I’ve got news for you: You’re not human.
Neither am I.
At least, we’re not human if you judge by the number of non-human cells that make up our bodies: the microorganisms that inhabit us outnumber our human cells by at least 3 to 1. So we’re at most ¼ human cells. The other ¾+ is what’s called microbiota, the collective term for all the bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microscopic creatures that live on and in our bodies.
Before you reach for the Raid, consider that we don’t fully understand the roles that these organisms play in our health. And from what we do understand, lots of our microbiota are helpful, even necessary, in supporting our health.
Don’t think of them as stowaways, they might actually be the crew!
No Guts, No Glory
Now there’s a decent chance that all this isn’t news to you. If so, congratulations! You’re a well informed and interesting person with your finger on the pulse! If you haven’t heard about microbiota before, don’t worry - I’m about to break it down.
Most of the attention on human microbiota (all animals have microbiota) has focused on the microorganisms in our gut. It’s worth mentioning the bacteria and other critters that live on our skin too because of how they protect us from infections and support our immune systems. But here we’re going to concentrate on the microbiota in our guts. These guys are also known as gut flora (cute!) or gastrointestinal microbiota (Ewww!). So “gut flora” it is!
Of all our microbiota, gut flora is the most concentrated and diverse. So there are more microorganisms and more species of microorganisms that elsewhere in/on our bodies. The most interesting thing about gut flora is that it helps us, it’s not just a passive passenger. And oh boy, does it help us!
As well as the benefits gut bacteria have for digestion, the flora in your gut plays a big role in synthesizing vitamins, producing hormones and is connected to a host of other processes essential for your health. Thinking of your gut flora as the crew of the Good Ship You is actually pretty accurate.
How to Help Your Crew
Because of the wide-ranging effects of gut flora (they’re connected to everything from bone health to allergies to food cravings), it’s reasonable to want to know if there’s anything you can do to give the little guys a leg up.
And you can.
The simplest step you can take is to eat probiotic foods. Probiotics are foods that contain beneficial bacteria that establish themselves in your gut and boost your health from the inside. The benefits people attribute to probiotics include better digestion, stronger immune function, healthier skin, weight loss and protection against various diseases. Sign me up!
Conveniently, probiotic foods are usually delicious, and some of my favorites are veg-friendly. Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, and drinks like kombucha and kvass, are chock full of beneficial bacteria. Kefir (dairy or non-dairy versions), yoghurt, raw milk, and raw cheeses can also boost your gut flora.
If you’re new to probiotic foods, start gradually. When I went from zero to Sauerkraut in a matter of minutes, I had what I’ll delicately refer to as an uncomfortable time. But if you gently increase your consumption of the above foods that shouldn’t be an issue.
¾ of the cells in/on your body are bound to have a huge impact on your health. Once you start taking care of them you’ll understand the reality behind the phrase “no guts, no glory”!