While our knowledge of the gut microbiome has greatly expanded in just the past few years, there is much we still do not know about this complex ecosystem, especially as it pertains to modifying the metabolic functions that affect our health.
An individual's diet is likely the single greatest influence on the gut microbiome, as it serves as both a source of microbes and provides the nutrients upon which the existing organisms feed. For example, research looking at different dietary patterns has revealed significant differences in the gut microbes from vegetarians compared to meat-eaters. Not surprisingly, healthy dietary patterns like the Mediterranean diet have been shown to be associated with more diverse and healthy gut microbiota, compared to standard unhealthy Western dietary patterns.
It is not surprising that the dietary principles that promote overall health and reduce the risk for most chronic diseases are the same principles that promote a healthy gut microbiome.
Here are some basic dietary principles when it comes to a healthy gut microbiome:
- Diversity is key; the diet should contain a wide range of foods, especially those derived from plants with different phytochemicals. (The chemical messengers in food that affect our biochemistry).
- Eat food as fresh and unprocessed as possible.
- Dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates should be emphasized.
- Eating in a seasonal rotation (using local foods) may help the diversity of gut microbiota.
- You should avoid foods you suspect will trigger GI discomfort, allergic reactions or cause noticeable changes in bowel transit time.
- Limit foods (meats) that contain antibiotics.
If you choose to supplement with a good probiotic, we recommend selecting a product with a large number of strains. Some of our top recommendations include Ortho-Biotic and Vital-10. If you are treating a specific medical condition you may benefit by using a probiotic strain targeted to a specific condition, so work with your healthcare practitioner for the best selection. Finally, regardless of which brand of probiotic you choose, it is a good idea to rotate brands every month or two to improve overall diversity.
To Your Health!
Mike Woodley, R.Ph., FAARM, ABAAHP