The new year always inspires change and growth. Your health and wellness goals for 2018 might include altering your diet, exercising more, or practicing stress management. Regardless of your objective, your efforts will prove fruitless if you neglect one crucial component of your health: your microbiome. The health of our microbiome is foundational to every other aspect of our health. An imbalanced microbiome will deprive you of the mental energy and physical capacity to fulfill your goals for 2018. As part of our organic Hawaii lifestyle, the Gingerhill community embraces several practices that promote a healthy microbiome.
The human microbiome is comprised of the 100 trillion microorganisms that reside both on and in our bodies. These bacteria and yeasts are critical to a vast array of bodily functions. Imbalances in healthy gut flora resulting from antibiotic use, stress, or poor diet dramatically impact the health of our bodies and our minds.
Dr. Raphael Kellman, author of “The Microbiome Diet,” refers to the microbiome as our “partner in healing.” Indeed, a healthy microbial balance is crucial to the proper functioning of our detoxification, endocrine, and immune systems. Good bacteria aid the elimination of toxins and waste from the digestive tract, strengthening our immunity and facilitating detoxification. Thus, a healthy microbiome is critical to maintaining the body’s ability to ward off disease and suppress the oxidative effects of free radical damage. Our gut microbes also break down and promote the absorption of essential nutrients, like B vitamins and short chain fatty acids, that are critical to our immunity and vitality. Healthy gut flora even suppress the proliferation of cancer cells.
Even more surprisingly, our gut microbiology just might be the crux upon which our metabolic system depends. Good bacteria help to regulate our adrenal glands, balancing our hormones and thus enabling the body to stabilize at a healthy weight. They are also critical to gastrointestinal functions, like the proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, that in turn enable the metabolism to function at full capacity.
Gut dysbiosis is a condition in which bad bacteria proliferate to outnumber healthy bacteria. This disequilibrium damages the mucus membranes that line our digestive tracts. As the membranes of the GI tract become porous, food particles and toxins begin to travel into the blood stream, pushing the immune system into overdrive and causing inflammation-induced diseases. Unfortunately, modern living features processed food, chronic stress, and reliance on antibiotics, which create the conditions for gut dysbiosis. In fact, gut dysbiosis causes some of the most common medical concerns, including food intolerances, skin issues, joint pain, and congestion. Poor gut health may even be among the primary causes of many serious ailments, including autoimmune complications, obesity, endocrine disorders, and neurological conditions.
Our “Second Brain”
Scientists often refer to the human microbiome as our “second brain.” The health of our microbiome is critical not only to our physical health, but to our psychological health as well. A healthy gut stabilizes moods and energy and sharpens cognition. Poor gut health, on the other hand, contributes to anxiety, depression, addiction, and a myriad of other psychological conditions.
Scientists do not yet fully understand the connection between intestinal microbiology and psychological health. What they do know is that gut dysbiosis generates inflammation. When our Enteric Nervous Systems alerts the Central Nervous System to this inflammatory reaction, we experience psychological distress.
Studies have also found that gut flora impact our moods by directly affecting our bodies’ production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes positive moods, calmness, and sound sleep. Low serotonin levels therefore trigger anxiety and depression. In fact, the most popular class of antidepressants, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s), increase the amount of serotonin available for transmission in the brain.
However, 90% of our serotonin is produced not in the brain, but in the digestive tract. Digestive distress can disturb the transmission of serotonin and negatively impact mood, energy, and sleep. Ironically, SSRI’s and other antidepressants have been shown to disturb our intestinal microbiology. Thus, the very drugs that we’re prescribed for anxiety and depression may actually be exacerbating these conditions.
Organic Hawaii Living for a Healthy Microbiome
Because the microbiome is essential to so many bodily systems, maintaining healthy gut flora should be our first line of defense against inflammation and disease. Luckily for the Gingerhill community, living on an organic Hawaii farm makes possible a host of essential practices for promoting a positive microbial balance.
-Eating Fermented Foods:
Fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha, kraut, and kimchi contain healthy bacteria that suppress the proliferation of detrimental microbes. Eating fermented foods on a regular basis is therefore crucial for overall health. At Gingerhill, we use our organic Hawaii cabbage and daikon to make our own kimchi. We also ferment organic Hawaii noni to create a probiotic noni tonic.
The late 20th century witnessed the rapid proliferation of antibiotic use. While antibiotics are necessary for treating critical infections, they are typically used excessively and unnecessarily. Doctors are quick to prescribe antibiotics for mild conditions, often before even confirming that those conditions are bacterial instead of viral.
In order to prevent serious infections requiring antibiotic treatment, we utilize naturally antiseptic foods and plants. Coconut oil, garlic, and honey are ingestible and topical antiseptics that prevent infection and promote a positive microbial balance. Tea tree oil is a highly effective topical antiseptic, but must be diluted and should never be ingested. At Gingerhill, we use our own organic Hawaii turmeric as an internal and topical antiseptic and anti-inflammatory to prevent infection.
Foregoing antibiotic prescriptions may not be enough to protect your microbiome from their pervasive effects. Conventionally-raised meat is treated with antibiotics that, when ingested, upset our microbial environment. At Gingerhill, we source our meat carefully and eat our own organic Hawaii eggs and pork to protect both our guts and the planet.
You probably know that eating organic protects you from exposure to toxic pesticides and herbicides. Lesser known is the impact that going organic can have on your microbiome. Organic, untreated soil boasts a far broader range of healthy bacteria than soil treated with toxic compounds. Eating organic produce transfers these healthy bacteria from the soil into our digestive tracts. Furthermore, organic produce provides the healthy fiber that feeds the good bacteria in our guts. At Gingerhill, we grow a wide array of organic Hawaii fruits and vegetables to create elegant and gut-friendly farm-to-table meals.
Studies show that chronic stress can seriously disturb healthy intestinal flora. In our day and age, that’s bad news; long work weeks, lack of exercise, poor diet, excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption, and constant electronic use are all conducive to elevated stress hormones. Introducing probiotics to remedy stress-induced microflora imbalances can be beneficial, but the most effective treatments address the ailment at its source. At Gingerhill, we practice stress management techniques as integral facets of our everyday lifestyle. Yoga, meditation, exercise, time outdoors, a healthy diet, and relaxing with friends are among the cortisol-busting practices that we employ to preserve healthy bacteria in our guts.