The Gut Microbiome basically describes the balance of good bacteria and fungal organisms living inside your stomach or ‘gut’. It was not long ago that talking about gut health and microbiome was once considered to be ‘out there’ and a bunch of ‘woo’. These days medical professionals and even specialities such as paediatrics, psychiatry and neurology are noting the importance of these organisms in their field. A healthy population of the right microbiome in the gut equates to a happier and healthier you.
So, how do you ensure you have good gut health and promote the right bacteria?
A healthy gut microbiome starts from birth.
A healthy gut can be promoted right from birth, the most effective way being through a vaginal delivery. If this type of birth is possible it can optimise a child’s chance to pick up beneficial bacteria from mum. In the case of cesarean sections, ‘seeding’ the baby with swabs from mum has now become common practice to encourage the transfer of the right bacterias. To continue positive gut health throughout a child’s growth, breastfeeding and ensuring their environment is not too sterile is best. The use of antibacterial wipes, hand washes and sanitising gels should be limited to when absolutely essential, like during food preparation or in a healthcare facility. Instead, the use of mild soap and water washes should be promoted in the home.
Good food equals a good gut.
Eating a Mediterranean style diet filled with lots of vegetables, fruit, smaller amounts of wholegrains and oily fish, while limiting your meat intake, is a great start to good gut health. Unprocessed food that is organic where possible (aim to at least minimise the dirty dozen) is also recommended to reduce the intake of chemicals such as pesticides. While the regular intake of prebiotic foods is also thought to promote the healthy microbiome.
Adding a probiotic supplement is not necessary if your diet is rich in these foods, and while supplements have been shown to help promote the natural defences of the gut as they pass through, they don’t play a part in colonising the gut. Having fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kvass, kefir, kombucha and jun as part of the diet is thought to be just as beneficial as taking a commercially produced supplement. Other types of natural prebiotics such as the soluble fibre Inulin (found in Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root and dandelion greens) and resistant starches (potato starch and plantains) help keep you and your gut microbiome in the best of health.
What else can I do to maintain a good microbiome?
Limiting the use of antibacterial products in the home is another way to keep gut health in check, as these have a detrimental effect on the microbiome. This includes limiting products containing Triclosan, which can be found in products such as toothpastes. It has been shown that Triclosan decreases beneficial Akkermansia colonies in the gut, even when consumed in small quantities.
Being outdoors and getting a little dirty now and then is also beneficial to the gut. We benefit in many ways from exposure to soil, this is why we always recommend children get muddy and dirty during play. For adults it’s as simple as getting into gardening for a little bit of soil exposure, as well as not being too meticulous in washing off freshly grown produce prior to consumption (if you know there has been no exposure to pesticides). Pet owners have also been shown to have more diversity in their gut microbiome. This has been attributed to contact with soil organisms that animals have on their fur.
Other practical steps to optimise the gut microbiome include having regular (at least daily) bowel movements, restricting eating periods to ensure a minimum of 12 hours of fasting and the use of digestive bitters prior to eating.
Sickness, your body and the microbiome
Antibiotics and illness such as gastroenteritis can have a detrimental effect on the gut microbiome, however if the measures outlined above are instituted, this is only short term and studies show restoration within days. One interesting theory that has emerged in the research in this field is that the appendix plays an important role as a reservoir of healthy bacteria when the microbiome has been affected.
Get to know your gut.
Gut microbiome testing can be used clinically to aid in management such as in cases of suspected irritable bowel syndrome, dysbiosis or metabolic syndrome. The preferred tests that are available in Australia are smartDNA tests such as the smartGUT microbiome test and the IBS Detector test. To organise testing with your practitioner, contact Azure Medical on (08)92869900 or book online today.