Diving into the Microbiome: A Q&A with Dr. Emeran Mayer
The gut microbiome, and its effect on human health and well-being, is a rising topic of importance in the nutrition world. From the benefits of probiotics to the absorption of nutrients and the positive impact on our immune systems, the role of the gut microbiome on the future of health and nutrition has great potential, and research and education around the topic continues to increase.
One of the leading experts on gut microbiome brain interactions, Dr. Emeran Mayer, author of the recently released book "The Mind-Gut Connection," spoke with us this month to share his knowledge, perspective and hopes for future awareness of the microbiome.
Miguel Freitas, PhD
Vice President of Health Affairs, The Dannon Company
Q: Gut health and the microbiome are hot topics in the nutrition world right now. What do you believe is driving the current discussion?
A: The discussion is driven by several factors, including the media, self-declared experts in functional medicine, books targeted at the general public and a growing number of scientific publications, all of which have generated unprecedented awareness and interest. However, there remain several aspects of the relationship between the gut, the microbiome and nutrition that are still being explored. There are bestselling books written by non-scientists that promote diets high in animal fat, free of whole grain products, including gluten, and high in juices to "cleanse" the gut, but the majority of these recommendations are not supported by our current understanding of the gut microbiome
and gut interactions. There needs to be a major effort to define a healthy microbiome (or several such states) and to define optimal diets or other interventions to achieve such states.
Q: What is the gut microbiome and what is the connection between brain-gut interactions, health and diet?
A: The term gut microbiome is used to refer to the 100 trillion microorganisms living in our gut and their functional capacity. These microorganisms live in distinct regional communities, mainly in the lumen and the mucus layer of the small and large intestine. The microbes living in the mucus layer are in close communication with the gut brain axis: microbes are influenced by gut activity and by neurotransmitters and signaling molecules released into the gut lumen. In turn, the microbes signal back to the gut. Thus, the gut microbes form an integral part of bidirectional gut brain interactions. In addition, the gut microbiome is influenced by our diet. For example, diets high in
indigestible complex carbohydrates (or plant based fiber) increase the diversity and abundance of gut microbes. On the other hand, diets high in animal fat have the opposite effect.
Q: What role might fermented or cultured foods such as yogurt play when it comes to the microbiome and gut health?
A: There is solid evidence that currently available probiotic-enriched foods have a variety of health benefits, including functional digestive symptoms. Because ingested probiotics do not permanently change the gut microbial composition, routine ingestion of fermented foods or supplements may be required to affect the microbiome, gut and, ultimately, brain health.
Q: What can healthcare professionals and educators do to help consumers better understand the microbiome when it comes to nutrition?
A: There has to be a major effort in informing health care professionals about the importance of the microbiome, so they can respond to the general public and patients who are being misinformed by a flood of pseudo-scientific information. There should be major efforts in identifying generally agreed upon facts about nutrition and the microbiome, as well as evolving concepts, and communicating this information to physicians, nutritionists and medical students. In the absence of such a major education effort at all levels, the health care system is at risk to lose a voice in this important discussion.
This October, at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) in Boston, look out for the session "Too Small to Fail: Birthing the B-24 Dietary Guidelines." Panelists Benard Dreyer, MD, FAAP; Alanna Moshfegh, MS, RD; Susan Johnson, PhD; and OYED Nutrition Advisor Robert Murray, MD, will examine the critical importance of 24 month (B-24) guidance in the 2020 DGAs and what it means for health care professionals. The panel will take place October 16 at 8:00 AM ET and provides 1.5 CEU credits. We look forward to seeing you there!
This summer, MyPlate turned five and CNPP kicked off the anniversary celebration by releasing a series of new MyPlate, MyWins resources. The MyPlate Mini Poster provides tips on each of the five food groups, as well as components to limit. SuperTracker Groups allows people to use SuperTracker — a free food, physical activity and weight tracking tool — together for added motivation. The DGA Communicator's Guide is another great resource that helps health professionals create nutrition education materials based on the DGAs.
The International Food Information Council's (IFIC) 2016 Food and Health Survey, "Food Decision 2016: The Impact of a Growing National Food Dialogue," released earlier this year, is the 11th edition of an ongoing investigation into the beliefs and behaviors of Americans. The survey delves into issues of health and diet, food components, food production, sustainability and food safety.
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