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Stanford University School of Medicine

The Good Gut: Discussing the stomach’s world of disease-fighting microbes

cauliflowerIs your gut a doorway into good health? Microbiologist Justin Sonnenburg, PhD, and his wife and fellow researcher, Erica Sonnenburg, PhD, believe so. They've written the book The Good Gut, and in it they detail the emerging science of the microbes in the gut and how they impact one's health or illness.

In my most recent 1:2:1 podcast, I asked Justin Sonnenburg how the science of microbiota gained its headwinds. DNA sequencing offered for the first time, he told me, a detailed look at the trillions of microbes that live within the gut and the understanding that humans were much more than just the product of their human genes. As he and Erica wrote in their book, "each of us has a microbiota as unique as our fingerprint that impacts our predisposition to different diseases."

The Sonnenburgs contend that the human gut is under siege and facing a "mass extinction," and that the effect of a Western lifestyle has produced a sort of a "microbiota plane wreck." Processed foods, high sugar intake, low fiber diets and the overuse of antibiotics have created an unhealthy state in the gut and limited the body's natural ability to fight disease and maintain good health. The result is what you see so prevalent in the Western world: an increase in obesity, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.

It's not all gut-wrenching, though. In their book, the Sonnenburgs offer a host of tips about food and diet and highlight how the trashing of the gut can be remedied. In their own home, they cleaned their pantry of "white rice, white flour, white pasta... Empty shelves were filled with ancient grains like quinoa and millet, wild rice, and a variety of legumes." Another tip he shared: fiber, fiber, fiber in the diet. "Individuals from high-fiber consuming societies have a larger variety of bacteria in their microbiota and much lower rates of inflammatory diseases," the Sonnenburgs wrote in the book.

One noted physician who praised the book referred to the gut as "our own inner garden." The Sonnenburgs obviously see it similarly -- precious territory that we'd better start paying attention to.

Previously: The die-off within us: Are our low-fiber diets ruining our descendants’ lives?Can low-fiber diets' damage to our gut-microbial ecosystems get passed down over generations?Getting to the good gut: how to go about it and Civilization and its dietary (dis)contents: Do modern diets starve our gut-microbial community?
Photo by Timothy Archibald

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