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The One Gut Bacteria An MD Says Is Crucial For Longevity + 3 Foods To Fertilize It

Olivia Giacomo
mbg Social Media Associate
By Olivia Giacomo
mbg Social Media Associate
Olivia Giacomo is mbg's Social Media Associate. A recent graduate from Georgetown University, she has previously written for LLM Law Review.
Image by Jeff Wasserman / Stocksy
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By now, we know that gut health is inextricably linked to the functioning of many of your body's other processes—your immune system, mood1, skin health2, you name it. However, understanding exactly what your gut needs can feel a bit overwhelming (your gut, after all, is home to trillions of different species of bacteria).

Good news: Functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman, M.D., provided some clarity on the topic over on the mindbodygreen podcast. One of our biggest takeaways from their conversation? The importance of a microbe called Akkermansia muciniphila3.

The role of Akkermansia muciniphila.

According to Hyman, Akkermansia municiphila supplies your gut's lining with a layer of mucus (that's what the mucin in municiphila refers to). This mucus layer is essential in preventing a leaky gut, or when the lining of your intestines breaks down and allows undigested food particles and bacteria to "leak" into the bloodstream. The resulting spillage can spur an inflammatory immune response, which is why research links leaky gut with gastrointestinal conditions and autoimmune diseases4.

But Akkermansia muciniphila has another important role to play: "Turns out, it's really important in cancer," says Hyman. "If you have low levels of this bacteria and you have a cancer that usually responds to immunotherapy checkpoint inhibitors (ICT), it won't work. These drugs require us to have this particular bacteria."

Research backs it up, with a systematic review including Akkermansia muciniphila among the list of gut bacteria associated with an ICT response in mice and humans5. Another study found that the microbe was significantly associated with a favorable clinical outcome against both non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and renal cell carcinoma (RCC)6.

Of course, much more research is necessary, as there's a lot we still don't know. But it does emphasize the relationship between the gut microbiome and the immune system, which is a topic we've discussed at length.

Foods that fertilize Akkermansia muciniphila.

With all that this bacteria does, you may be surprised to learn that it loves pretty familiar foods. "The ones they really like are pomegranate, green tea, and cranberry," Hyman notes.

It makes sense, as each of these foods is chock-full of phytochemicals: Specifically, pomegranates contain a significant amount of tannins, flavonols, anthocyanins, which boast incredible antioxidant properties. Plus, those ruby-red seeds are also a good source of prebiotic fiber, which feeds your gut bacteria and keeps the microbes happy (Akkermansia muciniphila, among others).

Perhaps we don't need to remind you about green tea's antioxidant-rich, inflammation-managing properties7, but the catechin EGCG8 may play a specific role in certain types of cancers (learn more here). As for cranberries? Those tart berries are rich in polyphenols9 and ursolic acid, which also has anti-inflammatory effects10.

"You can get good amounts of these phytochemicals through relatively easy, accessible things," Hyman explains. "For example, I use matcha green tea powder in my protein shake." You can also add concentrated pomegranate or cranberry powders to your smoothies and oatmeal bowls (market options here and here), or simply grab a handful of fresh fruit and start snacking.

The takeaway.

As Hyman states, "Your gut microbes like to eat a lot of different things," so make sure to fill your plate with loads of gut-supporting phytochemicals. If you're interested in feeding your Akkermansia muciniphila bacteria, though, consider incorporating pomegranate, green tea, and cranberry into your diet.

Of course, make sure to speak with your doctor if you have any concerns about making changes to your eating plan, but these simple foods may benefit your daily meals in a major way.

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