Q&A: Gut instincts


The Question:

I read an article and then a book about the power of our gut microbiome. There seems to be a growing interest in research telling us the condition of our gut health is more in charge of us than we think – in charge of our moods, weight, health and even what foods we crave and how much we eat.

I’d be very interested to hear if you are aware of this research, and what you think of all this.

My Answer:

The idea that the gut is central to our health is not at all new of course; what’s happened in recent years is far greater clarity. It’s only since the development of DNA sequencing that it’s been possible to distinguish one type of gut bacteria from another, because each species has its own, unique genetic code.

So what we now know is that while any two human beings will have almost identical human genes, they will have very little in common in terms of their microbiome. The greatest difference between us – maybe showing up in allergic reactions or a particular disease – could be more to do with the 3 or 4lbs of microbes living inside us than anything else.

A healthy microbiome is the crucial factor that determines the absorption of our food, and production of essential nutrients, hormones and neurotransmitters. With the right balance we’re full of energy, alert and with a strong immune system. Without them, we would die!

These microbes are described as very fussy eaters; one type eats only one kind of food. As with any ecosystem, diversity is key, and this diversity is compromised by:

– The overuse of antibiotics. Even one course can wipe out whole species of bacteria, some of which might not return.

– Overeating refined carbohydrates, which – even while looking and tasting different – are essentially not at all diverse. A junk food diet has been shown to reduce diversity in the microbiome by as much as 40% within a few days.


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  1. Mary

    It’s tempting to think we might be at the mercy of hormones – that our cravings will control us until we tweak something in our diet. Speaking from a long history of dieting trial and error, I am finding Eating Less and your work around free choice and the effect our eating choices have on our self-esteem very helpful. I could change my diet from chips and chocolate to sunflower seeds and spinach but if I don’t address my addictive urges, I suspect my relationship with food will always cause me unhappiness.

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