Our food choices matter and it directly impacts our health
“There is this saying ‘genes load the gun but lifestyle pulls the trigger’. This means, we may come from a genetic background where there are mental health issues in the family line, cardiac disease, or obesity but it doesn't necessarily mean that you are destined to repeat. How is that possible? We just don’t pull the trigger. What we need to do is cultivate and nurture this microbial community through our diet and our lifestyle so that the healthy species go ahead and pull the levers of our healthy genes.”
One of the most critical components of brain health and brain function is the microbial community that lives in and on us. Although the topic might not sound so great, there is some pretty interesting and surprising information you will know about it so just navigate through if you want to learn more.
What is microbiome?
This whole frontier of medicine as far as what is termed the “microbiome” is very cutting edge in terms of just how long we've been here as a species and how long the advent of modern science has been available to us. When you consider that timeline, this is very new science and it is absolutely burgeoning every single day.
There are myriad studies that uncover more fascinating truths about the criticalness of these bacteria and that we need to live a lifestyle that nurtures and cultivates these bacteria if we want to live with good health, especially good mental health.
It's estimated now that there are 300 to 500 different types of bacteria inside our bodies containing nearly 2 million genes. But this can unfold over the coming years because we've only begun to scratch the surface of what we know to be true about the human body. Let’s dive into what these bacteria are and why they're so important to us.
A disordered gut microbiome could be:
- Unintentional weight changes
- Sleep disturbances
- Chronic fatigue
- Skin irritation
- Acne food intolerances
- Autoimmune conditions
- Brain Fog
- Mental health issues
- Compromised Immune Function
When Tracy was doing research a couple of years ago, one of the most fascinating things she came across was how nuanced and how incredibly unique every human being is. She got curious to compare the number of genes of a human being to other created things and other material things. She found that genes in a stalk of corn, a flower, and just random things have somewhere between 20,000 and 45,000 genes. And if these fairly insignificant things in the world have this many genes, then certainly human beings must have exponentially more. But to learn that we are composed of maybe 20,000 to 25,000 genes is really absolutely mind-blowing.
Healthy and Not-So-Healthy Genes
When you look at all of the millions of bacterial genes that live in and on us, it turns out that the gene expression of the microbial community that lives in and on us would then go ahead and pull the levers of our genes be they healthy genes. Or sometimes we also inherit some not-so-healthy genes. There is this saying “genes load the gun but lifestyle pulls the trigger”. This means we may come from a genetic background where there are mental health issues in the family line, cardiac disease, or obesity but it doesn't necessarily mean that you are destined to repeat.
How is that possible? We just don’t pull the trigger. What we need to do is cultivate and nurture this microbial community through our diet and our lifestyle so that the healthy species go ahead and pull the levers of our healthy genes. But if we have disordered microbial communities due to diet, lifestyle, and stress factors, the healthy versions and varieties of the bacterial species begin to die off and the more pathogenic, opportunistic strains will proliferate. Which will go ahead and cause those less than ideal genes to express, leading to myriad diseases.
Your diet and lifestyle choices matter
Your choices compound and they create the reality that we live with every single day, be it good or bad. They're still there and they still can be expressed depending on the environment around us. We have so much agency over the state of our health, the state of our being, and truly the genetics we pass on to future generations.
If we live a lifestyle that causes the healthy genes to express and quiets down less desirable genes, we're more likely to pass along a heavier composition of the healthy genes to our offspring. But the opposite is also true and this is the evidence for what is termed “generational cursing” or just generational patterns. It’s not that the grandchild generation is very reliant upon the gene expression and lifestyle choices of the grandparents and not that it doesn't pass to their own children, but a significant expression in the grandchildren population.
The bacteria in the gut produce metabolites that impact our health in many ways, both good and bad, depending on the community of microbes we nurture through diet and lifestyle.
Our choices totally matter, they don't happen in a vacuum. We can't hold the narrative of “I do what I want when I want, how I want,” and not believe that it impacts people around us in the now and also in the future. It directly impacts our choices, be it good or bad.
Types of elements that build up an unhealthy microbiome:
- White Flour
- Prescription Medication
- High Chronic Stress Levels
How many vegetables should you eat?
On the flip side, there's really nothing more important in anybody's diet no matter what style a person chooses to lean into than lots of colorful vegetables, fruits, fiber-rich foods, clean lean proteins, healthy fats, etc. Vegetables should be at least half of the plate whatever the other half of the macros look like for each person like protein to carbohydrate.
The vegetables really drive the microbiome whether it's healthy or not. The bacteria that we need to ingest that are helpful live on plant foods. When we eat plant foods raw or very very lightly cooked, those bacteria remain alive and then they populate throughout our digestive system. We need a high fiber diet to be the food source for those healthy bacteria that produce metabolites that yield our best health.
When we're eating lots of processed foods and we're not taking in the fiber and we're not taking in diversity through a plant-based diet, then we have that sick expression. Neurotransmitter production sustainability relies heavily on a healthy gut microbiome environment. That's what defines our mental state and it's heavily reliant upon our lifestyle.
70 to 80% of our immune system actually resides in the gut and it's the bacteria pulling levers. Important nutrients that we definitely need are compartmentalized like vitamin D, vitamin C, and Zinc. However, what will yield to you the best health is living a lifestyle and eating a diet that will encourage diversity and just a proliferation of the healthy strains of bacteria that quiet down those pathogenic strains.
The Brain and Gut Connection
Tracy explained the relation between our brain and gut. There's bi-directional communication between the brain and the gut. The best way it can be explained is if you're chilling out at the park on a bench and you're reading a book and you're super calm, and all of a sudden you see a dog out of the corner of your eye charging you in an instant, your stomach twists and turns and you get this shock of energy to the legs and to the heart so that you can get up and get out of there. It happens in an instant and that's because the gut and brain via the nerve are pretty much one organ. So in order for us to enjoy that health, we need that communication, that superhighway working well for us.
Benefits of Probiotics
There are studies that show feeding mice probiotics reduces the amount of stress hormone that hangs out in their blood system. It means the healthy bacteria are doing their jobs but when that vagus nerve was cut, that probiotic no longer had any effect because that superhighway that keeps the connection between the brain and gut wide open for back and forth communication was severed and now even though the bacteria are being ingested they have no means by which to enter into the brain and impact health.
We should live a lifestyle that needs a diet that is conducive to nurturing that population of bacteria if we want to enjoy good health.
What can cause poor digestive health?
- Prescription medications
- Poor Diet, high in refined foods, sugar and toxic chemicals, low in fiber
- Overabundance of non-beneficial bacteria
- Not drinking enough water
- Low stomach acid
- Chronic stress
- Rushed eating (sympathetic v. parasympathetic state)
Q&A with Tracy
George: Is there a flip side to this, what can cause good health?
Tracy: It’s examining the way that you live each and every day. I love to explain it to my clients like the scales of justice. Are they at the very least balanced? Most of the standard Americans, we're living so disordered that the stress side of that scale is really driving the daily experience. It's no surprise we see the trend of chronic and fatal diseases that we see today because the body is not meant to sustain this type of chronic ongoing sympathetic activated type of experience.”
George: For a long time I thought probiotics were just the marketing ploy of the yogurt companies, so is yogurt the best way to ingest probiotics?
Tracy: I would say you were right for the first statement that you made. It is by large a ploy, the sugar that exists in the mainstream brands of yogurts kill off the bacteria so you're likely not ingesting anything live and therefore won't have any positive impact on your health. If it's a standard Yoplait or a brand like that you're talking commercial dairy so the level of inflammation that one yogurt will cause through the mechanisms of commercially raised animal products coupled with that high sugar content, you're doing yourself a grave disservice by taking probiotics that way. In terms of supplements, it really would do everybody well to just seek counsel from somebody like myself or other highly trained professionals in the space who can help you navigate the terrain and figure out what products are really worth putting your resources behind so that you can see your health improve.
ABOUT TRACY SPIAGGIA
Tracy Spiaggia is a Functional Nutrition and Lifestyle Practitioner, National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, Amen Clinic Brain Health Specialist, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and a Published Author. Her passion is working with individuals and families who struggle with mental illness, coaching them into a more peaceful, healthy, and successful life.
Get to know Tracy Spiaggia more!
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