Yellow stone is a national park in the united states. In the 1930’s the Gray wolf was considered a pest, a problem. The solution to this problem was government predator control programmes that eliminated the wolf from the park. The gray wolf was the main predator of the yellow stone deer. When the wolf was removed the deer population exploded. The deers consumed all the vegetation such as aspen, cotton and willow plants. The trees and plants provided both food and shelter for other wild life in the park such as the song bird. The yellow stone beaver relied on willow as a food source to survive winter. The lack of willow reduced the beaver population. Less beavers resulted in less beaver dams. Beaver dams affect the flow of rivers. Beaver dams also provide habitats for other wildlife such as otters, birds and fish. The removal of one species, the wolf, affected the entire ecosystem. In the 1990’s the gray wolf was introduced back into the park. Balance was restored.
The message of the gray wolf and yellow stone park is that ecosystems are complex and sensitive to change. If we disrupt them it can cause an imbalance. This imbalance can seriously affect the health of the life in that ecosystem.
Another name for ecosystem is a biome. A Biome is biological community of living organisms that coexist in a shared physical environment. For example, the animals and plants in yellow stone park. A micro-biome is an ecosystem but it is on a much smaller scale.
The micro-biome is a complex world of microbes that live in our gut. There are reported to be over 500 different species of bacteria, fungi and viruses that make up this micro-ecosystem. Two of the most dominant species of bacteria are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. The majority of microbes live in our large intestine. Smaller populations reside in the lower end of our small intestine. The micro-biome has 3 times more cells than human cells in your body.
What is the relationship between us, the host and our micro-biome?
- Some microorganisms offer no benefit (free ride)
- Some microorganisms offer mutual benefits (These are considered friendly or beneficial bacteria)
What are the mutual benefits of friendly bacteria in your gut?
- 70% of our immune system is reported reside in our gut. Good bacteria play a role in the development and regulation of the immune system within the gut. They help develop a healthy immune response.
- Good bacteria support our health: Friendly bacteria breakdown undigested food. This may result in the release of vitamins, minerals, calories and the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA are used by gut cells as a fuel source and are thought to play a key role in bowel health and anti-inflammatory
- Protection: In the womb we live in a sterile environment. Our first exposure to bacteria is our mother, usually the birth canal. In our gut we have a layer of cells, mucus and bacteria. These bacteria like their home. Like any good home owner they protect it from outside invaders. The good bacteria protect us from external microbes that enter our body via our mouth. Secondly they suppress potential bad bacteria that may live in our gut. Good bacteria do this by physical exclusion of bad bacteria, competition for food, regulation of gut pH and the production of anti-microbial compounds such as hydrogen peroxide. Good bacteria create an environment that is unsuitable for bacteria to flourish.
If one species of bacteria or yeast is allowed to over grow it can affect the balance of the micro-biome. An imbalanced micro-biome is reported to play a significant role in a number of health conditions. Such as chronic indigestion, bloating, IBS, heart burn/Reflux, Crohns disease, ulcerative colitis, bowel cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions. Scientists are currently exploring the relationship between our micro-biome and disease.
What can disturb the balance of your gut micro-biome?
- Medications such as broad antibiotics can disrupt your micro-biome.
My mother’s passion is gardening, she has green fingers. Her back garden is her little piece of Eden, filled with a variety of trees, flowers and plants. In one little section of the garden she has a vegetable garden. Where she grows lettuce, carrots, courgettes, herbs and some fruits. A few years ago a weed, fools parsley started to overgrow in her vegetable garden. Her solution was to spray a weed killer/herbicide to kill this overgrowth. However, this weed killer also affected the vegetables. However, it did not affect another weed, creeping buttercup. This created an environment that allowed charlock to over grow.
Broad spectrum antibiotics can kill both good and bacteria. This can allow microbes who are not affected or are resistant to thrive
- Your diet can influence what microbes thrive. This can affect the balance of your micro-biome. For example, a high sugar, processed food, low fibre. high protein, high fat. (Yellow stone park when the plants reduced, reduced species and others thrived)
I am going to give you 3 simple tools that will help you have a happy, healthy, balanced gut micro-biome
- Reduce your intake of sugary processed foods such as refined carbohydrates as they may contribute to micro-biome imbalance in the bowel.
- Increase your intake of dietary fibre. Dietary fibre is a major food source for the friendly bacteria such as Bifidobacteria. Bifidobacteria are thought to play a significant role in gut health. This includes the production of the SCFA butrate. Your bowel cells loves butrate as a source of fuel. You can increase your fibre intake by consuming more fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods.
- Eat foods regularly that contain friendly bacteria such a live yoghurt. Live bacteria in yoghurt helps create an environment that will good bacteria to flourish. Remember when the gray wolf was reintroduced back into yellow stone park and they helped changed the ecosystem. The regular consumption of fermented foods that contain live bacteria is the same thing. Many cultures consume fermented foods.
In conclusion: The gut micro-biome is sensitive to change like yellow stone park and the gray wolf. You can help support a healthy biome by the regular consumption of high fibre foods and live food such as yoghurt