Fermentation part 5: Yes, Your Microbiome can be Changed Dramatically Even After Childhood


One of the things that has never felt right to me, is the fact that most microbiologist have stated that the microbiome is fixed in humans by age 3 – 5 years old; not to be changed after that time. This is another one of those areas where science pretends it knows everything on a subject, just to be corrected several years later.

I can remember several incidences in my life when there was a dramatic change in my gut flora within a few hours. Being a person that has always liked adventure, especially in exotic foods in my extensive travels; I remember many times of waking up in the hotel in the middle of the night realizing that I shouldn’t have eaten that local delicacy that caused no problem to the indigenous people. I remember one incidence in Hong Kong where I had to miss my plane for two days as I was too sick to move, only to remember the local remedy after 2 days that got me on my way again. How many people have found themselves in similar situation in Mexico or other tropical destinations?  I often consume certain botanical remedies to prevent this in various parts of the world.

Our knowledge of the human microbiome is still in its very infancy. Until a few years ago, we didn’t even have a reasonable understanding about the number of diverse organisms involved in the gut.  The consensus was that there were about 500 different microorganisms in our gut, but when the American Gut Project was released in 2014, we found out there were over 1000 species. In this thousand, several of the most prominent ones (3 out of the top 5) hadn’t even been named.

We now know there is a great diversity of organisms and they can change dramatically with the use of certain drugs, foods and lifestyle issues. In fact, it is sensible to consider it as a dynamic relationship with several factors influencing each other in an ecological dance called life.

It has been shown that eating junk food for as short as 48 hours can alter the microbiome.

A study just released, the Flemish Gut Flora Project (FGFP), looked at the microbiome of more than 1000 adults from Belgium and found very little difference from people delivered via caesarean or length of time they were breastfed.

This is quite different results than what was expected and what was generally considered to be true among microbiologists and the medical community just a week ago. This doesn’t mean that early-life events don’t have any influence on the microorganism, it is just more changeable than once thought.

Other studies released in the same Science journal on Thursday confirmed that the use of certain pharmaceuticals reduced the diversity of the microbiome more than a lack of breastfeed or caesarean delivery. Top on the list of drugs were of course antibiotics, metformin, statins, laxatives and particularly proton-pump inhibitors.

Other indicators of lowering diversity included snacking on lots of foods high in dairy, fats and carbohydrates, and drinking sugar-sweetened soda. However, those who drank wine, coffee or tea had richer populations of gut microbes.

The bottom line (pun intended) is that diversity of micro-organisms is good for a healthy life. I am quite supportive of taking probiotics to enhance this, as well as supplementing them with prebiotics to help them grow. But nothing seems to be as beneficial and as diverse as eating fermented foods in small amounts on a regular basis.

In my next Blog I will include one of my favorite recipes for Kim Chi from our fermentation course to assist you start this process.