“The brain is not the only place in the body that’s
full of neurotransmitters. One hundred million
neurotransmitters line the length of the gut—
approximately the same number found in the brain.”
— Dr. Michael Gershon, M.D., neurobiologist, and author of The Second Brain
As many of you know, I’m full of advice and recommendations as it relates to health and nutrition. I’m also full of many other opinions about life on the planet, but that’s a subject for another conversation! After 31 years of education, research, and experience in nutrition science and the natural products industry I have learned how to distill complex information into practical and useable solutions for people desiring to live a healthier life. Nutrition science can be a very broad and confusing subject to grasp with multiple conflicting points of view and a research database that is constantly evolving to replace established dogma. As is true in any scientific discipline there are several agreed upon foundational principles in nutrition that everyone should understand. Number one, if you can’t get all the essential nutrients of life (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids) from the food you’re consuming then it’s absolutely necessary to supplement your diet. Number two, real food builds real health. A diet rich in nutrient-dense, whole, fresh food that is properly prepared is the ultimate foundation of optimal health. Number three, water is life and makes up 60% of your body mass. It’s required for the majority of metabolic processes that sustain life.
Your physical and psychological health determine who you are and how you behave, how you function physically, and whether you thrive or survive. It’s my job to give you the tools to reach a higher state of health and happiness and help prevent the debilitating diseases of aging. I would like to take the foundational principles in nutrition a step further and share with you what I consider to be the most important nutritional changes you can make to increase both your health span and life span, decrease risk factors for chronic disease, and increase energy, strength, and vitality!
- Feed the gut.
- Protect the liver.
- Avoid eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) of processed and ultra-processed foods, sugar, refined grain-based carbohydrates, and industrial plant oils.
- Incorporate intermittent fasting into your lifestyle.
I will be covering each one of these in detail over the next three months. For this month, I would like to talk about gastrointestinal health. Good health begins in the gut, so it’s essential to feed the gut the nutrients it needs so it can feed your cells the structural components they require to survive. In order to have a normal, healthy functioning gut three biological, nutritive processes must take place: you need to consume prebiotic plant fiber that your gut buddies (probiotics) use as a fuel source and ferment into postbiotic signaling compounds like acetate, butyrate, and propionate. They also make signaling compounds in the form of gasses, called gasotransmitters, like hydrogen and hydrogen sulfide, and nitric oxide. These specialized postbiotics not only protect and heal the barrier function of your gastrointestinal tissues, helping prevent gut permeability (leaky gut), but they help your mitochondria (the energy factories within your cells) produce energy, repair and generate new mitochondria. Metabolically, you are only as healthy as the functioning mitochondria within your cells!
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed approximately 150 grams of fiber each day. Today we are lucky to get 5 grams per day. The research is clear on this subject, lack of fiber intake is strongly associated with poor health, so include both soluble and insoluble fiber in your diet on a daily basis with an emphasis on prebiotic soluble fibers-resistant starches, inulin, FOSs, and fermented foods. Be careful with soluble fiber from wheat and legumes. These foods contain lectins that can disrupt gastrointestinal function and should be avoided if you have a lower GI inflammatory condition. With the right amount of prebiotic fiber (I recommend no less than 35 grams/day) your probiotic bacteria with thrive and survive, and this is where the magic happens.
Our internal terrain contains trillions and trillions of microorganisms, both good and bad. Research suggests that a well-balanced gut contains approximately 85 percent beneficial and neutral bacteria to 15 percent non-beneficial microorganisms—bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoans. This is normal. It’s key to maintain this balance for overall health. To put it in perspective, there are 10 trillion human cells in the human body and 100 trillion bacteria. It could be said that we are not cellular organisms per se, but bacterial in nature. Of the probiotic bacteria there are seven thousand different species, and they are responsible for:
- Promoting gastrointestinal tract health
- supporting the liver in its natural detoxification process
- supporting the kidneys in their natural cleansing
- supporting the bowel in elimination
- producing vital nutrients-vitamins, minerals, fatty acids
- producing enzymes that break down food during digestion
- triggering nerve cells to move digested food through the small intestine and into the colon
- supporting a healthy response to inflammation
- promoting healthy cellular immunity
- stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies
- supporting natural T-killer cells
- supporting immunoglobulins, immune proteins that promote gut health
- manufacturing important B vitamins
- promoting mineral absorption needed for immune system function, especially calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, and manganese
As you can see, maintaining a healthy gut microbiota is critical to living your healthiest life. I talk a lot about the benefits of a daily multivitamin to correct nutrient deficiencies in the diet, but it’s just as important to reinforce and maintain your probiotic bacterial environment. A healthy functioning digestive system will biosynthesize some probiotic strains, and we can consume gut buddies contained within probiotic drinks like kefir, kombucha, and fermented foods, but probiotic strains are fragile and can easily be disrupted by prescription medications (especially antibiotics), a poor diet and lifestyle, tobacco, an extended illness, insufficient prebiotic fiber, and alcohol use. For many of us, supplementing with a daily probiotic is cheap health insurance for our gastrointestinal system.
There are two types of probiotic supplements, lactic acid-producing bacteria (LAB) and soil-based organisms (SBO). Both are equally beneficial, but soil-based organisms have some unique benefits that I believe may increase their therapeutic potential. SBOs are replenishing probiotics found in foods and supplements that provide powerful reinforcements. When replenishing probiotics enter the intestinal tract, they quickly and exponentially colonize. They take over territory, helping to establish healthy levels of the body’s good bacteria. These bacteria are spore-forming organisms. When in an inactive state, SBOs create a beneficial outer shell (endospore). They remain dormant within the spore, hibernating until their surrounding environment encourages activation. The endospore is what makes SBOs much hardier than most other probiotic strains. Spore-forming bacteria:
- Are heat resistant and not influenced by temperature.
- Don’t require refrigeration.
- Can be stored at room temperature for extended periods of time and not lose potency.
- Are gastric stable: as they navigate through the GI tract, they’re unaffected by harsh stomach acids.
If you’re confused about which type of probiotic supplement would benefit you the most, please visit the market, and would be happy to help you navigate the science. Regardless of whether or not you choose to take a probiotic, I encourage you to make healthier food choices, avoid exposure to environmental toxins and household chemicals whenever possible, find ways to mitigate stress, reduce dependency on medications that harm the gut, and include more prebiotic fiber and fermented foods in your diet. Despite an abundance of food, the typical Western diet of sugars, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods deprives us of many essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that are vital to our well-being. Even if you eat a healthy diet, many of today’s modern conveniences can sabotage your overall health because of the harmful effects they can have on your healthy digestive tract and immune system. This can have a direct and negative impact on our gut by affecting the natural balance of our microbiome. There’s a large body of scientific research that confirms a complex connection between the gut’s terrain and whole-body health. This means wellness is directly linked to a robust balance (or imbalance) of beneficial bacteria that reside inside the GI tract.