Various bacteria and pathogens on a human hand, the microbiota of the skin, 3d illustration.

Inverse Daily

Shoutout to the magical human gut microbiome

It’s Gut Week!

CHRISTOPH BURGSTEDT/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

The cosmos may be vast and full of curious denizens but so is your body.

All week, Inverse has been spotlighting some of the most incredible scientific discoveries about our wondrous guts and all the microbes that exist within as part of Gut Week. It is a little weird to think about — containing multitudes is nice in theory, of course, but knowing your intestines are teeming with viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other microbes isn’t necessarily something you want to dwell on. Or is it?

I’m Claire Cameron, an editor here at Inverse. Happy Friday; we need to talk about your guts.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for Friday, November 26, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox. ✉️

No guts, no glory.Lan Truong

What is the gut?This question is anything but basic. Derived from the Old English guttas, the gut has been synonymous with courage since the 19th century but has been linked to a state of being since the ancient Greeks. Our modern, scientific definition of the gut is surprisingly harmonious with these more metaphysical interpretations. But, what is the gut, really?

The gut, technically, is the gastrointestinal tract or digestive system — a pathway from your mouth to your rear. “Gut health” is the function and balance of everything that goes on there. And within the gut, there is the human gut microbiome, a collective of microbiota that is one’s very own incredibly complex ecosystem of bacteria, archaea, viruses, and fungi.

Want a tour?

Get an inside view.

It’s not all about eating pickles.Yulia Naumenko/Moment/Getty Images

What foods boost gut health? A doctor reveals the biggest mistake you can make In this exclusive interview with Dr. Linda Shiue, a cookbook author and physician, Shiue reveals the biggest mistake you're probably making when it comes to eating for the gut.

The right foods can introduce both new bacteria and support the existing microbes in your body so that they can do their job well and you don’t suffer stomach cramps as a result of eating fries. But gut health is about more than just a pleasant trip to the bathroom, Shiue tells Inverse.

“What we eat, and how that changes, can affect the population and types of gut bacteria you have within a matter of days,” she says.

Thriving bacteria colonies support our health and well-being in ways scientists are only just beginning to investigate now.

Though the science is young, there are older, established truths when it comes to caring for your gut, Shiue says. When it comes to eating for the gut, most people make one fundamental error in deciding what they should include in their diet, she says: They forget to think about what they are not eating.

Read the full interview.

And then try cooking yourself a gut-healthy meal or two — using recipes by Linda Shiue.

Who owns biobank samples?Sam Dean Lynn

The “disappearing” human microbiome — and the fraught push to preserve it — Competing ideas on how to collect and study our microbiota raise a vital question: Who benefits?

Scientists are worried we’re at risk of losing certain microbial species which may prove to be the most helpful for treating disease — specifically, the microbiomes of people who are less affected by industrial living, and often belong to rural and Indigenous communities. Competing efforts are underway to collect and preserve samples of these microbiomes, found within feces, in banks like the Microbiota Vault — but this is just one of several efforts to try and achieve much the same end.

But this is not a “break in case of emergency” situation. If the Seed Vault is insurance for the future, scientists say we should have already started to collect microbiomes. The emergency, chronic disease, is happening now. Because the microbiome interacts with so many aspects of the body, scientists say there’s therapeutic potential.

Read the full story.

Go deeper:

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  • About the newsletter: Do you think it can be improved? Have a story idea? Want to share a story about the time you met an astronaut? Send those thoughts and more to newsletter@inverse.com.
  • On this day: November 26 was the original Thanksgiving Day — it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln specified Americans set aside the last Thursday in November as a day of thanks in the 1860s that the current tradition was born.
  • Song of the Day: Dancing Queen,” by ABBA cause it is Friday night and the lights are low.
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