62415-blogWelcome to the community. What community? Well, it is now apparent that a human being is more than just an orderly array of human cells; the body an ecosystem, a community of human and microbial cells. The microbes might see things differently, since they outnumber human cells 10:1 and number in the trillions (which, to give you a better sense of scope, is “a million million”). They might see us as their ambulatory support units.

We owe much of the detailed information we have about the human microbiome to the NIH. They launched the Human Microbiome Project in 2008 with $115 million in funding. The human microbiome is the population of microbes that live throughout our bodies, including eyes, respiratory membranes, skin, reproductive membranes and the gut.

Gut bacteria have attracted a lot of attention from this project because, despite scientists’ best efforts, most gut bacteria don’t grow well in cultures. DNA and RNA analysis techniques have made it possible to get better information about what is actually there.

We do know that a healthy gut contains 500 to 1000 species of microbes. As in a tropical rain forest, more diversity means a healthier system. We are also getting a better look at the interaction between these bacteria and the immune system. The balance of gut microbes can change within a few hours depending on the types of foods they get. As you might expect, fatty, salty, sugary, processed foods disrupt gut balance and, along with it, the body’s ability to fight disease and ward off autoimmune problems.

Under constant assault from fat, sugar, salt and processed food, gut bacteria can no longer do their jobs adequately. The maintenance of the intestinal wall breaks down, the gaps between intestinal cells open up and the immune system responds with an unrelenting activation. People familiar with gluten sensitivity will find this concept all too familiar. Cyrex Labs has designed antibody tests to record this constant barrage of immune activity to many components of the wheat kernel and other food antigens. This constant activation of the immune system gives us one important cause of inflammation.

Brain chemistry is also intimately dependent on gut health. As you alter your gut ecosystem, you can also expect to have neurotransmitter balance problems. This can result in cravings for the very foods that are contributing to the damage, creating a vicious cycle. Bad food leads to bad microbe balance, which leads to more gap junction issues and more proteins and microbes entering the blood, leading to disruptions in blood brain barrier leading to chemicals interfering with brain chemistry, leading to changes in cravings and the cycle begins anew.

You won’t be surprised to find that these insights on gut flora is giving us new reasons to eat more complex carbohydrates, like vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids (olive oil), yogurt (the good stuff made from organic milk from healthy cows and without corn starch) and fewer omega-6 fatty acids (corn and canola oil).

I encourage you to think about feeding the entire community, not just your taste buds. Choose foods that keep your gut bacteria healthy and they will return the favor.

I should mention that it is not only food that can alter your microbiome balance, but also herbicides like glyphosate, which is found in Roundup. These herbicides not only attack unwanted plants in your garden, but also the helpful microflora in your gut. These common herbicides are found virtually everywhere now, but if you eat organic, non-GMO foods you can lower your exposure to them.

I wish I could tell you that you can eat whatever you choose and just take a perfect combination of supplements and fix it all. Supplements can certainly help like a good probiotic and gut repair herbs (FloraGenix and maybe RepairVite), but these will only supplement your efforts to feed your microbiome with a decent assortment of high quality nutrients.

For more on this topic, read “Food Fight” by Laura Biel, one of the featured articles in Science News May 30, 2015.