How do you care for your microbiome?
Do you make sure it’s getting all of the nutrients it needs, protect it from negative stimuli and nurture it when it’s most vulnerable? These may seem like odd questions, but all too often the answer is "no". It’s true that making smart food choices, staying hydrated and performing regular exercise can lead to a healthier lifestyle - but what if taking a more microbiome-targeted approach to your health could further bolster your immune system, increase your mental state, lead to better sleep and slow the progression of disease?
The gut is comprised of trillions of microbial cells, mainly of which are bacteria, that reside in your small intestine. Just like any community, proper balance is required in order to keep things operating smoothly. Your microbial landscape can quickly change depending on your diet, travel, and acquired illness. Thanks to a great deal of scientific research, we now have a better idea of what helps our healthy bacteria thrive, which fends off pathogenic bacteria overgrowth and the subsequent production of molecules that are toxic to us.
The concept of consuming foods that benefit the gut is ancient and dates back to 6,000 BC. Fermented foods have been consumed in the forms of sauerkraut, chutney, various cheeses and milk products across all types of civilizations. However, increased interest in the science behind the beneficial properties of eating for your gut has recently started to take shape in a big way. An unbalanced gut (more “bad bacteria” than good) has been connected to cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, autism, allergies, asthma, depression, and more.
How can you achieve a more balanced gut?
Here are five tips that are easy to integrate into your day-to-day lifestyle:
1.) Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods are a great source of probiotic bacteria, and they’re tasty! Examples of fermented foods are yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha. Keep in mind that it is important to source these foods from organic suppliers and to pay special attention to the amount of sugar in each product.
2.) Eat prebiotic foods
We all gotta’ eat! Just as we consume a variety of foods to keep us energized and sustained, bacteria feed off of prebiotic foods. While we can not digest prebiotic whole foods, bacteria will dine on these all day, resulting in molecule production that promotes healthy cell function. Examples of prebiotic foods are Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, raw onions, leeks, and garlic.
3.) Take a probiotic supplement
While there are mixed reviews of the efficacy of probiotic supplements in literature, most agree that probiotics help to restore balance in a compromised or sick microbiome. Contrary to popular belief, probiotic supplements do not permanently take up residence in your gut, however they can have a strong positive effect as they pass through your system when taken regularly (and can influence what does).
4.) Increase your daily fiber intake
Due to high consumption of processed foods lacking in fiber, also known as the “Western Diet”, Americans consume 10x less fiber than our ancestors did. While fiber is not digestible by our internal enzymes, it feeds our beneficial bacteria, similar to prebiotic foods. In return, our bacteria produce molecules (such as short chain fatty acids) that improve immune function, reduce inflammation, and protect against obesity. Good sources of fiber are legumes, whole grains (barley, farrow) and cruciferous vegetables.
5.) Limit antibiotic use
Have you ever taken an antibiotic for one problem and ended up with another? There are times when antibiotics are the only choice, however many prescribed antibiotics are known as “broad-spectrum” - meaning they target all bacteria. This exposure wipes out nearly all of your good gut bacteria along with the bad. In order to help your microbiome recover properly after antibiotic use, introduce a probiotic supplement and increase your prebiotic/fermented food consumption before, during and after treatment. This extra tender-loving-care will help ensure that good bacteria have a better chance of re-colonizing your gut before the bad bacteria do.