By Raphael Kellman, M.D., Kellman Center for Functional and Integrative Medicine
The gut microbiome and its power is one of the most exciting breakthroughs in modern times. Understanding the ways it can alter health for the better or worse can be life changing, inspiring us to take action to protect and nurture our closest allies.
Their health benefits are often written about such as:
Fortify and protect the intestine wall and promotion of intestinal healing
Promote healthy digestion
Crowd control –displacement of pathogens
Regulate caloric extraction from foods and metabolism
Digest foods that we cannot like certain types of fiber and even lactose
Educate and regulate the immune system
Regulate mood and promote mental clarity
Synthesize critical nutrients for human use like Vitamin K, C, B12, biotin, folate, butyrate and natural antibiotics
Modulate gene expression
Improve IBD, IBS symptoms and skin conditions
Correct imbalances in bowel function
In addition to these well-discussed benefits, research has found some exciting new roles bacteria play.
1) Cancer Protection
Flax seeds are often consumed for their health benefits including high amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, protein and other components like vitamin B1, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium and selenium. Their greatest effect however comes with a little help from the microbiome. Bacteria have been shown to transform lignans from ground flax seed into enterolactone and enterodiol, which are estrogen modulators. Amazingly these compounds can block the effects of estrogen dominant cancer production in the breast and prostate decreasing the risk. Additionally, cancer cells already diving may also be reduced. This secret health benefit of the microbiome is one to talk about!
2) Bisphenol A
There has been much press on the health dangers of BPA. Thankfully, many products that one contained high levels have been repackaged to change this. Even so, there are opportunities to be exposed to this harmful chemical through foods and water as well. The good news is certain strains of bacteria have actually been found to digest carcinogens like BPA! L. casei and B. breve were found to bind to BPA offsetting the amounts that wind up in our bloodstream. So do yourself a favor and eat kimchi at least once per day.
Another wonderful benefit of having a rich bacterial community thriving within us is their ability to help us deal with everyday exposure to heavy metals. L. rhamnosus GR has been shown to block absorption of arsenic and mercury.
Lactobacillus has also been shown to increase the amounts of heavy metals expelled in stool. Eating a well balanced diet including fermented foods like cultured vegetables, kefir and yogurt will ensure there are enough bacteria to support your health.