Just as our awesome planet Earth is a vibrant ecosystem of species and populations under threat…. so too are you!
Did you know you are a walking ecosystem of trillions of microbes? Over 1000 species have been identified in humans and you as an individual probably host about 160 different species. Think about it for a minute…
You are home to many living microscopic organisms that are there to help you thrive. How are these little residents fed? What do they like eating? What do they do for you?
This fascinating area of health and science has opened our eyes to our inner world. That doesn’t mean we know and understand all of how it all works to keep us healthy and well, but we are learning more all the time.
Some of the things we know so far include…
- A healthy human body has a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship with thousands of different bacteria and other microscopic organisms.
- When out of balance some organism populations die off and are eliminated or diminished. Just like endangered and extinct species on Earth can no longer contribute to a healthy balanced ecosystem, these depleted microorganisms can’t fulfill their role in keeping us healthy. Is this the underlying cause of modern day illnesses?!
- When out of balance we become unprotected and some pathogenic bacteria and other microorganisms can multiply and cause illness directly.
So it’s important to keep your inner ecosystem well fed and balanced for your own health and vitality. Your microbes are essential for…
- Developing and regulating your immune system
- Keeping your ‘inner skin’ (gut lining) in good condition so you can absorb nutrients from your digestive tract and keep out toxins.
- Keeping your ‘outer skin’ in good condition so you can selectively absorb or repel things you’re exposed to.
- Extracting energy and nutrients from plant fibers that you can’t digest, and would otherwise pass through you, carrying their phyto-nutrients with them.
- Producing vitamins – Vitamin K and some B’s including B12 (wonderful for vegans!)
- Modulating mood: your microbiome provides innate intelligence to communicate to your brain via the vagus nerve (1).
- Keeping your blood sugars smooth, helping you not get “hangry” (2).
Convinced yet? You can start nourishing your inner ecosystem today! You can improve your populations with dietary changes quite quickly (3).
Key points to begin to understand…
- Probiotics are transient in your gut, they don’t stay around long. They can be helpful but the key is to feed you microbiome so it will thrive.
- Your microbiota feed on plant fibers. If you don’t feed your microbes enough plant fibers they won’t flourish. Plant foods provide the fibers and the polyphenols that the microbiota thrive on. What does this mean for Keto, and low carb eaters? (… that’s my next blog!). How do those of you with SIBO, IBS and food intolerances take the steps that will change your life? Keep reading!
- A diverse microbiome is associated with good health. Just like planet earth, annihilation of species damages and destabilizes the ecosystem. Alzheimers, Autism and IBD along with many disease states, are associated with a reduced microbiome (4,5).
- For a diverse microbiome, you don’t just need to feed you microbes fiber, you need to feed them diverse sources of fiber. Again just like our planet earth needs diverse forests and food sources to have healthy diversity of life. We need diverse forests of food to consume and satisfy our friendly microbial helpers. Just as the palm and maize monocultures are the recipe for the disaster we are beginning to see globally, so too will a potato chips and tomato sauce staple diet become a disaster for you. So mix it up, eat all variety of coloured fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes, providing the variety of fibers your little friends need.
- Other things that contribute to low diversity in your microbiome include, antibiotic use, chemical exposure and use of NSAIDs (Ibuprofen, Nurofen etc), Proton Pump Inhibitors (Pantoprazole, Omeprazole etc). Long-term use of herbal antimicrobials can also disrupt your ecosystem, and even kill off species, it can be very hard to re-establish balance. Your mothers microbiome also has an impact, C-section birth leaves an infant with a vunerable microbiome, and not being breastfed long enough can impact long term diversity.
Now that we know that different species of microbes have differing dietary needs, we can ensure we eat to feed them. For example Bifidobacterium have different ‘tastes’ to Lactobaccili. Foods in your diet can be tailored to encourage specific populations that need to be there in greater numbers for you to enjoy better health. A knowledgeable practitioner can provide microbiome screening and develop an individualized support plan tailored specifically for you to support your microbiome.
If you’re reading this and currently can’t eat all the wonderful foods that provide the many types of fiber that will nourish a healthy microbiome; if you have food intolerances, SIBO, leaky gut and/or irritable bowel, I suggest that you don’t just function in damage control by avoiding foods, it’s time to rethink and explore what you can do to turn this around. You will never be healthy if you don’t feed your microbiome. Have you ever considered that a damaged microbiome may be the reason you have food intolerances, and are becoming hypersensitive? Metagenomic testing is available for accurate identification of species to inform your food and supplement choices.
You will need to work with a specialised practitioner. You can test and screen your microbiome, engage treatment interventions, and begin to nourish your microbiome. With re-testing you can track changes as you tend your inner garden and encourage the growth of helpful species to produce a flourishing ecosystem that will provide you with sustainable health and vitality.
We’re living in a critical time for humans to reassess how to save and care for the Earth’s diverse ecosystems, similarly, it may be a critical time for you to reassess how to care for your body ecosystem.
(1) Carabotti M, Scirocco A, Maselli MA, Severi C. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenterol (2015) 28:203–9. Retreived from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/
(2) Kristina M. Utzschneider, Mario Kratz, Chris J. Damman, and Meredith Hullarg. Mechanisms Linking the Gut Microbiome and Glucose Metabolism. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, April 2016, 101(4):1445–1454
(3) David LA, Maurice CF, Carmody RN, et al. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature. 2014; 505:559–563.
(4) Vogt NM, Kerby RL, et al. Gut microbiome alterations in Alzheimer’s disease. Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 13537 (2017).
(5) Kang DW, Park JG, Ilhan ZE, Wallstrom G, LaBaer J, et al. (2013) Reduced Incidence of Prevotella and Other Fermenters in Intestinal Microflora of Autistic Children. PLOS ONE 8(7): e68322. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0068322