The Microbiome: Our Bodies’ Bugs and How They Keep Us Healthy
“Microbiome?” you ask. Most people I chat with about the health of their Microbiome don’t really know what it is. Let’s start there. Your Microbiome is a unique community of microbes or shall we say bugs. They exist all over us and get this… we carry around 100 trillion of these little creatures. Only 10% of us are human cells. The rest are microbes that assist with many functions. We can have healthy synergistic microbes and not so helpful ones too. Some suggest that many of us have more bad than good, which can wreak havoc on the body and mind. Stay tuned as I’ll share with you how to cultivate the good ones.
Science is just beginning to crack the surface on the wonderful world of human microbes. Yet here’s what we know so far on how our microbiome can keep us healthy:
- Immunity: In February 2013 the European Review for Medial and Pharmacological Sciences wrote a review article, “The Role of Intestinal Microbiota and the Immune System” (1). It showed that our gut microflora not only helps in digestion, but also can influence our immune system. A gut rich with good microbes protects the gut lining which protects us from pathogens getting into the blood stream stirring up trouble. When this system is out of balance it can contribute to autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Probiotic therapies can have beneficial effects.
- Weight Management: Research has just started in this field yet there is evidence to suggest that obese individuals have a different microbiota than individuals with a healthy weight. Researchers at the University Federico II, Naples, Italy wrote an article, “The Gut Bacteria-Driven Obesity Development (2).” They stated, “The ‘obese microbiota’ seems to be able to increase dietary energy harvest and favor weight gain and fat deposition”.
- Digestive Health: There are many diseases of the digestive tract where the majority of our microbes reside. Much research suggests that a disruption of our gut microbiome can have negative health effects. Just this year, researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have identified fungus (not a helpful microbe) as a “key factor” in Crohn’s Disease (3). Additionally, researchers at The Institute of Medical Science at The University of Tokyo, suggest that a disruption of the relationship between host and gut microbiota can contribute to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (4).
- Sleep: Abnormal sleep such as in shift workers or frequent flyers can lead to a shift in the microbiome creating metabolic disturbances such as obesity and glucose intolerance (7). It could be imagined this may extend to insomniacs as well. Imagine how a good night’s sleep can have the inverse effect! Will keep you posted on that research when I find it.
- Mental and Emotional Wellbeing: A 2015 article in Scientific American, Mental Health May Depend on Creatures in the Gut, suggest that gut microbes make neurotransmitters and metabolites that can have effects on the brain and our moods. Much of the current research has been done on mice but with promising results for humans. John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland said, “That dietary treatments could be used as either adjunct or sole therapy for mood disorders is not beyond the realm of possibility,” (8).
So how do we optimize our Microbiome?
Our first burst of these healthy microbes come by way of the birth canal. As babies we are sterile until we pass through the birth canal getting a huge hit of healthy bugs. Additionally, the milk from our mother’s breast supplies us with an additional inoculation.
As we move through our days many things can disrupt our microflora, including:
- Overuse of Antibiotics.
- Lack of Sleep.
- Mental and Emotional Stress.
- Poor food choices such as conventionally grown and genetically modified (GMO) foods, excessive sugar, gluten, conventional animal products (many are treated with antibiotics and hormones) and alcohol.
- Chlorinated Water.
- Environmental pollution and toxins.
- Over-sterilized Environments.
Here’s what you can do to improve your microbiome:
- Eat whole and nutrient dense organic produce and animal products. Broccoli is one of the best!
- Load up on Fermented foods such as Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Miso, Whole Organic Yogurts (no sugar added), Kefir (like yogurt), Kombucha (a probiotic drink) and other naturally fermented vegetables such as pickles (ensure they aren’t just soaked in vinegar but are properly fermented).
- Most people can benefit from a good quality probiotic. Ensure it has 9 or more different strains with over 12 billion CFU’s (Conly Forming Units).
- Use a water filter with charcoal carbon filter to remove chlorine. Santevia is a good brand.
- Get a good night’s sleep. For more on that, read Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson.
- Microbes don’t respond well to stress so finding ways to deal with stress are important. Why not try mindfulness-based meditation? Calm is an app you can download to your phone for free. It includes a series of short mediations to get you started. How about cultivating ratitude? To me there is no better way to reduce stress. A few minutes thinking about someone, something or someplace you feel thankful for can go a long way.
- And of course MOVE! I haven’t found the research on this just yet, but just as exercise has a good effect on our wellbeing it may just do the same for our microbiome.
There you have it folks. Wishing you and your Microbiome lots of health and vitality.
- The role of intestinal microbiota and the immune system F. PURCHIARONI, A. TORTORA, M. GABRIELLI, F. BERTUCCI,G. GIGANTE, G. IANIRO, V. OJETTI, E. SCARPELLINI, A. GASBARRINI Department of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Gemelli Hospital, Rome, Italy
- The Gut Bacteria-Driven Obesity Development. Compare D1, Rocco A, Sanduzzi Zamparelli M, Nardone G. Department of Clinical Medicine and Surgery, Hepatogastroenterology Unit, University Federico II, Naples, Italy.
- Case Western Reserve-Led International Team Identifies Fungus in Humans for First Time as Key Factor in Crohn’s Disease. http://casemed.case.edu/newscenter/news-release/newsrelease.cfm?news_id=402
- The gut microbiota and inflammatory bowel disease. Goto Y1, Kurashima Y, Kiyono H. 1aInternational Research and Development Center for Mucosal Vaccines, The Institute of Medical Science, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo bMedical Mycology Research Center, Chiba University, Chiba cDivision of Mucosal Immunology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, The Institute of Medical Science, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan.
- Sleep Smarter, Shawn Stevenson. Rodale.
- Eat Dirt, Dr. Josh Axe. Harper Collins.
- Transkingdom Control of Microbiota Diurnal Oscillations Promotes Metabolic Homeostasis. Christoph A. Thaiss, David Zeevi, Maayan Levy, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Jotham Suez, Anouk C. Tengeler, Lior Abramson, Meirav N. Katz, Tal Korem, Niv Zmora, Yael Kuperman, Inbal Biton, Shlomit Gilad, Alon Harmelin, Hagit Shapiro, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Published Online: October 16, 2014 http://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674%2814%2901236-7
- Mental Health May Depend on Creatures in the Gut by Charles Schmidt, Scientific American March 1, 2015.