Every now and then, a book is written that really shifts the health movement dramatically and foresees the evolution of how health care is practiced. I just read one such book and want to share some of its important information with you. I promise you, it will change your life!
Just in case you’re not familiar with the term “microbiome”, it comprises all the microbes that live in your intestinal tract starting in your mouth right down through your colon. It also includes the microbes that live in your nose and lungs, on your skin and in your reproductive tract.
It turns out that we have over 10 million bacterial genes co-inhabiting our bodies. What’s more, without them, we actually cannot live. Seriously, without a functioning microbiome, we die quickly. In comparison, we only have 22 thousand human genes, which means our mammalian genes are only 1% of all the genes in our bodies. So let’s talk about whose in charge here!
From 2008 – 2013, the Human Microbiome Project sequenced our microflora and now science is fascinated by how even small populations of microbes can change your weight, how many vitamins you produce, whether your immune system is functioning properly and whether you are going to get various types of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as you age. Everything from allergies to food sensitivities, diabetes to heart disease, and obesity to cancer are influenced by the health of our microbiome.
There is so much exciting information to share, but let me keep it simple by assuring you that there is an easy way to insure your microbiome is flourishing. Spoilage alert: This isn’t about taking probiotics.
Seeding the Microbiome at Birth
It all starts when we’re born. As the baby moves through the mother’s vaginal canal, he/she receives the mother’s microflora. Next, the nursing baby consumes soluble fiber called GOS – galacto-oligosaccharides found in mother’s milk – which are non-digestible fibers that feed and support the development of the microbiome. Cesarean section baby? Bottle fed? Sorry but the microbiome is starting out seriously deficient and the lack of essential microflora can change how the baby’s organs and immune system are going to develop. It’s truly that serious.
For me, it was a personal revelation because one of my sons was born cesarean section and the other was born vaginally. Both were breast fed but it turns out that even mother’s milk from cesarean section births contains fewer probiotics than the mother’s milk from vaginal births. My cesarean section son had skin rashes, colds every month for the first year of life, and digestive disorders from the start. My vaginally born son? Totally healthy.
Your Community of Microflora
Think of what we know about ecology and how natural environments break down when one or more species are removed. They may not even be the most populous species, but they still play an essential role to the functioning of the whole. That’s the way our microbiome functions. Each microorganism and all its many strains are essential. They depend on other microflora to survive and need to be in the right place, at the right time, for the whole microbiome to thrive.
So if we’re born vaginally and are breast fed, is our microflora ok? That depends on what drugs we may be given. Antibiotics are known to kill off various types of microorganisms. What about other drugs? The science is still too early stage to give us the answers yet. Future studies will address how environmental toxins, GMOs and agricultural chemicals on our food affect our microbiome. We know that stress affects them and so do the prescription drugs we take. What about vaccinations? It’s a whole new field of study but here’s the take away: Prescribing drugs that don’t take into consideration their effects on the trillions of bacteria that your health depends upon will soon be considered as ignorant as we consider blood letting was in pre-industrial times!
From Your Mood to Your Weight
I know, it sounds like science fiction but here’s the truth ~ Our microbiome can affect how much we weigh and how we’re feeling on any given day. Studies show that certain phylum of bacteria called Firmicutes are more prevalent in obese people whereas another phylum of bacteria called Bacteriodes should be dominant for maintaining optimal weight and appetite control.
We’re supposed to have more Bacteriodes than Firmicutes in our guts, but guess what? Most of us are Firmicutes dominant. All the probiotics on the supplement market are members of the Firmicutes clan. Since Bacterioides are anaerobic bacteria, no probiotic company has been interested in developing them for supplementation. Instead, they’ve been providing and researching strains of Firmicutes bacteria that are good for us but they don’t help restore the predominance of bacteriodes that are necessary for optimal weight!
Anxiety anyone? 90% of our serotonin and at least 50% of our dopamine, the feel good neurotransmitters that lessen anxiety and promote feelings of well-being, are produced in our guts. It turns out that our microflora play an essential role in producing both of them. Studies show that when our microbiome dysfunction is remedied, anxiety is reduced and people start to feel good. There are even ongoing studies about the microbiome and autism because it turns out that scientists can produce autistic behavior in mice when they diminish one of the short chain fatty acids produced by gut microflora.
Feeding your Microbiome
Lest this all sound scary and foreboding, I want to give you the good news that will make your microbiome very happy. Except for in extreme cases, most of us still have a varied population of gut microbes but they may not be as populous as they should be or in a balanced relationship to the rest of the microbiome in order to function optimally. If you feed them, your microbiome will sort itself out and thrive!
Remember I said that our gut microflora should be in the right place in our intestines in order to do their job? Beneficial bacteria can become pathogens when they grow where they shouldn’t.
Furthermore, if they don’t have enough to eat, they may eat you! Yes, it’s true. They will burrow in and eat the mucus lining of your gut in order to survive. Guess what that leads to? Leaky gut syndrome, the source of many food allergies and other inflammatory intestinal conditions like IBS and Crohn’s Disease.
Prebiotics to the Rescue
So what do they eat? Prebiotics. Not probiotics – prebiotics. Prebiotics are soluble fibers that are not digested in your stomach or small intestines and thus don’t contribute calories to your diet. Instead they arrive in the colon ready for your microflora to get busy fermenting them.
The byproducts of fermented prebiotics are Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) which are the energy source for the human cells in your colon. They are necessary for your immune system to function fully, to decrease inflammation, and to prevent obesity by decreasing the appetite and improving insulin sensitivity.
If you drink Teeccino and read our package copy, you’ve seen that Teeccino contains inulin that naturally extracts during brewing from chicory root. Inulin is a prebiotic soluble fiber that feeds beneficial intestinal microflora. It’s found in many foods but in small quantities.
In past newsletters I’ve talked about how we humans used to eat 15 grams of inulin daily in our hunting and gathering days. Now we’re lucky to get 2-3g of inulin daily from the American diet. For those of us cutting out whole wheat? It turns out that a study of the American diet showed that wheat provides 70% of our inulin. All of a sudden, you might be starving your microflora if you’ve gone grain free or Paleo!
Here are the foods you need to eat in order to get enough inulin and FOS – fructo-oligosaccharides, another non-digestible soluble fiber that’s a favorite food of your microflora. Inulin and FOS typically occur together in foods. Remember though: you have to feed your microflora daily and in large quantities in order to get your daily dose of 15 grams!
Other Sources of Prebiotics
Beyond Inulin and FOS, there are other soluble fibers that are also prebiotics. Some people are sensitive to inulin and FOS when supplemented in higher dosages than normally found in food. The fructose component of these prebiotics may produce gas and contribute to intestinal discomfort for those sensitive people. Additionally, not all soluble fibers are prebiotics. Some just add to the softness of our stools and they add mucilage that helps the stool move easily through our colon.
A soluble fiber from oats and barley called beta-glucan is recognized by the FDA as reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol when consumed in a diet that is low in saturated fat. Scientific studies are now indicating that these effects may be due to the microflora that consume the beta-glucan!
Fermented foods such as miso, soy sauce, sauerkraut, Kimchi and other fermented vegetables contain IMO – Isomalto-oligosaccharides, another type of prebiotic soluble fiber. Fermented foods are rapidly coming back into popularity as their health benefits become known, but science hasn’t yet determined how much of a fermented food you would need to consume daily in order to get the benefits of IMO. However, it is believed that the quantity is much higher than just a typical single serving would provide.
Here’s the amount of you would need to eat on a daily basis to get these health benefits:
Next month, I intend to give you some great recommendations about supplementing with concentrated prebiotics. I also will tell you about how to use your own body as a laboratory to test how well taking prebiotics improves your microbiome. In the meantime, watch this excellent video by NPR on the microbiome. It’s beautifully produced and reinforces everything you’ve just read on my blog!