How The Gut Microbiota Affects Our Health with Dr. Erica & Dr. Justin Sonnenburg

Posted on January 3rd 2016 (about 4 years)

Dr. Justin Sonnenburg is an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford and Dr. Erica Sonnenburg is a senior research scientist in the Sonnenburg lab. Erica and Justin both research the interaction between diet and the trillions of bacteria in the gut (specifically the colon) and how this impacts the health of the host (which, in this case, is a laboratory research mouse).

In addition to their work in the lab pushing the boundaries of human knowledge on the gut, Erica & Justin have also published a book entitled The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health.

"We're not just this collection of human cells. We're in fact more like a tube of human cells that house this incredibly complex and dynamic ecosystem of microbes. What we're finding is these microbes are wired into pretty much all aspects of our biology." - Erica Sonnenburg, Ph.D. Click To Tweet

Discussed in this episode:

  • How our Western diets compare to those of traditional societies (like hunter-gatherers in Tanzania) and just how far we are from the upper limits of normal.... just 15 grams per day for many of us versus their 200 grams per day!
  • How this lack of fiber in the typical American diet actually starves good bacteria of their food, and how this has an effect not only on the immune system and autoimmune diseases but also results in the breakdown of the gut barrier, which leads to widespread inflammation and inflammatory diseases.
  • The pivotal role fiber plays in fueling good bacteria in the gut that act like "miniature drug factories" which produce compounds that regulate the immune system by increasing the number of T regulatory cells, which are specialized types of immune cells that keep the immune system in check and prevent autoimmune responses.
  • How the compounds produced by bacteria also increase other types of blood cells in the body in a process known as hematopoiesis.
  • How C-sections have a negative effect on the infant’s gut due to the lack of exposure to bacteria present in the mother’s vaginal canal.
  • How the use of formula can be deleterious by depriving the infant of special carbohydrates in breast milk known as human milk oligosaccharides, which are specialized for encouraging the right kind of commensal gut flora while discouraging the pathogenic variety.

Learn more about the Sonnenburg Lab

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