Overnight it seems gut health and good bacteria have “trended”, and everyone is taking note of the 39 trillion microorganisms in their digestive tract -- and trying to keep them healthy. But why? What does it actually do? As it turns out, gut health is important to keep tabs on! Much of our health is influenced by or related to the microbiome in your belly, some of which may surprise you.
But first, let’s cover what the biome actually is: the two pound ecosystem living inside you consists of thousands of kinds of bacteria and microorganisms that differ for each person based on environment, age, stress levels, and more. It is the frontline of your immune system and aids in digestion by breaking down dietary fiber, synthesizing vitamins and minerals, and notifying your brain to secrete insulin, and efficiently absorbing nutrients.
Many studies have shown that the biome is incredibly flexible and can change almost entirely in just four days based on the food you eat. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, with the fluctuation of meat-heavy and plant-heavy days alternating based on hunting success. But for all of us now, it means we have great control over our biome. In literal hours we can change our gut, and therefore change our health.
What aspects of our health can our gut influence?
May seem obvious, but the microbiome lives in your digestive tract, therefore your digestive system is the first thing affected by its health. From small discomforts like heartburn or constipation, to bigger issues like Crohn's disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, your gut flora influence it all. Highly processed fatty foods cause an increase in inflammation, which flares up symptoms.
Researchers now have been analyzing the relationship between plant-based gut flora and animal-based gut flora. The conclusion? Those who consume more plant-based foods produce significantly more short-chain fatty-acids which suppress cancer cells from growing.
Most people don’t realize it, but arthritis is actually an immune disorder. It involves the body attacking its own cells, like those of membranes that line the joints, causing inflammation and discomfort. This study revealed that patients with newly diagnosed untreated Rheumatoid arthritis had an increased level of Prevotella copri present. What’s the problem? This Prevotella corpi is a gram negative bacteria found in your gut that increases inflammation and symptom severity.
Did you know that 90% of your serotonin receptors are actually located in your gut? Whaaat? That’s nuts, right? In cutting edge nutritional psychiatry research at Harvard, doctors are studying the relationship between different foods and optimal depression/anxiety prevention. Processed foods don’t make the cut, whereas more plant heavy anti-inflammatory diets were found to be protective against depression.
Type 2 Diabetes and obesity are beasts we know all too well in the United States, and it turns out our gut can kickstart some of these issues. When people consumed a high-fat diet, Yale researchers detected increased level of acetate. Acetate is a short-chain fatty acid that essentially tells your brain to release insulin and eat more. A higher percentage of acetate causes a cycle of over-eating and insulin release, often leading to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The real question is, if our gut biome is so important, how do we take care of it?
It all comes back to diet! Eating an anti-inflammatory whole food plant-based diet, can help lower symptom severity of Crohn’s, IBS, arthritis and cancer, as all of these diseases originate from inflammation problems.
An anti-inflammatory diet consists of low or no sugar, plenty of vegetables, lots of fiber, low amounts of fat, and plant-based proteins only. With the reduction of processed foods in your diet, you may find other health issues balancing out. Not to mention, you’ll also benefit from a myriad of other benefits, like more energy, better skin, lower cholesterol… the list goes on.
You are what you eat.
It’s the age-old saying that rings true, now more than ever, as science slowly unfolds the mysteries of our own bellies.