Fail to feed your bacteria properly and they’ll start eating you.
I donʼt want to frighten you, but right now there are around 100 trillion bacteria chomping away in your gut.
Itʼs a hungry job being a microbe.
Thereʼs something like three pounds of bacteria lining your intestinal tract,
probably made up of about 500 different species.
I say probably, because everyoneʼs different. Although you and I share around 99.5% of the same DNA,
our microbiomes almost certainly vary widely, one of the reasons itʼs so fascinating to explore yours
with a uBiome test.
The thing is, a lot of your bacteria keep you healthy – theyʼre helping you digest
food and synthesize vitamins, for instance.
Doesnʼt it therefore make sense, in return, to keep them healthy too?
One way to do that is to ensure theyʼre properly fed, and hereʼs where things
get interesting and actually pretty serious.
You see, a prime source of bacterial nutrition comes from fiber, but most
peopleʼs diets are vastly underrepresented in this respect.
An average individual in the West gets roughly 15 grams of fiber a day, which
is nowhere near enough. In fact, The Institute of Medicine recommends
women should get 25 grams per day, while men should consume 38 grams.
Does this matter much?
Actually it matters enough for the U.S. governmentʼs dietary guidelines to label
dietary fiber as a “nutrient of concern”. A public health issue, no less.
Itʼs long been accepted that having enough fiber in your diet can contribute to
a feeling of fullness (so you know when to stop eating) and what
gastroenterologists politely call “healthy laxation” (regularity in the bowel
More seriously, a low fiber diet may also be associated with the risk of
developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular
disease, and constipation.
But now studies are showing that failing to provide enough fiber to the gutʼs
bacteria may lead to them feeding on the gut itself.
Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School found that when
mice were placed on a fiber-free diet, their microbes began to eat away at the
gutʼs protective mucus lining, potentially triggering inflammation and disease.
So fiberʼs important.
How easy is it to get enough, then?
Well since most of us are only getting around half as much as we should,
clearly not very. Eating a salad every night, for instance, would only provide
two or three grams of fiber.
Dieticians say itʼs best to get fiber as part of your regular diet, but supplements
In a small study at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, adults ate a
fiber-enriched snack bar containing 21 grams of fiber once a day for three
The good news?
Their gut bacteria composition shifted from a profile similar to that found in
obese individuals to one which was more like the microbial make-up of lean
The bad news?
The minute the experiment was over, participantsʼ microbiomes returned to the
way theyʼd been before the experiment began.
So to keep your gut healthy, itʼs vital to eat a high fiber diet every day.
Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. Raspberries, bran, split peas, artichokes.
Whatever roughage you like.
Your bacteria will thank you for it.
Split peas for dinner tonight, anyone?
Have a great week!
Fiber-Famished Gut Microbes Linked to Poor Health
Shift in gut bacteria observed in fiber supplement study may offer good news for weight loss
Fiber supplementation influences phylogenetic structure and functional capacity of the human intestinal microbiome: follow-up of a randomized controlled trial
Think Globally, Act Locally: Regulated Deployment of Polysaccharide Degradation Abilities by our Symbiotic Gut Bacteria