Guest columnist Laurel Hopwood, RN, BSN, volunteers with Cleveland Ohio Patient Advocates (COPA).

Picture a busy city where people are hustling to get to work. Now imagine this at a level only seen through a microscope. Not thousands, millions or billions of commuters. Rather, trillions of bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses doing their jobs.

Known as the microbiome, these miniscule microbes are traveling inside our bodies — primarily in the stomach and intestines.

Some may not consider this a subject for the dinner table. But perhaps it should be. Why?

It’s well documented that a healthy microbiome helps to build a strong immune system and protect us against pathogens. How about a win-win scenario in which people make food choices with the goal of having a healthy microbiome and thus reducing their risk of any illness — including COVID-19?

Probiotic foods contain beneficial live microbiota that can improve one’s microbiome. These include fermented foods, such as yogurt, tempeh, miso, kimchi and sauerkraut. High-fiber and prebiotic foods — such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds — also support a healthy microbiome.

Now for the bad news. Bleached flour, sugar and highly processed foods may be so-called feel-good foods, but they can make a person sick or obese. Then, does the person really feel good?

Sorry to burst the bubble, but here’s the truth: As a nation, we are addicted to sugar. Perhaps we need a 12-step program for our sugar addiction.

Sugar releases chemicals that interfere with the body’s natural defense against disease invasion.

Some people then try to reduce calories by adding artificial sweeteners to their food. Studies indicate that synthetic sweeteners can change the gut microbiome in mice, which increases the risk of developing disease. These laboratory-made sweeteners can also increase a person’s appetite — the antithesis to losing weight!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed that those with obesity are at greatest risk for acquiring COVID-19, being on the ventilator and/or dying. Those feel-good food choices can sure come around, and not in a beneficial way.

In the journal “Gut,” Dr. Siew Ng concluded that beneficial gut microbia may reduce the severity of symptoms during a COVID-19 infection. This does not prove, but implies, that healthy gut bacteria might reduce the incidence of becoming ill in the first place.

To reduce risk at a traffic light turned red, the motorist stops. The motorist can still be hit, but the risk is reduced. It’s all about risk reduction.

How about doctors offering advice about building a healthy microbiome as a way to reduce the risk of getting sick?

It’s time for the medical establishment to advise people to eat real food that has been grown in healthy soil. It’s a win-win for our bodies and the ecosystem. Follow the Hippocratic oath: Do no harm. It can’t hurt.

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