My last post A Special Gut Microbe was on the very essential and beneficial microbe Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. It is one of the most abundant bacteria in the gut of healthy individuals, but low or depleted levels are associated with inflammation and found in a number of diseases, including intestinal bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease. It is a butyrate producing bacteria (beneficial).
F. prausnitzii is viewed as so essential that it has been called a "keystone species" in the gut. A question I've been asked is: how can one increase the numbers of this bacteria in the gut and where can one buy some to take as a probiotic? (Probiotics are live bacteria that are beneficial to health when consumed.)
The typical bacteria added to yogurts or sold as supplements are able to survive when exposed to air (oxygen). However, F. prausnitzii are "oxygen sensitive" and they die within minutes upon exposure to air. Researchers view this beneficial bacteria as a "probiotic of the future" and currently there is research going on to figure out ways it can be easily stored and be exposed to air a few hours and not die. Currently there is NO way to take a probiotic F. prausnitzii supplement. So what else can one do?
After reviewing the scientific literature, it seems that the current ways to get F. prausnitzii into the gut or increase its numbers are: fecal microbiota transplant or FMT (currently only done with desperately ill individuals), drastically restricting calories for one week by obese individuals increases beneficial bacteria, and making changes to the diet. For example, a high animal meat, high animal fat, high sugar, highly processed foods, and low fiber diet (the typical westernized diet) lowers F. prausnitzii numbers, while a high-fiber, low meat diet increases F. prausnitzii numbers.
Repeat: the number one thing a person can do to increase numbers of F. prausnitzii is to increase fiber in the diet. By the way, increasing dietary fiber increases butyrate, and butyrate is involved with colon health, is anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer . See, it's all related.
High fiber is: whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Eat a varied plant-based diet, which means lots of plant based foods. It seems that Michael Pollan's emphasis on "Eat real foods. Mostly plants. Not too much." is just right. And variety seems important - with different types of fiber feeding different bacteria.
While F. prausnitzii may be an important beneficial bacteria in the gut, it is not the only beneficial one. So a food labeled "with added fiber" may not be the right fiber for bacteria, This is even true for enteral formula supplementation, for example, one formula containing fiber used pea fiber and this did not feed the F. prausnitzii.
In the first paragraph I mentioned that research has consistently shown F. prausnitzii depletion in adults sick with IBDs such as Crohn's disease. So it was interesting to find that one recent study found that even people sick with Crohn's disease showed significant improvement and remission (92% remission at 2 years) on a semi-vegetarian diet, namely a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet (daily 32.4 g of dietary fiber in 2000 calories). [High Amount of Dietary Fiber Not Harmful But Favorable for Crohn Disease ]This is totally opposite from the current prevailing medical view which currently encourages people with IBD to "rest the intestine" with a fiber-restricted diet.