Today we celebrate World Microbiome Day, sounds a bit esoteric you might think but this is a subject that concerns each and every one of us uniquely.
Microbes are frequently misunderstood by those of us in the non-scientific community. Just like the word bacteria, it has nasty connotations and conjures up negative images. Yet only a tiny percentage of bacteria and microbes are pathogenic, typically they do much more good than harm.
Professor Dinan's Talk at LitFest in 2017
It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the trillions of microbes in our gut weigh between one to two kilos, equivalent to the weight of an adult brain. The biochemical complexity of the microbes in the human gut is greater than that of the brain and there are about 100 times more genes in our gut microbiota than in our genes.... Yet up to relatively recently, the bacteria in the human intestine was thought to have little relevance in the medical world and scientists in this field tell me there is still much to learn and discover.
But for us lay people, all we need to know is that it is super important for our physical and mental wellbeing to nourish our gut biome.
So how do we do this? We need to eat as wide a variety of fresh food. The more biodiverse our diet, the healthier and more resilient we will be. So we need to seek out real food that wakes up as many microbes in our intestines as possible. Each of the nutrients in food activate a different microbe…
So what foods apart from those already mentioned nourish our gut – fermented foods and drinks, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, kefir.... raw milk, preferably organic milk from a small herd of pasture fed cows, raw milk cheese too, particularly blue cheese.... Try to incorporate some wild and foraged foods into your diet for further diversity. These foods still have the full complement of vitamins, minerals and trace elements unlike many processed foods which have been altered to produce the maximum yield for a minimum cost.
All fruit and vegetables contain much needed fibre which provide essential prebiotics and promote the growth of good gut bacteria. Bananas too are high in fibre. Find out one of the best vegetables for your microbiome...
As ever do your best to buy organic, chemical-free food and avoid ultra-processed food. Natural yoghurt (sugar-free) and milk kefir are packed with good bacteria, miso made from fermented soya beans plus barley and rice contains a wide range of essential bacteria and enzymes.
Natural fermented sourdough bread is another gut friendly food but source carefully. Now that sourdough has become fashionable there’s lots of ‘faux sourdough’ around. Almonds too are high in fibre, fatty acids and polyphenols – a treat for gut bacteria. Extra virgin olive oil is my oil of choice, peas also get the thumbs up, look out for seasonal fresh peas in the Farmers Markets at present. Blue Cheese is teeming with good bacteria and I also love those artisan farmhouse cheeses – don’t be afraid to eat the rind but not plastic coating…!
A growing body of research is also showing a clear link between the growing anxiety problems amongst teenagers and college students who often have a limited budget, limited cooking facilities and limited cooking skills which combined can result in a nutritionally deficient diet...
I’m clearly not a scientist but over the past 37 years since I co-founded the school with my brother Rory, I’ve observed the change in students health as they eat different foods every day over a 3-month period. I’m not a doctor but the biodiverse diet of mostly organic food unquestionably impacts on their health and immune system. This observation has now been confirmed by a study done in conjunction by UCC (Recipe for a Healthy Gut: Intake of Unpasteurised Milk Is Associated with Increased Lactobacillus Abundance in the Human Gut Microbiome)
For those of you who would like to learn more about this fundamentally important subject Professor Ted Dinan, John Cryan in UCC, Tim Spector (Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London) and Glen Gibson (Professor of Food Microbiology, Head of Food Microbial Sciences at University of Reading) in UK, Emeran Mayer (Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Physiology and Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine in UCLA) in US and many others. Check out their research and their talks on YouTube.
The Psychobiotic Revolution, Mood, Food and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection by John F. Cryan and Ted Dinan.