Gut health and its importance to overall well-being has become a hot topic as more people seek ways to manage their health by paying close attention to what they eat.
As curiosity on this topic grows, different innovations emerge employing technology to better understand gut microbiome and how the food we eat affect our gut health, positively or negatively.
To share interesting facts about gut microbiome for this article is Guru Banavar, the Chief Technology Officer at Viome. Viome is a company on a mission to redefine the future of healthcare and disease research. Their main goal is to readdress the healthcare system using nutrition as medicine.
Guru will also be joining other scientists and food industry leaders to speak at the Food Health and Technology Summit on October 25th, 2019.
Olayanju : Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to personalized nutrition and gut health research?
Banavar : Throughout my life I’ve always been drawn to challenging problems. I enjoy their intricacy, their mystery, and even their frustrations. There’s almost no better feeling than seeing something that was once mind boggling become demystified – for me, unraveling data is beautiful, especially when it helps build systems that solve our most daunting issues.
I grew up in India where I was surrounded by people who were denied basic opportunities in life – two of these being education and health care. The literacy rate is very low and quality health care is only available to the wealthiest.
Later in life, I got to work on a project called Spoken Web, which put access to the internet in the hands of people who can’t read. Imagine for a moment that you couldn’t read, this would seriously limit your access to a certain level of well-being. Spoken Web was designed to give illiterate people more opportunity and it was awarded recognition for empowering the underprivileged by the President of India.
With IBM, I led the team that developed Watson, an artificial intelligence system that continues to transform the whole AI discipline. I’m proud to have represented my team’s work on the world’s most prestigious stages including the Nobel Prize and the Turing Lecture.
Over the last two decades, I’ve realized that to improve any industry, whether it be education, health care, cities, transportation, energy, housing, or food, the most effective change can be made through a deep understanding of what is going on within the system — and data is the tell all that brings any system to life!
I believe chronic disease is the biggest health issue of our time. It’s unbelievable that 50% of humanity has been afflicted with some chronic condition. I’ve always been drawn to the big issues and I see chronic illness as my why – my reason for putting in the work to hopefully leave this world a bit better than I found it.
Like so many others, my close family has been affected by chronic illness. During her high school years, my daughter was suddenly missing many classes due to her unrelenting and perplexing symptoms. Fatigue, allergies, flu-like symptoms, food sensitivities, and migraines… we still don’t know quite what the issue is; we’ve seen lots of doctors, but her symptoms are so constant and multi-system that it remains a mystery. I even graphed how much school she was missing over four years due to illness and it was heartbreaking. But I’m hoping to find the root cause through our work at Viome.
Olayanju : Since you focused on employing technology to tackle chronic diseases, what have you learnt about gut health that you will like to share with our readers?
Banavar : Here are interesting facts people do not know about gut microbiome
1. It’s not just about the bacteria in your gut – We discuss a lot about how bacteria play a role in your gut health, but there are also all sorts of other organisms in there. Archaea are ancient organisms that have no cell nucleus and often produce methane. They also have the distinct ability to live in extreme environments like volcanic vents and acidic hot springs, including acidic parts of your digestive system with little access to oxygen. You’ll also find plenty of yeast and other fungi hanging out in there, and possibly parasites too. In your gut there can also be food-related viruses that may lead to low-grade inflammation once they cross the gut lining. But perhaps the most fascinating of all are bacteriophages, which are microscopic viruses that infect specific bacteria. Since these organisms specifically infect certain bacteria, some researchers hope that one day they may be used as a novel target for improved antibiotics. What’s even more fascinating, is what all these microbes are doing . Their actions can affect your health and we can even modify their activities through personalized diet recommendations.
2. Your microbiome can impact your blood sugar response – The important thing to remember is that it isn’t the food you eat but what your gut microbiome does with the food you eat that matters most when determining what foods are “healthy” for you. In a new clinical research study from Viome, individuals consuming similar foods showed big differences in their glycemic response. This means that for some, when they consumed what they expected was a low glycemic food like a banana – their body responded like they had just eaten a piece of double-fudge triple chocolate banana bread with nuts…while others showed no effects at all. This study shows a new perspective on how the gut microbiome may be influencing changes in people’s glycemic response and just how complex the interactions of our microbiome are between the foods we ingest and our bodies. It turns out, certain microbial activities (what the microbes are actually doing inside of you) can contribute to shifting how your body responds to foods that contain carbs by buffering the level of sugar being released into the bloodstream or even by spiking it.
3. Your gut microbes can influence skin cell regeneration – When our gut ecosystem is balanced and diverse, we see improved levels of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) like butyrate, propionate, and acetate. These byproducts from beneficial bacteria are shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects that help to regulate our immune response in the gut. They tackle this job in many ways, including preventing certain immune cells from getting carried away and banding together for a fight when they’re not needed. They allow for our cellular DNA to replicate and improve their ability to regenerate. This means faster wound healing and more opportunities for our skin cells to keep their elasticity, preventing wrinkles.
4. Most microbes are neither good nor bad – We were too quick to label certain bacteria like E.coli “bad guys,” only to find out that certain strains at some levels can benefit us in our gut, you can read more about this here. In fact, E. coli are important for a lot of different ways to improve our health, for example, by stimulating regeneration of the gut lining, which can prevent toxic compounds from reaching our bloodstream. The underlying conclusion of gut microbiome research is that… it’s all about balance, and to achieve it, we have to balance not only microbes, but also the activities that they’re engaged in.
5. You might need to cut back on steak dinners – Protein is necessary for you. It helps build muscle and provide energy, but if your microbes are working extra hard to break it down, it can have some negative consequences. If the protein is not fully broken down by the end of this process, your microbes will digest the excess protein available in your colon and may convert it into harmful byproducts like ammonia. Having a protein-dense meal for dinner (like steak) may not allow enough time for all of it to be digested before you fall asleep, which is when your digestive system metabolizes and moves things along less efficiently. Before you grab some digestive enzymes or motility agents, simply consider getting your protein from smaller servings earlier in the day. You can also change the way you prepare the food (that will make it easier on you to digest) and the type of protein sources you pick.
6. Your gut microbiome is like your second brain – The gut microbiome is called your second brain because it affects your mood, happiness, motivation, and even can contribute to suboptimal neurological performance later in life. Your microbes actually play a larger role in regulating how your hormones affect you too, you can read more about this here . That’s why they call it the gut-brain axis . Along what’s called the vagus nerve, the bacteria in your gut are in constant communication with your brain and can influence your behavior. While this might sound a little nerve wracking, the good news is you have a lot of influence over them through what you eat.
7. We can predict if you’re overweight or lean – Looking at your gut microbiome, researchers can tell with 90% accuracy whether you’re overweight or lean. This has interesting implications because we know that the microbiome is essential to metabolism – through harvesting and storing energy. Though the connection hasn’t yet been made about whether or not certain microbes can actually make you fat, there is an interesting correlation between metabolic health and certain bacteria.
8. Microbes can break down foods you can’t digest – How balanced your gut microbiome is affects how well your body extracts energy and nutrients as discussed here. A healthy gut is associated with a healthy metabolism. So when it comes to losing weight, not only should you exercise regularly, but you should eat to support the balance of those trillions of bacteria. To find your ideal diet, you can take a Viome Gut Intelligence Test , which tells you exactly what to eat to improve your gut microbiome. This test can help give you powerful insight into your health, as well as delivering precise, personalized nutrition recommendations for healthy living. Through an at-home, science-based test, we can analyze your individual gut microbiome and assess the foods best for you . Together, we can empower individuals to take ownership of their health.