Your body hosts an extraordinary living ecosystem consisting of trillions of bacteria and other microbes. This is your microbiome.
It starts to form before you’re born and matures around your third birthday, but its composition constantly fluctuates depending on your lifestyle and age. Many external factors affect the diversity of your microbiome, which can influence your overall health.
A balanced diet filled with fibre and fresh, unprocessed food is a great way to support a healthy microbiome. Fibre-rich foods nourish your bacterial friends and help them reproduce.
Our hectic 21st century Western lifestyle can affect our microbiome health. Stress lowers numbers of beneficial Lactobacillus bacteria. Processed and low-fibre foods alter our gut microbiota, as does a lack of exercise.
Antibiotics are an effective treatment for bacterial infections because they limit numbers of harmful bacteria that make us sick. Although they help us to fight off the infection-causing bacteria, they can also modify the beneficial bacteria in our gut.
As you get older, your microbiome begins to lose its diversity, especially beyond the age of 70. Different species begin to dominate and there is a general decline in beneficial micro-organisms.
The microbiome changes as you change. And that’s empowering because, as you make healthier lifestyle choices, you can help to support a healthier microbiome.
Cultured foods like yoghurt, kimchi, kombucha and sourdough bread are particularly good sources of living micro-organisms that help to maintain the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut.