The gut microbiome is a vast community of trillions of bacteria and fungi that inhabit your gastrointestinal tract. It has a major influence on your metabolism, body weight, risk of developing allergies and certain illnesses, appetite and mood. These microbes mostly live in your lower intestine and outnumber all the other cells in your body by a factor of around 9:1. We can view them as a newly discovered organ, weighing slightly more than our brains and nearly as vital. There are some organs we can live without, like our tonsils and appendix, but we wouldn’t survive long without our gut microbes. No two microbiomes are the same – we are all unique. And more than ever, we’re finding out just how important these microbes are. For example, there is mounting evidence that babies born via caesarean section miss out on some of the microbes they would obtain through a vaginal birth, which may make them more vulnerable to obesity, allergies and asthma.
Health conditions that are associated with microbiome disturbance range from gut conditions (including Coeliac, Crohn’s disease, IBS, ulcerative colitis, diverticular disease, diarrhea, fatty liver disease); mind disorders (including anxiety, depression, autism, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease); Immune disorders (including asthma, atopic eczema, MS, Rheumatoid arthritis); Chronic fatigue, recurrent UTIs, Obesity and Diabetes (Both type 1 and 2).
Our diet, medications and lifestyle influences microbiome health and this article explains some strategies to keep it happy and our bodies healthy.
- Eat more microbiota-nourishing, high-fibre foods – aim for 40+ plant foods each week especially legumes. Aim for more than 40g per day (about double the current average intake). Ideas are to add red lentils to thicken stews/curries instead of cornflour; add chickpeas to anything (think chicken stir fries, fried rice and curries); add red kidney beans to chilli; and mixed legumes in soups and casseroles)
- Pick high-fibre grains and vegetables – Good examples are artichokes, leeks, onions and garlic, which all contain high levels of inulin (a prebiotic fibre). Some vegetables like lettuce have little fibre or nutrient value.
- Polyphenols are antioxidants that act as fuel for microbes. Eat lots of coloured vegies and fruits (especially those in season), nuts, seeds, berries, olive oil, brassicas, coffee and tea – especially green tea.
- Avoid snacking – increase the interval between meals to give the microbes a rest.
- Occasionally skip a meal or have an extended fast – this seems to reduce weight gain.
- Eat plenty of fermented foods containing live microbes. Good choices are unsweetened yoghurt; kefir (a sour milk drink with five times as many microbes as yoghurt); raw milk cheeses; sauerkraut; kimchi (a Korean type of sauerkraut made from garlic, cabbage and chili) and soybean-based products such as soy sauce, tempeh and natto.
- Eat Vaalia yoghurt – contains LGG, Bb12 and La5; – eat 1⁄2 cup/day if dairy is tolerated
- Raw cacao powder – 1 Tab/day (organic best) – in smoothies/yoghurt/porridge or in warm milk before bed
- Steer clear of artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and saccharine
They disrupt the metabolism of microbes and reduce gut diversity
Ditch processed foods too, as these also upset microbes’ metabolism. A recent crazy study showed that when a healthy 21 year old ate McDonald’s for 10 days, his diversity score (the number of different bugs) reduced by a massive 40%! See https://theconversation.com/your-gut-bacteria-dont-like-junk-food-even-if-you-do-41564
- Lactulose – 10ml daily- start slowly eg 2.5-5ml/day and reduce dose if bloating/flatulence worsens (available from Chemist but don’t use the dosage on label unless you’re constipated)
- Vitamin E – 1000 IU/day
• Concentrated Turmeric like Meriva turmeric extract – 500mg 3 times daily (see https://www.thorne.com/products/dp/meriva-sf ), Orthoplex Curcuminoid UltraPure, BioMedica CurcuForte or Mediherb Curcuma Active the (available at our clinic in Essendon) have many health benefits, none the least of supporting healthy gut flora
Antibiotics destroy good and bad microbes, and it can take weeks to recover, so don’t take them unless you need them. Their use is also associated with obesity and allergies in animals. Even common medications like paracetamol, proton pump inhibitors (like Zantac) and antacids can interfere with microbes.
- Minimise use of antibacterial products, hand washes and spray as well as avoid over washing.
- Moderate exercise is beneficial
- In small quantities, alcohol has been shown to increase your gut diversity, but large amounts are harmful to your microbes and your health.
- Spend time in the garden and the countryside
- Living with animals improves diversity scores
Want to find out more?
We can organise an extensive test the health of your microbiome by sending a specimen of faeces to a Melbourne lab for $576. The results take around 4 weeks to come back, and can give you an idea of your diversity of species, the percentages of different species and specific suggestions to improve your gut health. Call 9686 2566 or Call our clinic for more information
The author, Doreen Schwegler is a Medical Scientist and Naturopath with over 30 years of experience assistance people to achieve optimal wellness.
For a technical read, see: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/4/1417/htm?fbclid=IwAR1ktR-gsIbdTVI7eWnGcU3U3S7JFSmG1gLJcclInfUIHhkUSK4q5rWBHIk