“Just as the multitude of organisms residing within your body sustains you, so too does each and every individual influence the well-being of our planet. In a very real sense, you are an active member of the earth’s microbiome” – David Perlmutter, Brain Maker
Picture the most diverse rainforest in the world: the Amazon. Among the layers and layers of green canopies, live millions of diverse plants and animals. It is precisely this diversity that allows the rainforest to thrive and function.
Your gut microbiome, the microbe population living in your intestine, exists in the same way. It relies on diversity, so much so that many species of gut bacteria remain unknown. In fact, it has been estimated that at least 10,000 distinct species cohabit the human gut, although some experts argue that this number may exceed 35,000. The composition of your gut microbiome is shaped through time, and no two people have the same microbial composition. Your gut microbiome starts to form at birth and is constantly evolving depending on what you eat, where you live, who you’re spending time with, and what kind of lifestyle you lead.
There are a variety of ways to improve gut health. Spending time in the outdoors can influence your gut microbiome, as you’re exposed to immense amounts of bacteria present in nature that will diversify your microbiome.
The microorganisms present in soil support gut health and immune response. These soil-based organisms help plants grow by protecting plants from disease and malnourishment, and they play a similar role in the human body. Soil‐based organisms have been found, through research, to be successful in treating health conditions such as asthma, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.
Additionally, your gut microbiome is closely tied with your immune system, and these soil-based organisms can help regulate the immune system and naturally reduce inflammation in the gut and throughout the entire body. So not only can spending time outdoors improve the diversity of your gut microbiome, but it can also augment your general health and wellbeing.
Eating healthily can also improve the diversity of your gut microbiome. Two major ways to increase this diversity is through prebiotic and probiotic consumption. Prebiotics are indigestible chemicals that, when eaten, pass through the digestive system and act as food for the microbiota. Some common food sources of prebiotics are garlic, onion, leek, asparagus, and chicory root. Probiotics are live microorganisms that have a beneficial effect when applied to a host. Some common food sources of probiotics are active-culture yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods. While some of these foods are more difficult to bring camping, there are still several foods that are easy and great for your gut when camping.
Some examples include:
Nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews) & seeds (flaxseed, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds)
- Try making your own trail mix with some of these ingredients & dark chocolate!
- Dark chocolate contains polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants shown to have many health benefits.
Rice and Quinoa
- Try instant or quick-cook rice and quinoa to speed up cooking times while camping!
Leafy greens, bell peppers, cucumber, tomato, zucchini, squash, asparagus, onion
- Try sautéeing these vegetables in olive oil and garlic, and serving them with rice or quinoa.
- Garlic is full of natural prebiotics and olive oil is a healthy fat!
Avocado with olive oil, salt & pepper.
Coffee and black or green tea
- Besides dark chocolate, these plant-derived beverages are great sources of polyphenols.
Exercise is another way to improve the diversity of your gut microbiome. Aerobic exercise brings significant positive changes to gut microbes and improves their functionality. So not only will spending time outdoors improve the diversity of your gut microbiota, but so will hiking and trail running.
While spending time outdoors can improve the diversity of microbes in one’s gut, it is important to always play it safe when drinking water from nature! Not all water sources are unsafe, but even what appears to be an entirely clean source can make you sick. There are many water filters and purifiers on the market, but generally, water filters are better for your gut microbes than the chemicals you can add to purify the water. This is true even when you’re not camping, as filtered water is much better for you than tap water, which is full of gut-busting chemicals like chlorine. Additionally, boiling water in the outdoors is always an easy and safe practice, it just may take longer than one wants.
Our relationship with the outdoors is closely tied to our relationship with our gut microbes. When camping, it is important that we leave the land better than we found it. This principle highlights the level of care, respect, and awareness we should bring to our interaction with nature. We should bring this same level of awareness to our gut. While outside, with this principle in mind, we are helping to preserve the diversity of the natural ecosystem.
Through eating, exercising and camping, we are working to improve our general health, and helping to improve the diversity of our gut microbiome. Our gut microbiome and nature are interconnected, and if we work to leave it better, we will care for both our wellbeing and the wellbeing of the planet.