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Ultra processed food, your gut microbes and chronic illness.

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Who would have imagined such intriguing connections? As we delve deeper into our exploration, a multitude of fascinating links reveal themselves.

Throughout history, humanity has engaged in the art of food preservation and processing, an evolution that commenced with sun drying, salting, pickling, and smoking. This journey progressed into the industrial era, ushering in an era of large-scale food production aimed at ensuring both microbial safety and accessibility, ultimately making sustenance more convenient and affordable. From humble beginnings of milling and extrusion, we advanced to embrace hydroxylation, hydrogenation, and the introduction of artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. An entire industry blossomed around the intricate world of food production and processing.

Concurrently, we witnessed the emergence of various health concerns, such as obesity, diabetes, fatty liver, and metabolic syndrome—an amalgamation of abnormal cholesterol levels, abdominal fat, elevated blood sugar, and hypertension, often seen as a precursor to heart disease.

Diverse studies have unveiled a concerning pattern: the consumption of ultra-processed foods correlates with an increased risk of mortality, heart disease, and diabetes, with percentages ranging from 26% to a startling 60% in comparison to the consumption of minimally processed alternatives.

The disparity in nutritional value between ultra-processed and minimally processed foods is glaringly apparent, with the former exhibiting lower vitamin and fiber content alongside higher levels of saturated fats, sugars, and energy density.

Unseen perils lurk within our sustenance, stemming from packaging contaminants like phthalates, bisphenol, and mineral oils, as well as processing-derived contaminants like trans fatty acids and acroleins, which can manifest as potential toxins, eluding even the most vigilant observers.

Moreover, transformations in food matrix and texture wield the power to influence digestibility and the bioavailability of essential nutrients. These shifts can alter chewing durations, elevate eating rates, and inadvertently lead to overconsumption. Within this culinary landscape, the inclusion of food additives—such as artificial sweeteners, colorants, and emulsifiers—introduces chemicals that can disrupt the harmony of beneficial gut bacteria, ushering in a cascade of effects.

Studies have illuminated a remarkable revelation: the implantation of gut microbiomes from diet-induced obese mice into lean recipient animals following a healthy diet suffices to stimulate fat accumulation. Furthermore, observations in animals suggest that changes in gut microbes influenced by Westernized diets can be inherited across generations, potentially inducing heritable metabolic changes.

The relentless inundation of processed fare has the potential to transform our once-friendly gut microbes into something less benign. These altered bacteria begin expressing genes that incite local inflammation within the gut, amplifying the absorption of detrimental bacterial particles into the bloodstream. This nefarious journey leads these particles to infiltrate the liver and adipose tissue, instigating a state of metabolic confusion within these vital organs. The consequences of this complex interplay may encompass chronic inflammatory conditions—such as obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver, and inflammatory bowel disease.

In the grand tapestry of understanding, it becomes evident that further research is an imperative in this pivotal realm of public health. This pursuit of knowledge is destined to culminate in the transformation of dietary guidelines and the evolution of public health policies, ushering in a brighter and more wholesome future for all.

Acknowledgment: Information sourced from the August 8, 2022 publication of Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

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