It might sound ridiculous when we have spent months wearing face masks and slathering alcohol gel on our skin, to say that germs might actually be beneficial for our health but that is exactly what I’m saying – go with me on this.
The external and internal surfaces of our bodies are teaming with trillions of the blighters…but don’t worry.- it’s a good thing! The exact numbers and combination of bacteria, viruses and fungi we kindly (albeit unwittingly) accommodate are as unique to each of us as our fingerprints. Referred to in medicine as commensal microorganisms, these microscopic cling-ons perform important functions our own cells can’t; fight off harmful bugs that might cause infection and produce hormones which can influence our health, mood and behaviour.
What’s so special about gut bugs?
The microbial flora in our guts, often referred to as the microbiome, is increasingly being considered as an organ in its own right. In recent years, scientific research has revealed that our gastrointestinal tract, far from being merely a place where food and water is absorbed, has many other talents. It acts as a kind of sensory organ, detecting information about our environment via what we put into our mouths and priming our immune systems to help it fight infections and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
How do the bugs get there?
Babies born naturally benefit from the exposure to the organisms in their mother’s birth canal; they take up residence on the newborn’s skin and gut lining. Breast-feeding nourishes those in the gut and this early healthy microbiome supports the infant’s immune system in those first vulnerable months of life and reduces the long term risk of chronic disorders such as asthma and obesity, compared with babies born by Caesarean section, whose gut bacteria differ significantly. But however we came into the world, we can influence our gut microbiome for better or worse with our diet and lifestyle choices. Think of your gut and skin like a garden, needing to be fed, watered and nurtured to encourage a favourable and diverse range of flora.
My 10 top tips to help cultivate health-friendly bugs
Our commensal micro-organisms are an important part of us – we need them to survive. If we nourish them, they can help us live healthy, happy lives; so let’s treat them as friends and try to give them what they need – they will repay us in kind.
Love Julia x
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