Your Gut bacteria don’t like junk – even if you do – Dec 2022.

Article 3 of our series on nourishing your biome for our Yoga Retreat: Move, Breathe, Love (31/3/23 – 2/4/23) held in Springbrook, QLD next year. If you’ve ever watched the movie Supersize Me ( I watched it with my kids who were often outraged that we had never visited McDonalds – I still haven’t – or that we never ate sweetened breakfast cereals or instant noodles smothered in an MSG sauce), in an attempt to show them what junk food would do to their bodies. Morgan Spurlock famously spent a month eating large portions of McDonalds for the purposes of his documentary Supersize Me, and during this period he gained weight, damaged his liver, and claimed to have suffered addictive withdrawal symptoms. This was popularly attributed to the toxic mix of carbs and fat plus the added chemicals and preservatives in junk foods. What was interesting for me, a yogi and always a big plant eater, was that he said he was momentarily satisfied on this horrible non- food, for about half an hour, and then he was ravenously hungry, all over again. The real Morgan, the bacteria, fungi and microbes that lived in his gut were obviously not happy or satisfied on this junk diet.

More recently a researcher, who was studying the effect of junk food on the microbiome, used his son Tom, a final-year university student, to eat all his meals at the local McDonald’s for 10 days. Tom was able to eat either a Big Mac or chicken nuggets, plus fries and Coke. For extra vitamins he was allowed beer and crisps in the evening. Tom collected stool samples before, during and after his diet and send them to three different labs to check his gut microbes. According to Tom’s dad, Tom started in high spirits and many of his fellow students were jealous of his unlimited junk food budget. In Tom’s words he said: “I felt good for three days, then slowly went downhill. I became more lethargic, and by a week my friends thought I had gone a strange grey colour. The last few days were a real struggle. I felt really unwell, but definitely had no addictive withdrawal symptoms and when I finally finished, I rushed to the shops to get some salad and fruit.”

Before Tom started the fast food diet there were about 3500 bacterial species in his gut. Once on the diet, Tom rapidly lost 1,300 species of bacteria and he changed his microbiome ratios. Loss of diversity is a universal signal of ill health in the guts of obese and diabetic people and triggers a range of immunity problems in lab mice. Researchers have found that the gut microbiota of obese animals and humans exhibit a higher Firmicutes/ Bacteroidetes ratio compared with normal-weight individuals, proposing this ratio as an eventual biomarker of obesity and ill health. Tom’s junk diet messed with this ratio to such a degree (he had wiped out 40% of his good bacteria and replaced it with the obese- inducing bacteria) it was still not replenished two weeks later on real food.

So how do we nourish these little guys who rule us? Our health, our mental health and happiness is dependent on their robustness and diversity. Well cut the junk, or minimise it to rare occasions. Eat plants, a huge and diverse range. Try for organic or home grown, eat fermented foods (yoghurt, pickles, aged cheeses, sourdough bread) and add anti-inflammatory spices: turmeric, ginger, all the spices used in Ayurvedic cooking. Add garlic and onions, polyphenols in red wine and dark chocolate and come on Yoga Retreat! For two days these little biome guys are going to be nourished with divine Ayurvedic food, massaged through yoga and breathwork, happy- drugged through laughter yoga, and held in compassion and wonder as we realise we are but an expression of the colony of microbiome tribes that live in our guts. Your happiness, your empathy for others, your fabulous health and your courage and resilience – all depend on how much you nourish, feed and support your biomes. It’s going to be a fun weekend!

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