All Smiles For A Happy Gut Microbiome

All Smiles For A Happy Gut Microbiome
  • Dr. Taylor Wallace
  • April 3, 2023

A healthy gut microbiome can help you live a peachy life.

I have always been attracted to those that constantly exert a positive energy.  Life is too short and sweet to always be down in the dumps.  A balanced diet is an easier, cost-effective, and evidence-based alternative to achieving that optimistic vibe, rather than costly clickbait social media ads that promise to decrease stress.

The lil critters in your gut

The gut microbiome is a collection of over 40 trillion little critters that have co-evolved with humans and inhabit the gastrointestinal tract.  Capable of bi-directionally communicating with our brain, the gut microbiome plays an important role in long-term cognition and behavior(s) as we age.  About 95% of the gut microbiome is housed in the cecum, the pouch connected to the junction of the small and large intestines, and distal (or descending) colon.  However, smaller quantities of microbes present in the small intestine have considerable functionality.

The gut microbiome composition, diversity, and activity changes across the lifespan.  A more diverse microbiome is generally considered to be healthier, and studies show that groups of microbial species flourish and function together to impact health.

How diet affects the gut microbiome

External factors such as diet, probiotics, prebiotics, and antibiotics have been shown to affect the gut microbiome, as well as brain function.  The gut microbiome influences the release of gastrointestinal hormones that regulate appetite, metabolism, and important neurotransmitters that affect mood (e.g., dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, melatonin, and acetylcholine).  In turn, the brain tells other glands in the body to release hormones that affect every aspect of your health, and that of the gut microbiome.  Research even shows that individuals with common mood disorders such as depression have an altered gut microbiome.  I explain it all in a past Produce for Better Health Foundation webinar.

Wondering how to alter your gut microbiome to a more healthful state?

Microbes love to chow down on complex carbohydrates and proteins and break them down into compounds that can have beneficial or detrimental impacts on health.  Diets rich in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, seafood, lean meat, and low- or non-fat dairy, combined with a diet that is low in added sugars, refined carbs, and saturated fat can lead to a more diverse and functional microbiome.  Consuming foods high in complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains, berries, legumes, and green leafys) is the most documented means of improving the health of your gut microbiome.

Complex carbohydrates are those that cannot be digested by humans but have “prebiotic” effects.  Good bacteria in the gut flourish by breaking down complex carbs and using them as fuel for growth.  End products such as short-chain fatty acids are then absorbed by the body and have been shown to improve both heart health and blood flow, two important factors for maintaining cognitive function as we age.

You may recognize names of beneficial probiotic bacteria species like Bifidobacteria and lactobacillus from supplement labels and ads. Research shows prebiotics (i.e., plant fiber) in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can promote the growth of these beneficial bacteria to a greater extent than taking a supplement.  Some potent prebiotic foods include raspberries, artichokes, green peas, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, beans, bananas, apples, and of course, whole grains (e.g., oats, rice, wheat).  Fruits and vegetables have even been shown to prevent the growth of some disease-causing bacteria.

Next time you stumble upon one of those clickbait ads on social media… try snacking on your favorite fruit or vegetable to help satisfy the trillions of microbial friends in your gut.

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