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What role does your microbiome play in your overall health?

  • What is the microbiome?
  • How does our microbiome impact our health?
  • How can we best keep it nourished?

These are all very good questions!

microbiomeRachel Carson, ecologist and author of the game-changing book Silent Spring in 1962, was right in more ways than one when she said: “In nature, nothing exists alone”. We humans live in a symbiotic relationship with a massive number of microbes that dwell within us.

The trillions of microbes inhabit our intestines form a complex ecological ‘community’ that influences our normal body-functioning and susceptibility to disease. For decades, we humans have recognized that we are inhabited by a remarkably dense and diverse microbial ecosystem, yet we are only just beginning to understand and appreciate the many roles that these complex communities play in our health and development.

The human microbiome refers to the community of more than 1 trillion microscopic organisms living in and on us through our lifetime—10 times the number of our own cells[i]. These organisms and their genetic material, influence all manner of human physiology – certainly not limited to protecting our gut lining, impacting our digestion and bowel function.

Adult humans carry up to two kilograms of microbes in our gastrointestinal tract (this is weightier than our brain!) [i], [ii]. Our own personal gut ‘microbiota’, or microbial community, is immensely diverse, is unique to us, and can fluctuate over time — especially during disease and early development.[iii]

Recent advances in genomic sequencing technologies and analysis are providing a broader understanding of these resident microbes, and the tremendous expansion of information collected in recent years is a result of data generated through large-scale endeavours such as the NIH-funded Human Microbiome Project HMP. Scientific interest in how the microbiome might be manipulated through diet, supplements and lifestyle to improve health and treat disease has exploded in recent years.

The gut flora has been shown to influence brain development[iv], behavior[v], mood, immune system development[vi], cancer risk[vii], and cardiovascular disease[viii], as well as many factors that influence body weight such as insulin production[ix], appetite, metabolism[x], inflammation, and more.

 The development of the gut microbiota

To mirror the million dollar debate of “Nature vs Nurture”, as it turns out, both genetic and environmental factors shape our unique gut microbiota. To start from the start, for decades, doctors were taught that the womb environment was sterile — that the amniotic sac, and the fluid that surrounded the baby, was a uniquely pristine environment devoid of any bacteria in order to protect the growing baby, which still doesn’t have a fully developed immune system. The conventional wisdom was that the baby’s first exposure to bacteria began during birth, from the mother’s birth canal, and continued through the infant’s skin-to-skin contact with mom and from its new environment.

But in recent years, scientists have been able to detect small amounts of bacteria in the amniotic fluid and in the placenta, and even in the foetus’ intestines, supporting the idea that the baby’s microbiome actually gets established far earlier than thought, in the womb.

The infant microbiome is particularly impressionable. A baby’s gut microbiota, for example, can be influenced by the style of delivery, by breastfeeding, by the introduction of solids, diet, and by antibiotics exposures – all of these factors plus more can have an impact on their immune expression and health outcomes. Scientists continue to explore the still-mysterious world of microbes in the developing child – watch this space.

Signs of an unhappy microbiota

Bloating, diarrhea, indigestion and food intolerances can all be caused by an imbalance between the beneficial and detrimental bacteria colonies. Factors that can interfere with healthy adult microbiome include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Chronic stress
  • A highly processed, high protein diet [xi]
  • High sugar intake, high refined carbohydrates[xii]
  • Preservatives in foods, such as sulphates and sulphites[xiii]
  • Oral contraceptive pill
  • Toxins of choice – alcohol[xiv] (alcohol produced a brief, but large increase in the microbe species that were pro-inflammatory, stimulating the immune system as if it were under attack and contributing to the general sick-feeling so typical of hangovers)
  • Some medications such as PPI’s prescribed for acid reflux.

All of the above contribute to an imbalance in favour of destructive bacteria. Once the thin mucous membrane has been penetrated by bacteria, and/or the contributing behaviour continues, a host of digestive disorders ensues.

 The more diverse our gut bacteria, the better

As they say, variety is the spice of life 😉 A diverse gut microbiome is a key to good health. And harbouring a healthy ecosystem results in good gut integrity and immune resilience.

Reduced microbial diversity is associated with an increased risk of allergies, obesity, insulin resistance, irritable bowel symptoms, inflammatory processes, and even chronic fatigue syndrome[xv].

Can we alter our gut microbiota?

Since the gut microbiome is influenced by the food we eat and the environment around us, it makes sense that there are ways to make it healthier.

We can protect and nurture our microbiome by using foods that establish and nourish a robust gut ecosystem. Foods known as prebiotics ‘fertilise’ the gut’s friendly microbes. Foods such as asparagus, artichoke, beans, garlic, leek, root vegetables, and other plant foods rich in fibre are prebiotics. Plant foods reign when it comes to keeping our internal communities strong. Enjoying towards five cups of a variety of vegetables daily not only promotes regular bowel movements, but also ensures a flourishing microbiome.

Limiting stress, and avoiding unnecessary use of pharmaceuticals is also critical to gut health. Use of a high quality, multi-strain probiotic after a course of antibiotics is a critical consideration to help you restore a healthy balance.

This is a very exciting time in the study of the microbiome. If this topic is of interest to you, and you feel you’d like some personalised support based on your unique circumstances, we at awaken your health are only a phone call away.

Tabitha x

In celebration of these complex ecological ‘communities’ that live within us, I would like to remind you that there are many people writing on this topic. Here are just a few resources that you may find interesting:

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 9.02.54 amEnders, Gulia. Gut – The Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ. 2014, Published by Scribe.



brain makerPerlmutter, David. Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain–for Life. 2015, Published by Yello Kite.



The Guardian – June 2015 – Why is my Hangover so bad?

NY Times – Dec 2015 – The Diet Myth,’ ‘The Good Gut’ and ‘The Hidden Half of Nature’

Huffington Post – Dec 2015 – Why your Gut Microbiome could hold the key to solving the Obesity epidemic


[i] Palmer, C., Bik, E. M., DiGiulio, D. B., Relman, D. A., & Brown, P. O. (2007). Development of the Human Infant Intestinal Microbiota. PLoS Biology, 5(7), e177.

[ii] Johnson, C. L., & Versalovic, J. (2012). The Human Microbiome and Its Potential Importance to Pediatrics. Pediatrics, 129(5), 950–960.

[iii] Catherine A. Lozupone C, et al. (2012) Diversity, stability and resilience of the human gut microbiota. Nature 489, 220–230.

[iv] Sampson TR, Mazmanian SK. Control of brain development, function, and behavior by the microbiome. Cell Host Microbe. 2015 May 13;17(5):565-76.

[v] Sampson TR, Mazmanian SK. Control of brain development, function, and behavior by the microbiome. Cell Host Microbe. 2015 May 13;17(5):565-76.

[vi] Kau, A. L., Ahern, P. P., et al. (2011). Human nutrition, the gut microbiome, and immune system: envisioning the future. Nature, 474(7351), 327–336.

[vii] Schwabe, R. F., & Jobin, C. (2013). The microbiome and cancer. Nature Reviews. Cancer, 13(11), 800–812.

[viii] Griffin JL, Wang X, Stanley E. Does our gut microbiome predict cardiovascular risk? A review of the evidence from metabolomics. Circ Cardiovasc Genet. 2015 Feb;8(1):187-91.

[ix] Okeke F, Roland BC, Mullin GE. The role of the gut microbiome in the pathogenesis and treatment of obesity. Glob Adv Health Med. 2014 May;3(3):44-57.

[x] Janssen AW, Kersten S. The role of the gut microbiota in metabolic health. FASEB J. 2015 Aug;29(8):3111-23.

[xi] S H Duncan, et al. Human colonic microbiota associated with diet, obesity and weight loss International Journal of Obesity (2008) 32, 1720–1724.

[xii] Hawrelak JA1, Myers SP. The causes of intestinal dysbiosis: a review. Altern Med Rev. 2004 Jun;9(2):180-97.

[xiii] Hawrelak JA1, Myers SP. The causes of intestinal dysbiosis: a review. Altern Med Rev. 2004 Jun;9(2):180-97.

[xiv] Bala S, Marcos M, Gattu A, Catalano D, Szabo G (2014) Acute Binge Drinking Increases Serum Endotoxin and Bacterial DNA Levels in Healthy Individuals. PLoS ONE 9(5): e96864. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096864

[xv] Ludovic Giloteaux, Julia K. Goodrich, et al. Reduced diversity and altered composition of the gut microbiome in individuals with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Microbiome20164:30

[i] Human Microbiome Project C A framework for human microbiome research. Nature. 2012 Jun 14;486(7402):215–21. PubMed PMID: 22699610. Pubmed Central PMCID: 3377744.



The Gut Microbiome & Good Digestive Health

microbiomeMicrobiome is a word more and more people are becoming familiar with in understanding the role it has on our gut and overall health. If you haven’t heard this term before, microbiome refers to the collective colonies of bacteria living in our digestive tracts. Good bacteria guard the integrity of the delicate mucous membranes and not so good bacteria can wreak all kinds of havoc.

Bloating, diarrhoea, indigestion and food intolerances can all be caused by an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria communities. Ever have brain fog? It could be the result of an overload of the bad guys!

 How does this happen and how can you protect yourself?

  • Antibiotics
  • Stress
  • Chlorine in tap water
  • High gluten and dairy consumption
  • Processed sugar intake
  • Lack of dietary fibre
  • High protein diets
  • Oral contraceptive pill

All of the above contribute to an imbalance in favour of destructive bacteria. Once the thin mucous membrane has been penetrated by bacteria, and/or the contributing behaviour continues, a host of digestive disorders ensues.

More and more, research is highlighting the link between the poor gut microbiome and chronic health conditions such as allergic reactions, skin conditions, chronic inflammatory conditions, obesity, and mental health conditions including depression and anxiety.

 What Helps Gut Microbiome Flourish?

  • Implementing stress-management into your daily routine is key for optimal digestion. Simple techniques include taking a small walk on your lunch break, 10-minute tea break, or switching off from technology for 20 minutes a day.
  • Prebiotic foods stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. Food sources include onions, garlic, leek, spring onion, whole grains, legumes, asparagus, cabbage.
  • Ensure you have 3-5 cups of a variety of vegetables daily to promote regular bowel movements, decrease inflammation and digestive discomfort. Plant foods provide food and nourishment for microbes to flourish. Eat the rainbow!
  • Take a high quality, multi-strain probiotic after a course of antibiotics. This restores a healthy balance of good bacteria that may have been depleted by antibiotics.

If this topic is of interest to you, and you feel you’d like some personalised support based on your unique circumstances, feel free to use the online system or contact us for more information.


The Gut Microbiome: How it affects your baby’s health


I recently had the pleasure of watching Dr Natasha Cambell McBride speak at the Conscious Club and the MINDD Forum in Sydney. For those of you who are not familiar with her work, Dr Natasha wrote the revered book, The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS).

Her book primarily focuses on the gut’s microbiome and how it profoundly affects our mental and physical health. Dr Natasha mainly works with children with autism and has had great success in improving and even reversing the condition in many of her patients. For more information please visit her website.


So, what is the gut microbiome?

The gut microbiome is the body’s residential bacteria that are primarily found in our large intestine—around 2kg of bacteria in total (see Catalyst for more information). Think of your large intestine as a hollow tube and the bacteria as a barrier or coating that lines the inside. As food passes through your intestine, this bacterial barrier has many functions. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Aiding in the breakdown of food, resulting in easily digestible and absorbed nutrients— this prevents larger, undigested food molecules from entering the blood stream that can result in inflammation and an immune response.
  • Synthesising nutrients including vitamin K, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, folic acid and various amino acids.
  • Protects the body from foreign pathogens and toxins by providing a physical barrier as well as producing various anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal substances.
  • Strengthens the intestinal barrier—The bacteria increases mucin in the gut, which provides a protective coating for intestinal cells. The bacteria also tighten the gap junctions between the cells in the large intestines and prevent conditions such as leaky gut.

Symptoms and disorders that can result from altered gut flora or dysbiosis include:

-Bloating                                         -Low Energy                          -Autism
-Constipation                                  -Anxiety                                 -ADHD
-Cramping                                       -Depression                          -Dyslexia
-Diarrhea                                         -Bipolar                                 -Eczema
-Food intolerances                          -Schizophrenia                     -Auto-immune conditions
-Poor immune function                                                                 -Recurrent infections

Why should I care about my gut health when trying to fall pregnant and how will it affect my child’s health?

As you can see, a healthy gut microbiome is very important. In fact, we cannot live without it! An unborn baby has a sterile gut in the mother’s womb. The moment the child passes through the mother’s birth canal, he or she ingests their first dose of bacteria from the canal, which will provide the foundation for the child’s gut microbiome. The child will continue to build and shape their gut flora through their food intake (breast milk/ formula) and environment. The first months of the child’s life are essential in creating a healthy gut microbiome, which will consequently impact their health for the rest of their lives.

It is therefore critical that the mother has a healthy gut flora as possible when giving birth, as this will get passed onto the infant. Furthermore, the repeated use of antibiotics, baby formulas, antibacterial soaps and cleaning products can alter the child’s gut flora and contribute to a dysbiotic state, potentially resulting in the conditions mentioned above.

Unfortunately, changing your gut flora is not as simple as taking a probiotic and once lost, some strains of bacteria may never return. This is why it is essential to get it right from the start!

What needs to be done?

Ideally, the mother and father need to address their gut health prior to the birth of their child. This may involve testing for parasites and other infections, investigating any food intolerances, determining if gut lining is damaged and reviewing diet and other environmental exposures that may be harming the gut microbiome.

Specific foods that are fantastic in promoting optimum gut health include:

· Bone broths
· Fermented vegetables
· Prebiotic rich foods: garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, asparagus, bananas
· Yoghurt
· Kefir
· Warming soups and stews

If you are planning on falling pregnant, are about to give birth or are experiencing any of the conditions mentioned above, be sure to book in for a consultation to address your gut health.

Wishing you all peace & happiness. 
Yours in good health,
Tabitha & Madeleine