The Gut & Microbiome at the Fulcrum of Health
Thank you to Dr. Chris Damman for his excellent guest blog contribution!
As a clinical gastroenterologist and research physician who studies the microbiome, I’m often asked by friends, family, and patients – What is your best advice for a healthy gut? I have admittedly given this a bit of thought over the years, and even struggled with an issue or two of the gut kind myself!
Ask my family and they’ll tell you from the earliest of ages, in the expression of kid humor, I had a serious case of gut-on-the-brain. Having perhaps graduated now from potty jokes to punny jokes, I continue a fascination with what affects us at a profound level from the inside out –– my three daughters and wife would attest!
The advice that I give my family and friends, and that I have for you, can be distilled down to three simple letters – the F’s, C’s, and M’s – conveniently remembered as FulCruM Health. What’s important is to consider the gut is impacted by a larger context of overall health and environment, AND the reverse is true too – the gut truly impacts our overall health and environment. The world is interconnected, and to a gastroenterologist, the gut’s right at the center of it all!
In the inspiration of “you are what you eat,” food is an obvious place to start and the categories of foods that grow a healthy gut microbiome can be simplified to the Four F’s: Fiber, Phenols, good Fats (e.g. Omega-3), and Ferments. Yes, one’s phonetic! These have all been shown to be prebiotic foods that grow a healthy microbiome and help promote production of molecules critical for our health and not present appreciably in our diet like Butyrate!
What’s fascinating is these foods are also present in high amounts in populations around the world where people live disproportionately to be 100 years old! – the so-called Blue Zones – Sardinia, Ikaria, Okinawa, Nicoya, and Loma Linda. They are also the foundation of the most extensively studied diet in the medical literature–the Mediterranean diet– a diet that has been shown to correlate positively with health outcomes like low rates of obesity and diabetes.
But nutrition, while an important part of gut and overall health, is just one part. For the next level, we need to consider other environmental inputs that can be summarized as the Four M’s: Molecules, Microbes, Motion, and Mind. Molecules are simply food and their flipside – toxins – like some pesticides, recreational drugs, tobacco, and excessive alcohol. Microbes involve embracing the good bugs that live on and around us! Ultra-sterility is not always a good thing for our microbiomes. Motion entails simply getting the body moving. Even a two minute walk after meals has been shown to make a difference in digestion. Mind highlights the importance of mindfulness and good sleep. Calm your mind and calm your gut! (For more information see the Four M’s here.)
But to what end is health? Why are these healthy practices important? My own bias is that, in the end, it has to do with community which is what provides some of the greatest meaning to our lives. This brings us to the Four C’s: Community, Connection, Caring, and Construction. Building a community together through caring and construction that is increasingly rich and interconnected is perhaps where all of our best-intentioned efforts are ultimately headed.
So there you have it! A long way from GI jokes, but in the end, not a long way from where we started. Sharing gratitude to my own family, friends, and community. And a special thanks to Dr. Shemek for her partnership in spreading the good word of evidence-based nutrition & health!
A Votre Santé et Bon Appétit!
Chris Damman, MD
Clinical Associate Professor of Gastroenterology at the University of Washington
Chief Medical and Science Officer at Supergut
Former Gut Health Lead at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation