The latest big thing in health is the microbiome. And for good reason!

Advancements in science are showing us that our microbiome is key to our health and longevity, in almost every area of our being.

RELATED: Understanding the gut-skin axis

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Wait, what is this microbiome I keep hearing so much about?

Your microbiome is the community of microscopic bacteria, viruses, and fungi living both on the outside, and inside, of you.

In fact, it is believed that we are more bacteria than human. Whilst the exact ratio varies depending on where samples are taken from (i.e lower bowel versus upper digestive tract). It is estimated that there are somewhere between four to ten times as many bacterial cells in and on our body as there are human cells.

We cannot deny it, these bacteria are a living part of us.

These colonies are found in and on nearly every part of your body, and their diversity and abundance change your health risk.

Possibly the largest and most influential of microbiomes, is found in the lower end of our digestive tract.

This community is responsible for everything from immune system function, to brain health, to energy metabolism, to cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Healthy gut bacteria work by taking the remnants of foods we don’t easily digest ourselves, plant fibers, and converting them into a usable form. Our body then uses it for cell energy and repair, DNA transcription, 

Let’s take a look at 8 things that mess with your microbiome

1. Being a carnivore

Foods high in animal-protein, such as meat, eggs, and dairy, have been shown to be detrimental to our gut microbiome by encouraging the growth of unhealthy bacteria

This unhealthy bacteria feeds on animal-protein and converts it into damaging compounds. These compounds damage your cells, leading to age related diseases such as; macular degeneration, heart disease, some cancers, memory decline, as well as diseases of the gut.

2. Forgoing plants

On the other hand, plant-based non-digestible carbohydrates are beneficial to gut health. Not having enough fruit, vegetables, and grains in our diet is one of the biggest health burdens of western diets.

These types of foods are hard for our own body to digest, so they provide a rich source of nutrients for helpful bacteria.

These healthy bacteria eat the remnants of these foods, and their waste products are what keep your gut lining healthy, (among many other functions).

Great examples of fiber-rich foods you can include in your diet are:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans
  • Oats
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Hemp
  • Sweet potatoes

3. Misusing Antibiotics

The overuse and misuse of antibiotics can decimate both your good and bad bacteria, impacting your overall health and wellbeing.

Don’t get me wrong, antibiotics are life savers. Their appropriate use has single handedly had the biggest impact in human longevity in modern history. However, as with any medicine, there are possible side effects, too.  

Antibiotics, just as the name implies work “against - bacteria”. In particular, broad spectrum antibiotics will indiscriminately kill all bacteria, good or bad.

We don’t want to discourage antibiotic use. Used correctly they do a great deal of good. What we do need to do is; 

  • make sure that antibiotics are used as prescribed, 
  • only taken for bacteria illnesses not viral, 
  • and are taken in conjunction with probiotics, which will help maintain a healthy gut community.

4. Using Anti-bacterial products

Antibacterial products are also designed to decrease bacteria numbers - however they are typically focused on your skin! Most deodorants, soaps, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, and laundry detergents can have antibacterial properties.

There are emerging studies showing that these products may cross the skin barrier into your body, altering your gut microbiome. These studies are however, small in number and mainly tested in animal populations, not humans.

There is, however, research suggesting that there is virtually no difference between plain and anti-bacterial products like soaps, in regards to hygiene. So you may as well play it safe and use the plain variety.

5. Forgetting your Probiotics

A probiotic is a food or supplement which has been cultured in a way so that it contains healthy bacteria.

Eating probiotics helps your body get colonised with a healthy microbiome.

Probiotic foods include:

  • kefir
  • yogurt (not the super sugary flavored kind, the cultured, thick kind)
  • kimchi
  • sauerkraut
  • tempeh
  • natto
  • miso
  • pickles (in salty brine, not vinegar)

6. Being stressed out

Did you know that your gut can communicate directly with your brain? It does so via a nerve called the vagus or vagal nerve. This bi-directional pathway not only means that an unhealthy microbiome in your gut could influence your brain health, but also that being stressed and anxious may impact your gut health.

The research into the impact stress and anxiety have on gut health is still expanding. However in these early stages suggestions are that focusing on positive mental health will have an impact on gut health, and thus overall wellness.

7. Not exercising

Yes exercise too is linked to a healthier gut community. So our sedentary lifestyle is leading to a poor gut microbiome. 

The mechanism leading to poor gut health might be somewhat linked to the next point...being anti-inflammatory.

It is important to note that exercise needs to be fun and enjoyable for these benefits to be seen. If exercise is causing stress, it may actually negatively alter the gut microbiome. Exercise doesn't have to be a dreaded activity - find what works for you. Whether it's working out with your partner, a new big fitness trend or just 20 minutes bodyweight training.

8. Having a diet low in anti-inflammatory foods

You have two main types of inflammation: 

  • acute inflammation -- which happens when you have a sudden illness or injury, for example a graze on your knee, or the common cold.
  • chronic inflammation -- this is when your immune system is activated for a prolonged period of time.

Chronic inflammation is dangerous for your long term health. It is linked to diseases such as: 

  • cardiovascular disease
  • cancer
  • depression
  • dementia
  • diabetes

Anti-inflammatory foods can increase the diversity of healthy gut microbes in your body. Which can help to keep your immune system robust, amongst many other things.

Anti-inflammatory foods are quite diverse. So there will definitely be some you can include in your diet;

It really makes common sense, but even our gut microbiome is telling us to eat more plants, cut back on animal fats and proteins, eat healthy fats, exercise more, and try to eliminate some stress out of our lives.

What changes could you make to create a healthier gut bacteria community?

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