When we think of the microbiome, we can think of it as an ecosystem. A complex web of interactions between the species within it and the environment. Like any ecosystem, when we change a variable, whether a species within it, or an environmental impact such as stress (internal or external as in examples below), it can have a huge effect.
In this blog we will explore the impact our Nutrition has on keeping our ecosystem healthy and therefore influencing our overall health.
We are hosts to trillions of microorganisms or bacteria often referred to as the microbiome. The interesting thing is, we are covered in microbes; our skin, our digestive tract, our oral and anal cavity, our vagina – basically every mm of our body houses various microbes and each of them play a very significant role in how we function.
These microbes are responsible for digesting our food, absorbing our nutrients, producing certain vitamins, communicating with the brain via the gut-brain axis and regulating our immunity.
Our Digestive tract runs from the mouth to the anus and it’s the largest sampling site in the body. This is a tube OPEN at both ends and therefore highly exposed to external substances entering our system. Our bacteria act as our army, our first line of defence, preventing toxins or pathogens entering our system and causing imbalance. Just like any army going into battle numbers are important! To keep your army of microbes strong and robust, you need DIVERSITY and ABUNDANCE.
The more diverse your microbiome the more resilient the host.
Diversity of the microbiome has consistently been associated with a lower risk of chronic metabolic diseases. Inversely, a diminishing microbiome is associated with an increased risk of asthma, obesity, diabetes, behavioural disorders and IBD.
Many factors can impact the diversity of the microbiome such as:
- Vaginal births vs. caesarean
- Breast milk consumption
- Ethnicity and culture
- Place of habitation (different countries, or city vs. country living)
- Exposure to animals
- Exposure to green space
- Interactions with soil
- Source of food (home grown vs. shop brought)
- Overall dietary pattern/type
- Consumption of diverse fibres from plant sources
- Consumption of polyphenols
- Macromolecule balance (fat/carbohydrate/protein)
- Exposure to antibiotics and antimicrobial drugs (directly and in the food chain)
- Exposure to pesticides and toxins
- Exposure to emulsifiers and food additives
The good news is DIET plays a major role in supporting DIVERSITY. Even if many of these considerations mentioned above relate to your lifestyle and environmental exposure over the years, there are dietary considerations you can put in place TODAY to support your ecosystem.
- Beneficial strains of gut bacteria love to feast on plant-based fibre and prebiotics, so aim to cover half your plate with a wide variety of colourful vegetables. This will ensure you have sufficient fibre to feed bacteria as well as beneficial polyphenols to help them thrive.
- Avoid refined sugar (white breads, pasta, pastries, biscuits, sweets, and cakes) as much as possible, this encourages unfriendly strains of bacteria to thrive which will diminish more positive strains.
- Enjoy fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha. These contain healthy bacteria, encouraging a balanced microbiome. Remember to keep these varied as your gut LOVES diversity.
- Introduce some resistant starch into your diet such as; cooked and cooled white rice/potatoes, green bananas (as a banana ripens the starch changes), beans (if tinned-please rinse thoroughly), peas, lentils, and whole grains including oats and barley.
If additional support is needed, you can also carry out Comprehensive Microbiome Testing to explore your unique microbiome in more detail to direct Nutritional Interventions.
Below is a great image sourced from Invivo Clinical, demonstrating the impact diet may have on encouraging and discouraging certain microbial growth.