David Perlmutter’s Brain Maker is a fascinating read about our gut microbes, aka the Microbiome. He paints a very clear picture about the various roles the microbiome is responsible for in our overall health, especially as it relates to the brain. I was so floored by what I learned that I am compelled to share some key takeaways.
Before I go on, I want to be clear that I am not a doctor or a professional in any health or nutrition related field (although I’m heading in that direction!).
So what is the microbiome?
When you hear the word microbiome, do you think about Pauly Shore and a science experiement gone bad? That was Bio-Dome. A microbiome is the term used to describe the gut bugs and microorganisms living in our bodies, essential to our health and essential to our survival as human beings. Get this: We have over 10 times the number of gut bugs as we do human cells, yet our microbiomes weigh at most, just 3 pounds.
(I’m suddenly reminded of that Killers song, “Are we human…or are we…..” bacteria?)
Why is a healthy microbiome important?
- Digestion Gut bacteria help us absorb vitamins and minerals from the foods we eat.
- Protection – The microbiome protects us from bad bacteria, viruses and parasites.
- It acts as a 2nd liver – That’s right! Gut bacteria neutralize the toxins that make their way into our guts, which means our microbiome is taking some of the load off of our livers. If you little gut bacteria, the liver has to work harder.
- Immune System – The microbiome drives our immune response. It has been referred to as our “immune system organ.”
- Hormones – It has an affect on the hormonal system which is responsible for handling stress (among many other things).
- Inflammation – Gut bugs play a major role in regulating the body’s inflammatory response. And chronic inflammation is a fundamental process in the development of disease.
This is definitely worth repeating…
**Chronic inflammation is a fundamental process in the development of disease**
What are the risks of a compromised microbiome?
If the lining of the gut is damaged, it allows for things to get into the bloodstream that shouldn’t. When this happens there is an inflammatory response which affects the brain. Emerging research is showing a connection between the microbiome and disease and what’s becoming clear is that an unhealthy microbiome puts increases the risk for all kinds of things like cancer, autoimmune disease, MS, Alzheimers, depression, diabetes, obesity, asthma, food allergies and more – all of which are all tied to an inflammatory response in the body.
And here’s a fun fact
There are a number of different things gut bugs do, and certain gut bugs are responsible for food absorption. Studies have shown the people who are obese have a significantly higher number food absorbing gut bugs than in those who are not obese. And those who have trouble gaining weight have a very low number of food absorbing gut bugs.
So how do you know if your microbiome is jacked up?
Some symptoms of an imbalanced microbiome include: Slow digestion, rapid digestion, stomach discomfort, difficulties losing or gaining weight, acid reflux, always getting sick, mental health issues
Ok, so I have some of these symptoms, but WHY is my gut like this?
How were you born? Many of the beneficial bacteria are passed from mother to child during a natural childbirth. These bacteria generally would not be passed along via C-Section (but there ARE methods of transferring vaginal microbes to cesarean babies).
Were you breast fed or bottle fed? Beneficial bugs are also passed through a mothers breast milk helping to populate and develop a healthy microbiome at an early age.
What has your exposure to antibiotics been like? – antibiotics are a necessity, yes, but they do kill bad AND good bacteria, putting you at risk.
And there are other factors that can contribute to an unhappy microbiome: the Birth Control Pill, over the counter pain meds/NSAIDS and environmental chemicals exposure to name a few. So if you fall under any of these categories, c-section, formula fed, exposure to antibiotics, it’s likely your microbiome is not in the best shape.