The Microbiome - a supportive guide
Did you know that your body is host to a complex microcosm of friendly bacteria, also known as the microbiome?
The human intestines, and even the surfaces of our body, are inhabited by trillions of microorganisms that are crucial to our health and well being. These friendly bacteria, fungi and viruses, most of which reside in the gut, make up the “microbiome”—a complex microcosm, almost 5 pounds in total weight! At this size and due to its many critical roles in human physiology, some argue that this is in fact, one of the largest “organs” in the body. If the microbiome becomes out of balance, this will create a host of problems throughout the body, leading to progressively lower health status and perhaps even chronic disease.
Most of us have experienced a significant amount of microbiome disruption by childhood, and certainly by adulthood. This is true even for those who have made a conscious effort to support their microbiome due to a certain, albeit varying, level of inevitable environmental circumstance and external influence. To learn how you can reverse the negative effects on your microbiome to date, and further support overall health moving forward, read on!
All humans are born with a nearly-sterile gut. However, by the time we reach our adult years, we carry 5lbs of bacteria in our body. While the majority of that weight is healthy bacteria that helps us digest food, absorb and even produce essential vitamins, and prevent invaders from harming the body, it is very easy to disrupt this delicate balance – with any disruption having far-reaching health consequences.
But how would you know if your gut microbiome is out of balance? It’s important to first recognize that there are over 1000 different species of bacteria in our gut, and on each bodily surface - and each one has a different function. Thus, each of us experience a very unique profile of imbalance, and an unhealthy gut then often manifests in a number of ways – these may be newly emerging symptoms and/or the exacerbation of existing conditions;
(gas, bloating, heartburn, irregular bowel movements)
Food allergies or sensitivites
Eczema, acne and rashes
Frequent colds or flu, UTIs and yeast infections
(e.g. Type 1 Diabetes, Crohn's Disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, Psoriasis, Asthma etc.)
Mood and general well being
(irratability, anxiety, depression, brain fog, fatigue)
Our first microbial exposure is at birth, when we pass through our mother’s birth canal. The vagina is populated with beneficial bacteria that is crucial to an infant’s well being. In fact, caesarean-born babies have been shown to have a entirely different microbiome due to their sterile birth environment. In turn, this makes them more prone to asthma, allergies and irritable bowel disease.
An improper diet is potentially one of the greatest threats to our microbiome—and it starts at birth. Research shows that breast milk helps is full of important bacteria that is known to protect against harmful microorganisms attacking a baby’s digestive tract—an important factor in preventing colic and eczema. However, this is not to say formula-fed babies are destined to have digestive issues. Dietary choices after infancy are crucial.
The Standard American Diet (SAD), also referred to as the Western Pattern Diet (WPD) is the average North American dietary pattern, characterized by high consumption of red meat, refined grains, high-fructose corn syrup, fried foods, homogenized dairy and artificial sugars. These over-processed foods promote all sorts of inflammation in the gut. The more processed food we eat, the quicker we eliminate the good guys in the gut and literally feed the bad guys.
BUT……There is more to our bacterial balance than what we eat. Our environment also plays a huge role. Now more than ever, we are encouraged to avoid all outside germs to keep ourselves safe. However, it has been theorized that over-sanitization could be linked to poorer health due to a diminished exposure to germs that are beneficial to our immune system, and also killing the microbiome on the body surfaces. Another vital factor to consider is hormonal medications and others - anti-biotics quite literally kill the beneficial populations in our body as well as their target, creating a vicious cycle for years to follow. Avoiding unnecessary medication and hormonal treatments can be instrumental in protecting our gut, but should be guided by a qualified alternative health care professional and be replaced with an appropriate alternative under their guidance.
Curious to learn more about your microbiome? Stay tuned for Part II of this article series!
Written by Andrew Gregg, BHSc., RHN
Andrew is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Director of Clinical Research at dicentra. Andrew’s practice as a Registered Holistic Nutritionist focuses on his special interests in health through optimal nutrition, traditional diets and food combining, digestive health & probiotics, mental wellness, disease prevention and management.
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