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‘Guts’ for Health!

We all have that one friend who’s friends with the entire school and beyond or who is the star of the happy hour even before anyone is drinking up or downing shots. Interestingly, Dr. Johnson of Oxford University has found that people who are extremely social have a more diverse gut microbiome! 

When you are feeding yourself, or your cravings, you’ve got to remember you are not just feeding yourself, but also the trillions of gut bacteria you’ve cultivated inside you. Since the food you put in your gut acts ultimately as an important part of the culture medium for these bacteria, it decides what kind of bacteria die off and which ones survive and thrive. Now, you may rightly wonder why you should even care about the kind of bugs growing inside you! Well, recent research suggests that the gut microbiome dictates the terms of your life, in more ways than one; from your mood (yes, the gut microbiome composition of people with clinical depression looks a certain way), the amount of hair on your head, your waistline, cognition, immune system to whether you develop insulin resistance, your risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders, rheumatic diseases and chronic autoimmune conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and even your risk of developing cancer (including Breast and Prostate Cancer) as well as your response to many of the cancer therapies available, such as Immunotherapy. Obesity and Insulin resistance, in turn, play a role in many disease processes (such as heart conditions, Diabetes, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) by producing a chronic inflammatory condition in your body.

We fastidiously take pills prescribed by our doctors knowing they’ll cure us but when it comes to food, we consume it through the same route, in doses thousands of times more than a pill, every day, all our lives, somehow convincing ourselves that the endless amounts of sugary foods and drinks or meat sandwiches won’t harm us.

Sugar modifies the ratio of good to bad gut bacteria, dysbiosis, setting the body up for chronic inflammation. Processed foods seem to have a similar effect. Whereas, dietary fiber and not supplemental fiber is a major promoter of good gut microbiome. It’s essential not only for a healthy heart but also for keeping other chronic conditions such as Diabetes, Colon Cancer and autoimmune disorders at bay. An increased consumption of fiber has even shown to decrease mortality! The recommended intake for a healthy adult is 25-40 g/day. Sadly, on average, Americans are able to consume only 10-15 g/day. Plants not only provide you with fiber but also come packed with anti-inflammatory compounds, antioxidants and phytonutrients such as carotenoids, flavonoids, Sulforaphane, Curcumin and Papain, not to mention their positive impact on gut microbiome. In short, a wholesome plant based diet has the potential to offset and reverse many diseases. 

So the next time you find yourself reaching for a donut, think of this for a minute; it’s probably not even you craving it, but the harmful gut bacteria currently setting up camp in your gut directing you to provide them with their next hit of sugar. The good news, however, is that you can consistently and habitually eat healthy, potentially turning around the ecosystem inside you and watch not just all those cravings and addictions melting away, but also the minuscule friends inside your body steering it towards that perfect homeostasis!

Dr. Mugdha Srivastava is a guest author of Stern Oppy’s Fall Issue. She is a graduate from Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, AMU, India and is passionate about cancer research, women’s health and holistic well-being. She is also a classical Bharatnatyam dancer.

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