Did you know you’re crawling in bacteria? Yes, you read that right.
Your personal, microbial community resides on, and inside you. With around 100 trillion microbes outnumbering your own cells by 10 to 1 you’re actually more bacteria than you are innate human cells. Your microbiome weighs around the same as your brain and literally keeps you alive.
The majority of microbes live inside your gut, with the remainder taking up home on your skin.
By improving your microbiome you can regain your health, bring back a glow to your skin, shine to your hair and improve energy levels to name but a few. Want to know more? In this post, I’ll cover what I do to keep mine optimal and tips on what you can do to improve yours.
Firstly, what exactly is our microbiome?
It’s individual to you, and in part, acquired from your mother whilst you were growing in her womb, along with many environmental factors. Your very own, personalised ecosystem and Just like us, no two are the same. Initially shaped by maternal health, weight and use of antibiotics to some extent, all of which come together to give us our unique set of bacteria remaining with us for life.
If you were born naturally (as opposed to cesarian section), you will have gained a large number of microbes as you passed through the birth canal of your mother. Moreover, breastfed children are exposed to special, undigestable sugars from breast milk which go on to feed certain good bacteria in the gut, tailoring the child’s microbiome for the future as it rapidly increases.
What does it do?
Surprisingly, our microbiome influences not only individual behaviour but our mental health, how we react to stress and also helps to support a healthy weight. Other functions are to streamline nutrient absorption and keep our metabolism as it should be. It’s also suggested that our microbiome affects the function of our central nervous system along with other important bodily processes.
Can an imbalanced microbiome open the floodgates to disease?
Our gut health is thought to be linked to chronic fatigue, sugar cravings, depression, susceptibility to diabetes and autoimmune disorders. IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) may also be linked to an unhealthy ecosystem, contributing to bloating and other unwanted, related symptoms
This is because bad bacteria is high in sugar and yeast so when your gut flora is out of sync, it sends signals to your brain craving for more sugar. Giving in to these cravings promotes the continued growth of bad bacteria in your gut exacerbating the problem. High sugar levels in our blood are proven to be responsible for inflammation which increases the risk of ill health and in the long-term, diabetes. It may also be a trigger for arthritis in some people.
How to optimise your microbiome…
Eat dark chocolate.
With a high cocoa/flavonoid content (70% or above). Avoid brands containing palm oil, other vegetable oils or trans fats and stick to those with cocoa butterfat instead. Cocoa contains flavonoids (antioxidant molecules) which are too large for normal digestion. However, our good gut bacteria can ferment these flavonoids which are then broken down into smaller compounds allowing them to enter our bloodstream. This benefits heart and brain health, boosts our immune system and strengthens blood vessels.
If you love dark chocolate, the good news is that it’s recommended to eat around 40 grams of it a day, every day! Once you’ve been doing this for a good couple of months you’ll have made an improvement to your “good” gut bacteria.
It’s also worth noting that chocolate with a higher cocoa content will be lower in sugar. So, it’s all good – what are you waiting for?
Did you know that when we eat, our blood pressure rises, insulin levels go up to deal with the incoming sugar and our body has to work hard to digest our meal? This is often why you might feel drowsy after a big dinner, so give your gut microbes a rest by fasting – this is something I do several times a week.
Interestingly, you may be surprised to learn that contrary to common belief, missing breakfast is actually good for you, and a great way to start your fasting journey. You’ll need a couple of weeks to adjust and plenty of will power, however, seeing and feeling the benefits of fasting will encourage you to keep going.
Did you know, the weight of a standard box of breakfast cereal is around 25% sugar? Remember, cereal manufacturers are money-making machines.
The theory is, eating breakfast, snacking then eating lunch and so forth causes a constant fluctuation in blood sugar and insulin levels throughout the day. This leads to weight gain, and in particular, belly fat. Leaving out breakfast and avoiding snacks between meals continues your overnight fast allowing your body to carry out essential cell and DNA repair along with other background maintenance that would normally take a back seat whilst the digestion process continues.
When we go for longer periods without eating our body draws on “excess” visceral fat (from around our organs) as a resource for energy. Blood pressure and sugar levels stabilise and take it from me, you’ll lose weight. Another plus, you’ll be ravenous by lunchtime, making your food so much more appealing as you won’t just be eating for the sake of it.
Controlling blood sugar levels with healthy gut bacteria also reduces the risk of type 1 and 2 diabetes. Read more in the subject of weight loss and breakfast being a dangerous meal where I covered the subject in detail.
Disclaimer: If you have any current health issues, refer to your GP before fasting.
Drink apple cider vinegar.
Diluted, of course. I’ve long been an advocate for drinking apple cider vinegar (ACV) and taken daily, diluted with water has many benefits. Two brands I use are Willy’s ACV with the “Mother” (the sediment you see at the bottom of the bottle) and more commonly found Bragg Organic ACV which you’ll find in Holland & Barrett. Make sure your Apple Cider vinegar of choice contains “the Mother” – this is a beneficial colony of not only good bacteria but strands of proteins and enzymes which your tummy will thank you for. These live probiotic microorganisms love to gobble up and destroy harmful bacteria in our gut, improving the balance of good bacteria.
Note: It’s preferable to drink ACV through a straw to minimise contact with your teeth. Acidity can erode tooth enamel over time, so take steps to avoid this happening where possible.
Dilute one to two tablespoons of ACV to a tumbler of water
Avoid artificial sweetener.
You’re sweet enough already. These nasty, unnatural sugar replacements disrupt gut diversity and essentially hinder microbe metabolism. Check the ingredients on your fizzy and soft drinks, most flavoured water and squashes are loaded with at least one type of artificial sweetener and in some cases, two or more. You’ll not find any squashes, cordials or flavoured water in my home!
More reasons to steer clear – side effects of long-term artificial sweetener consumption are thinning hair and poor skin condition.
Also, avoid any foods with “light” written on the packaging – nine times out of ten they contain sweetener. Research shows lighter, or low-fat foods do more harm than good and actually cause weight gain, the opposite of what they claim, and here’s why. When we eat foods containing artificial sweetener the sweet taste tricks our brain into thinking we’re eating sugar which sets off a response. Insulin levels rise to deal with the “sugar” but since none can be found, traces of sugar already in our bloodstream are dealt with instead causing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This response makes us feel hungry and reach for more food and the cycle continues, unless you take steps to put a stop to it.
Eat a diet rich in prebiotics.
Certain types of prebiotic fibre stimulate and encourage the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Some suggestions are bananas, artichokes, onions, garlic and apples. Of course, there are many more prebiotic-rich foods but listed above are some of the more commonly found.
Spend as much time as you can outside rurally to improve your microbiome diversity. City folk tend to have less healthy microbes than rural dwellers.
When we spend time around nature, we are exposed to the chemicals given off by plants called phytoncides. These chemicals are the plant’s form of defence which protects it from bacteria and fungal growth. The more time you spend outside in your garden (if you have one), or walking in the countryside the stronger your immune system will become. White blood cells increase to attack the “plant chemicals” entering our body which in turn strengthens immune defences generally.
Cuddle your pets.
Our pets have their own diverse set of bacteria too. They spend time outside and bring microbes back into the home on their feet and bodies, adding to the bacteria which already exists in every nook and cranny of our homes. This constant stream of new bacteria exposes our own immune system to more and more microbial species.
New research shows that if you were raised around animals your immune system will be very different from those who had a pet-free upbringing. You’re even less likely to suffer from pollen related allergies as your immune defences have regularly been exposed to more stimuli.
Don’t shy away from dirt.
Obsessing over cleanliness won’t help. The opposite, in fact. The more bacteria we’re exposed to, the richer our microbe diversity becomes. When we clean our homes with anti-bacterial products we are also stripping away the good bacteria too. Use sparingly to encourage a healthy balance of bacteria around your home and promote a healthier microbiome.
Finally, Is our choice of partner governed by our microbiome?
Interestingly, research agrees there’s more to it than meets the eye. Ever felt that “chemistry” with someone? Inexplicable and elusive but it’s definitely there. I certainly did the minute I met my now husband. This isn’t just the case with sexual partners…
Why is it that you just don’t “gel” with a particular colleague, or friend of a friend? The friction between the two of you is almost palpable for no apparent reason at all. I’ve also experienced it, just as I’m sure you have, but could this be a disagreement between our onboard ecosystems?
Our personal bacteria affects the way we smell too. Can’t help nuzzling your partner? If you love their “smell” you actually love the scent their bacteria gives off, conversely, you may be repelled by another. Primitively, we seek out potential partners based on their “healthy” appearance, shiny hair and glowing skin for example which indicates a good quality microbiome, this, in turn, suggests there’s a good chance of trouble-free reproduction.
Once you move in together, your microbiome may alter slightly whilst your microbes jump from you to your partner and vice versa but don’t worry, for the most part, your “microbial profile” will remain as it’s predisposed to be, yours.
By following all, or some of the tips I’ve mentioned you can reduce your risk of disease and improve overall health. Try it for yourself and see what difference it makes. One last thing – if you’ve used antibiotics its helpful to take a probiotic supplement afterwards to help boost your gut bacteria. Antibiotics not only see off the bad guys they also kill off the good ones too.
How do you and your microbes feel about this? Are you living a microbial-friendly lifestyle? Have you ever felt a certain chemistry with someone but not with others? Share your thoughts and let’s discuss!