On the Care & Feeding Of Your Gut Microbiota
Hey. You have a big responsibility. A giant one, in fact.
You are the host to an entire ecosystem of microorganisms. A variety of bacteria and other microbes line nearly every surface of your body, with each organ hosting a distinct mix of these microbes. These critters serve a variety of purposes, helping to activate our immune system, creating anti-inflammatory molecules, manufacturing vitamins that we can use to supplement our food, and more. Truly amazing.
But as the host AND the microbial habitat, you are responsible for your microbes’ care and feeding.
Your best-known microbiota (the collection of microbes unique to you) is located in your gut, though you have more throughout the body and they are all connected. This microbiota is home to tens of trillions of microbes that contain 150 times more genes than your own genes! These microbes include bacteria, archaea (bacteria-like microorganisms), fungi, viruses, parasites, and phages (viruses that regulate bacteria and parasites). Most of these microbes work in your favor, however, there are a small portion that can be potentially harmful. These pathogenic bugs can sometimes take over if the conditions are right, leading to a whole variety of different symptoms, from imbalanced mental health, to cardiovascular issues, to digestive distress, and everything in between.
Here’s where your microbiota’s care and feeding come in: Lifestyle factors such as a diet that’s too high in processed foods or fats or proteins (even the “good” ones), chronic stress, lack of sleep, and medication (especially antibiotic use, but others as well) disrupt the delicate balance between the preferred, helpful microbes and the potentially harmful ones. For the most part, these are factors that we can control to promote a more optimal microbiota.
We can focus on nourishing our gut microbes by eating more whole foods with lots of plant-based foods, getting enough water, managing stress, getting sufficient amounts of high-quality sleep, avoiding antibiotics when possible, and spending time in nature.
Stay tuned for our next blog post, when we will share how to eat your way to a more balanced microbial ecosystem!