Gut microbes have become celebrities in the worlds of nutrition and wellness, and with good reason. They appear to play a significant role in everything from inflammation to weight to mood and they appear to be involved in a growing variety of medical conditions….especially neurological conditions.
Microbes are found doing numerous different jobs, including extracting and producing nutrients, helping to protect and repair the intestinal barrier, sending signals to the immune system about potential threats in the environment, and much more. Current theories posit that microbes are especially relevant to allergies and autoimmune disease, because they can either signal the immune system to be relaxed OR they can instruct it to stay on high alert and to over-react.
Maybe our microbes’ influence shouldn’t be surprising, given that we have trillions of them all over the body. In fact, a human body contains fewer human cells with less DNA than the microbes that live in it and on it. Some scientists hypothesize that we evolved with these microbes so that we humans wouldn’t need to do so many tasks all on our own. Instead, we allow microbes to live on us and, in exchange, they do some of the work for us. That means that each of us is not just an individual, but a whole big walking microbial community!
The exciting part to me–as a dysautonomia patient–is that these trillions of microbes can be managed to help us be healthier, happier, leaner and more youthful. If we take care of our microbes, and create the right conditions for beneficial microbes to flourish, then THEY will help take care of US. On the other hand, if we allow conditions to be right for “bad” microbes, we’ll have to live with the mayhem and destruction they can cause.
So…what can we do to recruit our microbes to be an army of helpers? Lots of things! Current research suggests that we can…
- Eat to feed the “good” microbes by maximizing the variety of plant foods in our diet, especially vegetables
- Starve the “bad” microbes of their favorite fuel, which is sugar and processed carbs,
- Stop eating foods that kill or disturb good microbes, such as artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and foods containing antibiotics (e.g., animals raised where overcrowding necessitates widespread administration of antibiotics),
- Eat beneficial bacteria directly via fermented foods (especially veggies), like sauerkraut, kim-chi, natto, etc.
- Leave enough time between meals to get truly hungry, which allows for the intestines to do their natural cleaning wave, called the migrating motor complex,
- Reduce stress, which influences microbes,
- Stop killing beneficial microbes via over-use of antibacterial soaps, mouthwash, detergents, and unnecessary antibiotics
As you can see, there’s a lot we can do to manage our microbes. I’m working hard to implement these habits, because who couldn’t use a few trillion extra helpers on their wellness team?!