Trust Your Gut. Literally. But only if you eat the right stuff. Let me explain.
You have more microorganisms inhabiting your body than you have your own cells. While that may sound a bit like something out of “Alien,” it’s not — it’s essential for life. A hundred trillion bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, along with some viruses and fungi, form what is referred to as the “gut microbiota” or “microbiome.” And what you eat is the major determinant of which microbes decide to take up residence in your intestines (1).
“So what?” you might ask. Here’s what: these little critters actually play a large role in how easily you gain weight (2), how much inflammation you have in your body, how well your immune system performs, and even how your nervous system works to affect brain function, mood, and behavior (3).
To put it bluntly, the constituents of the gut microbiome are not one bit happy about the typical Western Diet. People who eat a lot of animal fats, processed foods, and refined sugar have a microbiome that is less varied and is functionally inferior to that of people who eat a Mediterranean Diet (4) or a similar diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (5). This unhealthy microbiome is strongly correlated with not just intestinal disorders such as irritable (6) and inflammatory bowel diseases, but also with atherosclerosis, allergies, autoimmune illnesses, asthma, diabetes, and some cancers — all of which are related to chronic low-grade systemic inflammation (7,8). But there’s good news: switching to a healthier diet has dramatic and rapid positive effects on the microbiome, with regard to both more beneficial and more varied bacteria that make their home inside you. That’s true for children, too (9).
The take-home point from today’s science lesson is not for you to feel bad about yourself based on what you eat. Give up the guilt and the shame, both of which are useless and destructive. But do think about what a gift you’re giving to yourself in terms of physical, mental, and emotional health when you reach for that apple. Speaking of which, aren’t Honeycrisps the absolute best?
(1)Shapiro H et al. Personalized microbiome-based approaches to metabolic syndrome management and prevention. J Diab 2017; 9(3):226-236.
(2)Tilg H, Adolph TE. Influence of the human intestinal microbiome in obesity and metabolic dysfunction. Curr Opin Pediatr 2015; 27(4):496-501.
(3) Sherwin E. A gut (microbiome) feeling about the brain. Curr Opin Gastroent 2016; 32(2):96-102.
(4) De Filippis F et al. High-level adherence to a Mediterranean diet beneficially impacts the gut microbiota and associated metabolome. Gut 2016; 65(11):1812-8.
(5)Anhe FF et al. Gut microbiota dysbiosis in obesity-linked metabolic diseases and prebiotic potential of polyphenol-rich extracts. Curr Obes Rep 2015; 4(4):389-400.
(6)Distrutti E et al. Gut microbiota role in irritable bowel syndrome: New therapeutic strategies. World Gastroent 2016; 22(7):2219.
(7)Kataoka K. The intestinal microbiota and its role in human health and disease. J Med Inves 2016; 63(1-2):27-37.
(8)Kau AL et al. Human nutrition, the gut microbiome and the immune system. Nature 2011; 474:327-36.
(9)David LA et al. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature 2014: 505(7484):559-63.