Recent research into the microbiome is validating the importance of diversity. It seems the more diversity in the gut microbes we have the more protection we get. Conversely, when microbiomes are shown to have a limited range of diversity it suggests more susceptibility to illness and a state of disease.
Considering that about 80% of our natural immunity resides in the GUT, it makes sense to improve the strength and resiliency of our immune system by focusing on improving your digestive system and building a better gut.
In this post I want to focus steps you can take to improve your digestion and strengthen natural immunity by increasing the diversity of your microbiome.
Getting to the root of the problem
Ever notice how the digestive tract resembles roots of a tree? This analogy seems to fit well with my functional approach to health. In finding the root cause my focus always begins with the health of the digestive tract.
- Would you believe that how we are brought into this world impacts our gut? In fact babies born vaginally have higher gut bacterial counts at 1 month of age than those delivered by caesarean section.
- Whether you are breast or bottle fed also impacts your microbiome. Oligosaccharides present in breast milk promote the growth of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which dominate the infant gut, and this can strengthen or promote development of the immune system and may help prevent conditions such as eczema and asthma.
- Lifestyle choices such as smoking and lack of physical exercise and being overweight also impact the microbiome. Lean people tended to have a wider variety of Bacteroidetes, a large tribe of microbes that specialize in breaking down bulky plant starches and fibers into shorter molecules that the body can use as a source of energy.
- Stress, has an impact on colonic motor activity via the gut-brain axis which can alter gut microbiota profiles, including lower numbers of potentially beneficial Lactobacillus.
- Stress also contributes to the overall health of all of us. In fact I have found this to be a major factor in flair ups of IBS in my own clinical experience.
- The gut-brain axis is bi-directional, involving both hormonal and neuronal pathways and so changes in the gut microbiota are thought to influence brain activity, including mood. By strengthening your gut microbes you also help your brain. For example; Autism is associated with significant shifts in gut microbiota populations. 
- Get adequate fiber so your body can manufacture important SCFA’s (short chain fatty acids) and butyrate. Butyrate is a kind of fatty acid that has immune protective properties. Among its many beneficial properties is that it helps regulate T-cells and maintain a healthy gut barrier.
Examples: both soluble and insoluble fiber, such as yams and sweet potatoes, green leafy vegetables, carrots and other root vegetables, fruits with an edible peel (like apples and pears), berries, seeds, and nuts provides good sources. Naturally fermented foods and high fat, butter and cheese from pasture raised animals. 
- Feed your gut friendly flora and probiotics daily
Examples: yogurt, kefir, raw cheese and dairy from pasture raised animals, naturally fermented foods. A high quality multi strain (10) probiotic is also helpful.
- Ingest enzyme rich whole foods daily
Examples: all raw fruits and vegetables contain enzymes; naturally fermented foods and beverages. A vegetarian based enzyme supplement is also helpful.
- Eat organics; not processed or chemically laden commercially grown produce. Pesticides and genetically modified foods negatively impact gut diversity as well as neurological health. So buy organic.
- Obtain the right health giving fats and essential fatty acids
Examples: wild caught fish and seafood, flax seed/oil; hemp seed/oil, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and other nuts and seeds are all rich in plant based EFA’s.
- Be proactive about reducing stress because if you don’t get stress under control it can indeed kill you! I often see people who have had an escalation of stressful life events. Upon reflection, most agree this was the tipping point when their health began to plummet.
Examples; practice mindfulness, meditation, yoga, breath work, grounding, being in nature, singing, exercising, laughing, listening to music, making time daily for yourself and being grateful.
There are numerous reasons our microbiome becomes unhealthy. Some of the most common reasons are low grade bacterial infections, repeated rounds of anti-biotics, food poisoning, parasites, pathogens such as h.pylori and candida, and a of course a poor diet. Anyone who is interested in long term health will need to diversify their microbiome. When I developed my signature Healing from Within Program this was my number one focus because all food (yes even healthy foods sometimes) are not right for all people! Want to know more?
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