Why Feeding Your Gut Bacteria Might Be the Secret to Better Health

Wellness |

Why Feeding Your Gut Bacteria Might Be the Secret to Better Health

Our gut bacteria influence our health in profound ways. They help digest food, make key nutrients, fight harmful organisms, protect our gut lining, train our immune systems, turn genes on and off, regulate gut hormones, and possibly even affect mood and cravings. Gut bacterial changes are closely linked to autoimmunity, inflammation, body weight, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Various factors shape our gut bacterial patterns, but likely the most important factor is food. Our bacteria mirror what we eat and respond quickly when we change our diet.

Just five days of a diet high in animal fat and low in fiber causes a rise in bile-tolerant bacteria, which are linked to inflammatory bowel disease. It also results in more secondary bile acids (carcinogenic compounds formed when bacteria metabolize bile) and fewer beneficial fiber-fermenting bacteria. By contrast, switching to a diet high in fiber and complex carbs produces a greater diversity of gut bacteria (a good thing), more fiber-loving bacteria, lower markers of colon inflammation, and a 70 percent drop in secondary bile acids in only two weeks.

One of the most incredible products of gut bacteria is butyrate: This short-chain fatty acid is critical for reducing inflammation throughout the body and keeping gut tissue healthy. It also helps kill off cancer cells, hamper growth of unfriendly bacteria, stimulate appetite-lowering hormones, and promote fat burning in muscle cells, which lowers insulin resistance.

How do we maximize this amazing nutrient? It all comes down to fiber, which gets fermented to butyrate by beneficial gut bacteria. We need all types of fiber, ideally from a variety of plant foods, especially whole grains and the resistant starches found in beans, lentils, and split peas.

Prebiotic foods (e.g., oats, asparagus, beans, sweet potatoes, leeks, onions, and garlic) foster growth of friendly gut bacteria. Probiotic plant foods (e.g. sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, nondairy yogurts, and tempeh) deliver live, beneficial bacteria to the gut. Probiotics can also be found in pill form, but the most effective way to increase healthy gut bacteria is simply to eat the right foods—namely, plants!

Sources:
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[i] David LA, Maurice CF, Carmody RN, Gootenberg DB, Button JE, et al. “Diet Rapidly and Reproducibly Alters the Human Gut Microbiome.Nature, Jan 23, 2014, pp. 559–563.

[i] O’Keefe SJ, Li JV, Lahti L, Ou J, Carbonero F, Mohammed K, Posma JM, et al. “Fat, Fibre and Cancer Risk in African Americans and Rural Africans.” Nature Communications, Apr 28, 2015.

[i] Jardine M. “Nutrition Considerations for Microbiota Health in Diabetes.Diabetes Spectrum, Nov 2016, pp. 238–244.

[i] Dahan S, Segal Y, Shoenfeld Y. “Dietary Factors in Rheumatic autoimmune diseases: a Recipe for Therapy?Nature Reviews Rheumatology, Jun 2017, pp. 348–358.

[i] Tang WH, Wang Z, Levison BS, Koeth RA, Britt EB, Fu X, Wu Y, Hazen SL. “Intestinal Microbial Metabolism of Phosphatidylcholine and Cardiovascular Risk.New England Journal of Medicine, Apr 25, 2013; pp. 1575–1584.

[i] McNabney SM, Henagan TM. “Short Chain Fatty Acids in the Colon and Peripheral Tissues: A Focus on Butyrate, Colon Cancer, Obesity and Insulin Resistance.” Nutrients, Dec 12, 2017; p. 1348.

[i] Glick-Bauer M, Yeh M-C. “The Health Advantage of a Vegan Diet: Exploring the Gut Microbiota Connection.Nutrients, Oct 31, 2014; pp. 4822-4838.

[i] Vinicius A. do Rosario, Ricardo Fernandes, Erasmo B.S. de M Trindade. “Vegetarian Diets and Gut Microbiota: Important Shifts in Markers of Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease.Nutrition Reviews, Jul 1, 2016; pp. 444–454.

[i] Walter J, Martínez I, Rose DJ. “Holobiont Nutrition: Considering the Role of the Gastrointestinal Microbiota in the Health Benefits of Whole Grains.Gut Microbes, Jul-Aug, 2013; pp. 340–346.

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