When we are born more than 100 trillion bacteria called the gut microbiome are seeded into our gastrointestinal tract as we pass through our mother’s birth canal. These bacteria come from different families and help our digestive tract improve our immune system, neurologic system, digestion and ability to remove toxins. Scientists have recently identified exposures that have may lead to an unhealthy reduction in your microbiome number and diversity.
In this article we’ll be exploring and understanding the factors that lower microbiome diversity leading to long term health issues because of the digestive system’s inability to perform the four functions of immune regulation, neurologic support, digestion, absorption and detoxification.
Natural vs. Caesarian Section Delivery
Scientists have found that when babies are born via Caesarian section total microbiome diversity – the number of different bacteria in the digestive tract – is reduced. When researchers followed these individuals born via C-section they found that the children had a much higher chance of developing immune system related conditions like early onset Asthma, Eczema, Psoriasis, recurrent infections, colic/ gastrointestinal distress and other autoimmune/immune issues. The reason for this is because gut bacteria helps the infant’s digestive system break down milk, other food products, toxins and combats other illness causing bacteria that may have been ingested. As discussed in our previous blog about Why Improper Digestion May Lead to Autoimmune Disease, when food particles aren’t digested, the immune system is activated, creating an immune response against the undigested item. This leads to systemic inflammation that is sent to the different parts of the infant’s body.
Breast Milk vs. Formula Milk
When I was growing up I used to hear milk commercials that always ended with the voice-over: ‘Breast milk is BEST for babies up to two years’. It seems that the commercials were right and have applications for the gut microbes. Colostrum, a component from breast milk, acts as food for the infant’s gut microbes increasing bacteria number and diversity. Formula milk, on the other hand, reduces bacterial number and diversity.
Whole Food vs. Processed Food
When I say Whole Food what I mean are food items that have not been processed to extend shelf life and do not come from a package. Whole Foods are food items that come from as close to nature as possible with minimal changes retaining all of its vibrant colors, flavor, texture and taste. Consuming Whole Foods support microbiome number and diversity because the fiber and phytochemicals coming from plants are the food of the microbiome allowing them the feed and grow. Processed Food with additives, dyes and coloring damage the microbiome and allow for selected bacterial families to grow leading to imbalances in diversity.
Multiple Courses of Antibiotics or Surgical Procedures
When individuals take antibiotics or are exposed to surgical procedures involving opening of the abdomen, pelvis or torso - gut bacteria are wiped out. It’s been shown that not only do their numbers fall off - bacterial diversity also sharply changes. This leads to reduced immune, neurologic, digestive and detoxification functions immediately after exposure.
Medication and Toxin Exposure
People who take multiple medications or are exposed to a number of toxins commonly found in food and cosmetics products also have lower microbiome number and diversity. The bacteria are highly sensitive to these exposures. I’m not suggesting that we stop all medications but instead be more vigilant and ask which of the medications being taken are truly essential. It is also important to take note that there are other options apart from chronic medication intake. Food is as powerful as any medication on the market and has an immediate effect within 4 hours of intake.
As for toxic exposure, the quickest and most common way to reduce total toxic load would be to purchase and prepare clean food without any pesticides, chemical fertilizers, additives or preservatives. In a similar vein concerning cosmetic products, I encourage you to look into ewg.org to find out which cosmetics are the safest on the market.
Giving our bacteria some much needed love:
Here are some tips to support a healthy microbiome
- 1) Eat a diet full of a variety of plants and fermented foods.
- 2) Reduce total toxic food intake by cutting out the processed and packaged foods.
- 3) Choose organic or safely-produced food without hormones, antibiotics, pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
- 4) Support vaginal delivery decisions whenever possible.
- 5) Always feed infants with breast milk.
- 6) Manage stress
When we support our microbiomes we protect ourselves from chronic inflammatory diseases that lead to long term inflammation and disability.
Your Partner in Health,