Found My Fitness Podcast: The Sonnenburgs on How the Gut Microbiota Interacts With Our Bodies


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  • Sonnenburg Bona Fides: Stanford researchers on the effect of diet on the gut microbiota
  • Role of healthy gut microbiota
    • A newly discovered/appreciated microbial organ that is essential to metabolism, the immune system and even moods/behavior by a link with the brain
    • Fun Fact: By total number, we have 10x more bacterial cells and 100x more gene than human cells/genes
      • Maybe humans evolved to serve as houses for bacteria?
    • Gut Microbiota are mostly found in the end of your intestine, AKA “distal gut”/”colon”
    • Fun Fact: The Gastrointestinal (GI) tract also houses the most immune cells of any part of the body
    • When in balance, the microbiome and the immune system work in harmony and set our baseline response to respiratory infections, vaccines, and progression of auto-immune disease
    • Our diet directly impacts the gut microbiome, so it is up to us to manage it an keep it healthy
  • Dietary Fiber (complex carbs): A key food component that can be metabolized into short chain fatty acids (not digestible by humans)
    • Processed western food/simple carbs get absorbed in upper GI tract and don’t reach microbiome in lower/distral GI = starving your friendly microbiota
      • When starved, the good bacteria ends up relying on your mucus lining of intestine for food which breaks down the barrier between them and you immune system
        • à which can trigger your immune system to attack this good bacteria
        • This leads to inflammation, releasing endotoxin (body then responds by creating more LDL cholesterol = link with heart disease)
      • Short chain fatty acids are actually the bacteria’s waste that we absorb to regulate multiple areas of human biology
        • These help increase the # of T-cells to the calm immune system/inflammation
        • Without t-cells we end up with a hyperactive immune system/inflammation
        • Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis all are autoimmune diseases and have been linked to disruption of gut microbiome
          • Don’t overreact here (link DOES NOT EQUAL cause), this is likely part of the story in addition to patients who have gene polymorphisms that predispose them to these diseases
        • Similarly, cancers, heart disease, metabolic disorders, other autoimmune diseases are all linked to inflammation
          • All of these are largely western diseases where we lack good fiber intake
          • Inflammation is also a cause of aging…
        • Short chain fatty acids are also fuel for gut epithelial cells that produce mucin (goblet cells) – double whammy as bacteria feeds on mucin and cells that make mucin are starved (study needed to test)
      • The microbiota also create many other chemicals that go around our body
        • We still don’t know all of them and what they do, but they are different by person and even through the day
    • How Much Fiber Should You Eat:
      • The avg. American only eats 10-15g of dietary fiber per Day
      • US gov. recommends 30-35g
      • Traditional populations eat 100-150g of dietary fiber/day
      • = we eat as much as 10x too little
    • Diversity of Fiber Matters and How To Eat Them
      • Gut Biome should be viewed as a complex ecosystem like a rainforest = resilient
        • a monoculture with only 1 type of bacteria which is fragile (e.g. monoculture farming)
      • As a result you need many types of fiber like fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc.
        • Having a dog at home to expose you to more variety of good bacteria might prove helpful
      • Eating seasonally helps you do this by default
      • Avoid food in wrappers/packages, even when they have added dietary fiber (doesn’t provide the breadth/variety)
        • Not just lack of fiber, but actively doing harm with various additives/chemicals in them
      • Processed food, artificial sweeteners
        • Studies have linked artificial sweeteners to negative impacts of microbiota and lead to insulin resistance
        • Emulsifiers are being studied now as well as they can break down the mucin layer and bring bacteria in contact with the immune system (see above)
  • Antibiotics
    • We used to think nothing bad comes from using antibiotics
      • The first cost we found out about was AntioMicrobial Resistance, AKA SuperBugs such as C. Dificile, MRSA, etc.
      • Second Cost: Harming our resident good bacteria
    • Antibiotics are not designed to avoid hurting gut microbiome, they are mostly “broad spectrum” = go after all types of bacteria
      • Essentially, they carpet bomb all bacteria, good and bad
    • Your body can usually rebound over time, but not exactly as it was before
    • Each additional round of antibiotics hits your system again and reduces its ability to recover (kicking it while it already down)
    • Children on multiple rounds tends to develop more diseases
    • Tip: Tell your Dr. if you are ok waiting vs. rushing to antibiotics (they might assume you expect to get them otherwise)
    • What to do after you finish a round of antibiotics when they are needed?
      • Repopulating has not been well studied yet
      • Probiotics have a place in recovery via supplements/fermented foods like yogurt (mechanism not well understood)
        • Not permanent, but do something of value as they are passing through – as placeholders against bad bacteria while your bacteria is re-growing
      • VSL#3 Priobiotic: 450 billion bacteria per sachet (by far the most available), shipped cold (bacteria actually alive)
        • Multiple clinical studies support its efficacy
        • Rhonda did a personal trial using uBiome before/after and increased not just bacteria in VSL#3, but also new strains of bacteria
        • Supplement market is a mess, often not alive, not actual species or have contaminants
        • USP independent verification of the contents (not efficacy)
      • We don’t know which ones you need, so be systematic on testing what happens to you and what does/doesn’t work (e.g. fermented foods, yogurt, supplements, etc.)
    • Origin of Microbiome
      • We believe we are born with gut mostly sterile
      • C-Section babies (more likely to have skin-like bacteria which isn’t good) vs. Vaginal (more like mom as they are exposed to mom’s bacteria during birth)
      • US children on average get 1 round of antibiotics which is concerning
      • Our microbiome is mostly set by age 5 and have them with us for our lives
      • Breast vs. formulas has a huge impact as diet is a major level
        • Breast milk includes oligosaccharides (not digestible), but gut microbes are digesting them to help them grown – not yet able to replicate in formula
        • Breast Feed if you can
      • Breast feeding is challenging, especially when working
        • Requires high caloric load to create the milk
        • Broader societal issue in making this easier as it’s so important to children
        • If you are breast feeding and have extra, you can donate your milk to The National Milk Bank and help premature babies in hospitals
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