How Do Diets Affect Gut Health?
Hoping to take control of your health and overall wellness through a new diet? That’s great news. But as you prepare to embark on any new daily dietary regimen, it’s worth pausing to consider the one component that plays a pivotal role in any such endeavor—and which stands to change the most from it: your microbiome.
What’s a microbiome? It’s the enormous microbial ecosystem comprised of more than 100 trillion bacteria that flourishes within every person’s gastrointestinal tract. Its composition is a direct result of what we put into our bodies and, consequently, it stands to change considerably, if what we consume changes drastically.
“Mounting evidence suggests that a key to optimal health and wellness is through our gut microbiome—specifically, what we do or don’t eat feeds the trillions of bacteria living in our guts,” says Kristine Carlson, a registered dietitian and certified nutrition support clinician in the Surgical and Medical Intensive Care Units at the University of Washington Medical Center. “What you eat literally shapes your microbiome and its response to the diets we consume.”
‘You are what you eat’ might be an old adage, but it has really never been more true.
Over the past decade, the idea of the microbiome and an accompanying notion that people can re-engineer the bacterial composition of their digestive system for better health have exploded in the public consciousness.
In addition to the assiduous daily work of UW Medical Center RDs to educate people about the myths and facts of what is and isn’t possible, professors have also taken up the task. Foremost among them is Will DePaolo, associate professor and director of the University of Washington’s Center for Microbiome Sciences and Therapeutics (CMiST).
“Everyone’s microbiome is like a fingerprint; everyone’s is going to be different.” he says, adding it’s not that we can’t or shouldn’t be reprogramming the bacteria in our gut, rather, it’s that we need to go about it in the right way.
“It has been known that diet is one of the biggest factors that can influence the microbiome,” DePaolo says. While it’s “amazing to see how one thing can change the architecture of the gut,” the nutritional reeducation of one’s microbiome takes time.
“Your diet has to slowly change your microbiome,” he says. “If you just take a new microbiome and try to stick it in with a Western diet biome, the consequences can be quite severe.”