Diet, Diet, Diet and the Microbiome…and Did I Mention Diet? (And a Bonus: An Herbal Thing You Can Do Now)

A recent discussion on my Biome Buzz Facebook page, in response to a post about the benefits of boosting Akkermansia muciniphila in the gut,  has prompted me to once again write about the single most important thing when it comes to influencing the health of the bacterial microbiome – DIET.  Yesterday, the Baylor College of Medicine, which has done great biome research, came out with an article talking about some of the recent findings of their scientists.[i]  Dr.Li Jiao and colleagues have found “…an association between diet quality and microbiome composition in human colonic mucosa that provides a strategy that can contribute to reducing the risk of chronic diseases.”  I actually covered this research earlier this month.    The conclusion of this research:  “Diet is considered a principal factor influencing the structure of the microbiome in the gut, which in turn significantly affects the ability of beneficial or harmful microbes to colonize it.”

A 2nd article also appeared yesterday on Gut Microbiome for Health on the topic of the crucial importance of diet to the microbiome’s health, this one yet again emphasizing the importance of eating loads of fiber.[ii]  “…’of all the different major nutrient groups that we eat, fiber is the one component of our diet that directly feeds our gut microbiota.’ When we eat protein, for instance, we digest it and absorb it in our small intestine. The same thing happens with fats and most sugars. In the case of non-digestible fibers, we do not have the enzymes needed to break them down and digest them. Only gut bacteria can do that. They digest fibers and produce short chain fatty acids, whose beneficial effects on health are well documented…”  To sum up:  cut down on those animal products and replace some of them with more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts.

Yesterday I also read a really interesting article about the effects of culinary spices on the bacterial microbiome.[iii] We all know that herbs have “medicinal” qualities and in fact, many pharmaceuticals are derived from them.  In this case, researchers looked at the effects on the bacterial microbiome of 2 kinds of pepper, black and long pepper (also known as pipli), as well as turmeric and ginger.  As it turns out, “All herbs analyzed possessed substantial power to modulate fecal bacterial communities to include potential prebiotic and beneficial repressive effects,”  meaning that they boost levels of various probiotic species while also inhibiting the growth of pathogenic ones.  Prior research has shown that, in vitro, ginger has strong antibiotic properties against inflammatory gut bacteria like E. coli and Klebsiella pneumonia, while both ginger and turmeric boost levels of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.

These researchers looked at stool samples from 12 healthy, vegetarian or vegan donors.  They cultured the stools and, in vitro, added the herbs to see what would happen. They found that black pepper, ginger and pipli boosted levels of Bifido bacteria while turmeric boosted levels of Bacteroidaceae, Clostridium, Desulfovibrionaceae and several others, including butyrate-producing Lachnospiracceae.  All the herbs greatly reduced the levels of several species, including E. coli:  “…all culinary herbs analyzed resulted in reduced relative abundance of a number of pathogenic and opportunistic pathogens.”

Human trials are planned in the future.  As they state at the start of their paper, “Digestive disorders are increasingly prevalent in Western populations with over 60 million people affected in the United States alone.”

Yeah…we need research into the healing power of food alright.

In the meantime though, “things you can do now” (my favorite!):  the article mentions the Ayurvedic supplement Trikatu, which has been used for thousands of year in this traditional Indian medicine realm.  It is a combination of ginger, black pepper and pipli. For those of you with poor digestion: while you work on increasing your fiber intake and improving the quality of your diet overall, maybe a trial of this is in the cards?

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[i] https://blogs.bcm.edu/2019/07/30/from-the-labs-your-microbiome-is-what-you-eat/

[ii] https://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/en/how-to-feed-your-gut-microbiota-with-the-fibers-it-needs/

[iii] Peterson, CT, et. al. Prebiotic potential of culinary spices used to support digestion and bioabsorption.  Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2019. OI: 10.1155/2019/8973704

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