If you ask an herbalist, they will be sure to tell you that what you put into your body matters, and that digestion is the root of great health. Research suggests that there are over 38 trillion living bacteria organisms, making up a whole ecosystem within our body called the microbiome. We are in some sense more microbiome than we are human, which is to say, we have a greater number of microbes living inside us than we have human genes. Only recently have researchers turned their attention to the intricate microbial relationships at play in our bodies and how our microbiomes affect our moods, skin, and overall health.
A healthy gut has always been one of traditional herbal medicine’s top priorities and is a foundation for great digestion, glowing skin, and a strong, healthy immune system.
Today, having digestive upset or an unbalanced gut is considered almost normal, and is often overlooked. A lack of education within our food system and lack of access to nutritional advice leads to years of diets containing processed foods and loads of sugar; there is also the over-prescription of antibiotics (which kill harmful bacteria, but also the good) to contend with. These recurring situations leave us with all sorts of imbalances in our bodies and show up in ways other than just digestive upset.
Science is also beginning to study the unique relationship that our gut has with neurotransmitters—the chemical messages in the brain like GABA, serotonin, or dopamine—that can influence mood.
Feeding and supporting the gut and its bacteria is age-old knowledge that now has the backing of science, and should be at the forefront of our wellness rituals! Happy bacteria = happy and healthy humans.
Ways to support your microbiome this spring:
Take your bitters!
It’s all about nutrient absorption when it comes to feeding the microbiome. You need to be able to absorb and utilize all those essential nutrients. Adding bitters to your everyday routine is one of the best ways to optimize your digestion before and after meals. Bitter formulas are the easiest way to make this happen as you can take them with you anywhere. Bitters support gut health by balancing the secretion of stomach acid and the release of bile, both of which are responsible for the breakdown of food and the absorption of fats and essential nutrients.
Loading up on bitter and warming foods and spices like ginger, dandelion greens, burdock root, arugula, kale, and dark chocolate will all supply a healthy dose of bitterness into your diet.
Bitters have a balancing effect on appetite and as such help keep normal blood sugar levels, by supporting us to have healthy responses to sugar craving and crashes.
We were made to experience the bitter flavor. We have a vast number of receptors in our body that detect the bitter flavor, and it’s not just in our mouths! Our entire digestive tract, including liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are found to have bitter receptors, along with other places you would never think of—like the lungs and sinuses. This means that our bodies evolved to taste those flavors, allowing our digestive system to do its own innate work of absorbing nutrients from the food we eat.
The long and the short of it is that bitters are an essential support to gut health and everyone should be making them a priority. As we like to say at Urban Moonshine “The bitter, the better!”
Eat the right foods:
Your microbiome responds and thrives off of what you feed it. When our diets are balanced, it thrives in a healthy environment and can do its best work—to keep you in an optimum state of wellbeing. Balance is eating a rainbow assortment of foods like fresh vegetables, grains, fruits, pasture raised eggs and meats, wild caught fish, with the occasional dessert here and there. It’s not about restricting and binging; it’s about balance!
Cut back on sugar and processed foods
Foods that are substantially void of nutrients and complex flavors do not feed the microbiome a diet it needs to thrive. Refined carbohydrates and sugar get absorbed quickly into your bloodstream and small intestine and leave the microbiome hungry.
Eat fermented foods
Biodiversity in the gut depends on thousands of strains of bacteria. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kefir, yogurt (raw), raw apple cider vinegar and kombucha are rich with living cultures that feed our guts with healthy bacteria. Also, the process of fermenting food breaks down proteins, making them more easily digestible and less likely to cause digestive upset.
There are so many microbes in our soil; we should allow for them to make ways into our lives. Get your hands on the earth and produce a garden- the benefits are plenty! Feed the soil with healthy compost that it is fertile and rich with living organisms that then end up in our food. Move away from the idea that everything should be sterile. Dirt is healthy, and in return offers us a stronger immune system and gut.
This spring, as we tend to our external gardens and ecosystems, remember that there is a vibrant ecosystem inside of us waiting to be tended to.
Try introducing a few of these practices this spring, and see how your body flourishes.