Good Health Takes Guts!

Your body: a delicate balance of cells, DNA, organs, water and the microbiome.  You are more than just your parts! Nearly one pound of your weight is made up of different types of microorganisms that are  mostly living in harmony with us, even helping some of our systems function properly.  Each type of organism has its own genetic information, contributing to your overall genome.  It is even speculated that two thirds of the microbiome is absolutely unique to each human on this planet!

Microbiome means a small habitat of living things - micro: small, biome: living habitat - and is a community of trillions of bacterial organisms that live inside our bodies.

These organisms are mostly made of bacteria that has been deemed “beneficial” and has been observed to aid in some major functions of our bodies.  A small part of the microbiome is pathogenic, which include things like viral and bacterial infections.  

The micro-organisms in the microbiome live in a few major parts of our bodies including but not limited to: the skin, tongue and most importantly the gut.  The tiny critters that take up residence in our intestines are hard at work helping us reduce inflammation and arthritis, prevent leaky gut syndrome, autoimmune diseases and dementia.  But because these are living creatures, they respond both positively and negatively to the environmental situations we subject them to.  They are affected by what we eat, the air we breathe, the stress we are subjected to, lack of sleep, etc.

How is the microbiome established?

A new child is forming with perfectly clean and new body parts. An infant begins to establish a microbiome from inside the womb.  Mom’s bacterial colonies begin to penetrate and settle in baby’s gut. During birth, they are exposed to the vaginal flora of the mother or her skin flora if born by c-section. After baby is born, mom’s breastmilk is chock-full of a million different microorganisms that work very hard to lay a solid foundation for success later in life, programming the immune system from a very early stage.  It is also believed that these bacteria are able to stimulate the production of lymphoid tissue which is helpful for creating healthy intestinal walls and enables the tissue to produce antibodies for pathogens that may enter the gut.  

Many recent studies have been linking the state of the microbiome to many common child-centered ailments like autism and ADHD.  

As technology advances, science uncovers more and more about how the microbiome affects the rest of us.  However, for now, there aren’t a lot of conclusions being drawn by scientists.  There just isn’t enough research out there.  Here’s what an article on the links between gut health and brain function has to say about the subject:

“In general, the problem of causality in microbiome studies is substantial,” says Rob Knight, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Diego.

“It's very difficult to tell if microbial differences you see associated with diseases are causes or consequences.” Researchers are starting to uncover a vast, varied system in which gut microbes influence the brain through hormones, immune molecules and the specialized metabolites that they produce.

Here are a few things we can say pretty safely about the role of gut health and the microbiome:

Getting the Most from Your Meals

Although it is not clear why, it seems as though the beneficial bacteria in your gut play a role in how well you can extract nutrients from your food.  This is the first tile drop in a domino effect that ends in the regulation of insulin, which in turn effects your blood sugar levels, and ultimately your mood.  

Fat Storage

A study in mice showed that when lean mice receive a transplant of gut microbiota from conventional/fat mice, they acquire more body fat without even increasing food intake, indicating that gut bugs influence hormone production like insulin, nutrient extraction and fat storage.  

Inflammation, Leaky Gut and the Immune System

The beneficial bugs in your gut help to keep things running smoothly by reducing inflammation, and thus keeping the mucosal lining inside your intestines healthy. Even the smallest upset in your intestinal wall can cause the food that you should be digesting to enter into your bloodstream.  Here, your immune system considers it a foreign invader and immediately attacks it to get it out of the bloodstream.  If this cycle happens over and over again, it can lead to autoimmune diseases where your immune system gets very confused and begins to attack itself.  It can also lead to food sensitivities and allergies, weight gain, skin issues, fatigue, thyroid problems, depression and anxiety.

Foods that Promote Gut Health

Although researchers have not been able to come to solid conclusions about the links between gut bacteria and overall health, a lot of experts seem to agree on the fact that diversity is key.  The more types of beneficial bacteria that live in our microbiome, the better off we are.  And, since we can influence the microbiome with outside factors, it’s logical to assume we can eat our way to a diverse ecosystem.  The more diversity you can include in your diet, the stronger your lines of defense and prevention!  Here is a list of the best foods to improve your gut:

  • Fresh and whole veggies and fruits - all kinds, shapes and COLORS!  Veggies contain lots of phytonutrients which help control cholesterol, arthritis, cardiovascular, ocular and metabolic health.  Generally speaking, the darker and richer the color, the more beneficial the veggie or fruit.  Fruit contains huge amounts of antioxidants which promote brain health and lower the risk of cancer.
  • Herbs and spices - loaded with terpenes and other naturally occurring chemicals that contain the power to lower inflammation, reduce the risk of infection and even help get rid of an abundance of yeast!  Many spices and herbs contain many of these powers at once, like ginger. Ginger is an antioxidant, can fight nausea, lower inflammation, fight bad bacteria and aid the absorption of vital minerals and other nutrients from your food.
  • Wild-caught fish, cage-free eggs and grass-fed beef - higher in omega-3 fatty acids than farm-raised foods and great sources of protein, healthy fats, and essential nutrients like zinc, selenium and B vitamins, all powerful helpers in keeping your systems functioning properly.  Wild-caught, cage-free and grass-fed animals are much higher in Omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally farmed animals.  
  • Healthy Fats - avocados, extra virgin olive oil (best when consumed unheated), coconut oil, grass-fed butter (higher in Omega-3 fatty acids than non grass-fed) Ancient Grains, legumes and beans - Anasazi, Adzuki and black beans, black eyed peas, lentils, chickpeas, black rice, farro, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, etc.  These items are best when sprouted and 100 percent unrefined/whole.
  • Probiotics - foods that have been fermented like sauerkraut, kombucha and yogurt are packed with living, beneficial bacteria or probiotics.  After eating probiotic foods, the critters find a cozy spot in the intestinal walls and begin to communicate with your brain via the vagus nerve, defend you against harmful bacteria and toxins that enter the body.  The more diversity of these critters in your gut, the better chance you have of staying healthy.  Eating these foods on an empty stomach can increase the potency of these critters and can make it easier for them to establish themselves in your gut.

Eating a wide variety of fruits and veggies every day ensures happy digestion.

Enjoying yogurt can contribute to a healthy microbiome.

Herbs and spices don't just taste good, they give us vital nutrients and antioxidants that contribute to our gut health.

The Takeaway

What did we learn today, class?  The microbiome is made of trillions of bacterial organisms that perform more functions within our bodies than we even understand, most of them residing in the gut.  A large number of diverse species of beneficial bacteria has been linked to improved immunity, more regulated hormone production, better absorption of nutrients, lowered inflammation all over the body, elevated and more stable mood, brighter better looking skin and a lowered risk of many diseases. Improving your diet - by both cutting out harmful, processed foods and increasing your intake of whole, nutrient dense foods - can have an amazingly positive impact on your overall health and performance.  The key to feeling good starts in the gut and as scientific research reveals more about how it all works, we will be able to take optimal health to a new level!