Why have 120 doctors written to our government about the importance of a healthy and diverse gut microbiome? Because they all have concluded that this is one of the most critical ways to keep us healthy and well during the Coronavirus pandemic. These doctors feel a healthy gut is pivotal to helping us get out the other side a stronger nation than we were before.
Nurturing a diverse microbiota may therefore also help to build greater resilience if a second Covid-19 wave kicks in, or if another virus rears its ugly head soon. Feeding the microbes in our tummies with the right stuff is one thing WE can do ourselves to fight back on Covid-19, and this is where food choices really count.
The gut microbiome consists of billions of bacterial strains in the intestines. Think of it as an ever-changing ecosystem that is unique to everybody at any one time and is influenced by what we eat, the medications we take, our sleep and how we respond to stress. Many of these bacteria are beneficial and are the building blocks to provide a healthy immune response to infections. Diversity really counts when it comes to building a healthy microbiome that give us a strong core immunity, and a varied diet filled with lots of lovely fresh stuff can help the microbiome culture a diverse hub of these friendly bacteria. A diet full of ready-made convenience foods or junk foods can do the opposite, having a negative effect on the friendly bugs.
What is less well known is that the lungs also have their own microbiome, and mounting evidence is finding that an out of sync lung microbiome called lung dysbiosis can also influence the ability to fight off infections as well as innate immunity. A dysbiotic lung microbiome can contribute to the severity of lung infections and inflammation, and this is influenced by the gut microbiome. There is a bidirectional gut-lung axis between the gut microbiome and lung microbiome and each works together in harmony feeding each other. The good news is that diet, the right lifestyle and probiotics can help to rebalance the bacteria in the lungs, as well as the gut, as there is a synergy between the two.
Dr Michael Mosley, who I have huge respect for and we share a publisher, has just published a brilliant book on Coronavirus; and in this he delves deep into the importance of diet and the state of the microbiome when it comes to fighting viruses like Covid-19. It’s an excellent resource to send to anyone who has not made the link yet or is still filling their shopping trollies with the convenience ultra-processed stuff.
What can reduce the diversity in the gut?
Those babies who are born vaginally will most likely have a broader diversity of gut bacteria than a baby born via caesarean-section, as the baby born naturally will benefit from the diversity of the mum’s microbiome from the birth canal. This is the same for breast-fed babies vs bottle-fed babies, but thankfully infant milk formula manufacturers are catching up and have started to address this.
Antibiotics and ant-acid medication such as Lansoprazole can deplete the microbiome, and people who need to take these medications usually need to work harder on keeping their microbiome topped up with the good stuff.
Watch out for food additives, especially emulsifiers like carrageenan which are often added to cream cheese and plant-based “milks” as well as mono‐and diglycerides of fatty acids which tends to be added to bread in order to extend their shelf life. These emulsifiers act as a detergent on the gut microbes, reducing diversity. Remember to rinse your dishes well too, as the emulsifiers in dishwasher liquid can also do the same.
What can you do to support your family’s magical gut & lung microbes?
There are many things you can do to build a healthy and diverse gut microbiome, and here are some of the key diet and lifestyle steps you can make that have the most back up from scientific research. So not to overwhelm yourself, try to slowly incorporate things one at a time, and begin to build long term habits that continue to nourish your microbiome on a daily basis:
- Eat a Mediterranean diet packed with fruits, veggies, salads, nuts, seeds, olive oil, fresh protein and wholegrains, as this is the diet that is most effective at nourishing the gut bacteria.
- Eat a rainbow of fruit and veggies every day – red, orange, yellow, green and purple – the variety really counts as the natural pigments in brightly coloured fruit and veg are the main elements that build a healthy gut microbiota.
- Nourish the gut microbiome with fermented and cultured foods like live yoghurt, kefir, miso, ripened cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, apple cider vinegar and sourdough bread as these contain their own colonies of beneficial bacteria which contribute to the diversity in the gut. These naturally contain some of the key probiotic strains such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.
- Resistant starch helps to feed the microbes in the gut, and this can be found in rice, new potatoes and pasta when they have been cooked and cooled. You can make salads from these or heat them up once again, to get the same benefit from the resistant starch.
- Consider eating seaweed 2-3 times a week as the fucoidan in brown seaweed such as kombu, wakame, and hijiki is thought to bolster up the microbiome. Nori sheets or samphire are also excellent prebiotics and try sprinkling Seagreens on your food instead of table salt.
- Omega 3 from oily fish is important fuel to feed the happy microbes in the gut, so eat this at least 2-3 x per week. It’s naturally anti-inflammatory too, so a good all-rounder.
- Keep on top of your vitamin D levels, this is important fuel for gut microbes – get some sun, eat some oily fish, eggs and organic whole milk and follow the current NHS guidelines to take vitamin D supplements all year round.
- Spend time in nature and keep your windows open, encouraging exposure to as many different microbes as possible. Simply taking a walk or spending time in the garden can really help.
- Seek to get long standing gut issues sorted through a gut-health specialist – too loose, bunged up, pain, acid, bloating, gas and belching can all be signs that the gut microbiome is out of sync, and there is some degree of inflammation lurking. Thankfully these issues can be helped immeasurably if you are shown how by a gut health expert.
NatureDoc clinic is a team of nutritional therapists, naturopaths and functional medicine practitioners that specialise in gut health all the way through from birth to the twilight years. We can organise stool testing to assess your gut microbiome and seek to establish the root causes of gut complaints. This is something that is not offered by the NHS or private gastroenterologists yet, and our support can be given alongside mainstream medical interventions for gut health.
- More than 120 leading scientists ask Health Secretary to evaluate role of gut microbiome in coronavirus amid ‘compelling evidence’ healthier diets could protect millions of Britons
- Dr Michael Mosley on how improving your gut health in lockdown will boost immunity
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- Gut microbiota may underlie the predisposition of healthy individuals to COVID-19
- Probiotics and COVID-19: one size does not fit all
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- Proton pump inhibitors affect the gut microbiome
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- Scientists use dietary seaweed to manipulate gut bacteria in mice
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- Impact of Air Quality on the Gastrointestinal Microbiome: A Review