Bloating? Indigestion? Cramping or constipation? If you checked “yes” to any of these, then you might be among the millions of women who experience some digestive discomfort but (ahem) avoid discussing it with your doctor. The likely culprit? It could be lurking in your gut.
What is the microbiome?
When it comes to our health, the saying, “trust your gut” has never rang truer or so loudly (so please pick up). And, one of the buzziest topics in the wellness space is: The microbiome. What is it? Oh, that’s just the trillions of organisms that are living in your gut right now.
As much as 80 per cent of our immune system resides in our gut, so its status impacts our day-to-day mental and physical state. These microbes can affect everything from mood (delighted to DND) to weight gain, to our latest breakout.
Why gut health is so damn important
The gut is often called our “second brain” and referred to as a supporting organ (it can weigh as much as five pounds) because of the necessary functions it performs. The top of the list: Digesting our food and producing nutrients.
Although not as dramatic as the Jets and Sharks, the relationship between the “good” and “bad” bugs is key, and a harmonious one would make a couple’s therapist proud. For the most part, the not so good microbes are kept in check by the good guys, but an imbalance can lead to a host of issues. Bottom line: Like most things in life, balance is key, and a balanced gut is integral to our overall wellness.
While most of these microbes (a mix of bacteria, parasites and fungi) can be found in our gut, they also live all over our body, from on our skin to in our mouth. Ick factor: We have more microbial cells than human cells – essentially making us more bacteria than human (double ick).
As researchers continue to learn more about the significance of our microbes, what’s abundantly clear is that it impacts nearly every aspect of our wellbeing, and it all starts to take shape from day one. From the moment we’re born, we acquire microbes that we inherit from our mom, and our mom’s mom. Our microbial makeup is as unique to us as our fingerprints. By the time we’ve hit preschool, the microbiome’s foundation is well-established, but it can still fluctuate and change throughout adulthood depending on various factors, like diet, stress and use of antibiotics.
Along with a balanced microbial blend, a diverse ecosystem is essential. Picture the vast landscape of the Amazon rainforest rife with unique and varied species. And then imagine that your microbiome with over 1,000 species of bacteria is more diverse than the rainforest. (Mic)robiome drop.
The issues in my own gut
After having some nagging and persistent digestive issues of my own, I decided to dive deeper into my tummy troubles. And with the goal of exploring my microbiome, I decided to call in the professionals and embark on my own gut wellness program.
The first step of the program was a virtual consultation with Dr. Shawna Darou, ND (thank goodness for Zoom), who went through a checklist of lifestyle questions, covering everything from diet, exercise, stress, sleep and (gulp) stool schedule.
It’s safe to say she got to know me quick.
What’s involved with a microbiome test
I couriered my sample to the lab where my microbes were analyzed. Once the results were in, Dr. Darou and I met again (virtually) so she could help interpret and distill the findings from my lab report.
Soon after, I had a virtual call with Dr. Joey Shulman, registered nutritionist, and we further discussed my digestive issues. Dr. Shulman also reviewed my results and gave me the lowdown on the good, the bad and what needs improvement (which was a relief because there’s only so far grade 11 Biology will take you).
How to improve the gut – and the microbiome
When it comes to supporting a healthy gut, the tag team of prebiotics and probiotics are essential to improve your digestive flow.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a source of plant-based fibre that nourish and fertilize our gut’s healthy bacteria. Eat foods rich in prebiotics, like asparagus, broccoli, and chickpeas.
Why you need probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can help keep your gut flora balanced and support gut health. Think of probiotics as your handy gardener, tending to your garden and fertilizing the “good” bacteria in your gut.
One of the simplest ways to support your gut: take a daily, high-quality probiotic supplement. Look for a strain with a minimum of 30 billion CFUs of lactobacillus and bfifdobacterium. I tried Renew Life’s Ultimate Flora Probiotic Plus Immune Support ($30, renewlife.ca).
Which microbiome test is the best?
If you want to zero in on your own microbiome, opt for a Gut Health test, like I did. This comprehensive wellness program is curated to you and provides a portal to your gut. The process is simple and straightforward and is supported by top experts in the field who provide useful input.
Overall, I was happy to hear that my gut was in pretty good shape (gold star for diversity) with a few minor areas to keep an eye on (due to dehydration).
Reviewing my results with two female pros helped demystify my microbiome and allowed me to take stock. Being task driven, I was able to implement the necessary changes to my diet (more fibre and an assortment of veggies, plus a daily probiotic and fish oil) and improve my overall wellness (prioritize rest, sleep, and movement).