How To Feed 100 Trillion Guests
There’s more to you than you think. Like 100 trillion more. Your gut bacteria have an enormous influence on your health. Feed it right with synbiotics.
MY INTENTION in this post is to convince you to add “symbiotic” foods and supplements to your diet.
“Fat chance”, you say, perhaps even before learning what “synbiotics” are.
Well, to that I say, just suspend disbelief a bit and read on, because your 100 trillion guest — that are never going to leave — are counting on you.
I will offer convincing information that shows that the right beneficial microbiota in your gut can:
· Improve mental and emotional health
· Enhance your immune system
· Help prevent or treat insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity
Before we dig into this, let’s first get our arms around a few concepts and definitions.
Microbiota Concepts and Definitions
Contemplate what is no longer semantics:
You Are Not the “You” You Think You Are
We’ve all entertained the thought that we are not our bodies. Think about it: we refer to our arm, as “my arm”, rather than “this part of me”.
My leg, my chest… even my mind… they’re all considered as possessive – something you own, but not “you”.
It’s rather natural to consider whatever is physically manifested as part of us to be, at the same time, not us. Therefore, when I write: “You are not the ‘you’ you think you are”, it makes sense to assume that I’m referring to that common context of body parts, or even your body in its entirety.
But I’m not.
Rather, within the context of microbiota, the concept that your body is not you references that…
Your body has more bacteria than mammalian cells!
In that body of yours, whose eyeballs are peering at these words, there are about 100 trillion microorganisms.
The human gut alone holds ten times more bacteria than all the human cells in the entire body, with over 400 known diverse bacterial species.
The strange truth is what mainly comprises your body are bacterial cells, not human ones.
(Please do not tailspin into an identity crisis yet… there’s a lot more to consider here…)
Before we continue, let’s take a quick look at terms and definitions.
Gut or digestive system and gastrointestinal tract is being used here interchangeably; it’s that whole area where you digest food and make poop.
Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth and/or activity of bacteria in the digestive system in a manner that may be beneficial to health. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi have prebiotics. You can also buy prebiotic supplements.
Synbiotics refer to nutritional supplements combining probiotics and prebiotics in a form of synergism, hence “synbiotics”. You can buy synbiotics as supplements or eat foods containing probiotics and prebiotics, as mentioned above.
Metabolic Disorder is a medical condition characterized by problems converting food to energy. Some chronic health issues that can be caused by or magnified by metabolic functions are obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Diagnosing a metabolic disorder can be difficult, as a variety of problems create similar symptoms; many patients end up enduring a battery of tests and seeing multiple experts before the root cause of their problems is identified.
Now we know that the problem could be among those 100 trillion critters in you. But they’re also the solution. Just need the right ones to be dominate.
Synbiotics May Improve Mental and Emotional Health
Professor Mark Lyte and his associates at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center posit that you may be able to fine-tune your mental and emotional states by the right combination of probiotics.
As above mentioned, probiotics are the “good” bacteria that normally live in your gut and are available in most health food stores, or online.
Professor Lyte says that probiotics can generate neurochemicals that affect your brain — even improve your psychological health, and that neurochemicals generated by the brain can also affect these bacteria.
It’s a visa versa sorta thing.
In his research paper, Lyle lists several neurochemicals (normally produced by the brain) that are also produced by various probiotics in the gut:
|These Probiotics (below)…||Produce these Neurochemicals (below)|
|Escherichia, Bacillus, Saccharomyces||Norepinephrine|
|Candida, Streptococcus, Escherichia, Enterococcus||Serotonin|
If Professor Lyte’s hypothesis is confirmed by further research, microbial endocrinology may emerge as a strangely exciting, if not unorthodox, approach to treating patients with psychological problems.
(Which gives new meaning to having a “gut feeling.”)
Stephen Collins at McMaster University and Premysl Bercik at the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute report on experiments with mice that underscore some of the experimental results submitted by Professor Lyte’s team.
In this case, Collins and Bercik have determined that behavior and brain chemistry varies depending on the type of bacteria resident in the gut.
(And you thought you were in control of your emotions!)
Messing with healthy adult mice, the researchers showed that disrupting the normal bacterial content of the gut with antibiotics produced changes in behavior; the mice became either anxious or less cautious.
This change was accompanied by an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which has been linked to depression and anxiety.
When oral antibiotics were discontinued – which destroys beneficial microbiota — bacteria in the gut returned to normal, as did normal behavior and brain chemistry.
The findings are important because several common types of gastrointestinal disease, including irritable bowel syndrome, are often associated with anxiety or depression.
In addition there has been speculation that some psychiatric disorders, such as late onset autism, may be associated with an abnormal bacterial content in the gut.
Your take away from this:
– Always consume probiotics/synbiotics when on antibiotics and for a few weeks afterwards. And every other day too.
Synbiotics May Enhance Your Immune System
Who doesn’t want a better immune system?
This is where I garner some compliments, as year in, year out, I don’t get sick.
My friends tire of this, but do begrudgingly ask how this can be, and part of the answer is that I’ve built strong intestinal fortitude built by consuming good microbiota (aka “synbiotics”).
The May 2011 publication Influence of gastrointestinal commensal bacteria on the immune responses that mediate allergy and asthma makes clear the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and our microbiota.
The publication distills down to this…
The human intestine has more than 100 trillion microorganisms that support a symbiotic relationship with the host. Under normal conditions, these bacteria are not pathogenic, and in fact confer health benefits to whoever is hosting the critters.
One big benefit of a healthy microbiota colony in your gut is their contribution to maintaining immune tolerance via its ability to activate and drive regulatory T-cell differentiation.
T-cells are a type of white blood cell that helps boost our immune system’s capacity.
A key to building a strong immune system is to populate the gut with beneficial microbiota from an early age.
A great start is to consume mother’s milk. But I’ll make the bold assertion that if you’re able to read this, mother’s milk is no longer an option.
Given that good ole mom is no longer in the mix, we’re back to synbiotics, that dynamic duo of prebiotics and probiotics.
You’ve gotta consume the foods and supplements that build up and support the beneficial microbiota in your gut.
Which I’ll get to in a minute.
Your take away from this:
– I repeat: “You’ve gotta consume the foods and supplements that build up and support the beneficial microbiota in your gut” (aka “synbiotics).
Synbiotics May Help Prevent or Treat Insulin Resistance, Diabetes and Obesity
The January 2012 publication Is the gut microbiota a new factor contributing to obesity and its metabolic disorders? demonstrates that gut bacteria play a role in metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
The mechanisms by which gut microbiota affects metabolic diseases occur along two primary routes:
1. The body’s innate immune system response to certain types of bacteria resulting in inflammation; and
2. The body’s reaction to the bacterial metabolites of dietary compounds (e.g., producing short chain fatty acids from fiber, or creating TMAO).
Scientists are in the process of confirming the hypothesis that the alarming rate of obesity and type-2 diabetes (the combination of which, Dr. Mark Hyman calls “diabesity”) may be influenced by gut microbiota.
Naturally, factors specific to each person, such as microbiota strains existing in the gut, along with a person’s behavioral and genetic predispositions work in concert to affect health outcomes.
That said, enough research on this matter has been done to change how scientists view the microbiota model.
Now it’s clear that gut microbiota join the classic risk factors such as a person’s genetics, behavior and environmental factors as a potential key determinant of, or explanation for, metabolic diseases.
The illustration above shows the new and old models describing the factors that contribute to the development of metabolic diseases. (Source)
The old model is based on direct interactions between the environmental factors and genetic variations of people (“nutrigenomic” interactions).
A new model includes the emerging discoveries related to the gut microbiota and the host, which is you, by extension, but specifically to the mice studied.
Environmental factors such as dietary fats (fatty acids) affect the composition of the gut microbiota. The reverse is also true — different profiles of gut microbiota regulate the production of short-chain fatty acids. These two-way interactions can be described as “nutri-metagenomic interactions”.
So, what this means is that scientists who study this stuff think it’s likely that what you eat – in this case, fat – affects your gut microbiota, and that your gut microbiota affects your health, particularly your metabolic functions – basically, the conversion of food/drink to energy.
A similar “crosstalk”, in effect, can also occur between the host and gut microbiota, so-called “host-metagenome interactions”. There’s evidence that mutations of a host gene lead to alterations of gut microbiota profile and that mice colonized with different gut microbiota have different metabolic phenotypes supports the host-metagenome interactions.
This takes things one step further than the macronutrient level (protein, fats and carbohydrates) into the realm of genetics, or more specifically, epigentics (behavior’s influence on gene expression).
What’s suggested here is that mice gut microbiota – and by extension, yours – can have an effect on gene expression (epigentics) and visa versa.
Wow, this is like having a previously unknown squatter in your basement acting as the puppeteer… and you’re the puppet!
Clearly, it’s very important to get your gut microbiota colony pulling for you and not pushing against you. You want friends down there in the basement, not creepy creatures seeking to blow up your furnace.
These basement dwellers are important guests. It’s not true that if you simply ignore and don’t feed them that they’ll leave. No, rather, they’ll get cranky and mess with your health.
Again, I’m talking prebiotics and probiotics = synbiotics.
The last incentive to begin consuming synbiotics is your belly girth.
Look down at it now.
Whether or not it overhangs your belt, read on…
Your take away from this:
– The food you eat, your environment, behavior and genetics all affects the type of microbiota in your body. But it’s not a one-way street. Visa versa is in play here. So, it’s really important to get your microbiota working for your benefit.
– Did I mention: eat synbiotics?
Synbiotics May Help You Loose Abdominal Fat
A new Japanese study says that daily supplementation with Lactobacillus gasseri may help in weight loss in obese people.
(Technically speaking, Lactobacillus gasseri is not a synbiotic, but simply one of its component parts, a probiotic. But why quibble.)
Remember, obesity is no longer some scarce situation – it’s estimated that one-third of all Americans are obese, and when added to those merely overweight, the proportion is a weighty two-thirds.
That’s two out of every three people.
The World Health Organization estimates that by 2015 there will be more than 1.5 billion overweight people worldwide. In America, the health care costs of the overweight will in 2015 be $117 billion.
Are you overweight or obese?
Here you can tell at a glance (kinda, maybe):
From left to right, as labeled in the original image, the “healthy” man has a 33 inch (84 cm) waist, the “overweight” man a 45 inch (114 cm) waist, and the “obese” man a 60 inch (152cm) waist.
Note: depending on height and gender, you can be overweight or obese with a much smaller girth.
Back to the Japanese study…
So, the good thing about this study, unlike those already discussed, is that this one used real healthy people as lab rats, who for 12 weeks drank fermented milk containing a dose of 100 million colony forming units (cfu) of Lactobacillus gasseri.
(Kefer would have been better IMHO… easier to digest.)
Result: An 8.5% decrease in abdominal fat.
Two things to know:
1. Smaller doses were less effective; and
2. The weight crept back when dosing stopped.
Let’s wrap up this creepy buggy post with a summary of a recent article written by Acupuncturist Chris Kresser on this very subject, entitled, Heal Your Gut.
Mr. Kresser underscores what we now know about the role and influence of the gut’s microbiota:
It promotes and supports normal gastrointestinal function, enhances immunity from infection and stabilizes metabolism.
Unhealthy gut flora, he says, “has been linked to diseases ranging from autism and depression to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s, inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes”.
If you do this or have the following, you may have an unhealthy gut flora, says Kresser:
- Antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs
- Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
- Diets low in fermentable fibers
- Dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut
- Chronic stress
- Chronic infections
But the happy news, Kresser continues, is that all this is potentially reversible, if you do this:
- Remove all food toxins from your diet
- Eat plenty of fermentable fibers (starches like sweet potato, yam, yucca, etc.)
- Eat fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chi, etc., and/or take a high-quality, multi-species probiotic
- Treat any intestinal pathogens (such as parasites) that may be present
- Take steps to manage your stress
Yep, I couldn’t have said it better myself, which is why I copied what Chris Kresser wrote.
Your take away from this:
– Read the next section…
How to Get Synbiotics In Your Gut
If you’re still with me, you should be nodding your head affirmatively when I ask if gut microbiota is important for health.
Further, you should want to take steps to help make sure that yours is healthy.
Here’s what to do:
1. Re-read Chris Kresser’s suggestions above;
2. Choose which prebiotic (fermented) foods you’ll begin eating;
3. Choose which probiotic (yogurt, kefer) foods you’ll begin eating; and
4. Select good prebiotic, probiotic and/or symbiotic supplements to take regularly.
Note 1: Ditch the fruit-in-the-bottom yogurt. Many of them contain as much sugar as soda. Go for no-flavored low or full-fat (not no-fat) organic yogurt. Kefer is even better because it typically has more beneficial microbiota.
Note 2: In that picture of me at the start of this post I’m holding the Clover brand of blueberry kefer. It tasted great, but a) I’m guessing any organic brand is equal to this one and b) mixing blueberries and kefer is suboptimal; seperate, both are great.
Below, are some high quality probiotics that I’ve tried and can vouch for, not because I counted up all the beneficial microbiota they helped establish (got tired after 54 trillion), but because I felt good taking them and their reputations are swell.
I have no experience with prebiotic or symbiotic supplementation, as I simply eat fermented food rather than supplement with prebiotics.
If you rather go with supplements to get enough synbiotics in you, make sure what you select is a reputable brand, such as Life Chapter, NOW, Life Extension, Jarrow and ProHealth.
Ciao for now!
P.S. For those strange few that still want more information on this, check out the Human Microbiome Project.
(Click on any of the images below to learn more about them. These are affiliate links.)