Gut health is core to whole health. Explore how our food, environment and social factors profoundly impact AND directly benefit from the microbial light that shines from within. To focus our energy, here’s a simple 3 letter framework of F’s, C’s, and M’s – it’s the FulCruM of health.
Health Harmony from Disease Dissonance in a Few Consonants
There is a lot of advice out there on how to be healthy. How do we separate the wheat from the chaff? The microbiome provides a lens for distilling healthy living down to its essence. We work hand in hand with the microbes in our gut to grow and maintain a healthy body. After all, our body is their body so it stands to reason they might have a thing or two to “say” about how we treat it.
What’s more, each and every cell in our body holds within themselves the microbiome’s brethren – long-ago co-opted microbial insiders called mitochondria (evolved from alpha-proteobacteria). The mitochondria are quite literally the powerhouses of our cells. They take the nutrients we eat (protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals) and turn them into energy (ATP) that fuel our cells for healthy growth, movement, and cognition.
There is a robust communication – by metabolites, hormones, and nerves – that occurs between our gut microbiomes and mitochondria that help maintain the health and homeostasis of all the cells in our body.
A breakdown in food (See other post of 4F’s) and other environmental signals (See other post on 4M’s), due to modern practices and technologies, and the resulting impact on our microbiome and mitochondria is an important part of what gives rise to cellular dysfunction and the diseases that are on the rise in our modern lives: cancer, diabetes, allergy, autoimmunity, depression, and even Alzheimers to name few.
The molecules we put inside our body are the building blocks of our cells. We truly are what we eat and the gut is at the center of it all playing a role in processing and absorbing these nutrients. The microbes in our gut sense the food molecules in our diet and help transform them into molecular nutrients and signals (e.g. butyrate, B-vitamins, amino acids, neurotransmitters) that tell the cells in our gut, body, and brain when to grow and prosper or to lay low and conserve energy.
Many of these microbiome friendly molecules are missing in our modern ultra-processed, simple carbohydrate-heavy diets.[5,6] There is a disconnect between too many calories and too little nutrient signals (fiber, phenols, good fats and ferments) that tell our mitochondria they need to jump into action. The four F’s help us refocus on foods that will grow our gut microbiomes and mitochondria. These in turn can promote the health of our gut, body and brain. It’s no coincidence that many of these foods are present in a Mediterranean diet (the most studied diet with greatest evidence for benefit to health) and the diets of other long lived populations across the world (e.g. Okinawan).[7,8]
FIBERS (e.g. resistant starch, beta-glucan, arabinoxylan, inulin)
-oats, barley, & other whole grains
-beans & other legumes
-yams & other tubers
-dark chocolate >70%
PHENOLS (e.g. curcumin, resveratrol, quercetin, EGCG, berberine)
-green tea, other teas & coffee
-berries, fruit & veggies
-turmeric, other spices & herbs
-dark chocolate >70%
HEALTHY FATS (e.g. omega-3, conjugated fatty acids)
-sardines, salmon & other fatty fish
-avocado, olives & their oils
-nuts & their butters
-dark chocolate >70%
FERMENTS (e.g. lactate, acetate, butyrate, probiotics)
-olives, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, & miso
-vinegars, shrubs & kombucha
-yogurt, kefir, artisanal cheese
-dark chocolate >70%
The body is always sensing the world in which we live and receiving cues on how best to respond and maintain the greatest fitness. The gut is one of the biggest sensors of these signals. Much of our activity and lifestyle gets integrated through the gut which is an endocrine, immune, and neurological organ all in one. This is true for nutritional, microbial, physical and even mental inputs. Routine dietary practices, microbial exposures, activity levels, and mental states can profoundly affect gut microbial balance, gut wall integrity (‘leakiness’), and the molecules, hormones, and nerves that emanate from the gut to keep our mitochondria, cells, and body tuned to the environment.
These practices also directly impact our mitochondria informing their cells when to divide and prosper or exercise restraint. A breakdown in our life practices with increased screen time, decreased outdoor time, low microbial exposure, and high stress has changed the inputs the body has evolved and expects to see. The 4 M’s can help refocus our lifestyles on practices that promote microbial and mitochondrial health, and in turn, the health of our gut, body, and brain.
MOLECULES (Food vs. Toxins)
-fill the gaps in nutrition (4F’s above)
-focus on whole foods
-avoid tobbaco & limit alcohol
-favorite less healthy foods OK on occasion
MICROBES (Commensals vs. Pathogens)
-eat & live organically
-adopt a pet
MOTION (Activity vs. Sedentarism)
-walk after meals
-find YOUR exercise
MIND (Relaxation & Sleep vs. Anxiety & Insomnia)
-sleep 7-8 hours
-music & deep breaths
-mindfulness & meditation
-community & connection (4C’s below)
At the end of the day, to what purpose is our life? Many if not most people find meaning and purpose in community – the relationships we hold with our family, friends (pets count), and colleagues – and the connection we feel to the world beyond us. A big part of community is how we give back to and collectively work together to build a richer and more connected world. Without health we can’t participate in community and without community there may be little reason to be healthy. It’s a two way road.
Community is beautifully captured in Dan Beuttner’s anthropological assessment of the 5 Blue Zones – Okinowa, Sardinia, Ikaria, Nicoya, and Loma Linda – the parts of the world where folks live routinely to over 100 years old. Community, connection, caring, and construction in addition to the distillation of nutrition and lifestyle themes above are the most salient common threads among long lived and happy populations. One might say a life without feeling connected to the people and the world around us is not a life worth living at all.
-cook & eat with friends & family
-join a team, club, or congregation
-build genuine relationships
-share vulnerably in safe relationships
-build something bigger than self
-leave the world a better place
1. Zachar I, Boza G. Endosymbiosis before eukaryotes: mitochondrial establishment in protoeukaryotes. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2020;77: 3503. doi:10.1007/s00018-020-03462-6
2. Giacomello M, Pyakurel A, Glytsou C, Scorrano L. The cell biology of mitochondrial membrane dynamics. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2020;21: 204–224. doi:10.1038/s41580-020-0210-7
3. Han B, Lin CJ, Hu G, Wang MC. “Inside Out”- a dialogue between mitochondria and bacteria. FEBS J. 2019;286. doi:10.1111/febs.14692
4. Furness JB, Kunze WAA, Clerc N. II. The intestine as a sensory organ: neural, endocrine, and immune responses*. American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology. 1999 [cited 1 Sep 2022]. doi:10.1152/ajpgi.1999.277.5.G922
5. Polyphenols and processing degree of food (NOVA system): Determining the association in a university menu. International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science. 2021;23: 100292. doi:10.1016/j.ijgfs.2020.100292
6. Association between Ultra-processed Food Consumption and Dietary Intake and Diet Quality in Korean Adults. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2022;122: 583–594. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2021.07.012
7. Ventriglio A, Sancassiani F, Contu MP, Latorre M, Di Slavatore M, Fornaro M, et al. Mediterranean Diet and its Benefits on Health and Mental Health: A Literature Review. Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health. 2020;16: 156. doi:10.2174/1745017902016010156
8. Healthy aging diets other than the Mediterranean: A focus on the Okinawan diet. Mech Ageing Dev. 2014;136-137: 148–162. doi:10.1016/j.mad.2014.01.002
9. Buettner D, Skemp S. Blue Zones: Lessons From the World’s Longest Lived. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016;10. doi:10.1177/1559827616637066