Your health is intertwined with the health of your microbiota. If your microbiota is diverse, resilient, and dominated by bacteria that agree with your biology, then that means that you possess a natural defense against diabetes, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and a plethora of other diseases and health problems. Unless you’ve recently suffered extensive damage as a result of disease or injury, your body is operating at a high level and its metabolic, digestive, and immunological apparatus are likely very robust. Conversely, if your microbiota is structurally imbalanced and rich in pathogens, then that means that your body is weak, fragile, and prone to disease.
A healthy diet is only part of the solution
It’s widely known that the food we eat greatly influences the structure and composition of the microbial communities we harbor. What’s not as widely recognized though, is that a human-associated microbiota that has been damaged by for example antibiotics can’t be effectively repaired by a standard nutritional intervention. One doesn’t have to be a genius to understand why this is the case…
The human microbiota is a very complex and diverse community of microorganisms. In particular the microbial community that resides in the large intestine, AKA the colon, is extremely rich in this respect. In order to produce this microbial garden, thousands of microbial species are needed.
A sick person who harbors a gut microbiota that’s severely “deficient” in bacteria (e.g., due to antibiotic exposure) won’t be able to bring his microbiota up to full speed simply by eating a typical healthy diet, for the simple reason that most of the foods that make up our modern nutritional environment are a fairly poor source of bacteria. Much of what we eat these days has been produced, cleaned, and processed in such a way that it’s largely devoid of the types of organisms that are needed to build a healthy human gut microbiota. A meal of oven-baked salmon and cooked broccoli and asparagus certainly contains a lot of healthy fats, high-quality protein, and vitamins and minerals; however, it’s largely devoid of bacteria.
In order to make some real headway towards solving his problems, the person in question will have to consciously seek out and exploit sources of beneficial microorganisms. This is easier said than done, seeing as medications containing complex mixtures of microbes that are adapted to live in the human gut haven’t been made widely accessible to the public. That said, it’s certainly possible to enhance one’s microbiota without involving the mainstream medical apparatus.
Microorganisms are found all around us. Not all of these critters are useful in the context of microbiome restoration; however, some certainly are. Healthy people and pets, raw fruits and vegetables, and fermented vegetables are among the chief sources of bacteria one can benefit from exploiting if one harbors a damaged microbiota. In conjunction with species-appropriate nutrition, bacteria derived from these microbial reservoirs could potentially bring many sick people back on their feet.
Many diseases and health problems can be effectively prevented and treated via microbiome restoration
One of the key things I’m trying to convey with my microbiome-related articles here on the site is that many diseases and health problems can be effectively prevented and treated via microbiome restoration. This statement is firmly rooted in modern scientific research, which has revealed that microbiome disruption is centrally involved in the development and progression of a plethora of health disorders (1, 2, 3, 4).
One of the main things that separate my approach from the approach I’ve seen other health professionals use is that I focus on gradually restoring microbial diversity and integrity. I largely shy away from probiotic supplements, which I believe do more harm than good in most cases, and I always tell my clients that they should seek to maximize the diversity of friendly organisms they are exposed to, not the quantity. I think it’s a huge mistake to tell someone who’s on a quest to fine-tune his microbiota that he should take in large quantities of probiotics, for example in the form of fermented foods, on a regular basis.
Moreover, I don’t think it’s necessary, nor prudent, for healthy individuals to consume significant quantities of fermented foods on a regular basis or use probiotic supplements. I strongly disagree with the probiotic manufacturers who claim that we should all take a probiotic capsule every day, just to make sure that we get some “good” bacteria into their guts. Some types of fermented foods, as well as certain types of probiotics, are useful in the context of microbiome restoration; however, they are not required to maintain a healthy microbiota.
It’s a lot easier said than done to adhere to a healthy diet and fix a damaged gut microbiota. That said, it’s important to realise that the microbial communities that colonize the human body are extremely dynamic, in the sense that they are constantly changing in response to environmental fluctuations. In other words, it is possible to change one’s microbiota in a fairly short period of time.
Moreover, it’s important to recognize that there’s a link between microbiota status and eating behavior, in the sense that the bacteria that live in our guts contribute to shaping our eating habits, which in turn contribute to shaping the composition of our gut microbial communities. In other words, there’s a bidirectional relationship between eating behavior/habits and microbiota composition.