Your Healthy Gut!  The what, how and why of the Microbiome.

 

The holidays are quickly approaching. Is your gut ready?

Pumpkin pie, turkey, and egg nog, anyone? There’s no better time than now to get our bodies ready to handle that extra cup of good cheer. Most of us are at least somewhat aware of the toll our holiday food choices can take… but this time, we don’t mean on our scales. Though minding our waistline is always a good idea, we’re actually talking about the importance of something totally different (or, is it?) It’s time to highlight the magic of our microbiome!

DID YOU KNOW As humans, we host 100 trillion bacterial cells in our body, which means we are made of ten times more bacterial cells than human cells. (Did you read that? Seriously.) It’s taken thousands of years for specific bacteria to form a symbiotic relationship with us (this is good -- we benefit from each other) and we pretty much can’t live without them!  Our gastrointestinal ecosystem is incredibly delicate and its diversity and optimal balance play an enormous role in our health.

Recently, the term “microbiome” (or sometimes referred to as gut flora) has become pretty popular throughout the health community. The majority of microbiome cells (about 70%) exist in the colon, so it makes sense that this is where most of the research has been focused. Studies show that the gut flora and the strength of its intestinal barrier have a direct effect on how well we digest food and even play a role in our potential for food allergies. The microbiome also helps in protecting our immune system. Gut flora also affects the balance of hormones and, in doing so, impacts our metabolism and body fat composition. (Oh, now you’re paying attention!) Interestingly, we now know that the microbiome even interacts with the central nervous system through its own enteric (gut) nervous system. This is why anxiety can affect our digestion.

It is safe to say that all of the food we eat impacts the health or quality of our microbiome. When our gut ecosystem is imbalanced, “dysbiosis” occurs. This means fewer beneficial bacteria are available to take the place of unhealthy bacteria, and we become predisposed to conditions which include irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, obesity, colon cancer, heart disease, allergic diseases, and some autoimmune diseases including inflammatory bowel disease.

So what can we do to keep those millions of bacteria healthy and happy? Turns out, there are a whole lot of things we can do to help out our digestive systems.

  • Eat well. A healthier gut starts with cutting back on junk- processed food, sugars, and sugar substitutes. Studies show that in can take as little as two days for the composition of the microbiome to change, so a consistently healthy diet is important.
  • Choose high quality carbohydrates including high fiber whole foods as your carbohydrate source. More fiber means more fuel for the good bacteria! Those eating more fruits and vegetables (yes, there are carbohydrates here, which is okay) and fewer servings of processed foods like breadHs and candies have happier guts.
  • Ditch the white, processed stuff .and choose whole grains
  • Get moving! Studies have found that exercise encourages healthier bacteria in the digestive tract (and better digestion overall after a good sweat).
  • Get some R&R! Stress triggers chemical changes (note back to that enteric nervous system) which can negatively shift the balance of your microbiome. What a fantastic excuse to get a massage, go on a walk, sip some herbal tea, or take a nap!
  • If you’re wanting jump start to better gut health, you can take a probiotic supplement, or you could eat something fermented. Foods like apple cider vinegar, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha tea, yogurt, and pickled veggies are naturally full of good bacteria (probiotics).

Add these suggestions to your plates and you’ll help to prime that gut of yours for a healthier holiday season. An improved immune system, a better mood, and a strong gastrointestinal barrier can help us to better enjoy the seasonal blessings. 

If you’re interested in learning more about gut health, making healthy holiday food choices, or any other nutrition-related topic call Jessica our Nutrition Benefits Specialist to schedule your appointment with Erin Shah!