale della zuppa di plastica Copertina flessibile – 16 maggio 2019
    di Michiel Roscam Abbing,  Stefano Ciafani (Prefazione), Elisabetta Luchetti (Traduttore)
  8. Bye bye plastica. Come ridurre l’inquinamento in un giorno Copertina flessibile – 25 giugno 2020
    di Luca Bonaccorsi , Richard Harrington, Claire Fisher
  9. Documentari sull’inquinamento dei mari
    1. A plastic ocean : il regista e giornalista Craig Leeson documenta la presenza di plastica negli oceani e nei mari e le conseguenze che la plastica ha sul biosistema marino e sulla catena alimentare. Accompagnato dalla campionessa di immersione in apnea, Tanya Streeter, ci offre innovative strategie studiate poi con Giacimenti Urbani, l’associazione ce ha il merito di aver ideato “Deplastic, azioni e buone pratiche contro l’abuso di plastica”, una mostra che vuole veicolare l’attenzione sull’inquinamento da plastica e sulle possibili soluzioni a questo problema.
    2. Plastic river : è un documentario girato da Manuel Camia nel 2019. Qui ci racconta l’iniziativa di Tiberio, un ragazzo milanese, che con il suo kayak percorre i fiumi e i laghi lombardi per ripulirli dalla plastica. Questo documentario vuole sensibilizzarci sul devastante impatto della plastica sulle acque dei nostri territori e dimostrarci come le nostre azioni giornaliere possano fare la differenza.

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