Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, BS’02: The gut guy

Bulsiewicz and his signature kombucha cocktail (LEIGH WEBBER)

Nurturing a healthy diet has always been something of a gut check.

For Charleston, S.C., gastroenterologist Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, the human gut, literally, is the key to health. The region, which includes the digestive tract, teems with up to 35,000 species of bacteria known to neutralize toxins and carcinogens ingested by the body.

“All health starts in the gut,” says Bulsiewicz, who maintains an Instagram account with more than 5,000 followers (@theguthealthmd), a website (theguthealthmd.com), and a Facebook page, all of which share nutrition advice, recipes and gut-health news. He has been featured in numerous podcasts and national magazines, including Men’s Health and Reader’s Digest, and he’s given several sold-out lectures on gut health.

“If you were to take the top 10 diseases in the United States, I could tell you how each one of them is connected back to the gut in one way or another,” he adds. “Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, autism and allergic conditions—all these things have been associated with changes in the gut bacteria.”

Gut science has exploded in recent years; as recently as a decade ago, rudimentary lab techniques measured only 200 species of bacteria. New discoveries have put an increased emphasis on the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables.

“A diversity of plants is the single greatest factor in terms of predicting a healthy gut,” Bulsiewicz says. But fruits and vegetables comprise only 10 percent of Americans’ diets, he notes. The balance includes processed foods, meat and diary products, which include 5,000 to 6,000 known chemical preservatives.

While most Americans eat 1,000 pounds of food per year, not enough attention is paid to its makeup, he laments.

“If the average American lives 78 years, that’s 78,000 pounds of food, and yet somehow I suspect the majority of [gastroenterology] doctors in the United States don’t think that’s a predominant factor in health,” Bulsiewicz says. “I encourage people to look for healthy opportunities.”