Your gastrointestinal system, which is comprised of your stomach as well as your small and large intestines, is home to over 100 trillion bacteria, collectively called the microbiome.
Just to give you an understanding of how vast your microbiome is, there are 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells in your body. Your gut also has just under 3.3 million bacterial genes, which is more than 150 times as many as reside in your own genome!
The microbiome acts as our second set of genes, with each one of us falling into a specific microflora type, similar to blood types. This radical new understanding in science, that our bodies are symbiotic hosts for the microbiome, has dramatically shifted the way we view disease, hygiene and health.
The delicate balance of your gut ecosystem determines how you look, think and function. This primordial life in your gut is what makes 80% of your immune system and also has the power to turn off and on good and bad genes. Now you can see the far reaching implications of your microbiome health.
For example, your weight and your brain function are affected by your microbiome. Cancer, type 2 diabetes, allergies and asthma all have a microbiome component to them. Microbiome and gut lining distress are associated with autoimmune conditions.
So how do you maximize your microbiome?
1. Avoid the junk.
This is hopefully a no-brainer. For a healthy microbiome, I would start with avoiding processed foods, which will bring inflammation to your protective gut lining and damage your gut flora. Limiting antibiotics and NSAIDs is essential for this reason as well, but there are plenty of steps you can take to maximize your microbiome's health.
2. Consider diagnostic testing.
Comprehensive labs pinpoint exactly what's going on in an individual case. Clinically measuring and analyzing your microbiome will give you insight into your health. Looking at gut lining integrity (leaky gut), food sensitivities and chronic yeast, fungus or parasitic infections as well as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is essential to address your specific microbiome problems.
3. Eat live food.
With every meal you are determining your microbiome's health and in return, your own. "You are what you eat" is now "You are what your microbiota eats." Eating a variety of plant food grows a good gut garden. But what works for one person doesn't mean it will for you. For example, people with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) or IBS tend to do better with avoiding food high in FODMAPS (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Monosaccharides And Polyols), such as onions and garlic, which can aggravate the underlying problem.
4. Eat fermented foods.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchee or kefir can be a great way to recolonize your gut with beneficial bacteria, although some cases of dysbiosis don't do well with these foods. Again, make diagnostic testing an important part to finding out what is best for you.
5. Use natural medicine.
L-glutamine, slippery elm, marshmallow root and deglycyrrhizinated (DGL) licorice are all some great natural ways to aid in repairing the protective lining of your gut.
I've found many cases respond well to condition specific intermittent fasting protocols where the patient restricts food for a time being and uses different healing tools to give the gut time to heal and reset the microbiome. Fecal bacteriotherapy, in which a patient receives a fecal transplant from a healthy donor, can also reset very sick or weight-loss-resistant invidual's microbiome. It might sound too gross for some, but I've seen therapies like this do wonders for people's health when they haven't been able to find relief elsewhere.