The organisms that make up your microbiome impact how your metabolism processes food and governs your overall health. In this article Dr Arun discussed how you can keep your microbiome healthy.
The instant you take a bite of food, your body begins the work of turning it into energy. After you swallow, the food travels further and further down into the dark recesses of your digestive tract and into the territory of the microorganisms that live in your gut.
Scientists have recently discovered that these tiny creatures are vital players in turning your food into energy. So while a balanced diet and regular exercise are essential for maintaining health, these lifestyle choices explain only part of the story. Your body’s metabolism is also regulated by the hidden players in your digestive tract—referred to collectively as the gut microbiome.
This relationship means that damage caused to our microbiome by a typical low-fiber, high-additive Western diet can impair our metabolic health in several ways, including reduced immune function and excess inflammation. However, there’s good evidence that we can also take a proactive role in improving our metabolic fitness by improving our metabolic health through diet and targeted probiotics.
Why the Gut Microbiome is So Important.
There are trillions of microorganisms that reside on and inside our bodies. Most of them have evolved to live in harmony with humans over thousands of years—so much so that some critical functions of our system are dependent on these microorganisms’ presence and activities. Unlike infectious germs, these microorganisms are partners to human cells, providing mostly harmless and often useful functions.
Laboratory mice raised to be completely free of any microorganisms, called germ-free mice, show impairment in various metabolic and immune functions, demonstrating that the microbiome is crucial in developing and maintaining normal physiology.
Researchers generally believe that the gut microbiome—the richest and most diverse of all the microbe communities occupying human body niches—is first seeded at birth. However, some suggest that we encounter trace amounts of microbes inside the mother’s womb. Our delivery method at birth, our initial feedings and our early hygiene can all dynamically shape our infant gut microbiome.
“Changing your gut microbiome can change your metabolic health.”
Is Food Pushing the Throttle on Inflammation?
Images Courtsey from “Happy Gut,Healthy Weight” by Dr Arun Dhir
The SAD- Standard American or Australian Diet diet has got the most detrimental impact on the Gut Microbiome.
Numerous studies have tied our processed, chemically-laden, Western diet to inflammation and leaky gut.30 In some studies, for instance, endotoxin levels increase after someone eats an unhealthy meal and especially when ingesting pure cream and both high-fat and moderate-fat meals.
And it’s not just fat that might be the culprit. Most “high fat” diets also contain refined carbohydrates and processed ingredients such as in bread, pasta, cakes and cookies.
How Can We Improve Metabolic Health Through Changes to the Microbiome?
Diet shapes the gut microbiome. The modern Western diet is low on fiber and high in unnatural additives – this combination reduces or removes certain groups of microbes from the gut. When those conditions persist, the weakened gut microbiome damages our immune and metabolic functions in the ways shown above, which further harms the microbiome, creating a negative feedback loop. While we need more controlled human-intervention studies, research thus far suggests that some simple interventions can reduce damages in microbiome-regulated metabolic and immune functions.
1. Changing to a microbiome-friendly diet.
The benefits of fiber-rich food are well known – fiber slows your digestion so you stay fuller longer, and it promotes blood-sugar and cholesterol control. We have seen above that the gut microbiome has everything to do with these benefits. Fiber-rich foods – such as beans, legumes, fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit, and whole grains – are particularly good at supporting the growth of beneficial gut microbes that regulate metabolic hormones and reduce inflammation.
In addition, polyphenol-rich foods, including green tea and berries, appear to modulate the gut microbiome and increase beneficial groups of bacteria.
2. Taking prebiotic supplements.
Prebiotic supplements pack specific types of fiber known to feed selective groups of bacteria that confer health benefits. Taking prebiotic supplements is an excellent way to ensure you foster the growth of these bacteria. Inulin, which occurs naturally in high concentrations in chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes, is a fiber source that supports the desirable microbes. Taking probiotics to restore the “missing” mind is available in multiple prebiotic supplements.
If your gut microbiome has already suffered from a prolonged Western diet, just adding back fiber in the short-term will not be enough to completely restore beneficial bacteria. But you can aid the “healing” process by taking targeted, medical probiotics designed to confer specific health benefits (e.g., increase butyrate production upon ingestion of dietary fiber, stimulate mucin production).
Not all probiotics are the same—many “traditional” probiotic strains, especially those including Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, have been shown to convey modest improvements in metabolic parameters, but the underlying mechanisms are largely unknown. While both may be beneficial, it is important to understand that you can maximize the benefit by understanding the needs of your very unique gut microbiome. These needs have been identified in studies that have profiled the microbiome changes associated with various diseases, and may sometimes be echoed in personal microbiome testing results. In the years ahead, more and more products will be available to “adjust” the microbiome to support individual microbial health.
If you’re keen to know more then you might want to check out Dr Arun’s Book “Happy Gut Healthy Weight“ that has many more insights and practical ideas on how to reset your metabolism.