The microbiome: why our microbes could be the key to our health
Our microbiome could be the key not just to our health but also our happiness. But what exactly is it? How does it affect us in everyday life and what can we do to ensure its optimum health? Holistic vet Dr Nick Thompson MRCVS explains.
It turns out we're not human after all but walking bacterial palaces!
The microbiome is the new name for gut/skin/body flora - the trillions of microbes that live on and in us and our pets. They affect far more than just our digestion. Let me explain the word itself: 'micro' means very small, obviously, 'biome' means 'something which is living'. So, your 'micro-biome' is that which is living inside of us that is not us!
The more we research these tiny creatures, the more we find they are utterly essential. They potentially influence our mental health, our longevity, our mood and our ability to combat disease. In essence, every aspect of our health is reflected in our microbes' health.
The good news: giving you a choice
Researchers agree that a person’s unique microbiome is created within the first 1,000 days of life. Still, there are things you can do to boost your microbial environment throughout your life. You can improve your home environment with fewer chemicals and artificial cleaners. You can adjust your diet by eating less red meat and more veg. Reducing your stress levels is easier said than done, but is something to strive for with regular exercise and mindfulness. The drugs you chose to take can make a significant impact, too. Antibiotics are not needed half as much as we used to think. Overuse of non-steroidal medicines like Ibuprofen and Paracetamol are known to disrupt gut and gut bug health. Similar changes to the lifestyle of your animals can also reap great benefits in coat and stool quality.
The Diet Myth Book
When it comes to health and wellbeing, Tim Spector's 'The Diet Myth' is essential reading. It's a revolutionary way of re-evaluating what we eat and how we look after ourselves and our pets:
"Microbes are not just dull things you flush down the toilet," says Spector in the book, "they provide thousands of essential chemicals for our body. They produce vitamins and hormones and half of all the chemicals pumping around our blood at the moment are influenced by our microbes."
To understand the workings of the microbiome, Spector uses the analogy of the garden:
“A neglected garden has very few species, not much fertilised soil, and this allows weeds to take over in great numbers…..We need to start using those principles (of maintain our good bugs) – fertilising, adding fresh soil, experimenting and avoiding adding nasty toxins to our own bodies as we would our garden.”
Many of these studies on the microbiome are carried out in humans and human bugs, but there's a significant overlap with the animal world. Much of what we learn about the beneficial human microbes can be applied to our pets.
Pharmaceuticals have a place in modern medicine. The problem for holistic vets is how they are used and how frequently they are used. All medical interventions have pros and cons. Vets are just beginning to realise the full impact some conventional pharmaceuticals have on the microbiome: " We must do everything we can with an optimal diet, low drug use and more daily reliance on herbs. We must take care with bathing and cleaning products to maintain and encourage a diverse and appropriate level of bacteria in the gut and skin of our pets and our horses."
Looking after your microbiome is the very best health insurance you can invest in. If you look after your microbiome, your microbiome will look after you.
For our gut flora to flourish, we need to look after our own and our pets' microbiome much like a garden: tending to it regularly and making 'gardening' a part of our daily life. It's a straightforward equation. If you look after your microbiome it will look after you.
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