Your good bugs depend on you for their survival. We each have, if we are lucky, 100 trillion mouths to feed, down inside our belly.
The “human microbiota” includes all the bugs on our skin and everywhere inside us. Our microbiota outnumber our human cells by 10 to 1! We’re just beginning to learn how much they help us.
In The Good Gut, Stanford microbiologists Justin and Erica Sonnenburg describe their experiments which explore how bacteria protect us from:
- allergies (sinus issues, environmental and food allergies)
- autoimmune issues (e.g. lupus, rheumatoid, etc)
- gluten sensitivity
- poor immune system
- psychological and behavioral conditions (In the experiments, the mice with the best microbiota were mentally sharper, more courageous, more energetic, and more resistant to disease. Not obese. And when healthy mice donated their microbiota to obese mice, the fat dropped away effortlessly!)
Nearly everybody has an unbalanced microbiome because of:
– Our shift toward processed foods
– Our exposure to strong antibiotics from medicine but also from foods (meat, eggs, possibly milk)
– Increased C-section deliveries, which do not expose infants to their mothers’ microorganisms (These would be the baby’s first supply of good bugs.)
– Less breastfeeding
– Fewer microbiota received from low-microbiota mothers in recent generations
– Our increased cleanliness overall, which does not challenge our immune system to work with bacteria. (Extreme cleanliness restricts bad and good bacteria.)
We need to feed our microbiome with Pre-biotics: natural plant fiber.
Fiber is non-digestible for us.
Fiber is food for them. They ferment it, consume it, and multiply. Then they benefit our body in hundreds of ways.
If they don’t get enough fiber to eat, they begin to eat the natural mucus and mucosa lining of the intestinal wall. This is not good. Leaky gut.
For people whose microbiota are extremely few, to the point of chronic illness, the Sonnenburgs recommend a fecal transplant (yes, poop) to repopulate good microbes.
I first heard about this in 2011, when my hospital informed us nurses we might be asked to donate, in a pinch. It’s a way to reverse C. difficile (debilitating diarrhea). Fecal transplants are now being used for even more conditions.
If you want to check your own microbiota count, Google ‘microbiota send your sample’ and you’ll find several labs.
It’s healthy to host not only high numbers but a wide variety of bacteria species.
Probiotic supplements can take us only so far, with their few standard strains of good bugs, and these may be transient, not becoming permanent residents in our belly, says The Good Gut.
But if we feed our native microbiota with lots of fermentable carbohydrate fiber, they will flourish.
The Sonnenburgs recommend the Fiber in microbiota accessible carbohydrates (MACs), found in beans, whole grains, nuts, plants, onions, kale, tubers, etc.
They urge us to eat more microbe-alive fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt (all can be homemade).
They think it’s a fine idea not to wash your hands after digging in your own garden or petting your dog. It’s okay to eat a little dirt. This will expose you to beneficial bacteria.
So help yourself to plenty of:
- Unprocessed foods low in sugar
- Fermented foods: cultured yogurt, Kefir, sauerkraut, miso
- FIBER: beans, nuts, whole grains, fiber plants
- Probiotic supplements when needed
Try a gradual increase of fiber, to avoid bloating or discomfort. Aim for 40 Gm of fiber per day. (Wow! Oat bran hot cereal 6 Gm; cup of pumpkin seeds with shells on 12 Gm.)
Yep, you’re right, there might be too many opinions about nutrition. The Paleo diet people are not going to like this, because it’s pushing carbs. But every time I uncover something important to me, I am compelled to share it.
On a philosophical level, being mindful to feed our bacteria might be part of our expanding awareness, as we grow more inclusive to embrace everything in this world. Even microscopic bugs. They have been nurturing us all along.