An average Jane on health and nutrition

Posts tagged ‘microbiomes’

Pollan and Microbiomes

“One case I thought was absolutely fascinating is this difference in the gut of Japanese people and Americans. There’s a very common bacteria that we all share, that all humans have in their gut, and it’s involved in digesting polysaccharides of complex carbohydrates and plants. And the Japanese version of it has a gene that allows it to break down seaweed that we can’t break down. When you eat seaweed in a Japanese restaurant, you’re not getting the nutritional value from it that a Japanese person is getting. And they actually traced the source of that gene, and it came from the bacteria that hang out on seaweed in the ocean. In other words, the bacteria who first learned how to digest seaweed. Through the eating of enough seaweed, this bacteria that is common in the gut of the Japanese borrowed this bit of genetic information and uses it now to digest seaweed. And so now it’s a permanent part of the genome of that bug.

There’s an example of how the microbiome evolved to take advantage of a change in the environment — i.e., Japanese eating of seaweed — probably because they needed to. And the same thing is true with, say, dealing with a new toxin, detoxifying, and other changes in our environment. It’s kind of evolution on fast forward. That’s probably critical to our ability to adapt to change, and it may become more critical as we face more rapid and radical environmental changes.”

 Fascinating indeed… an entire world of possible understandings of human biology with a door just opening to it. If this is actually true, the notion that two people eating the same exact food may actually get different nutritional benefit from it will be proven. The problem, of course, is that it then becomes much harder to give people the one-size-fits-all nutritional guideline that the government and some nutritionists so desperately want to do, and many Americans so desperately want to know. And yet, we need to get past this idea anyway. We need to accept and understand that our bodies work differently, and that saying otherwise is often in competition with the increasing body of evidence we’re discovering.

And also:

“I would try to create incentives that drive diversification. I still feel that the great evil of American agriculture is monoculture. It really does contribute to so many problems at the level of the field and the pests, but also at the level of the diet. The thing you learn is the importance of diversity in what you eat, and to the extent you would drive diversity [in farm policy] you would also be creating raw materials for cooking rather than raw materials for processed food, which are mostly corn and soy.

I love this term “specialty crop.” That’s what the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] lingo is for anything you grow that you could actually eat — fruits and vegetables. Corn and soy and rice and wheat, these are commodity crops — in the case of rice you do eat it directly, but everything else has to be heavily processed first. Right now, we actually have laws that prohibit farmers receiving subsidies to grow commodity crops from growing specialty crops. They get fined. If you’re growing corn and soy, and you want to put in 20 acres of tomatoes because somebody’s doing some local canning deal in your county and you want to get in on it and diversify, you get fined. I know farmers who have been fined forty or fifty thousand dollars for doing that. That’s unconscionable. We should be encouraging farmers to diversify, for both economic and ecological reasons.”

Have not looked into the fines thing, but if true.. yikes. Wth, America.

These are snippets from interview with Michael Pollan: http://e360.yale.edu/feature/michael_pollan_on_the_links_between_biodiversity_and_health/2655

I will be doing some further research into these notions and claims over the next few weeks, and as things continue to involve. Fascinating time to be paying attention to nutrition science.

– J

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