Chronic Disease & Prevention · Wellness

Mind-Gut Connection: The Gut Microbiome

Let’s talk bacteria, viruses and fungi for a minute. We often shed a negative light on these microscopic creatures, but they aren’t all bad. In fact, trillions of them, and they serve a very positive purpose: to help us survive.

Our gut microbiome has many tasks to keep us healthy, so it is thought that having a more diverse (i.e., more types and strains of these tiny organisms) group of bacteria, viruses and fungi is better for our health. We get this diversity from the foods we eat, environmental exposures we have, people we are around, places we go, medication we take, etc.

I once had an osteopathic physician tell me that her theory about a good immune system is to get produce from a variety of sources. This means not always shopping at the same grocery store, buying from the same farmers market vendor or eating the same brands. We have to switch it up. All of the soil we grow crops in isn’t the same. I will not even attempt to explain this concept, as I am sure I would get something about it wrong, but I do know that soil changes. This physician said her healthiest patients were the ones who traveled for work; quite possibly because they ate food from everywhere.

A healthy gut microbiome should promote a solid immune system and has even been linked to a healthier weight. An unhealthy or imbalanced gut microbiome can thus lead to a poor immune system and has been linked to gastrointestinal diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome. Another way to improve your gut microbiome? Probiotics.

What can be tricky with probiotics, however, is that the amount of active bacteria varies greatly among brands. It is best to purchase a product that has been and needs to be refrigerated, suggesting that the bacteria are still active when you consume the probiotic and haven’t been inactivated in the process of creating the probiotic itself. There are mixed studies out there about probiotic effectiveness, but for me, I feel overall healthier and my digestive system is working much better than it was prior to taking probiotics.

You can consume probiotics more naturally by consuming fermented foods (sauerkraut or kimchi), yogurt or kefir with active cultures. You can also eat foods high in fiber, such as vegetables and whole grains. Additionally, you can do some research regarding when antibiotics are truly needed. Antibiotics are known to kill not only the bacteria making you sick, but the good, healthy bacteria that is protecting your body from distress. For example, that sniffly cold? It’s probably a virus and antibiotics do not help virus infections. Strep throat? Yes, you need antibiotics. I won’t get into that here, but it is something to be conscious of.

Additionally, evidence has suggested that a poor gut microbiome may be linked to obesity, type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, colon cancer and inflammatory processes such as allergies, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Newer research is also linking food emulsifiers to a negative gut microbiome. Emulsifiers are found in a lot of processed foods to preserve them and improve their taste/texture. Soooo aside from being high in sugar, salt and chemicals, processed foods might actually change the bacteria in our guts! Something else to consider….

I am thinking this gut bacteria situation is kind of a big deal.

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