A few days ago I received an email from a company (Dhow Nature Foods ) that is producing powdered baobab, asking if I’d consider writing a blog post about the product. I was pretty excited to hear from them. Baobab, you ask? What the hell is baobab and why was Judy excited?
Some of you may remember back in March, 2018, I wrote about research at Rutgers University which “…demonstrated that by adding a variety of fiber to the diet, a distinct group of gut bacteria are fed and produce highly anti-inflammatory short chain fatty acids which reduce inflammation and help control appetite.” In their study, two groups with type 2 diabetes ate the same healthy diets but one was given large amounts of dietary fiber, which, at the end of the 12 week study, resulted in a greater reduction of blood glucose and weight loss. At the end of the post, I mention the work of Dr. Jeff Leach and colleagues who studied the diet and biomes of the Hadza, one of the last true hunter-gatherer tribes left on earth. I was – and still am – astounded by one of the facts pointed out in the paper I referenced: the average American eats about 15 grams of fiber a day. The Hadza, whose microbiomes boast a diversity we cannot even imagine, eat about 100 grams.
According to a 2019 paper by Dr. Leach and colleagues, the Hadza live in Tanzania and subsist on 5 groups of foraged and hunted foods: honey, tubers, berries, meat and – you guessed it – baobab.[i] These foods do vary in quantity based upon the seasons, i.e. dry versus wet. Their gut bacteria do vary according to season. Baobab though is consumed year round. And their incredibly high-fiber diet has allowed them to preserve ancestral species of bacteria that we have at very low levels in the industrialized world – or have lost completely: “These bacterial taxa are candidates for future study toward a better understanding of the co-speciation of humans and gut microbes, and of what has been disrupted in recent times.”
Another article[ii] from 2018 states, “The study of traditional populations provides a view of human-associated microbes unperturbed by industrialization, as well as a window into the microbiota that co-evolved with humans. Here we discuss our recent work characterizing the microbiota from the Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania. We found seasonal shifts in bacterial taxa, diversity, and carbohydrate utilization by the microbiota. When compared to the microbiota composition from other populations around the world, the Hadza microbiota shares bacterial families with other traditional societies that are rare or absent from microbiotas of industrialized nations.”[iii] One of the biggest differences is in the high level of microbes in the Hazda’s gut capable of degrading plant fiber; considering the amount they eat, this is not surprising. In comparison, the American gut is filled with microbes “…well adapted to forage on intestinal mucus,” as we tend to barely eat fiber at all. The authors actually name those species that have been lost or have become rare in industrialized societies the VANISH (volatile and/or associated negatively with industrialized societies of humans) taxa. Ugh.
Here’s an interesting fact: there was no decreasing levels of diversity in elderly people among the Hadza, such as we see in our elderly population in the industrialized world. The reason is likely due to the fact that the elderly continue to live with the rest of the camp, and are not isolated. This was found in a large study of healthy Chinese people as well, aged 30 to 100, again because traditionally, the elderly are revered and kept within the family.
So, a few facts about baobab: it grows in Australia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. Really all of the tree is edible, including the bark, leaves, seeds, and fruit.. The fruit is rich in vitamin C (10x that of an orange), and is thought to have antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In traditional societies, it is used to relieve everything from GI issues (i.e. diarrhea and constipation) to stimulating the immune system, to hydration and skin health. In one study at Oxford Brookes University, the baobab fruit extract, baked into bread, was found to lower glycemic response in humans. [iv]
In my eternal quest to find promising new products to try for gut health, I am very interested in this one. Dhow foods is now shipping outside of Africa to Australia and the UK, and will shortly be available in the USA. I will test it out once it’s available here in America. In the meantime, I checked out their recipe page which lead me to a different site, on which I found potentially wonderful recipes like this one: Ok…yum. If any of you in other countries where baobab is currently available do give it a try, please let us know how you fare!
[iii] Gabriela K. Fragiadakis, Samuel A. Smits, Erica D. Sonnenburg, William Van Treuren, Gregor Reid, Rob Knight, Alphaxard Manjurano, John Changalucha, Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, Jeff Leach & Justin L. Sonnenburg (2019) Links between environment, diet, and the hunter-gatherer microbiome, Gut Microbes, 10:2, 216-227, DOI: 10.1080/19490976.2018.1494103