What you should know about your body’s mi­cro­biome

TEXT GRACE TOBY Here’s how the mi­cro­biome—the colony of mi­cro-or­gan­isms that lives on and in our bod­ies—might hold the key to a healthy im­mune sys­tem, mood and weight, and our over­all well-be­ing.

Canadian Living - - CONTENTS -

Meet your mi­cro­biome

If it seems like the word mi­cro­biome just re­cently ap­peared on your radar, you’re not alone. It was only in 2008 that the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health Com­mon Fund’s Hu­man Mi­cro­biome Project was es­tab­lished to un­der­stand the mi­cro­biome and how it im­pacts the way our bod­ies func­tion.

“We knew that the mi­cro­biome was there, but we thought of it only as ex­ter­nal and not re­ally in our body. As re­search ex­pands in this area, we’re dis­cov­er­ing how much in­flu­ence it has on well­be­ing,” says Kathy Mccoy, the di­rec­tor of the Western Cana­dian Mi­cro­biome Cen­tre and a pro­fes­sor at the Cum­ming School of Medicine in Cal­gary. “One thing we know for sure is that good bac­te­ria ben­e­fit our health.”

Happy gut = healthy life

Our gut houses the bulk of our bugs and can carry more than 1,000 dif­fer­ent species. The hot spot is the large in­tes­tine, which is the most highly col­o­nized by bac­te­ria. “Bac­te­ria help us di­gest foods we oth­er­wise couldn’t, such as com­plex car­bo­hy­drates,” says Mccoy. “They in­crease our meta­bolic ca­pac­ity, produce vi­ta­mins we can’t make our­selves and break down food so our bod­ies get needed nu­tri­ents.”

A healthy gut can de­ter­mine which nu­tri­ents are ab­sorbed and which tox­ins are blocked. “The state of our gut mi­cro­biota has dras­ti­cally changed as we’ve trans­formed our di­ets, specif­i­cally due to a loss of fi­bre in­take,” says Mccoy. “The con­sump­tion of more pro­cessed foods has neg­a­tively in­flu­enced the makeup of our mi­cro­biota.”

The key to a well­func­tion­ing mi­cro­biome is a di­ver­sity of good bac­te­ria. The lat­est re­search shows how our mi­cro­biome can af­fect our im­mu­nity, weight and mood, and re­veals how you can nur­ture and strengthen your gut to im­prove your health.

Boost your im­mu­nity

“Un­like genes or ge­netic dis­or­ders that are hard­wired, we can ma­nip­u­late our mi­cro­biome to some de­gree,” says Mccoy. By nur­tur­ing our gut to cre­ate a healthy mi­cro­biota, we equip it with bet­ter am­mu­ni­tion to fight po­ten­tial in­vaders, such as bad bac­te­ria (sal­monella, for ex­am­ple), mak­ing it a strong ally for our im­mune sys­tem.

“Over the past 50 years, in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, the preva­lence of au­toim­mune dis­eases, such as rheuma­toid arthri­tis, Type 1 di­a­betes and celiac dis­ease, has sky­rock­eted—and some, like Type 1 di­a­betes, are oc­cur­ring at a younger age. At the same time, there’s a strong be­lief that the di­ver­sity in our mi­cro­biota has de­creased,” she says. By not sup­port­ing and nur­tur­ing our mi­cro­biome, we leave it less able to pro­tect it­self and more vul­ner­a­ble to in­vaders. “The im­mune sys­tem in your gut needs to be equipped like an army, alert to rec­og­nize po­ten­tial danger and armed to fight dis­ease-caus­ing mi­crobes and pathogens,” says Mccoy.

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