How far should we take responsibility for what we eat?
A conversation with a colleague and a question received by email prompts me to remind anyone reading this blog that science is limited in many respects. Scientific claims can be overstated and results can sometimes come about by chance! Our own approach is to consider all evidence on its merits but to apply our own common sense. I would urge everyone else to do the same. Any good scientist is likely to know about the limitations of their findings, and they should be highlighted in their research papers. I would hope for this to be reflected by journalists writing about science.
Part of the motivation for creating this blog is to take a bit more responsibility for my own health, and to encourage others to do the same. We can’t do without reliable high quality science, but that doesn’t mean that research published by scientists or academics is necessarily correct, or should be taken seriously.
In my own field of psychology/contemplative science, research is a starting point and needs to be treated with a healthy scepticism. Once a particular concept has been successfully tested a number of times (replication), only then can it start to be considered as potentially reliable. So if you read something on these pages that interests you, follow the links and check out the source material. And keep the concepts at arms’ length until you feel you can fully engage with the material. All the views expressed on this website are opinions of the contributors and or people writing about gut health. they may not reflect the views of the website owners and must be read in relation to the respective scientific research. Please read our disclaimer.
There is growing evidence that gut bacteria is linked to obesity. Preliminary experiments with mice appear to be supported by human studies.
Ongoing research into the role of the microbiome (bacteria in the gut) in human wellbeing is at a very early stage. But the frequency of media headlines linking gut bacteria to health is growing. As with all areas of science, claims which have not been verified in clinical trials and subsequently replicated must be treated with caution. Nevertheless the evidence of a relationship between gut microbiome diversity and obesity has been repeatedly demonstrated in mice.
The microbiome is a term used to describe all of the genetic material of a microbiota, the entire range of microorganisms present in a particular context, in this case the human gut.
There have been a number of studies which show that obese mice tend to have fewer different types of gut bacteria than thin mice. The thinking is that a greater range of gut bacteria is likely to positively influence the way that the digestive system breaks down food. Having more (types of) bacteria is linked to efficient processing of what we eat, with the results of a tendency not to be obese. Recent research reported in The Independent looked at the weight gained by 1,632 female twins over nine years. The study calculated that only 41% of the weight increase could be explained by genetic factors.
On closer inspection it was estimated that becoming slimmer or maintaining the same weight was connected to the consumption of dietary fibre (typically found in whole grains, fruit and vegetables). The study also discovered that the women who had gained weight, had a lower diversity of gut bacteria. These findings were in line with similar studies with mice. Although not yet conclusive the overall evidence linking the shape of our body and the composition of our microbiome is growing.
There is a two way communication system between the gut and brain, this is one way that gut microbiota mediate our health.
The growing excitement over the role of gut bacteria is being fuelled, in part, by the realisation of the potential role of the gut – brain axis. The gut-brain axis is the hard wiring between the digestive tract and the brain. That is to say a direct communication link passing information between neural, hormonal and immune systems. A key point to make is that the communication is bi-directional, that means the brain talks to the gut and that the gut talks to the brain. Thus the microbiota (gut bacteria) and metaboloites (small molecules that are the product of metabolism) may be in reciprocal communication with different parts of the brain. While this has a direct and obvious impact on processes related to eating and digesting, there is rising evidence that our gut flora may be significant factors in physical and mental health.
The relationship between emotions and the digestive system is one of which we are intuitively aware. For example, feelings of love often manifest as ‘butterflies’ in the stomach. Engaging in team sports enables you to observe pre-match nerves in both yourself and others; the digestive system often plays an obvious role in how some people deal with tension! There is evidence that stress is a mediating component in gut microbiota, perhaps through increasing or decreasing the optimal conditions for certain types of bacteria to flourish.
New studies are suggesting that individual microbiota may be influential in functions as apparently disparate as memory and fear. It is not known what the basis of the relationship is, where the causality can be found. But that there is a correlation between what is in our gut and how we experience life in terms of mental and physical well being. The take home point is that many of the things we eat and drink are able to positively and negatively influence our health. By taking more interest in what goes into your stomach you might do yourself a power of good.
If wine is good for your health, its relationship with gut bacteria may be part of the answer.
One of the rapidly emerging truths about the relationship between our health and gut flora is that it’s not simple to demonstrate causality. Specific food and drinks can be both positive and negative in different ways at the same time Each person may react to substances in different ways dependent on a number of individual factors.
However science can offer general indications (sometimes something more specific) about what might be beneficial. A 2016 study from the University of Groningen, indicated that wine, coffee and tea all appear to have a probiotic effect, increasing the diversity of the bacteria inside our digestive system (microbiome). The quality and quantity of bacteria in the gut microbiome is apparently increased by the consumption of certain drinks. Health studies have for years suggested that wine, drunk in moderation, may be beneficial for your health. It is possible its role in maintaining and increasing helpful gut bacteria might be part of the explanation.
Can memory and stress be altered by what you eat? The evidence suggests it might be possible.
The more scientific research I am exposed to the less inclined I am to expect simple solutions to complex problems. That said, a report from 2015 highlighted in The Guardian was one of the first accounts of probiotics that turned me on to the potential of gut flora to influence different aspects of health and wellbeing. It was reported that participants in an experiment took a capsule containing Bifidobacterium longum 1714 for a month. As a result they enjoyed lower levels of stress when compared to the control group that took a placebo. Stress was measured in terms of the levels of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress) found in the participants.
A second result of the investigation was that when taking the probiotic, memory function also seemed to be enhanced. The people taking part in the experiment took either the placebo for a month or Bifidobacterium longum 1714, then switched. It was a blind test so the participants didn’t know when they were taking the probiotic or the placebo. The effects of the reduced stress and improved memory were described as small but significant, make of that what you will. But the same effects were found in a similar experiment carried out on mice.
I’m not a great fan of experimentation on animals, not because experiments on animals are rarely replicated in a similar way on humans, or that it generally support poor science. Just because its cruel and not very ethical. However as the data exists I will draw your attention to it. Another study from 2015 indicated that B. longum 1714 had a positive impact on mice cognition and an apparent reduction on fear. So one probiotic strain appears to have an influence on both fear and a narrow range of cognitive function (or that both memory and fear/stress have a commonality that can be meditated by B. longum 1714). The fact that both mice and humans appear to have been effected in the same way is interesting. Although these are tentative findings and more studies demonstrating the same effects are necessary (replication).
Outstanding lecture from Prof Simon Carding, how gut bacteria mediates both physical and mental health
Emerging research is demonstrating a profound relationship between the bacteria in our gut and how well we are, our lived experience. In this outstanding lecture Prof. Simon Carding offers insights, new and old into ideas about our gut bacteria. Warning you may see the world a little differently after watching the video!
Fermented food is linked to significantly improved physical and mental health
Welcome to Gut Well Soon, a website committed to sharing knowledge about how fermented foods are able to dramatically improve health and wellbeing. For decades scientific research has supported the view that there is a strong correlation between the state of your gut bacteria and your physical and mental health. If this seems far fetched I encourage you to look into the scientific research in this area.
An essential component of a healthy gut is the balance and blend of living microorganisms in the digestive system. Fermented foods can have valuable levels of beneficial living microorganisms that meditate a range of beneficial processes.
Since the late 20th century, a number of factors have been linked with a decline in healthy gut bacteria, not least the use of powerful pharmaceutical products. Whilst drugs can kill significant amounts of harmful bacteria they may also reduce helpful, health promoting bacteria. Some fermented foodstuffs contain large numbers of these healthy microorganisms and have been directly related to a number of benefits.
Many traditional fermented foods are widely available and include pickled vegetables as well as yogurt based products. Humans have been eating fermented food for thousands of years. You may have many inexpensive fermented products in your own food cupboards right now. We are creating an extensive directory as well as some great recipes and instruction sheets. If you are interested in fermented foods, two ideas that you should start with are:
foods labelled pasteurized are unlikely to contain healthy living bacteria
following simple instructions you can safely make delicious fermented foods in your own home
This is a growing movement so please share your thoughts and ideas. Use the comments boxes to tell us about any experiences good or bad feel. We welcome information about relevant products and services in the market.