Saying hello to your microbiome
The distance between your brain and your mouth is important, but more important is the space between your mouth and your anus. Our GI tract is the 30-foot (more or less) tube where the magic of nutrition happens: mouth, stomach, intestines and all the bits in between. With an entrance and an exit, stuff goes in, stuff comes out, and sometimes in different directions!
It is tempting to think that our GI tract is just another ‘part’ in our bodies, something that does its job without you even noticing it. But think again! From the way you felt this morning, your mood when you left home, headaches, anxiety, depression, stress, the strength of your nails and the shine of your hair, your flowless skin and even your relations with other people! All are affected by the health of our gut!
Our GI tract is an entire ecosystem -our microbiome.
Meet your inhabitants, space ship human!
Living on my own, in the middle of a lockdown can feel quite lonely at times. I read an article that said that the average western person goes through almost 60 tons of food in a lifetime. Oh my gosh! How do I, little, single, lonely me will get all that food chew, digested, separated, sorted, absorbed and utilized on my own! It makes me feel exhausted just thinking about it!
The good news is that I am not a lonely human. In fact, I am not that human at all! We are less human than we think and more like a walking bag of bacteria. Commensal bacteria (that’s the good friendly guys) live all over, in us and through us. In our skin, in our mouths, in our hair, in our lungs, travelling in the air we breathe, and the saliva, mucus and tears we swallow (did you watch The Notebook without a tissue?).
These guys are our companions, helpers, counsellors and advisors throughout our life. So much, that if these guys decide to take a day off, it will ruin your day! You know what they say? It’s not a good day if my belly ain’t having one!
Researchers estimate that between 10-100 trillion microorganisms live in our GI tract alone! Did you know that you have more bacteria living in your gut than cells in your entire body?
Between 15,000 and 36,000 individual species of bacteria inhabitant between our mouth and anus. Our microbiome is the combination of Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, Fusobacteria, Actinobacteria y other phyla. As well as a yeast and fungi mycobiome
Now, that is a big party going on inside little me! And as amazing as it may sound, the combination of all these bacteria is as unique as a fingerprint. We are not only in good company, but these guys make us unique and irreplaceable!
This microbiome and mycobiome change throughout our lives. It reacts, changes and adapts to what we eat, where we live, what we do, the job we have, the relationships we keep, the medications we take, the type of holidays we enjoy and even the way we were born. Pretty cool, eh!
Ok, but what’s all the fuzz?
Well, it is a very good thing that you have so many and varied bacteria because they:
*Help digest and absorb
*Produce nutrients that we need, like vitamins B and K and SCFAs (short-chain fatty acids)
*Keep us moving, well lubricated and in shape.
*Keep pathogens, some viruses and bad bacteria from settling, growing or reproducing in our bodies.
*Help metabolize medications and phytonutrients (plant chemicals)
Produce cytokines (cell signaling molecules)
*Help our immune system all over the body.
*Affects our brain functions and reactions, anxiety, depression, problems sleeping and even heart arrhythmia or palpitations may be signals from our GI tract bacteria!
What happens in our GI tracks can and does affect our overall wellbeing.
When the party goes wrong: bacterial flora disruptions.
These little guys like a good party, they do! But too much party food is not only bad for your waist, but it also kills our good bacterial friends. A diet high in processed foods and added sugars can decrease de number of good bacteria in your gut, creating imbalances in this symphony of little helpers and finishing the party, you know where, with your head hovering the toilet.
High amounts of refined sugars and its regular consumption, particularly high-fructose corn syrup, have been linked to increased inflammation in the body. It can also contribute to sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue, skin irritations, eczema, autoimmune conditions like IBS and allergies, food intolerances and yes, more inflammation.
Bacterial flora disruption can show stomach disturbances like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea or heartburn. An imbalanced gut can impair your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, regulate blood sugar and store fat. Hence promoting an unintentional weight gain.
You may have also heard that the gut is our second brain, and that is because it has this sneaky way of communicating with all cells in the body and has a direct line to the brain. Digestion starts at the brain, on that moment when you are looking thought the menu, deciding what to have for starters and main and choosing the best wine to go with it. At that moment, your gut starts to secrete acids and digestive enzymes, and food is not even been prepared yet!
And beyond looking at recipes on the internet, the gut responds to impulses like fear, excitement, anticipation, sadness and grief. This feelings promote acid secretions in the stomach, reduce or accelerate motility in the intestines. They can change or limit the blood and other fluids flow to the gut or get our immune system to react to something we never had a problem eating before.
As a response to this changes, the gut uses its direct line to the brain and communicate these disturbances in the form of anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping or physical reactions like skin rashes or even inflammation and pain. A very intransient and complicated but amazing two-way communication! And the main reason to keep the gut calm and happy.
Want to lose weight fast?
Here, there is a way to lose weight fast: poop transfusion. It’s been observed that when faecal samples are transferred, lean people get fat, after receiving fat’s people’s faecal transfusion. A
nd fat people lost weight, after receiving faecal transfusions from a slim donor. Yes! Lean and obese people seem to show distinct GI bacterial and fungal profiles. Don’t believe me? Read about faecal bacteriotherapy here and let me know if you want to try it!
The idea of receiving a pop transplant or pooping a couple of poop pills with dinner to lose weight sounds (yack!) interesting, imagine for a second the possibilities! One treatment, one healthy donor, one transfer of a healthy bacteria sample via enema and the easy and remarkably effective treatment of autoimmune conditions, neurological disorders, obesity, Crohn’s disease! The possibilities are incredible! Because bacterial flora health goes beyond fitting on a pair of skinny jeans!
Your job is to stay healthy. What you can do to take care of the garden in your belly
Probiotics – Evidence suggests that multi-spectrum probiotics can help alleviate many common GI complaints. Just be careful and aware that if you don’t already have the little guys that digest milk and an enzyme called lactase, and if you are sensitive or intolerant to lactose then probiotics in yoghurt or with lactose will make things worst! Call your doctor or a nutritionist and ask what’s the best option for you.
Eat more cultured and fermented foods – these foods are rich sources of naturally-occurring probiotics, including some fermented vegetables, kefir, yoghurt, cultured cottage cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented soy foods (miso, natto, tempeh) and sourdough bread. Ask a nutritionist for options that best suit your needs and preferences.
Eat your vegetables! – yes, your bacteria love vegetables as they get broken down and fermented in your gut. And as you get to do that, eat just a bit less processed and sugary foods. But a word of caution here! When disturbances are severe, and you suffer from IBS, Celiac or Crohn’s disease or even intolerances, eating some vegetables may make things worst! So, if you suffer from digestions issues, go now and see your doctor! And find a good Nutrition Coach or Dietitian that can help you navigate your way around the food that suits you best.
Get the idea? You can definitely improve your diet for a healthy microbiome, but you don’t have to do it alone!
And maybe, get some friendly bacteria from the environment! Naturally occurring soil bacteria such as Mycobacterium vaccae, have shown to be incredibly helpful for immunotherapies. So, go on and play with pets, lay down on the grass and look at the clouds, make some mud castles or do some gardening without gloves. Then pick one of the growing carrots and give it a bite, before washing it! (you can always skip this one if you are not comfortable with it or aren't growing any vegetables, think of me as a crazy lady and that’s fine!)
Now, bring your right hand and place it in your belly, just under the belly button and pat your little buddies on the head for all their hard work! And promise you will take care of them.
Take care of your body, is the only one you have!