Genetic testing is trendy today! Yip, we are comprised of roughly 28 000 – 30 000 genes, and this was established by the Human Genome Study done by the NIH. This was a disappointing outcome to say the least, as we have about as many genes as the fruit fly or an earthworm. Really! I have yet to see either navigate an I-phone! So how can it be that with our intelligent brain, and multi-tasking and multi-functioning ability we only have a limited genetic make- up – like a fruit fly that buzzes around the ripe banana?
The answer followed in the Human Microbiome Project, which funded five years later by the NIH. This study investigated the balance of microbes in a large study group. Checked out were microbial communities in the gut, skin, ear, nose, mouth and urogenital tract. It is in these areas that we have unique colonies of microbes that have specific protective functions against disease-producing microbes associated with foods, outside infections and overgrowth of harmful bacteria that remain dormant in our body in smaller numbers. It is also microbes that are responsible for many functions in the human body. It is this that made it clear that our genes are not our destiny.
With our nutrition and lifestyle, and our daily exposure to toxins in the environment, we have the ability to alter our genes.
And that is powerful to know.
Our body is compromised of over 100 trillion microbes, of which only 10 trillion are human cells. We are made up of bacteria, fungi, worms, and parasites. We have C-diff, staph, strep and more harmful pathogens in our microbiome, but as long as they are outnumbered by health-supporting bacteria, they do not cause a problem. Who knew!
This study reversed thinking and scientific findings dramatically. Rather than staying focused on the germ, now it was time to reconsider the impact of our terrain, esp. in the gut, sinuses, nose and urogenital tract where low-grade infections can linger with chronic inflammation?.
Dr. Metchnikoff claimed in the early 20th Century that microbes in our gut affected mental wellness. He said that he did not treat one psychiatric case that did not also involve digestive troubles in the individual. He based his finding on cultured yoghurt strains that he introduced to improve the gut microbiome of his patients.
Our mind and our gut are connected. Microbes in our gut are responsible for producing a large amount of feel-good brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Forward thinking doctors know that any gut dysbiosis or infection has the potential to also produce insomnia, anxiety, depression, mania and ADHD. Try telling that to a conventionally trained psychiatrist!
Incidentally, with any chronic health condition, the gut microbiome diversity greatly matters. Today we like to eat from a limited realm of foods compare to the diversity of 400-600 foods consumed by a traditional tribe, such as the Hudza tribe. In my consulting practice, I stress the need to eat a diverse diet (not a perfect diet!) Instead of oatmeal every morning, change it up. Each time you go grocery shopping, but one vegetable or fruit (in season) you have never consumed. Surprise your taste buds and your gut microbes. Eating the same foods limits the diversity of our gut microbes.
This makes us susceptible to:
- Food sensitivities
- Bacterial overgrowth of harmful bacterial
- Bacterial overgrowth of beneficial bacteria (yes, that is not good either. The gut microbial world needs its own checks and balances by not having one large group of any microbes.
- Fungal overgrowth esp. with more refined sugars, alcohol (yip, that cocktail at Happy hour counts there too?)
- Lack of diversity, decreased functional ability to make nutrients out of foods we eat and drink
- Weight Gain
- ?Leaky gut? syndrome
- Mood disorders
- Skin troubles
- Joint pain
- Vitamin B-12 production, or lack of?
At Mount Sinai in NYC, there is currently a Resilience Study with an emphasis on studying how to improve and support wellness. This is different to other studies where the emphasis was on pathology and diseases. Genetic testing is part of this study.
In my health practice I do use 23and Me and use a specific software program that places the focus on ?genetic functional potential?. Genetic testing must not be confused as a diagnosis, it is not. In this test, genetic predispositions how potential to gluten, dairy or mold sensitivity. It can show an inability to produce bifidia bacteria that are a mainstay for a healthy gut microbiome. It can show lack of histamine breakdown that is associated with conditions including IBS, food reactions, headaches, and allergies. Gut health matters greatly and when chronic illness is present (or a degenerative disease is diagnosed) it is worthwhile to consider genetic testing to get a glimpse on genetic vulnerabilities that also affect the gut microbiome. Stool testing from a specialized lab can provide another snapshot and I am grateful for having these 21st Century testing avenues.
So rather than succumbing to ?gloom and doom?, it is important to know what you can do at foundational levels to protect your resilience, and your ability to become and stay well.
Gut health is crucial and the first step is to support microbial diversity. Here are options that you can consider:
- Eat a diverse and seasonal diet filled with organic foods as much as possible. What you eat and drink can shift the balance of power in your microbiome ? towards wellness ?.or later sickness?
- Consider cultured and fermented foods that act as prebiotics, the necessary substrate needed by microbes in our gut. (Do consider food sensitivities though.) Kombucha, kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut, Kim-chee are examples.
- Play in dirt: Get into the garden, feel the dirt, breathe in the aroma of fertile earth.
- Walk in Nature and breathe in health-supporting spores in the air.
- Take a techno-detox away from tech devices.
- Rotate your probiotics. Do include soil-based spores.
- Consume enough high fiber foods including bananas, plantains, garlic, onions, broccoli and more. An additional supplement such as phsyillum husk can be helpful.
- Avoid commercial cleaning products, ?Go Green? or organic at home, your dry-cleaning, and most-importantly on your body.
- Use soap and water to clean hands, not chemical hand cleansers that also kill to health-supporting microbes on our skin.
They say you are what you eat ?
that is more true than ever today!
NY Integrated Health
Published author: NOURISH,THRIVE, HEAL:
A comprehensive and holistic guide to living with Lyme disease