Keep on neglecting your neighbors, and that neglect may eventually kill you. I’m not talking about your next-door neighbor - I’m talking about neighbors that live even closer to you. I’m talking about all the microorganisms living inside your gut! We, as a species, didn’t evolve on our own; we evolved alongside a plethora of microorganisms over millions of years, and now these organisms inhabit our gastrointestinal tract. We are stuck in a symbiotic relationship with these microorganisms. Prepare yourself for a crash course on the importance of these neighbors.
I will be referring to all the microorganisms inhabiting your gastrointestinal tract as the human gut microbiome. There can be anywhere from 10 to 100 trillion microorganisms inhabiting the gastrointestinal tract at once! Infact, host cells are outnumbered by a factor of 10 to 1 by these microorganisms – our body is dominated by these microorganisms. All individuals on Earth have their own unique and diverse gut microbiome, which is influenced largely by diet, age, and the way you were born.
The human gut microbiome consists of a plethora of microorganisms to carry out three essential functions vital to human health. It provides direct defense against harmful pathogens and helps in training the developing immune system in all human beings. The bacteria in the gut outcompete other foreign pathogens for other nutrients in the gut and secrete several compounds that kill or inhibit these pathogens. The human gut microbiome also provides fortification for the host’s defense system by kickstarting the body’s ability to produce antibodies and help convert indigestible compounds obtained from food into energy; without the bacteria found in the gut, human beings would be unable to utilize undigested carbohydrates brought in by the food they eat.
I started this post with the line “Keep on neglecting your neighbors and that neglect may eventually kill you,” but what exactly does “neglect” to the gut look like? Neglect of the gut comes in the form of dysbiosis, which is a fancy way to say that your gut microbiome is out of whack. Dysbiosis has been linked to a variety of health problems; autoimmune diseases, cognitive diseases, cancer, infertility, coeliac disease, allergies, asthma, cardiovascular ailments, obesity, diabetes, and a plethora more. Dysbiosis shows that our health is intrinsically linked with our gut health, and not the other way around. But what contributes to the occurrence of dysbiosis? Largely, it is a byproduct of poor dieting. Now you might be wondering, have I ever exhibited poor dieting? Just try answering some of these questions, and we shall find out!
· Have you ever consumed fast food?
· Have you ever consumed sugary drinks or snacks?
· Do you eat corn-fed meat products?
If you said “yes” to any of the following questions, then yes, you are exhibiting poor dieting for your gut! Even if some of the scenarios listed in the questions above were just one-time occurrences, there have been studies that have shown that the gut microbiome can be altered rapidly based on changes in diet. One study led by Lawrence A. David showed that the composition of an individual’s gastrointestinal tract can be altered in just one day of that individual following a diet consisting of all plant products or animal products. It really puts into perspective the kind of damage you can do to your gut after you rationalize the idea that a quick fast food meal wouldn’t be so bad. Most Americans are poor dieters, largely due to the fact that since birth, we have been steered towards adopting a “western diet,” which is characterized by high consumption of red meat, dairy products, processed and artificially sweetened foods, with minimal consumption of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, etc. Basically, most Americans are consuming foods that are devoid of any good macronutrients and consist of primarily empty calories. In a study conducted by Peter J. Turnbaugh, he found that humanized mice (mice whose gut microbiome was altered to reflect that of humans) that were fed a western diet exhibited an increase in adiposity, a fancy way of saying that the mice gained more body fat once switched to a western diet, which could be observed as a model reflecting the rise of obesity in America. Poor diet, specifically the western diet, significantly contributes to dysbiosis, and by that effect, is the biggest enemy to good human health.
This might be a lot to take in all at once. Believe me, I was left quite stunned by how essential it is to keep our gut happy and healthy, and by the outcomes brought about by neglecting our gut. If you’re wondering how you can take better care of your gut, well wonder no more. If you’re eating organically and ensuring that your meat is grass-fed, then you are already on the right path towards a happy and healthy gut! Congratulations!
Organic foods provide all the right types of macronutrients needed to keep all your micro-neighbors fully functioning while grass-fed meats will be devoid of the antibiotics that are present within corn-fed meats – studies have shown that antibiotics can disturb the gut microbiome, which could steadily lead towards dysbiosis. Healthy gut is linked to a healthy diet, and as such, Dr. Josh Axe suggests more people should consume fresh vegetables, whole fruits, healthy fats (like coconut oil, extra virgin oil, etc.), cage-free eggs, and even consuming red wine and dark chocolate (in moderation) can help contribute to a healthier gut microbiome! He also suggests that people use antibiotics only when necessary, exercise, and take supplements that can help contribute to a healthier gut microbiome. Now, if you are an individual who may exhibit characteristics of being overweight and notice that you aren’t getting healthier as fast as your other friend who is following the same healthy diet as you, don’t be discouraged - not everyone’s gut takes in the same amount of nutrients from food! So long as you’re still following a healthy diet that keeps your gut and the micro-neighbors that inhabit your gut happy, then good health will soon come your way! Your health and the health of your gut microbiome are intrinsically linked, and more people need to pay attention to this relationship if they want to live longer, healthier lives.