Get Outside! The Value of Nature in Supporting Your Microbiome Diversity & Health
Spending time in nature supports a healthy body, mind, and spirit. It is well documented that hiking in the woods, swimming in the ocean, or gardening helps relieve stress, improve focus, and support microbiome diversity. And whether it is because of the boost of sun exposure (and subsequent increase in vitamin D in the body) or the sheer nature of moving your body, getting outside can do wonders for your overall health.
Microbiome Diversity & Health: Why is it important?
Did you know that over 70% of the immune system is in the gut? The gut is often referred to as the second brain and is sensitive to emotion—there’s a reason for that ‘gut feeling’ you have, or feeling ‘butterflies in your stomach’. The gut is responsible for more than digesting and absorbing food. It is an increasingly important player in immune health and regulating inflammation.
A plethora of bacteria, trillions actually, reside in the gut. So much so, the human body contains more bacteria than cells! This collection of various types of bacteria are known as the microbiome, or gut microbiota.
Everyone has a unique mix of bacteria types that live in and on us and a different amount of each. That is because our microbiota is determined by a variety of factors—for example, some bacteria may be from your mother, your environment at birth, and diet and lifestyle.
The gut microbiota can also get out of balance -- a phenomenon called dysbiosis -- which can be linked to a variety of symptoms from bad breath to GI upset to more serious conditions like anxiety, depression, and possibly obesity. Changes in diet, new medications, and high levels of stress and anxiety can lead to dysbiosis.
The gut-brain axis describes how the gut and the brain interact and influence each other. Evidence linking functional gastrointestinal disorders and emotions and stress is mounting. Functional GI disorders are those symptoms that can not be explained by any structural issues in the gut. While these symptoms are very real for those experiencing them—the symptoms can be difficult to pinpoint and explain because there is nothing structurally wrong. The opposite is also being studied and better understood—neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders are being linked to poor gut health or dysbiosis.
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Influence of nature on microbiome diversity
Spending time outside and being in nature is one of the easiest and best things we can do for our microbiota and gut health.
For one, being outside naturally exposes the gut to more and different types of bacteria which positively impacts the overall gut microbiota. Spending time in the yard barefoot or laying in the grass is a quick and easy way to meet new bacteria.
In one study evaluating children, those who regularly went outdoors for 10 weeks not only had a stronger connection to nature, but they also had improved diversity in their gut microbiome.
Being outside exposes the body to different bacteria and is also good for overall health and well being.
Microbiome diversity: Connections between soil microbial communities and gut microbial communities
As many move from rural areas into urban cities, researchers are seeing an impact on the gut microbiota. Just like we have a microbiome, specific environments do too—from a backyard to a farm to the countryside and beyond.
Those bacteria that are in the soil where food grows impacts health. From there, we can make the connection between the soil and human microbiomes. As we co-exist there is a symbiotic relationship between those bacteria we ingest from food and those that we come into contact with from our surrounding environment.
Moving into cities away from larger green spaces can then impact our gut health. Also, changing farming practices that can deplete the soil will impact the nutrient content of the foods that we eat and the bacteria we ingest.
Why should we look into nature and microbiome health?
As a culture, we are slowly becoming more and more urban. Farms are becoming more automated and as a whole, we are spending less time outdoors to perform our everyday tasks. And with this change in our lifestyles, we can begin to see changes in our microbiome too -- and that is not a good thing.
Making a point to support your microbiome health by spending some time in nature and by eating a prebiotic-rich diet (by eating a variety of fruits, veggies, and drinking OLIPOP) can have a profound impact on your gut health, and thus, your overall health.
- Kaczmarczyk, Mariusz et al. “The gut microbiota is associated with the small intestinal paracellular permeability and the development of the immune system in healthy children during the first two years of life.” Journal of translational medicine vol. 19,1 177. 28 Apr. 2021, doi:10.1186/s12967-021-02839-w
- Abenavoli, Ludovico et al. “Gut Microbiota and Obesity: A Role for Probiotics.” Nutrients vol. 11,11 2690. 7 Nov. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11112690
- Thursby, Elizabeth, and Nathalie Juge. “Introduction to the human gut microbiota.” The Biochemical journal vol. 474,11 1823-1836. 16 May. 2017, doi:10.1042/BCJ20160510
- Sobko, Tanja et al. “Impact of outdoor nature-related activities on gut microbiota, fecal serotonin, and perceived stress in preschool children: the Play&Grow randomized controlled trial.” Scientific reports vol. 10,1 21993. 15 Dec. 2020, doi:10.1038/s41598-020-78642-2
- White, Mathew P et al. “Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing.” Scientific reports vol. 9,1 7730. 13 Jun. 2019, doi:10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3
- Being outside naturally exposes the gut to more and different types of bacteria which positively impacts the overall gut microbiota.
- Making a point to support your microbiome health by spending some time in nature and by eating a prebiotic-rich diet can have a profound impact on your gut health, and thus, your overall health.
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