A few weeks ago, we asked the question ‘how smart do you think you are’ and we guessed that you thought we were referring to your brainpower. If you read the article in question you would’ve realised we were actually referencing your super intelligent gut. In that article and subsequent pieces that we published we identified some of the wonderful ways your gut improves your life such as strengthening your immune system, maintaining a healthy weight and improving our psychological health – but only if we look after it in the way that it deserves.
In our most recent article in this series we began to explore how we can positively affect our micro biome; that collection of bacteria, protozoa, viruses and fungi that devour and process the nutrients that we send it in every meal. In this article, we will explore further ways we can turn our gut into our best friend. If you haven’t yet read the previous articles you can find more information here and here and you can find step one which identified fibre and resistant starch as a gut friendly method and step two in which a variety in our diet can make life much better for us here.
So, what more can we do? Here are steps three and four respectively.
Step Three – Exercise
Studies have begun to show exactly how exercising changes the composition of the micro biome. Scientists have discovered for example that athletes who engage in endurance training and events have a very different collection of bacteria and other microbiology components than those people who exercise very little or not at all. One study showed that when small amounts of a microbiome were taken from a mouse that was encouraged to run regularly were placed into a test subject, those creatures were able to heal tissue damage and reduce inflammation far more efficiently than when they were given microbiota samples from sedentary creatures.
Exercise in people who were previously sedentary has also shown to reduce inflammatory markers while other results were unique to the individual, but the changes were timed alongside the exercise regime and the microbiome returned to its previous state within weeks of stopping the exercise regime. Scientists are convinced that even a few weeks of exercise will begin to significantly change the make-up and balance of your microbiome. One of the reasons exercise might affect our microbiome is that during times of heightened activity our autonomic nervous system send signals to our gut which affects numerous functions including secretion of fluid and mucus, and transit through our digestive system. These changes affect the environment deep within us. A word of warning however – some studies have suggested that far too much overly strenuous exercise might negatively affect our microbiome, but it is fair to say most of us would not choose to exercise to these excessive levels consistently enough for it to become a problem.
Step Four – Don’t Bring Home the Bacon
The world of psychiatry was taken by surprise recently when it was discovered that eating beef jerky could significantly increase the chance of someone suffering from bipolar disorder experiencing a manic episode. A study discovered that beef jerky wasn’t the only problem, but it was any meat cured with nitrates which might include sausages and bacon, but dry cured meats and organically cured meats did not have the same effect. In many countries including the UK nitrates are not allowed to be used in the curing of meats that are listed as organic.
There were two possible reasons why these meats might be causing a problem. The first was the potential rise in nitric oxide, a gas that increases with nitrate consumption. It was felt that this gas change might be triggering the problem. The second hypothesis is of more interest to us here at Waetugo and it relates to the possibility that nitrate rich foods which are essentially antibiotic in nature will kill off elements of our microbiome for, as we have learned, it is made up of large amounts of bacteria – bacteria of course being targeted by antibiotics. And one significant study showed that rats fed with nitrates had far higher amounts of bacterial species associated with negative behavioural and cognitive changes. No, we know you aren’t a rat but nitrates will almost certainly have a very similar effect on humans as they do in small scurrying creatures.
Many people enjoy eating cured meats and as we have suggested there is no need to remove these from our diet, but it seems prudent at least to source products that are treated or cured organically and, where possible, to remove or indeed eliminate nitrates from a diet. Organic products are usually more expensive but what price can we place on our health? Regular readers of our website and blog are here usually for one or two reasons – losing weight and for living healthier lifestyles, so cutting down on bacon, sausage and other similar foods will help with this and if the price leads us into a behavioural change i.e. eating these things less, and when we do eat them experiencing fewer negative health issues then changing to the organic seems to be a no-brainer.
So, we have learned during this series of articles about the beast within – the microbiome. The microbiome can be trained to serve us, or it can live inside us encouraging us into bad habits if we treat it and feed it incorrectly. We have examined numerous ways a healthy microbiome can improve our lives by reducing the potential for ill health both physical and psychological, by maintaining a healthy weight and improving an overall sense of well-being. We identify four ways, indeed four very simple ways we can improve the microbiome by eating more fibre and resistant starch, adding a variety to our diet, exercising more and the reducing nitrate cured meats. We would suggest that if you want to make changes then you do so gradually and implement them one or two at a time. It is usually unwise to make wholesale changes all in one go; the brain doesn’t like it and fights back. But if we implement changes slowly the brain is more likely to buy into our efforts and work with us rather than against us so come up with a plan that is realistic and gentle and one that you can stay enthusiastic about for a long time to come.
Please feel free to ask us any questions or offer your own advice in the comments section below. Your input is always welcome.