Summer Health Series #1 Recap: Microbiome & Gut Diversity


Last week we talked gut health at our free health classes. Follow the recap below:

By now, we all know that 70-80% of our immune system is in our gut. We know the importance of good gut bacteria and the problems associated with leaky gut but is there a time for probiotics or where do they fit? The answer is clearly….yes, no, and maybe!

Just a few years ago research showed that our guts were in dysfunction and needed more of the good bacteria. Hence, the probiotic trend began. While it’s awesome that conventional medicine now recognizes the need, it quickly became take a pill without regard to how to obtain with foods or the diversity of the probiotic recommended.  Without the education of how or when to use probiotics, we now may have tilted the bacteria culture to another extreme and created a monoculture.

We are far from understanding a lot about our microbiome but there has been research that suggests a correlation between certain conditions and gut bacteria. Some of that research suggests that our mood, depression, ability to lose weight, compromised immune systems, diabetes, and even autism are all connected to the diversity of our guts. 

One study demonstrated that induced stress in mice resulted in a pretty significant drop in a microbe called Lactobacillus and altered mood but once Lactobacillus was reintroduced, the mood returned to normal.

Mental Health Daily listed Lactobacillus, along with 9 other bacterial strains, for depression and anxiety.

A recent study at Yale, identified a bacteria Enterococcus gallinarum that creates an autoimmune response which was able to be reversed by reducing the bacteria in the body.

Research at the National Academy of Science demonstrated the correlation of the bacteria Akkermansia muciniphila, which normally makes up 3-5% of gut bacteria, had lower levels in those obese. Mice in the study also had lower levels of insulin resistance, a symptom of Type-2 diabetes.

According to Science Daily website, scientists found a link between Lactobacillus (L.) reuteri and social behavior in autism.

The optimal gut bacteria is between 20,000-30,000 species but most of us struggle to hit 10,000 different species. Diversity is imperative and the greater the diversity, the healthier the microbiome. There are currently several companies that test your microbiome and although that is a step in the right direction, there is much room for improvement. For example, if you have to wait months to get results, your microbiome may have changed significantly. Some only test for a few known bacteria and the levels they represent in the gut. However, if there are as many bacteria as science suggests, this type of test is only analyzing a portion of your gut diversity. 

Why do we have such a low diversity of gut bacteria? The world in which live exposes us to all kinds of good and bad bacteria. Your microbiome is greatly influenced by the food you eat, the water you drink, the supplements and prescriptions you take. Round-Up/Glyphosate is currently in Federal Court in California defending themselves against claims that the product attacks vital gut bacteria. There has been a correlation between glyphosate and the rise of certain diseases.

Probiotics are definitely a great tool in health and wellness but consider that most probiotics deliver somewhere between 35 to 50 million CFUs of only a few species then it isn’t difficult to see that before long we have created an environment that is anything but diverse. Much like farming our land or the lack of crop diversity to feed the microbes in the soil, we are doing the same to our microbiome. It takes diversity to feed the soil that feeds the food that we consume but given that we have robbed the soil of those microbes, it’s more important than ever to make sure we feed our microbiome a diverse diet. 

Many of us may be operating in a state of fear because we remember how bad we felt before we began taking probiotics and are fearful that if we give up the very probiotic that gave us relief, then we may start feeling worse. This isn’t true. We need to consume a diverse variety of probiotics in wild-fermented foods that feed our gut well, work on healing our leaky guts and if we choose, to supplement with probiotics, then it is a necessity that we rotate the strains of probiotics we take.

Wild-fermented foods offer a lot of excellent, healthful and diverse organisms to feed our gut bacteria. Make your own or choose foods that are wild-fermented, meaning that the fermentation process is done as it has been done for thousands of years. Wild-fermentation is simply a salt brine created to place a shredded vegetable(s) which is then placed in a ceramic pot covered with a semi-permeable cloth that allows for all sort of microbiome from the environment to seed the fermentation process. Kombucha is all the rage but make sure you find a brand that is wild-fermented, make your own, or rotate brands.

Other sources of bacteria that feed our microbiome come from our environment. Be sure and breathe the air, especially in natural settings, go barefoot on the Earth, eat low on the food chain, spend some time with your pet, be sensible about hygiene but don’t go surgical room clean. An overly sterile environment may kill the bad guys but it also kills the good guys. Ditch the hand sanitizer and switch to regular non-toxic soap and water. Turns out we need those bacteria to be healthy and happy. There really is a gut-brain connection but that’s a discussion for another day.

Prebiotics vs probiotics: what’s the difference?

Prebiotics are a type of fiber that your body can’t digest, which feeds the good bacteria in the digestive system. Prebiotic fiber survives past the enzymes and acid in our stomachs and reaches the colon where the gut microflora gobble it up and ferment it. 

Probiotics are live bacteria found in some foods and supplements. Some of the most common species are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, and within each species, there are strains that have different functions. Probiotics keep the bad bacteria in the gut under control, help our bodies get more of the nutrients from the foods we eat, reduce inflammation, support the immune system and lower risk of disease.

What role does diet play in gut health?

Our food influences the number and types of bacteria grow in our gut. If you’re constantly eating sugar and processed foods, or foods that are contaminated with pesticides and herbicides, it’s far more likely that the bad bacteria will grow. Over time, that can mean candida and yeast overgrowth, and if you’ve ever dealt with either, you’ll know they’re not fun!

Antibiotics can also throw things off balance because if you’ve taken them several times in the past, there’s a good chance that a lot of the good bacteria were wiped out with the bad guys.

The great news: Switching up your diet to replace sugary and processed foods with whole foods is a super effective way to ensure you’re growing plenty of good bacteria while keeping the bad guys away.

Where do I find more prebiotics?

Don’t worry- you don’t have to buy another supplement because you can get plenty of prebiotic fiber through foods! Here are a few of the best sources:

  • Asparagus

  • Acacia powder

  • berries

  • bananas

  • beans + legumes

  • blue-green algae

  • cabbage

  • chicory root

  • dandelion greens

  • garlic

  • Jerusalem artichokes

  • Jicama

  • leeks

  • onions

  • peas

  • vegetable powders from Dr. Cowan’s Garden

Note that the cooked versions of some of these foods (such as onions) have less prebiotic fiber, but if it comes to cooked or not at all, go for cooked!

Where do I find more probiotics?

The process of fermentation creates probiotics, so it’ll come as no surprise that many of the foods in the list below are fermented. If you’re not already as crazy in love with fermented foods as I am, my best advice is to be patient and experiment. The tangy taste can take a little getting used to, but once you do, I think you’ll be hooked!

  • apple cider vinegar (unpasteurized – look for the cloudy bit at the bottom of the bottle)

  • fermented and non-pasteurized pickled vegetables

  • coconut kefir

  • kimchi (recipe below.)

  • kombucha

  • leeks

  • chickpea miso

  • sauerkraut

  • kvass

  • fermented gherkin pickles

  • brine-cured olives

  • coconut kefir

Note that if you’re trying to eat more fermented foods for their probiotic benefit, you’ll want to ensure that you’re buying the non-pasteurized versions as pasteurization kills off the good bacteria.

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