All About the Microbiome + Tips for Cultivating a Healthy Gut

Along with the return of football, your favorite cable TV shows and a new school year, Fall is also an exciting time because the Denver Dietetic Association (DDA) membership meetings start back up. DDA is the local chapter of the AND (a professional membership organization for dietitians) and they host monthly meetings that serve as both a networking and educational opportunity, which makes them really fun to attend. I served on the board of directors for the DDA for five years when I was fresh out of my internship until just last year when I decided to take some time off. It's fun to attend as a "guest" after having previously been so involved with the planning process. 

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Last night they hosted an epic kick-off meeting at Johnson and Wales University with more than 100 people in attendance. There were so many people there that they ran out of food! I have never seen this happen before. Good thing I had a snack in my purse to hold me over until I got home later, plus the speaker had such an interesting presentation I didn't even think about how hungry I was.

The presenter was Tiffany Weir, PhD (research at Colorado State University) and her presentation was titled, "Update on the Microbiome: Impacts of Current Research on Nutrition and Health"). As a major hot topic, specifically in recent years, here are a few takeaways that I thought you might find interesting:

  • Did you know that the average person has about 100 different microbial species in their gut? In addition to their more well-known function of breaking down food, they are also protective against harmful species (the ones that cause infectious diseases), interact with the immune system for added protection, and aid in digestion. 
     
  • When it comes to dietary intake, plant-heavy diets rule (per usual) for cultivating a healthy microbiome. In studies that compare a variety of common dietary patterns including high-fat, gluten-free, Western, and Mediterranean, the Mediterranean style pattern increases beneficial bacteria and decreases the not-so-good ones all while decreasing inflammation. The other eating patterns tend to have the opposite effect. 
     
  • Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for these little guys and fiber is really important in maintaining a symbiotic relationship with the microbes for optimal gut health. This is why a low-carbohydrate diet has been shown to result in a negative impact on microbiome health. Fiber also ferments in the gut which stimulates the production of short-chain fatty acids, then regulating satiety peptides (another reason why fiber aids in fullness). #eatmoreplants
     
  • There is some really cool advancements/technology in the works (some already in practice) in this field including the use of fecal transplant (exactly what it sounds like) to treat a certain recurring bacterial infection that is prevalent in the clinical setting; genetically engineered probiotics that have beneficial properties; and functional medicine reports that can give you valuable information on the state of your microbiome along with personalized recommendations for how you might remedy potential issues (love this one). 
     
  • Of all of the probiotic "buzz foods" on the market, yogurt is the one that really stands out in terms of probiotic power since certain strains of beneficial bacteria are added in after processing that destroys live cultures. Other fermented foods that have been pasteurized without this extra step, do not contain those same live cultures. note: please don't take this to mean that pasteurization is bad, because it's actually pretty awesome. 
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In summary, Tiffany referenced Michael Pollen's famous quote: "Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants." as a practical take-away regarding nutrition and microbiome health. During the Q&A she also shared that she doesn't personally take a probiotic supplement and many which are available over-the-counter are simply not effective. There is one that has actually undergone rigorous research and is classified as a 'medical food' (versus a supplement which can be purchased anywhere). It's called VSL#3 and requires a prescription and supervision of a medical professional. I am always most interested to learn about the personal habits of researchers who specialize in a specific nutrition topic because they are so in tuned with the literature. 

Overall it was a great first meeting and I'm looking forward to more interesting presentations throughout the year - thanks to the DDA for organizing such fun events!