Feeding your Microbiome

7th November 2016

Hand sanitizer and Dettol surface cleaner may come to mind when you think of bacteria, however 90% of all bacteria are unable to cause human harm, even if you bathed in them. The remaining 10% of bacteria are ‘potential pathogens,’ which means most of the time they are benign, and only when conditions are just right will they cause infection or sickness. Therefore, the vast majority of bacteria are harmless, and in fact many of them are highly beneficial, and like it or not, one hundred trillion of these beneficial microorganisms cover you, inside and out.

The bacterial cells of our microbiome outnumber our body cells 10 to1. You are more bacteria than you are human

The majority of these microbes live within your gastrointestinal tract AKA, your gut, and are termed your gut microbiome. You can think of your microbiome as microscopic ecosystem, composed of Bacteria, Achaea, and single celled Fungi such as yeast. These little friends have evolved with us over millions of years, forming a mutualistic symbiotic relationship i.e. they help us and we help them [1]. So what exactly are these microbes doing in our guts?

By mass, 60% of what comes out your back-end is Bacteria [2]

Most importantly, symbiotic bacteria work with our body cells (yes they actually communicate with our body) to improve our immune system and increase the integrity of the gut wall. These beneficial bacteria live directly above our own cells, within a mucus layer that coats our gut wall. This set up allows nutrients to be absorbed through the thin gut wall, while reducing the ability of potential pathogens and their toxic by-products from entering our body and blood stream [3].Another important role of the gut microbiome is to break down otherwise indigestible carbohydrates. Humans have not evolved the ability to break down many of the foods that we consume on a regular basis. Instead, we rely on our symbiotic microbes to break down fibrous plant materials such as cellulose [4]. In other words, bacteria consume our waste and we consume their waist in a lovely round-about way; and while these microbes are busy breaking down our healthy foods, they produce an environment that can help keep us slim [5]. This healthy environment is maintained by compounds synthesised by bacteria, often short chain fatty acids, such as propionic acid or butyric acid. These acids benefit our health by reducing inflammation, inhibiting the growth of pathogens, and protecting against colon cancers [6]. 

The most abundant bacterial phyla in your gut should be Firmecutes, and yes, they can aid you in becoming firm and cute J

With a better understanding of what beneficial bacteria do in our guts, you may wonder how can I both reduce the number of harmful bacteria and increase the number of beneficial bacteria in my gut? Diet is the number one driver of microbiome composition, and a good diet can alter your microbiome in as little as 48 hours [6]. Over the long term, a healthy microbiome can also help you in making better food choices as you may find that you have more energy, and less sugar cravings. The following tips will help you shift your microbiome toward a healthier, skinny promoting state.

Healthy slim mice given faecal material from obese mice will increase their fat deposition rate [5]  

Start sneaking more fibre in to your diet. Fibre promotes the growth of a diverse range of beneficial bacteria that produce compounds which: increase the absorption of nutrients, reduce inflammation, and kill pathogens [6], all of which keeps us and our guts in a happy healthy state. Good sources of fibre include raw vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and carrots; any beans that are not canned; and certain fruits such as apples, pears, capsicum and berries. 

Fill up on leafy greens and other vegetables. A big salad once a day will go a long way in promoting a healthy microbiome. Vegetables are rich in fibre, vitamins (B12, C, E) minerals (Iron, magnesium, zinc) and other essential trace nutrients (selenium) which both you and your microbiome need to function efficiently [2]. For some exciting salad recipes you can whip up while still in your pole shoes, stay tuned to the Diamond Dance facebook page, and keep an eye out for ‘Sparkles in the Kitchen’. 

Reduce your intake of artificial sweeteners. You may think you are doing the right thing by reducing your sugar intake, and while reducing sugar is an excellent health choice, replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners can severely alter your microbiome composition from beneficial to harmful. These alterations in gut bacteria can lead to glucose intolerance (pre-diabetes), diabetes, and obesity [7]. Some of the worst things you could put on your body are diet coca cola, and sugar free red bull. 

I recommend making small healthy changes to your diet that will be sustainable over time. Every one of us slips up from time to time, however if you make positive changes slowly but surely, when you have a small slip up, it’s only a drop in your bucket of healthy food choices. By feeding your microbiome, you will promote a happy, properly functioning gut which will: absorb nutrients better which will give you more energy, reduce your chances of infection and disease by excluding pathogens, and help you maintain a healthy weight.

Jackie Jones

Microbiologist

 

  1. Delsuc et al. (2014). Convergence of gut microbiomes in myrmecophagous mammals. Molecular ecology.
  2. Ohland et al. (2015). Microbial activities and intestinal homeostasis: A delicate balance between health and disease. CMGH
  3. McDonald et al. (2005). Immunity, inflammation, and Allergy in the gut. Science
  4. Hacquard et al. (2015). Microbiota and health nutrition across plant and animal Kingdoms. Cell Host & Microbe
  5. Turnbaugh et al. (2009). The effect of diet on the human gut microbiome: A metagenomic analysis in humanized genotobiotic mice
  6. Rios-Covian et al. (2016). Intestinal short chain fatty acids and their link with diet and human health. Frontiers in Microbiology
  7. Suez et al. (2014). Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature