There’s a lot of talk about the human microbiome-and with good reason. It is 50 billion bacteria strong, living on the skin, in the mouth, nose, intestines and more, according to the National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project.

The bacteria in our guts alone can weigh up to 4.4 pounds, and of the tens of trillions of microorganisms living inside, there are at least 1,000 species of bacteria consisting of over 3 million genes. And know this: two-thirds of the gut microbiome is unique to each individual.

Talk about massive, intricate, personal and complex all at once-that’s the microbiome-and keeping it healthy can help keep you healthy. In fact, if it isn’t thriving, it is linked to health problems, including colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and autoimmune setbacks, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic-inflammatory situations.

Truth be told, anything that alters the microbiome, such as an unhealthy diet of highly processed foods, genetically modified (GM) foods and conventionally grown foods-which many people eat regularly-can adversely affect the immune system as well as the bacteria in the microbiome. How is that possible? The bacteria actually interact with the body. For example, gut bacteria communicate with the neurons of the immune system, directing them to be at attention, to be strong and to protect the body. Bacteria also play a role in detoxification, the health of the intestinal wall-and whether or not it can become compromised, leading to leaky gut and other anomalies-and much more.

Gut microbes also help us to assimilate nutrients; help produce certain vitamins, such as vitamins B and K; and can also affect a person’s risk for obesity and other metabolic conditions as well as the risks of developing certain kinds of cancers and mood or emotional and mental disorders.

Gut bacteria may also play a role in the development of autism, since a study by researchers from Arizona State University discovered that children with autism had lower levels of three types of gut bacteria: Prevotella, Coprococcus and Veillonellaceae. Another study pointed out that concentrations of certain chemicals produced by gut bacteria (metabolites) in fecal samples from children with autism differed from those found from children without autism, leading researchers to believe that gut microbes alter metabolites associated with communication between the gut and brain, interfering with brain function. Yet another study published in Cell indicated an association between gut bacteria and autism, finding that the bacterium Bacteroides fragilis reduced autism-like symptoms in mice.

So, how do you make sure your microbiome is thriving? Some steps to take include eating an organic, non-GMO, fresh whole foods diet rich in prebiotics, probiotics, enzymes and fiber as well as exercising regularly. You’ll also want to avoid antibiotic overuse, anti-bacterial products and take other lifestyle measures to make sure your microbiome supports your extraordinary health.

It is very important to regularly eat or drink fermented or cultured foods, spices and herbs (preferably some wild ones) — which is the way of nature and traditionally eaten around the world since before the beginning of mammals!

(I personally eat a wide variety of fermented foods, plus grow stevia and make exotic chocolate concoctions, so I feel good being cultured and sweet.)

There is a wide variety of cultured foods and drinks you can easily make or readily buy at your favorite natural health foods store, including but not limited to: yogurts (if you want it sweet, buy unsweetened and then add your own healthy sweetener or fruit just before consumption); kefirs; raw sauerkrauts; pickles; kim chi; miso; tamari; kombucha; raw fermented seeds, nuts, other vegetables, and grains; local raw bee pollen and unfiltered honey; rejuvelac; plus mustard greens, watercress, lettuce, radish, …. which grow local and wild. There are also a wide range of probiotic and prebiotic supplements available at your favorite natural health foods store in the refrigerated section and some on the shelf.

Your microbiome-it’s “macro” important for your health. Take good care of it, feed it what it needs, and it will take great care of you.

Learn much more in both our Certified Clinical Master Herbalist (CCMH)™ Program which is on Wednesday nights and our NHI Certified Nutritionist Consultant (CNC)™ Program which is on Tuesday nights. You can join either or both programs at anytime – the sooner the better – or take individual modules or nights. Also, note an upcoming class entitled: “Healing the Gut: Leaky Gut Syndrome, Autoimmune Connection, Gut-Brain Connection.”

See our NHI Schedule for more information.

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