We don't often have cause to think about the gut microbes living within us, let alone the mucus layer they inhabit. But it would probably benefit us all if we give this topic a little more attention.
Age 44, I feel I am finally awake. I mean eyes wide open – AWAKE. From my children being rewarded for good behaviour at school with chocolate and sweets, to being fed the most fascinating array of processed and/or deep fried foods and cakes after sports matches at various schools around the County. From our alcohol consumption (sugar) to a Doctor in the U.S. posting pictures of plates piled high with cakes being served at a Diabetes Conference. The solution for most of us is not rocket science and does not need to be faddy.
Life, as they say, is for living. That means some indulgence once in a while – evangelism on an extreme level is rather tedious. However, eating foods that are self – hijacking has become the rule, not the exception. And we are paying the price; in so many ways. This is just one example:
Let’s talk about mucus. Each of us has a deliciously thick gloopy layer of mucus lining and thereby protecting the wall of our large intestine (colon). It is generated by the cells lining the colon and protects that single cell lining from bacteria, pathogens and toxins. In a healthy gut, the mucus lining is constantly being produced and worn down but production keeps pace with degradation. What do our naturally-occurring gut bacteria eat if we do not feed them enough natural fibre? Some of them adapt and eat that layer of mucus. Eroding it to the point that they expose the colon wall to risk of being breached by bacteria and other pathogens. If you don’t feed your tribe fibre, they EAT YOU!
Researchers took some mice, cleared out their gut bacteria and replaced it with 14 bacteria that normally grow in the human gut. They fed some mice a diet rich in natural fibre (minimally processed grains and plants), some got no fibre and some got the sort of purified soluble fibre you get in processed foods (the low fibre group). Then they infected the mice with the mouse equivalent of E. Coli. Apologies for any distress caused to mouse lovers…
The different diets resulted not only in changes to the mix of bacteria in the guts of the mice, but also in changes to the type of digesting enzymes the bacteria produced. Some bacteria proliferated in the low/no fibre conditions, others in the high fibre conditions. Those that flourished in the low/no fibre conditions were the ones that made enzymes capable of breaking down the glycoproteins that make up the mucus layer. Those that flourished in the high natural fibre conditions were those that produced fibre digesting enzymes. Even occasional fibre deprivation lead to the production of more mucus degrading enzymes.
In the mice fed on a natural fibre rich diet, their mucus layer stayed thick and when infected with the mouse E.Coli bacteria, the infection did not take full hold. Not so for the mice on the low and no fibre diet. After just a few days with low or no fibre, the microbes in their gut started to consume the gut protecting mucus. The mucus layer grew thinner – the pace of production could not match the pace of erosion. The implanted E.Coli equivalent bacteria flourished and the combined effect enabled breach of the gut wall – these mice became ill.
The moral for today is: don’t be a mouse. No, seriously – up the beans, lentils, peas, leafy greens and even berries (due to their tiny seeds). And keep it up – daily.
This week we have had lentil and Jerusalem artichoke soup (no recipe – just 2 onions, a carrot, a potato, 4 Jerusalem artichokes, a good lob of red lentils and 1.2 litres of veg stock.) – my offspring - the food critics voted on this with 4 clean bowls. I have also started buying frozen berries for the Winter (fibre but also packed with antioxidants), blitzing them with a bit of boiling water and giving them as a semi liquid fruit serving/pudding.