I love all of the gut tests available to us now! The two that have gotten the most attention are American Gut and uBiome. Neither require a doctor’s orders and are relatively cheap ($99 and $89 respectively). uBiome gets you a report in about 6 weeks, while AmGut takes 6 months.
I think both tests are far from perfect, as Mr. Heisenbug recently discussed:
Well, we’re certainly still left with the question of which technique — and thus which service — provides a more useful and “accurate” accounting of your gut microbiota. Ideally, I’d like to see a dialogue between American Gut and uBiome so that we can get a better understanding of all this and get at what’s really going on. A comparison study might also reveal that perhaps something other than the extraction technique is creating the discrepancy, such as differences in transport or collection methods.
What I like about these tests is the level of detail they provide. Over at Free The Animal, we watched as commenter ‘Nancy’ diagnosed a major malfunction in her own gut using an American Gut report! She discovered her gut was 25% composed of a major pathogen, Morganella Morganii. Which reminds me, I need to email Nancy and see what she is up to…
So, what I did recently…
I ate a diet consisting of only real foods, no supplements of any kind, for 6 weeks. Meals included the cooked and cooled potatoes, rice, and beans we talk about, nuts, cocoa nibs, and other fiber-y foods. I tried to get about 20-40g/day of total fiber, most came from RS sources. I didn’t really go ‘overboard’ on anything, just ate normally. Lots of fresh garden veggies, dirty carrots/radishes/dandelion greens, too. Just good ol’ food. I tried to stay away from any RS2, if you are keeping track. Nearly all of my RS was RS3.
Prior to this, I’d been over a year supplementing daily with potato starch. I will say that at about 2 weeks on the ‘no PS’ diet I noticed some changes in my digestion. I again had some minor smelly farts, my ‘TMI’ was a bit ‘looser’ than I like, and I was not quite as regular as I had become accustomed to. By the end of the 6 weeks, I was feeling fine digestion wise, but things were a tiny bit different–not bad, but different. I tracked FBG intermittently and found no big changes. Sleep stayed great.
After the experiment, I went back to taking 2TBS of potato starch daily and within just a few days I was back to normal in the TMI department, nice, well-formed stools, and the gas went from ‘silent but deadly’ to ‘loud but friendly.’
On the last day of my 6 week experiment, I sent two identical samples to uBiome and American Gut. Yesterday I received the uBiome report. When I get the AmGut report, I’ll do a follow-up post, but I really wanted to share what I saw in the uBiome information.
|Real Food (uBiome)
|Potato Starch Added (AmGut)
|Bacteroides||10.2%||9.4%||not shown at this level|
These reports actually show hundreds of different microbes, but I think these are the most pertinent. If anyone wants the full reports, just email me.
The most surprising to me was that I still have more Bifidobacteria than nearly anyone ever tested. Bifido seems to be the holy grail in gut bugs, babies are full of it, probiotics are full of it…why do adults rarely have any? RS? Fermentable fiber?
Different species and/or strains of bifidobacteria may exert a range of beneficial health effects, including the regulation of intestinal microbial homeostasis, the inhibition of pathogens and harmful bacteria that colonize and/or infect the gut mucosa, the modulation of local and systemic immune responses, the repression of procarcinogenic enzymatic activities within the microbiota, the production of vitamins, and the bioconversion of a number of dietary compounds into bioactive molecules. Bifidobacterium improve the gut mucosal barrier and lowers levels of lipopolysaccharide in the intestine.
Another surprise was the shift in the main RS degraders: F. Prausnitzi, Roseburia, and Ruminococcus.
Roseburia was probably the biggest shock, showing to me that this massive butyrate producer seems to like real food better than a ‘low fiber diet supplemented with potato starch.’ Roseburia looks to be one of my key players in butyrate production and RS degradation. It’s one of the elusive Clostridia Cluster 14a species we have come to hear so much about lately.
We conclude that two distinct mechanisms of metabolic cross-feeding between B. adolescentis [Bifidobacteria] and butyrate-forming bacteria [Roseburia] may operate in gut ecosystems, one due to consumption of fermentation end products (lactate and acetate) and the other due to cross-feeding of partial breakdown products from complex substrate. From Here
And the Prevotella, a microbe associated with a diet high in plant food, I have very, very little on either diet.
Remember this about Prevotella (from same link as above)?
In a study of gut bacteria of children in Burkina Faso (in Africa), Prevotella made up 53% of the gut bacteria, but were absent in age-matched European children. Studies also indicate that long-term diet is strongly associated with the gut microbiome composition—those who eat plenty of protein and animal fats typical of Western diet have predominantly Bacteroides bacteria, while for those who consume more carbohydrates, especially fibre, the Prevotella species dominate. So, who knows? You’d have thought I would have had MORE prevotella than average, but it looks like I don’t.
I am really, really pleased with the microbes that can be grouped in the Clostridia Clusters, shown above as Fecalibacterium, Eubacterium, and Roseburia (and others showing in the full report). These bacteria are known immune system boosters and seem to be one of, if not the, the most important components of a healthy gut. Some might even consider these to be our “Ancestral Core Species”
Richard at FTA wrote about his experience in stopping the potato starch and supplements and then getting back on them.
“So, bottom line is that the bugs that co-feed on the various gases produced by the ones eating all those fibers seem to have taken up long-term residency in my gut. Very interesting indeed, though somewhat disappointing on the entertainment front.”
Yep, I think he got it right.
What this all means to me is that once you get these gut bugs populated, you just need to eat a species-appropriate diet to keep them at optimal levels. As I write this, I realize it should probably be 5 or 6 blog posts and not crammed into one. When I get all my results gathered in a few months, I’ll try to do a better job.
People always ask: How do I know if I need potato starch (or more RS)?
The answer probably is: If you suffer from the ‘modern, dyspeptic gut,’ ie. heartburn, nausea, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea, or constipation, then you most certainly need to add RS to your diet. Of course, there’s always Pepto Bismol!
As we have found, though, there is more than one way to restore gut health and RS is just one of them. There is a whole range of prebiotic fibers available, in supplement and real food forms, though I see they are now becoming known as “Microbiota Assessable Carbs.”
But, a prediction…soon the purveyors of these magical MACs will be recommending Bob’s Red Mill Potato starch. Want to bet on it? What else is there? I wish there was another substance as effective and cheap, and one that everyone could use.
I guess by now many of you are wondering what the point of all this is. Well, it shows me that gut bugs are incredibly resilient creatures and if you have the right mix to start with, you are very lucky. If you have been the recipient of numerous antibiotics and you also eat a really bad diet, ie. SAD, VLC, etc… you may have done irreparable damage to your guts and own a lobotomized second-brain.
I don’t have answers for those of you who are in a bad way with your gut, all I can show you is what I have found in me, and relate some stories I’ve heard or studies I’ve read. But I can say that everyone needs to be mindful of their gut and listen to (and smell!) what it is trying to tell you!
I am seeing more and more about fecal transplants and poop pills…maybe one day these will be a reality for everyone, but without a good diet plan, they too, will fail you. So, get your diet right and take that part out of the equation.
Where does this leave us with potato starch? I’m sticking to my original theory…potato starch is a valid form of resistant starch and good food (a ‘Big MAC’) for your guts. I’d say it’s safe to assume that no one needs potato starch if they are getting RS and other fermentable fibers at the rate of about 20-40g/day. Easily done with a bit of forethought. And on days you fall short…a potato starch smoothie nightcap is just the ticket!
Can’t do potato starch? Try dried plantains!
And where do probiotics fit in? I don’t know. I suspect that many will benefit from an array of probiotics, but only to help set the stage for a takeover by the microbes that are supposed to be in your gut. I love the new class of heat-killed microbes I keep reading about, and I think that there is a lot of good science behind many of the probiotic blends out there. But, ultimately, I think it’s best to get your probiotics from the same place you should be getting your RS and other fibers…food. But, I know we all don’t have access to dirty carrots and beet kvass, so if you must, supplement. The only commercial probiotics I recommend are the Lacto/Bifido Blends created by Karl Seddon of Elixa. He uses well-known strains and proven delivery systems.