Microbiome whaaaaat? What is she talking about now? Well, let me enlighten you. Science is now showing how powerful our microbiome is, and how it influences many different areas of our body. In today’s post, I am covering what the microbiome is, why it’s so important, and 5 ways to support it. If you’re like most people, you probably don’t think too much about what’s inside your body. Especially when it comes to the bacteria that call our body home.
We’re what’s known as a “host” for critters like bacteria, yeasts, and the like. Isn’t that weird? And while many of us think of those things as something bad, they’re actually very, very important.
What is our Microbiome?
The trillions of microbes — over 100 trillion to be exact — including bacteria, yeasts, viruses, and fungi living in and on our body are collectively known as our “microbiome”. Over half of our body is made up of bacterial cells involving 1,000 species and over 7,000 strains. Crazy! Even crazier is that these bacterial cells outnumber human cells by 10 to 1.
These microbes live in and on us. Areas like our skin, our armpits, the vagina, and a large percentage in our colon. The colonization of these microbes begins to establish itself at birth and is one of the reasons why vaginal deliveries are beneficial for babies.
These microbes play essential roles in keeping us healthy. They do so by:
- Supporting and educating our immune system by communicating with immune cells
- Producing important nutrients, amino acids, and short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, the primary energy source for colon cells that helps reduce inflammation
- Controlling the permeability of epithelial cells by mediating tight junction formation (this means reducing leaky gut)
- Preventing bad bacteria from adhering to intestinal tissue. Yep, literally preventing them from “sticking” to your intestinal walls.
- Influencing gut motility — the movements of the digestive system and the transit of the contents within it.
- Secreting many kinds of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine
Why a healthy microbiome matters
I know it can seem hard to wrap your head around why your gut bacteria really matter. Who cares, right? But the reality is that without a healthy microbiome, you’re much more likely to suffer from issues like depression, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and other gastrointestinal disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, and even obesity.
A robust, diverse gut flora means a happy and healthy whole body. The two are intricately connected, and emerging research continues to demonstrate the direct and indirect relationship between gut health and human physiology.
How to support your Microbiome
There are many things we can do to support our microbiome and all those incredible little creatures inside of us. What we eat each and every day is one of the best ways to influence the health of our microbiota, because they feed off of specific types of fibres found in an array of whole foods.
- Eat a diverse range of fibre-rich plant foods: whole, fresh vegetables and fruits contain phytonutrients and fibres that support the health of our microbiome and keep our bowels moving regularly
- Consume prebiotic foods: these are foods that our microbiota use as fuel due to the specific fermentable sugars and fibres they contain, such as cabbage, lentils, onion, garlic, and artichokes. These tend to cause a higher likelihood of gas production, so increase your consumption gradually if needed.
- Consume fermented foods: foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and kombucha contain probiotics — beneficial bacteria that support our digestive system. Probiotic supplementation can also be beneficial for those who need extra support.
- Avoid overuse of antibiotics when possible: I’m by NO means suggesting that you disregard the advice of your doctor if you have an infection, but it’s wise to avoid them in unnecessary cases. This is due to the disruption they cause to the delicate balance of our gut flora by killing off both the “bad” and “good” bacteria.
- Limit highly processed foods: this includes refined sugars, starches, and oils that in excess may disrupt the balance of our gut flora. An abundance of whole, fresh foods is the best choice for supporting our microbiome!
Be healthy. Be happy.