Did you know that there are more microbes in our bodies than our own cells? As strange as it sounds, it’s true, and the implications of it are very interesting. It is one of the most exciting new areas of study in human health today. A growing body of evidence suggests that this microbiota affects our immunity, metabolism, mood, and long term health. So what can we do to make it work in our favor?

There is no escape from microbes. Even though the vast majority resides in our colon, we are literally covered in them. Instead of trying to fight them, we live in symbiosis—a very important co-existence. Diverse and robust microbiota seems to correlate with a lower risk of modern diseases, better body weight, and good mental health.

Unfortunately, our modern civilized world is not a great place to maintain a healthy gut with a thriving microbiota. What are the things that negatively affect our closest living neighbors the most?

1. Natural birth and breast feeding. If we miss either of those, there is a high chance for allergies, asthma, and digestive issues later in life. Early development is crucial.

2. Antibiotics. They are literally microbe killers. Research shows that repeated antibiotic use can wipe out some bacterial strains for good. We have to try and use antibiotics only when it is truly unavoidable and if that is the case, we have to make an effort to compensate.

3. Excessive hygiene. There is a theory suggesting that our overly sterile environment and lack of contact with nature and animals can have negative effects on our microbe diversity. So start gardening, get a dog and climb a tree now and again.

How can we improve the state of our microbiota?

Most importantly, we have to feed the microbes that are beneficial for us. We should think of food not only in terms of energy for our bodies but also as nourishment for bacteria. They can temporarily live off the mucosal layer of our gut lining, but that can be dangerous. We need this layer as a protection so that our immunity does not overreact and our gut does not become too permeable. So, how to best feed the bacteria?

1. Dietary fiber – Fermentable dietary fiber is the preferred fuel for our gut bacteria. Getting enough of it daily from fruits and vegetables of various kinds is essential.

2. Fermented foods – These foods introduce new beneficial bacterial strains to our digestive tract. Find your favorites and eat them regularly. Good options are pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi and home-made yogurt or kefir.

3. Processed carbohydrates – These feed unwanted bacteria and fungi that compete for space with our microbiota. So avoid them as much as you possibly can.