Unless you fix your gut, it is impossible to achieve whole-body, vibrant health. Whether it be weight-loss resistance, poor sleep, anxiety, or brain fog– gut health is the foundation for hormonal health and will impact every aspect of how you feel. The more you understand about your microbiome, the more empowered you can become in the realms of health. Let’s dive into one of my favorite subjects: the microbiome.
The Microbiome: A New Paradigm
From the 1800s until very recently, the scientific community focused on killing bacteria– all bacteria was essentially a bad guy. After WW2, we thought we would be able to cure every disease by attacking bacteria. From antibiotics to antibacterial soaps and everything in between: it was about killing bacteria. It wasn’t until the 2007 Microbiome Project that bacteria were truly linked to whole-body health. Bacteria came to the forefront as a part of human existence, and we cannot live without it. Studies today show that there is 100x the number of foreign bacteria in and on our human bodies than human cells– and these foreign cells are indeed what enables us to survive and thrive.
This science is new and groundbreaking. It’s important to remember that anytime there is a massive leap in science, it can take a while for the system to catch up. This time lag is why we see a discrepancy between science and the treatments for many of today’s modern diseases. Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are coming alive thanks to the delay in treatment methods that acknowledge the importance of the good bacteria. The more mainstream this knowledge becomes, the quicker the modern medical world can adapt.
Diverse Microbiome for A Diverse World
What exactly are good bacteria, and how does our microbiome help us in our day to day lives? Well, first, let’s understand what DNA is. Your DNA is the genetic material passed down to you from your parents. Your DNA determines your height, eye color, skin color… it essentially gives you your structure, and it is fixed.
Now your microbiome is the ever-changing part of you that allows you to navigate a diverse world and adapt to your surroundings. Your microbiome will enable you to fight off disease, battle parasites; it will enable you to travel internationally, eat exotic food, it allows you to kiss and hug family and friends without getting constantly sick. Your microbiome is what provides you with immunity amidst a host of other health markers like circadian rhythm, liver toxicity, and hormonal markers like serotonin.
Your microbiome is essentially the living part of you that controls your genetics. These bugs can turn genes on and off, and so your microbiome is the workers who operate the machinery. Taking care of your microbiome and ensuring the good guys proliferate is what will manifest itself as good or ill health.
Bacterial Interaction and Cell Function
We gain higher cell function based on the bacteria that we are sharing information with. This communication with our bacteria is a significant discovery that many people can’t wrap their head around just yet. Our DNA alone gives us a minimal track on which we can carry out human functions. Our microbiome essentially brings more tools to the table. The broader your spectrum of good bacteria, the more your body has access to these tools to manufacture hormones, immune signals, and so much more.
Studies have shown that merely by changing the microbiome, you can induce obesity or healthy weight in rodent models. The studies show that when you transplant the microbiome of an obese rodent into that of a healthy-weight rodent, it causes the rat to become obese. And vice-versa, taking the microbiome of a healthy rat implanted into that of an obese rat, helped it lose weight naturally without any other intervention. As studies start to explore fecal transplants in humans for medical purposes, the human results aren’t far behind.
We are setting Ourselves Up For Failure: Why Our Current Paradigm Isn’t Sustainable.
After WW2, the medical world focused on killing bacteria as the answer to illness. This method caused trouble for two main reasons:
- Killing agents permeated our bodies: antibacterial soaps, antibiotics, and vaccines took over as the principal ways of targeting infections inside the body
- Killing agents penetrated our food sources: hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides took over as a means of producing more food in less time
These things disturbed not only our internal microbiomes but also the external environmental microbiome of the planet. The natural operations of crop growth and animal rearing have been intercepted with killing agents that began to interfere with the natural cycles of food production, of nature itself, which in turn ended up in our bodies.
A considerable part of our internal microbiome comes from the food that we eat. The more disconnected our diet is from its natural growth and harvesting cycles (i.e., from organic food harvested locally, in season, and consumed without much processing), the narrower our microbiome becomes. The narrower our microbiome becomes, the less adaptable we are to our environment, and the faster we develop chronic disease.
The More Diversity The Better
Generally speaking, the rule of thumb is that the more diverse your microbiome, the healthier you are. This broad spectrum of bacteria enables you to navigate the world with more flexibility; it allows you to adapt.
Achieving this happens in two ways. First of all, it inevitably requires exposing yourself to good bacteria. By introducing new strains of good bacteria to your microbiome, you recruit soldiers with new skills into your immune system. The second part is avoiding unnecessary contact with bacteria-killing agents, like antibiotics and antibacterial soaps. Reaching for these bacterial killing agents too often kills not only the bad but also the good. By killing the good bacteria, you effectively wipe out your army. Therefore, you open yourself up to illness as well as drug-resistant superbugs.
Getting More of the Good
This concept can be scary for people who fear to catch harmful bacteria and avoid all types of bacterial exposures altogether. It is the good bacteria that help you fight off the bad. It’s paradoxical, but exposing yourself to a broad spectrum of bacteria is actually what helps keep you healthy.
There are many ways to get more of the good bacteria without exposing yourself to unnecessary dangers. Spending time in nature is one of the best ways to expand your microbiome. But—make sure the environment you’re in is indeed pure. You don’t want to be rolling around in herbicide-sprayed city parks, or walking barefoot in a patch of dirt that lines a major street.
Another way is to eat fruits and vegetables with their peels if they are organically grown. The microscopic residue of dirt is full of good bacteria, so long as your food wasn’t sprayed with nasty chemicals.
Finally, there are many probiotic-rich foods, including fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut. Pairing these probiotic-rich foods with prebiotic-rich foods like artichokes, onions, and leeks will ensure your body has the building blocks to welcome in and feed the good bacteria.
You can also include probiotic supplements, but make sure you rotate the brands and species regularly to make sure you don’t end up narrowing your spectrum of good bacteria. This narrowing can happen if you stick to a single brand of probiotics over a long duration. Remember: variety is key!
Getting Less of the Bad
Not all pharmaceutical drugs are harmful. This concept is essential to remember because, in specific cases, antibiotics can save your life. That said, the post WW2 mindset has left us overmedicated to the point of self-destruction. You want to avoid regular (or even semi-regular) use of antibiotics. Antibiotics should be used in life-or-death situations if you’re going to care for your long-term health.
Instead of pharmaceutical drugs, reach for herbs as a natural way to target infections or imbalances happening in the body. There are so many ways to support the body’s natural healing abilities using natural herbs instead of dropping the atomic bomb that is antibiotic drugs.
Ditch the antibacterial soaps too. Opt for a gentle Castile-based cleanser, and even then realize that you don’t need to scrub your whole body down every single day. Stick to washing the genuinely dirty parts of your body when needed, but opt for a simple rinse with hot water most of the time. Studies show that chemical-killing doesn’t do that good a job at killing harmful pathogens. Your best bet is using warm water and a little agitation. Your skin has its own microbiome, and so the more you aggressively wash off the good bacteria, the less defense your skin has against infections and pathogenic invaders.
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 Yu, James J., et al. “Antibacterial Soap Use Impacts Skin Microbial Communities in Rural Madagascar.” Plos One, vol. 13, no. 8, 2018, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.