So excited to chat with you today Sandra about an area you are very passionate about. We hear a lot about the microbiome these days, but what exactly is it?
Well, considering that around half our body is actually made up of microbes, it really is interesting to understand what the microbiome actually is. ‘Microbiome’ is a collective word which refers to the microbes themselves, as well as their surrounding environment. The microbes are microscopic organisms that can include things like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites, to name a few.
How and from where the microbiome originate?
It was originally thought that babies were sterile until they were born, but recent scientific studies show that in fact, microbial colonies exist in the umbilical cord, amnionic fluid and placenta, suggesting that the colonisation of the microbiome actually begins in the womb.
Are you saying then that we inherit our microbiome from our mother?
Absolutely right! Every individual has a unique microbial composition, so think of it as a fingerprint. Even the way a baby is delivered plays a role in establishing the baby’s gut microbiota. For example, a baby who passes through the birth canal may be exposed to a more diverse array of microbes compared to a baby born via caesarean section. So, the gut continues to develop into childhood of course. But it is that period of initial development which is so important for the future health of the child, including brain development and even allergies. This is why it’s so important for healthy habits to start early.
Wow, all right! What would you say to parents wanting to give their young children the best chance of developing a healthy microbiome?
I suggest breast milk, where possible. It’s certainly, the most important food for a newborn to support the growing microbiome and to support the baby’s immune system. When appropriate, introduce gut nourishing foods with a variety of fruit, vegetables, and child-friendly fermented foods like yoghurt and kefir. Try and avoid foods full of artificial ingredients and refined grains and added sugar, and let them play in the dirt. Exposure to soil bacteria is linked to anti-inflammatory and immune health benefits.
Also, be mindful of the effect of antibiotics. I know they are sometimes warranted, but it may be good to talk to a health care provider about providing appropriate probiotic support to replace some of the good microbes that might have been affected by the antibiotic if it was necessary.
As a matter of interest, coconut contains high levels of a medium chain fatty acid called lauric acid, which is the substance in mother’s milk that supports the baby’s immune system. So, you might consider it a good thing to introduce coconut where you can.
Such great insights for parents there. This one’s a word we here all the time, but could you help us understand what a probiotic is?
So the word probiotic actually means ‘of life’ in Greek. They’re created during the fermentation process, which occurs when microorganisms change starches or sugars into another substance, say acid or alcohol. Fermented foods naturally contain many different strains of beneficial microbes, and they all perform different functions. For example, Bifidobacterium longum is anti–inflammatory, while Bifidobacterium bifidum supports immune function. Some of the more well–known foods we consume that contain naturally occurring probiotics are yoghurt, fermented vegetables, for example, kimchi and sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, and tempeh.
What about prebiotics?
Well, prebiotics are the non-digestible foods or high fibre foods that feed the probiotics in your gut. And so they play a huge part in influencing the type of microbes that flourish or not. There are two types of dietary fibres, soluble and insoluble in water, and they both have different health benefits.
Insoluble fibre is found in foods like vegetables and whole grains. And soluble fibre is found in foods like oats and beans, which swell up in water. You can see why it’s important to include as much variety in our diet as possible. Also, remember, we all have our own unique colony of probiotics. So some prebiotics will be more suited to some than others. This is where we really need to tune into what our body is telling us, or rather, what our microbes are selecting from the menu.
Thanks for sitting down with us Sandra, it seems we’ve got an endless amount to learn about the miraculous microbiome.