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Your microbiome/microbiota refers to the trillions of microbes that reside inside and outside your body. Human cells are outnumbered by the bacterial cell population. The highest source of bacteria in the body is within the large intestines. The status of resident bacteria has been associated with health and illness, with greater diversity being more protective. Bacteria perform a number of functions including 1) production of certain vitamins such as Vitamin B12, B9, B2 and Vitamin K, 2) protection from infections by competing with more harmful bacteria, and 3) maintain a healthy immune system response.
Protecting your bacteria is not difficult, can occur quickly with dietary changes, and will likely benefit your body as a whole. Here are some tips to maintaining a healthy microbiome:
- Eat mostly a plant-based, high fiber diet with low processed carbohydrates. Limit the amount of processed carbohydrates that you consume during the meal and with snacks. Raw plant matter may be more beneficial over cooked. Plain yoghurt or kefir contains a healthy dose of normal gut bacteria.
- Avoid a significant amount of alcohol, milk, juice or sugary drinks. Favor the fruit itself, since it will have less sugar and more fiber. More of these substances high in alcohol and/or sugar lead to less gut diversity, GI side effects, and increased inflammation.
- Limit the consumption of sugar and use of sugar substitutes. Sugar, processed carbohydrates (bread, pasta, white rice) in the diet has been associated with increased inflammation. Even sugar substitutes like saccharin, sucralose and stevia have been associated with changes in the gut microbiome.
- Judicious Use of Antibiotics, Steroids and Proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s). Antibiotics can cause a shift in healthy gut flora and increase the risk of Clostridium difficile (a bacteria that causes diarrhea and colitis), yeast, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It takes a team effort in coordination with your doctor, because antibiotics are often prescribed unnecessarily. Prednisone can affect the immune system and cause a shift in gut flora, including increasing the risk of yeast. PPI’s reduce acid and increase risk of more harmful bacteria populating.
- Take Care of Your Health. Good sleep hygiene, exercise and low stress have all been associated with more diverse gut microbiota.
If you have any of the following conditions, consider making a dietary adjustment to see if there is improvement, since a shift in gut microbiome, known as dysbiosis with less diversity, has been correlated either directly with these conditions or flare-ups:
- Gastroenterologic conditions: Peptic ulcer disease, reflux, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s, Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), celiac disease
- Connective tissue diseases: Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis
- Skin: Atopic eczema, Rosacea, Acne
- Endocrine: Diabetes mellitus, Obesity
- Neurologic: Parkinsonism, Multiple sclerosis, other neurologic
- Cardiac: Coronary Artery Disease, Atherosclerosis
- Mental Health: Depression, Anxiety, other conditions
Get to Know Your Gut Bacteria. The following are general overview of the most common bacteria in the gut. Though, an imbalance of even these bacteria could cause host effects.
Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus help to protect the gut from harmful bacteria. Plant-based foods which contain polyphenols, found in nuts, seeds, vegetables, teas, cocoa, wine and berries, feed these beneficial bacteria. There may be a benefit in reducing inflammation in the cardiovascular system. Bifidobacterium is associated with butyrate production, which has a protective role in the gut and anti-inflammatory effect.
Bacteroides and Firmicutes are found in a healthy gut. Consumption of a plant-based diet with no animal fat or protein has been associated with greater populations of these bacteria. Plant starch can also lead to a greater population of Bacteroides, also tied to obesity prevention/treatment.
Prevotella, also may favor a setting of a high fiber, plant-based diet.
Ruminococcus is more associated with a higher amount of fruit and vegetables. These bacteria are associated with breaking down complex plant carbohydrates and producing butyrates.
Bilophila and Faecalibacterium are found in increased populations in a high saturated fat diet and may be associated with increased inflammation.
Ruiz-Ojeda FJ et al. Effects of Sweeteners on the Gut Microbiota: A Review of Experimental Studies and Clinical Trials. Adv Nutr. 2019 1;10(suppl1): S31-S48.
Tomova et al. The Effects of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets on Gut Microbiota. Front Nutr. 2019; 6: 47
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