Episode 7: The Future of Soda and the Weird World of Microbes
Ben Goodwin may be the most interesting person in the world of microbes. As a beverage entrepreneur, his resume may lead you to believe that he’s more equipped to speak on acquisitions and funding than fermentation and formulations, but in true Renaissance fashion, he’s equally able to talk shop on all fronts.
Ben spent years in research and development for his various beverages, even going so far as to set up his own fermentation labs to run experiments. As the founder of probiotic beverage Obi, he learned invaluable lessons about how microbes interact and why they’re so beneficial for our health.
With his latest company, Olipop, he’s turning his attention to prebiotics, or the food that our friendly gut bugs eat. Each can of Olipop has a whopping 9 grams of fiber (more than a ½ cup of lentils!) and gut healing botanicals, such as slippery elm and marshmallow root.
On this episode, Ben talks about what it took to set up his many fermentation labs, his focus on the gut-brain axis, and how the diversity of food we eat has changed our microbiomes.
This episode is a winding conversation that takes a minute to get going, but stick with it and you’ll be blown away.
On this show, you’ll learn:
- How Ben got involved in the microbiome and product development (1:23)
- His reason for wanting to start a beverage company (3:51)
- Ben’s introduction to the microbiome (6:19)
- The building of Ben’s formulation and fermentation labs (10:21)
- His idea for a mainstream beverage (13:20)
- While working in the lab, Ben’s biggest discoveries around the microbiome (15:14)
- The sampling process and its unexpected effects (21:06)
- The brain/gut component and its dealing with stress (23:34)
- Ben’s latest drink – a prebiotic (25:27)
- How the diversity in the food we eat has changed over the years (27:59)
- Western diets and microbiomes (32:50)
- What OLIPOP is designed to do and its availability (38:36)
Andrea Wien: I'm Andrea Wien, and you are listening to The Microbiome Report, powered by BIOHM Health. I am so excited for our episode today with beverage entrepreneur, Ben Goodwin, who may be one of the most interesting people I've ever talked with in the microbiome space. Ben spent years building and working in makeshift fermentation labs, and eventually started a beverage company called Obi that quickly gained popularity across the country and was subsequently bought after a whirlwind period of explosive growth for Ben and his partner. In his latest endeavor, he's turning his attention to prebiotic fibers and gut-healing botanicals with a drink called OLIPOP.
After this interview, Ben sent me a case, and let's just say, I'm head over heels for the product. On this show, we get into how Ben got started in the microbiome world. He enlightens me on why and how microbes turn sugary tea into kombucha, it's seriously so fascinating. And he gives me the details of what he learned during his many years of microbe experimentation in, let's just call it a less than state of the art fermentation lab. Enjoy the show.
Ben, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for being here.
Ben Goodwin: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Andrea Wien: So to start, I think it'd be interesting to hear how you got involved in the microbiome, because it's such a niche field. And especially, was 14, 13 years ago when you first got into product development. So I'd love to hear that story.
Ben Goodwin: My journey to microbiome has been a pretty organic one. I started getting really interested in health and wellness in a general way actually as early as 14. I grew up eating the standard American diet, which is inarguably not particularly microbiome friendly, and it turned me into a rather portly young man. So when I was 14, I was like 5"7' and 230 pounds. I'd really have epiphany one day that that was not going to lead to a good life, and so I got really serious about diet and nutrition, and I lost 50 pounds or something over the next year, which is pretty unusual for 14-
Andrea Wien: Wow, it's very impressive for 14. Yeah.
Ben Goodwin: Completely just no provocation, no training. I just decided to take massive action, which is pretty great. And then on the other side of that, obviously I liked the way I felt when I was lighter and healthier and I got really inspired to move in a more nutritional direction. I also, around that time became a vegetarian. So I watched this movie called... it was a documentary, Diet for a New America. And at that time, exposed to the conditions of factory farming conditions. And then I became concerned, well, if I'm vegetarian and I'm trying to be all healthy, I really need to stay focused on my nutrients, and so I started experimenting with eating healthier, and that just snowballed.
And then eventually, the real lightning bolt moment came, I don't know, five years or so probably after I had started that process where I had gotten to the point where I was just eating heads of kale. It was like a drug addiction or something, you're looking for a stronger, healthier thing. I just started to get into this phase of life where I could really tell that my diet was really effecting, for lack of a better term, my consciousness. So my rate of thinking, my emotional state, the scale of my thinking. Obviously, there was a certain amount of natural development that had occurred over time, but I could also directly link it to, or at least perceptually could directly link it to my dietary changes.
And that's what rooted me in becoming fascinated with nutrition broadly, because I really felt this dramatic shift in almost some of the fundamental components of what it meant to be me and to be alive and in my brain and in my body. And so that made me want to get into food science and product development generally. And then I got lucky in that, I think I have the same base concept that a lot of people have who get into beverage, which is, I just thought to myself, "Hey, beverages are all over the place. I bet I could be good at beverages and I could make a big difference because when they get big, they get really big." Beverage has a disproportionately high failure rate, so I think a lot of people who get into beverage have just an oversimplified view of it, but it turns out it's one of the hardest products slash industries humanly possible.
Andrea Wien: Children's books are that same way. Everyone thinks it's so easy to read a children's book, and actually they're some of the hardest to do, so it has the parallel.
Ben Goodwin: And also just the industry itself, it's just this unbelievable machination. But anyway, so I had this early thought, I was literally 20, I was like, "I bet I could do a beverage." And I just happened to team up with this guy who ended up becoming a friend of mine in Santa Cruz where we launched a kombucha company together.
Andrea Wien: Had you been doing fermentation at home? Was this something that came naturally to you?
Ben Goodwin: Yeah, I learned that on the fly. I had been doing a good amount at home. I was trying to teach myself how to cook, I was trying to do a lot of different things, just got into it. And to be honest, kombucha is actually relatively solid, easy to do fermentation process. Because the culture puts out acetic acid, it's actually pretty stable, so it's hard to screw up. And when you are starting out and you're starting literally from ground zero, you're also not producing at scale yet, so there's time to essentially learn the process, which is how I started with that. I was with them for about two years and then I left, but I definitely gained a lot of really interesting insights. One being how validus kombucha consumers were. That was back when it was still only like $100 million industry, I think it's like somewhere in the $800 million area now.
Back when the vinegar concept was still novel. So we'd do like tastings and demos, and one brave soul would come up and try it and then their five friends would be standing in the background making gross faces. That actually ended up really affecting how I thought about beverages moving forward. But then while I was working on kombucha, obviously I wanted to learn everything about, well, what makes it hypothetically positive for your health? Or why are people drinking it? Why are people obsessed with it? The microbiome science was a lot earlier back then, and even some of the kombucha sciences a lot earlier, so it's hard to know.
But I basically got introduced to the concepts of microbiome, fermentation, probiotics, production of enzymes, all those other kinds of things while I was working with the kombucha, and that then ended up spiraling into a full-blown obsession, which has impacted me for the last decade plus. And ultimately that's where I landed on, "Oh, this is a very practical access point where your diet can come in and affect your microbiome, and then your microbiome can turn around and affect your neurotransmitters and your hormones, which then obviously fundamentally underpin your mood and cognitive ability. This is the practical place where those two things link up."
Andrea Wien: And it seems like you had made that discovery yourself at 14 or 15 and then suddenly fast forward five or six years, and you were able to start to notice the science that actually went behind what you were feeling and having the experience of like the N-as-one, right?
Ben Goodwin: Yeah, that's exactly right. I think a lot of people who end up being entrepreneurs and even a lot of great researchers and scientists, they start with an N-as-one offense. It starts like research is me-search, and that's definitely true. We're motivated by emotional things, I think, even if we use layers of logic to validate them, ultimately, our motivation is emotional, and so having a personal experience can be a really great motivator to move you over the line in terms of moving in a particular direction
Andrea Wien: After you make this discovery, that the microbiome is something that you're interested in, you go on to build a number of formulation and fermentation labs, right?
Ben Goodwin: So after kombucha, I did a couple of years of basically independent product development. I wanted to just get better at a lot of different stuff. So I ended up doing supplements and cosmetics, then more probiotics, and just a bunch of different product development for a number of different, mostly smaller companies back then. But it allowed me to practice with taste experimentation and formula experimentation, and it was a great way to cut my teeth in a variety of directions. And then as I got closer to my mid twenties, I just went through this reformatting of my thought process in that most of the work I had been doing up to that point in time would have been considered pretty niche and pretty high end, some of it is borderline new-agey stuff, probably in terms of the logic behind the formulations.
What really motivated me was, how do I make this more mass accessible? It felt like I'm just preaching to the choir by making another high end product with the super high end interesting ingredients that's going to retail for just some substantial amount. That only means that of small fraction of the population can interact with it either from a price point or from a branding position or from like taste position or like just a concept position. So I became really obsessed with the idea of, how do I create something that can do the most leveraged good and also affect the most people?
And decided that, "Look, my expertise at this point is really in product development. I'm really interested in this brain gut axis component in the microbiome, I have specific experience in beverage. I think maybe I should actually try to create a beverage." And I came up with this idea of, well, I thought how excited people got about kombucha, but then I saw the taste and conceptual barriers to it, so maybe I can create a fermented beverage that is just tastier. And that was basically the root of the fermented water kefir soda that I developed called Obi. It's still actually out on the market. My business partner and I sold it in late 2016, but yeah, that was quite a long development process, that R&D process actually took me five years.
Yeah, it was quite an undertaking. And I was doing independent product development, and I actually was doing project management for websites. And I had like all these different kinds of streams of income that I was generating really to actually fund the research and development of that. I worked with really fantastic microbiologist and organic chemist really closely. That was a really experience as well because the thing that was so great about this guy... Unfortunately, he passed away a couple of years ago, which is very, very sad for quite frankly, all of humanity. He was a really wonderful person. But the thing that he brought to the table that was so eye opening to me was, here's this guy with two PhDs, and he oftentimes got hired by sometimes by the government, sometimes by private contractors to go down to Central South and South America and look through these different plants and try to pull out different ingredients either for pharmaceuticals, or for vaccines or for whatever.
So he actually was really used to doing pretty hardcore science, but in these really challenging environments where there were very few resources and you couldn't set up a really official lab with all the kind of stuff you wanted. So it was just perfect for a startup reality because instead of going to Thermo Fisher or whatever and buying 500,000 to several million dollars worth of equipment, we went to like Ace Hardware and the pet store, like the aquarium store and we bought... There's some stuff you have to get actual scientific versions of, but we go to the brewing store and we basically were able to set up this duct tape lab that I probably spent like 30 grand on, but it was probably doing things that were equivalent to a multi hundred thousand dollar lab.
Just like little tips and tricks, like we were using this electrostatic gun to puncture tiny little hole in plastic bags to create these flexible bio-reactors so we could actually make thousands of, literally thousands of different experiments and get them all running up at the same time. That's something that would have cost you millions and millions of dollars. Basically, it was like borderline punk science, because that was really, really fantastic. You should have seen the lab, it was like stepping into an alien hive. There was just these bad... We literally had no more space to put everything, so we started stapling the tops of bags to the wall. We'd be like, "Oh, we want to test Tartaric acid plus this plus that."
So, we just did like hundreds and hundreds, and what we ended up doing was we ended up morphing our own water kefir culture, which we didn't just have to morph all the organisms and have it be based on historical precedent, we also had to create something that was scalable. And water kefirs is incredibly tricky to work with, a way more complicated organism than kombucha is. Kombucha typically has like five to eight different strains of microorganisms, whereas water kefir has more in the high teens to low 20s. There's a lot of things about it that are just significantly more complicated. So that took a long time and it took a tremendous amount of perseverance.
And then, in order to make things harder on myself, I decided I actually want to make this taste like a soda, because wouldn't it be great if we could not only make a mainstream applicable beverage that could scale in the fermentation space, but also if we could disrupt soda at the same time. Because that's not a significant undertaking or anything. So that's why the whole thing took about five years. And then we really only had a market for two until an acquirer that I can't really disclose publicly got really excited about it and then eventually we went through an exit process a little earlier than I might've liked, but it was a really interesting...
I mean, it's one of those things where you can do all this hard science and you create this great product, and then you have to learn all the entrepreneurial world and building an actual company, it's a dramatic, additional skillset that it's almost impossible to prepare for. The traction was consumers was flabbergasting. We were growing by about 250% year on year in terms of our sales. Coca-Cola called us out in their quarterly earnings report in quarter one of 2015, I think, in terms of being like, "This brand is the future of a soda," or whatever. And then at the Expo West, our product was top scoring. So we were really on a rocket ship.
And when you are in a beverage company and having that experience, it's pretty overwhelming to be scaling that rapidly, and especially when you have a ferment that you're dealing with and you have to have the production side keep up with all that. So that was a really, really amazing learning experience. And then the exit of that hooked a little bit, feeling like, "Oh, wow"-
Andrea Wien: Wait, wait. Before we move on, I want to ask you. So through all of that R&D and all those five years in the lab and really doing all these crazy science experiments, what were some of your biggest discoveries around the microbiome, around bacteria around microbes that you found?
Ben Goodwin: I think probably one of the biggest takeaways that I found to be really interesting was just working with the culture bank and observing the culture bank. Because I had worked with a lot of basically cultures in the kombucha company so I saw how kombucha reacted and how it lived. And I think it pushed along my conceptual model significantly to have spent so long working with these different cultures, seeing why that organism is built in the way that it's built, how it interacts with its environment, and like what the implications are, and how it works as like a team. For example, like with water kefir and really it was all fermentation, kind of like it's a siphonophore in its own way. Do you know what a siphonophore is?
Andrea Wien: I don't know.
Ben Goodwin: Siphonophores, they're similar to jellies. Like a Portuguese man-of-war is a siphonophore. It's basically a jelly that... People call them jellyfish, they're not fish. It's just a type of jelly that is a bunch of different organisms that are all working together synergistically. Actually, a siphonophore is the longest organism on earth, like twice the length of a blue whale or something. And it's basically like one organism becomes the central nervous system, and then another organism becomes like the stomach, and then another organism becomes the tentacles that pull in the prey. So it's these completely different-
Andrea Wien: So it's like the ultimate symbiosis?
Ben Goodwin: Yeah, that's right. That's really how cultures work. They really work the same way, one will create the dextrins that everybody else like lives on, and another organism will create this set of metabolized, and another organism will protect the other organisms, and another organism will kick on when the food moves misdirection. So I think I developed a lot of appreciation for how these complex cultures work inside of their own matrix, and then their non-mobile symbiotic organism. So that's a whole interesting thing onto itself. Basically, water kefir exists in nature.
I think that the common water kefir that you just buy it online, a lot of that comes actually from cacti. I think there's a Japanese scientist who went to central America and cultured the stuff from cacti. Cacti are filled with water, they've got a bunch of sugar, and so these little culture globs formed on the cacti and then those got cultured and propagated. Literally, the precursor, these little clusters exist in nature, and then we take them in. So they have their own mechanism for existence. And basically, they run across the right environmental conditions, and then they externalize their immune system. So when you think about a kombucha for example, just like, "Oh, it's fermenting all this stuff and all the sugar in this tea and then it puts out all these organic acids and it puts out all these enzymes. Why is it doing that?
That's the underlying questions. And the reality is because the kombucha culture found a big pot of food, so then it wanted to claim the food. So in order to claim the food, it puts out all of these actually anti microbial, so the lactic acid, the acetic acid, all those other organic compounds, those are actually anti-microbials that it's generating that it can understand, but that other types of pathogenic or competitive bacteria might not be able to understand. So it does all of that. Then it puts that all these little other organisms, it's basically shedding microorganisms to try to collect and bring all that food back, and then microorganisms on the central SCOBY disk take the minerals and the vitamins and all the different components and uses that to continue to build out the base culture.
It's really fascinating. And then, when it starts to get too low on sugar, I think this is probably some metabolic marker that it reaches, it switches from the first phase of the fermentation, which is that like claim and collect phase, to phase two of fermentation, which is prepare to go back into hibernation. So then the yeast kick up, they become more active, and they start chugging and they produce a more potent antimicrobial, which is ethanol and CO2. It's just one of those things where, as you study, and then it eats away all the sugar and then the more sugar it eats away, the higher the alcohol concentration becomes. And it just prepares to go into hibernation and to not be attacked while it's in hibernation, because it's basically sitting in a vat of CO2 and ethanol, which is going to be next to impossible for anything else to grow in.
And then it will wait there until the environmental conditions change again, and it gets reintroduced to food. So there's a lot of times where we see outcomes, we see like, "Oh, I guess kombucha gets alcoholic." But like, what's the reason? This stuff is all happening by design. There's like a mechanistic metabolic reason. One of the many deep appreciations I took away from my time in the lab and working with these cultures, because the idea being that that's like 20 organisms approximately in a vat of sugar water. Go ahead and translate that to the reality of the human body, 50 to 70 nonhuman microorganisms, there's 500 to 700 strains likely, different types of microorganisms in the digestive tract alone.
I mean, the complexity in the synergies that can be going on inside of that environment are truly astounding. Also another experience which is really interesting, speaking of brain-gut axis stuff, where we had to sample a lot of, like all these different kinds of fermented drinks that we were making, at some point or another, we had to try them. So I remember a particular experience where I think we compiled the 40 best ferments that we had created so far. And I got a room full of brave souls together, these are my friends who I don't even know-
Andrea Wien: Let me feed you weird things, come over.
Ben Goodwin: Yeah, basically. 10 of us got together, we got a notepad, and we were like, "All right, we're going to go through these, we're going to drink a half ounce or an ounce of each one of these, we're going to talk about how it tastes and all that kind of stuff. And I just remember starting out, we were all in good shape psychologically, we were giving very concrete answers to things, and just like 20 to 30 samples in, we're all totally euphoric. I've had plenty of wine, we weren't drunk, in my life, I know the feeling.
It might've been like a super dose of B vitamins because obviously fermented foods can create B vitamins, but it was just this absolute euphoria and just hilarity that took us over as we went through the evening just drinking all of this, this wide range of different kinds of cultured beverages. And it really struck with me again, it was like this underlying through that experience that there's something really happening here on this brain-gut axis level in relationship to getting organisms and/or the byproducts to metabolize some of these organisms into your system and operating. And that was, obviously, that was like a mega dose.
Andrea Wien: Did that last for the following days or did it go away pretty quickly once you stopped drinking them?
Ben Goodwin: Euphoria didn't last super long, but I did have pretty... Going through that process, I had pretty permanent changes to my digestive health for the better. I feel like had been eating healthy for a really long time, but I definitely shifted something meaningful in my ecosystem. And actually, had even been doing a little bit of early, just on my own time, even started doing some initial little work with prebiotics, trying them and combining them. And I felt like that was really where there was some traction that definitely came out of that in terms of long-term shift.
The brain-gut component, I don't know, it's hard. One of the things that I think is increasingly well evidenced in the brain-gut axis, they kind of add additional resiliency to stress. Radiolab actually did a very interesting report a number of years ago, pretty inspiring to me, basically just showing that when exposed to stress, robust microbiomes were able to keep fighting through stress much, much longer than with these kinds of sterile microbiome. And that when they actually tried to figure out what was going on, there were significant differences in cortisol levels and significant difference in GABA levels, which GABA is your primary down-regulating neurotransmitter, it makes you calm.
And something about the way a healthy microbiome is arranged, it does affect your neurotransmitters and your reactionary component. There's data that's shown that humans as well now, and there's some data that indicates that it is even possible that it's quite adaptive in real time, so that the microbiome may actually modulate the amount of different compounds that it's producing reflectively based on how much stress is in your environment. That's just where it starts to get super, super interesting, but those are all kind of layers to it.
Andrea Wien: Yeah. Well, and it just makes you realize, just listening to you talk through it all, how much we don't know yet and how much there's still to discover. And even just looking at one jar of kombucha and the cultures that exist in that, you're absolutely right, the complexity of the human body, and we've just begun to scratch the surface. I do want to switch gears a little bit though because you've been talking a lot about probiotics and all of your past products have been probiotic, but your latest drink is prebiotic. So I want to talk about why you made that switch and your approach and philosophy around where we go next with a lot of this.
Ben Goodwin: Historically, I think the common perspective was that if you want to benefit your microbiome and your digestive health that probiotics were the de facto way to do that, but over the last probably five years, especially about five to 10 years, I think there's been an increase in research that have shown that might not be a totally comprehensive solution. There's also a bit of a component to at least in my opinion, the recommendations and consumption patterns around probiotics being a little bit more of an allopathic or like pharmaceutical approach, i.e. take a couple of these bugs, they're going to have this distinct outcome.
Whereas, increasingly my perspective has been that managing the microbiome is a little bit more of an naturopathic process, which is really based around the concept of terrain management or managing the overall environment that the microbiome live, then there's potentially a more cohesive and effective way to benefit the microbiome.
Andrea Wien: It's like making the house cozy and comfortable so that when the people come in, they want to live there.
Ben Goodwin: Yeah. That's exactly right. It goes back to my earlier point, I've grown increasingly skeptical over time that consuming the same small handful of microorganisms is the best way to modulate that environment. So that's number one. And number two, everything has got to eat, the microorganisms living in your body are there is because you are basically a waterfall of food for them. So then the question becomes, okay, what are they eating? How does that play into the equation? And we basically know that they can eat a range of different things, but precisely, there is a substantial amount of data that shows that having diets that are really high in fiber and prebiotics correlate with really robust, healthy microbiomes.
And in fact, in Western industrialized culture right now, there's a distinct deficit in fiber and prebiotic. It's hard to be like, "We're 100% sure," but we're 99.5% sure. It's having a really significant negative impact on the competition health of the microbiome. And that is related to just some quick stats. So according to the CDC, the average American gets 10 to 15 grams of fiber per day. The FDA recommends 28 grams per day, the World Health Organization, which has a slightly better track record making dietary recommendations in my opinion than the FDA, recommends 30 to 40 grams a day.
But then, there are multiple researchers who have basically crossed-compared the Western industrialized diet in microbiome to, let's call it, the indigenous hunter-gather microbiome and diet, and basically found that those groups, so people who consume food and what's effectively a tree agricultural way, get about one to 200 grams of fiber per day.
Andrea Wien: And the diversity of the food that they're eating is, and we were eating in the past, I think it's something like we eat 15 species of foods now, where in the past it was 200 to 300 every year.
Ben Goodwin: Yeah. And even we probably get, let's say probably gets like 100 different inputs, or maybe even not. I've read this one article that said that your average indigenous Aboriginal who's still on a hunter-gatherer lifestyle track gets like 1,300 different types of foods every year. So that they get a little lost here because the conceptualization that comes out of all this research, it's so unbelievably rich in terms of all of the different implications, and the more I've looked into the literature on what the differences are between these two groups. So basically, there's two primary clumps of research that support, basically consuming fiber and prebiotics as the underpinning force behind setting up your gut health.
And the way my conceptualization is has changed over... I think that probiotics can be fantastic, but you need to have a strong base of fiber and prebiotics almost in my opinion before you try to supplement with probiotics, because it's just one of those things, it's like trying to plant seeds in the desert. If you'd run the math, if the average American's getting 10% of the nutritional diversity and five to 10% of the fiber in prebiotics that arguably we're more designed for, and then that nutritional diversity in those fiber and prebiotics are directly related to the health and diversity and abundance of your digestive microbiome, putting more probiotics into a resource pool, that's already insufficiently fed, maybe not going to have the impact that you'd want it to have.
And I think that's even reflected in a lot of the probiotic literature, going beyond the fact that many probiotic products just don't hold up on the efficacy side when they're practically tested. And not necessarily because the probiotics are not good probiotics, but just because the delivery method is ineffectual. So the probiotics die in the pill or they die in the bottle, or the die in the stomach acid, or they get shredded by the other bacteria that already woven in the gut. The ones that do make it to where they need to go and hang out, those are typically all transitorial bacteria. So you're lucky if they stick around for 24 to 72 hours.
And they can be helpful, but then the question that I'm left with is that, well, you have all these native bacteria, so why are you exporting external bacteria into an environment where all of this benefits you should be getting from the imported bacteria should be being delivered and significantly more delivered by your existing species, going back to this two camp of research. So one camp of research is really just cross comparing. So that's the Hadza tribe, Sonnenberg's work in Africa, and there was an Indonesian study done, there's a South American study done.
Actually, there's just very recently out of Stanford, a study done on the Nepalese hunter-gatherer cultures, direct comparison. So that's just doing `whole genome sequencing from fecal samples, it's doing biopsies and taking a look at the fitness and health in mucosal membrane and the different bacteria that live in the mucosal membrane, a variety of different kinds of analytical tools, but just basically cross comparing diet and microbial composition. Then there's a second camp of research, which I think is arguably even more interesting, which is looking at when indigenous people switch over to a Western modern diet, or when there's some swap, when basically Western industrialized diet consumers start taking a more indigenous or an indigenous diet consumers start taking a more Western industrial diet, both looking at discreet studies that cover up that swap or looking at immigration.
Dan Knight just recently put out a paper in Cell, which I think is really interesting where he looked at immigration from 40 years deep in terms of immigrants from this area of Southeast Asia, where there is a significantly higher level of this hunter-gatherer, high fiber, high nutritional diversity diet, and then these different immigrants that have come to United States and then adopted a more westernized diet. And because he was looking at immigrants that came in as long as 40 years ago, he was not only able to assess what the impact was over time, but also generationally because some of these people had then had children inside of the United States.
What he found and what studies have found when they've done this cross analysis, this analysis where they looked at diets that have changed, that have been swapped, basically he found roughly the same information that's been found in the studies where they just crossed compared Western diets and microbiomes with hunter-gatherer diets and microbiomes, i.e. on average, there's like this 45 to 50% decrease in not only abundance, but also diversity of strains of microorganisms in the gut. There's a substantial decrease in the production of certain key enzymes and metabolites that can go on and have a very significant impact on immune health, potentially brain health, digestive function.
So basically, if you're producing less enzymes that break down fiber or plant foods or whatever it is, then you're going to have less complete nutrient absorption. That's all really significant. There was a decrease, a substantial decrease in sickness and robustness of the mucosal membranes, which is, not a particularly a sexy thing to be really excited about, but I am particularly interested in the mucosal membrane that surrounds the large intestines, basically that barrier between the epithelial cell wall layers and then the contents of the microbiome. And on average, hunter-gatherer groups seem to have about four to five times thicker mucosal membrane.
There's whole sets of bacteria that specifically live in and guard the mucosal membrane, and then the mucosal membrane itself is incredibly important because it keeps basically the contents of your digestive tract from bumping into your epithelial cell wall layer, which is basically the cell wall layer of your intestines. There's all sorts ramifications when that mucosal membrane gets too thick and those raw materials start to interact with the epithelial cell wall layer, you can have basically openings in the tight junction between the cells and food material that's effectively not coded for absorption, because basically, anything that you eat has to get broken down in the body and then coded for absorption and then epithelial cells can uptake it, and that's how you basically absorb your food.
When material that hasn't been coded properly for absorption opens up those tight junctions and stick this little face in, the immune system freaks out because it thinks it's an invading pathogen. So then the immune system's putting these like antibodies on the food and it actually, interesting enough, gluten has a compound that opens up those tight junctions, which I think my personal theory is that partially what's driving this increase in gluten intolerance is actually, it's not that all of a sudden the gluten is a problem, it's that microbiomes are the problem, because what happens is when you don't get enough fiber and prebiotics in your diet for your existing microbiome to eat, you obviously get those substantial decreases in population and diversity in population.
But the mucosal membrane is basically made of nutrient-rich carbohydrates. So it's like the Donner Party, your gut bacteria starve, and they're just like, "Well, let's eat this food source that's right here." That's the force that drives down the thickness and health of the mucosal membrane. And what's been found, I think in the Dan Knight's study, which was so interesting where they've done biopsies of mice who have been generationally fed a fiber poor diet is that generationally, does a magnified effect. So every generation, the mucosal membrane gets a little thinner, a little smaller, then you start having patchy mucosal coverage, which then leads you to different issues like leaky gut, which then relates to inflammation and immune system malfunctions.
The whole thing, basically it's like snowball effect, which I think ultimately, when you're looking at human health and you're looking at these broad, amorphous health issues that happen across population levels, where you're really looking for these cascading snowball effects. So ultimately, inadequate fiber and inadequate prebiotics really is at the base of, and this is the combination of what the science says and also my personal perspective, but it's at the base of so many other challenges that we see on a digestive health level. And I think that probiotics might be an important part of the equation, but they certainly don't address that other issue.
They certainly don't have the same capacity to re-balance and re-nutrify the whole digestive tract. And so that's the underlying conceptual framework for why it's important to try to move in the direction of fiber and prebiotic and nutritional diversity. And that's basically what OLIPOP is designed to do. So it's really accessible in terms of its flavor profile, it's low in sugar, but there's nine grams of fiber, six grams of which are prebiotic. And then there's a range of different fibers and different prebiotics, and then other functional botanicals. Actually, we have eight different botanical plants in the product and they're all botanical and plant-based ingredients that people would be very unlikely to be getting in their diet as part of the Western diet.
And the idea there being it's easy for someone who's used to consuming a Western diet to interact with OLIPOP because it is just, you can drink it like a can of sparkling water or a can of soda and it's delicious and easy to incorporate from that angle, but you know that you're getting this critical missing set of nutrients, i.e. fiber and prebiotics, and you're getting a certain amount of plant-based nutritional diversity. The goal there is just to really increase that accessibility and provide those critical nutrients. And then see what happens from there.
You might decide that you want to bring in your probiotics on top of that and try to increase the growth of the probiotics you are consuming. It might encourage you to reorient your diet in a way, in addition to OLIPOP that just really focuses on getting adequate fiber, because it's really hard to get adequate prebiotics and fiber given how industrialized and hybridized the Western food supply is. So I think people need a little bit of help getting there.
Andrea Wien: So, it just launched, right? It's pretty new. So can people find it now?
Ben Goodwin: Yeah. We're California-based company, so we're in Northern California. We're at about 60 stores in Northern California right now, I'd say, mostly kind of your influential health food stores, so Berkeley Bowl, Rainbow Market, Mollie Stone's, New Leaf, that kind of thing up in Northern California. In Southern California, we're only in a handful of stores, mostly we're in the four Erewhon stores, but we are going to be expanding pretty dramatically in 2019. Still mostly on the West coast, but will be available in a much larger swath of stores. And we'll probably even push up into the Pacific Northwest by the end of 2019. That's like the retail footprint.
We're also creating an e-commerce site right now, and people will be able to buy mixed six packs and 24 packs of the products right up the website as well.
Andrea Wien: We could talk to you all day, I know you have so much information. We're going to have to bring you back on and do a whole another show and talk about all the emerging science, because there's so many things I didn't get to even ask you today. So thank you so much for coming on. If people want to keep in touch with you, check out where OLIPOP continues to grow, where do they go?
Ben Goodwin: Yeah. Our Instagram's just @drinkolipop. And then our website is drinkolipop.com. This is the best places to go.
Andrea Wien: All right. Thank you so much, Ben. I really appreciate the time. Have a good one.
Ben Goodwin: All right. Thanks so much, Andrea. Have a good day
Andrea Wien: As always, thanks for listening. To get your hands on some OLIPOP or learn more about Ben, visit our website at biohmhealth.com.
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