May, 2018: MICROBIOME
Why is cheese a great choice for your health and enjoyment? These days, there’s a lot of talk about “gut health,” but literally, how your body handles the raw ingredients in food determines your quality of life and health! In this inaugural edition of my monthly newsletter, I wanted to share what I’ve learned.
In July 2015, as I browsed through the book store at the American Cheese Society’s annual conference. I noticed a book titled Cheese Microbes. This is an important book for cheese-makers and scientists, so I walked past it. I was looking for a book about cheese and health. I didn’t find one, so I retraced my steps and gave Cheese Microbes a closer look.
My first introduction to the microbiome was through Mark Windt, M.D., when he, Max McCalman, and I were preparing for a presentation for the 2013 ACS conference. Dr. Windt emphasized the importance of the topic and explained how humans benefit from a diversity of gut microbes.
It didn’t take long for me to get excited about this new science. I was hungry for more information. I bought Cheese Microbes and read it three times. It’s a challenging read for non-biochemists, but my urge to know more kept me going. Glad I did. The book connected the dots between cheese and human health. The hottest topic in nutrition today is the microbiome. What is it? Basically, it’s the “collection of microscopic critters that make their home in and on us,” as Dr. Rob Knight noted in his book, Follow Your Gut. (By the way, technically, this collection of bugs is called the microbiota and their genes are called the human microbiome but it has become accepted use to refer simply to the microbiome.) The microbiome is densely populated. There are no exact figures, but as Dr. Justin Sonnenberg, a researcher at Stanford and author of The Good Gut states, “Our gastrointestinal tract has trillions of microbes…our gut microbiota is the control center for multiple aspects of our biology including the following, the immune system, metabolism, neurobiology… and the impact of nutrients on microbes.”
Like most Americans, I associate bacteria with illness. Something to be avoided and eradicated, right? Wrong. As David Perlmutter, MD, author of Brain Maker (a book that also makes the gut-brain connection clear), noted in 2015, “Scientists have embraced the notion that our perception of bacteria and germs was in need of a major makeover. We now see that the major emphasis of research is focusing on the positive health-sustaining attributes of the various microbes living on and in us.” Did you catch that? The key phrase is “research is focusing on the positive health-sustaining attributes…” That’s exactly what interests me. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Do we have control over our gut health? I’m happy to say that we are not passive players in this bacterial ballet; we affect the status of our microbiome, largely by what we eat. In fact, in Brain Maker, Dr. Perlmutter writes ” The most significant factor related to the health and diversity of the microbiome is the food we eat.” (p12) That means our food choices are shaping our health to a greater degree than we knew. And it’s happening in our gut. As Emeran Mayer, MD points out in his book The Mind-Gut Connection, “There are more immune cells living in the walls of your gut than circulating in the blood or hanging out in bone marrow.” But the most startling news coming out of the extensive research being done in this field is the gut’s influence on our brain function and health. “Your gut has capabilities that surpass all your other organs and even rival your brain,” Dr. Mayer writes. “It has its own nervous system and is often referred as the ‘second brain’. This second brain is made up of 50 to100 million nerve cells, as many as are contained in your spinal cord.” Who could imagine such importance of our intestinal health?
What role do the microbes in cheese play? Researchers at the Dutton Lab at UC San Diego are studying cheese rinds and are discovering that all cheeses have a hugely diverse array of microbes. Lab Director and microbiologist, Dr. Rachel Dutton tells us that just one gram of cheese rind is home to 10 billion bacterial and fungal cells. For human health, the numbers are important. As I explore the potential health benefits of cheese, I start with a microscopic view of the contents. Unless it’s a highly-processed industrial product, each cheese is different and is capable of influencing zillions of biochemical processes. Since about seventy percent of our immune cells reside inside our intestinal walls, that means that a multitude of healthy microbes help fight disease. That’s just enough to keep me interested and motivated to share the good news.
You’re invited to come along on this journey to discover more ways to enjoy life and enhance your health through high-quality cheese!
May, 2018: MICROBIOME