I Poop Like Pollan
A few months ago I decided to have my microbiome analyzed through the “world’s largest open-source science project to understand the microbial diversity of the Human Gut,” the American Gut Project.
When I signed up for the study I was given a choice as to which type of sample I wished to submit: skin, oral or fecal. Since I’m most interested in how what I put into my body affects what’s coming out of my body, I was a shoo-in for poo.
A few months after I sent in my sample, I was able to view the results online. The one-page summary was filled with colorful graphs and charts.
But it was the bar chart below that caught my attention. It details the relative percentages of various bacteria residing in my gut. I noted the bar representing my sample (far left) and then quickly scanned the x-axis and saw that the bar on the far right represented… MICHAEL POLLAN!
Those who know me well, know that I am a huge Pollan fan. I’m also fairly certain that Michael Pollan is aware since I may or may not have exuded a stalker-like exuberance when I met him at a book signing event years ago (HINT: I did.).
As a long-time follower (sounds so much better than “stalker,” doesn’t it?) of Mr. Pollan, I’ve often fantasized about sharing a meal during which I could pick his brain on any number of food-related topics in order to compare and contrast where we stood on the issues. But never in my wildest imaginings did I ponder, “Hmm, I wonder how my poop compares to Michael Pollan’s?”
Yet, here, in black and white (or all the colors of the rainbow to be more precise), is the answer to that very un-pondered question: our poop (or at least the microbial community residing within, also known as the microbiome) is remarkably similar!
And so I began to look into how our gut bacteria differed. Pollan’s sample showed a slightly higher percentage of Firmicutes than mine did but I appeared to have a slightly higher percentage of Proteobacteria. I had no idea what all that meant so off to the interwebs I went for more microbial research…
There’s a Wiki for that?
According to microbewiki.com (no, I am not making that up) a study with mice revealed “… the abundance of Firmicutes was observed to be proportionate to the obesity levels in the mice, with the obese, conventional mice carrying significantly more Firmicutes than the lean mice. Along with increased fatty acid absorption, more energy was also found to be efficiently obtained from diet in the obese mice compared to the lean mice, illustrating the connection between Firmicutes and improved efficiency in energy harvesting.” In other words, while the calories consumed by both populations of mice may have been equal, more were retained by the mice with higher Firmicutes.
Does this mean that Michael Pollan, who is tall and lean, struggles with maintaining his weight? Does this mean that my microbiome—and, by extension, my diet—is somehow superior to his? These are just a few of the questions he and I undoubtedly will discuss when we share that aforementioned meal.
But what about the differences in Proteobacteria? Well, while the research is ongoing, what is known is that the Proteobacteria phylum include many well-known pathogens like E. Coli and Salmonella. Additionally, it has been shown to be linked to inflammation (as in Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD). So perhaps the point goes to Pollan on this one but I will note that both our samples reveal percentages that are below the average.
And, there’s one more thing that stood out: Michael and I have nearly undetectable amounts of the Actinobacteria that shows itself so clearly as a pretty lemon-yellow band in all those bars at the center of the graph. My preliminary investigations show this might not be something for either of us to gloat about but more about that in my next post wherein I’ll also share that another man whose results I took a gander at (my husband’s) has both an extraordinarily low percentage of Firmicutes while also having a relatively large percentage of Actinobacteria, and NO detectable Proteobacteria! He may have gloating rights all locked up where gut bacteria is concerned but you’ll have to wait and see!
Have you participated in the American Gut Project or had your microbiome analyzed elsewhere? If so, I’d love to hear what some of your biggest surprises were. If you haven’t, the American Gut Project is still taking volunteers…