What the Heck is Your Microbiome and Why is it Important?
Let’s get down and dirty with the microbiome. If you are staying up to date on developments in the health community than you’ve probably at least heard the buzzword microbiome even if you don’t quite know what it means. To put it simply, a microbiome is the collection of microorganisms and microbes that reside in an environment. Think of it as an ecosystem inside of your body full of both good and bad bacteria. Microbiota is what makes up the ecosystem and comes from our intestines, skin, mouths, etc. Each piece of you has it’s own microbiota that build to create your microbiome. I know what you’re saying….”Jen, I did not sign up for a science lesson today!”. I’m sorry to tell you, but whether you signed up for a science lesson or not your little ecosystem is still ticking away and it may not be operating at its full potential and could actually be harming your quality of life!
The reason you’ve probably heard a lot about the microbiome as of late is because scientists are beginning to discover that the health of your microbiome can determine whether pathogens in the gut stay dormant or wreak havoc on your system. There is strong evidence that shows that the microbiome signals certain genes to come into play. It could be making the difference whether you tend to gain weight, develop diabetes type two, suffer from autoimmune issues, etc. A healthy microbiome is a healthy you!
While all parts of the microbiome are important the part that is near and dear to my heart is the gut microbiome. When it’s not working correctly you can suffer from indigestion, malnutrition and many other nasty side effects. The gut microbiome is in charge of digestion and extracting the nutrition we need from the food we’re ingesting. For example, I’m low on iron constantly, but no matter how many whole foods I eat containing iron or iron supplements I ingest my body simply won’t absorb that damn iron. It wasn’t until I started working with a functional medicine doctor who helped me get my microbiome in gear that my body finally started absorbing the iron I was putting into it!
What is the microbiome?
I’m going to be super sciencey here and say it’s a bunch of little buggers that populate our body, otherwise known as microorganisms. These microorganisms can be bacterium, viruses or funguses and can play a huge part in how the genes in our own personal genome express themselves. Just to give you an idea of how powerful the microbiome is take note that there are 100 genes in our microbiome for every 1 in our own genome.
Where does your microbiome start?
Your microbiome starts when you do! Most babies first introduction to microscopic organisms happen during birth through the birth canal and then their mother’s breast milk. This is why some studies show that children who are born vaginally and breastfed have the most diverse and healthy microbiome while those who come out into the world via c-section or are formula fed do not. Don’t fear though! It’s not the end of the world if you weren’t born vaginally or breastfed. You also had years to diversify your microbiome with every hand you shook and food you ate.
What causes an imbalanced microbiome?
Unfortunately, here’s the bad news. Western medication, food growing methods and farming methods have incredibly damaged our microbiomes as a whole. The antibiotics we take not only kill off bad bacteria, but it kills of the good bacteria as well. The pesticide riddled food we eat kills of those good little buggers too. Almost all the meats we eat come from animals that were given antibiotics and hormones and those great straight into our digestive system. If you want to protect your microbiome watch out for these foes:
- Antibiotics (of course sometimes antibiotics are necessary just make sure you are taking a quality probiotic while you’re on them (even though you’re always taking one right!?)
- Meats that come from animals that were given hormones and antibiotics to promote growth
- High alcohol consumption
- Eating foods that feed the bad bacteria (expect a blog on this soon!)
- Overuse of antacids, pain killers, laxatives and other prescription and over the counter meds
- Birth control
- Basically our everyday western lives
Why do you need a healthy, diversified microbiome?
As I said above, the way we live our lives these days don’t promote a healthy microbiome and there’s no coincidence that we’ve experienced a huge boom in gut-related illnesses like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Celiac Disease, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and Crohn’s Disease. An imbalanced microbiome has also been linked to autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, Endometriosis, Type 1 Diabetes and many more.
A strong microbiome can also help with mental health because it is estimated that at least 90% of serotonin is manufactured in the gut. A healthy microbiome supports a healthy gut which can crank out that serotonin and who doesn’t want to be happy? Do you find yourself getting sick every winter or unable to lose weight despite exercising and eating less than you burn? It may be your microbiome!
You may have inherited genes for gaining weight easily
Symptoms of an imbalanced microbiome?
- Gut-related illnesses
- Digestion problems
- Weight gain
- Inability to lose weight
- Extreme food cravings
- Food intolerance
- Skin rashes
- Autoimmune diseases
- Hormonal issues
- Brain fog
- And many more
What can you do to balance your microbiome?
- Eat prebiotic foods
- Eat probiotic foods
- Take a probiotic. Check out my blog post here on probiotics.
- Heal your gut (I will be doing a blog about this in the near future)
- Make sure you’re getting enough fiber if your body can handle it
- Meditate! Meditation helps calm the flight or fight response which in many people is in overdrive. This hurts your microbiome and your digestion to boot! Remember your gut is your second brain and it’s always good to keep both of those brains calm. Look here and here for my posts on meditation!
- Eat fermented foods
- Stop overuse of medications if possible
- Avoid foods that damage the microbiome like refined carbs and vegetable oils, meat and dairy from animals with hormones and antibiotics and foods high in sugar. These all either hurt the microbiome or feed bad bacteria.
Maybe I’m a nerd, but for me this is some of the most interesting stuff and I could read about it all day! I feel like they could make a Pixar movie out of all the characters bouncing around in your microbiome. Does anyone else out there love nerding out over microbiome science? Has anyone been suffering from any of the above issues and think that their microbiome might need an overhaul? Sound out below. I’d love to hear from you!
Murphy, Stephen F., John H. Kwon, and David L. Boone. “Novel Players in Inflammatory Bowel Disease Pathogenesis.” Novel Players in Inflammatory Bowel Disease Pathogenesis. Springer Natural, 23 Feb. 2012. Web. 06 July 2017.
Quigley, Eamonn M. M. “Gut Bacteria in Health and Disease.” Gastroenterology & Hepatology. Millennium Medical Publishing, Sept. 2013. Web. 06 July 2017.
Stoller-Conrad, Jessica. “Microbes Help Produce Serotonin in Gut.” The California Institute of Technology. Caltech, 9 Apr. 2015. Web. 06 July 2017.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. It is just me sharing knowledge I’ve gleaned during my own research and balancing my own microbiome.