Microbiome – Your Best Friend
Microbiome. It is the new catch phrase, the talk of the town. Some people refer to it as gut bugs, but that is not entirely correct because it’s not just gut bugs, it is an entire community of microscopic organisms that live on and in our body, protecting us from numerous bacteria, viruses, and diseases. There are microbes throughout our body and in all organs of our body, but the majority are all throughout the intestines, the bulk of which is in the colon or large intestine. Hence, the term gut bugs. Let us look at what this colony of flora does for us.
First, there are numerous bacteria that live on the skin. This is our first barrier of defense against germs. Healthy intact skin protects us against a host of bacteria, viruses, and diseases. That is why it’s important to not use antibacterial skin cleansers to excess. You are killing good bacteria and decreasing your immunity.
Considering that most microbes live in our intestines, it is easy to guess their primary function. Digestion. Our gut bugs are the first line of defense against foreign substances that enter our GI tract. The gut bugs kill any invaders, but they also help regulate the digestive process as the food moves throughout each digestive organ. In addition, our microbiome maintains an intact gut lining. Why is this important? When the gut lining is not intact, these foreign invaders, in the form of bacteria, virus, or food particles, enter the blood stream. This is commonly referred to as “leaky gut”. This syndrome causes your immune system to react. What is the immune system’s response to harmful invaders? Inflammation. A constant stream of foreign substances from our GI tract creates a constant source of inflammation, which is a normal response initially, but is very destructive over the long term. It leads to food allergies and sensitivities, and they create a multitude of symptoms including fatigue, headaches, brain fog, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and reflux. These are annoying symptoms, without a doubt, but when severe, they can be life changing.
All this information about fighting off invaders gives us a clue to another important function of the microbiome. Immunity. Seventy percent of our immune cells reside in the intestines. When we ingest pathogens, the microbes tell the immune cells to target and kill the invaders. If the microbiome is not healthy and robust, it is unable to fight bacteria and disease. In fact, it can become hyperactive and view harmless bacteria, even our own cells, as foreign invaders and send an inflammatory immune response that is linked to autoimmune disease, such as multiple sclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, and thyroid disorders.
What is another important role of the microbiome that has recently been discovered? Mental health. Our microbiome communicates with our brain. The gut bacteria act as messengers to send information to our brain. They also help with the manufacture of serotonin – the feel-good hormone. I like to think of serotonin as the rock star of hormones. It coordinates the process of eating and digestion in our gut, communicates with our brain and other nervous system cells, stabilizes our mood and gives us a sense of well-being and happiness, and it helps us sleep peacefully through the night. Clinical studies are showing a definite link between the microbiome, production of serotonin and the incidence of depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety are the number one mental health disorder in the US today.
Now that we understand the critical importance of a healthy and robust microbiome, what can we do to support this essential organ? Diet. You are what you eat is not just a trite cliché. If we want to be physically healthy, mentally balanced, and resistant to germs and diseases, a nutritious diet
is basic. Our gut bugs like fruits and vegetables, lots of them. In particular, cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, and Bok choy, to name a few. Almonds and olive oil and fruits have antioxidants, which means they protect against cell damage and boost our immune system. Also important are fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, kefir, and kimchi. Herbs are especially good for boosting digestive health, some of which are ginger, peppermint, fennel, and turmeric.
I hope this information encourages you to make healing dietary changes in your life. Your gut bugs will be eternally grateful!
By Cheryl Moates RN, MSN