o two people possess the exact same microbiome. Each of us interacts with the diverse mix of microbes that call us home, those healthy for us and those potentially harmful, on a continuous basis. As long as an optimal balance exists between the organisms that are health-promoting and the pathogens among them, we live together in harmony, as well as in ways that are mutually beneficial. For example, the gut microbes living inside us get energy from our bodies and the foods we eat. We depend on those same microbes to break down complex nutrients for us to absorb and for the production of certain vitamins. We need each other. However, when that optimal microbial balance is altered in ways that favor harmful organisms, a disease condition referred to as dysbiosis may occur.
The makeup of an individual’s microbiome develops early in life, but it can change as a result of factors including where and how you were born, where you live and where you have traveled, infections, pharmaceuticals (especially antibiotics) and diet. The microbiome typically returns to baseline under conditions of good health, but even relatively brief alterations can have consequences. This is because the microbiome has a significant impact on the way our body functions, from the way we digest our food and absorb nutrients, to the development and proper functioning of our immune system. A persistent dysbiosis that favors pathogens may contribute to disorders as varied as depression and autoimmunity, autism and obesity, diabetes and even cancer. One of the reasons that my anti-inflammatory diet is so effective is that it supports a healthy microbiome through the ingestion of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and yogurt containing live, active cultures, as well as a variety of brightly colored vegetables and fruits and high-fiber foods that provide an energy source (sometimes called prebiotics) for the