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Deep dive on gut health and the microbiome
Over the last month I’ve been on a gut-health focused diet.
This diet is based on a gut intelligence test I did with Viome. So, I thought it was good timing to dive in deeper to learn more.
I was surprised to see the test recommend that I give up some nutrient dense foods. For example, I’m temporarily giving up kale and broccoli to reduce some specific functions in my gut.
I will get back to the testing aspect later, for now let’s learn why you should care about your microbiome…
What is your microbiome?
There are multiple microbiomes, but today we’ll focus on your gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms that live primarily in your small and large intestines. There are thousands of species of bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites living inside you. You are actually made up of more bacteria cells than you are human cells.
These microbiota are responsible for tons of daily operations in your body and can even be thought of as an organ.
For most people, their microbiome is introduced at birth, through the birth canal, then through breastfeeding. But, if you were born via C-section and/or were not breastfed you are likely missing some of these crucial microbiota.
From there, your microbiome is largely formed through your diet and environment.
Grew up on a farm? Your microbiome is likely healthier and more diverse.
Humans and microorganisms evolved to live together over millions of years. This relationship can be symbiotic (beneficial to both you and your microbes) or pathogenic (promoting disease).
The goal is to get your gut into a balanced state of symbiosis, where everyone is happy.
That’s not easy, but it’s a worthy effort…
How does the microbiome impact your health?
I can’t wait to write more newsletters on this topic, but for today it’ll be an overview.
Your microbiota are responsible for many things that you’d think we’d do on our own, including impacting your circadian rhythm, metabolism and immune system.
Here are a few of the crucial functions…
Your microbiome loves fiber. You can’t digest it, but they can.
The fiber you consume feeds your microbes, and in return they break them down and ferment them into beneficial short chain fatty acids (SCFA).
These SCFA help your body regulate appetite, prevent leaky gut, reduce inflammation and more. Your body couldn’t break down the fiber into SFCA without your microbiome.
“…the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA) that can be used by the body…in muscle function and possibly the prevention of chronic diseases, including certain cancers and bowel disorders. Clinical studies have shown that SCFA may be useful in the treatment of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and antibiotic-associated diarrhea.” – Harvard School of Public Health
Making your immune system stronger
70-80% of your immune system resides in your gut.
From the moment you’re born, your microbiome is responsible for teaching your immune system the difference between good and bad. The microbiota actually send signals to your immune system to promote healthy immune responses.
“…the gut microbiome acts as a gatekeeper and a trainer. It teaches immune cells called T-cells to distinguish foreign entities from our own tissue. When antibodies cannot access certain pathogens that have managed to attack our cells, T-cells mediate the situation and destroy infected cells.” –Gilter Lab
When the communication between your immune system cells and your microbiota is strong, your immune system becomes stronger. A breakdown in communication can lead to negative impacts on your health.
The microbiome-immune system interactions are implicated in gastrointestinal diseases including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and celiac diseases, as well as extra-intestinal disorders ranging from rheumatic arthritis, metabolic syndrome, and neurodegenerative disorder (Source: Nature).
Your second brain
The gut is sometimes referred to as the second brain. This is because your gut and your brain are closely linked. There is even a book about it.
This link travels in two directions: from your brain to your gut, and from your gut to your brain. Anxiety can cause gut issues, but gut issues can also cause anxiety.
Ever heard of nervous poops? Heightened anxiety in your brain can increase the serotonin production in your gut, causing a bowl movement (source).
I’ve experienced this on every climbing trip I’ve every taken.
There is another side to this too. Your microbiome can produce neurotransmitters to influence your mood, concentration, and motivation.
“Scientists have found that gut bacteria produce many other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and GABA, which are critical for mood, anxiety, concentration, reward, and motivation. The gut microbiome can cause changes in how our brains react.” – Psychology Today
So, all the more reason to take this seriously…
How can you support your microbiome?
Your microbiome is impacted by a lot of your dietary and lifestyle choices. I’m going to give a few specific recommendations here, but there are some great recs in this article too.
- Prebiotics: These are basically high-fiber foods that act as food for your microbiome. Artichokes, leeks, and garlic are examples of prebiotics.
- Probiotics: These are foods that are high in live bacteria which help populate a thriving microbiome. Kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir are all great options. You can even find probiotic and prebiotic supplements, but look for something high quality.
- Intermittent fasting: Occasional fasting gives your microbiome a much needed rest.
- Eating a variety of foods: Getting a wider variety of foods in your diet will help you create a more diverse population of microbes which is good for the overall health of your gut.
- Limiting pesticides, GMO food, and antibiotics: Pesticides and antibiotics are literally made to kill microbes. Occasionally, you may really need an antibiotic, but overuse is bad for your gut. Eating organic is a double whammy because these foods will contain more bacteria for your gut and you’ll also avoid the bacteria-killing pesticides that are bad for your gut.
All of these recommendations are generic and are likely to work well for most people.
At the same time, your microbiome is very unique to you and to really get your health in check you might want to try a more personalized approach. That’s what I’ve been testing this month…
Personalized microbiome protocols
There are lots of companies out there today using brand new technology to identify the makeup of your microbiome, and then making personalized recommendations for your diet and supplementation.
I’ve tried two of them, but the one I’d recommend most is Viome. It’s more advanced than the other one I tried, which is Thryve.
Viome does both a microbiome test and a gene expression test to see how your genes are responding. Then you can optionally order personalized probiotics, prebiotics, and supplements from them based on your results.
This test is how I learned that I should actually be avoiding broccoli and kale right now, and eating more pomegranate and artichokes. So I’m doing just that until my next test in a few months.
I found the information really valuable, but I can’t yet say confidently that the new diet and supplements are working for me. Gut health is not something that can be fixed overnight so I’m not expecting it to be a quick fix either.
These Viome links are affiliate links so if you choose to order a kit from Viome you would help me buy a coffee next week 🙂 I never recommend products that I haven’t tried and found valuable myself.
I like to cook up sugar snap peas pretty often. A lot of the time I’ll saute them, but I wanted to keep their crunchy texture in this recipe so this recipe keeps them raw in a simple marinade.
We used this as a side and paired it with salmon. You could pair this with this Sriracha Salmon recipe.
- 1 lb snap peas 1/4 inch slices
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1 shallot chopped
- 2 Tbls soy sauce
- 1 Tbls extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 Tbls rice wine vinegar
- red chili flakes optional
➡️For the next recipe, let me know if you’re more interested in a Burmese style chick pea tofu recipe OR another salmon recipe. You can @ me on instagram or just email me back!
- Listen: This is the podcast that made me decide to splurge on the Viome test above. It’s a good overview of how this all works.
- Read: The best thing you can do after boredom eating.
Thanks to all who read this far! I appreciate you.
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