Before being introduced to the term ‘microbiome’ [micro-organisms living within, and on, our bodies], I used to teach clients about the amazing garden living in our intestines, composed of bacteria, hopefully in a healthy balance of beneficial strains and pathogens [disease causing]. I would let them know that some of those micro-organisms produce vitamin K which helps our blood to clot, or that when in balance, we are less likely to suffer from constipation or diarrhea. That approach was from years ago.
Later, I learned that changing the population of our microbiome, can sometimes remedy our illnesses. For example, I worked with clients suffering terribly from rheumatoid arthritis. With permission from their doctors, I taught the clients how to eat a nutritious, vegan diet to radically change their gut microbiomes. Within a week or two, their symptoms were dramatically reduced. The theory is that bacteria, grown in the gut by consuming a diet including animal proteins [meats, dairy, and eggs], produce waste products that are toxic to certain people, resulting in the the life-altering symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Once the animal proteins are eliminated, the offending bacteria die off, relieving the patient of the symptoms of the crippling condition- though this is not a cure.
Today, researchers are finding the 100 trillion bacteria in the large intestine are part of a microbiome-gut-brain axis, influencing our brain chemistry and resistance to, or susceptibility to depression and anxiety. These bacteria ferment the fiber we consume to trigger the production of our own mood stabilizer, seratonin. More than 95% of our seratonin supply is stored in the bacteria lining our gut.
Every time we take an antibiotic, we alter our microbiome. When a baby is born by Cesarian section, s/he is deprived of exposure to, and colonization by, the mother’s bacteria-rich birth canal. When we neglect our dental health, the pathogenic bacteria growing in our gums, can escape into our blood stream, and land in our hearts or brains, perhaps leading to heart disease or dementia. These theories are being studied today, providing a promising, new area of research.
Bottom line…What can we do to keep our microbiomes healthy, providing us with the most benefit- physically and mentally? I like to follow the advice of the respected food/nutrition writer, Michael Pollan, and use similar language in talking to my clients. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize. [No manufactured, chemical cuisine, please.] Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants. Then I add, eat the rainbow…the more colorful those plant foods, the more nutritious they are. And, of course, only take antibiotics when you have a bacterial illness. While these are life-saving medications, they can be dangerous when used indiscriminately, altering our precious microbiome. Carefully discuss this issue with your doctor, if you have any questions.
Dateline: Latham, Albany County, New York