I have a guest article this month from Dr. Daniel Polley.
A Healthy Gut For A Healthier You!
Dr. Daniel Polley
Research has shown the importance of gut bacteria in maintaining health, so the question is what can we do to maintain a healthy gut? Some factors, like genetics and early life events such as breastfeeding, are beyond our control, but researchers have found that diet significantly affects the composition of our gut bacteria.
Different types of bacteria prefer different foods, so eating foods that nourish the beneficial bacteria lead to a healthier gut than diets that feed the harmful bacteria. In general, plant foods containing fibre such as, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, seem to feed the beneficial bacteria, while refined sugar, fats and protein largely feed the harmful bacteria. The “Western diet” of today consists of high animal fat, protein, refined sugar and very low in dietary fibre. Eating these foods can affect the gut bacteria, which may be a major cause for the common diseases of our society like obesity, diabetes and chronic inflammatory conditions.
In a recent study, Dr. De Filippo and colleagues (2010) compared the gut bacteria of children in Europe, living mostly on the “Western diet”, to children in rural Africa, living on a mostly plant-based diet. It was found that the African children had greater bacteria diversity with significantly more beneficial bacteria than the European children, who had substantially more harmful and potentially disease-causing bacteria.
Long-term diet determines the composition of gut bacteria, but a recent study has found that changing your diet may quickly change that (David et al, 2014). In one study, subjects were given either an entirely plant-based diet (high fibre, low fat and protein) or an entirely meat and dairy-based diet (high fat and protein, no fibre). The researchers found that the bacterial composition of the meat-eating group changed considerably within 24 hours of the food reaching the digestive tract. The meat eaters had an increase in harmful bacteria and markers associated with inflammation and cancer risk compared to the vegetarian group. After returning to their normal diets, the study subjects experienced a rapid return to their original gut bacteria compositions, which tells us that the gut bacteria are highly adaptable and respond quickly to what they are fed.
The vast communities of bacteria living in our intestines are important contributors to our health and wellbeing. We live in a mutually beneficial relationship with our bacteria, so when we take care of them, they take care of us. Though the gut bacteria are unimaginably complex, taking care of it can be a very simple thing indeed: eat more fruits and vegetables than meat and sweets. All foods can have a place in a healthy diet, but getting the right balance is the crucial factor.
Dr. Daniel Polley believes that integrating the latest science with functional medicine is the key for future medical practice. He has dedicated the last few years doing research at the University of Calgary to help contribute our understanding of allergies and inflammation. Dr. Polley works every day to empower others to live a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.