So, what is the gut microbiome and how is it literally our second brain? In this blog, I will define the gut microbiome and focus on how we can make it healthy to increase our immunity. I will also discuss other ways it affects our health and what foods we can eat to feed it properly, as well as foods that hurt it and make us sick without us even realizing why. See my video on this to learn more.
The microbiome is the latest buzz word in the health industry. Most people think of the gut microbiome, as well they should, since it is by far the largest microbiome in our body. It’s not just a buzz word and the hottest topic in nutrition for nothing, though. It is the single most important factor in our health.
Our Gut Microbiome Is 80% of Our Immunity
In fact, the gut microbiome makes up about 80% of our immune system. If you take care of it properly, you can enjoy great health. Sadly, most of us have not, so that is the major reason why we have such an outbreak of autoimmune disease all over the world.
Okay, now don’t get grossed out, but a microbiome is like an environment that is made up of a bunch of tiny critters that live in our bodies – trillions in fact – critters like bacteria, fungi, and other microbes, even including viruses. Those little bugs outnumber our human genes a hundred times over. We’re literally crawling with them! Yuck, right? Now, before you go drinking hand sanitizer, just realize that they are there to help you.
There are several microbiomes in our bodies, probably more than we even know. This subject is fairly new to science, so new discoveries continue to be made. Of course, as I’ve mentioned, the gut, mostly the large intestine, is our largest microbiome. We’ll focus on that in this blog, but first I’ll list a few others.
We have an oral microbiome. Yes, all kinds of microbes live in our mouths, on our tongue, gums, and cheeks. That is an interesting study all by itself. It also has a great affect on our health. We even have an ocular microbiome. Our eye health depends on it. They just seem to thrive in those moist places, like mucus membranes and soft tissue. We even have a skin microbiome. And surprisingly, much to the wonder of many scientists, the brain has a microbiome, which was once thought to be sterile of any microbes. There is still a lot to be studied on this subject, no doubt.
Role of Our Gut Microbiome
Even though we’ve barely scratched the surface of the gut microbiome, we’ve learned a lot over the last decade. The colon, or large intestine, contains most of the microbes that coexist in our bodies. In fact, they are also the most diverse. Many species live in our colon, often called gut flora or gut microbiota. These gut flora live in the layer of mucus that lines the colon. Each species of gut microbiota carries out different tasks in our bodies and they even work as a team to make us healthy.
Our Second Brain
What makes this even more complicated is that each of us has a different framework of microbes. It varies based on our living environment, climate, genes, hygiene habits, diet, lifestyle, gender, and age. Studies have shown that our gut microbiome can affect our mood, how we handle pain and stress, and how well we sleep. In fact, the gut can communicate directly with the brain. It is even called our second brain, but I believe it is a very close second!
You see, the gut microbiota can tell us what to eat, depending on what bacteria are in control. If you eat lots of sugar and refined carbohydrates, it will create an imbalance of bacteria in your gut. So, the bacteria that gains control make your brain crave more junk food. This allows yeasts, such as Candida, to multiply and cause fungal infections. Now, that’s an oversimplification, because there are other chemical reactions happening, but we’re talking about what happens in the gut.
On the other hand, if we feed the gut flora with prebiotic fiber, they will thrive. They become stronger and help boost our immunity. But to increase their numbers, you need to send them a balance of bacteria in the form of probiotics. Often, though, we get prescribed antibiotics, which kill most, if not all, of our gut microbiota. It’s literally a gut bomb that wipes out everything!
Balancing Our Gut Microbiome
Antibiotics are over-prescribed. Sometimes, they may be your only choice. If that’s the case, eat probiotic-rich foods and enjoy the outdoors to absorb some of its healthy microbiome after your infection has cleared up. Get that dirt or sand between your toes and dig in with your hands. This will help your gut microbiome to get balanced for good health again.
To increase our immunity, we should always be looking to keep our gut microbiome balanced. As stated before, it is all important to our health. This means we should avoid processed foods, like white sugar, white rice, white bread, fried foods, refined oils, and all junk food.
Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Disease
When we allow our gut bacteria to become imbalanced by eating these bad foods or taking antibiotics, it can lead to leaky-gut syndrome, or intestinal permeability. This is where the tight junctions, similar to Velcro, in the intestine become damaged and begin to open up, allowing bacteria, undigested food particles, and toxic waste products to enter into our bloodstream. This causes an inflammatory response.
Normally, inflammation is needed to help us heal. It can be a good thing when it’s in response to a temporary injury. But, we’re talking about a chronic, continuous state of inflammation, resulting from the leaky gut. These foreign substances that unnaturally entered the bloodstream can cause an autoimmune response. This is how autoimmune disease has increased drastically over the last few decades. Problems, such as food allergies, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, and rheumatoid arthritis, were virtually unheard of a century ago. Let me know in the comments what you are struggling with.
How Chemicals and GMOs Contribute to Leaky Gut
So, what changed? We started using chemicals in farming about a hundred years ago. We now use glyphosate, a dangerous toxin to our environment and our bodies, and used it to make Roundup. Glyphosate takes out the essential amino acid, glycine, from plants that we can’t make without ingesting it and also blocks the shikimate enzyme pathway, which makes three aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. So, now we are deficient in amino acids from factory farming, as well as every nutrient besides NPK!
This is compounded by the rise of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, squash, arctic apples, innate potatoes, and some salmon are now GMO, unless otherwise specified. Wheat is the worst, since it is genetically modified to be Roundup ready, because it is sprayed several times to dry it out and harvest it much more quickly, making room for two crops to be grown in the South during growing season. This shortcut to nature changes the carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio of wheat gluten, resulting in gluten sensitivity. These unnatural changes to our plants are wreaking havoc on our gut microbiome, not to mention our soil microbiome.
How Gluten and Dairy Contribute to Leaky Gut
Gluten is one of the leading allergens to cause leaky gut. Dairy is another. It, too, is full of pesticides and glyphosate, but also antibiotics and steroids. That alone is enough, but cow’s milk is simply not made for humans in the best of circumstances. It is made for a calf with four stomachs to digest, resulting in a tremendous rate of growth in a very short time. Avoid gluten, dairy, and all GMO foods, since they contribute to leaky gut, inflammation, and autoimmune disease.
Some of the symptoms of leaky gut are bloating, constipation, chronic diarrhea, irritable bowel, migraines, brain fog, fatigue, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, arthritis, depression, anxiety, lupus, celiac disease, and a weak immune system. Eliminating the foods I’ve mentioned will help greatly in healing your microbiome.
How to Repair Leaky Gut
What, then, are foods we can eat to strengthen and repair it? Try to use unrefined, cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive and coconut oils. Speaking of healthy fats, eat avocados and sprouted flaxseed for healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Prebiotic fiber, contained in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, will help to strengthen your gut flora so that it can boost your immunity. Of course, only buy non-GMO and organic whenever possible. Joann has many recipes.
You can take probiotics to replenish the bacteria in your gut, but they are often inferior and very expensive. They are also usually limited to just a few species, which is actually harmful to your microbiome and causes an imbalance. I highly recommend wild-fermented foods. You can buy them in health-food stores and most grocery stores, but it is much cheaper to make some of them at home. Without having to buy probiotics to start your own kefir or yogurt, you can naturally ferment some foods with time.
The Power of Fermented Foods
If you would rather buy kefir or yogurt, I recommend a non-dairy version. Miso and tempeh are fermented from soybeans and are easier just to buy. Miso is best if it has been fermented for at least three years. It is a superpower among fermented foods! It can also be fermented from chickpeas. The foods that are very easy to make at home are kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles. See Joann’s video on making kombucha from scratch!
I hope this has helped you to understand the gut microbiome, how to heal it, and how to strengthen your immune system. Happy fermenting!