Although I talk and write a lot about germs and microbes in general, there is constant new information coming out of the science world, so I thought I would update my “soap box” stand on bugs. Research on the human microbiome is confirming that all of the major degenerative diseases plaguing our country are related to the health and diversity of our internal microbiome. This includes heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, digestive disorders, autoimmune diseases and allergies.
Why are the microbes in your gut and the rest of your body so important? First of all, we have roughly 100 trillion microbes in our bodies. To put this number in perspective, they outnumber our own human cells by ten-fold. If that is not enough, these microbes contain hundreds of times more DNA than our human DNA. The significance of this is hitting the healthcare world with the realization of how intimately our health and well-being depends on these microbes.
At a bare minimum, these bacteria are necessary for digestion and absorption of our food, producing vitamins, regulating our immune system, protecting against dangerous pathogens and protecting the gut wall from damage leading to leaky gut, otherwise known as increased permeability of the tight junctions. Scientists are increasingly discovering new functions of our amazing co-habiting microbes.
Despite this knowledge, we continue to decimate these crucial microbes through the spraying of crops with pesticides, feeding livestock antibiotics and the overuse of prescription antibiotics for routine illnesses such as colds, flu and minor infections. The majority of decision-makers in industries such as farming and medicine still believe that killing bugs is the best solution. But there is a minority of unconventional mavericks who are finding better ways to protect the microbiome.
Farmers embracing the old farming methods with crop rotation and cover crops to enrich the soil and restore nutrient density, have found they can far surpass the crop yield of GMO and pesticide farming. The best news of all is that they are finding we can restore the nutrient value of the soil rather quickly once we stop poisoning it. This movement is beautifully illuminated in Dr. Zach Bush’s documentary film about his new non-profit venture, Farmers Footprint, which you can find on his web site: https://zachbushmd.com/
It is important to point out that what happens in your first few years of life has the most impact on the health of your microbiome. We get our first doses of microbes from the birth canal and breast milk. Avoiding antibiotics in the first years is crucial. Antibiotics can irreparably damage this newly forming microbiome.
What if you didn’t receive the early injection of bacteria from mom or you were given antibiotics? You can get some good microbes from commercial probiotics, fermented foods and beverages and also from the world of nature. The foods you eat will determine what microbes hang around and multiply. Fresh produce full of fiber feed these bacteria, and different foods feed different bacteria.
Another interesting development is that scientists are now matching specific strains of bacteria to the specific health issues they benefit. This means you can find commercial probiotics made for certain health conditions. Dr. Jason Hawrelak has done a great job of cataloging these strains on his Probiotic Advisor web site: https://www.probioticadvisor.com/ However, most probiotic products have not been shown to populate the colon permanently.
If you want to know more about what microbes inhabit your digestive tract, there are a number of labs that will test this for you through stool analysis. The latest method of cataloging microbes in your gut is by their genes. Through years of experience, labs have found culturing the microbes is difficult and doesn’t lead to accurate data, so they have moved toward cataloging them genetically, which gives a more complete picture.
So, what should you do to assure a healthy microbiome and help to avoid the degenerative diseases that can sabotage your health and well-being? Here’s the top three things you need to do to have a healthy microbiome:
- Stop killing your microbes! Don’t take antibiotics unless the infection is life threatening. Stop disinfecting everything (be reasonable – wash your hands, but don’t sanitize everything and don’t avoid dirt!) Your immune system is designed to be challenged, within reason.
- Avoid harmful chemicals that can potentially damage your microbes. Avoid processed foods, sugar, gluten and artificial sweeteners. Don’t eat commercial animal meat. Don’t eat produce sprayed with pesticides (check out the Environmental Working Group’s list of “clean” and “dirty” produce at https://www.ewg.org/)
- Replenish your microbes with probiotic products, fermented foods and beverages, getting out in nature among plants and animals and eating a varied diet of fresh fruits and vegetables grown organically.