Your microbiome is your body’s network of trillions of microbes, a unique ecosystem that keeps you healthy.
An ecosystem is a community of organisms that interact with each other and their physical environments – think of a forest packed with trees, plants and animals. Your body also has its ecosystem, called the microbiome. This is the entire ecosystem of microorganisms, like bacteria, viruses and yeast, that live on and inside your body. It is as unique as you are and ever-changing with your diet, environment and your season of life.
A healthy microbiome contains large numbers and many different types of these microorganisms. It’s rather like the diversity seen in a vibrant rainforest ecosystem. Just as plants have adapted themselves to certain habitats – consider how mangroves love salty water, while moss prefers damp, shady conditions – your microbes have also adapted themselves to certain parts of your body. For example, the densest community of microbes is found in the warm, moist environment of your large intestine, where there are plenty of nutrients. Others have learnt how to survive in the tough, acidic conditions of your stomach.
Your body’s ecosystem works best when it has copious amounts of different bacteria, with many species playing many different roles in your general wellbeing. After all, a rainforest isn’t just plants; to flourish, it needs insects, birds, butterflies and many other species. Likewise, a healthy microbiome contains a rich diversity of bacteria which perform different functions in the gut environment. Their combined efforts, along with many other microorganisms, enable your gut microbiome to support your health.
A holistic approach to health has many benefits for your general wellbeing, especially for your microbiome. Indeed, your level of bacterial diversity is closely related to your lifestyle: stress, processed foods and pollution can result in a weak, less diverse microbiome. A holistic lifestyle, on the other hand, emphasises regular exercise, a healthy diet of fresh, high-fibre foods, good sleep and spiritual nourishment. Digestive enzymes, probiotics and prebiotics are natural supplements which can help to re-establish and maintain a healthy, diverse microbiome.
Digestive enzymes break food down into smaller particles so that the body can absorb and use the nutrients. There are many different types, with different functions. For example, protease, papain and bromelain break down protein, cellulase breaks down plant cellulose and tilactase supports the breakdown of lactose.
Naturopath Karin Spicer explains why a top-up of digestive enzymes can be necessary:
“One, as we age, our production of digestive enzymes slows down; two, enzyme production can also be negatively affected by a bacterial infection, leaky gut syndrome, inflammation in the gut lining or food intolerances; and three, a diet high in raw, plant-based foods has a higher requirement for digestive enzymes.”
Fermented foods, such as yoghurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and pickles, all contain beneficial probiotic bacteria and therefore help to support the health and balance of the microbiome.
Spicer adds: “However, it can be difficult to obtain the optimal diversity of strains, and probiotics that survive the acid conditions in the stomach, through food alone. There are thousands of different strains, with many different roles, including supporting digestion, bowel health, mood, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, even healthy weight management. So when you choose a probiotic supplement, make sure there is proven clinical research on the specific strains. For example, Bifidobacterium bifidum helps us produce some B-group vitamins, while a healthy immune response and skin condition are both supported by Lactobacillus rhamnosus.”
Prebiotics are the fibre that we ingest from foods like legumes, artichokes, onions, cabbage and whole wheat. This is slowly broken down and fermented on its way through the gut, where it provides nourishment for the probiotic bacteria.
Your microbiome can activate and deactivate inflammation throughout the body, to the point where even diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s are being attributed to the gut.
Follow these tips from health and wellness coach Kale Brock for a happy and healthy microbiome.
1. Eat a wholefoods diet – vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, fish, lean red meat, olive oil, nuts and yoghurt.
2. Put a rainbow on your plate. Different brightly coloured fruit and vegetables each contain unique phytochemicals which fight disease and support gut health.
3. Add nutritional insurance. Take a high-grade supplement containing probiotics, prebiotics and digestive enzymes to balance gut bacteria, support immune function, digestion and metabolism, and keep your microbiome diverse and active.