The “Think Outside the Box!” health series is brought to you the first three Thursdays of every month--with a new theme each month. September’s Theme: Nurturing Our Microbiome. Get the most out of this educational series by interacting with the challenges and questions on Facebook and Twitter.
Last month we focused on how to read food labels so we are best equipped to feed our families healthy foods. What “ah-ha” moments have you had since paying more attention to the food you purchase? Share on Facebook.
This month we are shifting focus to one of my favorite topics—the microbiome!
Many health and wellness experts are uncovering the extent to which our microbiome impacts our health. Micro-what, you say? I’m talking about the balance of beneficial versus harmful microbes in our body. Did you know that 90% of our body’s cells are bacteria, protozoa, yeast, and even viruses? That’s right 90%—according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). These critters live on our skin, in our mouth, throughout our body, and especially in our intestinal tract. Turns out we may be more host than human! You grossed out? No need to be, because these critters are around to protect us. The types and proportions of our microbes are being studied intently and scientists are realizing more and more how critical the health of our micro-flora is to every aspect of our wellness.
This topic is near and dear to my heart. Our middle son had emotional and behavioral challenges for the first year and a half of his life that were perplexing—and exhausting. His medical team was dismissive of his symptoms and I was preparing myself for an autism diagnosis, to tell you the truth. We eventually found medical doctors and naturopaths versed in the significance of the microbiome, who taught us a lot about the impact of our intestinal micro-flora on health. Through physical assessments and labs, my son was diagnosed with a yeast and bacterial overgrowth in his gut that was causing poor digestion, poor nutrition absorption, food sensitivities, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, anxiety, poor sleep, and ‘irritability’ (to put it lightly). Prior to this, we wouldn’t have dreamed that his behavioral challenges could be a result of the poor health of his digestive system. We were subsequently able to treat the yeast and bacteria overgrowth, while supporting the growth of beneficial microbes, and his symptoms drastically improved. What a relief—for everyone involved.
As result of my son’s experience, I learned that a balanced microbiota serves several purposes including protection against pathogen invasion, development of the immune system, detoxifying our bodies, keeping weight balanced, protecting us from disease, and optimizing nutrition. I was thrilled to learn that we have so many little gut friends advocating for our health. However, I also learned that there can be some bad guys mixed in with this gut flora who are believed to play a role in the development of inflammation, obesity, and many chronic illnesses. My son had an overgrowth of these bad guys, and it was evident that the imbalance of these microbes was causing him discomfort and anguish.
Although physically located in greatest density in our gastrointestinal tract, our microbiome may be responsible for controlling the health of our entire body. Unfortunately, for many of us, our microbiome is becoming increasingly unbalanced or “dysbiotic,” and this imbalance is being intensely studied for its potential contribution to chronic disease. Researchers are finding compelling links between dysbiosis and the following health issues:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Obesity and type 2 diabetes
- Colorectal cancer
- Weak immunity
- “Colic” in infants
- Digestive disorders (Irritable Bowel Syndrome, heart burn, chronic diarrhea or constipation)
- Sleep disturbances
- Food sensitivities
- Infertility and preterm birth
- Acne and eczema
- Mood instabilities (depression, anxiety, mood swings)
- Neurological disorders (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Tourette’s, MS)
- Behavioral problems (ADHD/ADD, autism, hyperactivity, inability to control impulses)
Is it possible that some of your perplexing health problems are rooted in your gut? Learn how you can build a strong intestinal micro-flora that will best support your health.
Weekly challenge: Be curious about how your physical and emotional symptoms might be related to the health of your intestinal micro-flora.
Let’s chat on social: Have you (or someone you know) improved health through balancing intestinal microbes?
Sarah Kolman is the mom of three boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master's degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family's Whole Health in a Busy World.