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Promoting Gut Diversity for Wellness

By Dr. Madeline


Each one of us is a habitat for microbes. Don’t get grossed out now! They help us in many ways! A healthy microbial flora can protect us from pathogens, help us in the production of vitamins, and even make hormone precursors for us. For the most part, a healthy human lives symbiotically with their lovely diverse microbial flora…your inner pets!

The microbial world is an invisible set of life, consisting of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and more. Most microbes that live on the earth have established a happy symbiotic relationship within their niche, including our body’s. While pathogenic microbes pop up, if we keep our immune systems in top shape, we can fend them off more easily. One way to boost our immune system is to understand that our symbiotic microbes act as part of that system. Keeping our symbiotic microbes happy, by providing them a healthy environment, allows for harmonious health across the biological Kingdoms. 


Our skin houses microbes that keep away fungal growth and bacterial infection.  When we wash our hands with warm soapy water, our symbiotic flora stay with us and don’t get washed away because they are properly established. This is a good thing! Those symbiotic microbes protect us from harmful ones. However, the utilization of most alcohol based hand sanitizers, while it can get rid of bad germs on our skin, sadly kills off our good microbes too. Once you destroy the protective microbes on your hands, you leave a clean slate for pathogenic/harmful microbes to establish residence. It’s true that sometimes hand sanitizers can be a life saver, but if you have the choice, warm soapy water is less drying to the skin (dry skin can also create conditions that  attract pathogenic microbes) and keeps your protective microbes in place. If you find you’re in a situation where you must use hand sanitizer, after use, consider touching your hair or another area of your body that still maintains healthy microbes. This will help to repopulate your good guys.


The alimentary canal  is one long passage or tunnel  from your mouth all the way to “where the sun don’t shine.” The food that you eat moves through this long canal where various metabolic functions happen along the way. For instance, your mouth chews food into smaller pieces and also begins the chemical digestion of carbohydrates (like sugar, bread, pasta, etc.). As your partially digested food moves through, it enters the stomach where proteins (like meat, beans, and tofu) are chemically digested. Throughout this long tube, different subsets of microbes reside.  When one hears the term, gut microbiome, however, they usually are referring to the part of this tunnel toward the end, in the intestines. We will focus on the intestinal microflora here.


Fermented foods are those with live active beneficial bacterial cultures that aid in the health of all body systems. When people ask me, “what is the best fermented food to start with?” I tell them to think of the fermented food consumed by their ancestors. Genetically, I think this is a good place to start. Most of our ancestors had fermented food that was a regular part of their daily diet. It’s only here in the US that we don't have standard or traditional fermented foods. Once you find a fermented food you like, use a little bit of it with a meal each day.  The following week, why not try a new fermented food to diversify your microbial flora? Changing it up each week will beneficially build the diversification of your microbiome which is essential for the proper functioning of every body system! Remember you only need a little bit of fermented food at a meal. 


How grateful we are that we live in a world with antibiotics to aid us in fighting infection. However, in the same way alcohol in hand sanitizer kills good microbes on your skin, oral antibiotics may also destroy some of your beneficial microbiome. After you’ve worked hard to diversify and create a fabulous gut microbiome, you want to replenish and renew it during and after an antibiotic course. Consider consuming a fermented food two hours after each dose of antibiotics, and once you finish your course, a health care provider might recommend a quality probiotic supplement to help repopulate your gut microbiome again. 


A healthy and diverse gut microbiome begins with natural childbirth. As babies pass through the birth canal they pick up their first introduction to healthy gut bacteria. These microflora will help newborns to digest mother’s milk. As toddlers try different foods to expand their culinary palate, they continue to enhance and flourish microbial diversity within.  Even the act of toddlers and kids putting everything in their mouths, helps to  diversify their gut microbiome. Did you know that 85% of our immune system is in our gut?  Part of our immune protection comes from these microbes! 


If we want to build a strong immune system we have to cultivate a healthy gut flora. You know that to build strong muscles, one must “work-out” the muscle, to build bone we need to mechanically stimulate them with force, and in order to increase the capacity of our minds we need to challenge ourselves with puzzles, problem solving, and getting out of our comfort zones. In the same way, we need to challenge our immune systems daily. If we don’t, it will grow weak just like any other system of the body. The microbial world is part of our immunological army against pathogens. We can strengthen and diversify our gut microbiome by eating a small portion of fermented foods daily. Feeding your inner microbial “pets” fortifies them so that they can work for and with you as you travel on your personal path toward health.

The Mad Health Doc has a Ph.D. in molecular cellular and developmental biology. She works at a local college where she teaches in the biology department specializing in Human Anatomy, Physiology, and Nutrition. When not at work, she can be found with her awesome family (which includes 6 chickens). 

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