By now most of us have heard of the microbiome; the collection of around 39 trillion microbial cells (including bacteria, viruses, and fungi) that live happily with us in our gut (mainly our large intestine). For the most part, we have a symbiotic relationship with these microbes. They help us digest our food, make us vitamin K, and give us better poops. In return they get to live inside our intestinal tract rent free! But, just like in any relationship, the partnership with our microbiome can have ups and downs.
Diet, medications, stress levels, and some medical conditions can all effect how hospitable our intestinal home is to our microscopic pals. When the environment isn’t ideal for these microbes, they can cause their hosts some troublesome symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits.
In most cases, our microbiomes are great at self-regulating. For example, if we take antibiotics for an infection, our gut bacteria can fairly effectively repopulate itself back to a healthy state. However, there are some cases where diet, medication, stress, etc can lead to “intestinal dysbiosis”- a general term used to describe an imbalance of gut microbiota that leads to the aforementioned symptoms.
How to keep your microbiome happy
So what’s the best way to keep our gut bacteria happy? That depends… If you have unexplained symptoms, the best thing to do is to see a health care provider (such as your naturopath or family doctor) and get an accurate diagnosis and rule out any serious conditions. This is also a great opportunity to get personalized advice, as not every piece of dietary advice is good for all digestive conditions.
If you have no serious symptoms and are just looking to optimize digestive health keep reading for 3 things you can do to keep your microbiome healthy and happy!
- Optimize the environment (aka your digestive tract): Your intestines act as a home for microbes. But just like humans, microbes can be picky about where they stay. Most of us would prefer a room in the Ritz Carlton to a spot in a derelict motel – and our gut microbes aren’t that different. Luckily, there’s lots we can do to upgrade our gut environment. Stress management is key, as high, chronic stress levels can interfere with signalling between the gut and the brain, altering production of stomach acid, pancreatic juices, bile, not to mention disrupting intestinal motility (the muscular movement of our intestines that pushes our food through this one-way tube). Exercise, time in nature, a good sleep regime, and time spent with loved ones can all contribute to an effective, sustainable stress management plan.
- Feed the little critters! Just like most of us are happier when we’re fed, so is our microbiome. A healthy microbiome thrives off of fibre. Prioritize variety in your diet, eating a wide range of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. For an extra boost, you can also add in a prebiotic supplement (always check with your healthcare provider before adding supplements to your regime).
- Replenish: Consuming probiotics as a part of your regular diet helps to replenish and repopulate your gut with good bacteria. Fermented, probiotic foods you can add into your diet include yogurt, kefir, kefir water, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented pickles/other fermented vegetables.
Still have questions? You can contact me for a free 15 min introductory consultation.