Are you good to your gut? We do hope so. The link between gut health and longevity is key to our Age-Well Project, so we’re excited about THREE new pieces of research providing simple ways to boost both.
A quick refresher: when we say ‘gut health’ we mean the variety, quality and quantity of our microbiota, the intestinal flora which impacts so much more than digestion. Brain function, immunity, heart health, digestion and sleep quality are all directly impacted by our microbiota. To function well, they need a supply of reinforcements, in the form of probiotics – we include a small amount of fermented food in our diets – and prebiotics, fibrous foods which ferment in the gut to feed our microbes.
New research from Vancouver, Canada, has found that sunlight and vitamin D have an impact on our gut health too. The gut microbiota of two groups of women, one taking Vitamin D supplements, and one deficient in Vitamin D, were analysed. Women taking supplements had a healthier and more diverse microbiota than women who didn’t. Both groups were exposed to UVB light in short bursts. The microbial composition of the Vitamin D deficient women improved significantly within a week. The UVB exposure had little impact on the women who were taking supplements. “We found that vitamin D production was the main driver of the shift in the microbiome,” explained the study’s lead author. “It is well known that UVB light produces vitamin D, and we now start to understand that vitamin D is important to maintain a healthy gut.” Good news for us in northern climes who struggle to get enough sun in winter, and another reason to take a Vitamin D supplement. (Annabel wrote about the importance of taking a Vitamin D supplement for muscle function last week).
I’ve been rather obsessed with the health benefits of coffee recently. Research published last week revealed a link between coffee consumption and a well-functioning gut microbiota. The study participants were subjected to a colon biopsy which revealed the state of their gut health. This was then compared to their coffee consumption. Those who had a ‘high’ caffeine intake (above 82.9mg a day – roughly an average cup of filter coffee or one and a half espressos, so not that high) had better levels of the ‘good’ bacteria Faecalibacterium and Roseburia, and lower levels of Erysipelatoclostridium — a “potentially harmful” bacteria. The authors conclude, “Higher caffeine consumption was associated with increased richness and evenness of the mucosa-associated gut microiota, and higher relative abundance of anti-inflammatory bacteria, such as Faecalibacterium and Roseburia’. Time for a coffee then!
A diet rich in fibre is critical for good gut health, giving our microbiota something to feed off and ferment to produce short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. Butyrate can reduce inflammation in the gut and the brain. In research undertaken last year, older mice fed a fibre-rich diet had increased levels of butyrate and decreased inflammation in their brains and intestines. Particularly important was the reduction in inflammation of the brain’s microglia, an immune cell which tends to become chronically inflamed with age. This inflammation is believed to be one of the main causes of cognitive decline as we age.…. so anything that reduces it is good news.
AN AGE-WELL WORKSHOP
I’m hosting a workshop at the beautiful Water Lane Farm near Stroud in Gloucestershire on Tuesday November 19th. I’ll be helping you put together your own Age-Well plan and there will be a delicious longevity lunch afterwards! All the details are here:
This week’s recipe is packed with fibre from butternut squash. I’ve called it ‘pizza’ because the tomato and cheese element reminded me of a Margherita, but it’s a far cry from a doughy, grease-laden meal usually associated with the term. No meat feast here!
BUTTERNUT SQUASH ‘PIZZA’ (SERVES 4)
- 2 small butternut squash, each approx. 800g
- 50g walnuts, crumbled
- 1 tbs sundried tomato pesto
- 50g goats cheese or feta, crumbled
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 garlic clove finely chopped
- 1 tbs chopped flat leaf parsley, to serve
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Cut the squashes in half from top to bottom, scoop out, and discard the seeds.
Put the squash halves, cut-side down, on a baking tray and bake for about 55 minutes, until the flesh is completely soft to the point of a knife and the skin is blistered and brown.
About 10 minutes before the end of cooking time, put the walnuts on a small ovenproof tray, pop in the oven and let them roast until they start to brown.
Carefully scoop out most of the flesh of the squash, leaving a thin layer behind so the skin holds its shape. Put the flesh in a bowl. Mash the squash with the rest of the ingredients and season well with pepper. Pile the squash mix back into the skins.
Return the squash halves to the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until piping hot. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with a side salad.