The first time I heard the term microbiome during my training to become a Certified Health Coach I looked it up to see what it meant. Here is what Wikipedia has to say: A microbiome is “the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space. The term comes from a Nobel Prize recipient, Joshua Lederberg (5/25/1925-2/2/2008), an American molecular biologist who among other things discovered that bacteria can mate and exchange genes. Pretty cool stuff huh!
The term I use as a Health Coach is “gut flora” which sounds just a little less scientific. The truth is our digestive system is important for us to understand if we wish to remain healthy. It often is not the first place we think to look when we’re not feeling well but it is the system that processes and absorbs nutrients so if it’s off we are not getting our nutritional needs met.
Microbiome comes up a lot in the work I do with people in my health coaching practice seeking to improve their health. What I have learned and pass along is that we can be healthy but if out gut flora is not balanced we run the risk of compromised immune or nervous systems and this can also create and imbalance in our hormones resulting in mood and in some cases more serious mental health issues. Let’s take a look at the digestive system to gain a little insight into what it does to keep us healthy.
We actually start digesting food the minute we come into contact with it. In fact smelling food starts our salivary glands working even before the food enters our mouth. When we take the time to chew our food (chewing until food becomes fairly liquid is best) it enters the next leg of the journey pre-digested helping the process along. The food then travels to our stomach where it mixes with acids before going onto our small intestine where the nutrients are absorbed and then to our large intestine where water is absorbed. The health of our gut flora is most critical at this point as the villi in the small intestine absorb our nutrients. If the villi have been damaged by too much unhealthy fats, chemicals and sugars they are unable to gather nutrients from the food we eat.
Our liver works to process the toxins that travel with our foods. Some of these toxins are excess sugars and fats, pesticides, heavy metals and other foreign substances.
My mother was always saying “chew your food” while my father would say “where’s the fire slow down”. As a rather hyper kid mealtime was one more thing that got in the way of being outside running around which helped me manage all that energy. I was fortunate to have had an abundance of fresh real foods available to me as a kid growing up in northern California, pre Silicon Valley Santa Clara County. There were small farms and ranches all around me so fresh produce, nuts and fruit was available at farm stands and in the grocery stores year round. We ate wild meats most often such as venison, wild fowl and fish so the possibility of hormones or antibiotics that are so commonly in meats we find in the store now was not there.
I grew up in a generation where healthier food options were the norm. I can remember when McDonalds opened in Gilroy and fast food became available. Children since the 1970s have increasingly been exposed to more fast foods, processed foods, chemicals and GMOs in their food supply. Food production standards claim to be higher but they are not taking into account the fact that so much of what most people eat is not live food. The most important thing I can teach the people who come to me seeking improved health is to eat real, fresh food free from chemicals and GMOs. Skip the processed, fast foods and beverages that provide nearly zero nutritional value and wreck havoc on our digestive systems.
It’s in our control to begin to eat healthier and to treat our bodies well. If we assume our body will withstand the unhealthy foods and drinks we consume without adverse effects over time we will find ourselves with health issues at some point.
Visit a local farm or farmer’s market this week and find some real food.