How Our Microbiome Changes With The Seasons
Our intestinal microbiome - the bacteria that live in our gut - is not a static entity. In fact, just as we go about our daily lives within an evolving, dynamic, and interrelated environment, our gut bacteria does, too. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of studies that demonstrate a link between our intestinal microflora and specific diseases. These studies are based on the simple idea that no system in our body works independently but, rather, all of these complex systems are connected and influence each other. For example, a case of persistent eczema can be an indicator of dysbiosis in the gut.1
If we take this connection a step further, we are now starting to recognize that beyond the organs and systems in the body, external factors such as what you eat, the animals you’re exposed to, the social interactions you have, the weather you experience, the work-life balance you maintain, and even changes in the seasons can also have an effect on your microbiome.2
Recent research on the microbiomes of hunter-gatherers has shown a strong connection between the fluctuation of their microbiome composition and the natural changing of the season.
The Gut-Season Connection
The study was done on the gut microbiomes of the Hadza people of Tanzania, one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer tribes in the world. Through this longitudinal research study, which spanned a little over one calendar year, findings showed that the gut population and composition of the Hadza tribe members varied and changed through the year. Specifically, the data showed cyclic reconfiguration of the microflora with some bacteria returning in subsequent seasons.3 Specifically, Actinobacteria increases in winter: these microbes are associated with processing fat, and with a decreased content of fibre in food.
In the summer Bacteroidetes were more abundant: this group of bacteria contain complex carbohydrate digesters, which may be at work in processing fresh fruit and vegetables.4 The idea that some bacteria are only present during a season confirms the beliefs that our bodies naturally change and adapt with weather and temperature fluctuations (people who live in colder climates have different microbial compositions than those who live in warmer climates).
Furthermore, when researchers compared these microflora to those typically present in the guts of today’s modern western individuals, it was found that the specific microbes that reduced in number within the Hadzas’ guts during winter months were actually even lower and often non-existent in those occurring in modern, urban Americans. The concept of waxing and waning microbes is rare (and doesn’t really happen) in today’s culture. It’s believed that our modern industrialized world has played an enormous role on the state of our gut.5
Specific Known Exposures That Influence Microbiome
It is true that broad-scale changes to the typical Western lifestyle have changed our gut microbiomes when compared to those of hunter-gatherer populations, or those with different cultural backgrounds or even living in different climates. That said, there are specific exposures known to influence and impact our microbiome populations that come along with the changing of the season.
1. Changes to diet
It’s no secret that our diets tend to change with the season. Warmer months bring fresh fruits and vegetables; winter months bring grains, frozen and root vegetables. Climates that trend warmer year-round versus cooler also influence the way that one group of people may eat versus the other. We now know that the mix of microflora present in our gut is a direct result of these types of seasonal foods that we’re eating. Researchers have found seasonal shifts in overall bacteria with specific bacteria increasing in winter and others in summer months.
2. Outdoor exposure
In today’s society, people are spending much more of their days inside versus out. This lifestyle has flipped from the historical norm, and our bodies have changed and adapted as a result. Statistics show that the more time you spend outside, the lower your stress levels, the greater your exercise levels and vitamin D exposure, and the more likely you are to report being generally happier. And, not insignificantly, you will also have a happier gut as all of these systems are connected. In general, spending time outdoors and in nature increases the diversity of your gut flora both by reducing overall stress and by exposing you to lots of different bacteria.5
Believe it or not, dirt has a diverse microbiome just like you. And now that it’s springtime and you’re ready to plant those vegetable and flower gardens, you’ll be happy to hear that working in the dirt can have a positive influence for your gut, increasing your microbial diversity. Working with dirt, whether planting or playing, has been linked to more robust immune systems and lower rates of allergies and depression.6
On the other hand, pesticides and fertilizers also play with your microbiome but in a negative way. Our gut bacteria are sensitive to the glyphosates present in these materials, which may wipe them out or change the overall makeup in your gut.
How to Seasonally Support Your Gut
1. Get Outdoors
As mentioned above, getting outside changes the makeup of your gut in a positive way. Time spent outdoors will expose your gut to seasonal microbes, boost your immune system, and reverse stress levels (which can negatively impact gut health).
2. Eat Seasonally & Organically
When possible, it’s always better to eat both seasonally and organically. There are so many reasons to support your local farmer’s markets and to buy seasonally through the grocery store and now here’s another. Foods that are forced to develop outside of their season typically have lower levels of nutrients and higher levels of substances that can damage your gut wall.5 Additionally, herbicides and pesticides used in non-organic farming practices can be damaging to your microflora.
3. Support with both pre and probiotic supplements
Finally, including daily pre and probiotic-rich foods as well as frequent boost through a probiotic supplement are all ways to support your microbiome throughout the seasons consistently. Prebiotic fibre, from foods such as asparagus, leeks, banana, and chicory, specifically feed the good bacteria in the gut, especially those that struggle or disappear with western lifestyle stressors. Probiotic supplement like drinkable Bio-K+ is the easiest way to give your gut a little boost and ensure that it’s getting what it needs. Bio-K+ is an effective and clinically proven set of probiotics that can help replenish and restore gut flora as well as maintain it.
Your gut is one of the most important yet also one of the most easily overlooked components of your overall well-being. And, just like you see variability in your own mood, energy level, appetite, motivation, etc. due to the changing of the seasons, your microbiome experiences seasonal fluctuations as well. There are many steps you can take to mitigate these fluctuations and make sure you have a healthy, fully-functioning, optimized intestinal microbiome 365 days a year, no matter what season it is!
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