FIVE WAYS THE GUT MICROBIOTA KEEPs YOU HEALTHY
By Jennifer Chambers
Two years on since the onset of a virulent virus that upended our lives and killed millions of people worldwide and brought global economic activities to a virtual standstill, an interesting phenomenon has emerged as we enter the pandemic’s endemic stage. People appear more interested than before to have greater agency over their health and wellness, hence the growing number of Americans now embracing a plant-based lifestyle. Further to that, brands are using the term, “gut microbiome” more than ever before in their product callouts as you see it on everything from pop to pasta. So, let’s shed some light on the gut microbiota and how it keeps us healthy.
According to Dr. Will Bulsiewicz in his NY. Times best seller, “Fiber Fueled,” the gut microbiota is a broad, expansive community of microorganisms: bacteria, fungus, virus, parasites, archaea – both good and bad - all living in this expansive community. Their genetic code is referred to as the gut microbiome. So, these microbes that live rent free within us eat whatever we eat and provide the fuel for all our bodily functions. They process our food, drugs and help with digestion. Specifically, when we feed them a diversity of fiber it keeps the microbial community in balance with the good ones outnumbering the bad. The fiber provides the right fuel for the good bacteria to propagate and work even harder to keep us functioning in peak condition and disease free. When we feed them refined foods and sugar, however, the bad bacteria are empowered and grow in abundance, outnumbering the good ones and create a state of imbalance called dysbiosis, the precursor to inflammation and diseases
Here are the five ways our gut microbiota keeps us optimized to be the healthiest humans we can be.
According to the blockbuster book, “Fiber Fueled,” gut microbes can communicate with our brain using the immune system and through the release of neurotransmitters, hormones and signaling molecules. Specifically, neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine play a powerful role in modulating our mood, energy levels, motivation and sense of reward. Gut microbes produce and respond to serotonin and dopamine GABA (y aminobutyric acid and norepinephrine) and that 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine are produced in the gut. So, in essence, precursors of serotonin and dopamine can cross the blood-brain barrier and alter our mood and behavior. A balanced gut microbiota helps us to function in peak, cognitive condition.
Our DNA don’t define us. Who knew! There was a time when the prevailing notion was that we were defined by our genes. But, according to Dr. Will Bulsiewicz’ “Fiber Fueled,” studies have conclusively demonstrated instead that it is a balanced gut microbiota more so than our genes that is a better predictor of the sustainability of health and wellness. To use the metaphorical adage to drive this point home: genes load the gun and diet, and lifestyle pulls the trigger.
We know that the gut microbiota helps effectively with the way we process our food and drugs and, when we feed them plants, they produce metabolic substances called short chain fatty acids that strengthen our gut wall to prevent undesirables like toxins or unprocessed food from leaking into our bloodstream. As if that were not enough, the gut microbiota regulates our endocrine system as well, affecting our response to insulin. Specifically, after a meal, our blood sugar level rises and the cells in our pancreas respond by releasing insulin into our bloodstream to lower our blood sugar. If you have Type 2 diabetes according to “Fiber Fueled,” you have an inadequate supply of insulin to control your blood sugar, so it stays elevated. To fix this condition, eat more indigestible fiber to alleviate the condition of insulin resistance.
70% of our immune system lives in the gut, separated from the gut microbiota by a single layer of cells that is a fraction of the diameter of a hair and is undetectable by the human eye, posits “Fiber Fueled.” That single layer of cells separates the microbiota from the immune system where the microbes communicate with the immune cells. According to Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, the microbiota helps foster proper development of immune cells, identify invaders, get immune cells to specific locations when needed and enhance the cell infection fighting power.
A healthy gut microbiota, one that is balanced from being fed a diversity of fiber, creates a strong, immune system that can identify infections or malignant threats and eradicate them. The gut microbiota is therefore inextricably linked to the immune system. If you hurt one, you hurt the other.
You’ve heard this paradigm advanced for years: if you want to lose weight, exercise and “eat well.” The “eat well” part is always a subjective variable and doesn’t guarantee the desired outcome since no two person’s gut microbiota is the same. A better and more predictable solution is to empower the gut microbiota to produce more predictable results by eating a diverse spectrum of plant fiber and let them do the work to help with appetite control and satiety- both components of weight loss.