Monday 28 June 2021

Taking Care of our Gut Bacteria

In our crazy world, many of us know far more about the lives of celebrities than we do about the source of the food we and our families eat.  Nonetheless, we have become increasingly paranoid, can't eat this, can't eat that...meanwhile in supermarkets, free-from and supplement aisles are gaining more space…

For the past year and a half, we've lived in a climate of fear. Covid-19 has made us even more paranoid about bacteria, microbes, viruses...

We sanitize from morning until night, carry little phials in our handbags and worry endlessly that there are bacteria waiting to pounce everywhere we go…Scientists and microbiologists are becoming ever more concerned. In our sanitizing frenzy, we have also eliminated many beneficial bacteria that help to protect us. Consequently, the pathogenic bacteria are becoming stronger and stronger because nature always triumphs in the end.

Humans have co-evolved with microbes, bacteria, virus, fungi,

archaea…since time began. They are everywhere, on plants and animals, in water, soil, food and all over us humans. Most are beneficial, a few are pathogenic. They are also in the soils and oceans of the world, on every surface, there are trillions on the human body, on our skins in our mouths and 90-95% reside in our gut microbiome. In Ayurvedic and Chinese healing traditions, the dialogue between the gut and the brain has long been recognised, however Western medicine failed until relatively recently to appreciate the complexity of how the brain, gut and microbiome communicate with each other.

Scientific study of the gut microbiome is relatively new.  A growing body of research worldwide, with much done in UCC in Cork, has proved beyond any doubt that the biodiversity of our gut microbiome, has a profound impact not just our physical but also on our mental health.

The invisible world of microbes is a fascinating one, filled with untapped potential, microbiologists say that much has still to be understood. 

But here’s a taste of what they’ve discovered so far:  

·       Marine microbes produce most of the oxygen we breathe and can absorb as much carbon dioxide as plants do on land.

·       Microbes in the soil fix nitrogen – changing it from a gas in the

atmosphere to a form in the soil that plants can use to grow.

·       Some microbes even have the capacity to break down methane gas, helping to slow climate change.

·       In our homes, composting microbes help us recycle our green waste (plants, vegetables, fruits) and recover nutrients to enrich the soil in our gardens.

·       Up to a third of the food we consume is produced by microbes. We can use microbes to extend the shelf-life of our foods and prevent food waste by fermenting foods at home.

·       At a larger scale, microbes can contribute to the circular economy by converting waste (e.g. food production waste) into fuel and thus provide new and sustainable opportunities for the food and feed production.

But in this article, I will concentrate on how to boost our personal gut microbiome.  It’s all about biodiversity, the greater the variety of fresh organic food we eat, the more healthy and diverse our gut microbiome becomes.  

It’s not rocket science, gut microbes love real food.  They are totally confused by fake food so let’s cut ultra-processed food totally from your diet and concentrate on sourcing as much seasonal produce as possible with lots of fresh vegetables for roughage.  Nature provides what we need year-round.  Let’s learn how to recognise beneficial and edible food in the wild, incorporate them into our diets.  They carry the antibodies of our area and have maximum nutrients because unlike many other foods they have not been manipulated to produce maximum yield at minimum cost, which is sadly the primary focus in mass food production these days to the detriment of our overall health.  

Biodiversity is the key, eat as wide a range of seasonal and chemical free range of foods as possible.  So, concentrate on boosting your gut-biome. Local honey, local pastured eggs from organic free-range hens, local organic meat from free-ranging grass fed animals and organic raw milk also boost our microbiome. Fermented foods are another must have, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, water and milk kefir. Try to make your own, they'll be infinity more complex than most of what you can buy.  

Thick unctuous yogurt preferably made from organic milk and collagen rich home-made home broths.  In fact, all real food will stimulate and delight the almost 2kg of microbes in our gut and you’ll feel the better for it both mentally and physically. Keep washing your hands but be careful of over sanitizing, you may well be doing more harm than good.