Yes, they might all be liquid, but the similarities between coffee, Tabasco sauce, and Italian liquor could go much further. They could play a major role in keeping you healthy.
The idea of food as medicine is highly controversial. It is almost undeniable that a diet rich in plant-based foods and colorful fruits and vegetables generally leads to better health outcomes than the Standard American Diet. But in terms of using specific foods as medicine, it is still very murky.
One reason that foods might play such a massive role in health is their influence on your gut bacterial population, or microbiome. Food and gut bacteria are interrelated, and there is plenty of research to suggest that a healthy gut bacterium promotes health much like a healthy diet does.
When there is a lack of healthy bacteria, it typically correlates to diet quality. The food you eat has an influence on this population and overall health and risk for disease.
The thing is, scientists still don’t necessarily understand if there are specific foods that can have medicinal properties in the gut. A group of researchers from San Diego State University tried to see if there was.
Their model looked at phages, which are viruses that attack bacteria. Phages outnumber bacteria in the gut, and inactive forms live in every single individual bacterium you have. When activated, phages attack specific types of bacteria and potentially diminish specific populations and prompt others to take their place.
Because bacteria act as food for phages, phages die when certain bacteria are not present.
The San Diego University researchers sought to identify specific foods that trigger phages to destroy bacteria. This could pave the way to identifying particular foods as medicine, by showcasing their antibacterial/antibiotic effects through how they react with phages.
Published in the journal Gut Microbes, they found that certain foods can help influence the bacterial landscape of the gut. Learning how to manipulate phages may help kill harmful bacteria and potentially promote the growth of a healthier gut population.
So, what do coffee, Tabasco sauce, oregano, and an Italian liquor called fernet have in common? They are all on the list of foods that seem to reduce virus particles. In fact, hot tabasco was one of the most potent antibacterial foods they found. And although the list is small, it may serve as a useful jump-off point.
On the other hand, some foods were associated with increasing virus particles. At the top of the list was the natural sweetener stevia, which boosted virus particles by more than 400%.
It’s possible that these results may get us closer to understanding how to use food as medicine. As for now, keep doing your best to eat a nutritious diet that promotes gut health.