The Path to a Healthy Microbiome
Written by Leeann Rybakov, Health Coach
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Where it all starts
Gut health is truly indicative of our overall health, but it’s not often the part of our body that gets the kind of attention it deserves.
Often referred to as our “second brain,” the microbiome impacts our overall mind and body wellness as a whole. Which is exactly why we need to nourish, care, and cultivate it with mindful daily rituals.
Rarely we associate our microbiome with a bacterial or viral infection such as the common cold, but the reality is that our microbiome is where our immune system lives--and where it either thrives, or fails.
Leading a healthy lifestyle is the first step towards cultivating good bacteria in our gut (good bacteria, by the way, is what keeps our immunity up, helping the body ward of infection and inflammation, and keeping our digestive systems functioning properly). A gut that’s overrun by bad bacteria makes for a body that’s more susceptible to disease, infection, poor sleep, and more.
Staying on our gut’s good side sounds like a pretty good idea, right? Here are a few ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle--and a healthy microbiome, too.
A Nutrient-Rich Diet
It only makes sense that the foods we put through our digestive tract will affect the way our gut functions. The typical American diet is very high in processed foods--foods that cause inflammation, and hence disrupt the microbiome. Focusing on a plant-based diet with lots of fruits and vegetables will ensure that you reach that fiber count needed to feed some of the most health-promoting bacteria in our gut.
Another important food component for a “healthy gut” is Resistant Starch. Some sources of resistant starch include potatoes, legumes and (our favorite source, of course) green bananas- which are, in fact, the world's richest source of resistant starch! Resistant starch “resists” digestion in the small intestine and ferments in the large intestine. As the fibers ferment they act as a prebiotic, feeding the good bacteria and supporting all of those healthy functions of the gut microbiome.
Also, sugar and artificial sweeteners should have a limited space in your meals as they feed the bad bacteria and can cause gastrointestinal distress in the forms of gas, bloating and diarrhea.
Regular physical activity is not only good for you but for your gut microbes too! Recent studies indicate that the lactate produced during exercise can impact positively some of our gut bacteria -- although additional findings are necessary to learn exactly how and why these might happen.
If you haven’t exercised in a while, start slow. Walking a couple of miles a day is a great way to start but you can also choose any other activity that you like. Doing something that you really enjoy will certainly help your heart, your mind and your gut.
A Solid Sleep Schedule
Not getting enough sleep throws off our endocrine system, which is responsible for maintaining our hormonal balance. Hormones interact with our gut on several levels, like from the foods we eat to the actual hormones our body releases.
Try establishing a night time routine where you can calm your mind and set the tone for a restful night. Just by switching off your electronic devices one hour before going to bed and doing a simple relaxation or meditation before falling asleep can help significantly.
The Good News
We can control most of the factors that play a role in our microbiome health. And what makes this good news really good news: it’s easy to do. By replenishing our good bacteria with food (AKA probiotics), and feeding existing gut bacteria with the fuel that they need (AKA prebiotics) we are supporting a healthy community of bacteria in our digestive tract!
Plus, offering our body opportunities for regular exercise and sleep helps to replenish the good gut bacteria, not to mention the added bonus of alleviating stress levels. Now that is good news--really, really good news.