Nourish Your Microbiome to Fight Cancer

The newest approach to staying healthy and disease free is to eat and drink for a healthier microbiome.  What is a microbiome? Your unique microbiome is a diverse community of bacteria and other microorganisms that camp out in your body, especially in the lower intestine-the “gut.”  These microbes have their own DNA, considered our second genome. They make up an extensive network that plays a huge role in preventing and managing cancer and other diseases. The gut bacteria alone is often referred to as a separate organ.  It performs more metabolic processes than any other organ, including your liver. The trillions of beneficial bacteria are being studied extensively to determine specific pathways by which they interact with the cancer process, from training the immune system to calming inflammation, and regulating tumor growth.  (Emerging Roles of the Gut Microbiome in Cancer, S. Bultman). Gut bacteria can even determine the efficacy of certain chemo treatments. (The Metabolic Approach to Cancer, N. Winters). The past few decades have witnessed an explosion of studies and data validating the role and importance of this mighty microbiome and its connection to cancer, obesity and even depression.  Apparently, the microbes in your body can partially determine how happy or sad you are. According to the British Medical Journal (May 20, 2019), anxiety may be alleviated by regulating gut bacteria.

There are approximately 3 pounds of individual microbes in your body, about the same as your brain.  Not all of these guys are beneficial-some are good, some are benign while others are outright nasty and have the potential to cause harm.  The good guys, the beneficial bacteria, are the unsung heroes doing an impressive amount of metabolic work for us. They support food digestion and nutrient absorption.  They synthesize B vitamins and vitamin K. They activate or biotransform our food into useful nutrients needed to support all our 70 trillion cells. They break down fiber into nutrients such as butyrate that not only nourish colon cells but act as cell signaling molecules that keep cells regulated.

Newer stool tests can now determine an individual’s microbiome, which can be used in early prediction and prevention of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some autoimmune diseases and even certain cancers.  

Goal-A more diverse microbiome.

According to leading researcher, Dr Datis Kharrazian, the more diverse your microbiome, the greater your health, the lower your risk for many diseases.

Many factors impact the make-up and diversity of the microbiome.  What you eat and drink and how you live your life- exercise, stress levels, medications all help determine the populations of bacteria in your gut and other areas.

Top Steps to a Healthier, More Diverse Microbiome

  1. Eat mostly whole plants.  As author Michael Pollan says, “Eat plants, not foods made in plants.” Plant foods are rich in fiber-favorite food of the beneficial gut bacteria. The gut bacteria munch down fiber to make healthy promoting and protective nutrients for us.
  2. Enjoy animal foods in smaller amounts. Emphasize organic animal foods that are free of antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill off good bacteria, upsetting microbial balance.  Animal foods do not have fiber. Excess animal foods have been associated with a higher risk for heart disease and some cancers.
  3. Enjoy a diversified amount of plant foods- different kinds of vegetables-(leafy, crunchy, starchy), whole grains (wild rice, quinoa, oats), beans, nuts, seeds, fruit, herbs, spices. Visit a farmers market to learn what is in season. Avoid the diet rut of eating the same foods every day. Diversity of plant foods is key to  a health promoting diet.
  4. Add in prebiotic foods-foods with special types of starch and fiber that are favorites of the gut bacteria.   These include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, sunchokes, bananas, beans, lentils, dandelion greens, chicory.
  5. Limit sugar intake-sugar feeds bad bacteria and yeast that crowd out good bacteria.
  6. Load up on foods with special nutrients called polyphenols-berries, cherries, pomegranates, green tea-they stimulate growth of beneficial bacteria.
  7. Add in cultured (fermented) foods to your daily diet.  These include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kim chi, fermented vegetables. Enjoy with meals, as a side or condiment. These foods provide a daily source of beneficial bacteria.  For thousands of years, humans have been consuming cultured foods to promote health and balance. Studies validate that populations that regularly consume cultured foods and a plant rich diet lead longer, healthier lives.
  8. Practice stress management.  Find what works-walking, dancing, yoga and do it often.  Stress hormones negatively affect the gut microbiome community.

Article by Nancy Birang, a board-certified nutritionist specializing in integrative cancer care. Nancy has worked as a nutrition instructor at Bauman College of Nutrition and Culinary Arts and provides instruction on the benefits of diet, lifestyle, herbs and supplements to manage health challenges, including cancer. She has also completed the professional Clinical Training Program in Cancer Therapies, from the Mederi Foundation in Ashland, Oregon.

Nancy will be presenting, “Nutritional Strategies to Manage and Prevent Cancer,” at the Wellness Within Sacramento Retreat later this month.

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