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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

Nourishing Our MICROBIOME

Sep 02, 2016 05:54PM ● By Sarah Axtell

Dr. Sarah Axtell

We have 10 times more bacterial cells in our body than we have human cells. These microorganisms cover us from head to toe and are major players in our current and future state of health. Many people fear bacteria, and this results in the overuse of oral antibiotics, antibiotic soaps and salves, and hand sanitizers. However, we must consider that some of these bugs are not detrimental to life—rather, they are fundamental to it.

We have a complex internal ecology composed of microorganisms and their genetic code that thrives within us. This is termed the microbiome. We are finding that the DNA of our gut bacteria may have a much greater impact on our health than our own DNA. This naturally occurring community of flora is the foundation of all life on Earth.

An imbalance of bacteria occurs when the bad bacteria (pathogenic) outweighs the good bugs in a person’s system, and this appears to be happening more frequently. The good news is that we can heal and nourish our microbiome through what we eat and our environment.

Eat a diet rich in fiber, particularly vegetables rich in prebiotics (which are not the same as probiotics). Prebiotics are a nondigestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria. Prebiotic-rich foods include chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onion, leek and jicama. While these foods can be beneficial for most, individuals with bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine will need to avoid them until the condition has been addressed.

Eat fermented foods that contain live cultures, such as certain yogurts, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh and pickled vegetables. Eat organic, non-GMO foods to avoid glyphosate exposure. Probiotics can be helpful, but not all probiotic supplements are created equally. Always look for a probiotic that requires refrigeration and has at least 10 billion organisms per capsule. Probiotics with a diverse array of strains are best, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium bifidum.

Avoid excess sugar and artificial sweeteners. Studies show how the gut bacteria of people that regularly consume artificial sweeteners look different from the gut bacteria of those that do not. Avoiding gluten is also helpful. This protein found in wheat, barley and rye is inflammatory to the gut lining, thus contributing to a dysfunctional microbiome.

To help determine the state of our microbiome (i.e., types of bacteria, presence of parasites and level of inflammation in the gut), a comprehensive stool analysis can be helpful. Most functional practitioners, such as naturopathic doctors, routinely order these tests and can interpret them to address any imbalances. They can also give advice on the best way to nourish the microbiome.

Risk Factors for a Dysfunctional Microbiome

by Sarah Axtell

■ C-section birth. Babies are inoculated with good bacteria as they pass through the birth canal. Babies born via C-section miss out on this inoculation.
■ Formula feeding instead of breast feeding.
■ Frequent antibiotic use, defined as at least once every two to three years from birth.
■ Medications such as antacids, steroids (prednisone), NSAIDs and antibiotics.
■ Excessive consumption of sugar, gluten and artificial sweeteners.
■ Drinking tap water, which often contains chlorine.
■ Hormone therapies such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy.
■ Eating GMO foods. These can contain glyphosate, a harmful herbicide that kills beneficial bacteria.
■ Topical antibacterial products, such as antibacterial soaps, salves or sanitizers.
■ Stress
■ Low-fiber diet

Roles of our Microbiome

by Sarah Axtell

■ Digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Detoxification. When good bacteria in the gut are decreased, the workload on the liver—the primary detoxification organ—is increased.
■ Immune support. Approximately 80 percent of the immune system is located in the gut. An imbalance in gut flora can increase the risk for autoimmune diseases.
■ Mood. Ninety percent of serotonin (the “happy” neurotransmitter) is produced and stored in the gut. Anxiety, autism and depression have been linked to a dysfunctional microbiome.
■ Weight management.
■ Stress management. Gut flora has a profound effect on the endocrine system.
■ Controlling whole body inflammation. Persistent inflammation increases the risk for obesity, diabetes, cancer, asthma, arthritis, heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
■ Physical barrier. The microbiome protects the body from harmful invaders such as pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites. When this is out of balance, the result is “leaky gut syndrome”.

Naturopathic Doctor Sarah Axtell provides health and wellness services for the whole family. Her focus is hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, gastrointestinal disorders, anxiety and weight loss. She is passionate about using food as medicine with her patients. Her private practice, Lakeside Natural Medicine, is located at 4433 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood. For more information, call 414-939-8748 or visit

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