Anybody who’s ever “listened to their gut” when making important decisions might be satisfied to learn of the biochemical evidence for the mind/belly connection.
A recent study found large amount of bacteriophage DNA in kimchi, suggesting a significant role of bacteriophages in the fermentation process. Kimchi is just one of many bacteria-rich (and presumably phage-rich) foods, like yogurt and sauerkraut, that many people consider to be superfoods. There are countless kinds of fermented foods in many diets, both old and new.
The Paleo diet — short for Paleolithic — is a modern diet that’s based on the foods humans would have had access to during our evolutionary formative years. According to the Paleo diet, modern-day foods like sugar, grains, and processed carbohydrates shift the balance toward undesirable flora, while animal- and vegetable-based dishes, including fermented foods and vinegar, encourage good bacteria. It’s no wonder, according to the Paleo worldview, that foods that have been with us since the beginning are the ones that keep our bodies in proper balance-with the help of our old friends bacteria.
The “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” (GAPS) diet (it’s also the name of the related book) is built on the premise of a link between mental and intestinal health. The diet mixes probiotic supplements with a regimen of foods designed to tilt the playing field so the good bacteria take over.
Probiotic supplements are essentially “good bacteria” by the millions, in pill form. Doctors often recommend them after a round of antibiotics, which can kill the good bacteria in your body along with the bad.
Much of what we’re learning in labs is validating ancient wisdom, like the importance of fermented foods. And along these bacterial lines, science is also finding an important function for an organ it once dismissed as a useless evolutionary relic: the appendix. Now they’re realizing that the appendix probably has immunological functions related to the fact that it acts as a reservoir of spare bacteria in case your gut flora gets killed off or flushed out, say, in a nasty bout of diarrhea.
We’re still at the beginning of the bacterial learning curve. A research team recently determined that humans can be classified into three categories depending on the type of bacteria in their guts. Such bacterial affiliation is found in all humans, and is unrelated to race or to the gut-bacteria type of one’s parents. At this point we have no idea what this means, or where it will lead.
But we can be sure that as we continue learning about our relationship with bacteria, kids will continue eating nature’s probiotic wherever they can find it. And the more we learn, the smarter they seem.