Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Microbiome Basics

I recently 'attended' a webinar presented by Liz Lipski PhD on Balancing the Gut-Brain Axis.  Loads of interesting information on our human microbiome (which are the microbes that live on our skin and in our genitourinary tract, gastrointestinal tract, lungs and sinuses) was covered including:

- The microbial DNA that makes up our microbiome outweighs our human DNA by 150 to 1!
- We each have between 200-1000 different species in our microbiome - most are commensal or friends to our system.
- Our microbiome has an in-depth impact on a number of our body's processes/systems, including impacting our immune function, our metabolism, as well as our cardiovascular, skin, digestive, and overall emotional health.  
- The specific makeup of our microbiome is individual to each one of us.  For example, people who have asthma have a different microbiome in their lungs than people who do not have underlying lung concerns.
- The more diverse our microbiome, the hardier we are.  Infants, who are much more susceptible to illness than most non elderly adults, do not have an established microbiome in utero - the building of the microbiome occurs initially through the vaginal birth process which allows for a more full diversification of the microbiome.  Babies who are delivered via c section will have a different microbiome more reflective of the microbiome of the skin.  Bathing c section delivered babies in mom's vaginal secretions can help to establish a more well balanced and diverse microbiome.  
- The great majority (90%) of the communication between the gut and the brain goes from the gut to the brain - we produce 80-90% of our serotonin (the 'feel good' neurotransmitter that impacts our overall emotional health) in our gut rather than our brain!  
- If we are experiencing depression or anxiety, it is very important to ensure that our gut function and microbiome are well balanced - by doing so, it can be easier to find more balance, emotionally, as well. 
- There are specific strains of bacteria that produce different neurotransmitters (including serotonin and GABA) and there is a developing field of research into psychobiotics which are probiotics specifically designed to support emotional health.
- When our gut microbiome is imbalanced, we have more tendency to crave simple carbohydrates/simple sugars. 
- Our microbiome is very flexible and responds quickly (within 24 hours) to positive dietary changes.  
- Eating a whole foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy protein sources offers excellent support for establishing a healthier microbiome.  
-Foods rich in polyphenols (including onions, apples, green tea) offer extra support by feeding and strengthening specific beneficial strains (lactobacilli, bifidobacteria) in our microbiome.   

- Fermented foods, including miso, sauerkraut, yogurt, also offer excellent support in establishing a healthy gut microbiome.