Gut feelings: 3 things your inner self would love for you to know about gut health

Let’s agree, with all the noise that’s out there, it’s easy to miss information that can really impact your life. Even for doctors, such as myself, the noise gets in the way of really important things, such as the science around gut health. 


For that reason, I’d like to walk you through the 3 things your gut would tell you about gut health, based on some incredible recent research (and assuming your gut had a microphone and 5 minutes of your time). 

 1) Gut health: What is it?

We’re all familiar with probiotic bacteria, aka probiotics, and we know that they play an important role in our health. Why? Because they coexist with us, mostly living along the inner lining (epithelium) of our gastrointestinal tracts. They need us, but we also need them.


When our probiotic bacteria are happy and working well with us, in a state of “symbiosis”, the result is better immune function. It’s frequently quoted that around 70% of immune function is based in your gut. Where does that number come from?


It’s because 70% of your body’s immune cells happen to reside in your gut...known as GALT (gut-associated lymph tissue), thus the interconnectedness of it all. However, immunity is a lot more than just fighting infections. 


It turns out that by playing a central role in both controlling and provoking inflammation, your immune system affects everything from heart health and metabolism, to mood and neurological conditions. In other words, symbiosis between you and your probiotic co-pilots is very important. 


So, gut health is about the state of that relationship. Check. 


2) Gut health: Why does it matter?

Ok. You probably see where this is going. Having a bad relationship with your microbiota (the collection and balance of probiotic strains inside of you) has a negative impact on immune function. This dysfunctional situation is referred to as “dysbiosis”...the opposite of symbiosis. 


Dysbiosis obviously isn’t good and one of the main reasons scientists believe chronic, inflammation-based diseases are on the rise in the United States and around the world. 


While “probiotics” are popular, there’s something most people don’t know about them...they depend on fiber from whole plants to sustain them. Wait, what? 


Probiotic bacteria in your gut need plant fiber, the stuff from whole plants that we humans can’t digest. To them, it is fuel and it makes them happy, which is sort of empowering to your immune system. 


But here’s the problem: 95% of us in the United States don’t eat enough fiber, which makes it most likely that you don’t either. 


So, gut health matters because it is part of the foundation for overall health and wellness.


3) Gut Health: How do I improve it?

Over the last several years, an incredible body of research has already been building, explaining how and why whole plant fibers, referred to as ‘prebiotic’ fiber, improve measures for gut health. 


The fascinating part is that when probiotic bacteria in your gut digest a plant fiber that’s suited for them, they ‘excrete’ byproducts that assist your immune system in modulating inflammation and cellular stress. Wow.


To go even further, some research also suggested that fiber diversity (more variety) could potentially lead to far more improvement. 


Why? Because there’s a wide variety (of colonies, or strains) of probiotics inside you, and they have different fiber preferences. 


But a large scale study to test this in humans hadn’t been done. Not until a 2018 study done by the American Gut Project. 


In an innovative “citizen science” model, over 10,000 people sent their own poop samples to the project’s advanced lab and team in San Diego. (yes, I said poop). 


One of the core measures for strong gut health is the diversity of probiotic colonies growing in your gut (aka microbial diversity). And this is where they found something a little surprising...


In samples from people who ate a wide variety of whole plants each week (>30), there was dramatic correlation to high microbial diversity (strong gut health!!), especially when compared to what they found in samples from people on the low end of weekly plant intake (<10). 


*The bottom line: there’s not one way to eat, but there is one way to improve gut health, especially if your gut could be heard: eat a rainbow of whole plants on a regular basis! 

At Chuice, our goal is to make that journey a little easier for you. 

Saving the world starts with the inside of your own…”  

 

*Footnote: A word of caution for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or other digestive issues/disorders. Eating more plant fiber in those who have IBS can lead to worsening IBS symptoms. It's still unclear why this happens. So if you have IBS or other digestive issues, please go slowly with adding fiber to your diet and consider doing it in consultation with your doctor or registered dietitian. 

 

Sujit Sharma MD

CEO at Chuice

Physician, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Associates (PEMA)

Board of Directors, Georgia Organics

Atlanta, GA 



 

References:

 

McDonald et al. 2018. “American Gut: An Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiome Research.” mSystems 3 (3). https://doi.org/10.1128/mSystems.00031-18.


University of California - San Diego. 2018. “Big Data from World’s Largest Citizen Science Microbiome Project Serves Food for Thought: How Factors such as Diet, Antibiotics and Mental Health Status Can Influence the Microbial and Molecular Makeup of Your Gut.” Science Daily, May 15, 2018.


Vangay et al. 2018. “US Immigration Westernizes the Human Gut Microbiome.” Cell 175 (4): 962–72.e10.


Carlson et al. 2018. “Health Effects and Sources of Prebiotic Dietary Fiber.” Current Developments in Nutrition 2 (3): nzy005.


Conlon et al. 2014. “The Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Gut Microbiota and Human Health.” Nutrients 7 (1): 17–44.


Gentile et al. 2018. “The Gut Microbiota at the Intersection of Diet and Human Health.” Science 362 (6416): 776–80.


Green et al. 2020. “Microbial Medicine: Prebiotic and Probiotic Functional Foods to Target Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences 21 (8). 


Hills et al. 2019. “Gut Microbiome: Profound Implications for Diet and Disease.” Nutrients 11 (7). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11071613.


Human Microbiome Project Consortium. 2012. “Structure, Function and Diversity of the Healthy Human Microbiome.” Nature 486 (7402): 207–14.


Iddir et al. 2020. “Strengthening the Immune System and Reducing Inflammation and Oxidative Stress through Diet and Nutrition: Considerations during the COVID-19 Crisis.” Nutrients 12 (6). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12061562.


Illiano et al. 2020. “The Mutual Interplay of Gut Microbiota, Diet and Human Disease.” The FEBS Journal 287 (5): 833–55.


Zhang et al. 2018. “Time for Food: The Impact of Diet on Gut Microbiota and Human Health.” Nutrition 51-52 (July): 80–85.


Zou et al. 2018. “Fiber-Mediated Nourishment of Gut Microbiota Protects against Diet-Induced Obesity by Restoring IL-22-Mediated Colonic Health.” Cell Host & Microbe 23 (1): 41–53.e4.