Think of your gut microbiome as your personal rainforest. Often called “the jewels of the earth,” tropical rainforests are truly nature’s medicine cabinet. Accounting for only about seven percent of the world’s total land mass, they harbor an estimated half of all known plant varieties. A four-square mile area of rainforest may contain as many as 750 different species of trees and over 1,500 varieties of flowering plants. According to the National Cancer Institute, over two-thirds of cancer-fighting medications are derived from rainforest plants; and, over 120 prescription drugs have been derived directly from the earth’s rainforests - treating everything from glaucoma to heart disease. Although it is made of millions of microorganisms, this fragile ecosystem is easily disrupted. That’s much the way it is with our microbiome.
Inside our digestive tract, there is an entire ecosystem - our own personal rainforest. Much like the rainforests of the earth, this incredible inter-dependent microscopic world is easily disrupted. It is made up of microorganisms so small that millions of them could fit on the head of a pin. The vast array of tiny bugs that live in our gut are proving to be key to human health. A healthy gut is essential for absorption of nutrients, elimination of toxins, and production of many vitamins and neurotransmitters, including serotonin - the “happy hormone.” Hippocrates, deemed the Father of Medicine, knew that good health begins in the gut. Based on the many patients I’ve seen, I absolutely believe it. Taking that statement one step further, the digestive tract begins in the mouth! DNA technology is expanding our knowledge and we can track some gum-disease bacteria all through the digestive tract.
What can you do to nurture and protect the beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract? The goal is more energy and vitality! I never want this pursuit to be legalistic or overwhelming. Here are four simple Start Somewhere Strategies:
Drink more water and fewer sweetened beverages - including soda, diet soda, and alcohol. They disrupt the beneficial bacteria.
Give your body more real food. To get started, evaluate how many ½ cup servings of fruits and vegetables you are eating each day and increase it slowly until you are consuming 8 to 12 (one-half cup) servings per day. The friendly bacteria in your gut crave real-food fiber; but remember: Start Low and Go Slow!
Find ways to move more. Exercise modifies the gut microbiota for positive health benefits. Remember, you don’t have to buy special clothes or join a gym. Just find something active that you love to do and do more of it.
Enjoy probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, fermented vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles), miso or high quality, unsweetened yogurt. I was surprised at how delicious kimchi can be!
Remember, just because something is simple doesn’t mean it is easy. Think of your gut microbiome as your personal rainforest and a key to more energy and enhanced resilience. When you work on your mindset first, the “doing” gets easier! Saving tropical rainforests - either personally or globally - is no easy task, but the effort is worth it! Start Somewhere today making just one positive change. You can do it. I will help you.
Debbie Ozment, DDS, MS