My third Pillar of Health for families relates to a relatively new area of medicine, the microbiome.
The microbiome, as it turns out, plays a role in a wide range of chronic health conditions, including food, environmental and seasonal allergies, eczema, asthma, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
What is the microbiome? Essentially, the human body is an ecosystem supporting over 100 trillion microorganisms.
We call this ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, all working synergistically with our bodies to maintain health, our microbiome.
“We” are 90% microbiome and only 10%” body cells”. A healthy microbiome is one that is in balance and diverse.
How can we develop a healthy microbiome, right from birth?
- Vaginal birth is the first inoculation of healthy micro biome. Vaginal birth has been shown to have positive long-term health benefits and support healthy epigenetic changes (i.e., turning “on” of healthy genes and turning “off” of unhealthy genes).
- Skin-to-skin contact between mothers and newborns is the second route of exposure by which newborns gain a healthy microbiome. Skin-to-skin contact has been shown to be beneficial for the first six weeks of life.
- Breastfeeding: Breast milk contains oligosaccharides which feed the bacteria Bifidobacterium infantis and sets up the newborn’s digestive tract to contain a balanced microbiome.
- A plant-based diet feeds and keeps microbiome diverse.
What negatively affects our microbiome and reduces diversity?
Antibiotic use. Since the introduction of antibiotics, we have lost approximately 30% of microbiome diversity. It is not a secret that antibiotics are over-used: for example, 2/3 of respiratory tract infections are ultimately treated using antibiotics even though 80% of these infections do not meet the Centres of Disease Control (CDC) requirements for antibiotics use.
What can we do now?
- Birth vaginally, spent time in skin-to-skin contact with your newborn and breastfeed for a minimum of six months.
- Avoid using antibiotics unless necessary. Use a healthy lifestyle to prevent illness, and natural medicines as a first-line in treating illness. Revisit the first two pillars of health, Whole Family Health and Family Nutrition.
- Eat a variety of whole foods, focusing on plant-based foods.
- Embrace the motto “Live dirty, eat clean”. Avoid antibacterial products and let your kids play in the dirt. Exposure to dirt encourages microbiome diversity.
- Use probiotics to replenish healthy bacteria, especially if your immune system is weak, and after using antibiotics.
Below are some resources to learn more about the microbiome and the essential role in plays in our everyday health.
– Du La, ND, Acupuncturist
Posted: 2015 January 15