5. Breastfeed babies if possible.
Breast milk contains oligosaccharides — long-chain sugars that babies can’t digest, but that are tailored to the developing microbial community of the gut.
These sugars block disease-causing bacteria and feed beneficial species, which then help babies’ immune systems to know what to worry about (nasty bugs), and what to ignore (pollen, new foods, and our own cells, for example). Both formula feeding and mixed feeding promote a different microbial community from exclusive breast-feeding.
If breastfeeding is not an option, don't worry. Aim to help your child develop a healthy microbiome through a plant-based high-fiber diet once he or she is on solid food. Talk to your pediatrician first.
6. Cut down on soaps and cosmetics.
Your gut is not the only part of you that’s coated in microbes. Each of us has many thousands of bacteria covering every square inch of our skin, which form the first line of defence against any harmful microbes.
Washing with soaps alters these communities, favoring the hardiest species that may not be the best for us. Skin looks after itself if you give it a chance — try a soap-less shower and you might find it makes little difference to how clean you feel.
Make-up also changes the skin microbiome, by feeding different bacteria from those that consume the natural oils produced by your skin. Over the long-term, daily foundation can alter your microbiome.
7. Ditch antibacterial cleaning products.
No one likes the thought of harmful bacteria lingering on the kitchen surfaces or in the toilet, but antibacterial cleaning products don’t help us to get rid of them in the home any better than non-antibacterial cleaners. Soaps and warm water clean up bacteria very efficiently, just by removing the food residues and grime where bacteria grow.
Each of these seven keys can help us to develop a microbiome that works for us, helping us to fight infections, maintain a healthy weight, keep happy, and prevent allergies and autoimmune diseases. So if you want to look after your body and mind, don’t forget your microbes!