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We Are What We Eat...

Bacteria and You

We have all heard it. It’s that voice inside your head saying “this is not going to shrink the ring around your midline...” as you reach for a donut. But do we listen to our pesky and judgmental inner voice? Consider that making changes to the way we feed our bodies, with particular emphasis on our gut, can have a tremendous impact on our overall quality of life. A holistic approach to wellness that includes diet, medical practices and cultural customs is paramount to living in a state of wellbeing. To this end, how can understanding the influences of gut bacteria inspire us to make positive cultural changes for our bodies?

We feed our bodies according to our social and society’s cultural influences, which may be, at least in part, contributing to our dietary troubles. Our goals have become the acquisition of bodies that are aesthetically perfect – a virtually unattainable state in an environment driven by a health market and its commodities promising physical flawlessness through inadequate products and alleged wellness protocols. Changing our customs to replace poor habits with nourishing ones can make a positive difference, and we may want to look deep into the body’s digestive system to get there.

The so-called “good” bacteria that make up part of the microbiome of the human gut, are formed by “good” eating habits – a combination of selecting the right foods with the right level of variety. This approach to eating feeds and cultivates diversities of bacteria within the gut and can be practiced by consuming such foods as bananas, kale, broccoli, blueberries, beans and fermented foods. That is, it takes a good diet to create, nourish and sustain a robust microbiome. Still, it is challenging to escape the excess “bad” food that surrounds us, such as processed foods.

Evidence has shown that what we feed our gut bacteria affects how efficiently our microbiome matures and diversifies into bacteria that help our bodies efficiently digest food and maintain a strong immune system. Two medical doctors, Franklin Tsai and Walter Coyle summarized numerous studies and confirmed that the “... microbiome affects metabolism, obesity, and health”. Consequently, these bacteria are instrumental in altering our likelihood to gain or lose weight. They also concluded that “Despite changes in diet, certain mixes of microbiota may protect us from excessive weight gain”. While we know a link exists between obesity and the human gut microbiome, studies with mice prove that certain bacteria are responsible for weight gain, while others are known to have a slimming effect. Fecal transplants (where the feces, along with its bacteria, from a thin subject is transplanted into a heavier subject to observe weight and other changes, and vice versa) primarily in mice, have yielded results that, as expected, reveal remarkable changes in body shape.

As much as it is important to feed and cultivate a microbiome that is diverse and encourages absorption of nutrients by our bodies, it is equally important to keep these “good” bacteria. Unnecessary use of antibiotics can clear your system of important bacteria that contribute to good health and immunity. Though antibiotics eliminate “bad”, and potentially dangerous, bacteria, they act as a ‘restart’ button for the gut, killing off “good” bacteria and potentially contributing to weight gain. One way to rebuild the flora in the gut is to use probiotics.

 

Medical influence on cultural practices has become a feature of our lives. Western society has turned to medical prescriptions as the only solution for many health and social concerns, an approach that demands caution and careful attention. As sociologist, Bryan Turner, stated “language of disease involves judgment as to what is desirable and undesirable, and the medical profession has in modern society enormous institutional purchase on what is to count as the good life.” A lifestyle that incorporates a mindful approach to diet for the gut can be viewed as a move toward preventative medicine. Our cultural attitudes toward medicine are slowly beginning to reconsider treatment in favour of prevention of injury, ailments, and disease. This cultural shift demonstrates that a fit body is a fit soul since one has to make a conscience decision toward a lifestyle that values health promotion.

Family, environment, age, genetic and dietary history, can also predict microbiome, health, and weight concerns. The genetic component to bacteria and weight can be the missing link to help clarify why, despite positive effort, our microbiome seems unsatisfied. From a cultural perspective, we live by certain traditions where family practices are entrenched in our values and in our microbiome. Families share meals and other genetic similarities such as similar gut bacteria.

The idea of caring more intentionally for our bodies needs to be prioritized over accommodating superficial and vain motivations. Since our body is an important element of who we are, societies need to demonstrate self-love and care. Many often wait for the inevitable so-called “wake-up call” to take action before caring for the body. We may simply need to take a moment to listen to our guts, and our bodies as a matter of moral virtue, simply because it is the right thing to do.

Thanks to the increased awareness of the relationship between our bodies and our lifestyles, we are beginning to realize there’s more to the question of weight and wellness than pure science. Rather, social sciences – and namely our views on diet, medicine, and culture – can encourage a restorative cultural shift in our minds and in our guts. Our social problems become our bodies’ problems and vice versa. Don’t wait for that call. Go with your gut and embody a culture shift that is reflective of a healthy you, with a happy gut. Though there is truth to the adage “we are what we eat”, more holistically, we are what we want our bodies to be.

 

Crystal Gayed, a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, is completing a master of communication, has worked in the field for a decade and is passionate about nutrition and wellness. crystal.gayed@gmail.com