Gut Bacteria: The Unsung Hero


I’ve said before that 80% of out immunity lies within our gut, and as nutritional health gains traction and mainstream popularity, gut bacteria is finally getting it’s due. They do some pretty heavy batting for our health. For instance, certain microbial species are responsible for protein fermentation, allowing us to create incredibly beneficial proteins we need “in house” rather than gain them from outside plant products. That’s pretty powerful- they’re providing us nutrition no strings attached. Furthermore, they’ve found that when a harmful bacterium wipes out a person’s natural gut flora, severe malnutrition ensues. Clearly, they’re the unsung heroes every time we eat.

Gut Bacteria

There are 2000 different strains of microbiota throughout the natural world, and each of us harbors anywhere from 1 strain to 200. Not only are there a variety of strains, but each strain has unique genetic alternatives as well. In fact, there are 1 million different genes possible for these strains, and they contribute to digesting the vast range of carbohydrates found in our diets (think of such goodies as soluble fiber, inulin, pectin, fructans, algal sulfated polysaccharides, etc.)

Gut Bacteria 101

Such variety within our own internal bacteria is a incredibly important, as it allows our digestive tracts to conquer an assortment of meals we ingest each day.  Lacking such diversity then, can have disastrous consequences.  Obesity has been linked to “simplified gut flora”, a scenario that is bred by ingesting a changing complex diet in an already rather sterile environment.

So if a complex diet is persona non grata when maintaining a healthy weight, what does inspire diverse gut flora? Well, the answer is simple- a simple diet that is (think my one-ingredient food approach, or whole cultured foods). Put plainly, the Average American Diet simply isn’t cutting it. It decreases gut diversity, because it’s constant barrage of a variety of new and complex foods selects for the survival of only generalist bacteria that’s a “jack of all trades but a specialist of none”. Choosing a simpler diet then, is the better option. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever change your diet however. Vegan and paleo diet extremes have fostered flora diversity (despite not being started at birth) when introduced into the diet composition slowly. And for meat lovers, there’s good news as well. Meat contains complex polysaccharides, which are essentially excellent nutritive fodder for bacteria and not a detriment when eaten in moderation. So to have a healthy gut all you have to do is eat a simple diet right? Well not exactly. A simple diet will foster gut flora diversity, if that diversity is already present. Perhaps you won out genetically and naturally have such an extreme collage of bacteria from a wide spectrum of genetic options, perhaps not. If you’re in the second camp, there’s no need to lament, just introduce diversity through your diet (i.e. those wonderful probiotics, and more importantly, whole food options I’ve mentioned).

Probiotics, and the strains of bacteria found in the fermented vegetable dishes I discussed in another post, simply provide strains that aren’t naturally found in the adult gut that are in abundance in an infants. These strains have the ability to stimulate development of the gut and it’s immune system capabilities, so incorporating them into your diet would be a great addition.

Probiotics and your Microbiome

While supplements are great, an easy way to keep to a simple diet would be to incorporate cultured foods into your everyday meals. That way you kill 2 birds with one stone; you avoid complex foods and introduce new gut strains in one fell swoop. With an ever increasingly stressful world and environment, having an efficient way to keep the pounds (and other serious health woes) away is a real boon. So the next time you dig into some kimchee or perhaps a one-ingredient snack, take a moment to thank your gut bacteria (both already present and recently added). They’re the unsung heroes that keep you running strong everyday: no nagging or asking necessary.

These powerful little bacterium help keep you running everyday; what a great thing!

References 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23349065

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23369162

Yours in Health,

Stella Metsovas B.S.