If I asked you what you are, you might quite sensibly say ‘I’m a human being’, and that sounds pretty sensible. If you were prone to specifics, you might say that you’re a wide variety of human cell types miraculously put together in such a way as to create what you see in the mirror, along with what you don’t see in the mirror because most said cells are neatly deposited somewhere under your skin. You’d be right to say ‘human’ cells because if they were fish, monkey or plant cells, what you’d see in the mirror would be a salmon, a chimpanzee or a pine tree, or something similar.
The thing is, though, if you’d said that, you’d only be partly right.
At some point in our development, possibly right at the start of our development, but certainly tens of thousands of years ago, we were colonised by bacteria, viruses, fungi and a couple of other species collectively known as microorganisms. Some of these microorganisms reside on our skin, but the vast majority reside inside our bodies, mainly in our digestive tract. We call these our microbiome. On a cell count basis and depending on which researchers you listen to, you’re somewhere between ten percent and thirty percent human, the rest of you being bugs. Some of these bugs are good guys, and these are called commensal, and some are bad guys, called pathogens. So, it could be argued that what you really are is a habitat specifically designed as a suitable environment for the survival and proliferation of bugs. But fear not – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
So how did this come about?
I’ve found nobody who knows how this came about originally, but for several thousand years it’s been all about birthing. A foetus is pretty much sterile (no bugs), but when it enters the birth canal, mum inoculates it with her own microbiome then later adds to this with breast milk, which is teeming with bugs. Hippocrates stated that ‘All disease begins in the gut’. He may be overstating that slightly, but I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t far off. So throughout our evolution, if Mum had a healthy microbiome, her baby would ‘inherit’ that microbiome and would very likely have a long and healthy life. But during the last seventy years or so, things have gone a bit wobbly.
So what’s been going wrong?
- These days lots of babies arrive via c-section, so they don’t get that initial inoculation. I do appreciate that c-sections are sometimes necessary to protect Mum and baby from harm. but sometimes they’re done for convenience, and in my world that’s a mistake. Then, the baby often goes straight to formula rather than breast milk. Formula can have probiotics (bugs) added, but that’s not the same as Mum’s microbiome, which contains thousands of different bug species, each of which can have many strains, and each of which have different jobs to do. A baby born and initially fed in this way will miss out on some of the advantages of a naturally born baby, though they will develop gut bacteria from their mother’s skin and their general environment. With professional guidance, taking a daily probiotic to expand variety would be worth considering. For even better diversity, fermented foods could be considered – see page 57 of WCITM.
- The over use of antibiotics. Sometimes there’s a genuine need for an antibiotic, but most of the time there isn’t, and these antibiotics can decimate the microbiome if taken for more than a few days.
- Diet. Like us, the bugs in our microbiome need to eat, but they want food as nature intended, the types of food that we ate prior to around seventy years ago, and they won’t thrive well on a diet of junk and processed foods.
Okay, but why does all this matter?
In the introduction to WCITM I stated that achieving a well working digestive system is vital, and I believe that wholeheartedly. If your microbiome’s unhealthy, you’ll be unhealthy. That’s inevitable.
I said earlier that your microbiome contains good guys and bad guys, but if there’s a healthy balance, the good guys will control the bad guys without difficulty. But the good guys do so much more than that. For example –
- Using their own DNA, they can positively affect your hormones, your nervous system and your immune system. They can also alter how your own DNA and RNA express themselves.
- They manufacture vitamins and anti-inflammatory agents that you can’t make yourself. For example – vitamins K and the B vitamins.
- They can bind to and escort from your body dangerous heavy metals and chemicals.
- They can protect against digestive disorders like IBS, for example, along with obesity and many inflammatory diseases.
- They can regulate production of glutathione, an absolutely essential intercellular antioxidant that many of us are short of.
- They communicate in a positive, helpful way with the human cells throughout your body, instructing and advising.
The bottom line is that if all of your microbiome was destroyed, you’d die very quickly. Overall, there’s a hugely valuable symbiotic relationship between it and us in which both sides benefit. For us via things like those listed above along with many more, and for it, there’s an environment that suits them very nicely and they get fed three times a day, that is assuming you’re eating a diet that they like.
So, to keep your microbiome happy and healthy you must nurture it by eating the kind of diet outlined in chapter eleven of WCITM. This type of diet contains lots of what are called prebiotics or microbiome food. There are a few foods that it’s especially keen on, such as cruciferous vegetables, bananas, lentils, anything from the onion family, kidney beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, oats and barley – basically, foods that contain the fibre that we don’t digest but which your microbiome loves. And to give it a boost, consider probiotic supplements, and definitely consider these if you’ve had a course of antibiotics – I make a couple of recommendations in chapter ten of WCITM.
Please note – some of the above-mentioned foods contain high levels of lectins, and lectins are toxins that can damage your digestive tract. To solve that problem, soak and/or cook these foods well to satisfactorily reduce lectin content before eating. You’ll find high lectin food lists on the internet.
The key point to take from this post is that if you want to stay healthy or regain health, look after and maintain a healthy microbiome. Do that and it will pay you back in spades.
Finally, for those with serious gut issues, a faecal transplant is something to consider. Basically, this involves receiving poop from someone who’s healthy. Currently, receiving such an implant is a medical procedure, but researchers are likely to produce a pill in the not too distant future. Whether or not they’ll call it the poop pill I have no idea. 😊
If you want to investigate the subject of this post more deeply and scientifically, go to Wikipedia and search ‘human microbiome’. Or for more depth than this post can provide, presented in an easy to understand way, consider ‘’Heal Your Gut Heal Your Body’ by Chris Woollams M.A.