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Home » Plants, The Microbiome, And Mental Health: Christopher A. Lowry (Transcript)

Plants, The Microbiome, And Mental Health: Christopher A. Lowry (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of neuroscientist Christopher A. Lowry’s talk titled “Plants, The Microbiome, And Mental Health” at TEDxMileHigh 2021 conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


Check it out, spinach! You’ve probably eaten this hundreds of times, but did you know that on and inside this spinach plant are over 800 different species of bacteria? This is not about doing a better job of washing your veggies. These are bacterial endophytes, and you can’t wash them off, even if you try.

Plants are living organisms, and like us, they have microbiomes. These are thriving ecosystems of live bacteria and other microorganisms. I became fascinated by this fact about five years ago while collaborating on a paper about the American Gut Project. Researchers asked survey respondents, “In an average week, how many different plant species do you eat?”

Responses ranged from zero to over 30 plants in an average week. Now, normally nutritional guidelines measure nutrition intake in terms of volume. For example, how many cups of fruits and vegetables do you eat in a given day? But here, researchers, particularly in context of the gut microbiome, found that variety matters just as much, if not more.

The people who reported eating over 30 different plants in an average week have what we might consider an optimal gut microbiome with high diversity. Unfortunately, that’s not most of us. So I asked myself, “What would happen if I consumed 30 different plants a day?” That would be like eating the crop from a whole farm every day.

The 30 Plant Challenge

So I went to the grocery store, and I got 30 different plants, brought them home, rinsed them off, chopped them up, put them in a blender with six cups of water, and then I had 30 different plants a day for the next month. Then I did it again. Then I did it again.

These days, my nine-year-old daughter comes with me to the grocery store. It can be kind of fun to walk the aisles and pick out 30 different species of plants. I end up trying all kinds of new things, like sorrel or raw cactus. I’ve decided this is as close as I’m going to get to living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

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