More and more information is being discovered about the colonists in our midst. I am not talking about immigration, but about the microbes that exceed our human cells by more than half! Most of these organisms reside in our guts, but they can also be found on our skin and every orifice – even if you are a cleanliness freak.
However, this situation shouldn’t give cause for concern. The organisms that live on and within us carry out many essential functions, regulating the immune system, producing vitamins and neurotransmitters, essential for many bodily functions. These micro-organisms provide us with many health benefits, and we wouldn’t be able to survive without them!
So how do we nurture our friendly co-habitants and provide them with an environment where they can thrive and go out their daily business?
Eating prebiotic foods is a great way to create a beneficial environment for bacteria in your gut. When we eat these foods, we digest and absorb the parts that our bodies need, like the vitamins and carbohydrates, leaving behind insoluble fibre in the gut, which our microbial friends have a party with. They digest the fibrous plant material and produce compounds which are essential for us, like serotonin (the “happy hormone”) and vitamin K (essential for blood clotting and bone health). Some examples of prebiotic foods are oats, leeks, onions, artichokes, asparagus, legumes, bananas and garlic.
Probiotics, on the other hand, are foods (or supplements) which contain bacteria. Examples are fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, sour cream and kefir. They are also found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi. Some of these foods really are acquired tastes, so I find it easier to eat a wide range of plant material, simply by eating lots of different vegetables, oats, peas and beans.
With regards to the organisms living ON us, we can encourage them by not worrying unnecessarily about hygiene. Of course, we should wash our hands after going to the toilet, changing nappies or dealing with someone’s wounds, but I feel that we have gone a little too far in our endeavours to rid our bodies and homes of microbes, giving us little opportunity to develop a healthy immune system. I have long since ditched products like anti-bacterial hand-gels, soaps and sprays. I might use them before going into a hospital ward, but not daily. Another way to enrich your skin microbiome is to get your hands dirty, whether that is doing some gardening, stroking a pet or just going for a walk and touching trees and bushes as you walk by.