WFPB meal with lots of fiberThe colon or large intestine reabsorbs some 80% of the fluids in the waste material (chime) and pushes the rest through towards the exit. Your Colon is populated by some 300 to 1000 different species of microbes, which consists of 100 trillion cells weighing up to 2 kilograms (the human body only has 37 trillion cells). This micro biome is the subject of lots of new interesting studies which shed a light on the way these bacteria affect us.

Your gut micro biome regulates your entire immune system. It also regulates your bodyweight by influencing how much energy you extract from the food you eat, it also influences your blood sugar levels and it even affects your food and food choices by producing certain hunger hormones. The bacteria in your gut are also essential for synthesizing many B vitamins and vitamin K.

The life of your micro biome starts when you are born. If you’re born naturally, you have come into contact with faeces and vaginal fluids which contain the bacteria which will find their way to the large intestine. We see that people that people who are born through a C section, and don’t come into contact with the bacteria, are more likely to develop allergies and obesity. Breast-milk is also beneficial for the development for your micro biome, as it contains complex indigestible sugars which are a food source for your gut bacteria.

The helpful bacteria in your gut are mostly busy digesting any remaining food particles and dietary fibre our bodies can’t digest. They also protect against any pathogens and fungal overgrowth by creating an acidic environment which is unfriendly to pathogenic bacteria. Your gut health is related to everything else. What you eat makes all the difference for your micro biome, but besides a poor diet, also stress, exposure to toxins and medications can throw off the balance and allow pathogenic microbes to take over.

CabbageThe microbiome can be divided in two main taxa (groups). One group of bacteria in our gut are the firmicutes, which main task is the digestion of fats. High levels of these bacteria in your gut are linked to the Western diet.

Another group are the bacteroidetes, it’s considered healthy when your micro biome is tilted in favour of these bacteroidetes, especially the Prevotella family. They break down undigested fibre from plants in your colon and they play an important role in regulating your immune system. These Prevotella bacteria produce a short-chain fatty acid while digesting the dietary fibre called butyrate, which is the main fuel for your colon cells. This butyrate is a powerful anti-inflammatory and protects against bowel cancer, it also helps maintaining your gut-lining and thus prevents the leaky-gut syndrome. You can increase your butyrate levels by eating food with lots of fibre, which is food for these bacteria.

Akkermansia is another interesting specie in your gut. High levels of these bacteria are also considered beneficial. They strengthen the gut wall and reduce inflammation levels. These bacteria don’t feed on the fibre, but they live on the mucus of the gut wall. That’s why fasting is an excellent way of boosting their levels, while fasting the rivals are short of nutrients and the Akkermansia thrives. These increased levels of Akkermansia in your micro biome persists for some 10 days after breaking the fast, after which their levels slowly fall back. You can also boost their levels by eating food that’s rich in polyphenols, which includes cocoa, olives, tea, coffee, red wine and dried herbs.

Fresh clovesSome of the best-known bad bacteria are salmonella, E. coli and the campylobacter bacteria. These bacteria are part of your micro biome, but their levels are kept in check by the beneficial bacteria. Foods can be contaminated with these bacteria and for example the campylobacter bacteria are present in the majority of supermarket chickens. Eating this chicken raw or undercooked will lead to an infection. Your body’s reaction will be diarrhoea as a means to flush out the colon of these pathogens. Strains of your healthy bacteria reside in your appendix, which is a dead-end part in your intestine that’s not affected by the diarrhoea and will repopulate your colon from there after the pathogens are flushed out. Normally, it takes about 3 days for your micro biome to repopulate your gut from your appendix.

A diverse micro biome is considered good and there are several ways to improve your gut micro biome:

  • The more different types of plants you eat, the more diverse your micro biome.
  • People who drink at least 1 alcoholic beverage a week have a more diverse micro biome than people who don’t drink (too much alcohol is detrimental for your microbiome).
  • Proper sleep and exercise is beneficial for your micro biome.
  • Spending more time outdoors and getting your hands in the dirt with some gardening are beneficial.
  • Avoiding sugar, artificial sweeteners (bad for Akkermansia) and less processed food.
  • Antibiotics are very detrimental for your micro biome.
  • Beans and legumes as a source of protein in your diet is beneficial.
  • Starchy foods (whole grains, legumes and starchy vegetables) contain lots of prebiotic fibre.
  • Fermented foods (Miso, suaerkraut, apple cider vinegar) support and replenish your intestinal flora.
  • Drinking plenty of water will keep everything moving smoothly.
  • Eating more plant-based foods in general is healthy for your micro biome and may be protective against metabolic syndrome and inflammatory diseases. The gut micro biome from people with vegan diets is the most distinct from that of omnivores, but not necessarily significantly different from people with a vegetarian diet.