Your microbiome is the complex community of bacteria living in your gut affecting so many aspects of your health and wellbeing. A healthy microbiome means you’re less likely to suffer from allergies, skin problems and digestive issues, and it also helps you digest and absorb nutrients, supports your immune system and combats inflammation.
So, it’s essential your gut microbiome contains the types of bacteria helping to keep you healthy.
However, did you know your microbiome doesn’t only affect your own wellbeing, but the health of your children and grandchildren too?
Read on to see how microbiomes are transforming down the generations in response to our changing world.
Although the microbiome living in your gut is the most well-known, it isn’t your only microbiome. You have colonies of bacteria living in your mouth and on your skin. Bacteria live in a woman’s uterus, fallopian tubes and vagina, too.
However, your gut microbiome seems to be the master controller, almost like the nerve centre, influencing all the other microbiomes in your body.
You might be wondering how the bacteria in your microbiomes reach you in the first place. The answer is they’re gifted from your mother.
Bacteria are passed to you before you’re born from the fluid in your mother’s placenta, during birth when they’re picked up from her vagina, and then from her skin and through breast milk. It’s also believed the father passes on some of his unique microbiome because scientists have recently discovered sperm have a microbiome of their own. So a baby’s microbiome closely mirrors the health of its parent’s microbiomes.
The baby’s bacterial balance in early life influences how healthy their microbiome is in adulthood, meaning early microbiome health is incredibly important.
So many factors associated with modern lifestyles negatively impact on your microbiome. These include medications, stress, toxins, overuse of antibacterial cleaning materials, processed foods and a liking for sugar.
Over the years, many efficient antibiotics have been developed. These destroy the beneficial bacteria in your microbiome along with the infectious bacteria. The modern diet is depleted in fibre, gut bacteria’s natural food, as well as being high in sugar. So there’s every opportunity for the health-promoting, symbiotic species naturally found in your microbiome to be wiped out and replaced by bacteria damaging to health.
As microbiomes deteriorate, each generation is being gifted a less healthy microbiome than the one before, as well as one containing fewer species of bacteria.
Ideally, you’ll have a diverse range of different species making up your microbiome, because a good variety of beneficial bacteria is synonymous with good health. A healthy microbiome can contain at least a thousand different microbial species.
Because different types of bacteria have evolved to co-exist and all produce slightly different beneficial substances on our behalf, people whose microbiomes contain a narrow range of species have a higher risk of developing health conditions like allergies and immune disorders and are more likely to become obese.
Think of it as a natural ecosystem, made up of thousands of different species of plants, animals and insects. Take even one species out of the mix and you’ll upset the others.
A healthy microbiome is particularly important in relation to autism spectrum disorder. Research suggests if the mother’s microbiome during pregnancy doesn’t contain enough healthy species of bacteria, her immune system can release inflammatory chemicals linked to the development of autism. It’s known the mother’s microbiome can train her baby’s immune system how to properly respond to stress, infection or injury as well as influencing the development of her baby’s brain.
One major influence on bacterial diversity is diet. Feed bacteria what they like to eat and they’ll flourish.
When the microbiomes of people eating a traditional Western diet were compared with those of people living more traditional lifestyles such as hunter-gatherer tribes in the Central African Republic, the hunter-gatherers had more types of bacterial species living in their guts. The Western diet is higher in sugar and lower in fibre than hunter-gatherer diets, because these are based on a wide variety of seasonal plant foods.
However, science has shown as the diversity of the microbiome declines over the generations, it becomes more and more difficult to reverse this by simply changing diet. With very depleted microbiome diversity, improvements were only seen when supplements of healthy bacteria containing the missing species were given.
Are you worried about your microbiome? Have you had courses of antibiotics or steroids, or do you suffer from IBS, constipation, diarrhoea, gas or bloating? If you’re planning pregnancy and want to maximise the health of your microbiome, I can help. It’s always best to prepare the microbiome before pregnancy, helping your child enter the world with healthy gut bacteria. Once you are pregnant it’s harder to manage issues, although at any stage there’s so much I can do to help you prepare for the birth of your baby.
If you want to know exactly what’s going on in your microbiome, functional stool tests can discover the causes of your symptoms by looking at the diversity and health of your gut bacteria. We will work together, using personalised dietary, lifestyle and supplement strategies to create the best microbiome for you and for your child’s future.
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