Today we’re going to talk about what I think is one of the next frontiers in our understanding of the human body and how we comprehend our health which is our microbiota, but let me clear something up to begin with –
The microbiota is the 100 trillion bacteria that live within our gut and sort of function symbiotically with us.
The microbiome technically refers to all of the genetic material within that microbiota.
The medical community and scientists are just beginning to get a broader and better understanding of how the microbiota influences our health. It includes everything from working synergistically with our immune system to an impact on our metabolism. This includes influencing things like whether or not we are over weight. Although the research and our understanding is not complete yet, it is very, very intriguing.
To give you an example, we do know that when a woman gets pregnant her microbiota shifts, her gut flora as we might refer to it, the bacteria inside of her gut, shifts such that she absorbs more calories from the foods that she eats. Why is that? Because she eats extra calories to support the fetus growing inside of her. So for some women, who might have put some weight on while they were pregnant, and as I have heard many times in my practice, had difficulty loosing the weight after the pregnancy, sometimes even years later, perhaps that microbiota never shifted back to a healthy state. This is where some of the research is going.
What we do know, is that having a healthy gut flora, a healthy balance of bacteria in the stomach is one of the keys to being healthier overall.
We’ve prepared some foods to show you the types of nutrients that will support a healthy microbiota.
Some of the things that can effect the microbiota in a negative way –
- Medications like antibiotics and over the counter drugs like Motrin
- Poor sleep can effect the microbiota
- Drinking water that’s chlorinated
- Processed foods and foods that contain chemicals, like artificial coloring
- The overconsumption of alcohol
Foods and nutrients that have a positive effect on the microbiota include
- Vegetables with plenty of fiber
- Fermented foods like Kimchi (Korean marinated cabbage)
One of the things we’ve tried is a Dandelion green salad. Dandelion is a natural diuretic and it has a lot of fiber. But we still don’t know exactly what to do, to get our microbiota back into a healthy state. We do know that diet has an important impact. Some nutrients have a pre-biotic effect, like garlic, which helps bacteria grow and to thrive. There are also probiotics in supplement forms that you can take.
One of the drinks my wife Laurice loves is Fire Cider, which is an apple cider vingar that has turmeric, pepper, onions and oranges. The great thing about products like these is that although we don’t have proof that they actually do anything for the microbiota, they aren’t going to do any harm.
The challenge is, there isn’t going to be any company that is going to spend the money on a big study to prove the benefits.
Everything that I have been writing and talking about is experimentation and I encourage you along your wellness journey to try new foods, exercise and methods as you become an expert on your health.
In a hyper-connected era, sensory-deprivation float tanks are rising again in popularity.
I went to check out Glow Spa here in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina where they offer something called R.E.S.T. (restricted environmental stimulation technique). Using a floatation tank can decrease stress, anxiety, pain and actually improve your sleep quality, but I have to say I was a little bit anxious about trying it because I have a bit of claustrophobia. I know this because of what happened when I had to get in an MRI machine once. But, out of curiosity and the desire for a better night’s rest, I decided to check it out.
I met with Steve Eppel, the owner and expert on flotation tank therapy who explained that I would be floating in their float tanks for 60 minutes, in 10 inches of water with 1,100 pounds of Epson salt, heated to 93.5 degrees. He assured me that it would be a very relaxing and peaceful experience. Steve explained that it’s really about doing “nothing” and I was going to get the chance to do 100% nothing for one hour.
Then Steve said something that really struck a cord with me.
“It takes extra effort to do something for ourselves because we are really good at giving our time to everyone else, but it’s hard to give to ourselves.”
I think that resonates with most of us.
Now, the float tanks at Glow Spa are 8 feet tall, 8 feet long and 4 feet wide and these are not the “capsules” that you see at some locations. They are roomy and spacious. There are multiple types of float tanks and Steve explained that what he offers is more of a float “room”.
Steve also gave me some tips on how to get the most out of my experience. He explained that floating with my arms upward would be the most comfortable position for most of us because of the rotation of our shoulders.
He provides a noodle to support my neck and head, but he explained that the Epson salt makes the water twice as dense as the dead sea, so the water would support my entire body. I just needed to let go.
Steve also explained that we all carry stress in our bodies in different places. Some in our neck and shoulders and some in our back and hips. He explained that he found that most folks go into the float and they don’t realize it but they are trying to hold themselves up and they don’t need to, because that only creates more tension in their neck and shoulders. You really have to learn how to relax and hang in the water.
There is no lock on the door, so you are 100% in control. “I like to tell everyone we don’t take hostages,” explains Steve. You are 100% in charge. “This is also what I like to call training wheels for meditation.”
Steve continues, “I tried to meditate 100 times and I cannot hear the birds or I cannot not feel the breeze, I cannot not hear the clock ticking.” “Getting in the float tank forces all those other things away and it leaves me with just myself and that ability to try to learn how to do meditation.”
After showering and changing and following the other instructions for the best float possible, which you can read here on the Glow spa website, I was left alone for 60 minutes of nothingness.
Steve explains “This is a way to try to be mindful and try to figure things out. We all kind of take for granted the time we need to reflect and relax. When you are off, be off. If you let all the stuff going on in your life continue to build up, it just wrecks you. The more you float, the easier it is for when you are busy about your day to just relax. We know when we need to get our car fixed, we know when we need to get a hair cut, we know when we need to go to the dentist, but we don’t know when we need to float. The only way that is going to happen is to give yourself some time in the tank.”
After floating for 60 minutes, I can say I felt unbelievably relaxed physically and mentally. It is kind of surprising that when you close your eyes, and you open them again, it’s just as dark. It’s like a different sensation the first time you try it. I mean my eyes were open and I was looking but I couldn’t see anything. It almost looks like it goes on forever. At one point I tried a little bit of meditation while focusing on the breathing, that was pretty much all I could hear. So it was a lot less distracting than meditation, it was a different experience. It was really as close as I ever got to my mind not thinking about anything and that is not usual for me.
“While I was in there, I had this Neil deGrasse Tyson moment. With my eyes open, it felt like I was looking off into infinity, it just goes on forever and ever. “
I really enjoyed my experience and I will be back for the relaxing effects. There have been very small scientific studies like this one that explain that sensory isolation in a flotation tank is a method known for inducing deep relaxation and subsequent positive health effects for patients suffering from e.g. stress or muscle tensions pains, yet very few studies have investigated this method as a preventive health-care intervention.