Health Tips

Are you doing enough to diversify your gut microbiome?

I talk a lot about the gut microbiome and why I believe taking care of your gut microbiome could be the secret to having good health, so in this blog post, I want to explore more about the gut microbiome and share some of my ideas about how you too can make sure that you have a good balance.

What is the gut microbiome?

First of all, let’s take a look at what the gut microbiome is. According to Medical News Today, the gut microbiome weighs approximately 2kgs and is made up of tens of trillions of microbes with a broad range of approximately 1000 different bacteria types. [1] Up until recently, the microbes in our gut have been forgotten about and it’s only in recent years that we are learning more and more about how they can influence our overall health. Did you know that your gut microbiome is like your fingerprint? It’s unique to us, and it could explain a lot about why some of us are struck down by certain bugs when others can fight them off. Yes sure, the immune system has a lot to do with that, but what if it also came down to how diverse your microbiome is?

Let’s have a look at where the gut microbiome is located.

According to the Healthline website, a large majority of the gut microbiome is located in the cecum; a pocket in the large intestine. [2]

Interestingly, the appendix which is located not too far from the cecum, is now being discovered to not be useless after all. In fact, according to Heather F. Smith, PhD, associate professor at Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine, she has evolved on the theory that the appendix is more of a safe house for beneficial bacteria and plays a crucial role in the immune system [3]. So, could the removal of the appendix mean a reduction in the effectiveness of the immune system because of a lack of access to beneficial bacteria? A theory needs more exploration because there is very little research at this stage available on the Internet.

Now we know where it is, let’s have a closer look at bacteria and fungi.

Over the years, harmful bacteria have been explored in great detail. We have learnt many exciting new things about bacteria and how it can cause disease. A story that I have read about recently during my studies is that of the Cholera Outbreak in London back in the 1800’s. It was such a problem in the Broad Street area that it killed approximately 10,000 in 1853 [2]. Through an analysis of the area and from collecting data, Dr Snow a Doctor in London, theorised that perhaps the problem was coming from an infected water pump. The water pump handle in Broadstreet was taken away and the Cholera infections stopped [3]. My point in mentioning this story is that for many years we have understood harmful bacteria but what do we know about beneficial bacteria? Very little in fact. It has only been in the last few years that we are starting to understand that there are bacteria that are good for us. There are trillions of those too and we are surrounded by them every day. They live on us, they live around us and they live with us. I even have beliefs that depending on where you live will also depend on the different diversity of microbiome you have. For example; my husband works outdoors on a large private estate. He is surrounded by farmland, nature, vegetation, animals and more. His microbiome must be buzzing because he is living and breathing it daily, and he rarely has any digestive problems. I always joke with him saying he has an iron gut, because for me my gut is my weakness, but for Simon, it’s his strength.

If bacteria can make you sick, then surely they can make you well too? And could it be as simple as those who spend a lot of time indoors have a less diverse microbiome than someone like my husband who works outside? When I think about the evolution of humans, we have evolved outdoors, on the land surrounded by natural wild yeasts and an abundance of bacteria we cannot see. We have also become very clean over the years, and whilst that’s not a bad thing, I do believe it’s important to let your children play in the dirt and get their hands grubby. Sure wash them afterwards but even allowing dirt to touch the hands can introduce different bacteria.

Understanding bacteria and fungus

All bacteria and fungi can grow. They can colonise and given an opportunity, they can take over their host and cause a whole heap of problems. Looking at nature first, the fungus can kill a tree. Just like a different strain of fungus that can grow out of control in our bodies (Candida Albicans), the fungus found in nature also feeds off sugar and will disease a tree over time. I find fungus extremely interesting and whilst we hear about the bad stuff fungus does, surely there has to be good stuff too? When I was following my Candida diet, I started to make water kefir juice and ginger ale through the art of fermentation. During fermentation wild yeasts grow, and other yeasts can colonise. There are yeasts found in both my drinks, so did the friendly yeasts help to kill off the harmful fungus in my body? These are really important questions that I hope one day to be able to answer during my Ph.D.

Aside from yeasts and fungus, bacteria are the other area of interest for me. I have learned so much about bacteria in the past 18 months and up until now, I had never really given much thought about them or how they grow. When I started the business selling bone broth, I had to start my approval process with the council to ensure that I was preparing food in a safe environment. As part of my approval, I had to send my food off to be checked in the lab for harmful pathogens. This is to ensure that my preparation of food is safe and that none of the food I make contains harmful pathogens. As a result, I had to complete a Level 3 qualification in Food Health and hygiene. During my course, I learned more about harmful pathogens; and how they grow quicker and colonise at certain temperatures, therefore I need to make sure I always cool my food quickly to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Having this understanding of the growth of bacteria has now given me a great insight into the colonisation of beneficial bacteria. I will explain what I mean. Over the last month or so, I have found it hard to ferment my ginger ale. I can always get my ginger bugs going but when I add them to my ginger sugar water for the next stage of fermenting, I find the fermentation process is barely happening. The room where I carry out second-stage fermentation has become a lot cooler. Temperatures are down to about 12 degrees. It suddenly dawned on me the other day, that the reason I am having the problem with colonising the yeasts and bacteria is because they are unable to grow quickly in cooler temperatures. Since moving them to a warmer spot in the house, they are now colonising quickly and back to their usual standard. So, just as harmful bacteria grow in warmer temperatures, will the beneficial bacteria, that’s because there’s no difference. They are just bacteria. The same applies to the bacteria growth in the human body; if the conditions are right, then bacteria will grow.

The growth of unknown bacteria in the human body is a major problem for the diversity of the gut microbiome. Many of the unknown bacteria that reside in an unhealthy gut could be causing an array of health problems yet to be discovered. For example; I have been reading a book called 10% Human by Alanna Colleen. She writes about how recent studies have uncovered that there could be a link between a bacteria that lives in the gut of obese people that is making them fat! I find this truly remarkable and it makes a lot of sense because most people who are suffering from obesity tend to gorge on large amounts of sugary, starchy foods; the foods that bacteria, and yeasts, love to feed on, the very foods that make them grow in abundance. In Alanna’s book, she also discusses a story in America about a lady whose son is autistic and developed autistic symptoms after he took antibiotics as a baby. Ellen Bolte [4] has since discovered that her son had a certain type of bacteria living in his gut, and when he was treated with a different bacteria to target killing the “autism bacteria”, the symptoms of autism improved, just as it did in other children who underwent the trial. This study is still ongoing, so it will be really interesting to see how it unfolds in the future.

Looking after your gut microbiome

Since I discovered Candida, more specifically microbiology, I have been interested in my microbiome and how I can encourage it to survive and thrive. Thinking about how I can make my microbiome happy is now having profound effects on my mood and my life in general. I believe that having an abundance of diverse microbes has a positive effect on my overall health.

Here are some of my tips on how you can look after your microbiome:

1) Eat a variety of natural foods and think green. Pretty much every green vegetable is good for you. Especially the leafy green ones. Kale is considered nature’s super green because of the variety of nutrients it can give the body [5]. Reduce the amount of processed foods you eat, basically anything that comes in a packet or can. You don’t have to remove them completely but I believe they should only be about 10-20% of your diet. Processed foods have been manufactured in mass and are missing many of the nutrients your body needs to be able to function. If you have a staple diet of these foods only, then you are not feeding your gut, you’ll be starving it of everything it needs to be able to function properly. Remember, that your digestion is the place where everything is broken down so that all the goodness within food can be directed to where it needs to go. Therefore, if you are not eating what your body needs, how can you expect it to function properly? For more information on dietary info, click here.

2) Start including bone broth into your diet. According to Dr Josh Axe, bone broth has many health benefits including inflammation reduction [6]. Drink it, add it to soups, and have it as often as you can; daily if possible.

3) Introduce a high-strength probiotic into your diet. If I’m honest, some probiotics work others don’t. I have found a good probiotic and the one I use frequently can be found here.

4) Slowly introduce fermented foods into your diet. Fermentation of foods has been around for thousands of years. Up until refrigeration, fermentation was used to preserve foods; stopping them from going rotten. We are now learning through science that fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria all important for keeping a healthy gut. Please note; that I include fermented foods as part of my regular diet. They should not replace other whole foods. Make sure you buy them from a reputable supplier such as Boil and Broth.

5) Include prebiotic foods in your diet. Prebiotic foods are foods that help to encourage the beneficial bacteria within your gut to grow. Think of it as food for your microbiome.

6) Reduce the amount of meat products you are including in your diet and try to buy grass-fed, free-range animal products when you do eat them. I believe you have to be careful when including meat products in your diet, because of the number of harmful bacteria that can be transferred from animals to humans, not to mention antibiotic use in animals used only to promote growth, all of which can hurt our health. Did you know the reason you are not to wash chicken is because of the bacteria that can spread in your kitchen?

7) Wash your hands frequently if you are unwell to avoid spreading bacteria and viruses, and make sure you always wash your hands before handling food.

8) Drink from a water bottle that is cleaned frequently. Dirty drink bottles can carry harmful pathogens which can lead to UTIs and other urinary tract infections.

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