What’s The Microbiome, & Why Should I Care?
The terms “bacteria” and “good” may not seem like they go together, but they do. And your microbiome is the best example of the beneficial “bugs” living inside of you right now. Here’s why it makes sense for you to treat them well.
The human microbiome is made up of trillions of microscopic bacteria that live on the inside and outside of everybody (that is, every body). It’s estimated that each human’s microbiome has 100 trillion microbes, and the vast majority of those live within the gut. What’s your gut? It’s not just an informal term for a round belly. Your gut is actually a medical term for your entire gastrointestinal tract, including your mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus.
Your microbiome health is extremely important. What you eat, how often you move, and what you’re exposed to are all factors that influence whether or not your microbiome flourishes or flounders. Think of your microbiome as your most important body organ. A happy and healthy microbiome—one in which the good bacteria reign supreme—helps dictate your immunity (how often you get sick and how quickly you get better), defense against harmful pathogens, how efficiently you metabolize nutrients, and how well you synthesize vitamins and fats that influence everything from your skin to your mood. Simply put: You don’t function well without a well functioning microbiome.
Signs of an unhealthy microbiome
Since so much of your microbiome lives within your body, you may wonder how you would know if your microbiome is in good shape or bad shape? Here are signs that your gut microbiome health is not as tiptop as it could be:
- Skin breakouts and eczema
- Poor sleep and chronic fatigue
- Unwanted weight gain or loss (without changes to your diet or fitness)
- A new autoimmune disease
- Bloating, constipation, and other stomach pains
- Sugar cravings
How to improve your microbiome health
Though the research on microbiome health is relatively new, we already know that by cultivating a healthy and thriving microbiome, you can improve your overall health. Here are some ways to get started now:
- Eat a wide variety of plant-based foods. The more different kinds of beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables you can fit in a week, the better. Can you get in 10 different plant-based foods? (Tip: A weekly serving of Otamot, which includes 10 organic veggies, can help you out there!) Now try for 20, then 30. Keep a running list of the different varieties of plant-based foods your eat each week.
- Get in some fermented foods each week, like yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut.
- Cut out foods with a lot of added sugars and artificial sweeteners.
- Eat fiber foods, like whole grains, avocado, nuts with the skins still on, citrus, and berries.
Jessie Shafer is a registered dietitian-nutritionist, team member at The Real Food Dietitians, former magazine editor, and busy mom of two who loves to get right to the gut of health solutions.