Gut Health: What is your Microbiome?
I have been enlightened by the book The Microbiome Solution, written by gastroenterologist and microbiome expert, Dr Robynne Chutkan. The book clearly explains what the microbiome is: organisms that live in your body which help with the function of the gut and body! And she further breaks down how our medication consumption and inadequate diet in the West has been seriously harming our microbiome and affecting our health. This article is an in-depth look at Chutkans ideas on diagnosing Dysbiosis, the symptoms, and how to fix it. As Chutkan would say, learn how to live dirty and eat well so we can help grow a flourishing gut garden!
(By the way, this article is not sponsored, I just love this book!)
The microbiome is made-up of bacteria (good and bad), viruses, fungi, protozoa, helminths, worms and all of their genes. There are around one-hundred-trillion microbes in, and on your body, and more than a billion bacteria in one drop of fluid from your colon alone! Even more astounding is that your microbial footprint develops over your life-time and tells you every single thing about: your parent’s health, where you were born, what you’ve eaten, whether you were fed breast milk or not, where you’ve lived, your occupation, personal hygiene, past infections, even your emotions! (The list does go on longer than that as well). Amazing! They probably hold more information than your passport, DNA and social media combined!
This system is so vastly complex, it’s quite incredible. In short, your microbiome and its diversity or lack thereof can affect things like immune function, bowel movements, infection resistance, taste receptors, metabolism, mood and the amount of yeast in the body. If your microbiome is lacking in diversity, it could lead to several wide-range issues. These issues include chronic fatigue, acid reflux, food cravings, anxiety, depression, memory loss, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, yeast infections, IBS, dandruff, brain fog, abdominal pain, arthritis, bacterial vaginosis, rosacea, eczema (and so much more!). Fundamentally it is linked to your brain, gut, skin, vagina and even internal organs.
THE WESTLY CLEANLINESS
Chutkan begins by explaining that our food in shops is full of chemicals, and ideally we would all be living on a farm — living dirtier and eating cleaner. The rise in diseases correlates to our sanitised lifestyle and poor dietary choices. Food high in sugar, fat and starches all feed our harmful bacteria, if you couple this with the use of antibiotics which wipe out a monumental chunk of your good microbiome in an attempt to rid the bad ones. Thus leading to more potent pathogens (harmful bacteria) that leads to an imbalance. Additionally your bacteria (good and bad) will do anything to survive, like change your taste buds into ones that love sweetness just so it can be fed! (Those sugar cravings make sense now don’t they).
This system is so intelligent without our awareness, that when you’re a baby, there is something called HMO’s in the breast milk. These HMO’s are not digestible to the baby, but instead feed the good bacteria within (bifidobacterium), to help strengthen the child’s immune system. Further, the bifidobacterium repels staphylococcus and other harmful bacteria, that’s on the mother’s nipple. Pretty incredible how the body’s organisms can protect us right from the start isn’t it! However, sadly our sanitised life of bleach, anti-bac soaps and pharmaceuticals are getting in the way of our natural microbe protection!
Dysbiosis is the name for when your microbiome is in a state of imbalance, and some questions to ask yourself to find out if you have it are:
- Have you taken antibiotics more than four times per year or longer than two weeks at a time?
- Have you been on hormonal birth control methods in the last five years?
- Have you taken corticosteroids for longer than two weeks?
- Have you been on acid-suppressive therapy with histamine blockers for more than a month at a time?
- Do you take Ibuprofen, aspirin, or other NSAID’s regularly?
- When you were younger, did you avoid vegetables?
- Have you consumed large amounts of sugar and starchy foods?
- Do you drink more than ten alcoholic beverages per week?
- Do you drink soft drinks (even diet ones) daily?
- Have you ever suffered from diarrhoea when travelling?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with a parasite?
If you’ve said yes to one or more of these, there is a likelihood you suffer from Dysbiosis, as the more you answered yes to the more it has compounded the issue. And if you suffer from any of the symptoms then its further proof you may need to take more care of your microbiome. The symptoms are acne, rosacea, chronic food sensitivities, bloating and smelly gas, bad breath, gum disease, brain fog, yeast problems, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, difficulty losing weight, frequent cold or flu, sinus infections, mucus in stool, acid reflux, stomach bugs, unexplained diarrhoea, dandruff, vaginal or anal itching.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
In this book, Chutkan goes over her live dirty and eat clean plan which is full of fabulous information and recipes on how to repopulate your microbiome! Here is my summary, but if you want the whole program, I recommend downloading her book on Audible.
- Throw out the medications mentioned above (especially try to avoid antibiotics unless your doctor is 100% certain it would be life-threatening not to)
- Eat less meat, stick to grass-fed (non-antibiotic) lean meats and oily fish.
- Focus your attention on fruit and vegetables, saying no to all processed and sugary foods.
- Say no to sweeteners (they can be worse than sugar itself), instead opt for Manuka honey if you crave sweetness
- Avoid drinking chlorinated tap water (get a chlorine filter)
- Try non-hormonal contraceptive methods
- If you have the choice, then eat food that was grown pesticide-free and non-GMO
- Go to farmers markets for locally sourced veggies, or look for shops that sell soil covered irregular looking veg (don’t eat the dirt though)
- Try to limit your dairy intake to natural yoghurt and occasional matured cheeses.
- Eat carbs high in fibre: fruits, vegetables, some whole grains, beans, brown rice.
- Other excellent carbs: Green bananas, green peas, lentils, uncooked rolled oats, white cannellini beans.
- High microbe feeding foods: Leaks, banana, garlic, onion, artichokes, asparagus, chicory root, fermented food (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles).
- Clean your body less — instead of using harsh soaps and shampoos — opt for natural products with no alcohol, sulphates or anything can’t be eaten really. (Do the same with your household cleaning products too!)
- See a gastroenterologist who is well-versed in the microbiome to see if you may need to take supplements such as high-dose probiotics (as over-the-counter one’s are inadequate)
She goes onto explain the 1, 2, 3 rule. Instead of calorie counting and worrying about your food, enjoy the process and remember one vegetable for breakfast, two for lunch and three for dinner — this should keep you on the right track and not overly stressing about it!
I wish I could tell you all the invaluable information I learnt from this book, but here is a little drop in the ocean for you. This might seem scary in these COVID-19 times to be told to stop using hand sanitiser, however it makes sense that not all germs are foe but friends too. If you watch children playing, you can see that their affinity to putting random things in their mouths and rolling in dirt is instinctual: much like a horse that turns itself in the mud (don’t go out and eat mud though).
Although science has taken us far in a whole host of ways and in terms of preventing disease, perhaps it did over-look the idea of bugs instead of drugs. So give it a try; get closer to nature, instead of washing with harmful products try more natural products, try and avoid antibiotics and eat more plants! I wish you well on your journey, and I really recommend giving this book a read if you’re interested in regaining your wellness.
Written by Jacqueline Renouard
Jacqueline Renouard is a Film and TV Production graduate with a passion for self-improvement. Her passion extends to researching psychology, nutrition and wellbeing through her 8-year yoga and meditation practice, and writing across many different styles.