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Could what inhabits your gut inhibit your exercise?

Ube ice cream, anyone?

In the Philippines where it’s grown, the type of yam needed to make this flavor goes by the same name (pronounced “ooh-bay”) but in the U.S. is sometimes called the purple yam. According to Christine Yu and Josey Murray in an article about the tuber for the June 2021 issue of Women’s Health, ube has been used in all sorts of dishes and desserts in the Asian country of 7,000 islands for a long time, meaning “it’s very time tested and taste approved.”

Speaking of approval, when I showed a picture of the purplish ice cream to friends and family, it got the oh-my-god-does-that-look-good look. When I explained its taste is creamy and nutty, yet mellow with hints of vanilla and coconut, that amalgamation got two thumbs up from all - and me to search for more ube info.

A New York Times article forecasting how we’ll eat in 2023 dubbed ube the tuber of the year, mentioned it’s included in many food-trends-for-the-year articles, and reported it’s now being used in the U.S. in pies, waffles, lattes, and a version of a pina colada as well as the aforementioned ice cream.

While I seriously doubt ube will ever become the Featured Flavor of the Month at Claude’s Creamery in Palmerton or any of the other fine ice cream establishments in Carbon County, I’m serious about something else: providing information that increases both your knowledge of health and fitness and your motivation to improve both. Because of that, the discussion now shifts to a health and fitness matter just as trendy as ube - though pictures about it won’t be nearly as pleasing as those of ube pies or ice cream.

The over 100 trillion microbial cells that inhabit your gut.

How trendy is performing research about gut health right now in the science world? In a folder on my laptop, I just counted 60 separate articles about it.

One of particular interest chronicles research using mice that suggests the specific makeup of the 100 trillion microbial cells in your microbiome might be why you get what’s often called the runner’s high during and after aerobic exercise - or not. Which could explain why some people are so enthusiastic and motivated to exercise - and some aren’t.

In essence, the study, was constructed to answer a simple question. When kept inside a cage containing an exercise wheel, why do some mice run on it a lot and some not so much?

So the researchers searched for any biological traits, genetics included, that would explain what makes a mouse become the former rather than the latter. They found none - until they got to the mice’s gut microbiomes.

What lived in the guts of the mice who ran a lot differed from the ones who did not. That led the researchers to give the mice that liked to run antibiotics designed to kill off those differing types of gut bacteria.

The death of those gut bacteria diminished the mice’s desire to run. On average, the distance they now covered was cut in half.

When the mice were taken off the antibiotics, though, they returned to running nearly as far as before.

As the researchers worked on, they uncovered an intriguing gut-brain connection. At the risk of oversimplifying it, they found a healthy gut biome sends messages to the brain not to produce a compound that counteracts dopamine.

The Cleveland Clinic website lists dopamine as the “feel-good” hormone that not only gives you a sense of pleasure, but also the motivation to do more of whatever’s causing it. So it stands to reason that if you’re eating the sort of foods that feed the good gut bacteria instead of the bad and the production of that anti-dopamine compound is greatly reduced, the effect of dopamine when you run, cycle, or do a similar form of aerobic exercise is enhanced.

In my case, once I’m fully warmed up and have at least one hard effort under my belt, I feel like a junkie shooting up some really pure stuff.

If you don’t get quite the same rush, it could very well be that it’s your way of eating instead of the type of exercising that’s keeping you from it.

If you think I went a bit over the top about how great exercise in conjunction with healthy eating can make me feel, consider the four adjectives the Cleveland Clinic website lists as the result of your dopamine level reaching the “right” amount.

The words they bullet and put in big print: Happy. Alert. Focused. Motivated.

If those four words don’t usually apply to you most of the time and you want them to, experiment with the foods you eat as a way to aid your gut microbiome.

Vague advice, I know, but one thing that’s become clear from recent research about the gut microbiome is that the same food can affect yours much differently than mine.