happy being: what exactly are polyphenols and why are they so important for human health?
Dr. Galland: Polyphenols are substances that naturally occur in a lot of healthy foods - especially vegetables, fruits, spices and herbs, and nuts. They have a particular multi-faceted ring structure, which leads to their name. And as it relates to health, they’re really important as antioxidants and as modulators of the activity of multiple enzymes in the body.
hb: you’ve been helping patients with gut health and their GI tract for decades, but there’s recently been even more popular interest in gut health and the microbiome. what exactly is the gut microbiome?
Dr. Galland: The microbiome is the total community of microorganisms that live in the human body - these organisms in your hair, on your skin, but especially in the gut. 99% of the microbes living in the human body are located in the GI tract. That includes bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoan organisms. The bacteria are the most studied because they have the most important contribution to human health. These gut bacteria shape our immune system, impact our metabolism, and even help control our brains!
hb: it’s no secret that the microbiome & gut bacteria are for so important for human health. but how exactly do polyphenols impact gut health?
Dr. Galland: Polyphenols have two major effects in the gut. First of all, because of their general antioxidant effect, the polyphenols can heal inflammation in the gut. Secondly, on a more complex level, there’s a relationship between polyphenols and the gut bacterial microbiome. I view polyphenols as a sort of curator of the microbiome. That is, gut microbes metabolize polyphenols and change the way they’re presented to cells. In doing that, the polyphenols favor the growth of certain organisms, and inhibit the growth of other organisms. So they tend to be responsible for giving us the microbiome that we have - especially the healthier aspects of it.
HB: some people call the gut the “second brain”. what do they mean by that?
Dr. Galland: The gut has a complex nervous system with a staggering amount of nerve cells. Besides your brain, the gut has the most nerve cells in the human body. Those nerve cells in the intestinal tract are in constant communication with your brain. There’s this bidirectional information that flows, meaning your gut health influences brain function and vis versa. The microbiome impacts the nature of that information from the brain, and how it’s interpreted by the gut.
hb: you contributed your gut health expertise to the development of happy being. what are the ways that the ingredients in happy being contribute to gut health?
Dr. Galland: The polyphenols in the drink, especially the turmeric, pterostilbene, and EGCG, encourage the growth of anti-inflammatory bacteria that speak to our nervous system in a way that calms & sharpens the nervous system. A lot of the development of happy being reflects the way that polyphenols impact the microbes in our gut by acting as anti-inflammatory agents.
hb: as far as building a healthier gut microbiome, how do you maintain and grow a healthy microbiome? is there such a thing as a quick gut fix?
Dr. Galland: It’s an ongoing, consistent activity. The microbiome is a community - a series of communities, it’s a whole ecosystem. These communities of microbes are constantly interacting with our own cells. The maintenance of that needs to constantly happen on a daily basis. Think of it like a rainforest - you can’t just clean up the Amazon rainforest once a year and expect it to be fine. The microbiome is the same way.
HB: in a nut shell, what are the top reasons for people to consume polyphenols?
Dr. Galland: I would advise that EVERYBODY regularly consume polyphenols - not just people struggling with gut health. There’s so much data that demonstrates how people who consume polyphenol-rich diets live longer, have less heart disease, better blood pressure, even a reduced risk of cancer. Almost every chronic disease can, to some extent, be prevented by polyphenols.
hb: we recently had a chat and you mentioned the antiviral capabilities of polyphenols. could you expand on that?
Dr. Galland: A lot of polyphenols have antiviral activity. Some of that is systemic, some of it is specifically related to viruses in the GI tract. The polyphenols impair the growth of viruses by hindering the growth of capsules which the viruses use to multiply. A polyphenol-rich diet limits the ability of viruses to damage the bacteria in your gut microbiome. But this is all really cutting edge research - think rocket science mixed with microbiology. We’re only scratching the surface of the potential implications.
hb: it’s safe to say that the polyphenols in happy being are great for gut health. but are there any “bad-for-the-gut” drinks that you recommend people stay away from?
Dr. Galland: Alcohol immediately comes to mind. Whenever anyone comes in with chronic GI problems, I first recommend cutting out alcohol and observing how that could help gut health. Coffee is another red flag. Not necessarily because of the caffeine, but other substances - especially when the coffee is taken with so much dairy and sugar. I recommend that patients try to cut back on coffee, but I’m not opposed to coffee by any means. After all, coffee has plenty of polyphenols!