If you had to name the most exciting recent medical discovery, what would you say? As a physician, I know my answer, hands down: the microbiome.
That's the community of trillions of bacteria that inhabit our gut, mouth, lungs, nasal passages, skin, and brain. Although we’ve been aware of these bacteria for a while, until now we didn’t realize what a crucial role they play in just about every aspect of our health.
Here are the 10 most important things you need to know about your gut microbiome:
1. You are more bacterial than cellular.
Bacteria outnumber your cells by a factor of 9 to 1. And the genes in your microbiome outnumber your own genome by a whopping 150 to 1!
2. You depend on the microbiome for crucial functions.
Humans evolved in a symbiotic relationship with the microbiome, which is why our bodies depend on our bacteria for so many basic biological processes. Friendly bacteria digest our food, govern our appetite, control our metabolism, orchestrate our immune system, influence our mood, promote mental sharpness, determine heart health, support bone development, produce crucial vitamins and other nutrients, manufacture natural antibiotics, and even help to determine our genetic expression!
3. We’re used to thinking of bacteria as our enemies, but most bacteria are allies.
The bacteria in our microbiome don’t just help us perform basic bodily functions, such as digesting our food. They also help us restore gut health and heal symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, depression, headaches, acne, eczema, colds, infections, joint and muscle pain.
4. Keeping the microbiome healthy with a wide variety of friendly bacteria is the key to health and weight loss.
Most bacteria seem to wish us well, organizing themselves into extraordinary arrangements to ensure good digestion and healthy weight. However, some bacteria promote inflammation (a response to stress) and other bacteria create sugar cravings! Too many unfriendly bacteria and we end up overweight, stressed, fatigued, and at risk for a wide variety of disorders, from acne to cancer.
5. The microbiome is the key to weight loss.
One of the most exciting developments is the huge number of research studies showing that when you rebalance your microbiome, you can boost your metabolism and shed fat. This was a discovery I made in my medical practice some years ago, so I was excited to see more evidence emerging to confirm an approach whose success I had already witnessed with thousands of patients.
6. A balanced microbiome is crucial to mental function and emotional health.
Your brain depends on biochemicals known as neurotransmitters to process thought and emotion. If your microbiome is out of balance, you are likely to end up anxious and/or depressed, suffering from fatigue, memory problems, and brain fog.
7. Stress can unbalance the microbiome in just a single day.
The lifespan of a bacterium is about 20 minutes. So 24 hours represent about 1,500 years in bacteria time. In just one day, you can alter your microbiome’s balance by killing off unfriendly bacteria and allowing friendly bacteria to proliferate. Supporting your microbiome with probiotics, prebiotics, and healthy foods can make an enormous difference very quickly.
8. Probiotics are live bacteria that help balance the microbiome by supporting friendly bacteria.
You can take probiotics in capsule form, or you can take natural probiotics in the form of fermented foods: yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchee, and pickled vegetables. Taking a daily probiotic and loading up your diet with fermented foods can help you boost your metabolism and lose unwanted weight.
9. Prebiotics are the foods and nutrients that feed the friendly bacteria in your microbiome.
You can take them as powders and capsules, or you can eat whole foods that are rich in inulin, arabinogalactans, and fiber. In my book, I call these “Microbiome Superfoods.” They include asparagus, carrots, garlic, jicama, leeks, okra, onion, radishes, and tomatoes, as well as the “Microbiome Superspices,” turmeric and cinnamon.
10. The microbiome is the basis for the medicine of the future.
This year, the Mayo Clinic published a primer about how physicians might incorporate research on the microbiome into their clinical practice, proclaiming, “understanding the basic concepts about the interactions between humans and their microbiome will be as important to clinicians as understanding concepts of genetics or germ theory.”
I couldn’t agree more.
The microbiome has been dubbed “the forgotten organ,” but I think it’s high time doctors remembered it! Meanwhile, now that you know about your microbiome, you can start supporting it with probiotics, prebiotics, and “Microbiome Superfoods.” Your whole body will thank you for it.