Recently I heard about a fantastic company called Ubiome – a US-based company that provide kits to enable you to have your gut microbiota analysed. The gut microbiota refers to the population of bacteria that reside in your intestines.
We now know that the bacteria that live inside us outnumber our own human cells by 10 to 1, including at least 1000 different species of known bacteria. One third of our gut microbiota is common to most people, while two thirds are specific to each one of us. Microbes perform essential functions such as digesting food and synthesizing vitamins. Studies have also linked the microbiome to human mood and behavior, as well as gut health, human development, and metabolic disorders.
More and more research is showing that all manner of modern diseases and health problems are related to the gut, specifically gut dysbiosis, and that healthy individuals have very different profiles of gut bacteria compared to people suffering from chronic illnesses.
Ubiome send you a sample kit, which contains everything you need to swab and submit your microbiome. You can sample 5 body areas (mouth, ears, nose, gut, or genitals) but for me to begin with the most interesting area is the gut. I have just received my first kit (August 2015) so I will update once I get my first set of results. My plan is to take a sample and then in 4-6 weeks take a second sample after adjusting some things in my diet.
What does a healthy gut microbiota look like?
This is impossible to say as everyone is so individual and I don’t believe we yet know for sure. I have recently spent a lot of time reading the two blogs of Grace Liu (The Gut Institute and Animal Pharm), which contain a vast amount of information on gut health and the gut microbiota. According to Grace, there are several strains of bacteria that she calls the Ancestral Core Microbiota:
- Bifidobacteria longum
Clostridia cluster IV
- F. prausnitzii
- Ruminococcous bromii
Clostridia cluster XIVa
- Roseburia intestinalis
- Eubacteria rectale
- Bacteroides vulgatus
- Alistipes putredinis
- Akkermansia muciniphila
I am fascinated to see whether my sample will contain any of these strains and to try and work out what it means if it doesn’t! I have never suffered from any major health problems, the only thing I have is seasonal hayfever. I am allergic to tree pollen, but also seem to cross-react with certain fruits and nuts. If I eat almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts or pecans, uncooked apples, pears, plums and most berries I get hayfever type symptoms as well as an itchy mouth and throat. The hayfever and the problem with certain fruits & nuts only started in my early-twenties (I am now 34) and I believe probably correlates with a time when I spent 4 years commuting 3+ hours a day, 6 days a week and ate pretty badly (my breakfast for most of this period was milky coffees plus pastries!) I know now that I don’t tolerate milk well, and I also generally avoid gluten these days. Not then! On top of this, like a lot of people, in my early-twenties I drank a LOT of alcohol at weekends and always spent Sundays with a hangover. I also took the contraceptive pill for 10+ years, until 2010. I haven’t taken a lot of antibiotics but have definitely taken a few courses for throat and chest infections over the years (although none for at least 5 years now). All of these things can have a detrimental effect on the gut, not to mention stress and environmental pollution. When I think about it I am surprised I don’t suffer from more health problems!
Over the last 5 years and since becoming more interested in nutrition, my diet has improved. After a phase lasting about a year eating a low carb diet (also perhaps not the best for our gut bacteria) I started to eat more real foods and less processed foods (following a Weston A. Price Foundation type diet). I have been eating mostly paleo for around 2 years now. However, after reading about an optimal diet for gut health I think my diet is probably lacking in the type of fibre that best feeds beneficial bacteria (more on that here).
For about a year I have regularly been drinking raw (unpasteurised) kefir, which I buy from Plaw Hatch Farm in East Sussex. It’s made from full-fat, organic milk from grass-fed cows. This should be an excellent source of probiotic bacteria and beneficial yeasts. I also eat sauerkraut reasonably regularly. I have recently taken a 6-day course of Elixa Probiotic so I will be interested to see if any of the 9 strains in the product show up in my sample. Throughout July I have also been taking a brand of probiotics called Equlibrium. After eating really well for most of July, I have just spent a week on holiday in France eating copious amounts of croissants, French bread and French cheese! No idea what effect this will have had on my gut bacteria though…I will update this post as soon as I get my first Ubiome results back so watch this space.