Unlocking the Secrets of the Microbiome: A Path to Health and Resilience

In today's world, chronic diseases and health issues are affecting people at younger ages than ever before. Dr. James Kinross, a renowned consultant surgeon and clinical senior lecturer at Imperial College London, has observed a disturbing trend of patients in their thirties with bowel cancer visiting his clinic.

It appears that millennials face a four-fold higher risk of developing bowel cancer compared to previous generations. Additionally, food allergies have increased by 50% in the past decade, disproportionately affecting young individuals.

These alarming health risks, along with the rise in immunological conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis, highlight the urgent need to understand and nurture our microbiome.

The Microbiome: A Hidden World

The human microbiome, consisting of viruses, bacteria, and other microbes, primarily resides in our gut but also extends to our skin and organs. Our microbiome impacts every aspect of our health, including brain function, mood, fertility, weight gain, susceptibility to illness and allergies, response to cancer treatment, and even aging.

Unfortunately, modern medicine often neglects the significance of the microbiome, operating on outdated principles that view all microbes as harmful. Consequently, the importance of gut health remains confined to the realms of a niche middle-class wellness trend.

The Abusive Relationship: Industrialization and Lifestyle

Over the past two centuries, our lifestyle choices and the effects of industrialization have severely damaged our once-thriving microbiome. Dr. Kinross describes this as an "internal climate crisis." Antibiotics, now pervasive in our environment, have disrupted microbial diversity, even after a short course.

Furthermore, our society has developed a reliance on medications, with trillions of doses being administered globally each year. Combined with a homogenous, westernized diet, urban living, isolation, lack of exercise, pollutants, plastic exposure, and various other factors, our microbiome suffers. This decimation of our inner ecosystem has led to a dramatic increase in chronic diseases, such as obesity, Alzheimer's, and non-infectious pandemics.

The Microbiome: A Unifying Theory of Chronic Disease

Understanding the microbiome is crucial to comprehending the rising rates of asthma, allergies, and autoimmune diseases. Our microbiome acts as a middleman between our environment and our immune system, shaping the development and regulation of our immune responses.

Loss or mutation of the beneficial bacteria in our gut compromises the immune system's ability to distinguish between friend and foe, leading to uncontrolled inflammation and susceptibility to chronic diseases. This dysregulation of both the innate and adaptive immune systems is a driving force behind the epidemic of obesity and metabolic dysfunction affecting millions.

Maternal Microbiome and Future Generations

The maternal microbiome plays a vital role in shaping the baby's developing immune system during gestation. If the maternal microbiome fails to effectively educate the baby's immune system, it becomes more vulnerable to environmental factors and struggles to process them adequately.

Generational depletion of the maternal microbiome, coupled with hyper-globalization and cultural shifts, has created a profound disruption in younger generations' microbiomes. This disruption contributes to their increased susceptibility to chronic diseases like bowel cancer.

 The Nutritional Exchange Study

 A study conducted on African-American men and rural South Africans highlighted the profound impact of fibre on the microbiome. African-American men, known to have the highest rates of bowel cancer among ethnic populations, and rural South Africans, who follow a traditional lifestyle and consume up to 50g of fibre daily, participated in a dietary exchange experiment.

The results were striking: after just two weeks of swapping diets, the gut of the American participants became significantly less inflamed, while the gut of the South African participants became more inflamed. This demonstrates the potential to quickly alter cancer risk by making substantial changes in nutrition, such as increasing fibre intake.

Interestingly, the composition of gut bacteria in the men did not change significantly. However, there were notable transformations in how these bacteria functioned. They began activating the cellular processes necessary to metabolize fibre, leading to metabolic consequences that positively influenced their health.

This study underscores the importance of dietary fibre in modulating the microbiome and its potential to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including bowel cancer. By incorporating fibre-rich foods into our diets, we can support the beneficial functions of our gut bacteria and promote better overall health.

 Reclaiming Health and Resilience: Building a Resilient Microbiome

 While the challenges seem overwhelming, there is hope. Safeguarding the maternal and childhood microbiome should be a primary focus for preventing chronic diseases from infancy. However, it is never too late to start improving gut health. To make our microbiome more resilient, try to implement the following strategies :

  1. Pragmatic personal hygiene: Maintain good hand hygiene to prevent pathogen transmission, but avoid obsessive cleanliness as it disrupts the natural ecosystem. Exposure to pets, outdoor activities, and indoor plants can contribute to a diverse and healthy microbiome.
  1. Optimal diet: Adopt a Mediterranean diet - high in fibre and low in animal fat, animal protein, salt, and refined sugars. Consuming an additional 7g of fibre per day can significantly reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, stroke, and cancer. Aim for the recommended daily intake of 30g of fibre and a diverse range of 30 different plant foods a week to support a healthy microbiome.
  1. Include fermented foods: Kefir in particular is a beneficial addition as it contains a high dose of bacteria as well as the sugars and metabolites that they produce. Try it for eight weeks. If you experience bloating, discomfort and it’s not making you feel better, stop; if it is, keep going.
  1. Prebiotic fibres: Consume foods rich in prebiotic fibres that are broken down and digested by bacteria, producing short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids serve as fuel for gut cells and possess anti-inflammatory properties. Inulin in particular is a great source of soluble prebiotic fibre found in many fruits, vegetables and herbs including artichokes, leeks, onion, garlic and asparagus.
  1. Intermittent fasting: Implement intermittent fasting as a means of regulating microbial populations and reducing inflammation.
  1. Exercise: Regular exercise positively influences the microbiome and its ability to metabolize food. Engaging in physical activity consistently produces more dramatic and sustained changes in microbial biodiversity.
  1. Supporting mental and physical health: Essentially anything that benefits your mental and physical health will also serve your microbiome well. Socialise and interact often with friends, family and others.

Understanding and nurturing our microbiome is crucial for achieving optimal health and resilience. The devastating rise in chronic diseases, such as bowel cancer, obesity, and allergies among millennials, indicates the urgent need to prioritize microbiome health. By adopting strategies like maintaining hygiene without obsession, adopting a fibre-rich diet, considering prebiotic fibres or supplements, practicing intermittent fasting, and engaging in regular exercise, we can begin to restore and support our microbiome. With these efforts, we can enhance our overall well-being, prevent chronic diseases, and pave the way for healthier future generations.



"Dark Matter — The New Science of the Microbiome" - Dr. James Kinross.