A balanced gut microbiome is one of the secrets toward being healthy—and there are a few steps you have to take to achieve this.
Just the word ‘bacteria’ usually conjures up negative associations for most of us, including the thought of plenty of nasty germs that make us sick or cause infection. But did you know that you can use bacteria as a tool to actually stave off illness?
Microbiome Diversity and Your Health
I hate to tell you, but from head to toe, every human on earth is covered in bacteria. And up until a few years ago, this fact was largely unknown to the general public. Up until that time, people were doing everything they could to fight these germs off, including the all-popular antibacterial cleansers.
But the surge in antibacterial soaps has proven to be an exercise in futility. In fact, they may even cause harm. The past few years have given us a clearer understanding of the role of bacteria in human health, fuelled largely by a global initiative called the “Human Microbiome Project,” led by the National Institutes of Health.
I’ve written about the project before, so I won’t go into too much detail. But essentially, an international group of scientists are learning about the bacterial environment existing inside—and on—humans and how it contributes to health.
They’ve found that these microbes (bacteria) function like your cells—in fact, they even outnumber your cells. They take in nutrients, break them down, and take energy to grow and reproduce. The resulting population, called your body’s microbiome or microbiota, can either be healthy or harmful.
Research shows that when it comes to the population of your microbiome, diversity is healthy. The more diverse your microbiome is, the less room there is to be occupied by harmful bacteria.
A few factors that influence microbe diversity are its location in/on your body, your age, where you live, and what you eat. So as you can see, the foods you eat constitute a major factor you have absolute control over.
Healthy Tips to Take Care of Your Microbiome
To take care of your microbiome, there are a few factors to be aware of:
- The researchers have found that a diet high in saturated fats and processed foods has a negative impact on your microbiome, promoting the growth and proliferation of the kind of bacteria that lead to obesity and disease, while suppressing microbes that fight inflammation and keep you healthy.
- Foods that foster good, healthy gut bacteria are also, non-coincidentally, the items often promoted as a part of a general healthy diet. I’m talking fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. All are high in fiber and all appear to promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. These benefits, however, are hampered if you consume sugary, processed “Western diet” foods regularly.
- And let’s go back to those antibacterial soaps for a minute. Practicing good hygiene is also important in warding off bad bacteria, but you don’t have to go overboard. Get rid of the antibacterial soap. Using this type of soap or cleanser can upset the microbial balance on your skin and promote growth of bad bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Of course, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before preparing meals and after going to the bathroom to avoid contracting or spreading potentially harmful bacteria.
- Another way to keep a healthy microbiome in check is to limit antibiotic use, only taking this kind of medication when completely necessary. Antibiotics essentially carpet-bomb your microbiota, wiping out the good population along with the bad.
Each successive antibiotic cycle makes recovery more difficult so look for healthy, natural alternatives to use instead of always resorting to antibiotics.
Source for Today’s Article:
“Making peace with your germs,” Harvard Women’s Health Watch, February 1, 2016; http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/making-peace-with-your-germs, last accessed February 17, 2016.