April 26, 2018

Gold Star Microbiome Reporting: A Basic Overview of the Microbiome and Diet and Performance

A friend of mine recently shared an article entitled "Gut Bacteria: the Latest Trend in Science," posted on trainingpeaks.com. I was dubious. "Another hyped up microbiome article for the masses," I thought. 

How wrong I was, and how so pleasantly surprised I was! The author, Jim Peterman, truly impressed me with not only his skill for explaining science simply, but also his attention to clarifying where the science is (and isn't) today. This work is a short, quick, read, yet packed with more information than many long-format articles filled with false hopes and over-the-line theories. I'm giving this article a gold star microbiome reporting award, but truly this article deserves five gold stars!

A great example of Peterman's skill for dumbing down science without making the reader feel dumb is the following paragraph:

"The majority of the bacteria located on you or in you, are found in the gut. More specifically, most bacteria (10-100 trillion) are found in the large intestine (1). Not too long ago, we used to think all the valuable digestion and absorption of nutrients had already occurred by the time food reached your large intestine. Now we know that's only partly true. In the large intestine, some of the food that you weren't able to digest actually gets digested by bacteria."

Some of my favorite anti-hype bits:

"You may remember a popular media article suggesting gut bacteria help make better athletes, which led to the term "poop doping." While fitter individuals do have greater gut bacteria "health" (3), the article was a little too speculative, as researchers don't know whether one (healthy gut bacteria) causes the other (high fitness level)."

"No study to date has determined a mechanism for how gut bacteria can directly impact exercise performance. That being said, gut bacteria may indirectly influence exercise performance. For example, gut bacteria produce signaling molecules that assist with reducing inflammation and improving immune function (2). This could help with recovery and overall health, leading to better performance (3)."

"So, what does "healthy" gut bacteria look like? At this point, no research has found the optimal species of bacteria or distribution of bacteria (3)."

"Probiotics are great for increasing gut bacteria diversity in unhealthy individuals (or following an antibiotic treatment). However, in already healthy individuals, the science isn't clear that probiotics increase gut bacteria diversity (5)."

Overall, this is one of the most refreshing, enjoyable microbiome reads I've found on mainstream media outlets in a long time. Thank you Jim Peterman for your gold-star microbiome reporting!