If you’d like bigger, juicier, and greater numbers of tomatoes and cucumbers in your springtime backyard garden, you would spread cow manure or other fertilizer over the soil, harvesting a bounty of delicious vegetables over the growing season. The same principle applies to the “garden” of microbes that dwell in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
But, of course, it’s not cow manure that your resident microbes “desire,” but a mix of fibers, polysaccharides, polyphenols, and other naturally-occurring components of diet that allow them to feed, reproduce, suppress growth of pathogenic species, and “collaborate” to produce factors beneficial to you. Under the right circumstances, for instance, microbes produce vitamin B12, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin K2, lactic acid, serotonin, dopamine, gamma-amino butyric acid, bacteriocins (antibiotics effective against the species of SIBO), and many others.
Recognizing that you obtain indirect health benefits due to the activities of trillions of living creatures you have dwelling in your GI tract and elsewhere (it is now recognized that the mouth, trachea, esophagus, stomach, prostate, vagina and other organs all harbor unique microbiomes that influence health and disease) clears up so many uncertainties that have developed over the years. For example, why do people exposed to multiple courses of antibiotics become obese? Why do many people with depression not respond to conventional antidepressants? Why do the catechins in green tea exert many health benefits but are not absorbed? Why does curcumin reduce arthritis pain and measures of inflammation like C-reactive protein despite the fact that nearly an entire dose is passed out in the toilet? So many health mysteries are being solved through insights into the microbiome. These insights also highlight how limited conventional pharmaceuticals are in addressing health conditions. Health conditions clearly caused by disruptions of the GI microbiome such as fibromyalgia and restless leg syndrome are “treated” with agents that are costly, are barely effective, and have nasty side-effects.
A wealth of new insights is emerging that help us better understand how to regain and maintain health. Among the new lessons being learned:
- Green tea catechins exert anti-inflammatory, insulin-sensitizing, and modest weight loss benefits because they cross-link mucin proteins in intestinal mucus, making it more gel-like and thereby less penetrable by microbial breakdown products, i.e., it reduces endotoxemia.
- Curcumin, almost completely non-absorbable, also strengthens the intestinal mucus barrier and has antimicrobial effects against some bacteria and fungi.
- Inulin and fructooligosaccharides obtained from allium root vegetables (onions, garlic, shallots, etc.) trigger a bloom in beneficial species such as Akkermansia muciniphila and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii that exert numerous beneficial effects.
- Some plant-sourced terpenes (“essential oils”) stimulate intestinal mucus production
- Hyaluronic acid, ordinarily obtained by consuming organ meats, especially brain, also stimulates Akkermansia proliferation. Of course, hyaluronic acid intake by modern humans is virtually nil.
- Polysaccharides obtained via consumption of mushrooms also “molds” GI microbiome composition, reducing Proteobacteria (mostly fecal species) and thereby endotoxemia and increasing populations of beneficial species.
- Capsaicin, the component of hot peppers responsible for the feeling of heat, also favorably molds GI microbiome composition increasing, for instance, populations of Faecalibacterium and Roseburia, important producers of butyrate that nourish intestinal cells and mediate many body-wide beneficial effects.
Are you gaining an appreciation for how far-reaching and powerful insights into the microbiome can be? Are you also coming to understand that so many modern health problems find their origins in disruptions of the microbiome? But how to put these new lessons all together in a comprehensive program to rebuild health and maintain youthfulness? It is a work in progress, so stay tuned.