Nutrition research is exploding with information addressing the role of diet and lifestyle in health and longevity. The Internet currently provides over a hundred diet plans for you to consider, but where do you start? Many health experts advise a plant-based or vegetarian diet, and some support paleo or keto diets, especially for weight loss. Often the question boils down to, “Should it be low-carb high-fat or low-fat high-carb?”
Unfortunately, many conventionally trained doctors may not help sort this out. Medical schools continue to be deficient in training doctors about diet and lifestyle. I strongly encourage plant-based eating, combined with many lifestyle measures (the FEARLESS model), mentioned numerous times on this website.
By far, many studies have proven the superiority of plant-based eating. The most significant impact of eating minimally processed plants is on the gut microbiome. This article reviews some of the fine points made by a gastroenterologist who recently published a book on this topic, Dr. Robynne Chutkan. She gave a comprehensive review on the gut microbiome online days ago (link provided below).
Our colon is the home of trillions of microbial organisms that outnumber the cells of our body. If we extracted the cells from our colon, they would weigh more than 3 pounds. Scientists report that a sample of our stool directly reveals the state of our health. Certain microbes are associated with good health and protection from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and infection, while other species of microorganisms increase the risk for these diseases.
The good news is that food choices play a huge role in supporting good gut bacteria by not allowing harmful bacteria to dominate. A healthy gut microbiome produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) postbiotics. The latter keeps the inner lining of the intestines intact and decreases the entry of various bacterial toxins and byproducts of digestion.
Dysbiosis is a term used when the gut microbiome is out of balance. The most common cause of dysbiosis is poor diet. Some common conditions preceded or caused by dysbiosis include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Small intestinal bowel overgrowth.
- Inflammatory bowel disease.
- Several non-gastrointestinal disorders.
Non-gastrointestinal disorders associated with dysbiosis include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, cancers, polycystic ovarian syndrome, autoimmune diseases, and allergic diseases (including asthma).
The beneficial effects of the SCFAs produced by gut microbes are not limited to the colon. These magical compounds go all over the body and influence the balance of hormones, the health of blood vessels, heart health, brain health, immune function, and mood. Furthermore, SCFAs enhance our ability to prevent viral, bacterial, and other microbial infections.
Here are some tips on how to protect, preserve and grow a healthy gut microbiome:
- Eat mainly plants. A recent study showed that you could establish a healthy gut microbiome weeks after eating at least 30 plants per week. But you can start lower and work your way up.
- Avoid processed meat (try to eliminate it) which increases cancer risk by 18% and may contribute to dysbiosis because of the high salt and nitrogen-containing compounds used to cure and preserve it.
- Limit red meat, fish, and poultry as much as you can. Meat eaters have more problems with dysbiosis and associated diseases, including cancer.
- Avoid processed food as much as possible since they are often high in chemicals, fat and simple sugars that further increase risks for insulin resistance and diabetes.
- Avoid processed sugars, especially candy bars, sodas, ice cream, and sugary desserts.
- Drink plenty of water every day.
- Exercise regularly most days of the week.
- Get adequate sleep, for adults, 7-9 hours.
- Get some outside air and sun when you can but use protective measures (sunblock) when appropriate.
- Take supplemental vitamins B12 and D if appropriate. Plant-based diets often require vitamin B12. Blood tests are available for both vitamins.
A low-fat, high complex carb diet (carbs from whole food) is healthier than a high-fat low carb diet when it comes to cardiac and cancer risks. Inflammatory markers rise when on high-fat diets.
If you start on this journey to better health, let your doctor know, so medications can be adjusted if needed. Get at least annual check-ups and comply with recommended cancer screenings. Remember, some of the healthiest have fallen victim to Covid-19. Eating healthy and leading a healthy lifestyle is often not enough. Vaccines give your immune system a fighting chance to defeat viral infections. A healthy gut microbiome is the foundation of a healthy immune system that can respond to vaccination by protecting you from specific infectious diseases.