Checking in on your gut

Checking in on your gut

If I were to ask you to name a gut microbe, E-Coli and Yeast would likely be the first to come to mind.  This is unsurprising given that we hear about yeast and E-Coli almost daily. From commercials touting the latest gut cleanse to news coverage on the most recent E-Coli scare, these microbes are constantly in front of us.

However, these two are just a small sample of the microbes living within you! The average person has over 1000 unique organisms living in their body, all with different and specific functions! It might seem crazy, but it’s true and you need them. Furthermore, there are over 100 trillion of these cultures inside you. To put this into perspective, if I were to plant a blade of grass for every organism in your gut, I would have enough grass to cover roughly 1.5 million acres.

So why is this important? How did they get there? And, more importantly, how do we maintain the right microbes in the right ratios to keep us healthy?

Why is This Important?

Microorganisms, alien DNA, coexist and lives in harmony with us. In fact, this interaction is required for our survival. This symbiotic relationship provides mutual benefits for both parties involved while ensuring the other’s survival. An example of this at work in nature are the small fish that live in a shark’s mouth. These fish take care of parasites, remove decaying food, and clear away dead skin. This situation of a predator allowing “food” to coexist with it may seem odd, but it’s not unique.

Inside your gut, the same situation is taking place; these microorganisms live inside us, taking care of parasites, pathogens, breaking down food for uptake, and much more. It’s an entire micro-universe of life inside of us that is essential to our health and well-being.  If we take care of it, it takes care of us. We call it Gut Instinct: the pattern of behavior and outcomes in the gut, good or bad, as a response to certain stimuli.

How Did They Get There?

Although it’s highly contested now, it has been thought that our guts are sterile in the womb. When we are born vaginally, we get a dose of specially formulated microbes from our mother as we pass through the birth canal. This starts the process of microbe colonization and it is perpetuated by additional microbes in the mother’s milk as well as fed by the milk itself.  Our environment further adds to this as we explore our surroundings with our mouths and as we graduate to more food types over the years.

It is thought that our gut stabilizes around the age of three, but it never really stops evolving and changing as we grow and mature. Several studies are now showing that cultural differences in gut microbes exist, pointing to the very real and emerging idea that we have some control over the microbe makeup of our guts.

How do We Maintain the Right Microbes in the Best Ratios?

We know that we get microbes from the food we eat and from our environment. We also know that we can change our microbe makeup by changing our environment and diets. Lastly, we know a good balance of microbes contributes to better health overall.  Based on these facts, shouldn’t we pay better attention to our environment and diets so we can actively shape a healthy gut?

The dramatic rise in obesity, diabetes, colitis, and Crohn’s in developed countries points to a pandemic problem that is directly related to our gut microbes.  Doctors and scientists alike are drawing this conclusion and developing ways to remedy the issues. Overuse of drugs, antibiotics and antiseptics, extreme diets, and the elimination of entire food groups from our diets are exacerbating the issue and we are seeing the dramatic ramifications now.  

The only logical conclusion is to eat a wide variety of foods in all food groups while avoiding over-pasteurization, over-processing, and excessive use of antibiotics.  Also, kill the socially programmed notion that sterile is good. Remember how a child introduces microbes into its gut by tasting everything? Well, that still applies to adults. Adults get good microbes from their environment even if they don’t stick everything in their mouths. Not all Germs are bad. In fact, they may be keeping you alive.

Stay tuned for more tips as we follow the new and exciting science of Gut instinct. There’s a universe to be explored and it’s right inside your gut.  Live life. Breathe. Enjoy.

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