As often happens in medicine, we take a relatively simple concept and then give it a really intimidating name, so no one knows what the heck we’re talking about! The “microbiome” refers to the bacteria that live in our gut (intestines).
There are more bacteria in the gut than cells in the human body! In fact, one could make the case (with tongue only partially in cheek) that the human body is just a vehicle for the care and feeding of bacteria! In all seriousness, what is this microbiome and why should you care about it?
The microbiome is established during birth and enhanced by a mother’s milk (another reason to breastfeed your children, but I digress!). Once established, these bacteria live in our intestines in a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship. If you take care of them, they’ll take care of you, literally. Not surprisingly, these bacteria are crucial to digestion but also aspects of your health that might surprise you.
The gut is an immunologically active part of the body, and these bacteria play a crucial role in this immune function. A person’s susceptibility to diabetes, heart disease and even obesity itself seem to be affected by an individual’s microbiome. In fact, it seems the more we study the microbiome the more things we seem to find it influencing. Ok, so now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you this thing you never heard of before is important… what do you do about it? Before we talk about what’s good for your microbiome, let’s first talk about what’s bad for the microbiome.
Basically, everything about the Standard American Diet (SAD) is bad for your microbiome…the processed sugars, the lack of fiber, the pesticides, the artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners. The solution is incredibly simple, it is (wait for it!)…. EAT. REAL. FOOD. It may not be easy, but it is definitely simple. If you feed yourself well, you’ll be feeding your microbiome well. Fiber is critical for our microbiome. Basically, fiber is food that we can’t digest but the bacteria in our gut can. The fiber, (literally) feeds your microbiome and the best source of fiber? You guessed it!…Real food, specifically vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
We have established how important this complex word is, how do you nurture it? The key is to ensure you have more “good” bacteria in your gut than “bad”. The bad bacteria will cause your gut to be in an imbalanced state – which can lead to sickness and disease.
Now that you have a better understanding of the correlation between food and how sickness develops, isn’t it empowering to know you can control the health of your body simply by choosing the right foods?
By Dr. Michael Bilof
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