getting to know your gut
Start to think of yourself as less of a human made up entirely of human cells, and more of some sort of biological ecosystem housing a community populated by hundreds of trillions of bacterial organisms. The residents that populate this community outnumber your human cells 10 to 1. This means that there are 10 times more bacterial cells in your body than there are human cells! Not only that, but there are 100 times more bacterial genes in our genome than there are human genes! That’s right, each of us are a walking petri dish housing a community with a larger population than there are people on this planet.
These microbes aren’t just lying sedentary in our guts waiting to digest foods either. They are an active part of our daily lives, communicating with our brains and our immune system, dictating our moods and even our behaviors. Some scientists are even calling the gut biome “our second brain.” Your gut also is home to the largest concentration of immune cells. What does this mean? It means that the gut microbiota is behind the wheel of our immune system. A healthy microbiota can prevent illness, thwart auto immune disease and promote longevity.
Unfortunately pizza and craft beers aren’t on the menu for our healthy bacterial organisms. Complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber are the preferred meals. The modern diet is loaded with refined carbohydrates and sugars, which may feed certain types of bacteria, but not necessarily the ones we would like to populate this community.
So what does it take to be considered a “healthy” bacteria? Generally speaking, if you experience frequent digestive symptoms, such as bloating or heart burn, chances are you’ve been feeding your gut the wrong nutrients and not only growing the bad bacteria but starving the good. In layman’s terms, good bacteria is beneficial bacteria, and bad bacteria is detrimental to your health. Now that we know we can grow good and bad bacteria, we need to know how. This is where it gets deep!
There are two types of carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Why does this matter? Most of this microbial community live in the distal gut or, the colon. Eating simple carbohydrates such as refined grain, simple sugars, and mostly anything that comes in a package will be digested in the upper GI tract. These carbs are easily digested and never make it down to the distal gut, which contains the highest population of our microbial community. This is how we starve the community. The complex carbohydrates are whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These carbohydrates are foods that our body has trouble breaking down and digesting. This is why they will make it all the way down to our colon, or distal gut. Although this may seem contradictory, its benefits are a result of providing the bacteria with nutrients.
The healthy bacteria will feed and ferment the fiber rich complex carbohydrates we eat. The waste product created by the bacteria feeding on this fiber, which is essentially bacterial feces, are short chain fatty acids. These compounds are then absorbed by our bodies and they regulate multiple aspects of our biology. These short chain fatty acids increase our number of T Regulatory cells, these cells calm the immune system and attenuate inflammation. So it is likely that if you’re not eating enough dietary fiber, you are operating in a hyper inflammatory state. It is believed that this hyper inflammatory state is responsible for a multitude of western illnesses. Some of these illnesses are asthma and even allergies. All of this being said, it is easy to imagine that the lack of fiber in the western diet is also a lack of production of these short chain fatty acids and the lack of, is what drives this hyper active immune system.
And now it gets a bit creepy. As we starve this community with the lack of fiber rich foods, they are forced to feed on the mucus lining in our GI tract. Over time they encroach ever closely to eating our own epithelial cells. Giving our immune system yet another reason to become over active. So it is quite obvious to see how our diets play a huge role in not only our physical wellbeing and level of performance, but also in our immune system. On a microbial and biological level there is no end to the benefits of proper nutrition.
Now that I have told you just about everything I know about the micro biome and the significance of proper nutrition, for our bodies our brains and our immune system, I urge you to take some steps towards properly feeding your microbial community. Remember we are human tubes, carrying the immense community full of active players in our daily lives. Are we solely members of our local and federal communities, or like our microbiota, are we playing a role in a much bigger picture, of a much bigger organism?