Consuming probiotics—live, “friendly” bacteria—has been linked with everything from a stronger immune system to a sharper, happier brain (after all, your gut holds 80% of your immunity, and it’s also called the “second brain”). But while you’re popping your probiotic supplements and chugging your kombucha teas, you might be ignoring another vital, mutually dependent part of your gut: friendly fungi.
Turns out your gut only doesn’t rely on healthy intestinal flora—you also need the right balance of fungi, according to Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum, a microbiome expert who named the mycobiome, the body’s native fungal community. During his research on microbiome imbalances, Dr. Ghannoum discovered that bacteria and fungi work together to build digestive plaque, which acts like a shield over both bad bacteria and fungi to distress the microbial balance of the digestive system. An accumulation of digestive plaque increasingly protects the bad guys, which means your gut balance is unstable—even if you’re taking probiotics or loading up on the sauerkraut.
If you devotedly consume probiotic capsules or eat fermented foods on the reg but still encounter digestive troubles, your fungi community may be to blame. And playing host to harmful fungi isn’t necessarily rare. In fact, fungal infections are associated with a 40% mortality rate, says Dr. Ghannoum. However, part of the problem is that tests for fungus aren’t as sensitive as they are for bacteria, meaning there’s a lot of misinformation and misdiagnosis. As a result, many people are treated with antibiotics (which remedy bacterial infections). Plus, bad fungus is a relatively new concept—it wasn’t always a problem; it became an issue when we adopted the modern lifestyle: extensively using antibiotics and engaging in other habits, such as eating processed food, that lead to an immunocompromised system.
So, how do you check if your inner fungus is behaving? Essentially the same thing you do with your gut bacteria. The good news is that with healthy habits, you can alter your fungal balance pretty quickly—about four to six weeks, says Dr. Ghannoum. Here’s what to do:
1. Take supplements containing healthy fungi
Dr. Ghannoum formulated BIOHM, a vegetarian, non-GMO supplement that contains both good bacteria and good fungi as well as digestive enzymes to help crack through digestive plaque. (Dr. Ghannoum is the CEO and Chief Scientific Officer of BIOHM).
2) Eat foods that promote healthy fungus
To improve your fungal balance, Dr. Ghannoum recommends going the way of the Mediterranean Diet: noshing on more fish (choose sustainable and low-toxin sources), organic vegetables, and, of course, fiber. He suggests eating a moderate level of carbohydrates, emphasizing you should not cut the macronutrient out all together and instead eat small amounts at different times of the day so your body can process it more easily. (A high-carb diet encourages growth of candida.) If you’re a meat eater, stick with the lean variety like white-meat chicken and try to reduce or cut out red meat altogether.
3) Take a fungus test
“Ignoring fungi (as most probiotics do) is like ignoring the 800-pound gorilla in the digestive track [sic]," according to the folks at BIOHM. If you suspect you might be housing a gorilla and want evidence of it, consult your naturopath or functional medicine doctor. Dr. Ghannoum also offers a Gut Report, which provides you with a profile of your gut's bacterial and fungi levels using DNA sequencing technology.
The test is simple, although it might trigger a bit of squeamishness. The kit is delivered to your home, you swab your poop with a Q-tip, mix it into a small vial, then send it back. After a few weeks, you receive a full report online comparing your bacteria and fungi levels compared to those of healthy people (250 to be exact). Once you receive your report, you can speak to one of BIOHM’s nutritionists to dissect and understand your results and make appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes.
Now you that you know how make your gut wholly healthy, there's even more reason to cut out the junk and eat more veggies. Don't forget: there are flora and fungus in your belly--and they both need one another and they both need you to nourish them.
Editor's note: The author received a sample of BIOHM supplements and the Gut Report.
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