Exploring the Body’s Second Brain with Co-Founder of Health-Ade Kombucha
Manna Tree believes nutrition is a direct contributor to a healthy microbiome. We interviewed gut-health expert Daina Trout, Co-Founder and Chief Mission Officer of Health-Ade Kombucha on the ins and out of the wonderful world of the body’s second brain.
Trout first learned how to brew kombucha during her tenure at Tufts University, where she earned Masters’ degrees both in Nutrition and Public Health after receiving her BS from Georgetown University. During that time, she also developed her personal philosophy that health is less about science, and more about what makes you feel good and happy. After graduation, Trout moved to Los Angeles to accept a position working in pharmaceuticals but continued to cultivate an interest in holistic and “real” food that fuels a hard-working lifestyle. Trout funneled this energy into an entrepreneurship club she formed with Justin and Vanessa to explore ways they could combine their diverse backgrounds into a successful business venture; the result, Health-Ade.
For someone who knows nothing about the microbiome – what is it, how does it function, etc.?
Daina: Simply put, the microbiome is the friendly community of bacteria and yeast that lives in and on the body, the majority of which lives in the gut. A healthy gut would have somewhere between 300-500 different species of these microbes, making up over 2M genes (10X the size of own human genome!!!) The sheer outnumbering of these “critters” to our own cells is reason alone to give the microbiome attention.
Your gut microbiome has 4 main functions: 1) Mines nutrients from food you yourself cannot digest, 2) Produces very important compounds that your body depends on for healthy function, 3) Breaks down toxins, and 4) Keeps “bad” pathogens away. Thanks to the thousands of studies completed on the subject, the microbiome is credited with being a critical driver to almost every aspect of health we care about: digestion, energy, immunity, inflammation, metabolism, sleep, skin health, and blood sugar are tightly linked to the microbes in our gut. It’s very possible diseases like Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Cancer are in big part caused by abnormalities in our microbiome and will be cured when we focus on fixing them.
The general rule is – a gut with abundant and variant microbes is linked to health everywhere in your body, so it’s important you know what keeps these critters alive and well. High level, there are 4 rules to follow to keep your microbiome flourishing: 1) eat lots of fiber from plants, 2) eat fermented foods often, 3) avoid too much alcohol, and 4) use antibiotics only when necessary.
Why do they call the gut the second brain?
Daina: The first reason is that the microbiome is often responsible for triggering the brain to do or release something, and at least 50 or so pathways have been established. For example, serotonin, a neurochemical released in our brain that makes us feel happy, is almost entirely turned “on” by microbes in our gut, communicating to the brain via the Vagus nerve. The second reason is that, like the brain, the microbiome has such a vast impact on all parts of the body. It doesn’t just stick to the cardiovascular system like the heart – the gut is a central communicator to most organs and functions, including sleep, digestion, immune and inflammatory response, skin health, energy, blood sugar, and metabolism.
In your opinion, why are 88% of Americans metabolically unhealthy (2019 stat)? What factors contribute to this?
Daina: There are several reasons someone would be metabolically unhealthy, but my opinion is that too much stress and an unhealthy gut are at the top of the list. An unhealthy microbiome puts every aspect of our health at risk and has an immediate impact on our metabolic state. The causes of an unhealthy microbiome are plenty – but you’re not doing yourself any favors if you’re not eating plenty of prebiotics and fiber from veggies and fruits, if you’re not eating fermented foods on the regular, if you’re drinking too much alcohol, or if you’re taking antibiotics when unnecessary. Stress is also a killer to our health, and I think Americans are particularly bad at managing stress and focusing on mental health.
What are daily changes people can make to heal their gut?
Daina: The general rule is – a gut with abundant and variant microbes is linked to health everywhere in your body, so it’s important you know what keeps these critters alive and well. High level, there are 4 rules to follow to keep your microbiome flourishing: 1) eat lots of fiber from fruits and veggies, 2) eat fermented foods often, 3) avoid too much alcohol, and 4) use antibiotics only when necessary. It’s estimated that Americans don’t even get 25% of the fiber they need on a daily basis, seldomly eat fermented foods, drink alcohol in excess, and use antibiotics when unnecessary an average of 50% of the time at home – so there’s a lot of changes we need to make as a society to heal!
Tell us more about healing urban communities’ microbiomes?
Daina: Our microbiome isn’t just in the gut – it’s all over! Our bodies, especially our skin, as well as our soil are places where friendly microbes are abundant. When we do things like shake hands, kiss, or put our hands in soil, we’re exchanging a little bit of our microbiomes with the environment. While I know the pandemic has forced us to view this kind of “sharing” as unhygienic, I think it’s actually quite natural and healthy in most cases! Not surprisingly, microbiomes tend to be similar in communities, as they are likely eating the same foods and behaving in similar fashions. A recent study showed that city dwellers have a less abundant microbiome than those that live in more rural areas. It’s just a preliminary study, but it suggests that something is happening in cities that isn’t good for our gut. If you extrapolate a bit, it could make sense – if city slickers have more stress, eat more processed food and less vegetables, never touch soil, use antibiotics/antiseptics more often, and drink more, they’re more likely to be doing harm to their guts…I don’t think that’s too far from the truth based on my experience of living in cities.
How have you seen kombucha play a role in good microbiome health?
Daina: Kombucha is a fermented drink, and one of the top 3 studied fermented foods along with sauerkraut and kefir. Fermented foods are unique in that they hold prebiotics, probiotics, and post-biotics – ALL things that support the microbiome – making them a triple threat to an unhealthy gut. I wish there were more studies on fermented foods, and Health-Ade is underway with some now, but they have showed a lot of promise. Studies repeatedly show that fermented foods 1) make an impact on the microbes in the microbiome (unlike about 50% of the supplements out there that don’t even make it to the gut) and 2) make a beneficial difference in outcomes. Inflammatory markers are probably the most studied in relation to fermented food intake, and every study has shown a significant decrease in chronic inflammation, which is linked to almost every disease we suffer from in this era, including previously hard to move markers like interleukin-6.
Thanks to Daina Trout and her expertise.
photo from Entrepreneur.com