A Gut Biome Credit Score?

By Dr. Sean M. Wells, DPT, PT, OCS, ATC/L, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, CNPT, Cert-DN

Continuing our series on gut health and the gut microbiome, we are going to talk about a new finding in the ever-expanding gut bacteria research: a gut biome health score.

Similar to how we have credit scores, which can denote whether a person has good or bad credit history, a gut biome health score may give physios and other healthcare providers insight into many facets of a patient's lifestyle.

Recall the gut biome is the bacteria, archaea, fungi, and some viruses that live within our small and mostly large intestines. These small bugs live in a symbiotic relationship with our bodies and:

  • Help to produce neurotransmitters (90% of serotonin is made by gut bacteria)
  • Process foods to make health short chain fatty acids (SCFA) which can improve cardiovascular health
  • Modulate the immune system response

The last factor likely has the biggest implications for physical therapists (PTs). As rehabilitation professionals, we often work with clients who have multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and other chronic disease states. Being able to find a dietary link to such disease could mean that we could:

  • Reduce disease severity
  • Improve therapy outcomes
  • Prevent these diseases in the first place

As such, researchers at the Mayo Clinic have been fast at work analyzing poop! Feces contain small portions of the gut biome. Their findings have shown a distinct pattern between individuals who have a healthy gut microbiome and those that do not. Using several mathematical equations, the researchers have created what they call a unique scoring system that can denote if a person has a "good" or "bad" microbiome -- similar to a credit score.

The researchers also uncovered a unique connection between the gut bugs and our hearts. Previously we discussed the connection between the gut and the brain, via the gut-brain-axis. Current research has found that the gut biome can help boost healthier high density lipoproteins (HDLs), which can be cardioprotective. Fiber is the likely beneficial factor, as several species of bacteria consume it to produce the SCFAs that protect the heart and arteries.

Why does this matter for physical therapy? Well, imagine your client comes to you with RA and their microbiome score is rate as "poor." If you are PT with nutritional training, you could provide the evidence and guidance that fasting followed by a vegetarian or vegan diet could nearly eliminate RA symptoms altogether. If you don't have the training or can't offer disease-specific nutrition, this would be an easy referral to an RD. 

Knowing a person's microbiome score before PT could help us better be better prognosticators. If a person has a poor gut biome score, this could mean that they have higher systemic inflammation, a more reactive immune system, and concomitant higher rates of pain and reactivity. Such a patient may not be a quick healer or may be including other unhealthy habits that may prevent a good outcome. On the other hand a person with a good gut score may be fast to respond to PT treatment, have less inflammation, and more likely to engage in healthy behaviors (e.g. not smoking, eating mostly plants, regular exercise).

A healthy gut biome can be found in those that:

  • Eat a variety of whole plant foods
  • Minimize added sugars and fats
  • Keeps alcohol low
  • Occasionally consumes probiotic foods
  • Rarely uses broad spectrum antibiotics

Many of these factors come down to simple patient education between rehab provider and client. 

Another impact to PT practice is the notion that improving gut health not only helps the brain but also protects the arteries and heart. Prevention should be a part of every healthcare and rehabilitation providers' practice. Eating healthy and following the above guidelines will likely help your clients score and outcomes!

We will have more to come on our gut health series -- like our Facebook Page and Follow Our Instagram or Twitter today to know when we post new blog articles about nutrition research that impacts rehab and physical therapy.

 If you like what you see here then know there is more in our 3 board-approved continuing education courses on Nutrition specific for Physical Therapists. Enroll today in our new bundled course offering and save 20%, a value of $60!

 

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Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/denisenfamily/ licensed by CC 2.0

Keywords: nutrition, diet, continuing education, weight loss, probiotic, online, gut health, GI, PT, physical therapy, learning, alternative

Disclaimer: The above article is written as opinion piece and does not convey specific legal, medical, and/or practice act advice. 
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