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When you hear the word “bacteria,” the first thing you probably think of is a disease-causing organism that needs to be eradicated.
But the human microbiome is a world within us, made up of life-supporting bacteria that, on one end of the spectrum, aids in digestion — and on the other, helps facilitate the enteric nervous system (the body’s second brain)… and a whole lot in between.
And we’re not taking very good care of it.
In fact, scientists are telling us that our way of life is pushing it closer and closer to extinction. As that happens, my chances, your chances, all of our chances of living a healthy life, may disappear with it…
What IS the gut microbiome anyway?
Dr. Martin Blaser is the Henry Rutgers Chair of the Human Biome at Rutgers University’s Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine.
He explains, “The microbiome is all the microbes that live in and on the human body.
“It performs essential functions for us. It helps us digest our food. It makes vitamins. It protects us against invaders. It trains our immune system.”
In other words, our gut microbiomes are responsible for keeping us healthy and disease free.
“So when we eat, we are nourishing both our human cells and also our microbial cells. Most of them are in the gut.”
Dr. Blaser and Gloria Dominguez-Bello, Professor of Microbiome and Health at Rutgers, have produced a documentary called “The Invisible Extinction.”
In it, they say that “we’re in the middle of an extinction crisis. It’s invisible, it’s deadly, and it’s happening in all of us right now.”
One reason is the overuse of antibiotics.
We use antibiotics to kill “bad” bacteria. But they also kill off plenty of the good bacteria that we can’t afford to lose.
The CDC estimates about one-third of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary.
Another reason your gut microbiome’s days are numbered? You’re starving it.
Your gut microbiome has to be cultivated
Most of your immune system (70 to 80 percent) is in your gut. So cultivating a good balance of intestinal bacteria is crucial to staying healthy.
The only way to do that is to “feed” those good bacteria.
And what do they like to eat? Fiber.
“The single most important component of the diet to feed the microbiome is fiber,” Prof. Dominguez-Bello says. “Fibers are not digestible by our enzymes. So this indigestible component of the diet is super important for us because it feeds our microbiome.”
But processed food removes the fiber. So if your diet is predominantly made up of processed foods, you’re effectively starving your healthy gut bacteria to death — and setting yourself up for disease.
What you can do to save your microbiome
Don’t reach for the antibiotics so quickly. Dr. Blaser cautions us not to pressure our doctors into prescribing an antibiotic every time we’re sick.
“[People] … should go to a doctor not to get a prescription, but to get a careful examination and an evaluation. The doctor may say, ‘Okay, this is really severe. You need an antibiotic,’ or ‘This isn’t too bad. Let’s give it some time and see what happens.’”
But most importantly, feed your gut the fiber it needs to support your gut microbiome. According to The Nutrition Source at Harvard.edu: Dietary fiber can only be broken down and fermented by enzymes from microbiota living in the colon. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) are released as a result of fermentation. This lowers the pH of the colon, which in turn determines the type of microbiota present that would survive in this acidic environment. The lower pH limits the growth of some harmful bacteria like Clostridium difficile.
Prebiotic fibers like inulin, resistant starches (green bananas), gums, pectins and indigestible carbohydrates support increased levels of SCFA.
Foods high in prebiotic fiber include:
- Dandelion greens
- Chicory root
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Green bananas
- Whole oats
Here’s a link to the trailer for “The Invisible Extinction” if you’d like to check it out for yourself: https://www.theinvisibleextinction.com/
The Nutrition Source: The Microbiome — Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health
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