The importance of our microbiome
A guest blog post by Naomi Smith (edited by TASK)
“All disease begins in the gut”Hippocrates
Our Microbiome is making headlines these days – it’s the thing everyone is talking and wants to know more about. I for one am pretty excited by it!
The more we are finding out about our microbiome the more it emphasises its connections to almost everything in our body and its overall ability to shape how we function. Certainly within my clinical practice I am finding incredible links between this and many other health complaints. When we re-balance our gut microbiome the rest of our body returns to balance also.
With this in mind, I’d like to share some informative and helpful information which might enable you to better understand your own microbiome and how to nurture it for your long term health and wellbeing.
What is the Microbiome
Our microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes (microscopic creatures such as bacteria, fungi and viruses) that live on and around us, although the majority are located in the gut. In a balanced microbiome there are some not so healthy microbes (the bad guys) but the majority of microbes don’t harm us – in fact they help with a number of actions such as digesting our food, protecting against infection and maintaining reproductive health (the good guys). Society tends to focus on destroying bad microbes but taking care of the good ones is even more important!
It’s about quantity and quality
At least 85% of microbes in our gut should be healthy AND we need a variety. In order to keep balance it’s all about quantity and quality of the good microbes. To give you some perspective, humans are made up of approximately 100 trillion cells including an estimated 10,000 different species. However, approximately 90 trillion of these make up our microbiome – fascinating huh? So lets think about that – you are effectively a walking and talking ecosystem and your microbiome actually provides more genes that contribute to human survival than the human genome itself. This is why having the right balance of bacteria is crucial to our health.
The second brain
Our gut is often referred to as our second brain and there is good reason for that – our gut-brain, known technically as the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) can work independently by itself without input from the brain to control movement and the absorption of food – no other area of the body can do this.
The gut and brain communicate directly via the Vagus nerve, a cranial nerve extending from the brainstem to the abdomen via the heart, oesophagus and lung – known as the gut-brain axis. 90% of the fibres in the vagus carry information from the gut to the brain. This communication happens through molecules that are produced by gut bacteria and then enter the bloodstream. The gut is constantly sending signals up toward our brain and it’s therefore understood that our gut can influence certain feelings and behaviours such as stress and sadness, as well as influencing memory, decision making etc. There are close connections between our gut and emotions, so ‘trusting your gut’ or to have a ‘gut feeling’ actually begins to take on an entirely new meaning.
Our microbiome forms from the day we are born
A baby receives its first microbes from its mother via the vaginal canal as it passes through, and then continues to receive special nutrients via the mothers breast milk which support its microbes to flourish and build up immunity. If delivered by C section and/or bottle fed, it will not benefit from the initial completeness of microbiomes so its possible the immune system could be compromised to a degree.
Links have been found to show a higher rate of immune diseases and asthma in children born via c section. It takes up to the first 2 years for a child’s healthy microbe community to form and then it can start producing their own. As we go on through our lives the choices we make with regards to food and lifestyle and environmental factors shape the health of our microbiome.
A balanced and healthy microbiome can:
- Break down the food we eat so that we can digest it.
- Enable the absorption of nutrients so that the rest of the body can do its job
- Regulate immunity – approximately 80% of our immune is located in our gut
- Protect against disease
- Produce serotonin (our ‘happy hormone’), dopamine (our motivation) and noradrenaline – (our alertness) and oxytocin (our self esteem, and how we love and trust)
- Play an internal part in keeping oestrogen levels low
- Break down our food into macro nutrients and to enhance better absorption.
- Maintain integrity in our gut wall.
An underdeveloped microbiome is linked to many conditions
An imbalance of beneficial versus harmful gut bacteria, known as dysbiosis has been linked to a number of psychiatric and neurological disorders such as autism, anxiety, depression and stress.
It may even play a role in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. This suggests a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or product of anxiety, stress or depression. What we know is, diseases and health issues have heightened greatly in the recent years, a number of which are now understood to have a direct link with our microbiome. So, the importance of nurturing our microbiome is crucial if we are to take back control of own health.
What gets in the way of a healthy microbiome?
Diet –Too much sugar, additives, bad fats and an unhealthy level of gluten, (main offenders being wheat based breads and pastas etc). These foods put enormous pressure on the digestive system to process which in turn means the parting of our good bacteria.
Antibiotics and other medicines – Many modern drugs deplete nutrients in our body or destroy the good bacteria. It’s true that antibiotics have saved millions of lives over the years by killing off the bad bacteria or preventing them to flourish, but the drawback is that they also kill off all the good bacteria which creates harmful changes in composition and diversity of the gut flora.
Physical Activity – These days most of us tend to live our lives in a sedentary manner. We simply do not move enough. Physical activity has a wide range of health benefits including weight loss and lower stress levels. It is also helpful for the growth of our good bacteria.
Environment – The enormous rise in chemicals and toxins being used around us and on us. Times have changed greatly in the passed 100 years. Everything from large scale agriculture farming methods, to pollution levels and even the skincare products you use on your body. Skin is your largest organ, it absorbs everything.
Alcohol – Alcohol can help bad bacteria flourish and too much can be detrimental to your health both physically and mentally.
Keen to be clean – We have microbiome on our hands so being too obsessive and using lots of chemicals can have a depleting affect as well. Remember back in the good old days, they kept things clean with good old fashioned natural soap and water for the most part. Yes, there have been some wonderful advances of cleaning technology but some things just didn’t need improving on. These days there is a range of chemical products for literally every room and item in the house – whilst keeping germs away it is important ro remember that they also kill the good bacteria too.
Stress – Research has shown that when under stress the gut microbiome communities become discombobulated and can behave erratically. The ways in which this affect us varies in each individual. I know a number of people for example that when under stress they have issues with bowel movements, so it’s clear there is an upset of sorts in the gut area.
Sleep and the lack of – Your body needs to rest. Sleep is an important function for the body and these days most of us either burn the candle at both ends with our busy lifestyles or we simply can’t sleep or lack quality of sleep. Sleep deprivation can alter the balance of gut bacteria and its also very likely that poor gut health could be the reason for many sleep issues.
What can we do differently for our health and wellbeing?
- Eat a wide range of heathy foods so we have a variety of nutrients and foods that are immune boosting and blood sugar balancing. Also, we need plenty of clean water – it’s essential for energy, digestion, hydration and skin!
- I think it’s a good idea to assess whether taking an antibiotic or a form of medicine is the only course of action before ploughing straight ahead and if it is then consider taking a good quality probiotic afterward to quickly replenish and repopulate your good bacteria. Perhaps there is also another route either independently or alongside to pursue to understand what is causing the issue in the first place?
- Get more active in your daily routine – find the activity that you enjoy most and see where else you can increase some activity, like taking the stairs rather than the lift etc and start today!
- Environmental influences, I appreciate that we cannot change some of the larger issues in the immediate future but we can make different choices to protect ourselves from these influences such as choosing natural organic brands of food, skincare etc, get a good water filter, limit the plastics you eat and drink from and keep electronics turned off unless in use etc…
- Cut down alcohol consumption . By all means enjoy your ‘high days and holidays’ but look to enjoy the odd glass on those special occasions rather than pushing the limit on a regular basis.
- Use natural cleaning products. Spring clean your home and rid yourself of any excess chemical products that could be substituted for a more natural alternative – Keep it simple but lessen the chemicals that surround you.
- Limit your stress and address your stressors. Know what your signs are and then ensure you have the right tools and knowledge to deal with it.
- A good bed time routine. Turn off your electronics an hour before bed and get your mind focussed for sleep. Ensure you sleep in a darkened room, avoid too many fluids prior to sleeping and try to get your sleep between 10pm and 6am. Great sleep is about quality as well as quantity.
- Take quality supplements designed to support you gut. I use various ones on myself as well as in clinic with clients. A healthy gut means a healthy you, so do the best you can for it!
Our microbiome is a pretty amazing
The human microbiome is an exciting ongoing area of scientific discovery. What we know so far is that it shapes the function of our health and wellbeing positively and negatively depending on the overall health of our gut. It has a direct communication link to our brain. Microbiome is an intelligent and complex community which is yet to be understood fully. However, the beauty of our microbiome is that we can have great influence over whether or not its healthy by the choices we make and how we chose to nurture it.
If you have digestive or any other issues, get in touch with your local Kinesiologist to see if they can help.
Born and bred in New Zealand Naomi is deeply passionate about empowering people to transform their body and health through real and positive change.
Whilst currently residing in Surrey, Naomi spent 10 years in London which led her through a fascinating journey into the area of health and wellness.
Naomi is a Health and Wellness Coach, Systematic Kinesiologist and Nutritional Therapist. She works with people who experience anything from serious health concerns, to more milder yet persistent health conditions, as well as those wanting to lose weight and generally feel better about themselves.
You can contact Naomi via TUKN Online Register or via her website The Balanced Kiwi