With social media posts flying around about gut health, we are going to dig deeper with a qualified expert that has the knowledge, expertise, and boots on the ground in this growing field. I had the pleasure of speaking with gastroenterologist, Dr. Will Bulsiewicz. Read on to learn about the best diet for gut health, how we acquire the gut microbiome and the 3 things that are crushing our gut health in this modern era.
The Gut Microbiome Ecosystem
70 million Americans suffer from a digestive related issue
The magic word for our ecosystem is “biodiversity”. We have to think about this because it affects any ecosystem. It doesn't matter if we are talking about a large ecosystem like the forest fires in Australia or the Amazon rainforest or on a microscopic level inside of us right now. Our gut is as much of an ecosystem as the amazon rainforest. Unfortunately, the same thing that we see that is happening to our forests, is happening inside of us in the 21st century. We haven't been taking care of our gut!
It is so intuitive when you think about it. With any ecosystem, it could be a forest or the soil, as soon as we decimate the biodiversity of that ecosystem it loses its resilience. The gut is akin to a soil environment, it is like having soil inside the body. -Kriben Govender
There is this beautiful thing that exists: the circle of life. We are just a part of it. We can look at ourselves as these big strong humans thinking that we are the masters of our terrain.... We can cut down trees and destroy our ecosystem. But at the end of the day, we are going to hurt ourselves if we look at the world in that way. We need to look at the fact that we fit in with everything else in life that is out there. You need healthy soil to have food, you need healthy food for healthy humans and then healthy humans can go out and create new fresh healthy soil through our processes. That is the circle of life that we need to promote.
I spent time with a guy that is one of the pioneers in this space. It was staggering to see the process. He has very small flocks of cows and he rotates the paddocks so he uses this regenerative agriculture process. He uses the techniques to foster and maintain a healthy ecosystem. We also talked about mycorrhizal fungi and incorporating that into practice to extend the roots out and get more yield and more biodiversity in the soil. One of the biggest stressors on an animal is the process of slaughtering. His premise is to have mobile slaughtering. The animal is slaughtered on the plot itself. It is very comfortable in its environment and it is done humanely. It also maintains that ecosystem so it is not damaging like a massive confined feedlot system where it is very detrimental to the planet. This is small scale and more friendly for the planet. -Kriben Govender
I am a plant-based guy because the science that I was reading led me. I lost 50 pounds by following the path that I lay out in my book, Fiber Fueled. But I am not saying there is only one way to be healthy. I know that we will not wake up one day and the world will be 100% vegan BUT I would love to encourage people to move a little bit more in the plant-based direction.
I am a science guy and I want a healthy planet, I have young children and I am scared to see what the planet will be like for my grandchildren. We need to think about these things and be able to support all dietary types. I don't think that we should be creating regenerative agriculture that supports only one dietary type because like I said, the world is never going to be 100% vegan or carnivore. We need to invest in science. This will help invest in our planet and find legitimate solutions. We need real science and need to heal the planet. We have been bogging down our soil with:
So you may be able to grow a genetically modified plant but you are killing all of the other life around it. It is not just the life we can see with our eyes, it's the life that is on a microscopic level that matters so much not just to the soil but to our own microbiome health.
I support any dietary regime out there because I think to each their own. Diets are almost like a religion. We can fall back on science. Science is what is going to lead us. -Kriben Govender
How Do We Acquire The Microbiome?
In a perfect world, a child passes through the birth canal and in that process picks up the vaginal flora. It is fascinating because the vaginal flora in pregnancy will start to change and shift to be more similar to mom's gut microbiome later in the term. If you take a newborn and you track them out over the course of years, by the time they are 2-3 years they have a fully formed adult-sized gut microbiome. There are so many important elements that come into play during that time. For example:
- Where is the child playing? Outside in dirt or inside in a hyper sterile home that is a wasteland for microbes.
- What is the child eating? Are they breastfed? It was developed through 3 million years of human evolution to design itself to sustain new life. There are things about it that we don't even understand. We now know that there are over 200 varieties of Human Milk Oligosaccharides. They have zero nutritional value for the child but they are designed to feed the microbiome and bifidobacteria. You see the growth of the bifidobacteria as a result of breastfeeding the child. The point is that there is a vulnerable period from the time of birth until 2 and whether it is performing C-section, not breastfeeding, or giving antibiotics- the result is the same across the board:
-Increased risk of obesity
-Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
-Increased risk of autoimmune disease
-Increased risk of allergic conditions
The immune system needs our gut microbiome to develop properly and if we disrupt it during that vulnerable period of time then those things will carry over into adulthood.
Exposure to these microbes is what is going to prime the innate immune system. It needs data, to train B cells, and T cells and needs to have interaction with these microbes. I think we are seeing a prevalence of these auto-immune dysfunctions because we have sterilized everything. There is not as much interaction with the outside world or the dirt to actually prime and train the immune system. Then you end up with autoimmune dysfunctions. -Kriben Govender
I think that the scary thing is maybe the child who was born by C-Section is also bottle-fed, then fed processed foods, and they spend all their time indoors in a hyper sterile environment. Then they get ear infections and we blast them with antibiotics. **Both my children were born by C-Section, we didn’t want it that way but both of them have been healthy. I am not saying they won't be healthy!*
The Importance of Plant Foods in the Gut?
The microbiome is this community of invisible microbes that are as alive as you and me. They cover us from the top of our heads to the tip of our toes but they are concentrated in our gut. Your gut is almost the epicenter of human health. All health starts there and it branches out. It is more than digestive health it is:
-Your immune system
-The way you feel,
-Some may argue it’s even your personality
-It is your metabolism. Think of the person who eats all the right food and can't lose weight compared to the person who eats whatever they want and they are still skinny. They have a good gut microbiome.
It is our hormones and the way we express our genes
All of that is concentrated in this one location. And we have outsourced it to our microbiome. You want to optimise those microbes to play in your favor and you have to think about your life projected out over 80-100 years. You can do a diet for 3 months and it is not going to kill you in 3 months. But if you are one of the people who has a heart attack in their 50’s, you’ll never be able to take back the fact that you did that diet. That is the reality of the matter.
We have to think about what is the diet that is going to prolong the longevity of our lives in our 80’s-100’s. To me, that is an anti-inflammatory diet. The way we accomplish that is through our gut. Using prebiotics.
Probiotics is the capsule that has the living organisms
Prebiotics is the fertilizer for the healthy anti-inflammatory microbes in our gut. There was a study that a prebiotic diet consisting of fructooligosaccharides: inulin, (prebiotic) on a daily basis improved sleep.
When you feed them they grow stronger, multiple, and unpack the prebiotics (soluble fibre, resistant starch) and release short-chain fatty acids like:
These are the anti-inflammatory molecules. If you want to:
-Control your immune system
-Reverse leaky gut
-Improve your mood
Get short-chain fatty acids. It’s amazing what they do within the whole body from your brain down to your gut. From my perspective, I see this connection between our gut and food. When we eat fibre enriched foods (plants, seeds, nuts, whole grains) they are rewarding us with the currency of gut health. Which is short-chain fatty acids!
You need biodiversity to create the most benefits for your gut microbiome. When we lose it, that is when disease shows up. Correlating biodiversity to the way that we live and eat, what is our best option? Is a vegan diet the healthiest thing for our gut? The answer in the biggest gut health study to date was no. The single greatest predictor of a healthy gut microbiome was the diversity of plants in your diet. When you have diversity in your diet you get diversity in your microbiome!
A lot of the early studies were done with 16s technology but where it’s moving now is a bit more of a higher resolution. If you want to learn more about this you can read this blog post HERE with the expert on this, Prof Philip Hugenholtz. It is now moving to a higher resolution snapshot of what's happening in the gut. This is called whole-genome sequencing. They use the Kegg database to work out what is happening from a metabolite perspective. -Kriben Govender
It is not the makeup of the microbiome or the makeup of your diet that matters. What matters is the metabolites. What your microbiome produces for you is what is going to make the difference. The microbiome is not set in stone. I like saying, the gut is a muscle, it can be trained. It may have certain strengths and it may have certain weaknesses. If you take your weaknesses and you start low and go slow, you can train your gut and make that a strength. It is entirely possible and adaptable.
Short-chain acids are one example of postbiotics. Postbiotics meaning health-promoting molecules. Most people talk about the health benefits of polyphenols. But it’s not the polyphenols in their native state. It's the polyphenols after they have been metabolized by your microbiome that have the healing effects.
80% of the polyphenols are not metabolized by you. A classic example would be pomegranate. It is very rich in polyphenols but it is the postbiotics that the bacteria make out of these polyphenols. This elicits a lot of benefits when it comes to mitochondrial health. The other ones that are of key importance are short-chain fatty acids, neurotransmitters, and LPS.-Kriben Govender
LPS and Inflammation
This is also referred to as bacterial endotoxin but more commonly, inflammation. It can be anything from:
A low grade, low burn, smoldering inflammation. The type of thing that can cause heart disease 40-50 years from now.
Or it can be the extreme opposite. Someone who doesn’t know where they are, is delirious, and their oxygen levels are dropping. What I am describing is a person in septic shock. Septic shock is due to a massive surge in LPS.
People don't realize that our gut, although it is the deepest part of our body, is outward-facing. It is a tube where we interact with our environment. And it is where we are most vulnerable and need the most protection. We have this wall that is built in our gut to protect us from these unhealthy bacteria like E.coli and Salmonella. These gram-negative bacteria release the LPS.
We all have them because they are part of our ecosystem. They are going to release it but the question is, does it get through to the bloodstream? The answer is, what is going on with the tight junctions? When we talk about leaky gut, this is what we are referring to. When the tight junctions break down, you create channels between the cells that bind and you allow the release of this LPS into the bloodstream.
How Do We Diagnose Leaky Gut?
In the medical field, we don't acknowledge leaky gut but we do acknowledge dysbiosis. This describes a state in the gut where there are 3 things:
Number 1: there is a loss of balance in the gut. Many times this is a loss of diversity. Less good guys more bad guys.
Number 2: Increase in intestinal permeability. This is synonymous with saying leaky gut.
Number 3: Release of bacterial endotoxin.
This is all dysbiosis. And there is not a real accurate test to determine this. People can look down on the expression of “leaky gut” but dysbiosis is the same thing. I would also caution people when they are talking about any health information to be careful who your source is! When you go on the internet, 97% of what is out there, the person is not qualified to talk about this (yes, even with hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers!)
I read about 5 papers a day. The microbiome research is so hot right now, there are so many studies coming out it's hard to even keep up with it. You need to invest time into reading every day. -Kriben Govender
80% of the studies have come out in the last 5 years. There are more than 30 studies a day that come out in regards to the microbiome. If you're going to learn on the internet you need to be a smart shopper, if not you are going to hurt yourself because there is a lot of bad information.
The microbiome space is evolving. So as we shift more from 16s studies to whole-genome sequencing, the resolution is far more enhanced. You are going from the genus level to sub species analysis. Then compound that with the fact that we are just about to reclassify lactobacillus. A lot of these studies may become obsolete. This is how fast technology is moving. The microbiome is all based on technology since we are using computers to analyze most of it. This evolves at a rapid rate. -Kriben Govender
Should We Wait For More Research To Come Out To Start Working On Our Gut Health?
The studies say that when we make a discovery it takes 17 years to make it into the medical clinic.
You don't need to wait 10 years to change your gut, you don't need to wait for us to do more studies to work on your gut health. We have studies right now that show us that diet and lifestyle are the most powerful drivers of the constitution of your gut environment. If you are waiting for a supplement or a pill that is going to fix your gut health issues it's never going to work.
You can take a C- gut and take a supplement to make it a C but if you want an A you have to be prepared to change your diet and lifestyle. No matter where you are right now there are basic general rules that we can follow that lead to a healthier gut!
You can implement the changes you need immediately. In prior eras, it would be a minimum of 10-20 years from research to mainstream adoption with this information. But the internet has allowed us to connect and get this information so much faster. -Kriben Govender
What Is Crushing Our Gut in the Industrial World?
Number 1: Antibiotics. They save lives in situations where we need it but now we got into a situation where we introduced these antibiotic compounds widely throughout our whole food chain. Most of the antibiotics aren't coming from the doctor, they are coming through the food supply, mostly meat. They have figured out when you feed an animal antibiotics it gives it 15% more mass. But what happens when you inoculate the whole system with antibiotics? The meat you are consuming is having an impact on what's happening in the microbial community in the gut.
Number 2: Rhythmicity. This has to do with your circadian rhythms. The time of day that you eat, but also the blue light from LED screens (you can get blue light blocking glasses, HERE.) Whether it's the energy-saving bulbs or your computer screen at night. That is signaling to the body that it is the middle of the day. It also suppresses melatonin. (To combat this, getting sunlight exposure in the day sets rhythmicity.) So the body is confused, the microbiome (which has its own circadian rhythm!) is also confused. There is a clock inside of the brain called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus which sets the timing for the whole body. Then there is signaling with the actual microbiome as well through the gene expression. There are differences in the microbiome composition throughout the different parts of the day. So imagine the confusion in the body’s clock.
Number 3: Fibre Deficiency. In the United States, 97% of Americans are not getting the minimum amount of fibre daily. When we complete fibre studies, one of the ways we will do this is breaking a population up into quartiles and we will compare high fibre consumers to low fibre consumers.
If you look at the high fibre consumers, they are still getting less than the recommended minimum amount. Dr. Justin Sonnenberg did a study on mice and he looked at what happens if you expose the mice to a fibre deprived diet over three generations. Then what happens if you reintroduce it at some point throughout those generations.
These were germ free mice that they put a human microbiome into. When they put them on a low fibre diet, they saw that they lost diversity in the gut microbiome that compounded over generations:
If Grandma has 1200 species of bacteria in her gut but by the time she had mom that low fibre diet has led her to 900 that means..
The mom starts at 900 then mom is on a low fibre diet and she goes to 600 that means…
The daughter is starting at 600….
Sonnenburg found that if you reintroduce fibre early enough you can get the diversity back, if you wait too long, the microbiomes are gone permanently and we don't know how to get it back in those settings. We don’t know if a fecal transplant would do it either. There is also a stool deposits that was set up by Jack Gilbert. They are taking stool samples from native tribal people and they are storing them because they don’t know if one day this is the only thing that will save our planet.
This study highlights the dilution potential of the microbiome in future generations in a mice setting and the generations happen quickly. There is a risk for us as a society to gradually lose more and more as we move from generation to generation. The premise is that as we lose diversity in the gut and as our understanding improves there may be strains that they isolate. It is smart to maintain these things before we lose them, especially in the tribal regions. Because as the tribes move to more processed styles of eating it it highly likely that they are going to lose the diversity-Kriben Govender
Jet Lag and Shift workers
There is clear cut data that we have known for years that these people are prone to:
Many of these conditions improve with fasting. We can see in the gut microbiome when we are sleep deprived (which to me, exposure to blue light IS making yourself sleep-deprived) it doesn’t matter how many hours you attempt to rest. It is not high-quality sleep. When you are sleep deprived there is a shift in the microbiome towards something that is more prone to obesity, energy extraction, and insulin resistance.
Diversity is the biggest factor in the health of your gut. Remember to get in your daily fibre intake to get those short-chain fatty acids, use blue blocker glasses at night, and try to eat less commercialized meat. There are many ways we can improve our gut health starting now. Share this with a friend that would benefit from this information!