By now you know that Kombucha is a probiotic, meaning it does the job of repopulating the gut with healthy bacteria and yeast.
In today’s world where the war on bacteria has been raging for decades, that can serve a critical function.
As mentioned in the Top 5 Ways Kombucha is Earth Friendly post, science is just now beginning to explore and understand the incredible importance of the human microbiome and discovering how bacteria function within our internal ecosystem. In case you missed it, the “Microbiome” is a mass of good bacteria in our guts that appears to have incredible power over our bodies.
A recent discovery, published in the journal Nature, has caused quite a stir in these circles. I will admit to being incredibly excited by the possibilities for deeper understanding of our bodies.
Scientists belonging to the Metagenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract (MetaHIT) Consortium led by Peer Bork have discovered that human gut microbiomes can be classified into 3 distinct types called “Enterotypes.”
Let’s find out how this important discovery will revolutionize medicine in much the same way that the discovery of different blood types did at the turn of the 20th century.
What’s Your Type?
“I’m an A-, how about you?” These days we take for granted that there are different blood types. However, this vital clue to understanding human health was not uncovered until the turn of the 20th century (1901) by Austrian biologist and physician Karl Landsteiner.
Prior to the discovery of the different blood types, biologists struggled to understand why blood transfusions worked for some patients yet proved fatal for others. There are now over 600 specific blood-group types that have been identified, many of which are unique to certain ethnicities.
Most people fall into one of four main types – A, B, AB and O – and, most importantly, they are not all compatible with each other. Landsteiner’s work (he also discovered the polio virus) had such a profound influence on our understanding of human physiology and modern medicine that in 1930 he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
If the discovery of blood type catapulted medicine into the 20th century, just imagine how far advancements in understanding enterotype can take us!
I’ll go into more detail about enterotypes, but first, did you know that your body has 2 brains?
Two Brains are Better Than One
Yep, that’s right. And you thought the brain in your head was doing the work? Actually there is a brain inside your gut too called the enteric nervous system.
Comprised of neurons, neurotransmitters and proteins housed in the tissue of the entire digestive tract from esophagus to colon, your Enteric Brain functions just like the brain in your head in that it carries out complex processes and is capable of learning, able to remember and of course, emits gut instincts.
These two brains are created from the same tissue in a developing fetus and evolve separately. They are later connected via the vagus nerve that runs all the way from the brain to the lower intestine. This same nerve also controls heart rate, sweating and speech.
When the mind feels nervous, that feeling travels down the vagus nerve causing the heart rate to increase, palms to sweat, “butterflies” in your stomach and can even affect speech, causing a nervous stammer.
Of course it makes sense: the brain in your head and the brain in your belly are connected! Of course the foods you eat have an impact on your emotions! Of course IBS is a physical manifestation of mental or emotional stress because EVERYTHING is connected in our physiology! Even food allergies and autism have been tied to the relationship between the neurological and gastrointestinal systems.
Understanding this relationship can drastically change our approach to resolving these ailments whether through individualized diet plans or healing treatments.
Know Guts, Know Glory
As we begin to understand the microbiome, the implications for human health could not be greater.
The field of neurogasteroenterology (say that 5 times fast) is still in its nascent stages, but according to the research that was just published in the journal Nature in May 2011, they have identified 3 main types or clusters of bacteria. While there is much to be discovered and explored about the enterotypes (remember that the brain in the gut is known as the enteric system), here is what the study was able to demonstrate.
Although the current understanding leaves them less clearly defined than the human blood groups, Enterotypes are stable and can be used to characterize individuals. “Each of these three enterotypes are identifiable by the variation in the levels of one of three genera (type of bacteria present): Bacteroides (enterotype 1), Prevotella (enterotype 2) and Ruminococcus (enterotype 3),” says the study.
Enterotypes use different means to generate energy from the food sources consumed. They are highly specialized and not only convert complex carbohydrates and proteins into an assimilable format but also aid in the synthesis of vitamins from the food we eat.
Basically, your enterotype not only indicates which type of diet is most beneficial to your specific physiology but also identifies which vitamins your gut is able to process most efficiently. Moreover, it means that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all dietary plan that makes sense for all people.
Here are some details about each enterotype. I scoured the Internet for information on these different types of bacteria but since this is cutting edge science, it proved difficult to ascertain clear distinctions as to which types of food are more easily utilized by which enterotype. While there are already three known nutritional types (carbs & vegetables, protein, & mixed), it is still unknown as to which will correspond to the types listed below.
Enterotype 1 – Bacteroides dominant
For the Bacteroides Dominant Enterotype, energy is primarily derived from carbohydrates and proteins. This type is also more effective at synthesizing biotin B7, riboflavin B2, pantothenate B5 and ascorbate Vitamin C.
According to Wikipedia: “They (Bacteroides) can use simple sugars when available, but the main source of energy ispolysaccharides from plant sources. Bacteroides species also benefit their host by excluding potential pathogens from colonizing the gut.”
This would seem to favor a more plant based diet works best for this type.
Enterotype 2 – Prevotella dominant
The Prevotella sp. Dominant Enterotype is best at synthesizing and thiamine B1 and folic acid B9.
The Kenyon Microbewiki says, “This bacteria is among the most numerous microbes culturable from the rumen and hind gut of cattle and sheep, where they help the breakdown of protein and carbohydrate foods. They are also present in humans.”
Okay, I know, that sounds just like type 1 but Prevotella are a type of Bacteroide so it makes sense that they perform a similar function.
Further research will clarify the functional difference between the two types.
Enterotype 3 – Ruminococcus dominant
According to the samples studied, enterotype 3 occurred with the highest frequency.
Again the Kenyon Microbewiki explains, “Ruminococcus inhabits the rumen of cattle, sheep, and goats. These organisms allow their hosts to digest cellulose.” Cellulose is often referred to as roughage or dietary fiber in terms of humans. With all these bacteria in common with ruminants, perhaps we really are meant to graze.
These enterotypes were not found to have any correlation with gender, ethnicity, BMI (body mass index) or age. However, there are genes and other modules that do correlate and could be used as a diagnostic or prognostic tool to determine susceptibility for diabetes, colorectal cancer and other metabolic disorders.
Reconnect to Your Gut with Kombucha
So, how does Kombucha figure into the equation? All fermented foods (sauerkraut, miso and kefir to name a few) provide healthy bacteria to rebalance your enteric system. But Kombucha is one of the most versatile fermented foods of all. It can be drunk at any time of the day and can be flavored as wild or mild as the imagination enjoys. Not only that, but it alkalizes the body.
The rebalancing effect of regular Kombucha consumption has allowed me to reconnect to my gut feelings. Too much sugar makes my tummy hurt, just like it did when I was little. I don’t crave alcohol (only mentally, though I do have a glass from time to time in moderation) and I can feel when I’m full or when a food makes me feel gross. Its an old habit, but I’ll have a Coke now and then and I can taste the disgusting chemicals and high fructose corn syrup and end up pouring the rest down the drain. I am plugged back into what nutrition feels like so now my body is better able to recognize it.
Try this experiment at home:
- Drink 4 oz of Kombucha on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. I recommend adding it to a large glass of water or drinking water immediately afterward.
- Listen to your body. Notice how the Kombucha feels on the inside.
- When you are ready to eat, have whatever you like.
- Again, notice how your body feels. Bringing mindful attention to the signals your other brain is sending will reconnect you to your gut feelings.
Some other ways to protect your enteric system:
- Avoid drinking chlorinated water
- Consume whole, unprocessed foods
- Remove toxic cleaners and beauty products from your home