The microbiome is a hot button topic in the health world these days. That’s mostly because it’s absolutely fascinating! #nerdalert. This post will dive into what the microbiome is, what makes up a healthy, diverse microbiome, and how to nourish a healthy microbiome.
What is the Microbiome?
The microbiome is our unique makeup of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa that live in and on our bodies. The microbiome is in the GI tract, especially in the colon, in the nose, in the mouth & on the skin. Collectively our microbiome weighs about 5 pounds!
Current research suggests that the community of microbes in our intestines has an effect on whole body health & disease. For example, a robust microbiome is associated with improved memory & mood. While a disrupted microbiome may contribute to Alzheimer’s Disease.
One thing we know for sure about the microbiome is that we want diversity! The more diverse the microbiome, the healthier the human.
There is a strong correlation between the food we eat and the diversity of the microbiome. The more fibrous foods a person eats, the more diverse & plethoric the microbes.
What Contributes the Microbial Diversity?
Unfortunately, a Western way of eating does not result in much microbial diversity. The average American eats 15 g of fiber per day. The American Heart Association recommends 25-30g of fiber per day, and many naturopathic doctors recommend at least 50 g of fiber per day! Most Americans are eating subpar when it comes to microbiome health.
When looking at a person’s diet who eats mostly protein, fat, and simple sugars, versus a person who eats complex plant proteins, the results are a stark contrast! “It was the most different human microbiota composition we’d ever seen,” said microbiologist, Justin Sonnenburg, in Moises Velasquez-Manoff’s article.
Why Does Fiber Contribute to A More Diverse Microbiome?
Fiber, also known as complex carbohydrates, requires extra work for humans to digest. For humans to digest complex carbohydrates, we need help from our microbiome. The microbiome in the intestines breaks down fiber & creates a byproduct called, Short Chain Fatty Acids. Short Chain Fatty Acids, in turn, create more species of microbes and contribute to increased microbial diversity.
A fascinating experiment by Sonnenburg demonstrated this so well! Here is the short & sweet of it:
Mice were fed junk food for several weeks, and the results revealed low microbiome diversity, meaner mice, and mice that were more difficult to handle.
When the mice were fed fiber again, their microbiome began to mostly recover and the mice were less irritable!
Can you imagine how this experiment would unfold for humans? People would have a healthier GI tract, likely have healthier bowel movements, & feel less irritable. It’s a huge win!
How Do I Start Growing a More Diverse Microbiome?
This experiment is great news for people that eat a Western Diet because it shows that there is still hope. The best way to re-diversify the microbiome is to eat more fiber. Some of the best sources of fiber are:
- Whole grains – for example brown rice, quinoa, millet, oats, oat bran, wheat berries, wheat germ, & bulgar
- Nuts & seeds – almonds, walnuts, pistachios, nut butters, ground flax seed, chia seed, sesame seeds
- Veggies – especially ones with a lot of roughage, like kale, arugula, broccoli, squashes, sweet potatoes
- Some fruits – especially ones with skins, like apples, pears, berries
Why Start Now?
You might be wondering, so why is this important now? If I always have the potential to re-diversify what’s the point of eating healthy all the time?
Here’s the kicker, you can only re-grow microbes that you already have. I’ll say that again: you can only re-grow microbes that you already have.
For example, if a mother is pregnant carrying her child and she is on a no-fiber diet, the baby is born with very little microbiome diversity, and they will never be able to grow a more diverse one. You can’t regrow what you never inherited.
This breaks my heart and puts even more importance on eating as healthy as we can all the time. We may have inherited a low-diversity microbiome. That paired with a typical Western way of eating, we are on the verge of microbial extinction.
But what if you were born with a diverse microbiome? What if you have the power of choice to keep your microbiome diverse and thriving for generations to come?!
I say take the leap! People eating a Western diet are lightyears behind Indigenous peoples who eat high amounts of plants and fiber, but we still have a chance to grow and better our GI tracts.
A diverse microbiome positively affects all genders, all humans, and all ages. Keep diversity alive and well. If not for your health then for generations to come.