Happy Microbiome…. Healthy You!
Many of you may have heard the term “Microbiome,” particularly related to gut health. So, what is the Microbiome?
The microbiome is literally an entire community of microorganisms that are living within our body. This includes both “good” bacteria, which are beneficial to us, as well as strains of pathogenic microorganisms, which if not kept in check, can be detrimental to our health. It is estimated that approximately 10-100 trillion symbiotic microorganisms live within our bodies, primarily in the digestive tract. The microbiome is crucial to our health, as it plays a significant role in our ability to appropriately digest and assimilate nutrients, as well as our metabolism and our ability to maintain a healthy weight. There, the microbiome likely plays a central role in obesity. Further, the health of our microbiome impacts our immune system, as well as our mood. It has been said, by a number of researchers, that nearly 90% of all diseases can be tracked back to the health of the gut and our microbiome.
So, what can negatively affect our microbiome? Diet can play a major role in the maintenance of a healthy microbiome. Foods that cause inflammation can be detrimental to the microbiome, as inflammation disrupts the ability of the body to properly digest nutrients. Further, certain foods, namely sugar, aids in the proliferation of “bad” bacteria in the gut and the crowding out of the “good” bacteria. Proinflammatory foods include processed and packaged foods, which include add sugars, hydrogenated and trans fats, refined carbohydrates and processed grains, refined vegetables oils (i.e. corn, canola and soybean) and conventional meats, poultry and eggs which are high in proinflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids, as well as conventional dairy.
One of the best ways to maintain a healthy microbiome is through our diet. Focusing on whole, real foods that are high in antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory in nature, while limiting or completely eliminating foods that promote inflammation is essential. Naturally anti-inflammatory foods include fresh fruits and vegetables which are high in phytonutrients and antioxidants, wild caught fish, pasture-raised meat/poultry and cage free eggs, rich in protein, Omega-3 fatty acids (anti-inflammatory) and key nutrients like B vitamins, healthy fats (i.e. extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter), nuts, seeds and beans/legumes which are rich in essential nutrients, as well as herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, oregano and cinnamon which are naturally beneficial to the gut. Further, eating foods that are natural probiotics, which repopulate the gut with “good” bacteria, such as fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir, as well as fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchee.
Stress, as well as antibiotics, can also disrupt the balance bacteria in the gut. Although antibiotics are necessary to fight off certain types of infections, they also wreak havoc on the microbiome, as they often indiscriminately kill off the “good” bacteria. The key is to avoid the overuse, and sometimes unnecessary use of antibiotics. When we must use them, ensure we take the necessary steps via diet and supplementation to help the gut to regain the appropriate balance of bacteria.
In addition to digestive issues, as well the impact to weight, an imbalance in the microbiome has been linked to a number of other health conditions, namely:
Autoimmune Conditions (i.e. Hashimoto’s disease, Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) and Crohn’s Disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, etc.): Autoimmune reactions often stem from an overactive immune system, resulting in inflammation and often tied to gut health. Systematic inflammation of the digestive tract can lead to damage to the gut lining, which is called “leaky gut syndrome.” Small openings in the gut lining allow pieces of undigested food to leak into the bloodstream, resulting in an immune reaction. Further, certain strains of bacteria can also promote inflammation and the deterioration of joints, as see in rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis.
Hypothyroidism: Although Hashimoto’s disease is a type of hypothyroidism, the imbalance of gut bacteria can lead to decreased thyroid function in general. The thyroid gland controls metabolism and thyroid dysfunction and therefore can have significant impacts on weight. The bacteria in the gut are crucial to digestion and the proper absorption of key nutrients. Any imbalance in the microbiome can directly lead to nutrient deficiencies, namely selenium and iodine. Iodine is essential to the production of thyroid hormone, whereas as selenium is necessary for the conversion of T4 (inactive form of thyroid hormone) to T3 (active form of thyroid hormone).
Allergies, Asthma and Food Sensitivities: Allergic reactions to either foods or environmental factors leads to an immune response and associated inflammation. Certain strains of bacteria help to lower inflammation. Ensuring a balanced microbiome, along with eating an anti-inflammatory diet, can lessen the allergic responses and symptoms.
Brain Health/Cognitive Decline and Mood Disorders (Alzheimer’s, dementia, anxiety and depression): The proper functioning of the brain is reliant on neurotransmitters, which are biochemicals that aid in neural communication. These include: serotonin (the “feel good” hormone, often low in people with depression), dopamine (often referred to as the “reward” hormone as it promotes a feeling of bliss and euphoria), norepinephrine/epinephrine (produced under stress and is associated with alertness and focus) and GABA (reduces excitability, promotes calmness and aids in sleep). The gut is directly related to the brain, in that the digestive tract contains its own neural network called the “enteric nervous system,” which allows for direct communication with the brain. Further, the microbiome is vital in the production of these key neurotransmitters. Therefore, any disruption in the gut and the microbiome can directly impact our mood and cognitive function.
Impaired Immune Function: The gut is the foundation of our immune health. Did you know that 70-80% of our immune system is located in the digestive tract? As such, an imbalance in the microbiome, will directly impact our immune system. Our digestive tract is the first line of defense between anything we have eaten and the bloodstream. Think of how many times we may have eaten food without washing our hands or eaten food that may have inadvertently contained a pathogen, yet we did not get sick. The bacteria in our gut protect us from these types of invaders and also regulate inflammation. Therefore, a healthy microbiome is fundamental to our overall health.