We've always been told to trust our gut, but new studies about our microbiome show our gut may be more important to our health than we ever considered. The relationship between our gut, brain, immune system, and endocrine system is key to our overall health. Recent studies have connected our microbiome to our genetic expression, immune function, weight gain and loss, mental health and memory, and risk factors for chronic disease. Now another study is supporting the importance of our microbiome by suggesting it is our newest organ-or at the very least, a forgotten one.
Our microbiome is made up of the millions of microbes-bacteria, viruses, and fungi that reside in our stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. The microbiome weighs as much as a regular organ, and is home to 10 times more bacteria than cells in our entire body, so why shouldn't it receive the organ title?
With this new interest in classifying the microbiome as an organ, it could lead to new medical specialities focusing on gut health and its implications, including research into non-human microbiomes and even the impact on farming. A study advocating for organ status points out "this virtual endocrine organ" is involved in the production of the essential amino acid trptyphan, a precursor to serotonin, which is also a key neurotransmitter. It also notes the link between microbiomes and adrenals. The study points to therapies involving the microbiome to treat diseases, which would have implications for farm and domestic animal physiology, behavior, and food safety.
But our microbiome is under constant attack from food and environmental factors, like processed food, sugar, GMOs, pesticides, and antibiotics, even things like antibacterial soap. Here's what we can do to protect this vital organ (or at least ecosystem):
1. Get dirty. Yep, we need exposure to germs stay healthy! Spending time outdoors as well as with pets exposes us to necessary good bacteria. It also trains our immune system to recognize the good bacteria from the bad.
2. Anti antibiotics. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics for viruses like the flu (which antibiotics can't help) since the medicine can't differentiate between harmful and helpful bacteria and one round of antibiotics can eliminate up to one third of our gut flora.
3. Squeaky clean. Stick to soaps that aren't antibacterial and skip the sanitizing gels unless you're visiting a hospital.
4. Eat up. Aim to add a lot of plant-based inulin fiber from foods like oats, bananas, lentils, asparagus, garlic, and onions into your diet. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles are also great for your gut.
5. Go pro. Taking a probiotic daily can have a big impact on microbiome health. Taking 10 billion CFU (colony forming units) each day has a measurable impact on the intestinal flora. [Editor's note: We recommend a high-quality probiotic like one from our sponsor Bio-K+.]