It is estimated that we have 10 trillion cells in our bodies at any given moment. In addition to our “human” cells, most adults have 100 trillion bacteria, yeasts, and single-cell parasites in their bowels, along with 1,000 trillion viruses!
All of this begins in the womb. We have some microbes in utero and pick up quite a few more as we pass through the birth canal in the case of vaginal birth, or from the hospital workers if born via C-section.At birth, we are 90% human cells and 10% microbial cells, but by the time we die, we are 99% microbial and 1% human! Scientists are learning more every day about how vital these microbes are in shaping our health, and as a result, we are all paying a lot more attention to how various factors in our lives can tip the scale to foster either a more health-promoting mix of microbes or a more disease-promoting microbial community.
During the first few years of life, the bacteria that live in our gut, from our mouth to our anus, develop into a large and stable population. However, each time we take antibiotics, the richness of the diversity of species decreases. Additionally, the more we eat sugar and omit fiber, the more we reduce the diversity of the microbes in our bowels. Bacterial diversity naturally declines even further as we age.
A growing body of evidence shows that our microbes are major players in our health and behavior. Animal models show that microbes control behaviors in profound ways. A rat infected with toxoplamosis parasites loses its fear of cat urine, and actually becomes very attracted to it. This draws the rat closer and closer to cats, increasing the rat’s risk of death. When the cat eats an infected rat, it too becomes infected, and the parasite completes its growth cycle.
Humans can also be infected with this parasite. Those who are infected are more likely to be gifted in the arts or music. Men who are infected are more likely to have a lower IQ, while infected women are more likely to have a higher IQ. I had several pet cats as a child…perhaps that explains why I have a BFA in studio art with an emphasis in painting. Perhaps I was infected as a child, and those toxoplamosis parasites interacted with me to create or perhaps simply enhance my artistic interests!
Our gut microbes also stimulate food cravings. Gut bacteria have 5 million unduplicated genes, as compared to our 23,000 genes. All of those microbial genes help digest and metabolize the food we eat. Many of those metabolic byproducts pass into our and brain where they influence our moods and behaviors. Over the millions of years that our microbes have been interacting with us, certain types of microbes have developed a competitive advantage. The microbes that make byproducts that enter our bloodstream and our brain, stimulating us to eat more foods to feed those microbes, have a competitive advantage over the microbes that do not. More studies are showing, at least in animal models, that some bacteria have marked influences on behavior of their host, and it is very likely that microbes play a significant role in our food cravings, moods, and behaviors.
What we eat feeds our cells as well as the microbes in our body, affecting who we are. I may be Dr. Terry Wahls, but I am also the steward of the human ecosystem known as Dr. Terry Wahls. In order to promote and grow a healthier mix of microbes to help me have a healthier brain and body, here are 4 things you can eat right now to improve your microbiome.
4 Things You Can Eat to Improve Your Microbiota
1. Lots of Non-Starchy Vegetables. I eat 9 cups of vegetables daily! Vegetables are loaded with soluble and insoluble fiber, AKA your microbiome’s best friend.
2. Chia Seed Puddings. Chia seeds are also full of soluble fiber. Soak in liquids like coconut milk, top with some berries, and you’ve got a delicious, nutrient-dense treat.
3. Raw Starchy Vegetables. Raw starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips, squash, etc.) are a great source of resistant starch, a top-shelf food for your microbiota. It preferentially feeds “good” bacteria while starving “bad” bacteria.
4. Fermented Foods Like Kimchi and Sauerkraut. These are great for increasing the diversity of your microbiome. Fermented foods have more species and higher numbers of colony forming unites than probiotics in a capsule.
Remember who you’re really feeding when you eat. Add these 4 things to your diet now and your microbiota will get healthier…and a healthier microbiome means a healthier you.