“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” — Hippocrates
While Hippocrates nailed it in 400 BC, it’s only recently that we have been hearing a lot about the gut microbiome and how it impacts the immune system, inflammation, and longevity.
So what is your microbiome? Your microbiome contains the microbial guests – bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa – that live both on and inside your body. The majority of your microbiome is found in your large intestine and can weigh up to five pounds.
Surprisingly, you may have as much as 200 times the number of genes in your microbiome than in your human genome.
Your microbiome signature
You can think of the microbiome as a cloud of activity that follows you around and interacts with your environmental exposures and lifestyle factors including your urban environment, climate, stress, diet, physical activity, contaminants, radiation, and internal biological factors such as hormones, gut microbiota, and inflammation. It’s always evolving creating very different “:signatures” for each of us.
Explains Dr. Michael Snyder of Stanford University, “These personal signatures are essentially traces of specific fungi, plants, chemicals, and bacteria that are consistently seen on or around a single person, but that vary between people,” he adds. “Many environmental aspects contribute to this microscopic amalgam — pets, household chemicals, flowers in bloom, and even rain.”
So how do you positively impact the gut microbiota given the importance in human metabolism, nutrition, physiology, and immune function?
In recent years, the link between the gut and brain has started to become more understood, and we now call that communication link the gut-brain axis. The speed with which your gut-brain axis communicates is apparently fast and furious. In mice, researchers have seen a signal cross a synapse in under 100 milliseconds. That kind of makes sense given the enteric nervous system (ENS) is 100 million nerve cells that line gastrointestinal tract from your esophagus to the rear end.
Most importantly, our gut lining in the stomach is about one cell in thickness, so when that lining gets breached it can lead to bacteria and inflammatory and other toxins leaking into the bloodstream. This can trigger inflammation and other possible immune system reactions including depression, dementia, and schizophrenia along with virtually almost every autoimmune condition.
So finally the really interesting part. Late in 2018, a research team at the Cancer Center at the University of Louisville, uncovered the fact that gut microbiota can be altered by consuming plants (in this case, ginger). Plant RNA can be absorbed by the gut microbiota and can change their composition, amount and location.
This has huge implications for the treatment of inflammation and all kinds of chronic diseases. It is clear it is not just our genetics we are born with that determine our health and longevity.
The fact that our epigenetics could be equally deterministic means making better dietary and lifestyle choices can indeed improve our wellness. Our ancestors ate a paleo diet for many thousands of years, which created the microbiota which were passed down to you. If we help our gut microbiota return to a simpler, cleaner diet (including fasting) we can dramatically improve our own well-being. Plants may just be the best medicine.