Top 10 New Year’s Microbiome Resolutions

Top 10 New Year’s Microbiome Resolutions

People have been making New Year’s Resolutions for some 4000 years, since ancient Babylonians made annual promises to return things they had borrowed and pay back their debts. With history that long behind resolutions, who are we to argue? We’re embracing New Year’s Resolutions and have come up with some resolutions that will benefit our microbiomes.

#1. Increase Fiber Intake

Dietary fiber (also known as ‘roughage’) has long been known to have health benefits, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.1,2 Yet 95% of Americans are deficient in dietary fiber.3 Dietary fiber also feeds our microbiome. A study at University of California, Irvine, showed that just two weeks of adding dietary fiber to the diet can increase the growth of microbes that break down fiber (Bifidobacteria, Bacteroides, and Prevotella).4 In this study, participants worked their way up to 40 g of fiber a day.

We plan to increase our fiber with foods. Some of our favorites? Avocados, bananas, chili (beans), artichokes, and macadamia nuts!

#2. Eat More Plant-Based Foods

Let’s go beyond fiber and increase the number of plant-based foods we eat each week. We love a study that came out of the American Gut Project.5 In this study, researchers were looking at factors that increase the diversity of the microbes in someone’s microbiome, also called “alpha diversity.” Higher alpha diversity is associated with many different health outcomes, including lower blood glucose, lower HbA1C, lower trigycerides, lower LDL, etc.6 The researchers at the American Gut Project discovered that eating 30 or more different plant-based foods per week led to increased alpha diversity.5 Note, that study didn’t say 30 servings, it said 30 different plant-based foods per week.

Incorporating 30 plant-based foods into our weekly menu is a worthy goal. More soups, smoothies, and stir-fry please.

#3. Snuggle Your Pet

Pets are good for our soul… and our microbiome. Our pets have a different set of microbes than we do, but over time living with our fuzzy friends, we start sharing microbial species with them.7 Moreover, pet owners have lower incidence of allergies and atopic disease.8 A recent study out of Wisconsin showed that Akkermansia muciniphila was greater in pet owners.9 This is an interesting finding because previous studies have shown that pet ownership can reduce risk of metabolic disease,10 as has Akkermansia!11

Sounds like plenty of reasons to stop reading this blog in order to give your pet a good scratch!

#4. Stop with the Excess Hand Sanitizer

The past 21 months have addicted many of us to cleanliness. While hand sanitizer may promote feelings of calm and security during a pandemic, it can be toxic in high doses.12 We’ve started killing off our normal healthy microbiota with hand sanitizer. In fact, the CDC has now done studies that show soap and water are just as effective as hand sanitizer in killing most viruses, and more effective than hand sanitizer for other viruses.13 While hand sanitizer may be good at killing bacteria, soap and water is more effective for viruses. Good to know, right?

If we have to give up something for New Year’s, let it be hand sanitizer.

#5. Garden. Get Dirty. Garden.

Repairing those over-sanitized hands by getting them into microbes is the next goal. And a great source of microbes is soil. A clever program that get kids into nature demonstrated that playing in dirt not only positively impacts their microbiomes, it also reduces their perceived stress and aggressive behavior and increases their serotonin (happiness).14 Adults are no different. Soil is a great source of microbes15, and (short of a mudbath) gardening is a positive way to build relationships with those microbes.

We’ll be planting vegetables to help with resolution’s 1 & 2. Look at that! We can achieve 3 resolutions at a time! Maybe “efficiency” can go on our resolution list next year!

#6. Go Organic

Many pesticides are designed to kill the microbes associated with plants. When we eat those pesticides, they kill our microbes too. If we’re going to do things to improve the health of our microbes, we should also plan not to kill all of our new plump and robust microbes. Exposure to one of the most common pesticides, glyphosate, has many negative health outcomes including Celiac’s disease and infertility.16

The Environmental Working Group has a great recommendation list when it comes to which foods to buy organic, and which are less of risk to eat conventionally. For most of the foods we peel, conventional is fine. Whereas, if we eat the skin, we may want to eat an organic version. Whenever possible, we will buy organic this year.

#7. Move Your Body

Exercise is good for our microbiome.17 That shouldn’t be a surprise. Movement is good for just about every system in our bodies. Endurance exercise may decrease intestinal permeability, and healthier intestinal barrier is important for GI health and food hypersensitivities. Moderate endurance exercise increases alpha diversity – which is associated with a healthy immune system and overall health.17 A 4-day cross country ski march performed by soldiers demonstrated changes in the abundance of greater than 50% of microbial genera.18 This same skiing trip decreased inflammation.

We can’t get away for 4 days of cross-country skiing and probably wouldn’t be upright by the end. But we can make a commitment to moving every day, every single day. Ski, run, walk, snowshoe, skate, head to the gym – mix it up a little. Just make sure you move every day.

#8. Spice Things Up in the Kitchen

Do you cook at home? Adding spices to our food feeds our microbiome. Many spices are prebiotics,19 meaning they can selectively contribute to the growth of particular microbial species. Some of our favorite spices, like cinnamon and ginger, are prebiotics. If you like spicy foods, you’ll be happy to know that black pepper and cayenne can both stimulate gut microbes.

We’ll be adding cinnamon to our oatmeal and more cayenne to our chili, rosemary and sage to our chicken soup, and basil and oregano to our pasta sauce.

#9. Fermentation is Fun… and Healthy

Live foods have microbes in them. These foods are natural synbiotics (a live microbe + a food that feeds it). We are surrounded by live foods but may not realize it. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, natto, miso, kombucha – all are live or fermented foods. Live foods have an advantage. The bacteria in the food can eat the ingredients and then produce metabolites that our own cells or microbiome can use for health.20 Some fermented foods have been shown to improve gut health.

We’re committing to drinking a bottle of kombucha once a week. Maybe a few years from now, we’ll make our own kombucha, but right now, that seems a little out of reach.

#10. Express Gratitude

The gut and the brain are connected in a bidirectional way. Happiness, love, and gratitude is good for our gut. While social stress, anxiety, and depression can give us an upset stomach, positive emotions have the opposite effect. Our positive mental state is communicated through the vagus nerve to the gut which reduces inflammation; reduced inflammation then encourages beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria to grow.21,22

A gratitude journal is a great way to start recognizing all you’re grateful for. Start the tradition of saying three things you’re grateful for before you go to sleep, or start each day by thanking the universe, nature, your family. Put a reminder on your calendar to send an email or text message to someone you appreciate every month.

We intend to do all of these and are starting now. We are grateful to you, our readers. Thank you for taking the time to join us in celebrating all things microbiome and the New Year!

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