Photo by NIH

The Microbiome: What You Need to Know

Micro-what?  As Dr. Shawna Darou, Naturopathic Doctor, explains, the microbiome is the “more than 100 trillion microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, mouth, nose, throat, lungs, skin and urogenital tract”.  If you’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the microbiome lately, it’s for good reason: Having the right balance in your microbiome is essential for good health.

How Does the Microbiome Impact Our Health?

Dr. Shawna says that the organisms in the microbiome are essential in preventing illness, digesting food, and helping the body to use certain vitamins and nutrients.  In fact, more than 70% of our immune system is composed of the organisms in our microbiome!  Dr. Shawna also says that the microbiome has been linked to weight and metabolism.  While the microbiome is still a fairly new field of research, Dr. Shawna was able to provide us with some exciting discoveries:

  • Infant Immune Deficits: Breastfed babies actually receive microbes through their mother’s milk, which helps in developing a strong immune system.
  • Obesity: Researchers have found a difference in the microbiome makeup between overweight and non overweight people, with a few (1,2, 3) studies linking the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics with childhood obesity.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: A certain pattern of intestinal microbiomes has been shown to increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes. (Source)
  • Psychiatric Illness: Probiotics have been shown to successfully treat depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric problems. (1, 2)

What Causes the Microbiome to Get Out of Whack?

Diet:

Dr. Shawna points out that diet plays a major role in a healthy microbiome.  Eating a diet that is high in sugar and other simple carbohydrates can affect the gut.  Also, genetically modified foods and conventionally raised meats, which are treated with pesticides and antibiotics, respectfully,  can affect the bacteria in your gut.

 Medication:

Dr. Shawna explains that broad-spectrum antibiotics kill off not only the bacteria causing your illness but also healthy bacteria, which can cause problems with your microbiome.  She also says that proton pump inhibitors, used to treat heartburn and acid reflux, block the production of stomach acid, which is the first line of defense against harmful bacteria.

 Stress: High levels of stress, both long-term and short-term, have been shown to negatively affect the microbiome.

What Steps Can Be Taken to Keep the Microbiome Healthy?

 As simple carbohydrates can lead to an unhealthy bacteria balance, Dr. Shawna suggests limiting sugar and other sweeteners, as well as other simple carbohydrates.  She also recommends avoiding genetically modified foods.  Instead, grass fed and organic beef as well as naturally fermented foods such as  sauerkraut, naturally fermented pickles, kim chi, miso and tempeh are better choices. Other suggestions include minimizing the use of antibiotics and seeing a naturopathic physician who can help restore the balance in your microbiome by using anti-microbial herbal supplements and optimal strands of probiotics.

 

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