Support your ‘biome
When was the last time you gave your microbiome a round of applause? If the answer is never, I’m going to encourage you to direct a little TLC towards it. Behind the scenes this magical community (which includes your gut bacteria and the genes they instruct) is busy digesting, absorbing and manufacturing nutrients from the food you eat. Even in down time your ‘biome is busy removing waste, defending against harmful bacteria and training the immune system to protect you from illness.
The question is, who’s taking care of your biome? Just like a garden needs regular care to flourish, your biome needs a helping hand to be at it’s digesting best. Think of it like a support squad for your gut bacteria. From exercise to a daily shot, a little loving care will go a long way to helping your microbiome bloom. Here’s how to take care of yours…
- Feel good movement You’ve probably heard that exercise ‘keeps you regular’ and that’s true, but the benefits of movement go beyond a steady poo habit (which has it’s own protective effects). Taking your gut bacteria for a walk encourages them to branch out and increase their family size (1), which is good news, as there’s strength in numbers. Regular exercise also boosts the amount of anti-inflammatory compounds your gut bacteria manufacture. Scientists have even found that people who exercise regularly have greater levels of a species known as Akkermansia, nicknamed the ‘lean’ microbe. The key is to find what feels good – moderate intensity exercise (walking, jogging, yoga, cycling, dance) is perfect, as very tough endurance style training can overwhelm the gut (2). If you are embracing your inner athlete, make time for recovery and support your gut with diet and plenty of sleep.
- Eat a fibre rich diet Plant foods (fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, pulses and wholegrains) are rich in fibre, the very stuff your gut bacteria like to feed on. As well as keeping waste moving through your digestive system, a fibre rich diet can increase the diversity of your gut bacteria (3), and may even reduce inflammation in the gut. Tick off your five-a-day and you’ll be off to a good start, then make a point of checking you have something fibre-rich at each meal – oats, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, buckwheat, wholegrain breads and cereals are your go-to guys. Not sure if you’re getting enough? Find out more here.
- Fertilise with fermented foods As early as the 1900’s rumour had it that the secret to Bulgarian farmers longevity was their daily intake of fermented milk. Fermentation takes place when naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts convert the sugars (in foods like milk and vegetables) into acids. As well as preserving the food (and giving it a unique tangy flavour), these clever bacteria may have beneficial effects in the gut, strengthening immune function (4). Until we have enough evidence to say which fermented foods are the most beneficial, try including different types. Switch up fizzy drinks for a glass of kombucha, experiment with adding sauerkraut and kimchi to salads or commit to a daily dose of live yogurt.
- Holiday in the Med (or eat like you are) Hunt out your flip-flops – permission to book a sun-filled holiday starts here. Not only has a Mediterranean style diet been shown to be a good move for your heart and brain, researchers have found that people following Mediterranean-style diets tend to have higher levels of bifidobacteria, a friendly family of gut bacteria which support immune function (5). As well as being chock full of colourful fruits and veggies, the Med-diet is rich in polyphenols (compounds found in olive oil, vegetables, fruits and red wine) that contribute to these positive changes in gut bacteria. A good reason to drizzle olive oil on your veggies and enjoy a glass of red.
- Get your daily shot If you’re someone who suffers with irritable bowel syndrome, rest assured you’re not alone – around 1 in 7 UK adults experience digestive symptoms related to the way the gut functions. If this is you, it’s worth including a probiotic, as this can help to rebalance the levels of bacteria in your gut, which might be contributing to symptoms.
- Monda V, Villano I, Messina A, Valenzano A, Esposito T, Moscatelli F, et al. Exercise modifies the gut microbiota with positive health effects. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2017.
- Mach N, Fuster-Botella D. Endurance exercise and gut microbiota: A review. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2017. p. 179–97.
- Tap J, Furet JP, Bensaada M, Philippe C, Roth H, Rabot S, et al. Gut microbiota richness promotes its stability upon increased dietary fibre intake in healthy adults. Environ Microbiol. 2015;17(12):4954–64.
- Chilton SN, Burton JP, Reid G, Reid G. Inclusion of fermented foods in food guides around the world. Nutrients. 2015. p. 390–404.
- De Filippis F, Pellegrini N, Vannini L, Jeffery IB, La Storia A, Laghi L, et al. High-level adherence to a Mediterranean diet beneficially impacts the gut microbiota and associated metabolome. Gut [Internet]. 2015;gutjnl-2015-309957. Available from: http://gut.bmj.com/content/early/2015/09/03/gutjnl-2015-309957.abstract
- Sisson G, Ayis S, Sherwood RA, Bjarnason I. Randomised clinical trial: A liquid multi-strain probiotic vs. Placebo in the irritable bowel syndrome – A 12 week double-blind study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2014;40(1):51–62.