HARAI and the Holiday Spirit
We’re getting closer to that time of year when binge eating looms as a pardonable pleasure and predictable curse. Roast turkey and honey-baked ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, gingerbread, chocolates, pies of all kinds, glӧgg and eggnog – yum! Bring it on! ‘Tis the season of gustatory delights!
‘Tis also the reason many of us face chronic indigestion and irritable bowels. But is there anything we can do about the aftereffects of heavy eating? Should we assume the worst – that continuing supply chain woes will constipate the delivery of essentials - and rush out to buy up all the antacids and laxatives we can find?
We can do better. As old Ben Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
In just the past few decades our understanding of the gut has changed dramatically. Whereas we once we took it for granted that ‘Jack Sprat could eat no fat’, we now recognize that the human gut is a microbial ecosystem as complex and populous as the Amazon rainforest, with great influence not only on how well we digest food, but how we think and feel.
Consider again the feasting that goes on from Thanksgiving to year’s end.
Once it was believed that a compound in turkey called tryptophan, not gluttonous eating itself, was the cause of the ‘food coma’ that affects so many after Thanksgiving dinner. This theory later gave way to the discovery that the body (bacteria in the gut?) metabolized tryptophan into serotonin, which actually works in the brain to enhance, rather than depress, our mood. But that still didn’t explain why some at the autumnal feast continued to make merry, while others nodded off.
Most recently, researchers are suggesting that differences in the gut microbiota of people may determine how each metabolizes compounds like tryptophan and how, in turn, these compounds affect our brains. Those lacking certain beneficial gut bacteria might not be getting the required neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, to feel happy instead of sad, or sleepy. This all gets back to the gut-brain axis theory, and the idea that many mood disorders have their origin in imbalances in the digestive system. Fine-tuning the composition of bacteria in the gut, to better serve the health of both body and mind, is a new frontier in gastroenterology.
So rather than treating the symptoms of overeating, and the long-term effects of over-indulgence, let’s approach the coming season with a proactive strategy to support the gut microbiome. Probiotics like HARAI, as well as plenty of fermented foods, fruits and vegetables, consumed over a period of several weeks, can make a real difference in the health and performance of your gut, and ensure those holiday calories are converted into good cheer.