Did you know that you’re more bacteria than human? It’s an odd thing to think about. Well it likely wouldn’t have popped into your mind as your next thought right?! And really it’s kind of ewwww at the same time. Can you believe that we are outnumbered ten-to-one, bacteria to human cells. And we live together in harmony, most of the time. This incredible abundance of bacteria has profound impacts on our body’s physiology. Everything from how we digest our food, to our weight and the potential of becoming obese, to your immunity, skin and even, to our mood at any given moment. The interaction between food and humans is regulated by the bacteria in our bodies. This whole bacterial colony and living community is collectively known as the human microbiome. And while I talk about gut health and the microbiome, bacteria also live on all mucous membranes which includes digestive system, from the mouth to the anus, the respiratory system, from the nostrils to the lungs, urogenital system of urethra, bladder, ureter, as well as the uterus and vagina in women, and the glans in men. And also the inside of the eyelids and ears. Not only that, but different bacteria prefer different parts of your body. There are specific bacteria that live on your hands, and different species that live in your armpits and behind your knee. We are hyper vigilant right now about the bacteria on our hands and wash or sanitize a million times a day, but how is that affecting our microbiome? More to come on that.
For whatever reason gut health, the microbiome, probiotics and I guess the whole of the digestive system has always fascinated me, and I really believe that it plays the biggest role in our health. So today on EAT THIS with Lianne, I’m going to share some of what I know about the microbiome, probiotics and what exactly you need to know to positively impact your health.
Studying nutrition in the UK brought various experts and greats in the field of health and nutrition. I can still remember when Dr. Nigel Plummer walked into the classroom of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in Putney, south London in 1996, my first year of my three year diploma course. He worked closely with Neil Ward, the owner of a supplement company called BioCare. Between these two mentors, I came to understand so much about probiotics, gut health and how supplements can impact us on many levels. Fast forward to moving back to Canada in 2001, Dr. Plummer was still a part of my ongoing education through a company called Seroyal who distribute Dr. Plummer’s HMF products. I have seen Nigel speak countless times– and yes we now call each other by our first names. You get to know someone better when their gift of a bottle of Canadian Whisky is confiscated at airport security, because he couldn’t carry it onboard, you know liquids and all that. We travelled back from Montreal on the same flight after a three day conference that he spoke at, and he handled the loss of his whisky that he was going to enjoy on arrival like a champ. Whenever I see him at yet another lecture or conference, he asks if he’s doing his job well enough because I keep coming back to hear him speak and he thinks that he says it all every time. There will never be an end to this work, as new studies with different focuses are being published weekly.
For most of my career, I’ve focused on the tummy to toddler population and supported new parents with their babies and toddlers. The impact of the microbiome from conception to birth and beyond is one that’s constantly unfolding and truly has a huge impact. Whether a pregnant mom has antibiotics during pregnancy, labour and delivery, or post while breastfeeding, or if baby receives antibiotics directly, or if the baby is born by C-section all impact health in that moment and beyond. I poured a lot of that information into my award winning book, Sprout Right Family Food, if you happen to be in that time of life. For everyone else, let’s get into what I want to share with you about the impact of your microbiome on your health and what you can do to deal with whatever is going on.
First, let’s talk about digestion and your digestive system – you know, that long twisty and mess of a tube from your mouth to your anus. The amount of bacteria that your body deals with, works with and creates from the food you eat is incomprehensible. Certain foods nourish and help good bacteria proliferate or multiply which is a good thing, and certain foods feed the bad bacteria and help that multiply, which is not-so-good. In an ideal situation having about 80% good bacteria and 20% bad bacteria like E. Coli, Staphylococcus, clostridium species. These guys cause intestinal putrefaction, production of bacterial toxins, have been linked to cancer and lots of gas. Fungus called Candida Albicans is rampant in so many people, it’s truly the number one issue that I see with my clients.
To have a healthy balance of good to bad bacteria means that you digest better and get more energy and nutrients from your food. I so often say during workshops and presentations, “you’re only as healthy as what your body can digest, absorb and assimilate or use”. Makes sense, right?! Even the healthiest meals won’t hit the mark if the balance of bacteria in your gut is way off.
Your body is able to get rid of toxins, waste products, old hormones, heavy metals, cholesterol and medications. Good bacteria crowds out bad bacteria and can protect and fight harmful viruses and bacteria like I mentioned before, and help produce the mood-boosting brain chemical called serotonin. We all need that right now, don’t we?!
When our balance is out of whack, you can expect health issues as far reaching as autoimmune disease like, thyroid issues, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. Then there’s specific digestive issues, like irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn or bloating. Your gut bacteria also influences your sleep, skin rashes and allergies – I have a friend right now who in November has the worst hay fever and it’s likely coming from her gut. Those sugar cravings that are unstoppable, no matter how hard you try, if your gut bacteria is off it’s a fight of willpower that might work for a while but not long term, in my experience. Wouldn’t you like to know a reason for your brain fog in the morning, or that fatigue or sluggishness? How about your mood, including depression or anxiety, or your recent weight loss or more likely weight gain. Yes, they all can come down to your gut bacteria balance.
What’s that candida albicans that I mentioned earlier all about? It’s the fungus or overgrowth of yeast that causes issues like athletes foot, yeast infections and symptoms of jock itch, vaginal itching, and in babies, yeast in the mouth. Even those sore splits in the side of your mouth is associated with candida. But there’s more – sinusitis, urinary tract infections and eczema can all come down to an overgrowth of yeast. Honestly, that could be its own episode to discuss that further, so just know, most of what you’re dealing with from alcohol intolerance, to toenail fungus and panic attacks can all be a part of this discussion.
Immunity needs to be talked about here, and know that once again it could be its own discussion for at least a day let alone one podcast episode, but let’s simplify here. About 80% of your immune system lives in the gut. If your immune army is busy dealing with all that bad bacteria, the candida, fungus, Staph aureus and E. coli, it’s becoming as overworked as someone doing a 100 hour a week job without a break. It has to have closer to that 80 good to 20 bad ratio to function optimally, so listen up when I share what you can eat and do to help the most towards the end of this episode.
No matter where you are in the world, your immunity needs to be in tip top shape, now more than ever. So while those Halloween candies are still calling your name, know that your yeast, fungus and bacteria LOVE you for those cravings because it’s what they live off of. So yes, you eat the sweet treat, think you’re good, but don’t realize the cascade of effects that it has. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here, saying that you can never eat what you fancy, but truly, sugar feeds these bad guys, slows your immune army to a slow crawl, and affects your cell health and how your body knows to deal with unhealthy ones like cancer cells. And a side note about alcohol and immunity, yep, it’s a big downer for your immunity. Sorry.
Many of us have experienced the feeling of our ‘stomachs turning’ when we are nervous, scared or anxious, and there is good reason as to why this happens. The gut, often called our second brain, plays an important role, not just in digestion, but also regulating the activity of our nervous system. Are you someone who during stressful periods notice a change in bowel habits, and maybe you lose your appetite, or even get stomach cramps? It happens a lot with kids, as much as adults. You can thank your ‘Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis’ for this. There’s a key process of communication between our gut, our gut bacteria or microbiome and our nervous system, stimulated by the vagus nerve, otherwise known as the ‘wandering nerve’. The vagus nerve connects the brain to all the organs that it passes on its way down to the colon, where most of our microbiome can be found. It works by constantly sending messages, informing the gut bacteria what is going on in the environment, and they react accordingly.
The importance of gastrointestinal health to nervous function has been highlighted by a study which found that out of more than a thousand people with GI disorders, 84% suffered with anxiety, and 27% with depression.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is sometimes called the ‘happy hormone’ as low levels are linked to low mood, depression and anxiety. As more than 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, it’s a focus with any mental health issue for sure. As I talked about in episode 43 on brain and mental health, altering the gut bacteria for the better, may improve your brain health.
What to do with all this?
First up, to help protect your microbiome, avoid taking unnecessary antibiotics because they can reduce both good and bad bacteria in the body. I can remember taking my eldest daughter to the doctor with a sore ear when she was about 4 or 5 years old. The doc took a peek in her ear, said that she couldn’t really see all that well but there was a bit of redness, so she likely had an ear infection. She swiftly pulled out her prescription pad and wrote down an antibiotic for her. I challenged the doctor and said that I thought that antibiotics don’t really help ear infections and she said, well not always, but as there’s a bit of redness, it’s all she has to give. I said no thank you and asked for other ways to deal with it, so she said manage the pain and it would likely go in 4-5 days. If not, come back. Right there was what I have heard time and time again from clients. I’m not saying don’t take them when you need them, but ask more questions.
Yes you can eat your probiotics from plain yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, and kimchi all contain helpful bacteria from the fermentation process, but don’t rely on them as your main source. You’d have to eat a boat load of mucus forming yogurt to repopulate your gut after antibiotics and it’s not an effective way in my opinion.
I’ve said it before in previous episodes on just about every topic, but I’ll say it again… Cut back on processed and sugary foods. Packaged, white, in a box or plastic something, in the middle of the supermarket aisles with a long ingredient list, yep, that’s processed. So choose carefully. Even if it says and makes the claim that it has added vitamins or minerals or even a probiotic, it’s not enough. I know you’re likely bored of me saying that over and over again, but it will sink in the more I say it. Or that’s my goal anyway.
Eat prebiotics. Many high-fiber vegetables, fruits and whole grains are prebiotics, which serve as “food” for good bacteria in the body. Unprocessed foods like apples, asparagus, bananas, corn (if you’re okay with it), garlic, flaxseeds, leeks, onions, oats, lentils and walnuts can improve gut health.
Let that dog lick your face. The immune challenge from having a dog has been linked to stronger immunity in kids and adults. So don’t shy away from a loving lick if you have the chance. If you need to borrow a dog, let me know, my Lexi loves a face to lick.
Shop mostly the perimeter of the grocery store. In episode 44, Mary Dalimonte and I talked about how shopping habits have changed, but to generally say that shopping the perimeter is where you can find fresh and frozen produce, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy still holds true.
Last but not least, take a probiotic daily. If you don’t ever have a bowel movement (gawd help you if you don’t) then you wouldn’t’ need to ever take one, but as you do, you’re losing billions of bacteria – yes that’s why you need to wash your hands, so taking more while you sort out your diet is key.
In a nutshell, the good bacteria is responsible for vitamin synthesis, helps digestion, prevents infection and supports your immunity, balanced mood and skin health and so much more that if I kept going we’d end up into next week. So know that most of the time, when someone asks me about an issue that they are having, my first recommendation is to take my Bio Boost probiotic, I’m not exaggerating.
It’s not all about taking a pill every day and thinking you’re covered. Food matters so much that it might be more accurate now to say “you are what your bacteria eat”.
This episode is likely worth a re-listen and for sure worth sharing. All the symptoms from anxiety and depression to gut issues of gurgling, gassiness, bloating, thyroid issues and more are worth connecting the dots back to the microbiome.
If you’re thinking, “GAWD I don’t know which probiotic to take, or where to start”, head to sproutright.com and book a free 15 minute call with me and I’ll help you choose from my own Bio Boost and others that I regularly use. Not all probiotics are created equal and different strains can work better for different issues. I’ll help you assess what you need and you can go from there knowing you’re spending your hard earned $ on what’s right for you, not what’s on sale at the drugstore. And yes, please don’t just say, “I’ll try it and see”. Put it back on the shelf and reach out.
Have you rated EAT THIS with Lianne yet? I’ve had some lovely notes from listeners of late, which I so appreciate and will share on social media but if you could also rate the podcast and leave a comment, complete strangers will know it’s worth a listen.
So go have some good bacteria, get it down ya, as Jamie Oliver would say, and as always, remember to eat this one mouthful at a time.