Fighting the good fight
Age, genetics, diet, environment and lifestyle all appear to influence the bacteria that make up the microbiome. While you can’t control all of those, your diet and lifestyle choices (eating well, not smoking or drinking, exercising) give an advantage to one side or the other, especially over the long term.
One group of people who need to take special care of their microbiome inhabitants is those born by Caesarean section. These children missed the seeding of beneficial bacteria to the gut from their mother’s vaginal canal; instead their guts were colonised by other bacteria absorbed from the delivery suite. A study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, memorably known as GUTS (Growing Up Today Study), tracked the overall health of more than 22,000 babies from birth to adulthood. Children born by C-section were 64 per cent more likely to be obese than their siblings born vaginally, despite sharing the same genes, living in the same household and eating the same food.
Although you can’t do anything about the way you were born, you can do something about how you feed your biome. We like to think we make our own decisions but subconscious signals from our gut brain can work against our best intentions. Envisage it like a cat in the gut. Think how your cat yowls at the fridge door, complains loudly about the healthy cat chow you encourage him to eat and eventually drives you to open those expensive small tins of cat food just to get some peace and quiet. Your microbiome uses the vagus nerve to do the same to you; the microbes in charge of the biome also have charge of messages delivered to your brain.
Who, then, wins the war to control the microbiome? The side you supply with the guns and ammo. Eat sugar, refined starchy carbohydrates, processed foods, trans- and partially hydrogenated fats and the bad guys take control. Eat sensibly and you give good bacteria the upper hand and, by giving the beneficial microbes control of your microbiome, give yourself the best shot at controlling a wide range of diseases from depression to obesity.