Most Cells in Your Body are Not Human
You may have heard talk of the microbiome; that 90 percent of the cells in your body that are not human cells but consist of microbes and bacteria. Your body is literally coated with microbes and bacteria, but you may be surprised to know that most of them have a beneficially symbiotic function. There is a microbiome in every organ of your body, including your skin, that performs vital functions for you.
The Gut Microbiome
Up to 100 trillion microbes inside your gut collectively weigh as much as two to five pounds, most of which are in your colon. But why is the gut microbiome so important? The microbiome is a tiny world of bacteria that live inside your intestines. The beneficial bacteria in your microbiome and you have a symbiotic relationship that is as old as human history. Without them you would not be able to digest your food, your immune system would not be able to protect you against disease, and you would be deprived of the essential B vitamins processed by and vitamin K that is produced by your microbiome.
What are "Good" and "Bad" Bacteria?
Beneficial, or “good” bacteria are those bacteria that feed on dietary fiber, while the harmful (or “bad”) bacteria feed on sugar, artificial sweeteners, bread, alcohol, and an excess of natural sugars. You can never get rid of all the bad bacteria in your microbiome, but, when they overpower the good ones, your microbiome will be out of balance, leading to poor digestion and even more serious issues and disease. The “good guys” should be about 85% of the microbes in your system, while the “bad guys” should be limited to 15%. A good rule of thumb is to feed the “good guys” by eating a lot of fibrous foods as well as fermented foods like pickles, kimchi, yogurt, and sauerkraut, and to limit the “bad guys” cut out artificial sweeteners and extra sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.
How Did Our Microbiome Get So Messed Up?
Most Americans eat a Standard American Diet (aptly acronymed “SAD”). I remember growing up and learning about the four food groups in school and thinking that it was the key to good nutrition. But in practice, I grew up as most Americans do on a high-calorie, low-nutrition diet filled with ultra-processed foods with excess sugar, additives, and non-natural ingredients. A diet like this leads to an imbalanced microbiome due to dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is a state in which there is a major reduction in the diversity of your microbiome and/or an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria. The symptoms vary - but can include upset stomach, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, brain fog, inability to concentrate, anxiety, and depression. The most recent research on the microbiome has revealed just how much it can contribute to health issues that have puzzled the medical community for years and years.
Balancing Your Microbiome
When balanced, the microbiome is your key to good overall health, and even mental acuity, good emotions, and mood. The production of serotonin, responsible for mood regulation and memory, is produced in the gut. It is created when you digest the essential amino acid, tryptophan, which is found in animal foods, and plant foods such as chocolate, bananas, tofu, nuts, and spinach. The tryptophan is converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), enters your bloodstream, and your brain converts it to serotonin. When the microbiome is out of balance, it is a recipe for disaster: bloating, gas, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, and more serious conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and even cancer. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, muscular sclerosis, and fibromyalgia are all associated with the dysfunction of the microbiome. And an imbalance in the microbiome can not only make you more susceptible to infectious disease but contribute to chronic diseases of the gastrointestinal system such as Chron’s Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
A healthy microbiome can also protect against sensitivities to food allergens, and food fibers provide an important source of energy for healthful bacteria, as well as to ameliorate pathology in various human organs. All of this information is not meant to scare you. It is a wake-up call that the current western diet is literally killing you at the expense of Big Agriculture and Big Foods.
You may have heard of the effect of a Mediterranean diet on longevity. A Mediterranean diet is not really a diet. It is a lifestyle followed by people in the Mediterranean culture, who consume olive oil, fresh fish, a moderate amount of wine, legumes, fruits and vegetables, non-refined cereals including whole-grained bread, and a moderate amount of milk and dairy products, such as cheese. As a result of this lifestyle, studies have found that a Mediterranean diet leads to greater longevity and fewer incidences of heart disease and cancer.
A Mediterranean diet is not really a diet. People who eat a Mediterranean diet are not dieting. They are eating what they want. When I first moved to the South of France I was impressed by how thin and healthy the people appeared to be, yet they seemed to consume large amounts of bread and cheese and drank coffee and wine; everything I thought would have led to obesity. The difference is that the Mediterranean diet supports a healthy microbiome, and that is why, as opposed to the United States, where diet represents 30-35% of deaths caused by cancer, and where obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease run rampant, simply the way the people eat in the Mediterranean reduces their risk of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.
It is possible to have a diet rich in nutrients with anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-obesity properties without actually living in the Mediterranean, but first, you must reset your microbiome. Once you are no longer hooked on junk foods, you will not miss them or crave them, and you can begin to feel better in your mind and body and enjoy a higher quality of life.
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