I grew up hearing a lot of adages. “A penny saved is a penny earned.” “Don’t put the cart before the horse.” One of my favorites was “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” a saying that dates back 150 years. I always wondered what it was about an apple that keeps us healthy. Boron? Perhaps. But boron isn’t classified as an essential nutrient as its biological function isn’t yet clear, although it seems to play a role in bone and brain health, along with some other good things with hormones and vitamins. The more important ingredient in apples that keep us healthy? Fiber. But how can fiber be so health preventative if all it does is help us to poop?
That’s the interesting thing. Fiber does way more than help us to move our bowels. It does something magical in our gut. If you were to place your hands over your gut, where would you put them? Over your stomach area? You’d be partly correct. The gut is the entirety of our digestive tract, starting with our mouth and ending at our anus. Did you know that your gut is the largest area of your body exposed to the outside world? Cool to realize, isn’t it.
Here are some more cool things to know about your gut. Your gut contains 39 trillion invisible microbes. Can’t wrap your head around that big of a number? Look at the stars in the Milky Way galaxy, then multiply that by 100. That’s right. You have the equivalent of 100 galaxies of stars living in your gut—bacteria, fungus, parasites, archaea, and viruses. The gut microbiome is inter-woven with the five axes of human health: immunity, metabolism, hormonal balance, cognition, and gene expression. These microbes play a critical role in our health, and when they are out of balance, we get sick—heart disease, cancer, autoimmune illnesses, arthritis, and dementia. Mental illness and mood disorders are tied to the gut as well. When the microbes are out of balance and unable to keep us healthy, it it is called dysbiosis. (Eubiosis is a balanced gut.)
What causes dysbiosis? Certain foods, drugs, and psychological and physical stress contribute to an unhealthy gut microbiome. Why does dysbiosis matter in Benzo Withdrawal? Because the brain and gut are best friends. They talk to one another all the time. Over 500 million nerves in your intestines (that is five times more nerves than in your spinal cord!) send information to your brain all the time. Your gut microbes also communicate with the brain through the vagus nerve, the immune system, neurotransmitters, and hormones. Your gut is so amazing! It produces ninety percent of your feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin and fifty percent of your dopamine. Overall, your gut produces thirty different neurotransmitters, including GABA. Our gut and brain must have a healthy relationship so that healing can best take place.
So, where does the apple come into play? When we eat fiber, which, by the way, is not found in any animal products, it feeds the proper microbes in our gut. They, in turn, release Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs are anti-anti-inflammatory superheroes; nothing beats their power. And we want that power! We want the healing that a happy, healthy gut microbiome offers us.
150 years ago people didn’t know didn’t about the gut microbiome and fiber, but instinctively they knew a whole plant food source was healthy. Apples (mainly the skin) also contain pectin, which is prebiotic, meaning it is food for our microbes. Prebiotics do two things, they feed the microbes to release SCFAs, and they help create more microbes, creating colonies of good bacteria, which means even more SCFAs! (Probiotics only introduce bacteria to the gut. Those microbes do not colonize and stick around, but rather pass through us.)
Our gut microbiome is fascinating! Science learns more about it every day. It is a field that is revolutionizing health care, pointing to the healthiest diet on the planet, a whole food plant-based diet. If we want to stack the cards in our favor to heal more quickly from the damages done by a benzodiazepine, we would be wise to embrace a more plant-based diet. We’d be wise to eat an apple a day.