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Mediterranean Diet Improves Gut Bacteria
It’s not news to many that the Mediterranean Diet might just be the healthiest to follow. After all, research has clearly indicated that the Mediterranean Diet improves longevity 1. Now, a recent study finds that the Mediterranean Diet and gut health go hand-in-hand, too 2. These findings not only prove that the Mediterranean Diet is the best to follow, but that gut health is the root of overall wellness. Let’s take a closer look at the Mediterranean Diet and gut health connection.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?Visions of the Mediterranean may conjure up ideas of relaxing by the sea. That’s pretty much how your gut feels when it thinks of the Mediterranean, too. Eating Mediterranean foods is a wonderful break from the garbage found in a typical Western Diet.
The Mediterranean has hot, dry summers that get nourished by cool, wet winters. Therefore, fresh produce is abundant throughout most of the year. Plus, easy access to the water makes fish far more accessible than beef.
Types of Mediterranean Foods
Common foods in a Mediterranean Diet include:
As you can see, the Mediterranean Diet runs a lot of parallels with a whole foods diet. So, try following an Elimination Diet if you are looking to eat Mediterranean for gut health.
Why Mediterranean Diet is Good for HealthThe Mediterranean Diet evolved to be the healthiest in the world, much in thanks to its location. Plants with deep roots, such as olive trees, survive much better than shallow-rooted plants like grass. Without grass to graze, there isn’t any feed for cows. So, many live a predominantly plant-based lifestyle.
Omega-6 vs. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The Standard American Diet (SAD) has seen over two-thirds of the population become overweight or obese. That’s because SAD is stuffed with a litany of saturated fats.
Saturated fats tend to accumulate around the gut, leading to weight gain. Furthermore, they come with a litany of omega-6 fatty acids. Our ancestors evolved with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1:1. Presently, we’re upwards of 15:1.
An analysis about the dangers of this imbalance noted,
“Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects. In the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease 3.”– Biomed Pharmacother.
Further proving life is about balance, the study noted that significant milestones in health improved as the 1:1 ratio got closer together.
Improvements in omega-6 to omega-3 ratios saw:
- 5:1 – Improvement in Asthma Symptoms
- 4:1 – 70% Decrease in Mortality
- 3:1 – Lessened Inflammation In Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients
- 2.5:1 – Reduced Rectal Cell Proliferation in Colorectal Cancer Patients
By cutting down on red meat and dairy, you can improve so many aspects of your wellness. Now, research shows that there is a positive connection between the Mediterranean Diet and gut health too.
Mediterranean Diet and Gut Health Study
The recent study that shed a light on the Mediterranean Diet and gut health actually started as an analysis about frailty. Researchers followed 612 non-frail and pre-frail elderly people for one year.
These individuals came from the following regions:
- United Kingdom
- Netherlands Some of these participants were fed a Mediterranean Diet. At the end of the study, the researchers performed a stool test. They analyzed the DNA of the subjects and found that those who followed the Mediterranean protocol had a far more diverse gut biome.
“Taxa enriched by adherence to the diet were positively associated with several markers of lower frailty and improved cognitive function, and negatively associated with inflammatory markers including C-reactive protein and interleukin-17. Analysis of the inferred microbial metabolite profiles indicated that the diet-modulated microbiome change was associated with an increase in short/branch chained fatty acid production and lower production of secondary bile acids, p-cresols, ethanol and carbon dioxide.”– Gut Journal
So, what exactly do these findings mean? Let’s dive a little deeper into the benefits of Mediterranean foods for gut health.
How Mediterranean Diet Improves Gut Health
There are a lot of factors at play that causes the Mediterranean Diet to improve gut bacteria. Here’s a closer look at the perks of clean eating and how it can boost beneficial stomach bacteria in the gut biome.
Research shows that too many omega-6 fatty acids can lead to chronic disease 4. One of the most common omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids responsible for inflammation is arachidonic acid (ARA).
ARA is a catalyst for many pro-inflammatory biomarkers, such as C-reactive protein 5. If you recall from the Mediterranean Diet and frailty study, C-reactive protein is inhibited for those who followed the Mediterranean lifestyle.
When you don’t have excess omega-6 fatty acids bogging down the system, you are less likely to develop inflammation. In turn, your body remains strong enough to fight off a litany of diseases.
Boosts Immune System
On top of omegas, there are plenty of antioxidants found in Mediterranean foods. That’s because a majority of Mediterranean plates comprise of fruits and vegetables. Plant-based foods provide us with a litany of micronutrients that are essential for every aspect of human functioning.
Essential vitamins and minerals give our cells life, regulate digestive organs, and clear out arteries of debris. Unfortunately, SAD followers don’t get enough fruits and veggies because they fill up on red meat and bread products. Denying your body these nutrients causes hardship on the system, igniting the immune system.
By eating a whole foods diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, those who follow a Mediterranean Diet have a stronger immune system. This deduction is even more relevant because the majority of our immune cells derived from the gut.
Decreases Secondary Bile Acids
We rely on primary bile salts to help digest food and absorb nutrients. However, some of these bile salts will pass by the ileum in the small intestine. Here they meet up in the colon and become susceptible to anaerobic bacteria. That’s when they become secondary bile acids.
One study on the potential dangers of excess secondary bile acids noted,
“Secondary bile acids solve the puzzle of colorectal cancer because they sit at the crossroad of nutritional and hormonal signals modulating the tangled interactions between the environmental factors, such as diet, and the nuclear receptors such as VDR (Vitamin D receptor) 6.– World J Surg Oncol.
Hijacking the Vitamin D receptor can be a big problem. This essential vitamin that we already lack in, modulates our gut muscles. That’s why many people take Vitamin D for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Feeds Probiotics with Prebiotics
Between fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, there is plenty of dietary fiber in the Mediterranean Diet. These fibers are not digestible to humans. However, our probiotic bacteria love them. To them, this fiber is known as prebiotics.
Beneficial stomach bacteria flourish on carbohydrates found in dietary fiber. As a result, they produce metabolites known as short-chain fatty acids. Like the study noted, those who followed a Mediterranean Diet noticed an, “increase in short/branch chained fatty acid production.”
Short-chain fatty acids, like butyrate, are essential for healing the gut lining. These beneficial compounds act as energy for our cells.
They are especially beneficial to colon cells. So, consuming dietary fiber helps thwart off pathogenic bacteria and the development of conditions like Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).
Since their small in structure, our body burns through short-chain fatty acids very efficiently. Therefore, short-chain fatty acids don’t collect in our gut lining and cause weight gain.
How to Follow a Mediterranean Diet
Following a Mediterranean Diet is easy and delicious. Many of the foods are readily available in your grocery store.
Attempt cutting down on your red meat consumption. Try chickpea tacos instead of beef or have grilled wild-caught salmon instead of baby back ribs.
We can also help you follow a Mediterranean Diet. Join the Thryve Gut Health Program. Then, we can test your gut bacteria. Based on the results, we formulate a recipe plan that will help improve your gut health.
Our database has countless recipes that not only taste good but will have you feeling good too!
Click Here To View Resources
- 1 Martinez-Gonzalez, M. A., & Martin-Calvo, N. (2016). Mediterranean diet and life expectancy; beyond olive oil, fruits, and vegetables. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 19(6), 401–407. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0000000000000316
- 2 Ghosh, Tarini Shankar, et al. “Mediterranean Diet Intervention Alters the Gut Microbiome in Older People Reducing Frailty and Improving Health Status: the NU-AGE 1-Year Dietary Intervention across Five European Countries.” Gut, BMJ Publishing Group, 30 Jan. 2020, gut.bmj.com/content/early/2020/01/31/gutjnl-2019-319654.
- 3 Simopoulos, A P. “The Importance of the Ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids.” Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & Pharmacotherapie, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2002, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909.
- 4 Innes, Jacqueline K, and Philip C Calder. “Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Inflammation.” Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29610056.
- 5 Muka, Taulant, et al. “Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Serum C-Reactive Protein: The Rotterdam Study.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 21 Apr. 2015, academic.oup.com/aje/article/181/11/846/87496.
- 6 Ajouz, H., Mukherji, D., & Shamseddine, A. (2014). Secondary bile acids: an underrecognized cause of colon cancer. World journal of surgical oncology, 12, 164. https://doi.org/10.1186/1477-7819-12-164