Our gut microbial communities are a a reflection of the encounters we, and therefore they, experience. One’s microbiota begins growing during the fetal stage of development and reaches its full potential between ages 2 and 5. However, that is not to say that it indefinitely remains the same. Products such as antibiotics, probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics work to alter one’s microbiota by either stimulating growth, introducing new microbes, or killing off others. There are also other choices involving food consumption that may alter our microbiotas as well.
One unintentional choice I sometimes make is skipping meals. Sometimes I get too busy or tired and do not have time to eat. When this happens, not only am I withholding food from myself, but I am also withholding food from my microbes. Our microbes live off the foods we put into our bodies, and if we aren’t eating, neither are they. Lack of a food source could stop colonization. This could be extremely detrimental during stages where microbes are just beginning colonization. If their food source is cut off, they will not be able to reach the exponential growth phase to quickly build their colony.
An intentional choice that affects my microbiota is the foods I eat. As it was mentioned in the lectures, foods such as starches or fermented dishes like yogurt or kimchi are typically good for growing microbiotas. Starches provide a food source for the microbes. This aids in colonization by provision of a food source. Fermented dishes are often fermented by microbes, so consumption of these products directly introduces microbes into the gut. If the microbes used to ferment the foods are different than the microbes within my microbiota, then eating those foods will increase diversity of my microbiota.
Diversity is important since microbes produce natural antibiotics that protect against themselves and in turn, our bodies as a whole. The more species of microbes you have, the more types of resistance to pathogens you can develop. However, if the microbes in the foods are not compatible with the microbes already in our guts, there is a chance they will be viewed as pathogenic by our current microbes. These new microbes will then be expunged.