Friday, July 20, 2012

Our gut microbiota, gut inflammation and Japchae

The title of this post may seem a bit daunting, considering that all of my posts to date are directly related to food! So why am I introducing this topic to my fellow bloggers?

During our lab meetings, we share relevant and interesting articles and reviews and one interesting read comes from the journal Nature (I wanted to share the articles with all of you but alas, everything needs a paid subscription these days. I can only give the reference - 1, 2. Note: Most North American science institutions and universities will have subscriptions to this journal, you will most likely have access via paid tuition).

It's quite interesting so I'll sum up quickly here. In the study, a group of mice (let's call them the wild type mice) were divided into 3 test groups and treated with the following:
1. diet rich in milk fat (high in saturated fat)
2. rich in safflower oil (high in polyunsaturated fat)
3. low fat

Naturally, each group was found to have different gut microbiota: guts of mice on low fat diets showed two predominant groups of bacteria, safflower oil diets showed the same predominant groups but with different proportions. The group on milk fat rich diets had guts that also contained these two groups and an additional group, Bilophila wadsworthia.
However, these wild type mice lacked any obvious clinical symptoms. It wasn't until the researchers treated specific mice, mice lacking a gene necessary for the anti-inflammation response, with milk fat diets did they see inflammation of the colon. The authors show that taurine-conjugated bile acids, in which levels are increased in mice fed with milk fat diets, led to blooms of B. wadsworthia. In fact, mice fed a low fat diet, but also fed with taurocholic acid (which become conjugated to bile acids in the body) led to B. wadsworthia colonization of their colons and consequently, colon inflammation. Extrapolating this data to human gut microbiota in general, the authors suggest that in genetically predisposed individuals, colonization of bacteria such as B. wadsworthia results in the accumulation of specific by-products that can trigger the auto-immune response and ultimately lead to tissue damage, inflammation and disease.

Just recently, Caralyn, from Gluten-free-happy-tummy, opened my eyes to how devastating Celiac disease could be (mind you, she was not the one who described to me all the suffering; in fact, she is cheerful and brave and just awesome despite the types of ordeals she must go through, check out her site!). It stems from a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors of which the big one is intake of wheat/barley/rye-based products, resulting in activation of auto-immune responses in the gut (3).

The study above and Celiac disease are two different things, but they share in common the auto-immune activity and the resulting inflammation. Which brings me to my point for this post: taken all together, no matter what kind of diets we are on (or off) and the fact that sometimes it is just impossible to avoid some of those pro-inflammatory foods, it is important to keep a good amount of anti-inflammatory foods in our diets. What kind of foods are anti-inflammatory? Lots of veggies and fish! Wee Peng, the owner of a very cool blog, provides a list of top 10 anti-inflammatory foods here.

I've yet to try experimenting to make gluten-free bread, but I quickly turned to Japchae for a quick gluten-free, anti-inflammatory dinner. These noodles made of sweet potato starch are chewy and the perfect medium for lots of nutritious and anti-inflammatory veggies. You can find these noodles in any Korean supermarket and most Chinese markets. I made these noodles in the non-traditional way, ie. with the nicest looking veggies during my grocery shopping. But you can use spinach, carrots, sweet bell peppers for a more Korean-style Japchae.

Ok, stop with the wordiness Jen and get to the recipe!

1 bunch sweet potato noodles (about 225g)

light olive oil
2 red onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chili flakes
2 large stalks broccoli, floretted and stem julienned
1 each medium yellow and green zucchini, sliced lengthwise
4 tbsp sesame seed oil
1 tbsp gluten-free soy sauce (optional)
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
salt and pepper to taste
toasted sushi-roll seaweed and extra sesame seeds for topping

Cook sweet potato noodles according to packaging instructions. Drain and let sit.

In a large skillet, saute onions, garlic, and chili flakes in light olive oil until onions are half cooked. Add in broccoli florets and cook for additional minute or so. Then add in zucchini and broccoli stems and cover to steam until cooked yet still maintaining bite, about 2 mins.

Add cooked noodles to the skillet. It will be very sticky due to the potato starch. Add in sesame seed oil to help loosen up noodles. Then add soy sauce and toasted sesame seeds and mix altogether. Salt and pepper.

Before serving, top with extra sesame seeds and toasted seaweed. Happy gluten-free eating!

1. Turnbaugh, PJ. Microbiology: Fat, bile and gut microbes. Nature. Vol 487. p 47-48.
2. Devkota, S. et al. Dietary-fat-induced taurocholic acid promotes pathobiont expansion and colitis in Il10−/− mice. Nature. Vol 487. p 104-108.
3. Tack, GJ. et al. The spectrum of celiac disease: epidemiology, clinical aspects and treatment. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Vol 7. p 204-213.


  1. Love the photos, Jen! They look really yum! Very interesting info as well, quite helpful. Thanks for sharing!

    By the way, I finally got the chance to do the "lovely blog" link back. Sorry it took awhile, I was crazy busy this week. Hope you can check it out. Thanks again!