5 ways to improve your microbiome
What is the microbiome and how do we keep it healthy?
There is a lot we don’t know about the microbiome. It’s a relatively undiscovered topic yet critical to our quality of life.
Even though we can’t see them, microbes determine so much about who we are. Our DNA is more similar to each other than our microbes are and we’re outnumbered 10 to 1 from microbes to cells.
What Exactly are Microbes?
Microbiota is found all over your body. They’re in our mouth, lungs, on our skin, in our gut, urinary tract, and vagina. It connects our body and influences the function of our systems. Our gut alone houses over 100 trillion microorganisms. It’s an incredibly vast and complex system! We can see these effects in things like how well we digest food to how attractive to mosquitos we are. Microbes are bacteria, fungi, and viruses and some can be beneficial while others are harmful. When it comes to bacteria we often have a negative perception of it. We’ve been told to eliminate bacteria. We buy cleaners that kill 99.9% of bacteria, use anti-bacterial products, and sanitize away these little guys. Most of them are harmless and many of them are necessary to our body's functions.
The Makeup of Microbial Communities
At birth, an infant's gut is a blank canvas. Babies birthed vaginally have a greater number of bacteria than babies born by C-section. Because of this a c-section can increase the risks of allergies, eczema, and even obesity. The gut flora is then expanded as the baby eats, puts things in their mouths, and interacts with their world. Our microbiome expands in two ways.
Diversity – what types of bacteria
Abundance – how many bacteria
We want both. Think of your microbes like species in a rainforest. You don’t just want toucans in your forest, you want many birds. You also want monkeys, sloths, tigers, and insects. And you don’t just want 1 of each type of bird, you want a flock! In the same way, you want your gut to be like a happy, healthy rainforest with an abundance of animals and diversity in species.
Why This Matters
When things are in balance we are healthy. Systems are working how they are meant to work. When out of balance we experience dysbiosis. This can lead to things like gastrointestinal troubles, chrones, depression, diabetes, allergies, and skin disorders like eczema.
Many things cause imbalances.
Antibiotics and certain medications
Alcohol and tobacco
Bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections
Western diet and convenience foods that are high sugar simple carbs
How Do We Achieve Microbial Diversity
The good news is that our microbiome is living and we can introduce healthy bacteria to alter the composition. We can increase the types and amount of beneficial bacteria by doing the opposite of the things that cause imbalances.
Avoid medication when possible – modern medicine can be life-saving and important when needed but too many antibiotics can have bad effects. And there’s a chance that bad bacteria (like candida) will overpopulate after this. If you do need to take a course of antibiotics be diligent about re-establishing a healthy gut flora.
Limit overconsumption of alcohol and tobacco
Eat a whole food healthy diet - Bacteria in your gut eat the food we eat.
Increase the variety of prebiotics and probiotics you eat - prebiotics feed the friendly probiotic bacteria. Prebiotics are fruits and vegetables like garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, artichoke, apples, bananas, whole grains like barley and oats and other nutrient-dense foods like flax seeds and dandelion greens. Probiotics are fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, milk kefir and water kefir, and (our favourite) kombucha.
Reduce stress – This is easier said than done. Many factors contribute to stress but if we can identify the areas of our life that are causing the most stress we can make positive changes. Get out in nature, more hikes, more trees, more time outdoors has been shown to have positive effects on stress reduction and recovery in the body.
Health shouldn’t be complicated. These are easy, accessible ways to make positive changes to your microbiome and enhance your quality of life.