You likely are both, though maybe you haven’t thought about the community on the inside of your GI lately: How can you when you are taking on the universe?
Whether you like it or not, you are a walking, breathing, eating, diverse carrier of microorganisms with more than 3 MILLION microbial genes in our GI alone. Welcome to your microbiome! It is the home for probiotics, or the live microbes that work hard to share your space and improve your health and metabolism. Weighing in at around 2 kg, these organisms are of serious interest in health as they may help improve your immune function and be a barrier that protects you from disease. Research in this area is extensive, and while we wait to learn more, there are some simple changes you can make to support your internal fighters.
Probiotics are the ‘good’ or ‘healthy’ bacteria that help breakdown food as it moves through your system. Mucus surfaces form barriers in the GI and allow microbes to live in a symbiotic way with different levels of tissue having differing types of microbes. By living on the lining of the GI, they help to provide balance and prevent inflammation in an area that is the frontline for invaders. By producing antibacterial compounds, they are able to kill off disease-causing microbes that may be in your digestive system. These actions protect and support your immune system and also help detoxify by removing those elements that can cause damage.
As our lifestyles have changed the balance of healthy/unhealthy bacteria in our GI has changed as well. Where once we spent the majority of our time outside harvesting food in nature, now we have little connection with the land, tend to eat more processed foods and have a higher intake of antibiotics through treatment and as residue in foods. This has made life harder for our GI dwelling friends, as they need fuel to survive and sometimes this is hard to find. Spending time working in the dirt, planting a vegetable garden and being in the fresh air helps expose us to different bacteria and may help with diversity.
So, how can we ensure these microbes are keeping us healthy on the inside? Here are some tips for nurturing your own personal biome:
- Choose unprocessed foods that are low in sugar
- Eat more fermented foods such as plain yogurt with active cultures, sauerkraut, kefir or kombucha
- Eat more plants and give your gut the fiber it needs!
- Probiotic supplements may help replete a reduced microbial community
- Use antibiotics only when indicated
- Eat prebiotic foods such as bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans and whole-wheat foods
While there is much that remains unknown about the microbiome and its role in health, even a superhero can make some small changes to take care of our smallest friends.
Author: Lisa Wingrove RD CSO
Nutrition Outreach and Development Coordinator