The microbiome. It sounds like a term from a sci-fi movie, rather than a reference to the bacteria living inside of us. But unlike Hollywood style UFOs, many of these bacteria are friendly and come in peace.
So keep reading to learn why these bugs are so beneficial and how you can build a better microbiome.
What Exactly Is the Microbiome?
Although the concept of your body being host to bacteria may not be new to you. Many people are not aware of just how many bacteria have taken up residence in their bodies. In fact, you’re more bacteria than person if you consider that for every one cell there are ten bacteria.
Essentially, our bodies have their own ecosystem. Complete with helpful and not-so-helpful bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These bacteria make a home wherever they can including on your skin, genitals, mouth, eyes, and intestines.
And when it comes to our microbiomes, diversity is key.
Even ‘bad’ bacteria can be beneficial in the right amounts. In fact, the entire concept of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ bacteria is a bit simplified. Every species of bacteria has a role to play in the body. A potentially pathogenic bacteria will only become problematic when it starts taking up too much space.
Why Should I Care About My Microbiome?
You may be thinking, does the state of my microbiome matter that much?
After all, when was the last time your medical doctor asked you about your gut bacteria?
But here’s the bottom line:
Many mainstream medical practitioners are not yet fully aware of the microbiome’s influence on our health. A general ignorance of the microbiome is obvious when we consider how liberally antibiotics are used by many doctors.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that the microbiome is of no consequence.
As more research is being done, it is becoming obvious that many diseases, even those that seem unrelated to our guts, can be connected to an unhealthy microbiome.
Obesity: Contrary to what your personal trainer may tell you, weight loss is about more than calories in versus calories out.
In fact, one study has demonstrated that giving mice antibiotics in the first month of their life, leads to rodents that have 60% more fat than mice who never received the antibiotics!
The effect of the microbiome on weight isn’t just an event isolated to the rodent population. It is well known that the microbiomes of overweight and obese people are less diverse than the microbiomes of people who are lean.
Autism: Researchers can agree, autistic children have different microbiomes than a other children.
A study performed by a group of Italian researchers showed that autistic children tend to have fewer good bacteria in their guts. And more than 50% of autistic children, suffer from GI issues including indigestion, malabsorption, and allergies.
Immunity: Your gut bacteria play an important role in helping you fight off infection and manage your immune response.
The less diverse our microbiomes are, the more likely our immune system will be slow to respond to invaders. Or a little too eager to attack anything it comes into contact with, like our own bodies or benign food particles.
Mental Well Being: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that does many wonderful things. Making us feel happy and encouraging us to be social, among other functions.
Interestingly, 90% of your serotonin is made in your gut, and your microbiome plays an important role in this process.
Supplementing with a probiotic can, in some cases, be just as effective as taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. In one study, people who took a probiotic for four weeks experienced a significant decrease in obsessive and anxious thoughts.
Other conditions associated with an unhealthy microbiome include:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Alzheimer's disease
- Dental cavities
- Gastric ulcers
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
At this point, you might be wondering:
What Can I Do To Improve My Microbiome?
Now that you know how important the microbiome is, you may be concerned with the state of your own gut. And wondering what you can do to improve the diversity of beneficial bacteria.
Check out this list of tips that will help you create a bountiful supply of beneficial bacteria.
1. Eat Fermented Foods: Eating fermented foods will help optimize your gut. These foods come complete with their own bacteria. Kefir, kombucha, natto, sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented milk products are all perfect examples of fermented foods you can incorporate into your diet.
2. Eat More Soluble and Insoluble Fibre: According to Dr. Sonnenburg, most our gut bacteria live in our colon. The only food they really have access to is what's left after our digestive enzymes have finished digesting our food. What remains after digestion is mostly fibre. So, you’ll want to increase your consumption of fibre-rich starchy tubers, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit.
3. Get Dirty: In other words, stop trying to be so clean. Our overuse of antibacterial soaps and our fear of germs, has resulted in deficient and underdeveloped microbiomes.
You want to expose yourself to a wide array of bacteria because it teaches your immune system how to react against disease. Try taking up gardening, play in nature, or own a pet to educate your own microbiome.
4. Take a Probiotic: If fermented food isn’t your cup of tea, you could try supplementing with a high-quality probiotic. Just remember that not all probiotics are equal. And, you could end up wasting money on a poor-quality one.
Check out this guide to ensure you’re selecting the best probiotic possible for your gut health. Or have a chat with a qualified practitioner to ensure you are taking the right probiotic for your personal situation.
If you start incorporating these tips, you’ll have a beautiful microbiome in no time.
If you already do the above, and you’re still struggling with your digestion, you may want to consider testing your gut bacteria. This is the only way I know to see exactly what is going on with your gut microbiome.
You can also consider what you may be doing that is sabotaging your digestive health.
Avoid These Harmful Microbiome Habits.
Building a better microbiome isn’t just about what you put into your body, it’s also about what you keep out.
Many people are eating a high-fibre diet with appropriate supplementation. But, they are still struggling with digestive issues on a daily basis. If this sounds like you, take a closer look at your daily routine to determine if you’re committing any of these microbiome mistakes.
1. Antibiotics: You should avoid antibiotics unless it’s absolutely necessary. Every time you take antibiotics, not only are you wiping out the bad bacteria, you’re also destroying most of your beneficial gut bacteria. It can take years for your body to rebalance your gut bacteria without additional help. Which is why it’s important to take a high-quality probiotic, and eat fermented foods after taking antibiotics.
2. Processed Foods: According to Dr. Mercola, foods high in refined carbohydrates and sugars will feed bad bacteria. Many of the artificial additives found in processed foods (e.g., Polysorbate 80) have a detrimental effect on your microbiome.
3. Chlorinated/Fluoridated Water: If you drink city-supplied water that contains chlorine and fluoride, you should get a filter for your shower and drinking water to avoid exposing yourself to these dysbiosis-inducing chemicals.
4. A High-Fat and Low-Fibre Diet: Low-carb is all the rage right now with bacon and butter being triumphed as the new health foods.
In moderation, these foods can be a balanced part of any diet, but problems can start to arise when we prioritize fat and reduce health-supportive fibres.
Good bacteria eat fibre and bad bacteria love fat, so a fibre-deficient high-fat diet can be the instigator for an unhealthy microbiome.
Just take a look the microbiomes of Jeff Leach, an anthropologist who is studying the microbiomes of the Hadza tribe. On the left is Jeff’s microbiome on the standard high-fat American diet.
Photo by Jeff Leach/The Human Food Project
His gut is dominated by firmicutes, a bacteria that feeds on fat and also contributes to weight gain and obesity.
Now, look to the graph on the right. This is Jeff’s microbiome after eating a high-fibre diet similar to what the Hadza eat. Jeff’s firmicute level has dramatically decreased and he has more bacteroidetes. A bacteria associated with leanness and overall health.
And here’s the kicker:
It only took 2-3 weeks for Jeff’s gut bacteria to change from a firmicute-dominated landscape, to the bacteroidetes-dominated landscape. So, even if you’re microbiome isn’t looking too healthy right now, you can experience dramatic changes in as little as a couple of weeks.
What’s the bottom line?
If you want to experience vibrant health then you need to have a healthy microbiome. And creating a healthy microbiome doesn’t need to be difficult.
By following the steps here. You can begin to experience great health now, while protecting yourself from future disease.
If you’re interested in learning more about the microbiome, listen to this TedTalk by Dr. Robynne Chutkan, an integrative gastroenterologist.
We would love to hear from you. How do you take care of your Microbiome?
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