Tips for Understanding Your Microbiome and How to Care for It
As you may already know, your digestive tract is full of bacteria, both good and bad. These bacteria actually outnumber the cells in your body by ten to one and they do more than just regulate digestion – they also play a role in your overall health and wellness. The term microbiome is used in reference to the bacteria in the human body, most of which reside in the gut.
While you may think of bacteria as a pathogen that makes you sick, there are plenty of beneficial bacteria as well – bacteria that play a role in boosting your immunity, balancing hormone levels, and regulating cognitive function. In this article, we’ll go into greater detail about what the human microbiome is and how to take care of it.
What is the Human Microbiome, Anyway?
The human body is a vast network of organs and systems, but that isn’t everything. Your body also houses a complex ecosystem of bacteria – a community of microbes – known as the human microbiome. According to the NIH, the human microbiome consists of anywhere from 10 to 100 trillion microbial cells, most of which are located in your digestive tract.
In the same way that each person has a different combination of genes, your microbiome is unique to you – it is like a genetic footprint, of sorts. Your microbiome helps determine the DNA makeup of your genetics, your predisposition to certain diseases, your body type, and much more. It has a hand in many different bodily functions as well such as metabolism, immunity, mood, cognitive function, and more.
The bacteria in your microbiome are unique to you and influenced by the food you eat, the air you breathe, and other environmental factors. The more diverse your microbiome, the better – at least according to recent studies. In one study, it was discovered that 3-month-old infants with less diverse gut bacteria were more likely to have food allergies. Not only does your microbiome affect your risk for food allergies and other conditions, but the food you eat can directly affect the bacteria in your microbiome.
What Should You Eat to Support Your Microbiome?
The Mayo Clinic suggests that following a healthy diet can encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and throughout the body. Fermented foods in particular are known to support a healthy microbiome, as can fruits and vegetables that contain fiber and natural sugars. Generally speaking, foods that fight inflammation are also very good for your microbiome – this includes foods such as the following:
- Fresh vegetables
- Whole fruits
- Herbs and spices
- Wild-caught fish
- Cage-free eggs
- Grass-fed meat
- Healthy fats
- Nuts and seeds
- Ancient grains
- Beans and legumes
- Red wine
- Dark chocolate
Fresh vegetables are packed with phytonutrients that help lower cholesterol and fight inflammation – some of the best vegetables for your microbiome include leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, sea vegetables, and squashes. Whole fruits like apples, citrus fruits, berries, and stone fruits are loaded with antioxidants while herbs and spices provide a wealth of different nutrients. Wild-caught fish, grass-fed meats, and cage-free eggs are excellent sources of protein as well as omega-3 fatty acids and other healthy fats, as are nuts, seeds, coconut oil, and olive oil. You should also eat plenty of ancient grains, beans, and legumes as well as natural sources of resveratrol like red wine and dark chocolate.
Not only should you increase your consumption of these healthy foods, but you should also avoid certain foods to keep your microbiome properly balanced. Pasteurized dairy products as well as conventionally raised meat, poultry, and eggs can have a negative impact on your gut bacteria. Refined carbohydrates, hydrogenated oils, and added sugars can be very damaging as well. You should also avoid trans fats such as fried foods and processed foods.
In addition to eating to support your microbiome, there are some other healthy lifestyle choices you can make. According to a study reported by Medical News Today in 2014, regular exercise helps support microbiome diversity. You should also make an effort to control your stress, avoid antibiotics when possible, and try gut-supporting supplements like carotenoids, omega-3 fish oil, selenium, and antioxidants like Vitamins C, D, and E.
 Ursell, Luke K. “Defining the Human Microbiome.” Nutr Rev. 2012 Aug; 70(1): S38-44. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426293/>
 Whiteman, Honor. “The Gut Microbiome: How Does it Affect Our Health?” Medical News Today. <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290747.php>
 “The Human Microbiome: How it Works + A Diet for Gut Health.” Dr. Axe. <https://draxe.com/microbiome/>