I imagine most people have heard of the taking probiotics for intestinal health. This is a good practice to balance the microbiome, the various beneficial bacteria, virus and yeast in the intestinal tract. However, it is high time to give it a lot more consideration and respect. Rebalancing your gastrointestinal microbiome may be the most important thing we ever do for our health. These organisms outnumber our cells by 10:1. Their DNA exceed our DNA by nearly 100:1. They perform over 6000 biochemical processes that we are physically unable to do and would die if absent, like make vitamins K and B12, turn up or down our immune system, control how much fat we store, and communicate with our brain. Some medical circles are now calling this community of organisms inside us as the Forgotten Organ. It may have more control over our health, physical and mental, than any other organ in our body. No wonder we feel a variety of symptoms if the balance and quantity is not optimal.
According to numerous well-designed, peer-reviewed studies on rodents and humans, an unhealthy microbiome appears to be a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, atherosclerosis, hypertension, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, colon cancer, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, lymphoma, PCOS and hormone imbalances, liver cancer, alzheimers/dementia, psoriasis, and more. It very well may be that they have command over us, not the other way around. A good article in The New Yorker called The E.Coli Made Me Do It highlighted the effect these microbes have on our mental health.
Unfortunately, many of the lifestyle habits in industrialized countries are destroying the balance of species in our gut. Cesarean birth, taking antibiotics, eating foods with glyphosate/Round-Up, using antibacterial soaps and cleaning supplies, eating processed foods and genetically modified foods, chronic stress, poor sleep, drinking excessive alcohol, taking NSAIDS, and NOT eating enough good foods devastate this critical part of our bodies.
The more we feed them, the more they thrive. There are thousands of different strains of microbes living within us. Some are more beneficial to us and some are quite detrimental if given the chance to propagate into large numbers. Studies have found that the most beneficial strains eat very different things than the harmful ones. Bacteroidites, a group that does lots of valuable things for us, like lose weight, lower inflammation, and prevent cancer, like to eat fibers and polyphenols from fruits and vegetables and tubers. Another major group, Firmicutes, thrive more on sugars, grains, and things we find in processed foods. When the Firmicutes outnumber the Bacteroidites they cause sugar/carb cravings, weight gain, inflammation and moods swings. One study transplanted the gut bacteria from obese mice (high in firmicutes) to normal mice and it caused the normal mice to gain weight. We knew our epidemic of obesity and chronic disease is from the standard American diet and now we are starting to understand the intricacies of why.
Switching out Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes, starving the ‘bad’) can cause some symptoms if done rapidly and drastically. Remember, these guys outnumber us by 10:1! When we begin starving out a certain group, they will protest. If you have been feeding them sugars, starches and processed foods for years, the types that eat those foods have become the largest colony and will object and remonstrate their demise. It is also important to know that other areas in your body are basically addicted to sugars and starch and stopping may cause withdrawal. (Many grains and sugars actually do activate the opiate receptors, but that is a whole different article.) Symptoms may include sugar and junk food cravings, mood swings, headaches, strange aches and pains, etc. Don’t let this stop you! The health benefits are imperative! In time your taste buds and desires will change. Your cravings will go away. You will start to savor healthy vegetable dishes. You will lose unhealthy fat and build lean muscle. You will sleep better. You will be happier and appreciate life.
The bacteria have a very short lifespan. They are constantly reproducing voraciously but a single one truly only lives for about 20-30 minutes. This is why it is so important to keep replenishing good species and giving the right guys enough food to keep reproducing. We know that different cultures across the globe have very different combinations of microbes. The science on this is very new and we are learning more daily. The best strategy is to consume a wide variety of organisms in their most natural state possible like our ancestors did.
How to Build a Healthy Microbiome:
• Eat some fermented foods daily. Just a couple bites or a few sips- ideally a couple different kinds -a few times every day. Get creative and make your own! It is easy and inexpensive! Fermented foods are also available in stores: Sauerkraut, kim chi, kombucha, kefir- coconut or dairy, tempeh, fermented coconut water, fermented pickles, apple cider vinegar and RAW, organic, KOSHER cheeses.
• Eat large amounts of colorful vegetables and fruits.
• Eat jicama, chicory, sunchokes, and other foods with Inulin fiber in them to feed the beneficial bacteria. Other foods for the beneficial flora are asparagus, carrots, garlic, leeks, okra, onion, radishes, and tomatoes, turmeric and cinnamon. (If eating these makes you feel worse, ei: bloating, pain, constipation or diarrhea- get tested for SIBO asap)
• Avoid processed foods and eat very little or zero grains (limit breads, pasta, cookies, cakes, tortillas, crackers, rice, etc.)
• Avoid alcohol. More than two drinks can cause intestinal cells to ‘open’ and this allows some parts of the detrimental bacteria to get through into the bloodstream. Having polyphenols from color-rich foods can help halt this.
• Avoid food additives like artificial flavors and colors, artificial sweeteners, carrageenen, trans fats, preservatives, MSG, and high fructose corn syrup.
• Avoid NSAIDS like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen.
• Take a probiotic with many strains/variety of bacteria. Look for ones that are at least 50% bifido species and ideally that have some bifidobacterium lactis HN019.
• Eat more bitter foods – endive, dandelion greens, arugala, dill, sesame, etc.. Or take a supplement that has bitters in it – berberine, gentian, goldenseal, oregon grape, turmeric, etc.
• Go Organic and GMO-free! New research is now telling us that GMO foods can alter our DNA as well as our microbiome’s DNA.
• Get plenty of good sleep! Getting less than 7 or 8 hours of sleep a night deprives us of the parasympathetic/relaxation sleep cycle to fully repair high-energy gut tissue.
• Practice stress management techniques like meditation, yoga, or HeartMath. Stress can unbalance the microbiome by altering hormones and chemicals.
Eat slowly, chew well, be calm and happy while eating. The entire digestion process starts in your mind and your mouth. RELAX, have gratitude for the wonderful things in your life. FOCUS ON THE GOOD!