As a gastroenterologist, day after day I care for patients suffering with digestive symptoms. Whether it be heartburn, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation, they come seeking relief. In nearly every case, I would characterize the root cause of their problem as a loss of balance in their gut microbiome.
It is balance that allows the gut to function optimally. Balance that is driven by a massive community of living organisms that are undetectable to the human eye, yet weigh more than our brain. This community is our microbiome, made up of bacteria, fungi, viruses and archaea. Sometimes there are parasites too, although this is far less common in our hyper-sterilized Western world.
You’ve probably heard of bacteria, yeast and viruses, but how about those archaea? These are single cellular organisms, just like bacteria, that are fascinating because we know very little about them yet they’ve been around for 4 billion years! They can survive in extreme conditions like rift vents in the ocean’s floor or hot springs. By comparison, our intestines seem pretty mundane as long as it’s not Mexican night.
There has never been a moment in human history when we haven’t had a relationship with these microbes. They evolved with us from the very beginning. When we survived, they survived. Through co-evolution, they made themselves a critical part of who we are and play a central role in regulating our metabolism, nutrient absorption, immune system, mood, levels of inflammation, and even the expression of our genes.
It is best to think of our microbiome as an ecosystem, similar to the Amazon rainforest. Imagine flying at 35,000 feet and looking down at the expanse of that ecosystem. It looks like a big jungle from the sky, but if you jump out of the airplane and parachute in, you’d suddenly find yourself on the ground, surrounded by trees, plants, birds, reptiles, bugs and mammals. Each part of the jungle will have its own unique blend of wildlife, a balance that is the byproduct of environmental conditions.
Your large intestine is no different. The view from 35,000 feet shows us the colon, which is home to 40 trillion bacteria with between 300 and 1000 different species present. And that’s not to mention the fungi, archaea and viruses. But if you were to zoom in with an electron microscope you would find that each millimeter along the colon has a unique blend of microbes, defined by the colonic environment.
The major driver of the intestinal environment is the food that you eat. Each one of us consumes on average a pound of food at every meal. If you do the math, that ends up being about 1,000 pounds of food in a given year. Yes, even the skinny people may eat a half ton of food per year! And over a lifetime, the average Westerner is consuming about 40 TONS of food. It is staggering to consider the number of people on our planet and the type of strain this places to fulfill our needs. It may be even more staggering to consider that many medical doctors don’t consider diet to be a critical part of the pathogenesis and treatment of disease.
Nonetheless, we know that diet is the most powerful predictor of the gut microbiome. In essence, the food that you choose creates the environment within your intestines. Certain microbes will thrive, while others will starve. You could say that you are what you eat, but it’s more accurate to say that you are what your microbes eat. And if the food creates an environment that allows your microbes to flourish and improve your health, then food truly IS medicine.
So what food has been shown to optimize our microbiome? According to an analysis by Dr. Rob Knight and The American Gut Project, the single greatest predictor of a healthy gut microbiome is… (*drumroll*) The diversity of the plants that you consume. Studies suggest that our microbiome thrives in an environment with plant-derived polyphenols, phytochemicals, and fiber. Each plant brings a unique mix of these factors that has positive effects inside us. The popular adage “Eat the Rainbow!” is completely true.
Creating this environment starts with maximizing our consumption of a diversity of plant foods. You simply can’t shortcut around this step. But optimal gut function means maximum diversity of plant foods on a daily basis, which can be challenging to achieve with our busy schedules and within the limitations of three square meals per day.
For this reason, I am a huge fan of the Genuine Health fermented organic gut superfoods+. This is a blend of 21 organic plant foods that have been carefully selected and freshly harvested. Spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, raspberries and spirulina are just a few examples. These superfoods are fermented using a small batch, artisanal process to release the full nutritional value and optimizing it for easy absorption. They are then dehydrated and blended together into a powder and a fermented prebiotic fiber is added for additional gut support. There is no added dairy, gluten or soy. Everything remains vegan, organic, and non-GMO.
If our goal is to maximize the diversity of plants in our diet, Genuine Health’s fermented organic gut superfoods+ is perfectly designed to support us in this goal. On a personal note, I use this product twice a day. Sometimes I throw it into a smoothie, but most of the time I just shake it up with a big bottle of water. This may sound strange, but there’s a euphoria and enthusiasm that my body experiences with fermented organic gut superfoods+. I think that’s my gut letting me know that everything is in harmonic balance.