Words and photography by Kirsty Urquhart
Supporting your microbiome
Did you know that humans are made up of around 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells? These bacterial cells are known as our microbiome and they are a complex ecosystem mainly residing within our digestive system that can sometimes also be referred to as your gut flora or microbiota. There are no 2 people with the same microbiome, so it is almost like your own genetic footprint!
There are many things that affect our microbiome make up including diet, stress, genetics, antibiotic use and medications, exercise, sleep and environmental factors such as pollutants and toxins. There is the age old saying from Hippocrates that ‘all disease begins in the gut’, which emphasises it’s importance. It can be easily adapted and manipulated which can be both beneficial and harmful, so here I’d like to share how to beneficially support your microbiome and create a healthy environment for your gut to thrive!
What are some of the benefits of a healthy microbiome?
· It regulates our immune system
· Prevents the overgrowth of pathogens
· Assists in the management of allergies
· Enhances digestive health and bowel regularity
· Enhances brain function (majority of our neurotransmitters are synthesized in the gut!)
Foods to feed and repopulate
Probiotics are live micro-organisms that are considered to have a beneficial effect to gastrointestinal function. Basically, they have the ability to repopulate and maintain the good bacteria in your gut and help fight off pathogenic bacteria.
Foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh and kimchi are probiotic foods. Consuming 1 – 2 of these daily may support your overall general gut health. It is important to mention that those with a histamine intolerance or issue should choose their probiotic foods consciously or seek the advice of a practitioner to guide them through choices as some fermented foods are high in histamine.
Prebiotics are foods that feed your microbiome, defined as non-digestible fibre compounds that are degraded by gut microbiome. These fibre compounds reach the colon and react with our gut flora via fermentation, which provides energy to promote beneficial bacterial growth and generates certain metabolites such as short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s). As fibre is utilised by our microbiota, we need to have the presence of a healthy gut bacteria to help in their degradation and utilisation. If we don’t have that balance (which can be seen in instances such as dysbiosis, antibiotic use, a poor diet) then certain fibres can be rapidly fermented and produce excess gas which occupies more volume and has the potential to distend the intestinal wall, causing the effect of bloating, excess flatulence and abdominal pain. There are different types of fibres – some are broken down faster than others and we can utilise them differently for different gastrointestinal symptoms.
Let’s say you suffer from constipation, insoluble fibre may be beneficial as it does not dissolve in water, does not form a gel, is less readily fermented and promotes bowel movements.
Sources; Berries, Quinoa, Millet, Amaranth, Turnip, Green pes, Okra, Spinach, Radish, Rutabaga, Coconut, Cacao, Apple, Pear, Flaxseed, Avocado, Almonds, Walnuts, Passionfruit
Or maybe you are at the other end of the spectrum and often experience looser stools or diarrhea, then soluble may be beneficial as it dissolves in water, forms a gel and is easily digested by bacteria in the colon, creating a formed stool.
Sources; Psyllium husk, flaxseeds, passionfruit, whole grains (barley, oat), lentils and legumes, beans (black bean, kidney, white, lima, navy, edamame), tofu, tempeh, avocado, brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, sweet potato, asparagus, turnips, oranges, nectarines, pears, apples, peaches, carrot, macadamia
At either end of the scale, what is most important is that we are staying hydrated and drinking at least 2 litres of water per day!
Encourage Diet Diversity
Remember when I mentioned earlier that our microbiome can be easily adapted and manipulated? Consuming a general wholefood diet containing a variety of fruits and vegetables can increase beneficial bacteria in our gut and help our microbiome flourish and diversify which may help improve overall health! Why not challenge yourself and see if you can consume 30 different fruits and vegetables (as apart of a general balanced diet) in 7 days! The general focus is to encourage diversity, try something new and feel empowered by healthy choices and awareness!
Whilst diet plays an important role in supporting your microbiome so to do the following lifestyle elements;
Sleep and stress management
Sleep and stress also play an imperative role in our gut health; you can read more about that here.
Exercise and Time in Nature
When it comes to our gut health physical activity (such as going on a hike) is incredibly beneficial. It has the ability to reduce bloating, improving gas transit time, stimulates motility to relieve constipation, reduces stress having a positive effect on the gut-brain axis and can just generally improve your overall quality of life!
About the author
Qualifications: Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine and Dietetics), Registered Clinical Nutritionist (ANTA)
Kirsty Urquhart is a holistic clinical Nutritionist who is passionate about empowering and educating people through their journey with health. With an emphasis on food as medicine, she believes in the healing nature of food and the many rewards it can provide to assist in wellbeing and vitality. Her moto is ‘finding balance’, with a strong focus around individualised care.
When she isn’t in clinical practice, you’ll find her exploring a new hiking track, creating new recipes, cooking for friends, trying to improve her gardening skills or deep into a crime thriller novel!