What exactly are microbes? They are tiny “creatures” that can take compounds and change them into something else. They are minute pharmaceutical geniuses that do things human pharmacists can only dream about. They do this all day every day, as long as we create the right environment for them to live. They have been hard to study because of the environment they thrive in – if you take them out of your gut and put them in a test tube or under a microscope they would not survive themselves, let alone keep us healthy.
There are many trillions of microbes in the gut, about two kilos worth in actual weight; but what’s more important than the amount we carry, is the variety of species. That’s where the key to health lies.
As humans we share 99% of the same genes, but bacteria only share approximately 20%, which means they are 80% different from each other. In practical terms this means they do different things, so the more variety we have the more varied a role they can play in our health, giving us a much wider breadth of protection.
The collective name for all of your microbes is your microbiome. If it were to have a written job description or a “to do” list, it would look something like this:
• breakdown otherwise indigestible foods
• provide energy
• break down toxins
• manufacture vitamins /fats and other substances
• run your immune system
• regulate body weight / control hunger signals
• help regulate/control blood sugar spikes
• control mood – mental health
What is the perfect balance? In the western world, most probiotic supplements contain high levels of bifidobacterium and lactobacillus. These aren’t even present in the microbiome of the Hazda. So, it’s hard to say which are good and which are bad, as clearly, it’s all about balance and diversity. It’s typically western to want to create an individual pill for each bacterial family so we can take one for asthma, one for diabetes, one for obesity, and so on and so on. But it’s far more complicated than that. If you have a prevalence of one species it changes the whole ecosystem, in the same way a fast-growing plant or weed can change the ecosystem of an entire field.
Having gone through the research for the last two years as it comes out, the advice is clear, and I quote from one professor in an online discussion I read “Eat the hell out of plants”. That means eating a MUCH wider variety. As yet when it comes to microbes and how they affect us and how we can manipulate our diet to improve it, that’s the best advice we have so far. As yet we don’t know more then we know, but what we do know is compelling. Microbiology holds the key to our health, but more than that, the key to the health of the planet.
There is research showing that obese people have higher levels of certain bacteria, specifically fermicutes, but the reason is not absolutely clear although some theories abound. However, eating the variety of veg and getting the balance of your food groups right will shift your microbial balance towards being a fat burner not a fat storer. Fasting is key to achieving this switch!
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