The Microbiome Understanding Its Crucial Role In Your Health
he human body contains ten times more microbial cells than human cells. While we are made up of ten trillion human cells, there are one hundred trillion microbial cells in and on the body. These bacteria, fungi and viruses are collectively known as the microbiota and their genes are called the microbiome. They mainly live in the gut (intestines) and weigh as much as the brain (2 –5lbs.), making the microbiome one of the largest organs in the body. The Microbiome: Crucial for health Recent research has shown the microbiome plays a vital role in health and disease. A healthy microbiome is diversified with many different strains of bacteria and fungi. There is a balance between good and bad microbes and they work together with the immune system and central nervous system to maintain gut, brain, heart and overall health. Too few strains of healthy microbes and an overgrowth of pathogenic (disease) microorganisms creates an imbalance called ‘gut dysbiosis’. The gut’s protective mucus barrier becomes thin and the cell lining becomes ‘leaky’ as gaps develop between the cells in the intestine. This ‘leaky gut’ allows molecules, which should remain in the gut, to pass into the bloodstream. The body attacks these foreign invaders and creates an inflammatory response, that drives the development of many chronic diseases. Allergies, asthma, autoimmune disorders (e.g. celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis), cancer, depression, gut disorders (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease), heart disease, high cholesterol, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes and even weight gain and obesity are all associated with an unhealthy microbiome and gut dysbiosis. In obesity, an unhealthy microbiome increases hunger sensations, decreases satiety, increases insulin levels,
and thus, changes appetite, metabolism and blood sugar control. In anxiety and depression, an undiversified microbiome changes the production of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which directly affects mood and behavior. The influence of the gut and the microbiome over human health is now considered so powerful it is often referred to as the ‘second brain’. Practical solutions to improve your gut microbiome and health Improving gut health and the microbiome is a fundamental component of managing chronic diseases and achieving optimal wellbeing. There are many simple lifestyle changes that can help repair gut dysbiosis and improve overall health. Diet –Add new fiber sources to the diet each week (e.g. sweet potatoes, plantains, leaks) and enjoy fermented foods (e.g. sauerkraut, kimchi) daily. Increase omega 3 fatty acids (e.g. wild caught fish, walnuts) and replace inflammatory oils like canola oil and peanut oil with anti-inflammatory oils like extra virgin olive oil. Eat more foods containing polyphenols (e.g. apples, berries, cherries, grapes). Enjoy homemade chocolate for an extra boost of antioxidants! Remove foods from the diet you know you are sensitive or allergic to. Avoid artificial sweeteners and oxidized fats in fried and processed foods, and limit processed sugar. Meal Timing – Increasing the amount time between your last meal/snack of the day and your first meal of the next day (overnight fast) increases the diversity of good bacteria. While studies have shown the optimal amount of fasting is 16 hours per day, eating your meals in an 8-hour window, this is not feasible or practical for most. Thus, aim to increase your overnight fast as much as you can by not eating late at night.