“We don’t just live on the earth, the earth lives in us.” — Dr. Josh Axe
When me and my sister were little, our mom would always tell us to wash our hands before eating. She would constantly warn us about the harmful germs on our hands and that we may get sick when we ingest them. Fast forward to college when I took a major in Biology, these invisible microbes came to life through the microscope. I would observe and study these little creatures’ various shapes, sizes and activities and learn about their biology. Truly, how they interact with other organisms and the roles they play in our environment are under-appreciated but are critically important. They ensure not just our own survival, but the survival of the planet as well.
Generally, bacteria are not entirely harmful. These single-celled organisms are one of the the firsts to inhabit the earth and has made this planet habitable to other organisms that have succeeded them. Indeed, there are many dangerous and pathological ones out there but mankind, over the course of history, has secured its safety by creating many sanitation techniques. Alexander Flemming in 1928 discovered the antibacterial properties of the mould penicillium and gave birth to a revolutionary new antibiotic called penicillin. Penicillin would then be the cure to many diseases microbial or origin back in the. After then, the medical world has never been the same and now many advanced antibiotics have already been developed.
However, many species are actually friendly and beneficial. The most fascinating ones reside all over our body—in our ears, nose, skin and most interestingly inside our gut. The entirety of gut bacterial colonies are collectively known as the microbiota. The microbiota and its gut environment are collectively known as the gut microbiome.
Okay, sounds great! But you might be wondering what role the gut microbiome plays in our health? Studies show that our friendly bugs have evolved with our bodies over millions of years and are perfectly and are indispensable to our digestive processes. They help us break down, detoxify and absorb many food particles and harmful toxins. According to Dr. Emeran Myer, author of The Mind-Gut Connection, “The benefits derived by us humans from our microbiotas have profound consequences for our health.” He further states that, “disturbances and alterations in the gut microbiome are associated with a wide variety of diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, antibiotic-associated diarrhea and asthma.”
The science of the microbiome has only taken solid shape for the past decade and many secrets are yet to be revealed. For the meantime, I’ve included here some of the latest research and scientific breakthroughs we currently have.
Our Gut Friends Secure Our Immunity
Want to be shocked? We humans have more bacterial cells than actual human cells! According to Warren Peters, a biostatistician at Loma Linda University, “there are 100 trillion bacteria in our microbiome and 90% of the cells in our body are microbial—1,000 different species and 7,000 to 36,000 strains.” Now that is crazy! Are we still human? Kidding aside. Researchers at John Hopkins University are also now in the early stages of unraveling how the composition of the gut microbiome changes in different diseases and how the immune system interacts with these friendly critters.
“A huge portion of your immune system is in your gut.” — Dan Peterson, assistant professor at John Hopkins University School of Medicine
Gut bacteria line and protect our intestine and serve as security guards against many pathogens and unknown particles. When we eat processed foods, sugar and over-consume artificial sweeteners, our Gut Guards gets weakened and therefore, gut permeability increases. This can lead to a condition called Leaky Gut Syndrome, which is a disease where foreign particles pass through our gut and into our bloodstream. One of the more sinister particles called Lipopolysaccharides or LPS found in harmful bacterial walls can make its way into the bloodsteam causing serious damage to our health. According to Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, “The presence of LPS in our blood has been associated to a wide variety of health problems ranging from joint pain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s.”
When I was a teenager, I remember always being given antibiotics every time I’d get a simple cold, cough or sore throat. It was a family custom to have medication ready at home just in case a minor illness occurs. Little did I know then about how antibiotics wreck havoc in my gut. Indeed, they cleared out the harmful bacteria and pathogens causing my illness but they also eliminated the beneficial ones. No wonder I’d always return to being sick and anxious. All the species that keep me healthy are obliterated, too!
I’m not saying totally avoid antibiotic drugs. They totally have their place with your physician’s recommendations. What I am suggesting is after you have taken them, you can take steps to re-cultivate your microbiota. We’ll discuss these steps later!
Our Gut Friends Help Us Burn Fat
Exactly how bacteria influence weight loss is not yet totally known but several researchers believe that our gut friends plays a role in processing food and helping to determine how many calories and nutrients our bodies absorb. Certain gut bacteria species may also alter insulin sensitivity (or simply how our efficiency our bodies metabolize glucose). Other studies show that Helicobacter pylori suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin. “When you wake up in the morning and you’re hungry, it’s because ghrelin is telling you to eat,” says Martin Blaser, MD author of Missing Microbes. He continues, “When you eat breakfast, your level of ghrelin goes down, but if you don’t have Helicobacter in your system, it doesn’t.”
These are just some of the ways bacteria aid in our metabolism and each species play a different role.
“A diverse mixture of microbes in the gut seems to be one key to staying slim.” —Jeffrey Gordon, director at the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at the Washington University School of Medicine
Research also show that people in the United states, which have a high rate of obesity have less diverse gut microbiota than people from less developed countries.
“We could predict whether one was lean or obese based solely on their gut microbes.” —Rob Knight, PhD
How to Fix Your Gut Bacteria
With all these being said, you may be wondering how to start fixing, nurturing and cultivating our bacteria friends. Well, let’s start with what wrecks our gut microbiome.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, “Inflammatory fats like omega-6 and trans fat promote the growth of bad bugs.” These are easily found in processed food, many vegetable oils, margarine and boxed goodies so it is best to completely avoid them. He further states that, “Healthy fats like omega-3s, almonds and olive oil lower levels of inflammation. Coconut oil, fermented food and high fiber vegetables promote the growth of a healthy gut flora.”
After eliminating the culprits, it’s time to set up the stage for the beneficial species to grow.
Here are some tips and tricks you can use to start rebuilding a healthy gut microbiome:
- Complete avoid inflammatory foods like sugar and trans fat as these promote the growth of bad bacteria.
- Increase your omega-3 intake by eating cold water fish, avocados, almonds, some nuts and seeds.
- Always try to achieve a balance of omega-3s and omega-6s as these two fatty acids are critically responsible for various cellular healing processes.
- Add coconut oils and MCT oils in your diet as these contain Lauric acid, which has antimicrobial properties.
- Add fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha which are all rich in probiotics or the actual healthy bacteria species themselves.
- Increase prebiotic fibers found in vegetables like cauliflower, onions, sweet potatoes and resistant potato starch.
In pursuing a healthy lifestyle, it takes a lot more than doing the right kind of exercise, and eating the right kinds of food. We should also pay attention to subtle and invisible factors such as the health of our gut microbiome. In living and interacting with other life forms here on earth, it is demanded from us not just to subdue the earth but to take care of it. Likewise, we should take good care of our earth within because as our planet’s biome give us a place to live, our gut microbiome give us our health that allow us to thrive. Don’t let the obvious deceive you. Almost always, it is what you do not immediately see that makes the ultimate difference. In the case of what we consume, it’s our underrated, underappreciated, and poorly cultivated gut microbiome that suffers the most. Do the right adjustments and you will see your overall well-being improve. The earth within us is as important as the earth beneath us.
“Gut health is the key to overall health.” — Kris Carr