Michael Pollan on Beneficial Germs

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By Nancy Smorch

I went for my 6-week follow-up visit to the Functional Medicine practitioner this past week.  Things are moving in the right direction now, in terms of my gut health.  I'll get into more of what I learned next week, but right now I just wanted to share with you some thoughts I had while thinking about healing my gut and the discussion I had with my doctor.

Most likely, a very large percentage of the Western population has a leaky gut - an inflamed lining of the intestines that causes the cells of the intestinal wall to become more permeable, as well as creates spaces between the one-celled lining, that allows for things that are supposed to remain in the intestinal tract to wander out into the rest of the body.

I'm specifically thinking about the huge number of bacteria that inhabit our gut.  Although they are extremely vital to the health of our gut, they don't belong in the rest of our body, and are probably leaking out of the gut along with food particles that haven't been completely digested, and toxins that are produced as by products of normal digestion but should be staying in the digestive system to be flushed out naturally.

It's my theory that these bacteria which may be leaking from the gut, may also be causing inflammation in the rest of the body.  After sharing this theory with my doctor, she had suggested I read Michael Pollan's article from the New York Times Magazine, "Some of My Best Friends are Germs."

It's quite a lengthy article, but I strongly recommend that you read it.  I don't even know where to begin to try to summarize it for you!

He talks about the importance of biodiversity in the microbiome, and how modern civilization has been wreaking havoc with this delicate ecosystem for the past century (with the overuse of antibiotics, processed foods and additives, and our obsession with killing germs, among other things).  As with many other species that have become extinct, or come to the verge of extinction over the years thanks to human ignorance, so too are some of the species of the human microbiome becoming extinct.

He stressed the importance of feeding our gut - especially in a time when most food feeds only the upper gastrointestinal tract.  Most food in the Western diet is highly processed and readily absorbed in the upper part of the GI tract, leaving nothing for the lower GI tract to feed on and digest.

We need to focus on adding more foods that feed the lower GI, like more plants with various types of fiber such as resistant starch from bananas, oats and beans.  Also beneficial are soluble fiber like onions, and other root veggies and nuts.   Then we must incorporate insoluble fiber like whole grains, bran, and avocados.  Also, more raw foods (or at least less cooked), would be beneficial.

Michael gets into some pretty interesting detail from a number of scientists who have been studying the make-up of the gut and the gut microbiome.  I imagine he had some pretty interesting conversations with these scientists - I would have loved to been able to listen in on them!  But for now, I am grateful for this fascinating article he shared with us.  Please take the time to read it and shed some light to others about this much overlooked aspect of our health.