Our body contains more bacteria than cells and their balance contributes to our health, our digestion and the proper functioning of our immune system. Yet not all of these microorganisms are good for our health. Some may be pathogenic while others help to protect a healthy digestive environment.
What is our microbiome?
Our microbiome is the set of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, yeasts, viruses, etc.) living in a given ecosystem, such as the intestines of the human body. We sometimes also call these communities “flora”. The largest microbiome is that of the intestine and weighs nearly 2 kg.
Microbial colonisation begins at birth. Most of the microbiota is transmitted when the newborn comes into contact with the maternal microbiota during vaginal birth and during breastfeeding. This microbial balance continues to change as the child comes into contact with the outside world and throughout our lives. This microbial footprint unique to each individual evolves according to our environment and also our way of life.
What is this microbiome for?
We knew that the intestinal flora plays a key role in transit and digestion; it contributes to the proper functioning of our immune system. We are now discovering how the bacterial balance of the intestine affects our whole body, including our brain.
Good bacteria in the gut are responsible for:
- Digestion of food and manufacture of certain vitamins
- Regulation of our hormones
- Balance of mood and anxiety
- Protection against micro-organisms and pathogenic substances
- Protection against certain forms of cancer etc.
A great diversity of microorganisms in the intestinal microbiota is linked to good health. In contrast, the decrease in this microbial diversity is associated with an increase in:
- Irritable bowel syndrome and most gastrointestinal diseases, etc.
Certain neurological pathologies seem related to an imbalance of this fragile ecosystem. The Western diet and way of life seem to be the source of this depletion of our microbial flora. Stress, bad eating habits, antibiotics and many other medications such as anti-inflammatories, antipsychotics, antacids etc. are responsible for changes in the composition of the microbiota. In other words, we need to exercise caution around our medicines, our diet and our way of life.
The benefits of a diet rich in probiotics
Consuming “good bacteria” – probiotics – has many benefits. These beneficial bacteria and yeasts compete with the “bad” pathogenic bacteria of the gut and digestive tract and help create a healthy balance. According to WHO (World Health Organization), probiotics are living micro-organisms that, when ingested in sufficient quantity, have a beneficial effect on the health of the host. Research shows the effectiveness of probiotic supplements in relieving conditions such as infectious and travellers diarrhoea, infections, irritable bowel syndrome, and constipation to name a few. When choosing a probiotic supplement it is best to seek the advice of a specialist, especially since taking probiotics can cause intestinal gas and bloating.
Fermented foods (eg. kefir, yoghurt, raw sauerkraut, pickles, miso paste, tempeh, tamari sauce, sourdough bread, etc.) also contain beneficial probiotics and help promote our microbial balance. However, they do not all contain living organisms, especially if they have been pasteurised or sterilised. You can stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the gut by eating specific foods on which the good bacteria grow. These foods are known as prebiotics (eg bananas, artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onions, leeks, etc.). Prebiotics are fibers that nourish probiotics and stimulate their growth.
You can not be both for the defense of the planet and eat junk food.
Remember these words, even if all the above seems indigestible!
- Vary your diet and eat vegetables rich in fiber that promote microbial diversity. Eat colourful vegetables (think rainbow!) to get a wide range of phytonutrients and antioxidants.
- Focus on natural foods and avoid processed and refined foods. They are often rich in added sugars, sweeteners, trans fats and additives.
- Moderate your alcohol consumption. It alters the bacterial population of the intestine and increases the risk of intestinal permeability.
- Remember to eat raw vegetables and fruits that contain not only vitamins and minerals but also natural enzymes that facilitate their digestion.
- Eat a diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics.
- Eat organic to reduce pesticides in the body
- Limit or avoid foods to which you are intolerant or allergic.
- Take antibiotics only when it’s really necessary
- Encourage breastfeeding if possible and avoid caesarean sections when they are not needed.
- In order to choose a suitable and good quality probiotic supplement, consider seeking the advice of a specialist.
In conclusion, remember that your body is the first concerned by ecology. You can not be both for the defense of the planet and eat junk food. So do your part and start by taking care of your body. “Just as the loss of bees in orchards or the addition of an invasive species in a lake causes considerable damage to the environment, it seems that slight changes in our intestinal balance caused by inadequate nutrition may have repercussions on our health.”(1)
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(1) Myles I. Fast food fever: Reviewing the impacts of the western diet on immunity. Nutrition Journal. 2014;13(61). doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-61