Most westerners go through life in a state of chronic low-level inflammation, and disease is considered a normal part of life in the modern world. While the apparent “cleanliness” of the western lifestyle removes rare pathogens, it also promotes a dysfunctional gut flora and increased intestinal permeability in many individuals. Most of our immune system is located in the gut, and the gut is also the main interface between us and the external environment.
Hunter-gatherer populations and “non-westernized” societies have been mostly free from disease, and research shows that an “ancestral” lifestyle is anti-inflammatory and consistent with a properly functioning gut. While most of us aren’t going to move into the wild to mimic the paleolithic way of life, we can still get most of the benefits by making some changes to our modern lifestyle.
Our ancestors routinely came in contact with microorganisms through food with clinging soil/dirt, “unprocessed” water, fermented foods, hands, birth/breastfeeding, other humans, animals etc. Most paleolithic and non-westernized populations also had a diverse intake of vegetables and fruits that provided the needed soluble fiber (prebiotics) for the gut flora.
The “clean” western lifestyle
Our water supply is closely monitored and filtrated, and the modern food system is characterized by monocultures, harsh chemicals and a general belief that “bacteria are bad”. Modern food production leads to an “altered” microbial ecosystem, and when the food eventually reaches our plate, most of the clinging microorganisms are gone due to cleaning and heating.
While fermented foods are still eaten regularly in a lot of westernized countries, there’s only a minority left who still eat quality fermented foods. Rather than using quality foods with naturally clinging microbes needed in the fermentation process, the “modern” approach is to take commercially produced cow’s milk, reduce the fat content, pasteurize it to remove bacteria and then add some isolated bacterial cultures to aid fermentation.
Regularly cleaning everything around us (including ourselves) with various chemicals reduces our exposure to new strains of bacteria from hands, uncleaned surfaces etc.
Contact with other humans and animals is an important source of new microbial flora, and it seems that health is contagious. Poor health goes hand in hand with “poor” microbiota, which is shared through human contact. E.g., when a child picks up flora from a mother with type 2 diabetes during birth, breastfeeding and infancy, it predisposes the child to that conditions.
If health is contagious, which it seems to be, it’s likely that individuals with conditions closely linked to dysfunctional gut flora (e.g., obesity, overweight, diabetes, IBS) are able to spread “poor flora” to other humans. It remains to be seen to which extent microbes from other humans and animals are able to alter adult gut flora.
- Get high quality drinking water
- Choose organic, grass-fed and unprocessed paleolithic foods
- Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits to supply gut flora with soluble fiber
- Buy produce at the farmers market or from other quality sites.
- Don’t be afraid of dirt/soil clinging to vegetables, berries, mushrooms, spices/herbs etc.
- Eat some plants raw
- Eat a variety of high quality fermented foods
- Hygiene and cleaning
- Avoid harsh chemicals and man-made products
- Avoid excessive hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers
- Children should be allowed to play, get dirty and pick up microorganisms, both inside and outside
- Gardening, contact with soil etc. should be considered beneficial
- Birth, breastfeeding and infancy
- Avoid cesarean section if possible
- A newborn child should be breastfed, and it’s best to avoid formula
- Kissing, chewing the child’s food etc. will provide the newborn with new microbial strains
- Contact with humans and animals
- Contact with healthy humans and animals is a possible source of gut microorganisms
- Health is contagious – be healthy not just for yourself, but for your partner, children, future children etc.
- Supplements and pharmaceuticals
- Avoid pharmaceuticals, especially antibiotics, if possible
- Probiotic- and prebiotic supplements can be used, but other “natural” sources of microorganisms are preferred