Featured in the Bastyr University Clinic Blog

The media is bloated with misinformation and spewing advice on how to optimize digestive health.  This can be overwhelming and leave you feeling queasy just trying to understand it all.  I’ve sifted through the research and have gotten to “the bottom” of it.  Continue reading to learn how to maintain and improve the health of your intestines.


At the core of digestive health are the gut bacteria.  They are known as the human microbiome.  The microbiome consists of many types of bugs: bacteria, viruses and other organisms.  I’ll call them microbes.  There are trillions of them that live in the human body, especially the large intestine.  Some microbes are anti-inflammatory (beneficial) and some are inflammatory (not always beneficial).  However, we need a balance of both and a large diversity of microbes to promote our health.

gut microbe cartoonThese microbes do many things.  They help us maximize the energy we get from the foods we eat.  This means they can help us gain weight, lose weight or store energy as fat.  They influence our mood by interacting with our nervous system and they also affect our immune system.  From infancy to old age, microbes are critical to our well-being.

An imbalanced microbiome may be one in which there are a greater number of inflammatory or “bad” gut microbes compared to anti-inflammatory or “good” gut microbes.  It can change our mood, our ability to fight off illness, or control our weight.  An imbalanced microbiome may also contribute to diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, depression, cancer, arthritis, obesity and autism.  Therefore, it is very important to nourish ourselves, and indirectly our microbiomes, to optimize our health.



Genetics, diet, medication, obesity and health status all influence the microbiome.  Nutritionally, foods high in fiber, soluble and insoluble, help boost our microbial balance.  Examples of fiber-rich foods include beans, rice, wheat bran, celery, broccoli, apples, and oatmeal.  In addition to helping feed our microbes and promote a balance between the “good” and “bad” ones, fiber has added benefits.  Helping lower cholesterol, improving blood sugar, and providing antioxidant protection are some of the many benefits of fiber.


Not all of us have the time to consciously feed our microbial friends on a regular basis.  When we don’t get enough fiber in our diets, it is very tempting to wander to the supplement aisles for supplements promising the glories of gut health in one quick dose.  When deciding between products, remember that probiotics are the health-promoting microbes while prebiotics are the food for those microbes.  In other words, prebiotics feed probiotics.  Currently, research has shown that once ingested, the probiotics don’t linger for very long once you stop taking the supplement.  So, in theory, consuming more prebiotics may allow the probiotics to stick around longer.

Take Gut Action!

Whether you have a six-pack, a 1-pack, some fluff or some firmness, embrace that gut!  The adequate intake for men is 38 g of fiber per day and for women is 25 g of fiber per day. One medium apple with Strong Gutskin already gives you about 5g of fiber, and it’s a great snack.  Remember, your gut is home to all of those wonderful microbes!





In Defense of Food: The Secrets of Fiber

Hungry Microbiome: Why Fiber is Good for You

Cummings JH, Stephen AM. Carbohydrate terminology and classification. 2007;61:5-18. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602936.

Fardet A, Fardet A. New hypotheses for the health-protective mechanisms of whole-grain cereals : what is beyond fibre ? Nutrition Research Reviews. 2012;(June 2010). doi:10.1017/S0954422410000041.

Giugliano D, Ceriello A, Esposito K. The Effects of Diet on Inflammation Emphasis on the Metabolic Syndrome. 2006;48(4). doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2006.03.052.

Mcdonald D, Birmingham A, Knight R. Context and the human microbiome. Microbiome. 2015:1-8. doi:10.1186/s40168-015-0117-2.

Org E, Parks BW, Joo JWJ, et al. Genetic and environmental control of host-gut microbiota interactions. 2015:1558-1569. doi:10.1101/gr.194118.115.Freely.

Rosenbaum M, Knight R, Leibel RL. The gut microbiota in human energy homeostasis and obesity. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2015;26(9):493-501. doi:10.1016/j.tem.2015.07.002.

Slavin J. Why whole grains are protective : biological mechanisms. 2003:129-134. doi:10.1079/PNS2002221.

Vanamala JKP, Knight R, Spector TD. Previews Can Your Microbiome Tell You What to Eat ? Cell Metab. 2015;22(6):960-961. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2015.11.009.

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