Keeping the microbes in your tummy happy is very, very important. They impact our overall health, weight, mood, allergies, and illness. Gut microbes can also have influences on metabolism and mental health. As the Gut Microbiome is a relatively new focus of study, science is learning just how much of our health is linked to the microscopic bacteria in our gut.
After suffering two bouts of food-borne illness (from restaurant food) only 18 days apart, I was inspired to learn more about the impact of gut health. I found an on-line class focusing on just that. See link below. After my adventures in what was likely Norovirus, I started taking probiotics to help bring balance back to my ravaged tummy.
We have multiple microbiome sites on our bodies, each with its own unique bacterial inhabitants. Skin, nose, mouth, vaginal, and gut – to name a few. For example, how you are born can affect your health as an infant and child. Studies have shown children of vaginal births tend to have fewer allergies, asthma and illnesses than children born from a C-section. Why? Because when traveling through the birth canal, the baby is exposed to the mother’s vaginal microbes VS with a C-section, the baby is exposed to the mother’s skin microbes. It appears the vaginal microbes are better at helping the baby develop it’s own microbiome sites as the child ages, as well as assist in the set up the immunity of the child. Studies are already underway to test this further by wiping a newborn (delivered via C-section) with swab taken from the mother’s vagina – to expose the infant to the vaginal microbes when normally the infant would only be exposed to the skin microbes. Through advanced testing, results are showing the child’s different microbiome sites developing normally and the child to have fewer health issues in early life.
The primary factors that affect the health of one’s gut microbiome are:
All the different microbes serve a purpose and are critical to our health. Keeping them balanced is the trick. For the most part, they regulate themselves with little help from us. But there are things that can tip the scales and cause damage, such as ingesting harmful bacteria as when you experience food poisoning. Once in your gut, the bad bacteria multiply at a very quick rate. When there are too many, your body launches an attack and the only way to get the bad guys out of your system is by force. As anyone who has suffered a food-borne illness can tell you, it’s the worst 8 or so hours of your life. You are crippled by increasing stomach pain, incapable of doing anything but lie on the bathroom floor in misery and ride out the waves of violent vomiting and diarrhea. After such an attack, your gut microbiome is completely ravaged and needs to rebuild. But safely! Probiotics help to remake what was damaged.
Antibiotics also cause harm. An antibiotics job is to destroy certain types of bacteria. There are wide range antibiotics (ones that target a wide range of bacteria) and narrow range antibiotics. Unfortunately, neither can differentiate between the good type of bacteria and the bad, so it all has to go. That’s why it’s really not a good idea to needlessly take antibiotics at the drop of a hat and for every little thing. Science is actually finding out that antibiotics can do more harm than good. The worst part is they can do irreversible damage. Meaning, after enough antibiotic use, one’s gut will never be the same (and not for the better). Antibiotic use also explains why some women get yeast infections. Because the delicate balance of the vaginal bacteria is affected by the antibiotics. As a side note, taking probiotics while also on antibiotics can help (to a degree) combat the problem. Also, taking probiotics or consuming naturally probiotic foods from time to time can also help keep your gut bacteria healthy.
However, many bacteria are actually good for us! Some germs and bacteria help our immune system to do its job and actually grow stronger. Our bodies are constantly learning, changing and adapting to our environment, diet, activities and such. To an extent, by limiting our exposure to germs and bacteria, we are doing ourselves a disservice. Without the exposure to germs, how does our body know to defend itself or launch an attack when threatened? It doesn’t. Maybe think twice the next time you habitually reach for the Purell. It also goes without saying that you probably shouldn’t lick the hand weights at the gym. Or put your fingers in your mouth after handling raw chicken.
Finally, diet is critical. The typical American diet (IE heavy on the sugar, sodium and carbohydrates (with limited fruits, vegetables and dietary fiber) is BAD! Let me say it again – the typical American diet is BAD for us. Our gut microbes thrive on a diverse diet of primarily plant-based foods. Eat the rainbow (not Skittles) is the idea. Author and Food Educator Michael Pollan has suggested several themes to eat by:
“If it’s a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.”
“Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of your milk.”
“It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.”
If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it. For example, you know what a banana is. An ingredient list is not needed – it’s a banana. You know what a kale is. Tomato, apple, carrot, pear, strawberry, etc. You know what real (refrigeration required) cheese is. You know what olive oil is. You know what quality bakery bread is (not Wonder). You know what almonds are (not coated with toffee). You know what garbanzo beans are. You know what fish is. You know what beef, pork and chicken are – with these, it’s best to also know if they come from a humane farmer, if antibiotics were used, etc. – but you get my point.
What is Cheese Wiz? What is Cool Whip? What is Kraft (green cylindrical canister, NO refrigeration required) Parmesan Cheese? What are artificial sweeteners? Are they more chemicals than recognizable food? If the ingredient list includes items you don’t know, then you don’t know what you are eating! The food manufacturers would like to keep it that way, so we continue to blindly buy their products.
I could go on this tirade for some time, but my point is – Eat Real Food. Wholesome, in season, from a garden or farm, NOT from a box or package.
So often (and surprisingly we don’t realize it or don’t want to hear it) it all comes down to our diet IE what we put into our bodies. I’ve been saying this quote by Hippocrates for quite some time –
“Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”