The Importance of the Microbiome

Before heading on a much-needed trip to Hawaii for two weeks after finishing school, I decided to stock up on a few books for reading on the plane and on the beach. It’s one of my favorite things to do actually. Walking into a bookstore to pick out what I’d like to read. I feel like it’s how some might feel when they walk into a wine store. So much selection…might be good, might be bad…will enjoy it either way. However, I always feel a little regret because I find it hard to part with my money for books I’ll only take a day or two to read. I actually started and finished one of the books I chose on the plane. That’s what happens when there is no longer in-flight tv!!!

I just finished my second book and haven’t wanted to start the third one until I managed to write a post about it. The book I read is called Brain Maker and the author is Dr. David Perlmutter. The book discusses the burgeoning topic of gut microbes and their potential effects on your brain. Sexy, I know. However, I have heard about these little beasties before in various podcasts, but had never really paid too much attention to the topic. To my detriment, apparently. Although, I found the punch line of the book to be very repetitive, this may help increase the impact of the message for people less knowledgeable about the subject matter. What would I know though, I’ve never written a book. Regardless, I enjoyed learning about the importance of gut microbes when it comes to health and not just what types of conditions they can improve, but more important to me, HOW they come to help these conditions. Since the science is fairly new, not all of the answers are found in this book (or in current literature), and you’re just going to have to take your lumps with that. What I really appreciated though was the fact that this book makes you feel like you can actively DO something about your current health and potential future health. There are relatively inexpensive (and non-pharmaceutical) ways to help promote a healthy gut and that makes me excited!!! This is a very new and exciting area of science and I definitely feel that it’s worth picking up this book in order to gain even one more way you can beneficially impact your health.

Here is a general list of the types of problems that Dr. Perlmutter says can be helped by promoting or balancing gut microbes:

  • ADHD
  • Asthma
  • Autism
  • Allergies and food sensitivities
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Mood disorders, including depression and anxiety
  • Diabetes
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Memory problems and poor concentration
  • Chronic constipation or diarrhea
  • Colds or infections
  • Intestinal disorders (celiac, IBS, Crohn’s disease)
  • Insomnia
  • Arthritis or join pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Yeast problems
  • Acne and eczema
  • Bad breath, gum disease, and dental problems
  • Extreme PMS or menopausal symptoms

With the increased prevalence of every single one of these conditions, I think looking at the importance of gut microbes may be a very significant first step to helping those who suffer from them (or for preventing them). At first glance this list looks pretty extensive. How can gut microbes affect diabetes, autism, and acne? Well, it all simplifies to a few significant points:

The type and quantity of various microbes in your gut

The various strains and numbers of microbes in your gut can generally be an indication of how you’ve lived your life up to that point. Three different “forces” are thought to promote ‘bad belly bugs’ (as Dr. Perlmutter refers to them)

  1. Exposure to substances that may kill or adversely affect the bacteria. These can include: having taken antibiotics (which are meant to kill bacteria), exposure to environmental chemicals (pesticides, residual chlorine in water), and dietary factors such as eating gluten or sugar.
  2. Lack of exposure to substances that promote good belly bugs (found to be a number of fermented foods)
  3. Stress

Inflammation

This is a biggie and is a cause for more health problems than only those listed above. Inflammation can be a double-edged sword when it comes to health. It is most notably known to be the body’s healing response, and is associated with responses such as redness, swelling, itching and heat (think mosquito bites or a sore throat). However, it has been shown that inflammation can continue to exist in the body after it is necessary and it is this inflammation that can lead to illness instead of healing.

As an example, Dr. Perlmutter explains how recent scientific literature shows a very strong correlation between high blood sugar and the development of dementia. How is this related to inflammation, you might ask? Elevated blood sugar levels cause inflammation in the bloodstream since excess sugar can be toxic to the body. Additionally, elevated blood sugar triggers a reaction called glycation “the biological process by which sugar binds to proteins and certain fats, resulting in deformed molecules that don’t function well”. These deformed molecules are not recognized by the body, resulting in an inflammatory response.

“Leaky Gut”

This term didn’t show up in my vocabulary until about 2 years ago. I had no idea what the term meant and assumed it had to do with increasing the permeability of your gut, but what I didn’t understand was why this was bad (call me behind the times if you want). Dr. Perlmutter does an excellent job of explaining leaky gut. To define it simply, it is when the junctions between your intestinal cells aren’t functioning properly (ie. they aren’t as tight as they should be), thereby letting through molecules, pathogens, or what-have-you into your blood that shouldn’t be there. Again, since the body may not recognize some of these over-sized or unidentified compounds, they react using an inflammatory response. There are a number of causes for this condition, including gliadin, a protein found in gluten as well as antibiotics, steroids, and pain relievers (like aspirin and acetaminophen).

Ultimately, leaky gut and inflammation can cause negative impacts on the brain. I have, admittedly, only provided a very simplified and non-encompassing overview of the book and it’s contents, since I feel that it is for you to read and would take far too long to write about it a blog post. I have written this in an attempt to promote interest in the subject matter, since it is so new and exciting to think about. I am not saying this book has the equivalent to a vaccine for every health problem. It provides potential solutions that, unlike pharmaceuticals, you can try and which may not work, but will at least not cause negative health effects. It is also for those of you who don’t suffer from any of the listed conditions but who just want to ensure that your guts are as healthy as the rest of you.

Ways that you can promote a healthy gut

A few of the suggested ways in which you can feed your healthy microbiome are mentioned below:

Consume foods high in probiotics. These foods include fermented foods such as Kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles (in brine, not vinegar), tempeh, and kefir (to name only a few). What makes fermentation so special? Well, the fermentation process converts carbohydrates (like sugars) into either alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids. This process requires the presence of bacteria, yeast, or both, which proliferate and which you then consume (awesome!). The most common type of fermentation is called lactic acid fermentation.

You can also take probiotics by capsule, but if you do, ensure they contain the following strains: Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus brevis, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Bifidobacterium longum. Try to consume probiotics as capsules in addition to a diet rich in probiotic foods.

Remove gluten from your diet, as the protein gliadin acts to increase leaky gut (for further information I would suggest reading his book Grain Brain, which I myself haven’t read).

Drink filtered water to remove the chlorine. Or, if you’re like me and too cheap to buy a filter (also an environmental problem if you think about the disposable ones) or have good quality water with chlorine as the only concern, you can leave drinking water in an open container for at least 30 minutes to let the chlorine evaporate and then drink or use it or boil it and used when cooled.

Wow. This was a long one folks. I hope you took something from this post and I hope you go out and buy the book or borrow it from a friend. Just so you know I don’t have an affiliation with any companies or individuals and both bought and read this book for my own personal interest. Let me know what you think of it and if it has helped the health of you or someone you know. I, for one, have started making my own kombucha and water kefir and plan on making pickles and kimchi soon.

Acai Berry Kombucha

An excellent blog post on making homemade kombucha is found here:

honest beans – kombucha

Some of my favorite flavors are ginger, mint, hibiscus, orange spice, chai, pineapple, and basil. The list is endless.  With a little imagination you can try any mixture of fruits, herbs, and spices.

A website where you can order water kefir or kombucha SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) if interested is found here:

poseymom – order kefir or SCOBY