A Bootcamp Routine for Your Microbiome
The average lifespan of many of your gut microbes is a mere 20 minutes. That’s about as long as it takes to watch an episode of Girls without commercials, do a sheet mask, or give your kale salad a super thorough deep-tissue massage.
A study from the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy found that even your shortest-lived gut bacteria are extremely sensitive to changes in diet and lifestyle. Basically: the things you eat, think and do every moment of every day can have a serious impact on the health of your gut (which, as we’re increasingly learning, is linked to your overall health). But it also means you don’t have long to ensure your microbes are being properly cared for before they die off, never having had the chance to reproduce.
We talked to two of our go-to experts on all things microbiome—Dr. Robynne Chutkan and Dr. Robin Berzin—for the lowdown on your worst habits and how to swap them for ones that will help your internal garden flourish...all within those precious 20 minutes.
7-Step Microbiome Bootcamp
1) The bad: Starting your day with a sugary, over-processed breakfast.
Why? Cereal is a lie, people. The box may make all kinds of claims about the fiber, protein and whole grain levels, but really, most breakfast cereals are highly processed and packed with sugar (which encourages all the wrong kinds of gut bugs to flourish—bad bacteria love sugar). Oh, and a note on the whole yogurt thing: while you might hear “gut bacteria” and think about all the live, active cultures in your daily Fage, the fact is, dairy (especially cow’s milk dairy) is highly inflammatory.
BOOTCAMP: Start your day on a high note with a balanced breakfast composed of whole, plant-based foods. Some of our favorites: A green superfood smoothie; gluten-free overnight oats with raw nut butter, chia seeds and fresh fruit; the Sakara Superfood Sweet Potato Bowl.
2) The bad: Getting in a lunch rut with the same non-organic, GMO-laden processed deli meat sandwich every day.
Why? As we already mentioned, processed, genetically modified and non-organic foods have been shown to disrupt healthy microbiota. And that sandwich? It doesn’t contain any sustenance for your poor gut microbes! Instead, feed them what they really want…colorful produce, plant-based fiber and leafy greens. That last one is especially important (and not just because WE’RE obsessed with greens); a study found that green veggies have a particular type of natural sugar that healthy bacteria love.
BOOTCAMP: Make a microbiome-loving super-salad! Start with a bed of your favorite leafy greens and top with veggies that provide inulin, a kind of indigestible plant fiber that provides fuel for your microbiome. Suggestions: asparagus, carrots, artichokes, beans, chickpeas, lentils, cabbage, onions. Bonus points if you add raw sauerkraut, kimchi or tempeh for some fermented, gut-flora-diversifying goodness. And even more bonus points if you top it all off with a Superfood Salad Dressing...
3) The bad: Obsessively washing your hands, fearing dirt like the plague and slathering yourself with antibacterial sanitizer.
Why? Triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals aren’t selective in their killing off of bacteria…meaning they knock out the bad and the good.
BOOTCAMP: Choose nontoxic products whenever possible, and don’t be afraid of a little dirt. “Expose yourself to the natural world,” Dr. Chutkan says. “Spend lots of time outside, open your windows, have a plant in each room of your house, and get dirty…literally!” She also recommends referring to the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” database for guidance on safe cleaning and personal hygiene products.
4) The bad: Popping Advil like candy and running to the doctor for antibiotics every time you get the sniffles.
Why? Dr. Chutkan cites the overuse of antibiotics and NSAID painkillers as causing a lot of our microbial woes. “We’re killing off our microbes with unnecessary antibiotics, and then starving the ones that remain by not feeding them the right stuff,” she explains.
BOOTCAMP: For a headache, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water (and eating hydrating fresh produce), and up the ante with healing, anti-inflammatory superherbs like turmeric, which can be added to smoothies, elixirs and food. And remember that antibiotics won’t cure the common cold (it’s a virus, after all). Your doctor might be willing to prescribe you one just to keep you happy, but it’s doing more harm than good.
5) The bad: Saying “yes way, rose” …way too often.
Why? Sure, it’s fermented, but alcohol can kill off the healthy bacteria in your gut. Studies have shown that heavy drinkers have a lower proportion of healthy gut bacteria.
BOOTCAMP: Dr. Chutkan advises no more than five drinks per week for women and 10 for men. For a mocktail that’s almost as good as the real thing, try kombucha…fizzy, fruity and, thanks to the active cultures, good for your gut.
6) The bad: Staying up too late binging on Bravo reality shows (#noshame).
Why? Not only is sufficient sleep essential for overall health, but research suggests that when your circadian rhythms are out of whack, it can disrupt your gut flora. Plus, sleep deprivation sets off a domino effect of wellness issues (including poor diet, stress and weight gain), all of which can cause your microbiome harm.
BOOTCAMP: Aim for at least seven hours of shuteye per night, advises Dr. Chutkan. Yes, that might mean going to bed a little earlier. Can’t fall asleep? Try some of our favorite nocturnal wind-down rituals: Epsom salt baths, soothing essential oils (like lavender) and meditation.
7) The bad: Stressing about your to-do list, your inbox, your bills, your weight, your relationship…
Why? Take it from Dr. Berzin: “Your brain can’t lie to your belly. When you’re stressed out, your microbiome knows it first, and it handles it badly. Stress interferes with digestion and can drive yeast overgrowth and inflammation in the gut, which damages beneficial bacteria.”
BOOTCAMP: As Dr. Berzin puts it, “Find the things that center you and do them daily.” Whatever that means to you—yoga, running, meditation, journaling, spending time with loved ones—make it a priority. And remember that food is medicine—adaptogens like ashwagandha, rhodiola, reishi and cordyceps are great for soothing the adrenals and calming your overtaxed fight-or-flight response.