When most people think of bacteria or microorganisms they immediately think of pathogenic or sickness and disease causing microbes. While these tiny guys are spread everywhere it is more common for us to be in contact with bacteria that work in harmony with and help our bodies. According to research from the NIH Human Biome Project, bacterial cells outnumber human cells almost 10 to 1! They are smaller than human cells however, making up about 1-3% of your body mass. This field has been recently expanding and relatively new, with more studies and discoveries coming out all of the time.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating and important discoveries comes from the realm of how your gut bacteria can directly influence your immune system, mood or mental health, and even hunger! This is referred to as the gut-brain axis. Now, how does this work exactly? It has recently been found that there are up to 500 million neural connections between the gut and the brain. The gut is also a producer of many different chemical signals which interact and can influence your brain and nervous system. While research in this area is still emerging, it has become clear that a healthy gut is crucial to our overall health and well being.
The microbiome of your gut has the potential to influence all kinds of body processes, diseases and disorders covering a wide range. This includes but is not limited to: decreasing stress symptoms affecting disorders like anxiety and depression, decreasing stress hormone levels of things like cortisol (a major stress hormone); helping regulate your immune system function, healthy heart function, blood sugar levels and diabetes risk and may even affect weight gain. When the gut microbiome is out of balance we often see increased incidence of things like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, other autoimmune issues, and gastrointestinal disorders like constipation and diarrhea. Another thing to keep in mind is that our hunger levels are directly related to the types of foods you eat. Diets high in healthy fats, fiber, and protein will promote the growth of good bacteria and will help decrease your hunger pangs (which are signals sent from your gut bacteria to your brain, almost tricking you into feeling hungry), and promote a healthy gut microbiome.
Now that we know how important our gut health and bacteria are to your overall health, let's dive into some useful tips and tricks for you to cultivate, diversify, and strengthen your gut microbiome!
Diversify your diet: the more diverse your diet is, the more diverse your gut will be
Eat real foods: things like fruit, veggies, and healthy meats will feed good bacteria while sugar and processed foods will feed bad bacteria
Exercise regularly: exercise has been shown to increase your gut microbiome among many other benefits!
Anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle: this will promote a healthy gut. If you are looking or anti-inflammatory tips and hacks, stay tuned for our article on an anti-inflammatory life.
Omega 3s, Vitamin D, Glutamine and Zinc with Copper supplementation will help heal your gut among other health benefits
Fermented foods are naturally made with good bacteria and are a great way to feed good bacteria and diversify your gut, here is a list of some great foods to add into your diet:
Kimchi, yogurt (whole fat, plain), cottage cheese, kefir, kombucha, pickles, olives, sauerkraut,
Fiber Rich Foods:
Fiber can increase satiety making you feel less hungry, they're also great for maintaining a healthy gut!
Whole grains, nuts, seed, fruits, and veggies
Polyphenol Rich Foods:
Polyphenols are micronutrients that are found in plants, and in addition to promoting a healthy gut may also have positive effects on inflammation, cholesterol, blood pressure, and oxidative stress. Below are a few examples:
Dark chocolate (over 65% cocoa)
There are many types of probiotic supplements out there, it can be hard what to choose. Here are some tips on how to choose a good probiotic supplement:
Over 5 different organisms
Must be refrigerated
3rd party tested
Contain strains of acidophilus, lactobacillus, and Bifidobacterium
Infants are immediately exposed to all kinds of bacteria the moment they are born and when babies are breastfed they receive all kinds of immune factors and healthy bacteria from their mother. This along with many other benefits promote healthier babies with lower risks of disease, a closer bond between mother and child, and ideal nutrition for infants.
Our world is filled with all kinds of bacteria both good and bad. Lucky for us, there are a whole lot more good ones out there. One of the best and most natural ways for us to improve our gut microbiome is to simply play outside! Whether it's playing around in the dirt and mud or going for a walk, our bodies are constantly interacting with our environment's microbiome. A great way to increase your interaction with your environment is walking barefoot or going for a swim in a lake or creek.
Things to Avoid: (if possible):
Poor diet: a diet low in fiber and high in processed foods and sugar promote growth of unwanted bacteria
Stress: affecting many different areas of your body and life, stress also negatively impacts the gut
Overuse of medications: medications like anti-inflammatories, antibiotics steroids, acid blocking drugs. While medications can be live saving and are sometimes necessary, the overuse of these can cause all sorts of problems. They tend to kill the bad and the good bugs along with it. If you must use medications like the ones listed above, make sure you are doing things to promote growth of healthy bacteria and replace ones that are being killed off with probiotic supplements.
Toxins: things like mercury, mold, plastics, and pesticides disrupt your gut along with many other negative impacts on your health