by Wendy Warner
We have more “bugs” in and on our bodies than cells. For every gene in our own genome, there are about 100 bacterial genes. Studies have shown that the microbes who live with us vastly impact our health—everything from our levels of inflammation to our brain function to our risk for diabetes. These colonies of microbes that live in and on us are called our microbiome.
It starts with our birth: we inherit our initial microbiome from our mothers. Babies who are born vaginally leave the mostly bacteria-free uterus and pick up bacteria from mom on the way out. These bacteria determine which types of colonies will settle in us over our lifetimes. Babies born by C-section will leave mom and enter into a sterile surgical field, skipping all those vaginal bacteria. This means that that they are primarily colonized by skin bacteria as loved ones hold them and care for them. This change can often mean differences in health later in life.
Initially, our microbiomes primarily trigger genes to break down the nutrients in breast milk. Then, the microbiome starts triggering genes that break down carbohydrates in plants. As time marches on and our diet changes, the microbiome starts triggering different genes to match. One point of importance is that eating processed foods leads to a much smaller diversity of bugs. They don’t have to work as hard to help us gather nutrients from our food—perhaps because there aren’t many nutrients left in these foods. Unfortunately, this has a negative impact on the immune system and other areas of our health.
Thankfully, it doesn’t take much to help regulate our microbiomes. First, change the diet to include more whole foods and less processed ones. Second, introduce fermented foods and beverages. Just two to three tablespoons of real sauerkraut or kimchi, or eight ounces of kombucha or kefir each day will do the trick.
Wendy Warner, MD, is board certified in gynecology and holistic medicine. Her practice, Medicine In Balance, is located in Langhorne. Connect with her at 215-741-1600 or MedicineInBalance.com. May 2014.