Microbes and Health Part III – Say Hello To My Little Friend
By Farhana Rahman
Courtesy of microbiologists Dr Finlay and Dr Arrieta, I’ve been devouring their book Let Them Eat Dirt with hungry interest. In parts I and II, we touched on microbes, what they are, how they develop our immune system. We also discussed the Hygiene Hypothesis which suggests that modern life has reduced our exposure to a variety of microbes in childhood.
Immature Immune Systems
Lack of exposure to microbes in childhood is postulated to have caused our immune systems to remain immature in adulthood. The authors suggest that this in turn causes our immune systems to overreactto harmless microbes, causing widespread responses in our bodies which can lead to common conditions like asthma, allergies and diabetes (all conditions where our immune system is thought to play a role).
So what are we to do? Short of rolling round in mud all day and burning all antibiotics to the ground, what choice do we have?
Luckily, plenty. Read on!
7 tips to make microbes work for you:
1. Start from birth. If you are reading this, then unfortunately this bit is too late for you. But should you choose to rear children, this good stuff starts in the womb. Cultivate beneficial gut microbes by eating healthily in pregnancy and when breastfeeding – eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, pulses and reduce sugary foods – this will feed ‘good’ microbes in your gut. These are then passed on to a newborn through childbirth and breastfeeding.
2. Speak to your doctor about considering probiotics during pregnancy and lactation – ones that contain Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. This is to feed ‘good’ microbes in the gut and also the vaginal tract. I recently attended a fascinating study day organised by the Allergy Academy at King’s College London and they also talked about how the probiotic and prebiotic use in pregnancy may have a role in preventing the development of eczema in a baby.
3. Breastfeed your baby if you can and want to– this will nourish the baby’s ‘good’ gut microbes. However, if you can’t or choose not to, it’s all good. Ultimately, your wellbeing is essential to that of your baby. Moreover, it’s also imperative that women are empowered to make choices for themselves as people, not just as mothers. Just because you’ve had a baby doesn’t mean your preferences for yourself are no longer a priority. Breastfeeding rant over. I’ll step off the podium now.
4. Give your little one a varied diet once weaning begins. Think a variety of pulses, grains, starchy veg and fibre in the form of fruit and vegetables and keep processed, sugary foods to a minimum. This will feed their ‘good’ gut microbes. And in the likely event that you’re a grown adult reading this, the same applies to you! Feed your gut wisely.
5. Antibiotics: be sensible. Every year I will have this discussion when cold and flu season comes. The majority of winter bugs are caused by viruses – headache, temperature, cough, runny nose, sore throat. Antibiotics do not work against viruses; when you see a doctor, s/he will look for signs of a bacterial infection and if there are no signs, they will not prescribe you antibiotics. It’s not personal! Overuse of antibiotics causes resistance where disease-causing bacteria develop super powers and antibiotics don’t work against them any more. Furthermore, antibiotics kill bad as well as good bacteria. And if you don’t actually need them in the first place, they can cause you more harm than good. This is especially important to remember since some studies have shown high rates of antibiotic use in childhood linked to certain chronic diseases later in life. However, if your doctor feels you or your child needs antibiotics, don’t refuse treatment. Antibiotics when used correctly are life saving. Consider taking some probiotis after instead.
6. Stress less: feeling stressed can be detrimental to your gut microbes – studies suggest a healthy gut leads to a healthy brain. Stress in pregnancy can adversely affect the pregnant mother’s microbes and studies have shown this is mirrored in her baby and can be linked to certain issues in newborns in some studies. Stressed now about being stressed? Aren’t we all? DON’T PANIC. It’s all good. Have a read of basically every other blog post we’ve done on ways to de-stress. Sorted.
Here’s a link to this fascinating read and let us know what you think!
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