If you're like me, you grew up thinking of all microorganisms as "germs" and something to be avoided at all costs. Wow, have things changed! While it is true that some microbes cause disease, we now know that each one of us is walking around with about 100 trillion microorganisms on board - outnumbering our cells 10 to 1 and adding between 2 and 5 pounds to our body weight.
We used to view our relationship with these tiny beings from an antagonistic, "us-vs-them" perspective. Now, we understand that our "microbiome" is more like an eco-system which we are only beginning to explore, and that we are dependent on this system for some important functions. Among other things, micro-organisms help us digest food, synthesize vitamins, regulate glucose, and maintain a healthy immune system.
So, once you've recovered from the realization that you are like a big spaceship for a host of unknown passengers, how can you make sure that everyone on board plays together well? While your personal microbiome is unique, here are five general ways that you can keep yours diverse and healthy:
- Avoid using hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial soaps: Good hand washing is still the best way to lower bacterial counts without producing resistant strains of bacteria. If you aren't near soap and water, opt for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer rather than one containing triclosan.
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotics: Antibiotics are indiscriminate killers of friendly and unfriendly microbes alike and can really alter your internal "ecosystem". In addition, they can cause resistant strains of microbes to develop. Unnecessary antibiotics aren't limited to those you get from health care providers. Pay attention to antibiotics that you could be getting second-hand through animal products and unfiltered drinking water.
- Eat more whole, unprocessed plant foods: Whole foods contain fiber which are important food for friendly microbes. In fact, we couldn't digest a lot of plant fiber if it weren't for them! The by-products that microbes make from digesting fiber have important anti-inflammatory effects for us.
- Get fresh air and play in the dirt: Being in the great outdoors boosts the diversity of your microbiome — and it does wonders for your mood too!
- Consider probiotics or fermented foods as sources for friendly microbes: Probiotics supply strains of bacteria, particularly species of lactobacillus, that have been shown to have beneficial effects on gastrointestinal health, immunity, and inflammation. Naturally fermented foods (like kefir, sauerkraut, and pickles) are also good sources of lactobacillus. If you are going to use a supplement, I recommend ProBio by LifeVantage. It offers a good mix of strains, as well as an innovative delivery system that allows the microbes to get to the right place in your intestinatl tract (instead of being destroyed by stomach acid).
Minding your microbiome doesn't take a lot of work, but it does require a change of perspective. What about you? Have you given any thought or experimented with your own microbiome? Please share your experiences with me below!