You may recall in my inaugural post that I took a deeper dive into the American Gut results of Tatertot Tim, the internet’s fiercest promoter of the benefits of Resistant Starch. In particular, I compared his results to Michael Pollan’s gut makeup as a way to postulate some theories about what we know and don’t know — particularly with regard to the optimality of Resistant Starch compared to other fermentable fibers. I concluded the post by saying that it’s all just a little too speculative to say that Pollan’s high firmicutes are a result of eating lots of fermentable plant food, and that just looking at phylum-level results wasn’t going to provide us with anything conclusive. Well, I think I’ve come upon something a little more useful.
Below, you’ll see the gut sequencing results of none other than American Gut founder Jeff Leach himself.
This is significant for a few reasons. First, Jeff is an admitted Paleo-ish eater — very little grain consumption, and moderate-to-high protein & fat. No restriction on other starchy carbs as far as I can tell. And I assume he steers clear of the usual junk (n6 oils, high fructose, etc.). This is quite close to Paul Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet, a very popular Paleo diet variant. Well it turns out Tatertot, too, is not only Paleo, but a follower of Jaminet’s PHD. So this already makes for a great comparison. With Pollan, there are too many potential confounding factors to account for — a clean, whole foods-eating omnivore, but certainly a lot of grain consumption (with the Prevotella to show for it), and perhaps lower-than-average meat/fat consumption. Just too many unknowns.
But here is where it gets really interesting and makes this a worthwhile comparison: the one significant area where Jeff differs from Tim — and from the vast majority of people — is his obsessive focus on consuming a high and diverse load of fermentable fiber from plant foods that feed gut bacteria. Jeff professes to aim for consuming 20 to 30 species of plants a week, and claims to get up to 100g of fiber per day. He eats onions, garlic, and leeks every day — foods with a high amount of fermentable fructooligosaccharides, including scFOS. If we’re looking for the gut sequencing results of a person committed to bulletproofing his/her gut microbiome, Jeff’s are as close to a gold standard as we’ll get.
So here, again, are Tim’s results:
When we make the comparison between Jeff’s and Tim’s gut results, what do we see? There it is again, firmicutes and bacteroidetes, totally opposite ratios. Tim is all orange. Jeff is all red. Even more lopsided than when compared to Pollan. And what accounts for that? I could tell you, but why don’t I just let Jeff speak for himself. Here’s how he explains his results in a Facebook comment on the American Gut facebook page, after someone questions whether his high firmicute count is a concern because of past studies showing links to obesity:
the “firmi = obesity” doesn’t really hold up anymore. in the human microbiome project – which looked at 250 healthy and normal weight folks – ppl fell along a continuum – some were 80% firmicutes, others were 20%. we see the same thing in american gut. my firmicutes are high due to high levels of members of the family of ruminococcaceae – lots of fiber fermenters in that group.
There you have it. His high firmicutes are a direct result of eating plant foods that stimulate fiber-eating bacteria. From the expert himself. I’ll also add that in addition to Ruminococcaceae, Lachnospiraceae — another plant-chomping Firmicute group — adds to that strong Firmicute count at 11.5% (it’s his third highest group; bacteroidetes is predictably in the #2 slot). So what’s the relevance of high Ruminococcaceae and Lachnospiraceae?
Ruminococcaceae and Lachnospiraceae are synonymous with Clostridium cluster IV and Clostridium cluster XIVa. These are the same immensely important commensal Clostridium clusters I wrote about in my original post. These are the butyrate producers, and have been shown in study after study to be some of the most consequential bacteria for gut health. Cluster XIVa alone accounts for up to 60% of mucosal bacteria in the gut. And we now have proof that when you bulletproof your gut with fermentable fiber, as Jeff Leach has, it is these groups that are doing the bulletproofing. (And just to really drive it home: Michael Pollan has high levels of these groups as well. What else would you expect from Mr. Eat Mostly Plants?).
So there you have it. Tatertot Tim megadoses on Resistant Starch, but doesn’t have a whole lot to show in his firmicutes. Case closed. Resistant Starch, we hardly knew ye….
But we still have a problem. Regardless of Tim’s results, we know that Resistant Starch is working. It’s having all the effects that we expect people to have from consuming gut-feeding, butyrate-boosting fermentable fibers. People are reporting results. Improved metabolic markers, improved digestion, weight loss, better sleep, improvement in IBS symptoms. Results don’t lie. How could that be???
Well, let’s take a look again at that chart comparing fibers from my original post. If you remember, Resistant Starch was somewhere in the middle of the pack, only significantly stimulating a few specific strains:
Tak a look at those two highly stimulated buggers — Eubacterium Rectale and Roseburia intestinalis. Hmm, those sound familiar. OH THAT’S RIGHT. Remember that Cluster XIVa (aka Lachnospiraceae) I just told you about — the one that accounts for almost 60% of mucosal bacteria? You know, bacteria that have “a unique composition and potential to influence human health”? Well Roseburia intestinalis and Eubacterium rectale are the leading colonizers of Cluster XIVa! Roseburia, specifically, governs butyrate production. And that third highly stimulated bugger, R. Inulinivorans? Also in Cluster XIVa. Resistant Starch loves Cluster XIVa.
So here, I’ll make this really easy:
What Resistant starch lacks in breadth, it makes up in precision. Resistant starch is a laser-guided missile aimed at the two most important strains of mucosal bacteria in one of the most crucial clusters of bacteria in the human gut.
Want the proof? Scroll back up to Tim’s results. Check out #4 for his most abundant microbes. Lachnospiraceae, aka Cluster XIVa. A respectable 4.5%…and I’ll just bet R. intestinalis and E. rectale have something to do with it.
(Side note: Yes, Tim’s Ruminococcaceae are abundant at 14%, but all the American Gut results I’ve seen so far have Ruminococcaceae somewhere in the top 4. So I don’t think that’s hugely relevant. I think Jeff Leach is the outlier at 23.2%).
So while that sweet, sweet potato powder may not give you that full spectrum firmicute high, it hits the important guys really, really hard.
Talk about “targeted therapy.”
Add to that the fact that, unlike other prebiotic fibers, with Resistant Starch we have a cheap, high dosable, abundant supplemental source in the form of potato starch (thanks Bob!).
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason Resistant Starch, in the form of raw potato starch, is officially the body hack of *maybe* the decade.
P.S. — I’ll be back with more thoughts on what this all means in terms of optimal dosing and prebiotic combinations in subsequent posts.