I've written quite a bit about how the bacteria in our gut affect our health. And one of the best recommendations I have for how to positively influence your gut bacteria is to eat fiber-rich foods. But that isn't always the only answer. In fact, if you have a certain condition, you may need to increase your consumption of foods that aren't always full of fiber. But they're still great for helping you maintain a healthy balance in your gut.
Researchers at Washing University School of Medicine in St. Louis have been investigating the delicate balance between a robust immune system and inflammation in the body. Immune cells need to promote inflammation to do their jobs properly, but it's also important for them not to do so unnecessarily. So the body also has special cells that encourage tolerance and teach the immune cells when they've gone too far.
The researchers found that mice who have a wealth of these tolerance-promoting cells also contain a specific bacterium, called Lactobacillus reuteri. They also found that the L. reuteri require the amino acid tryptophan to trigger the appearance of the tolerance cells. The more tryptophan the mice consumed, the more cells they produced.
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To confirm these findings, the researchers conducted a study published in the journal Science. First, they investigated the microbiomes of mice with and without these special tolerance-promoting cells. Sure enough, they found some key differences in bacteria strains, and when they tried introducing L. reuteri to mice bred without microbiomes, the mice developed the immune cells. They also found a byproduct of tryptophan metabolism in a liquid used to grow these cells. Finally, the researchers tried doubling the tryptophan in the mice's diet. Their levels of these immune cells rose by about 50%. Cutting tryptophan levels in half led to a corresponding drop in the cells.
The researchers reason that the combination of L. reuteri and tryptophan could help reduce inflammation in the guts of humans, a key finding for people with an inflammatory bowel disease like IBS. Because most of us have L. reuteri in our guts already, increasing consumption of tryptophan could provide inflammation relief, particularly because these immune cells help reduce inflammation on the interior surface of the intestines.
Tryptophan is perhaps best known as a component of turkey, but you'll also find it in a variety of protein-rich foods, including nuts, eggs, seeds, beans, and poultry. I often recommend a low-carb, protein-rich diet to my patients, and this could be a good fit for you if you struggle with an inflammatory bowel disease. Just be sure to choose fiber-rich sources of tryptophan, like beans, regularly to ensure you're feeding your friendly bacteria. You need both sides of the equation for this to work. You also can get 380 mg of tryptophan from Advanced Protein Powder.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD