Archives For microbiome

Food and long life

August 14, 2015 — Leave a comment

CutleryThere is so much in the news about food that it is hard to know what to eat. But there is reason to believe that food can play an important role in health. I’ve written about the connection between food and inflammation, the effect of food on the bacteria in the gut, how food can influence the course of a disease and the importance of telling stories about food.

Recent scientific papers in medical journals have suggested that spicy food is associated with a lower risk of death and that a Southern diet is associated with a greater risk of heart disease and stroke.

However, scientific studies about diet are difficult to interpret because they often depend on people keeping track of what they eat. It is also hard to know if other factors are influencing the results, which is why both of these studies can only conclude an “association” between the particular diet and the outcome and not a “cause”.

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microbiome2Remember in elementary school science class when we put samples of our hair and saliva in Petri dishes to see what grew? We even used cotton swabs to test the surfaces of our desks and bacteria grew in a few days. These experiments were designed to show us that we have lots of bacteria inside and on our bodies – and all around us. There are microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.) everywhere in our “built environment” – the buildings we live and work in – as seen in this incredible animation.

Research suggests that the microbes in our guts play an important role in the development of disease. This collection of organisms, referred to as the microbiome (although technically the collection of organisms is called the microbiota and the genes of those organisms are called the microbiome), may play a role in the development of many diseases including diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, allergies, Crohn’s disease, autism and cancer.

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The gut and the brain

December 19, 2014 — Leave a comment

Gut BrainWe don’t normally think about the gut and the brain being connected. And yet many of us have gotten a stomach ache, nausea or diarrhea from stress or a feeling of “butterflies” from excitement. Or we may experience pleasure from certain foods or feel a need to eat when under stress.

The vagus nerve travels between the brain and other organs in the body and can transmit messages in both directions. The brain can send messages to the gut through chemicals (called neurotransmitters). The gut has its own nervous system (called the enteric nervous system or ENS) that controls digestion. But scientists now think that the ENS can also produce neurotransmitters to send to the brain.

The big question is whether the gut can actually cause symptoms and diseases of the nervous system.

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FODMAPs

October 10, 2014 — 1 Comment

FODMAP2A few weeks ago, I was asked if I knew anything about the low FODMAP diet as a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). I was sure this was yet another fad diet (or that the name was misspelled – seemed like FOD should be FOOD, right?) .

Imagine my surprise when I found detailed information about the diet and its use in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) on the Stanford Health Care website. Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition that causes abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and other symptoms in the gut. It turns out that FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharide, Disaccharide, Monosaccharides and Polyol. All of these substances are found in certain foods and are types of carbohydrates. Researchers in Australia found that these carbohydrates are not well absorbed by the small intestine in people with IBS. As a result, the substances stay in the gut rather than being used by the body and they pull water into the gut. The FODMAPs can also be fermented by the bacteria in the gut which produces gas. All of this can lead to a bloating feeling, pain and other symptoms.

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Food stories

October 6, 2014 — 2 Comments

veggies

Personal stories are very powerful.

Not just in magazines about celebrities but also in healthcare. In fact, there is a Department of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University (and at other universities) and several medical journals have created sections devoted to patient stories including the “Narrative Matters” column of Health Affairs.

I’ve written a lot about my fascination with food – how it affects inflammation, the psychology behind what we eat, how the food we eat affects the important bacteria in our gut (the microbiome) and more. I began wondering if food stories could be just as important as patient stories.

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