YGut health and hence, overall health can be improved by nurturing good bacteria within your body and your home. We are afraid of the general term ‘microbes’ and naturally assume that they are all disease-causing bacteria while in reality, they include the beneficial ones as well.
“Cleaning with kids in the house is like brushing your teeth while eating oreos!”
In today’s world of medical advances, dying from a microbial infection is very rare in developed countries. We have become so efficient at avoiding infections that the appearance of a dangerous strain of listeria bacteria in melons leads to massive recalls and exportation bans accompanied by media hysteria.
We often consider all microbes as potential threats. It’s perfectly natural and healthy to want to live in a clean home, to eat clean foods, to be hygienic people, but eradicating all microbes is not the solution. The truth is that the beneficial microbes far outnumber those that cause diseases.
In the first half of this series on gut health, “Do you have a healthy gut?” we saw how the beneficial microbes that are essential for gut health being slowly destroyed due to our modern lifestyle. This can be prevented by micro exposures – small repeated exposures to bacteria, soil, dust, plants and even pets. They act as nature’s immunizations since they keep a steady stream of good bugs coming into our system and strengthening our immune system. We need to maintain a balance of microbes and nurture them to achieve a healthy gut and body.
A well-balanced set of microbes ensures good gut health and overall health by:
- reinforcing the number of good bacteria in the gut to support digestion.
- helping in the absorption of minerals and regulation of our metabolism.
- training our immune system to respond to pathogens in the environment.
- reducing inflammation.
- helping to prevent bowel disorders and allergies.
Our microbiota (population of microbes living within and on us)and hence having a healthy gut and body depends not only on what we eat but also on what we do, even what our hands and feet come into contact with. It can be maintained and balanced by following a few simple do’s and don’t’s.
What you should do to improve gut health
- Try to eat varied and seasonal whole foods grown locally, preferably from the farmers’ market. (This way we’re also helping local farmers maximize their profits by cutting middlemen.) Needless to say, stock your kitchen with healthy foods.
- In case of meat, eggs, and dairy, opt for those from animals not treated with antibiotics.
- Spend more time outdoors.
- Let your kids get dirty on the playground/park/garden.
- Avoid unnecessary exposure to antibiotics especially during pregnancy and early childhood.
- In case your child is treated with antibiotics, promote the health of the gut microbes through breastfeeding, prebiotics, probiotics, and a varied diet rich in plant fibers.
- Get a dog. Studies show that having pets improve the immune system and reduce allergies in children, by bringing a part of outdoor living into your home.
- Get grounded. Just kicking off our shoes and walking barefoot on grass, dirt paths or shoreline sand lets the soles of our feet come into contact with billions of microbes, benefitting our health in a surprising way. This practice, called “earthing” has actually emerged as a new field of study.
- Create your own garden. This is the most beneficial since you have multiple benefits: more time outdoors, opportunity to touch and smell dirt, exposure to soil-based organisms, exposure to sun, less expensive organic produce.
What you should not do for a healthy gut and body
- Feed yourselves and your kids with processed and sugary foods and make your microbes starve. Good microbes thrive on varied fiber-rich foods, vegetables, and fruits.
- Freak out about germs and keep all your possessions and your home squeaky clean.
- Blast everything with sanitizers and antibacterial solutions. Just washing hands with ordinary soap and water after touching public surfaces or before eating is just as effective. Opt for hand sanitizers only if soap and water are not available.
- Take a pill for every ache and pain. Antibiotics should be taken for serious bacterial infections and only bacterial infections.
A word of caution:
- Don’t believe everything you hear about the microbes. Trust your physician to do what has been proved medically. A lot of research has been going on about the subject but any information should have a scientific backing to be reliable.
- Don’t believe that microbiota will cure everything. Though there are enough examples to indicate that microbes play a major role in our gut health and overall health, the microbiota and its overlapping functions are quite complex and involve many factors.
- Let them eat dirt – B.Brett Finlay, Ph.D. and Marie-Claire Arrieta, Ph.D.
- Eat dirt – Dr. Josh Axe