This microbiome is made up of the millions of organisms that live in and on us, said Elizabeth Corwin, deputy dean for strategic and innovative research at Columbia University’s School of Nursing. A healthy microbiome is an essential part of good health.
Corwin added that it affects the immune system and helps make important vitamins in our gut. These organisms also provide protection, and can help heal wounds, kill nasty pathogens, and help some drugs work better, said Shena Cruikshank, a professor in the department of infection, immunology and respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester in the UK.
Cruikshank said taking care of your microbiome can help with many conditions, including allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases.
“What we really mean by a good microbiome is a diverse microbiome,” Cruikshank said. “A lot of diseases tend to be associated with a lack of diversity.”
She and Corwin shared easy ways to get more microbial diversity into your life.
What about the dog?
Looking for an excuse to adopt a dog? there he is.
Corwin said studies show dogs share their microbiome with the family. Cruikshank said that it has been shown that growing up with a dog reduces the chances of developing asthma and allergies.
She added that caring for a pet is a fun way to exchange bacteria. Just having animals can help.
“We also have a microbiome in our buildings and in the air around us,” Cruikshank said. “It is suggested that rural microbes have a bit more diversity, and may be better for the health of our lungs.”
Sorry cat, but Corwin said dogs seem to be the most beneficial pets for the microbiome.
reduce your stress
An important factor in the health of your microbiome is how leaky or permeable your gut is.
Corwin said everyone’s intestines are somewhat permeable, but some people’s guts are more leaky than others. And if your gut leaks healthy, beneficial microorganisms, that’s okay, she added. But if you infiltrate more virulent microorganisms, the immune cells waiting outside will activate, which can cause inflammation.
How does your stress play out?
“High cortisol, which is one of our stress hormones, can actually increase your gut leakage,” Corwin said. “If you live in a state of extreme stress, your gut may be more leaky.”
Diversify your diet
Experts said a varied diet rich in fiber is important for a healthy microbiome.
Corwin said germs love foods that have a lot of fiber, such as fruits and vegetables. She added that fiber is not well digested in the stomach and tends to be further broken down by microorganisms, moving through the gut.
Fermented foods can be beneficial, Cruikshank said, as they often give you live bacteria. But, although some studies have shown its effectiveness, it is difficult to know for sure whether you will be getting beneficial bacteria from the fermented foods you eat because batches can vary so much.
Cruikshank said she is concerned about the microbiomes of people who limit their food, either because of a restrictive diet or because they rely on high-fat but comfort foods.
“If you have a varied diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, that gives him lots of different things to enjoy and enjoy,” Cruikshank said. “The simplest thing we can do is eat a good, balanced diet.”
What about probiotics?
Probably. Probiotics are often the first thing we think of when we talk about gut health, Cruikshank said, but the evidence for how effective they are is mixed.
They are often recommended to be used after antibiotics to replenish the good bacteria that can be killed along with the bad ones.
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