Gut Bugs! Gotta Get Me Some of Those
Just like I stumbled upon Keto after starting my research on low-carb/high fat, I have stumbled upon human microbiome research – the study of the millions and trillions of bacteria/microbes in our gut that keep us healthy and process our foods. The startling news is, as a society, we have lost more than 40% of our good gut bugs due to the highly processed standard American diet. Time to figure out how to get some of those bugs back!
As usual, I started at my go-to site, DietDoctor.com. Much of my initial understanding of this topic comes from Dr. Rangan Chatterjee in his talk Low Carb, Slow Carb and the Microbiome. If I misinterpret any of his statements, it is completely my fault and my limited scientific background, but I think I got the gist of it and I will be reading more (see the end for my TBR pile).
To start, what are gut microbiomes? Here’s a good definition:
The gut microbiome is the term given to describe the vast collection of symbiotic microorganisms in the human gastrointestinal system and their collective interacting genomes. Recent studies have suggested that the gut microbiome performs numerous important biochemical functions for the host, and disorders of the microbiome are associated with many and diverse human disease processes. (Kinross, et al., 2011)
And then there’s this little tidbit:
An emerging paradigm is that diseases such as obesity and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are associated with reduced diversity in the intestinal microbiome, which may represent evidence of a suboptimal microbiome. (Bäckhed, et al., 2012)
But what does this mean to you and me?
Essentially, our guts are made up of trillions of microorganisms called microbiomes (aka, “gut bugs”). At one time, we had an extremely diverse collection of these bugs in our systems that helped us properly process the food we ate. Over time, with a significant increase in processed (aka “refined”) and genetically modified foods in our diets (along with overuse of antibiotics and other environmental factors), we have killed off a lot of the “good” bugs that keep our bodies and health in check. Increasingly, the research is showing that one of the causes of obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic issues is our lack of diversity in our gut bacteria.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. We already have probiotics and prebiotics, why haven’t they come up with a prebiotic that we can take to restore our gut bacteria? Ok, maybe you’re not thinking that. I must say I briefly thought it, but the answer is – it’s complicated.
There has been some promising research that has identified one particular microbiome called Akkermansia muciniphila that is very likely the bacterial species that can decrease body weight. (Ottman, et al., 2017) Now, if there were going to be a pill form, it would be this. But hold your horses. It’s not that simple. While researchers have found this connection and are seeing promising results in clinical trials, it does not work for everyone. We stupid humans aren’t one size fits all. What might work for some might not for others. It’s still early days yet in the world of human microbiome research.
Eat Real Food
But don’t dispair. There is something you can do right now to promote good gut health and that is to eat real food – specifically real food that promotes Akkermansia muciniphilia. It’s pretty simple. There are foods, real foods, that are sometimes referred to as “slow carbs.” These are foods that might have a higher carb content than others, but they have a special feature – they bind with fiber and are actually resistant to host digestion meaning they actually feed your gut bugs. These carbs are called Microbiota-Accessible Carbohydrates (MACs) and include:
- Chicory root
- (Green) bananas
- Dandelion greens
- Brussel sprouts
Yes, many of those may be higher in carb than you are used to (especially yams), but in moderation, it’s all good for the gut.
I’ll leave with this startling quote:
About 75% of the food in the Western diet is of limited or no benefit to the microbiota in the lower gut. Most of it, comprised specifically of refined carbohydrates, is already absorbed in the upper part of the GI tract, and what eventually reaches the large intestine is of limited value, as it contains only small amounts of the minerals, vitamins and other nutrients necessary for maintenance of the microbiota. (Bengmark, 2013)
So eat the good stuff and get more bugs in your belly! Meanwhile, I’ve added these books to my TBR (to-be-read) pile:
- The Four Pillar Plan: How to Relax, Eat, Move and Sleep Your Way to a Longer, Healthier Life by Dr Rangan Chatterjee
- The Diet Myth: Why the Secret to Health and Weight Loss is Already in Your Gut
by Tim Spector
- The Clever Guts Diet: How to Revolutionise Your Body from the Inside Out by Michael Mosley and Tanya Borowski
- The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health by Justin Sonnenburg and Erica Sonnenburg
Bengmark, S. Nutrition of the Critically Ill — A 21st-Century Perspective. Nutrients 2013, 5, 162-207.
Fredrik Bäckhed, Claire M. Fraser, Yehuda Ringel, Mary Ellen Sanders, R. Balfour Sartor, Philip M. Sherman, James Versalovic, Vincent Young, B. Brett Finlay, Defining a Healthy Human Gut Microbiome: Current Concepts, Future Directions, and Clinical Applications, Cell Host & Microbe, 2012, 12:5. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chom.2012.10.012
Kinross JM, et al.: Gut microbiome-host interactions in health and disease. Genome Medicine 2011, 3:14.
Ottman N, Reunanen J, Meijerink M, Pietilä TE, Kainulainen V, Klievink J, et al. Pili-like proteins of Akkermansia muciniphila modulate host immune responses and gut barrier function. PLoS ONE 2017, 12:3: e0173004. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0173004