How to Use Your Second Brain: Microbiome Expert Laure Ysebrant on Strategic Eating, Building Immunity, and Faking Fibre.



How to Use Your Second Brain: Microbiome Expert Laure Ysebrant on Strategic Eating, Building Immunity, and Faking Fibre.

The Physician, Internist, Immunologist, and founder of microbiome resource Body Zoo Laure Ysebrant, on what exactly the microbiome is, why its called the 'second brain' and how we can use her research to feel, think, and look better.

Sam Smith

An overcast morning in New York City.  Laure Ysebrant is cradling a bowl of coffee with steamed almond milk at an uptown location of Belgium bakery ‘Le Pain Quotidian’.  Apt, for she too hails from Brussels.  A scientist, physician, internist, immunologist, and founder of Body Zoo, the healthy eating, microbiome information resource for parents and children,  Laure has been conducting pivotal research in both Europe and the United States into how to manipulate the immune system to into self curing certain diseases.  The findings of which have made global headlines and spurred the current wellness fixation surrounding gut bacteria. 

Of the James Bond school of scientist, she is brilliant, and charming.  With perfect bone structure, clear skin, blonde hair, bright eyes, poise and physique, and a foxily low accented pitch that turns heads from all tables as she seductively describes the workings of the human gut.  It is an accent that would be sacrilege to edit in transcript.

“When I was researching I realized that we put a lot of effort, and we invest a lot of money to cure some diseases that we can really avoid.”  She purrs, stressing the continued importance of investment and research.  “The way you live is shaping your microbiome and in turn, your microbiome will educate your immune system to protect you against invaders and to respect your body.  That is great news because you have the power to build a healthy microbiome and change your own one.  I think it is important that people know that.”

photo © Bodyzoo

photo © Bodyzoo

SS ·  What exactly is the Microbiome?

LY · The microbiome is the microbes living inside us; bacteria, fungi, viruses...  Scientists have demonstrated that some bacteria are super important to keep you healthy. Those Trillions of bacteria live in your skin, in your mouth,  in your gut, in the vagina.  The large majority of bacteria live in your gut.  Those bacteria are super importants to digest food and to produce some vitamins.  They transform some carbs (fibres, resistant starchs) into molecules influencing your immune system.  They improve your response to insuline; that will decrease your probability to have a diabetes.  Basically, they are tiny creatures living with and helping you a lot. But they are fragile and you have to take care of them.

SS ·  What can we do to increase the health of our microbiome?

LY · What we can do to have a good microbiome is to eat a lot of fibre. Food has a huge impact on the micro biome; it is basically food for bacteria; it’s really important.  You are not able to have a lot of energy with fibre, but your bacteria will be able to transform that fibre into very healthy and small molecules.  You can find that fibre in wholegrains, in some roots, leafy veggies, also in the skin of fruit, cocoa nibs, nuts…

On the other hand, refined sugar, artificial sugar, saturated fat are microbiome killers.

SS · Judging by the multitude of constipation ads in this country, Americans are pretty bad at getting enough fibre.

LY · That’s a huge problem.  American people have a huge deficit in fibre. Trials have shown that this fiber gap (the difference between the amount of fibre you have should get and the amount you get per day) is basically 20 g/day because of the use of white flour everywhere.  The research concluded a large majority of nutrition society estimated that it will be impossible to change the taste of American people and go back to whole flour to make American people eat enough fibre, so what they propose is to add some fibers supplementation to the flour - the FDA plan to make some rule about that.  For sure the best thing to do is go back to whole flour and not refined flour, but they believe the American people will not be able to do that and now they are so concerned at the whole problem that they really want to do something.  At the same time I read in another paper in an economic review explaining that the market for all of those supplements we can add in fibre is at this time around $200 million; in ten years they estimate the market will be more than one billion.

SS ·  It sounds far more profitable to define a new food group than to encourage ‘real’ food...

Laure Ysebrant © Bodyzoo 

Laure Ysebrant © Bodyzoo 

Laure Ysebrant © Bodyzoo

Laure Ysebrant © Bodyzoo

LY ·  There are also trials showing that what you eat shaping your micro biome will influence yourmood.

SS · Talking of which, they call the gut the second brain…

LY ·  Actually it’s amazing.  They discovered that the bacteria you have in your gut produce neuromediator like serotonin and GABA (an endogenous anxiolytic) and their precursors.   Those molecules are able to bind on brain receptor and modify anxiety, to modify the mood, to balance the function of the brain…  The reason why researchers call the gut the second brain is really whats happening in the gut will influence how your brain works; at the molecular level.  

Some food like fermented food (yogurt, kefir) rich in bacteria and like whole grains, roots, veggies (rich in food for bacteria) are now named 'psychobiotics' based on their ability to ameliorate our mood, capacity to focus etc.

SS ·  Thats amazing.  I see more and more companies out there offering gut bacteria test services.

LY· You can buy a kit and send a sample and the companies. They will analyze your micro biome, but we do not have enough studies right now to make recommendations.  But in the future, those service could revolutionize the dietetics. All the nutritional recommendations are based on evidence made on a large group of patients. It is very difficult to predict how you as an individual will react to a specific food. Based on your micro biome, researchers in Tel Aviv are able to predict how food will impact your glycemia. That is a huge breakthrough. But for now we need more evidence before making recommendations based on your micro biome analysis.

photo © Bodyzoo

photo © Bodyzoo

SS ·  So at this point in time is analysis of ones gut bacteria more towards aiding research than to provide us results for our own personal health?

YL ·  It is just possible to test your micro biome and tell you that your micro biome is very close to the micro biome of someone living in the Mediterranean area, or look like the typical American one, or close to the vegetarian one, but there is no recommendation because of the lack of clinical trials.

photo © Bodyzoo

photo © Bodyzoo

SS ·  A lot of people are taking probiotics to support their gut bacteria. 

LY ·  Probiotics are living bacteria - you can buy some probiotics.  If you buy yogurt or kefir, be careful and check if they have living bacteria and most import, avoid ones containing flavor or sugar. The micro biome is now an incredible commercial argument; better to be attentive.  But on the other side there is also what we call prebiotics which is all the stuff your bacteria can eat - fibre is a prebiotic, raw honey is a prebiotic, cocoa nibs also.  There are plenty of clinical trials showing that feeding your own bacteria are a efficient option to have an healthy microbiome. It could be better to feed your own bacteria than to take other bacteria. If you have to take antibiotics, having probiotics also is a very good idea. Ask to your physician each time he recommends you to take antibiotics.

SS ·  What foods are considered prebiotic?

LY ·   Whole grains are prebiotic.  Roots like Parsnip and Jerusalem artichok or leeks, onions, asparagus, but also raw honey is very good.  Blueberries; nuts, seeds, cocoa nibs; they have a lot of stuff to feed your own bacteria and are delicious.

SS ·  Kimchi is really popular in New York at the moment.  I have some Korean friends who eat kimchi on a daily basis and credit it for the fact that in four years of living in New York City, they have never been unwell.

LY · Kimchi is healthy because it has probiotics because of fermentation - there is plenty of bacteria - but if you take some probiotics and continue to eat badly is no sense; the new bacteria will die. 

For me the best way is to feed your own bacteria correctly; with a lot of fibre, raw honey, etc and add fermented food

photo © Bodyzoo

photo © Bodyzoo

SS ·  Before we talked about food you mentioned lifestyle.  What five lifestyle suggestions could you make for people to support their microbiome?

LY ·   I think sleep is really important because to have a good circadian rhythm is really important for your immune system and for your bacteria.

Eating right; and i think it’s very difficult to define what is eating right because there is so many food crazes and food fads that it becomes difficult for people to know what is eating right.   If I should give only one recommendation it really is to focus on fibre because you will find fibre in very healthy stuff, and also to decrease sugar and saturated fat.

Avoid artificial sweeteners at all cost.

Good food is preventive medicine. Stay simple but feed your gut bacteria.

SS ·  By fibre I assume you mean ‘real fibre’ and not fibre granules…

LY ·  Yes - real fibre - the roots, fruit with skin, whole grains; nuts, seeds, cocoa nibs, leafy veggies; real fibre.  

Reducing stress; I think is really important, because if you are too nervous you will produce a lot of cortisol, and you will change your immune system - that will influence on your gut bacteria - that's very important.

Exercise; thats also very important.  There is also data showing that patients who exercise a lot have a better immune system.

There is also avoiding smoking and stuff like that, but i think that's so obvious now.

photo © Bodyzoo

photo © Bodyzoo

SS ·  Of things to avoid?

LY ·  Maybe not avoid, because I think avoid is really maybe too much, but to decrease french fries.  I start with french fries because there is a paper showing that french fries can really disturb your microbiome.

Artificial sweeteners. I think also you should avoid sleep deprivation;  I think that is very important, and i think sedentary lifestyles -  you have to avoid sedentary living also.

Then simple sugar, hot dogs, pastries, donuts - things high in sugar, saturated fat and white flour.  

I think the best thing to do is really to focus on food that can really bring you something, and then it’s ok to cheat sometime, because that makes you happy and that’s important also, but i think you should keep that as something when you really want that, and not the base of alimentation.

And with that, one less pastry is ordered at the bakery


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Sam Smith