We are all aware of the need to exercise, eat well, maintain a healthy mindset and have good social connections to ensure we decrease our risk of chronic conditions and live a long and enjoyable life. However, how many people are aware of some of the microscopic organisms that can help or hinder our health? No doubt most people have heard the doctor prescribe antibiotics due to a bacterial infection or the use of antibacterial hand wash, which often leads people to presuming bacteria is bad for our health, but not so. Some forms of bacteria are damaging to our health, even deadly, however there are a wide range of various types of bacteria benefits us and we rely on to keep up healthy.
It is a fascinating, although rather scary realisation, to discover our entire body is covered with bacteria and it also lives within us. Cell to cell, we actually have 10 times more bacterial cells on and within us than we do human cells – does that make us our own walking ecosystem? – Possibly so. However, it has been discovered in recent times that various bacteria play many roles within our body to keep us healthy and imbalances may well be related to many chronic conditions.
Many studies have now started to look at the impacts microbes have within our gut and how these relate to our overall health. It has been discovered in recent years the diversity of microbes within the gut of westerners has reduced dramatically. It is believed this is due to various changes in our environment and lifestyle such as medication, chemical usage, food processing, use of antibacterial agents, intensive farming and humans being too clean and not having access to dirt and similar environments. Age, diet and exercise habits also have an impact on the health of the gut microbiome. A combination of these factors have potentially been contributing to the increased incidence of various chronic conditions such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, some cancers, autism and asthma.
There are various approaches that can assist in improving the overall health of gut microbes, including personalized probiotic treatment, prebiotics (fibre), vitamin or mineral supplementation, diet, faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), and/or the use of antibiotics to rid the body of excess unhealthy bacteria. Several studies have shown diet to be one of the most consistent and predictable ways of improving the gut microbiome with different diets causing very rapid changes in gut microbial composition in healthy individuals.
In summary, to improve the overall health of your gut bacteria, eat healthy whole foods most of the time and ensure these foods contain fibre. Take a probiotic if necessary to restore helpful bacteria, exercise to stay healthy and have your vitamin and mineral levels tested if you feel you are continually not functioning at optimal performance. Also avoiding the use of antibiotics unless necessary and recommended by a doctor and finally some studies have suggested antibacterial washes are not necessary within the home environment unless there is an outbreak of unhealthy bacteria within the household.