The microbiome if a hot area of interest for not only researchers, but also the general public and citizen scientist. In this blog post, I am going to myth bust a few commonly held beliefs and advise you of the main do's and don'ts for microbiome wellness.
Interesting microbiome facts:
The microbiome is now being thought of as another organ in our body and weighs around 2.5 kgs. There are 200 times more genes in our microbiome than in our body! It has many functions which are essential to human health. The microbiome houses around 70% of our immune system, it may play a role in weight management, it produces either pro or anti-inflammatory substances, it makes certain vitamins and aids in the digestion of our food and even the metabolism of certain herbal medicines and drugs.
Microbiome health or lack thereof has been linked to various disease states including gut disorders, alzheimers, parkinsons, multiple sclerosis and many more. Having a healthy microbiome can protect you from pain related syndromes, fatigue, brain fog, autoimmune disease, poor immunity and much more. To improve the health of your microbiome, be sure to follow this advice:
Eat a rainbow every day. I have previously written about the health benefits of eating phytonutrients every day and this is a common theme in my social media posts. My general advice is to try to eat 2 different sources of orange, yellow, green, white, purple and red plant foods every single day.
Eat a diverse diet - aim for 40 different plants each week and mix it up every week.
Eat heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables when available.
Try shopping at farmers markets as much as possible so the food hasn't been sitting in cold storage for months and gas ripened. Better yet, grow your own so you eat fresher food and get exposed to soil based microorganisms!
Eat organic as much as possible as the sprays used on conventional foods have an antibiotic like effect on our gut bacteria.
Eat lots of fiber as fiber is our friendly bacterias food of choice.
Eat different types of fiber as they all feed different types of bacteria. Fiber sources include: * Inulin and FOS found in leek, garlic, onion, jerusalem artichoke and asparagus
* Resistant starch from cooled, cooked potato, green bananas, sourghum and legumes
* Polyphenols found in chocolate, tea and purple fruits and vegetables
* Colonic foods such as green tea and psyllium.
Don't do this...
Take antibiotics regularly unless it is a life and death situation as antibiotics are incredibly detrimental to the diversity of your microbiome. Once you have killed off a species of bacteria, you can't get it back.
Ingest essential oils as essential oils disrupt the cell membrane of bacterial cells causing the contents to leak out and the bacteria to die. The trend of ingesting essential oils is incredibly harmful to the microbiome and akin to taking lower dose antibiotics.
Eat a high fat diet - SORRY to all the keto people out there, but we now know there are some really nasty types of bacteria in the microbiome which eat bile (which is produced when we eat dietary fat) and then produce hydrogen sulfide which is incredibly inflammatory to the gut and human health. I am certainly not saying no one every should go on a keto diet, and I do prescribe this type of diet therapeutically, however before I do this, I like to get a Ubiome gut explorer test done to make sure there aren't too many of these hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria in the microbiome - I am a strong believer of there is no one perfect diet for everyone, we need to do what is right for our individual body.
Probiotics will permanently colonize in the gut, so it doesn't matter how many antibiotics I take as long as I consume good bacteria also. While this is a good idea to take probiotics if you need to take antibiotics as it helps the microbiome bounce back quicker, it
doesn't completely offset the damage that antibiotics cause to the microbiome. I am certainly not saying you need to avoid antibiotics completely, however I am saying that you should try to find an alternative if possible and make sure that if you need antibiotics, you pop in for an acute care consult so I can prescribe the right type of bacteria for antibiotic preservation, as well as use a high potency prebiotic to feed the good bacteria, or better yet, may be able to offer you a great alternative option. For example, herbal medicine is excellent for supporting you though urinary tract infections, ear infections and colds and flu.
The GAPS diet is the best diet for microbiome and gut health - BIG MYTH! This diet is incredibly high in saturated fat - see my point above about the keto diet. This is why people get very unwell during the initial stages of this diet - they are increasing the hydrogen sulfide in the gut and causing leaky gut and inflammation. A GAPS diet will starve the beneficial species of your bacteria and contrary to popular belief, a probiotic will not offset this (see my point below). If you have improved on this type of diet, it is most likely due to your immune system being reactive to the microbiome. Get a Ubiome gut explorer test and get to the bottom of the problem once and for all. Once again, there is no one perfect solution for everyone - getting qualified, professional advice will help you choose the best diet for you. I have seen some very unwell people who have come to me after following this type of diet!
Sauerkraut and kombucha are the same as probiotics - while these foods do have probiotic bugs in them, they are unlikely to have clinically researched strains of beneficial bacteria. I recommend these foods as a good way to support general wellness, but not so great if your treating an infection such as candida and sometimes maybe best to avoid them entirely. Did you know that Koreans have the highest rates of oesophageal cancer and it is believed to be caused by their regular consumption of kim chi? So if you suffer from gastro oesophageal reflux disease, please avoid fermented foods until the problem is resolved. Chat to me about some effective naturopathic remedies for reflux.
All probiotics are the same - WRONG. Probiotic strains are all unique in their therapeutic action. Some help reduce the incidence and severity of cold and flu, others treat vaginal infections and others yet help the microbiome bounce back after antibiotics. You need to take the correct strain for the purpose you are using it for. If you are after more of a general supportive product, you are much better served following the dietary advice given above or to take a prebiotic which is fuel for many different beneficial species of bacteria in your microbiome. I regularly prescribe inulin, partially hydrolized guar gum, lactulose and polyphenol powders to improve the health of the microbiome.
The last myth I want to bust is that your appendix is a useless organ - we now understand that the appendix is a reservoir for bacterial seeds to help keep your microbiome healthy. While it is essential to always follow your doctors advice when faced with a life and death situation such as an appendix which is about to rupture and cause septicaemia, i would caution against having it removed for no good reason (which I have heard has happened with some of my clients).
So with microbiome health, the general rules are to protect and preserve it as much as possible and the best way to do this is to eat a plant slant diet full of lots of dietary diversity.
If the microbiome fascinates you like it does me, then why not get your microbiome analysed? I recommend the Ubiome Gut Explorer test which is available online to purchase directly from Ubiome. Once they tell you your results are ready, give me your login details and book an appointment for me to analyse your results and give you personalised tips for improving the health of your gut bacteria!
Yours in health,