10 Tips on The Care and Feeding of Your Inner Zoo
Did you know your body is home to 100 trillion microbes whose population is largely shaped by what you eat and drink?
If you’d like to improve your digestion, energy and mood, then meet your “gut microbiome” (the microbes and their genes that are living in your digestive tract). Like a city zoo, your large intestine houses roughly 1,000 different species, including bacteria, yeast, protozoa, viruses and worms. Your job is to cultivate a congenial clan that will support your health instead of erode it!
This diverse community begins to inhabit our body as we move through the birth canal and its full population is achieved by around age 3. By then, about half of the cells in and on are body will be microbial, making us only half human!
SYMBIOSIS: A “WIN – WIN” STRATEGY
Our inner zoo is filled with probiotic organisms that live in symbiosis. Here’s how symbiosis works: we provide our little critters with a warm, moist, nutrient-rich environment in which to live, and they they provide us an array of health benefits including:
- Training our immune system to distinguish between “self” and “non-self”, to protect against autoimmunity and defend us from foreign invaders
- Break down the final end-products of digestion for elimination
- Regulate gut permeability and absorption of nutrients and toxins
- Fermentation of fiber into fatty acids that feed and nurture our “inner skin”
- Crowd out parasites and pathogens
- Synthesize key nutrients: vitamins B12, K and biotin
- Detoxify hormones, drugs, alcohol, pesticides, etc.
- Influence mood, behavior, weight, allergies, immunity and more
DYSBIOSIS: AN IMBALANCED GUT FLORA
Unfortunately, we humans have developed a number of practices that have thrown this healthy community into dysbiosis, with a loss of friendly species (Lactobacillus) and an overgrowth of troublemakers (like C.diff).
According to Marty Blaser, MD, the overuse of antibiotics could be fueling the dramatic increase in conditions such as obesity, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune conditions, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies and asthma. His book “Missing Microbes: How The Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling Our Modern Plagues,” is a must-read for everyone concerned with their health.
As you probably know, antibiotics kill bacteria not viruses, which are the cause of most colds and flus. But the overuse of antibiotics in medicine and factory-farmed livestock has led to antibiotic resistance, killing off the susceptible bugs and allowing those who survive to thrive, ultimately selecting bacteria with antibiotic resistance. We are inadvertently speeding up the time when will no longer have antibiotics to kill the super-bugs that are breeding today.
So let’s take a more active role in our own self-care and use natural therapies to support our innate healing capacities before asking healthcare professionals for antibiotics every time we get a cold, sore throat or cough. To that end, here are…
10 TIPS TO CULTIVATE A HEALTHY MICROBIOME:
- Eat a diet high in fiber and rich in “prebiotics.” Prebiotics are plant fibers that are fermented by our gut microbes to make fuel for the cells that line our intestines. Feed your microbes apples with the skin, asparagus, onion and garlic, jicama, dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichokes, broccoli and the cruciferous vegetables as well as beans and grains to tolerance.
Note: Those with irritable bowels (that’s 20% of us) will need to strike a balance in eating these “FODMAPs” or fermentable carbohydrates. Too high an intake may lead to excessive gas and bloating, while too little may lead to constipation. My next post will focus on IBS, SIBO and the FODMAPs, so stay tuned!
- Do an overnight fast of at least 12 hours: Humans are daytime feeders and our intestines are designed to rejuvenate and perform housekeeping functions at night. While we’re sleeping, our body initiates a “cleansing wave” every 90 minutes, sweeping its contents down and out. A belly full of food at bedtime shuts this process down and can lead to a host of chronic health problems.
- Eat fermented foods: Humans have been culturing yogurt, fermenting cabbage and making miso for millennia. Fermentation occurs naturally (without adding vinegar) when the microbes naturally present on the vegetables meet the right amount of salt water, generating a preserved food that contains an array of friendly organisms (if done correctly). Check out my fresh Kimchi recipe below (think Korean sauerkraut)!
- Eat organic produce: Conventionally grown produce contains pesticides that interfere with our gut microbiome and promote weight gain (obesogens).
- Eat organic meat: Conventionally raised livestock contains antibiotics and growth hormones that promote antibiotic resistance and weight gain.
- Limit the intake of processed and packaged food products: These contain an array of chemicals, antibiotics and preservatives that negatively impact our gut microbiome.
- Take probiotics after antibiotics: Antibiotics kill a portion of our gut microbes and evidence indicates it takes 2 months to 2 years to return to a state of balance. Choose a probiotic with a number of strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species numbering 25-50 billion.
- Drink purified water, green tea and limit or eliminate alcohol.
- Avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary: Remember, antibiotics act like “napalm on the rainforest” wiping out whole communities, while allowing those with resistant genes to thrive.
- Avoid C-sections and breast-feed babies! While C-sections have saved the lives of countless mothers and their babies, approximately one third of pregnant women receive C-sections (mostly for convenience) and about half of women receive antibiotics during pregnancy or delivery. These practices skip the trip through the birth canal that has implanted the microbes of our mother’s since time immemorial, producing unintended consequences for our species.
So to help you implant some friendly microbes into your tummy, I’m sharing my favorite fermented food recipe with you! Kimchi is a Korean condiment, very similar to sauerkraut. This is a distinctly California version…very fresh, not too hot and full of fiber and phytonutrient-rich spices! Colorful carrots, cilantro, ginger, garlic, onion are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients that turn down inflammation. Kimchi is known for its ability to help constipation, normalize serum cholesterol and slow control weight gain, so dig in!
My mission is to feed you healthy recipes and tasty bites of power-packed information. Let me know if you enjoy this recipe and post by liking or commenting below. A santé! (To health)!
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