Fight­ing the good fight

NZ Life & Leisure - - Well & Good -

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.

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