Processed foods alter gut bacteria

Your microbiome, the bacteria that live in your intestines and elsewhere in your body, serve very important functions.  They help you digest food.  They secrete nutrients that nourish the cells lining your intestines.  They affect which genes in your cells are active and which ones are inactive.  They support a healthy immune system, making you less likely to get infections and auto-immune disease.

Not surprisingly, the food we eat affects our microbiome.  Certain substances, like fiber, nourish the good bacteria and promote a beneficial colonization.  Other substances, like trans-fats, cause the wrong bacteria to multiply.  Certain ingredients in processed foods significantly affect our gut bacteria.  Ingredients such as polysorbate 80, lecithin, carrageenan, polyglycerols, and xanthan and other “gums”  are additives in processed foods, used as emulsifiers and preservatives.  A study from the journal Nature showed that these ingredients alter the microbes in the guts of mice.  Extrapolated to humans this may be part of the mechanism by which processed foods increase the incidence of obesity, metabolic syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.

I recommend my patients avoid processed foods.  A diet rich in dark-colored vegetables, meat where the animal ate its natural diet, and fruit will promote healthy gut bacteria and thereby promote optimal health.

Probiotics provide a source of health-promoting bacteria for our guts, and I recommend this supplement for most of my patients.  Fermented foods are a great source of natural probiotics.  A  great natural option to achieve a healing microbiome is to eat a diet that naturally promotes the growth of these healthy bacteria.

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