Updated: Oct 15, 2020
“You are what you eat” should it be “You are what’s in your gut”. Check out our podcast on how gut health and the microbiome help with pain, autoimmune diseases, and more!
What is this microbiome thing?
A few years ago, I went (on a date) to a Harvard Medical School talk on Celiac Disease because I have Celiac Disease. It was the first time I learned much about what Celiac Disease is… even having been diagnosed with it for a few years at that point. There were two major takeaways I had from that speaker.
I heard about the microbiome for the first time and learned that one possible way to overcome my Celiac Disease is by having a baby because pregnancy can alter the microbiome. I still have not had the opportunity to test this theory out.
Before anyone knew what an autoimmune response to gluten was, when babies had what was undiagnosed Celiac Disease at the time, they fed them bananas, and thus, they were called Banana Babies.
All joking aside, I learned that my microbiome is largely responsible for my autoimmunity to gluten. At the time of this talk, in 2015, conceptualizing and understanding the microbiome was still relatively novel. According to a study led by the Institute of Medicine (US) Food Forum, advances in genomics and other areas of microbiology, so too has the study of the microbiome taken new light in recent decades.
More research on the gut and microbiome is a very good thing for people suffering from chronic pain and inflammation because gut health is intertwined with how you feel and function.
Gut health starts before you are born!
As someone with Celiac Disease, I have wondered what may have caused it. After learning that the bacteria in our microbiome may affect autoimmune diseases, it was interesting to see in my baby book that I had 4 cycles of amoxicillin in my first year of life. Our microbiome is almost fully formed or filled with all of the types of bacteria that it will ever have in our first 3 years of life. For a few years, I had put this idea of what could have been causation in the back of my mind and every so often sought research to prove my theory about gut health. Finally, there was evidence to support that “exposure to systemic antibiotics in the first year of life may be a risk factor for later development of celiac disease”.
Vincent Young, M.D., Ph.D. at the University of Michigan Medical School, and his research team have collected data demonstrating that individuals who have chronic diseases have a lower diversity of their indigenous gut microbiota compared to individuals who do not and to healthy individuals. This is also true for the offspring of women who’ve had a C-Section, which is detrimental to gut health because a significant amount of our microbial material is transferred during vaginal birth. Furthermore, according to Nue and Rushing (2011), over the last 15 years, C-sections in the US have increased from 24%-34%, so we are not doing ourselves or our children any justice.
Unfortunately, most of this research did not come to light until recently, so my mother would not have known when I was having ear infections that she was limiting the diversity of my gut and increasing my chances of autoimmune disease by acquiescing to the doctor’s order to give me antibiotics. And unfortunately, even with this knowledge, many women have no choice but to have a C-Section to deliver a healthy baby.
What is the importance of microbe diversity in the human microbiome?
There are many, seemingly, simple ways that we, in contemporary society, neglect to diversify the bacteria in our gut. Things that we think of as standard sanitation limit our immune-response. It is worth mentioning that today when there are a plethora of extra steps we are taking to avoid germs and keep ourselves safe from getting COVID-19, we are simultaneously depriving ourselves and especially our young children from the rich diversity of microbes that we used to be exposed to in our evolutionary past which promote gut health. In fact, with modern sanitary measures in place, each new generation has less diverse microbes in their gut. I am not saying to stop wearing a mask or to stop putting hand sanitizer on 100 times a day.
However, it is something to be aware of and something that we will have to address in other ways to make sure that we are not only fighting off the novel coronavirus but that we are also able to cohabitate with all of the other microorganisms that we as humans interact with daily.
How does our microbiome affect our athletic performance?
As athletes, our gut health impacts our performance as well. My father is an IronMan triathlete and for a long time, he struggled to keep any food down during races causing him to run out of energy when he needed it most. A diet composed of more probiotics has significantly impacted his performance both during the race and for recovery after. To define probiotics, they are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.
According to a Nutrients article by Hackensson and Molin (2011), lacking diversity of gut microbiota causes an imbalance of the type of bacteria in the gut, which then can lead to inflammation because one or more types of aggressive or pathogenic gut bacteria residing in one’s gut can become overgrown.
Is it too late to change our microbiome and how do we affect it?
We must take control of our gut health and subsidize what we’ve got in our gut to reduce inflammation and pain and maximize performance. My functional physician, Dr. Melissa Milan, recommends switching out your probiotic to continue to diversify your gut every 3-4 months. Recently, she recommended that I try ProbioMax® Complete DF if you are looking for one to try.
There are also a lot of foods you may incorporate into your diet to add more prebiotics and probiotics.
Pickled fruit and vegetables
Fermented meat, fish, and eggs