I recently attended a Parkinson’s disease support group meeting featuring a local pharmacist from Revive Health Services who provided a number of suggestions for good health and fitness. Much of her talk consisted of advice on maintaining and improving the microbiome diversity and gut motility to prevent chronic infections.  

The information applies not just to those suffering from the disease. Among them, were 1 to increase protein intake to build up and help the mucosal walls of the small and large intestines; 2 to increase intake of insoluble dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates with psyllium, oat bran, brown rice, flax seed, green plantains, lima and kidney beans, brussel sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, mangoes, prunes and sunflower seeds; 3 fast between meals to increase gut motility and clear out the stomach; 4 exercise more often; 5 consider adding prokinetics like ginger root, garlic, coffee and magnesium to the diet; 6 deep breathing exercises to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system; 7 consider taking a spore antioxidant producing probiotic supplement;  8 to find ways to lower stress with mindfulness, yoga or meditation training; and 9 to increase choline, Vitamins A and C, zinc, beta glucans and omega-3 fatty acids.  

It is a known fact that people with neuromuscular diseases can reduce disability by eating a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In addition, healthy adults who eat a diverse diet with at least 8-10 grams of soluble fiber per day have fewer antibiotic-resistant microbes in their guts.

Microbiome

Most of us are aware that bacteria are a part of a healthy human ecosystem. (An ecosystem is an assembly of species and the organic and inorganic constituents characterizing a particular site.) This ecosystem consists of our microbiome.  

According to one author, the armies of bacteria that sneak into our bodies the moment we are born are the “primal illegal immigrants.” Most are industrious and friendly, minding their own business in tight-knit, long-lived communities, doing the grunt biochemical work we all rely on to stay alive. The ecosystem forms at birth, but the human-microbe alliance begins months before.

Midway through pregnancy, a hormonal shift directs the cells lining the vagina to begin stockpiling sugary glycogen, the favorite food of sausage-shaped bacteria called lactobacilli. By fermenting the sugar into lactic acid, these bacteria lower the pH of the vagina to levels that discourage the growth of potentially dangerous invaders.

When the child grows up to become an adult, his or her intestine is home to an almost inconceivable number of microorganisms. The size of the population — up to 100 trillion (a trillion seconds in time would be 32,000 years) — far exceeds all other microbial communities associated with body’s surfaces and more than 10 times greater than the total number of our somatic and germ cells. (There is a significant variation in both the total number of bacteria and the composition of the bacterial flora in different body regions.)

Since humans depend on their microbiome for various essential services, a person should really be considered a superorganism, consisting of his or her own cells and those of all the commensal bacteria. (A commensal organism is one that benefits by a symbiotic relationship with another organism or species.)

Humans are not inherently endowed with a healthy immune or digestive system. Fortunately, our intestinal tract, which includes our inhabitants (microbiome), provides us with genetic and metabolic attributes we have not been required to evolve on our own, including the ability to harvest otherwise inaccessible nutrients and to modify host immune reactivity.

Diet

According to a recent report only a small percentage of U.S. adults can accurately assess the healthfulness of their diet, and, interestingly, it is mostly those who perceive their diet as poor who are able to accurately assess their diet. Most adults overrate the quality of their diet, sometimes to a substantial degree.

Researchers used the food recall questionnaires to score each participant's diet quality. Examples of foods ranked as healthier include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, lower-fat dairy products, seafood and plant proteins. Foods considered less healthy included refined grains and foods high in sodium, added sugars or saturated fats.

The study revealed significant disconnects between the researcher-calculated scores and how participants ranked their own diet. Out of over 9,700 participants, about 8,000 (roughly 85%) inaccurately assessed their diet quality. Of those, almost all (99%) overrated the healthfulness of their diet.

Surprisingly, accuracy was highest among those who rated their diet as poor, among whom the researcher's score matched the participant's rating 97% of the time. The proportion of participants who accurately assessed their diet quality ranged from 1%-18% in the other four rating categories.

Final Thoughts

A quick internet search on typical American diets is that they are too high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars, and does not have enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, calcium, and fiber. How do you measure up?

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry.  His new book “Science Snippets” is available from Amazon and other book sellers. It contains a number of previously published columns.  He can be reached by email at  maxsherman339@gmail.com.