Soluble fiber, probiotics, and eating seasonally can boost microbiome health and immunity. Here’s how to balance all three.
Ayurveda’s Take on the Gut Microbiome, or Krimi
The immune system in our guts represents nearly 70% of our entire immune system.1 And recently, Western science has caught up with Ayurveda—which has long decreed that the gut is also the seat of the nervous system and the governor of the mind—calling the gut “the second brain.”
The gut microbiome is in charge of it all—immunity and the second brain. Your gut microbiome employs bi-directional pathways from your belly to your brain and your brain to your belly, suggesting that many of our thoughts, moods, and cravings originate from the gut.2 Researchers have also discovered bi-directional pathways between the gut microbiome and the body’s immune system, suggesting that our entire immune system is also dependent on a healthy gut microbiome.3
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Boosting Microbiome Health Boosts Immunity
Ayurveda recognizes the impact of invisible gut microbes called krimi, which can be beneficial or harmful. The key to keeping krimi in balance is to alter the environment in which they live—primarily in the gut. With trillions of bacteria and more than 140,000 virus species occupying the gut, maintaining a balanced and healthy microbiome is critical for overall immune system function and required for human survival.4
In the West, antibiotics and harsh herbs and oils are used to destroy certain undesirable bacterial or viral species, and in the process, they destroy large swaths of beneficial bacteria, along with the very delicate intestinal environment.5 Probiotics can be employed to restore a stable of healthy gut bacteria, but sadly, most probiotics used today are transient in nature, and in order to support a healthy gut microbiome and restore gut immunity, probiotics have to colonize, or take up residence, long-term.
Antibiotic damage to the intestinal environment is hard to recover from. Harmful and genetically modified antibiotic-resistant bacteria typically fill the void after a round of antibiotics, making the gut a no vacancy environment for new probiotic bacteria. If the new gut bugs who have taken up occupancy in the wake of antibiotics are unhealthy, then immunity, along with numerous physiological functions, will suffer.5
Here are a few simple ways to make sure your gut bugs are healthy enough to support positive immune-system response.
Restoring the Gut Environment with Diet
Above all, a healthy diet is key to restoring a healthy and diverse microbiome required for robust immunity. A weak microbiome has been linked to compromised immunity in numerous studies.6,7
The nutritional cycle on this planet has always been seasonal in nature, shifting from high-fiber in the spring and high-protein in the winter to high-carbohydrate in the summer. This has been recently supported by microbiome studies that demonstrated a microbiome shift from sugar digesting Bacteroidetes in the summer to fiber digesting Actinobacteria in the spring.8
Having a diverse stable of gut bacteria has been associated with strong immunity. More specifically, studies have shown that a high-protein diet is associated with less microbial diversity. In a study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine, the diets of groups of children from Africa and Italy were compared. The Italian kids ate a higher protein diet from meat and the African kids had a higher carbohydrate and fiber diet from veggies and tubers. The African kids had greater microbial diversity and more short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) from fiber—which serves as food for beneficial gut bacteria. The researchers concluded that a high-protein diet increased the risk of cardiovascular-, digestive-, intestinal-, and immunity-related issues.6,7
Studies have also found that consuming mainly plant-based proteins is linked to greater longevity while a high-animal protein diet is linked to blood sugar issues, negative cell replication, and a shorter lifespan. Similarly, a high-fat diet was also shown to reduce microbial diversity in the gut. Starchy carbohydrates can increase some bacteria and decrease others, while high-fiber undigestible carbohydrates like the bran in grains and beans, along with fibrous-rich tubers, significantly increased beneficial bacterial concentrations in the gut.6
Why You Should Try a Mediterranean-Inspired Diet
Of all the diets tested, the Mediterranean Diet was most effective at increasing gut microbial diversity, while diets that were high in refined and processed foods, protein, and fat and low- in fiber dramatically reduced gut diversity and increased the risk of numerous health concerns.6,8
Studies also suggest that low adherence to a Mediterranean Diet is common and linked to health concerns. For best results, I suggest following a mixed diet rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (olive oils and nuts and seeds), high levels of polyphenols and other antioxidants (colorful foods), and rich in fiber and other low-glycemic starchy carbohydrates, along with more plant-based proteins, in place of animal proteins. This is best accomplished by changing your diet seasonally, according to local harvests that include olive oil, assorted fruits, vegetables, cereal grains, legumes, and nuts, along with moderate amounts of fish and poultry, while reducing your intake of red wine, dairy products, and red meat.6
Restoring the Gut Environment with Fiber
Soluble fiber is found in oat and wheat bran, chia, flax, psyllium, and herbs such as slippery elm, marshmallow root, and licorice root. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and becomes a slimy gel that helps coat, heal, and seal the intestinal lining, in turn supporting healthy cholesterol levels while slowing the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream.10 Fiber is one of the main foods for gut bacteria that manufactures short chain fatty acids (SCFA) and directly supports your microbiome and healthy immune response.9 Soluble fiber also attaches to detoxifying and intestinal-scrubbing bile from the liver and escorts it to the toilet. This forces to liver to manufacture new bile each day rather than re-using old bile.11
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Bile’s intestinal-scrubbing properties play an important role in the health and integrity of the intestinal lining. A lack of soluble fiber in your diet, along with poor liver and gallbladder function, can threaten a healthy and robust microbiome and immune response.12
Healthy gut immunity depends not only on a healthy microbiome, but also a healthy intestinal lining. Within that lining, lymphatic collecting ducts called lacteals act as first responders for the immune system.
Lacteals act like garbage cans that take up toxic substances, as well as proteins and fats that have not been properly broken down by the stomach, small intestine, and gallbladder. The lacteals feed into the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) that lines the entire digestive tract regulates the lion’s share of the immune response coming from your gut.13 Optimal function of a GALT-related immune response depends heavily on having diet and diet-related seasonal bacteria populate the gut, as well as the integrity of the intestinal lining—as this is the body’s primary defense against unwanted invaders entering the blood stream.
John Douillard’s Fiber Protocol and Revival Plan for a Healthy Gut Environment
For decades, I have been using a specific herbal and probiotic regime to restore healthy intestinal and microbial gut function. I start out with a product called Slippery Elm Prebiotic, which is a decoction of chopped slippery elm, marshmallow root, and licorice root that coats, soothes, and supports a healthy intestinal lining and microbiome with a layer of highly effective prebiotic soluble fiber. This fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria in support of a healthier microbiome.
While suggesting that clients sip Slippery Elm Prebiotic throughout the day, for a month, I also use a product called Gut Revival, which is a unique colonizing probiotic that has been shown to adhere to the intestinal epithelium while increasing bacterial diversity by 40-60%.15 Gut Revival also contains agents that gently alter the gut environment in such a way that makes it inhospitable for undesirable bacteria. Gut Revival is unique because it is a colonizing, rather than transient, probiotic. Once we establish the proper intestinal environment, we can make a powerful shift in the gut microbiome and, in short order, stop taking the probiotics, which is typically not possible when taking more common over-the-counter transient probiotics.14,15 Both Slippery Elm Prebiotic and Gut Revival are typically only needed for one month (longer in some cases).