When you think about the microbiome, it’s important to understand that you can literally change the whole makeup of the gut within 24 hours by just changing your diet. If you are on a high sugar and high carbohydrate diet, within 24 hours of dropping those carbohydrates and dropping those sugars from the diet, you could see major shifts in your microbial makeup. It’s an ecosystem, it’s ever-changing, and it’s the most impactful agent of change on your health. There are a lot of things you can do to help better your health, such as making decisions about what kind of lotion you put on your skin or what kind of functional testing you get done. You can also make decisions about how you sleep, how you move, and how you exercise. However, changing the microbiome and feeding the microbiome so it can thrive is going to be the most beneficial thing that you can do for your health.
The gut is really the root of our health, so when we change the microbiome for the better, we are changing our overall health and giving ourselves a fighting chance against diseases, chronic conditions, and chronic symptoms that could come down the line. It will also help protect us against infection, and it helps us to produce certain nutrients.
There is a lot of talk out there today about dysbiosis, and I thought it would be useful to explain what dysbiosis is. You have a ton of microbial critters running around in your gut. In fact, there are millions of billions of microorganisms below the stomach, in your digestive tract. Most of these bacteria are commensal microbes, which means that they have a symbiotic relationship with you. In other words, we have a mutually beneficial relationship with commensal bacteria. When there is dysbiosis, there is an imbalance due to a decrease in the good bacteria in the gut and an increase in the bad bacteria in the gut. This is usually going to have some sort of a negative impact on the health of the host. It is important to point out that it’s not always going to feel like a bad belly or bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. We could have dysbiosis going on in the gut and have skin issues, headaches, migraines, a difficult time concentrating, and even mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
When it comes to good bacteria, they perform several jobs, but I wanted to distill it down into a few things to concentrate on here. First is the promotion of a mucosal barrier. The mucosal barrier is extremely important. It houses our immune system, and it is also the protector that keeps the gut’s membrane intact so that we’re not having things like a leaky gut or a cracked wall that’s allowing excess permeability from the gut into the rest of the body. Good bacteria also support the colonization of other good bacteria. So, not only are they creating the right ecosystem with that good mucosal layer and immune function, but they’re also supporting more proliferation of other good bacteria in the gut. On top of that, they help us to convert our food into other beneficial products. They create other types of metabolites within the gut and produce short-chain fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and increase our Secretory IgA, our main form of immune defense to protect us against toxins.
There are many kinds of good bacteria and bad bacteria. The bad bacteria produce what are called pro-inflammatory lipopolysaccharides. They form and breed more inflammation in the gut, increasing gut permeability. They also encourage the overgrowth of other opportunistic and pro-inflammatory bacteria. In other words, good bacteria promote more good bacteria, and bad bacteria promote more bad bacteria. Bad bacteria wreck the ecosystem so that good bacteria are not able to proliferate. If we have an overgrowth of bad bacteria, it starts to decrease our good bacteria and we can slide down that slippery slope.
There are three main types of dysfunctions that can happen in dysbiosis. There is insufficient dysbiosis, which means that there’s an overall depletion of bacteria and a population issue going on. There’s sometimes also hyperpermeability in the gut, also known as leaky gut, which down-regulates Secretory IgA or compromises immune function. We can find this on our preferred stool test. The bad bacteria are wreaking a lot of havoc because there’s not a lot of good bacteria or normal flora in the gut to fight them off. Overall, there’s a deficiency or insufficiency of bacteria. The second type, inflammatory dysbiosis, is when we have the presence of a lot of these pro-inflammatory pathogens, such as elevated normal flora and opportunistic organisms. This means we are not dealing with an insufficient number of bacteria, but dealing with an elevated amount of bacteria, as well as a pro-inflammatory environment in the gut. None of these are worse or better than the other and they all have their own kind of signs and symptoms. There might be low stomach acid or low bile production, or low pancreatic enzyme production going on and a reduction in absorption. In this case, you’ll see a lot of undigested food in the stool. Over time when the digestive system has stopped functioning appropriately, it contributes to digestive dysfunction and dysbiosis.
For any of the above-mentioned patterns of dysfunction, we want to include prebiotic fibers that come from vegetables in the diet. These fibers create short-chain fatty acids, which improve our intestinal permeability, our immune function, and the bioavailability or breakdown of minerals in the diet. Prebiotics are extremely important for enhancing our digestive function.
The second important type of food when talking about eating for microbiome is polyphenols. These come from plants and are very helpful in the body. They can decrease blood pressure, decrease inflammation, and help keep our cholesterol levels in balance. They are part of our plant intake that does not break down or do not get absorbed very well in the gut, so they make their way down to the colon, where they become food or fuel for the gut bacteria. Here is a list of some of the most important foods containing polyphenols: onions, alliums, spinach, artichokes, nuts, certain types of fruits, spices, and pomegranates.
Foods we want to decrease are sugars, artificial sweeteners, as well as some of our root vegetables, which are very big sugar storers. This doesn’t mean that we have to remove them out of the diet altogether, but we do want to recognize that they feed the opportunistic or pathogenic bacteria. We want to have them in balance with our above-ground vegetables, green leafy vegetables, and vegetables that are high in the polyphenols and prebiotic fiber. We also want to decrease processed and packaged foods as much as possible, staying with a whole foods diet.
The microbiome influences so many aspects of our health, either for better or for worse. I hope you feel empowered to take control of your health, starting with your microbiome, by intentionally incorporating or limiting certain foods. If you feel that your gut, or any other body system, needs more personalized help, I encourage you to reach out to us at Radiate Wellness and book a Strategy Session with one of our team members. We would love to help you maximize your health and support your microbiome through personalized functional nutrition!