How To Improve Your Gut Microbiome

 
 

What is our microbiome?

Our human microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes that live in and around our body.  They outnumber our human cells by a ratio of 10 to 1 and make up 5 pounds of our adult body weight!  These microbes are present in the greatest numbers inside our digestive tract. We depend on these beneficial bacteria to help digest our food, produce certain vitamins, regulate our immune system, and protect us against disease-causing bacteria.

What is so important about our microbiome and gut health?

Research now shows that the quantity and diversity of our gut microbiome has a major influence on metabolism, body weight, mood, immune system, appetite, and propensity for illness.  A healthy microbiome keeps our intestinal barrier strong, preventing leaky gut and inflammation. It communicates with our immune system to help tell the difference between friend and foe, which is why it is so important in preventing or healing from immune conditions, autoimmune diseases and allergies.  We now know these beneficial bacteria also play a major role in mood and brain health by affecting dopamine and serotonin production. They even are involved in signaling to indicate hunger and fullness.

Loss of balance in the microbiome has now been associated with all of the following conditions and the list keeps growing: Allergies, Obesity, Diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, IBS, Ulcerative Colitis, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Depression, Anxiety, Psoriasis, and Eczema.  

These incredible microbes are essential for life and the more diverse they are, the better our health.  So what can you do to improve the health and diversity of your microbiome?

Here are 10 great tips for a healthy and happy gut!

1.  Increase Fiber Intake and Eat a Diversity of Fruits and Vegetables

A diet high in whole foods and plant based foods is better for your gut and feeds all those good microbes.  The more diverse your diet, the more diverse your microbiome. Stick to the outer perimeter at your grocery store for fresh, whole foods and branch out with new fruits and vegetables from your local farmers market or tailgate markets.

2. Buy Local and Eat Seasonally

Foods that still contain some of the natural soil organisms are good for your gut!  Grow some easy vegetables at home like tomatoes or cucumbers and snack right off the vine.  Buy from your local farmers market, tailgate market or my favorite: sign up for a CSA share to keep stocked with a variety of local veggies through the growing season.  

3.  Increase Prebiotic foods

Prebiotics foods are those high in certain fibers or complex carbs that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria by providing fuel for these microbes to grow. Some great prebiotic foods include artichokes, asparagus, eggplant, leeks, legumes, onions, and garlic.  Try to eat 2 prebiotic foods every day to feed those good guys in our gut.  

4. Increase Probiotic Foods

Add foods containing healthy live bacteria (cultured/fermented foods) to your diet regularly.  This is standard in most cultures and is one of the best ways to keep your gut (and the rest of your body) healthy.  Good choices are kefir, unsweetened yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and cultured vegetables.

5.  Avoid Processed Foods

Avoid foods with added sugars, artificial sweeteners and added chemicals such as preservatives and emulsifiers.  These are known to disturb microbial balance and increase inflammation in the gut.

6.  Take a Probiotic Supplement (in some situations)

In healthy individuals, probiotic supplements don’t permanently colonize the intestinal tract or alter the bacterial balance, so it is more important to follow the other tips in this article.  In sick individuals or those with chronic diseases, however, probiotic supplements have been shown to help improve the function of the bacteria in the gut and restore them to good health. Probiotic supplements have been shown to benefit disease states such as ulcerative colitis, traveler’s diarrhea, immune conditions, and influenza, among others.  

7. Garden, Swim and Snuggle Your Pets  :)

Being super clean does not make you super healthy. Your microbiome gets replenished and more diverse when you have regular contact with soil, rivers, lakes, and animals. Walk barefoot outside, get your hands in the dirt, and snuggle your pets.

8. Avoid Products That Hurt Your Good Bacteria

Stay away from harsh detergents, antibacterial soaps, and hand sanitizers as they decrease your microbiome diversity. Some warm water and mild soap will do the job without the harm.

9. Avoid Antibiotics

Keep the use of antibiotics to a minimum, only when your health care provider says it’s absolutely necessary, as they kill off the good microbes too.

10. Optimize Sleep, Exercise and Manage Stress

It’s not just about food – Sleep deprivation, lack of exercise and high stress all impact your gut bacteria negatively.  Aim for 7- 8 hours of sleep, regular and frequent exercise, and finding ways to manage your stress.