The Healthy Side of Germs

The Healthy Side of Germs and How Food Plays a Part

By: Dr. Lloyd Blackler

“Johnny, no!” shreeked his mom as her toddler plucked a chunk of food off the floor. She raced toward him, eyes full of terror, then sighed in relief, catching him just before the contaminated food entered his mouth.

In this country, and around the developed world, people have formed an extreme fear of germs. We’ll do anything to keep from becoming the next victim of gastroenteritis or other infectious diseases. But is this level of concern a good thing? Is it natural?

After all, when we examine prehistoric and even current-day hunter-gatherer populations, these civilizations are almost completely free from the chronic inflammatory conditions that plague Americans and inhabitants of most developed countries. So maybe it’s time for us to reexamine our relationship with germs.

What Is the Microbiome?

What if I told you that the health of your mind and body is largely determined by the microbes, or germs, that live in and on you?

The human microbiota consists of the 10–100 trillion microbial cells harbored by each and every one of us.[1] These microbes are symbiotic, meaning they live in harmony with our bodies. We need them, and they need us. The term microbiome describes the entire genetic makeup of the microbiota.

Now here’s the really crazy part of our relationship with these germs. Only one percent of the DNA in your body is yours. The remaining 99 percent belongs to the trillions of microbial cells living within you!

Considering the vast number of microbes that live inside of us, it’s no wonder they have such a profound impact on our health and behavior. Yet it’s easy to sabatoge the healthy role of these microbes if we’re not cognizant of what we’re feeding our bodies.

You Are What You Eat (Or What You Feed Your Microbiome)

While research in this field is relatively new (the term “microbiome” was only coined 15 years ago by Joshua Lederberg[2]), it’s clear that gut health is the first place to start if we want a balanced microbiome.

And since what we eat strongly affects our guts, we can kickstart our way to a healthy microbiome by avoiding processed foods and loading up on high-antioxidant nutrition from natural sources—including local CSAs and farms—to introduce beneficial microbes into our bodies. Turns out the old saying still holds weight, with a slight twist. When it comes to maintaining a balanced gut and good health, you are what you feed your microbiome.

In the next issue, join me on the path to a healthy gut and microbiome—and find foods that will help you along the way.

[1] Ursell, Luke K., Metcalf, Jessica L., et al. “Defining the Human Microbiome.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426293/.

[2] Ibid.

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