By Shana Tatum
Would you believe that bacteria in your gut signals your brain to make neurotransmitters, or that bacteria can manufacture Vitamin K, a necessary co-factor for blood clotting? It has even been shown that bacteria in the gut modulate the immune system, either allowing us to be stronger and fight off the common cold or tip in the other direction, picking up every virus that comes along.
More often, it has a very beneficial effect on the body and its communication systems. The large-scale NIH Human Microbiome Project has revealed most physiological functions are in tandem with the microbiome. Some researchers report that bacteria DNA outnumber human DNA by two to three times.
Because a well-balanced microbial community in the gut contributes to regular bowel movements, optimal digestion, vitamin production, hormonal regulation and fatigue and pain control, wouldn’t you want your microbiome to be in tip-top shape? These five lifestyle steps can help to keep your gut health in check:
– Enjoy a wide range of foods. It’s easy to get stuck with the same meal plan week after week, just ask my family! A report on agrobiodiversity by the Food and Agriculture Organization noted that 75 percent of the world’s food is generated from 12 different plants and five animal species.
By rotating many different fruits and vegetables as well as healthy proteins, we provide different fibers, minerals and vitamins for the bacterial colonies in our bodies. Visit a local farmer’s market like Eleanora’s Market or The Farmstand in Garden Oaks on Saturday mornings and find a new vegetable or fruit to try. Having diversity on our plate contributes to diversity in our gut. Research shows a loss of specimen diversity contributes to disease.
– Get enough prebiotic foods in your diet. By following step one you are closer to step two! Our gut bacteria need food to thrive. This consists of insoluble fiber that comes from plants. Examples include oligofructose, inulin and pectin. These indigestible fibers that you can find by eating apples, oats, nuts, onions, bananas and beans provide the fuel for the microbiome to survive. The recommended daily allowance for fiber is 24-30 grams for adults and 11-13 grams for children, with the bulk of this fiber coming from insoluble sources.
– Limit alcohol. Dysbiosis, an imbalance of gut bacteria, can result from over consumption of alcohol. It has been shown to contribute to endotoxemia, systemic inflammation and tissue damage.
Other studies looked at types of alcohol with regard to the gut microbiome. Comparing effects of gin and red wine, it was observed that gin negatively affected the bacteria, while red wine, when consumed in moderation, improved the beneficial bacteria. The researchers concluded this might be due to the polyphenol content of the grapes in the red wine. While this study is not a reason to begin drinking red wine, if you do consume, follow the dietary guidelines of no more than one drink (4 ounces of wine) per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
– Good sleep hygiene. A good sleep routine of 6-9 hours per night is recommended to keep not only a strong gut microbiome but to avoid heart disease and obesity. When researchers put subjects on a short term partial sleep deprivation, they observed that after only two days a change occurred in the diversity and balance of bacteria. An increase in Firmicutes: Bacteriodetes and higher families of Coriobacteriaceae and Erysipelotrichaceae caused distress in human health such as insulin resistance.
– Daily movement. How many times have you heard the health benefits of exercise? We know a sedentary lifestyle contributes to chronic disease such as diabetes and cancer. Daily movement can lift mood and improve depression, help maintain muscle mass in the aging and improve immunity by activating the lymph system. Without exercise, it puts the gut flora at a disadvantage.
In a 2017 study published in PLOS One, scientists asked if the gut microbiota was a target for the therapeutic effect of exercise by comparing women who exercised against those who did not. Results showed gut flora of a higher population of Bifidobacterium and Akkermansia in those participating in exercise.
With these five steps, you can see how to improve the microbiome of your gut. By keeping a wide range of foods in your diet, filling your plate with fiber-rich foods, when consuming alcohol doing so in moderation, consistently having a good night’s sleep and making daily movement a priority, you will reap the benefits that bacteria in balance have to give.