Despite the bias that I am a seasoned fermenter by now, this Michael Pollan article “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs” was one of the best health and nutrition articles I’ve read in a long time. Interesting, thoughtful, research-based, and well-rounded, it opened my eyes to many underlying relationships between bacteria and health which are present in our current Western lifestyle.
“A growing number of medical researchers are coming around to the idea that the common denominator of many, if not most, of the chronic diseases from which we suffer today may be inflammation — a heightened and persistent immune response by the body to a real or perceived threat. Various markers for inflammation are common in people with metabolic syndrome, the complex of abnormalities that predisposes people to illnesses like cardiovascular disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and perhaps cancer.
One theory is that the problem begins in the gut, with a disorder of the microbiota, specifically of the all-important epithelium that lines our digestive tract. This internal skin — the surface area of which is large enough to cover a tennis court — mediates our relationship to the world outside our bodies; more than 50 tons of food pass through it in a lifetime. The microbiota play a critical role in maintaining the health of the epithelium: some bacteria, like the bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus plantarum (common in fermented vegetables), seem to directly enhance its function. These and other gut bacteria also contribute to its welfare by feeding it. Unlike most tissues, which take their nourishment from the bloodstream, epithelial cells in the colon obtain much of theirs from the short-chain fatty acids that gut bacteria produce as a byproduct of their fermentation of plant fiber in the large intestine.”
So, Pollan describes a theory on the root cause of many chronic diseases, but the plot thickens… Also discussed in the article are fecal transplants, the importance of vaginal birth and breastfeeding, the microbial “resistome” (resistant bacteria), the difference between the gut microbiota of city dwellers versus hunter gatherer tribes, how families tend to harbor similar bacterial types and quantities, and sooo much more utterly fascinating research and theories. As I was reading this article, I got so enthralled that I sent it to my coworkers, my former coworkers, my doctor, my dad, my grandma… and I don’t even recall who else! I thought, “People need to know this!”
I thought the following was a great nutritional recommendation:
“The big problem with the Western diet is that it doesn’t feed the gut, only the upper GI. All the food has been processed to be readily absorbed, leaving nothing for the lower GI. But it turns out that one of the keys to health is fermentation in the large intestine. And the key to feeding the fermentation in the large intestine is giving it lots of plants with their various types of fiber, including resistant starch (found in bananas, oats, beans); soluble fiber (in onions and other root vegetables, nuts); and insoluble fiber (in whole grains, especially bran, and avocados). With our diet of swiftly absorbed sugars and fats, we’re eating for one and depriving the trillion of the food they like best: complex carbohydrates and fermentable plant fibers. The byproduct of fermentation is the short-chain fatty acids that nourish the gut barrier and help prevent inflammation.”
I could go on quoting the whole article – just read it and enjoy!