Each month brings out new research studies showing that the bacteria that live in our digestive tracts are intimately linked to our health in many ways. Our understanding of the relationships between our “gut flora” (the bacteria living in our digestive tract) and our health is still in its infancy. But, several trends are emerging.
One interesting line of research, which was highlighted in a 2018 article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, involved the relationship between the presence of specific types of bacteria in our gut and the likelihood that we will become obese. They found specific types of bacteria were contributing to higher amounts of a substance called glutamate that circulates in our blood. Glutamate levels in the blood are strongly linked to the risk of obesity.
In general, it appears bacteria influence obesity risk by INCREASING how effective we are at extracting calories from the foods we eat. How many times have you heard people say, “I am eating less and gaining weight?” We tend to doubt that could be true. Certain types of bacteria, however, can give us “more bang for the buck” when it comes to squeezing calories from food. Unfortunately, in this case, “more bang” is bad for our waistlines and for our health.
The important implication of this finding is that the bacteria and the glutamate were related to each other. It’s not as though they both just happened to show up in the body by coincidence. The research indicated that the high levels of glutamate were actually a consequence of the presence of these specific strains of bacteria that were living in the gut.
This research strengthens the general trend that is showing how powerfully the bacteria in our gut influence our appetites and specific cravings, our mental outlook, our ability to shed calories and lose weight, and much more. The challenge that arises when we think about cultivating a healthier mix of gut flora is that what is healthy for one person may not be especially relevant to a second person’s health. We are not yet at the stage where we can identify the specific bacterial cocktail that will serve as a treatment to what specifically ails you.
Therefore, when it comes to managing your IBS, we are still at the stage of advising general guidelines rather than individually-tailored prescriptions. Here are several general suggestions:
- Tilt your diet toward whole foods, while minimizing high sugar, highly processed, and high simple carbohydrate-rich foods. Remember: what you eat is not only feeding you. Your bacteria are lined up for the daily buffet that you serve. Foods high in sugar, simple carbs, and that are highly processed enable “unhealthy” bacteria to outcompete the healthier bacteria, which can make management of IBS much tougher.
- Investigate how well you tolerate fiber, a type of pre-biotic, and whether you would benefit from increasing the amount of pro-biotic that is present in your diet. Pro-biotics are especially important to re-populate your gut’s flora after a course of anti-biotics. Fiber feeds the growth of healthy bacteria, while also making it easier to pass your stool with less effort in individuals prone to constipation-dominant IBS. Pro-biotics can provide a host of benefits ranging from improved hormone balance to more efficient digestion and improved metabolic activity levels.
- Explore whether you are a candidate for following a FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for fermentable, oligo, di, mono-saccharides, and polyols. They are a group of small-chain molecules that are known to exacerbate IBS symptoms in individuals sensitive to the presence of those substances in their diets.
- It is suspected that FODMAP-rich foods feed the growth of “unhealthy” bacteria and that they also irritate the lumen, or the lining of the gut that stands as a barrier against permitting toxic substances found in the digestive tract from entering into the body’s interior.So, for certain individuals, following a diet low in FODMAP foods can be an important part of an IBS management plan.
IBS Relief Now goes into more detail about the relationship between IBS, our gut flora and our general health. For now, here are several resources you can explore on your own.
David Perlmutter, MD & Kristin Loberg
Scribner Publishing, 2009
Dr. Perlmutter exposes the wide-ranging health risks of diets too reliant on carbs and glutens. If a healthier brain and body is your goal, this book charts an important path to get there.
David Perlmutter, MD
Little Brown Pub., 2015
Dr. Perlmutter focuses on the powerful and multi-faceted role that the bacteria that thrive in our gut (our microbiome) play in our shaping, healing, and when not managed, hurt our brains.
The Microbiome Diet
Raphael Kellman, MD
Da Capo Press, 2014
Dr. Kellman guides readers on a three-phase process to nourish the type of gut microbiome that supports not only holistic health but a practical way of reducing weight as an important step in generating overall health.
Food: What the Heck Should I Eat
Mark Hyman, MD
Little Brown Publishers, 2018
Dr. Hyman recognizes the confusion that persists about what healthy eating involves based on apparently conflicting science. He thoroughly reviews each food group, debunks misconceptions, and helps set the record straight on how to eat for a healthier you.
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