Just about all of us know by know by now how important the microbiome is to our health. In recent years, scientists have gained a great appreciation of its effects, good and bad. If you need a refresher, the microbiome is a collection of bacterial species that reside in and on the body, with an ability to significant affect health and wellness.
While there’s a good chance you have an understanding of what the microbiome does, did you realize that optimal microbiome health starts in the upper gut with what happens in your stomach and even in your mouth?
This month we bring you these simple tips and tricks based on the latest research to keep your upper digestion and your microbiome in tip-top shape.
The problem with unbalanced gut microbiome
An imbalanced gut microbiome means that there are too many bad (harmful) bacteria in the gut and not enough good, healthy bacteria. That can happen when the foods we eat, especially the processed type, lead to an abundance of bad bacteria. They take over, depleting the good bacteria (often referred to as probiotics), which results in an unbalanced gut microbiome and the potential for a host of health issues.
Just some of the negative conditions that can occur include:
Weight gain. Research, including a study published in the journal Science, has accumulated evidence that certain types of bacteria living in our gut may predispose us to weight gain, particularly when consuming a sugary, high-fat Western-style diet. That’s because scientists discovered that microbes in the gut not only digest food, but they play a key role in governing appetite, controlling metabolism and influencing cravings. Gut bacteria can manipulate hormones that regulate appetite, which in turn determines how quickly you’ll become satiated, or feel full after consuming a meal.
Another effect on weight gain, shown in a 2014 study published in the journal BioEssays, is increased cravings. The results showed that microbes in our gastrointestinal tract may control our moods and cause cravings. After conducting a review of the scientific literature, researchers determined that instead of just surviving off the nutrients we consume, gut bacteria make us crave the nutrients they need to flourish.
A weaker immune system. If you have a gut bacteria imbalance, you may get sick more frequently as it can weaken the immune system.
Lack of energy. Frequently feeling fatigued despite not overexerting yourself can also result from an imbalanced gut microbiome.
Digestive issues. Perhaps the most obvious symptoms, digestive issues like bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation may all be due to an imbalance too.
If you suffer from reflux, there’s a good chance that, like the other gastrointestinal problems, it’s a symptom of an unbalanced gut microbiome.
The best fermented foods for gut health (photo slides?)
Most of our ancestors traditionally consumed fermented and raw foods, which contained plenty of beneficial bacteria. The problem that occurs today typically comes from consuming too many ‘junk’ or processed foods, particularly sugar, as it disrupts the normally healthy composition of the gut. In these foods, the good bacteria are often so processed they become unrecognizable, causing bad bacteria to thrive.
Consuming more fermented foods can help as they’re one of the richest food sources of good bacteria. Studies have shown that ingesting these ‘probiotics,’ particularly in fermented foods, has been found to lead to significant positive improvements to the gut microbiome by feeding your own good gut bugs with nutrients - yet few people eat them on a regular basis.
Some of the best fermented food choices include:
- Organic natural unsweetened dairy yogurt or non-dairy yogurt.
- Dairy and non dairy Kefirs
- Unpasteurized sauerkraut or kimchi
- Miso and tempeh
How to stimulate upper digestion (cartoon graphics)
Stomach acid is our first line of defense against many pathogens. A lack of stomach acid can lead to indigestion and a leaky gut. You can stimulate the body’s production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes by:
- Activating sour taste receptors before meals with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
- Activating bitter receptors by including a salad with bitter greens such as rocket leaves (also known as arugula) with your meal
- Finish your meal with aromatic digestive herbs in tea form - ginger, fennel or kawakawa can work especially well
Eating for a healthy microbiome
For a healthy microbiome, it’s important to avoid the junk like artificial sweeteners, sugars and saturated fats, while increasing your intake of organic, whole foods, including foods that are fermented. Eat plenty of foods rich in prebiotics too, like garlic, onions, artichokes and oatmeal. Polyphenols, micronutrients found in green tea, dark, chocolate, cherries, blueberries and red wine act as antioxidants to decrease inflammation, stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria while inhibiting harmful bacteria.