Yesterday, I listened to the Plant Proof Podcast all about building a healthy gut with Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, a gastrointestinal specialist & I was MIND-BLOWN by some of the facts I learned. I thought I knew a lot about gut health but this was so eye-opening in so many ways that I just had to share some of the things that stood out to me most with you guys!
It is CRAZY just how much of an impact the health of our gut microbiome has on our day-to day lives, our risk of developing chronic disease, the strength of our immune systems, our energy, hormone levels & overall quality of life. We think of our body in terms of organs + big parts but the gut is an ENTIRE eco system!
Here are some of the things that stood out to me that I hope will inspire you to take even more care of your gut than you already do! Click the link in my bio to read the full post.
The impact of gut bacteria on obesity/weight gain
Studies have been reproduced NUMEROUS times (billions of times), where if you take an obese mouse & transplant the gut bacteria of the obese mouse into a thin mouse without changing the thin mouse’s diet (same food, same calories), the thin mouse becomes obese simply because of a change in gut bacteria. We all know people who can eat whatever they want & stay thin and others who struggle to try to control what they eat but can’t lose weight and truth is, it relates back to gut bacteria.
How gut bacteria impacts our genetic code & the risk of disease
Gut bacteria controls the vast majority of our genetic code. 99% of our genes are bacterial (controlled by the gut microbiome) and 1% are human. 15 years ago, researchers cracked the human genetic code & thought that once they did that, they would have it all figured out but results have been disappointing because fact is, we’re not born with disease & just because we have a genetic predisposition for developing it (genetic code), it doesn’t mean we’ll get it no matter what.
Gut bacteria influences the expression of genetic code, which is the reason why the way we live and eat can make a huge difference in the risk + reason why we end up developing things like heart disease or cancer. An imbalance in gut bacteria is actually the cause of the vast majority of disease & the vast majority of disease can be traced back to some sort of inflammatory response in the gut.
Let’s talk about celiac’s disease. One of the main diagnostic criteria of celiac’s disease is a change or imbalance in gut microbiome + healthy bacteria (dysbiosis). A gene gets flipped on, which makes the immune system turn on the gluten & goes under attack. Celiac’s disease is one example of a situation where we may carry the gene (1 in 3 people in the USA carry it), but only 1 % actually develop the disease because of a change or imbalance in gut microbiome, which is ultimately caused by what we put into our body, sleep quality, exposure to damaging free radicals in the environment, the amount of antioxidants we nourish our bodies with inside + out & how we manage our stress.
How gut bacteria impacts our mental health disorders & serotonin
Changes in gut bacteria also affect the development or progression of anxiety/depression because 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut. This explains why when we produce too much of it, we experience things like diarrhea or too little of it, we experience things like constipation. The gut mind connection is SO REAL & the gut health issues in people with these mental illnesses don’t just happen because of the stress or anxiety – it happens because of an IMBALANCE OF GUT BACTERIA, which screws with hormone levels!
So again, some of us might be more prone to the development of personality disorders or mental illnesses because of genetic predisposition, but the health or lack thereof of our gut bacteria has a huge impact on whether that predisposition materializes or not.
How gut bacteria impacts our risk of developing autoimmune disease
The same holds true for autoimmune disease like MS or rheumatoid arthritis; things you would think are completely unrelated to the gut but really, 70% of our immune system is located in our gut & there’s a very fine line + separation between the gut and immune system (literally + figuratively). When the gut bacteria becomes unbalanced, it completely messes with our body’s immune system and weakens it, thereby forcing it to attack itself + leading to autoimmune disease.
The importance of diversity of gut bacteria
When we lose diversity of gut bacteria, that’s when disease develops. Think of it this way, if you were to be stuck or confined on a desert island with just 15 people, you’d want every one of those 15 people to be good at something different so that together, you could make a productive team that will be able to survive. You’ll want someone who can build a fire, another who can build a tent & perhaps someone with a medical background. The same holds true for your gut – you need a variety of strains of bacteria to thrive & without that diversity, you become more prone to disease.
What about antibiotics?! They can be life-saving in really severe situations & sometimes, we need to use them; but there’s a danger in relying on them too much or using them when we don’t need it or when alternative holistic remedies could do the trick. When penicillin was discovered, it increased life expectancy by 15 years & there’s no denying that.
But there’s also no denying that a 5-day prescription of CIPRO, one of the most all around antibiotics (often prescribed for UTIs), wipes out 35% of our gut bacteria. The 65% left are the super resistant and they start to dominate. In terms of restoring imbalance, those mere 5 days of antibiotics can resonate with 1-2 years of damage to the gut & research has shown that we may also NEVER regain that diversity.
This is because the antibiotic wipes out good guys + that means the gut can no longer wipe out the bad guys anymore because it no longer has the healthy fuel to do so (which is why PRE BIOTIC foods are so important to nourish already living healthy bacteria + make sure it outnumbers the bad). In this situation, what happens is the bad guy has a free for all + digestive issues are HAYWIRE. The minute we take away the antibiotic, the hope is that good bacteria outnumbers the bad to get back to place where it’s constantly suppressing it but that’s not necessarily what happens. This has gotten so bad because people are not eating enough fibre + prebiotic foods that doctors have had to turn to FECAL TRANSPLANTS to restore healthy bacteria in severe cases. (BTW: The colon is the DIRTIEST place in the world – dirtier than the filthiest most grungy bathroom you can ever imagine. We’re all afraid of using public washrooms + facilities but truth is, the MOST CONCENTRATED AMOUNT of bacteria is living inside of our own bodies).
Coronary heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s, autoimmune disease… all these common ailments are traced back to unbalance & changes in healthy gut bacteria, through all the different pathways through which the gut communicates with body. These ailments also happen to be some of the largest killers in the world.
Not only do antibiotics have an impact on our healthy gut bacteria but all types of medication, including hormonal birth control can impact it as well.
The impact of gut bacteria on pregnancy & childbirth
During the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, the mother’s gut bacteria starts to change; the body also changes as the mother needs to carry more weight on her hips & butt because she is now carrying the baby in the front. The mother develops bacteria in the gut designed to harvest energy similar to someone who has type 2 diabetes.
Meanwhile, 35-36 weeks into pregnancy, the vaginal flora actually naturally changes to resemble the mom’s gut bacteria, that way when mom gives birth to the child, the child pass through birth canal and for the first time, is exposed to these bacteria. It’s the mom’s first “gift” to that child – providing the first transplant of healthy bacteria. When a child is born, they have almost a sterile intestine & overtime, through environmental exposure, the child’s gut becomes lined with good & bad bacteria. This is why traditional birth is important. Now that’s not to say that scenarios where C-section is necessary are bad. Sometimes, it’s a must. But, natural childbirth is an important part of evolutionary history. The child will go from day 0 to the age of 2-3 & have a fully formed gut microbiome (same strength, diversity & number of species as parents by the time the child is 3 years old).
The impact of gut health on life expectancy, the importance of fibre, short-chain fatty acids & a plant-based diet
Here’s another eye opener. People in Costa Rica, a third world country, have a higher life expectancy than people in the United States + Australia! And this is because their diet is comprised mainly of plant-based foods, rich in fibre!
When we say that fibre is gut-healing, we’re not talking about processed cereal like Frosted Flakes or Fruit Loops, we’re talking about fibre from plants, fruits, veggies. The average woman in the USA consumes 17g of fibre per day & half the people in the USA are below that. Truth, there probably isn’t a culture in human history with a number lower than that; it’s disturbing. In fact, tribal people in Tanzania are consuming 100-150g fibre per day, so they are getting 10x more fibre than the average American. And that’s not to say we need to aim for that much. In America, the recommended values are 25g for women + 30g for men & we still aren’t getting that!!
Not all fibre is the same, in the same way the protein quality in a bean is not the same as the protein in a cow. Fibre is a descriptive term for a part of plant-structure only found in plants that has nutritional benefits to humans. There are different types of fibre within an individual plant, which is why diversity of plant consumption is crucial. Fibre survives digestion through the entire small intestine & arrives in our colon unchanged and undergoes a transformation that the human body is not capable of doing – we rely on gut bacteria to change the fibre into a short chain fatty acid (butyrate, acetate, etc.).
Contrary to popular belief, fibre doesn’t just go into the mouth and out the butt (excuse my language). This is underrated. If we are to look at the top 10 causes of disease in the USA + Australia, the vast majority could be improved with higher levels of short chain fatty acids, which are directly tied to health and have so many powerful characteristics. They provide energy for the bacteria in our guts the SCFA gives them the strength they need to do their job & communicate directly with immune system, lower cholesterol, diabetes and prevent colon cancer.
PREBIOTIC FIBRES are also so important as they feed + nourish healthy gut bacteria, which develops short chain fatty acids. People with a healthy gut consume plant foods & by consuming plant foods, they grow bacteria that is designed to process this type of food and when they process that food, they then produce higher levels of SCFA that allow the entire body to work how it should.
You can only get these SCFA from plants & not from animal products. In fact, certain animal products influence the gut to grow bacteria to not be able to produce short-chain fatty acids. This is why the ideal diet is one where you maximize fruit & veggie consumption to then maximize the amount of bacteria capable of producing short, chain fatty acids. Some examples of prebiotic foods include: chicory root,m garlic, apples, tigernuts, yacon syrup, asparagus etc. Read more about prebiotics here: PRE-biotics 101 a.k.a. The Fuel For Your Healthy Gut Bacteria
Dr. Will also talks about beans and how they contain multiple oligosaccharides, one of which is raffinose. When fibre is processed, to a varying degree, it will produce gas because it’s fermented, so the bacteria ferments the fibre and the by-product is gas. But, more importantly, this fermentation process also produces the short chain fatty acids referred to above, such as butyrate.
The difference between probiotic capsules & fermented foods
Fermented food and probiotic capsules are not the same. The capsule contains a concentrated very high number of bacteria in a limited number of species & we don’t even know if they survive the acid in our stomach 100% of the time. On the other hand, fermented sauerkraut can contain up to 600 different species but the number of bacteria + populations are not as high as in probiotic capsules.
The actual process of fermentation mirrors human digestion; think of it like pre- digestion, making it easier on your own gut. You take that food and transform it into something even better; it basically becomes a superfood. It unleashes vitamins + minerals you wouldn’t have had access to without the fermentation, especially B vitamins + B12 especially, which is so important for people who follow plant-based, vegan or vegetarian diets + to maintain energy levels + proper metabolism of macronutrients.
Our food choices, the spectrum of gut health & the importance of the diversity of the plants we eat
The food choices we make determine the make-up of gut bacteria. “Show me someone’s food choices and I will tell them what gut bacteria look like; show me their gut bacteria & I will show them what food they are eating”. The average person eats 78 000 pounds of food in a lifetime. Rob Knight, the individual running the American Gut Project, has determined that the number one predictor of a healthy gut is the diversity of the plants we eat. This is after years of research.
He discusses the spectrum of gut health with a healthiest and unhealthiest end. The western diet is comprised 65% processed food, 25% animal food, 10% fruit + veggies. This is the UNHEALTHIEST end of the spectrum. The HEALTHIEST end would be a vegan diet. Data even suggests that there is a difference even between vegan and vegetarian diets, although it is not a difference that’s off the chart or alarming.
What improves gut microbiome?
Exercise, sleep, stress management, nutrition & meditation are some of the best ways to improve gut microbiome.
Exercise is good for the body; everything works better when you exercise. you look more fit, feel stronger & more energized, but more importantly, your bowels work better too. Studies have shown that exercising changes gut bacteria & increases the population of bacteria that is good at producing short chain fatty acids, which as explained above, is intrinsically related to the health of our gut & reversing & preventing disease (even if we are predisposed to it).
If you have a chance, I strongly encourage you to read my post + listen to this podcast! Let it play in the background while you do house chores, workout, go for a walk or meal prep – it’s long, but worth every minute of your time!