Your body is home to trillions of tiny micro-organisms; bacteria, fungi and viruses which play a vital role in human health. In fact, they outnumber human cells by ten to one, but because of their small size they only make up between one and three percent of your body’s mass.
One of these biomes is located in your digestive tract and has a huge influence on your physical and mental health, your immune system and much more.
What is the gut biome?
Your gut biome is a community of trillions of micro-organisms that live in every nook and cranny of your gastro-intestinal tract, although the majority live in your lower intestine.
It’s these micro-organisms, mainly bacteria of which there are hundreds of different strains, some good, some bad that play a vital role in your health and well-being. They play a key role in digestion, help absorb and manufacture nutrients, and affect other bodily processes such as brain function, metabolism, weight, immune regulation and mood.
When does your gut biome develop?
There is some research that suggests your gut biome could begin whilst you are still in the womb.
However, the consensus believe that the bacteria in your gut start appearing very early on in your life and there are many influences on the type of bacteria that live and flourish within your gut, such as how you were born, C-section or vaginally, whether you were breast or bottle fed, and your parents genetic make-up and their overall health.
And as you grow up however, although you can’t change genetics, illness or life-changing events you can change your lifestyle behaviour to help your good gut bacteria flourish and thrive.
How does my gut biome affect me?
A richer, more diverse gut biome is very good for your health, as research indicates it lowers your risk of disease and allergies.
In fact, the Hadza people of Tanzania have one of the richest and most diverse gut biome on the plant, 40% higher than Americans and 30% higher than the British. On average, they eat around 600 varieties of plant and animals in a year compared to Westerners who have less than 50 in the diet. Needless to say, the Hadza then rarely suffer from the common Western diseases such as allergies, obesity, cancer and heart disease.
How does the gut biome affect my body?
- Fibre digestion –certain gut bacteria digest dietary fibre and produce short-chain fatty acids which aid gut health
- Immune system – the gut microbiome communicates with your immune system to control how you respond to infections
- Brain health – there is research to suggest the gut microbiome may affect the central nervous system, which in turn affects brain health
How does the gut microbiome affect my weight?
Weight gain can occur if there is an imbalance between healthy and unhealthy gut bacteria. This imbalance is called dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis can be caused by many things including stress, overuse of antibiotics, being overweight, illness and a poor diet. Diet is, in fact the most important factor that affects the composition of your gut bacteria.
If you eat a diet that is rich in energy dense, highly processed foods and artificial sweeteners it can compromise the gut lining which leads to a problem called ‘Leaky Gut’. But the good news is if you change your diet, you can change your gut microbiome composition.
What about my overall gut health?
The gut biome can affect your overall gut in both good and bad ways.
It may play a role in common gut diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), with dysbiosis aiding symptoms such as bloating, cramping and abdominal pain.
On the other hand, certain bacteria can actually improve your overall gut health. The advertised probiotic food items that contain Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli can help prevent Leaky Gut, reduce the symptoms of IBS and prevent disease-causing bacteria from taking hold.
The gut biome and health
Gut biome and heart health?
We all know Lactobacilli may help reduce cholesterol, well that’s what the adverts claim, and to be fair this time they’re right.
However, an over-abundance of unhealthy bacteria found in the gut can produce chemicals that may lead to blocked arteries and heart disease.
What about brain health?
Certain gut bacteria can help the brain produce chemicals called neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is your body’s natural anti-depressant.
And because your gut is physically connected to your brain through the millions of nerves in your body, it is possible that the gut microbiome may affect the health of your brain by controlling the messages that are sent to your brain through these nerves.
- However, research studies haven’t proven a definite link between the gut biome and brain health because of the differences in people’s dietary and lifestyle habits.
How can I improve my gut biome?
Here are 7 steps you can take to improve the health of the habitat living in your gut:
- Take probiotics – Try introducing fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, miso and fermented vegetables into your diet, but if you’re not a fan most health stores can supply you with a good quality probiotic supplement.
- Increase your fibre intake – To enhance your gut health try and include more fibre-rich food into your diet such as asparagus, bananas, Jerusalem artichoke and onions as well as whole grains.
- Get your five-a-day plus – Vary the types of fruit and vegetables you consume in your diet as different types contain different amounts of both chemicals and fibre, but also support different gut microbes. And if you can, try to eat seasonal produce.
- Reduce your sugar intake – A diet rich in sugar and artificial sweeteners can increase the risk of dysbiosis, which in turn can influence brain and behaviour as well as increasing your chances of developing Diabetes.
- Reduce stress – We all know stress is bad for us and we should be active in reducing our stress levels, but stress, even if it’s a short period of stress can disrupt the gut biome. So to reduce stress eat healthily, exercise regularly and get enough sleep
- Avoid taking antibiotics unnecessarily – It is necessary sometimes to take antibiotics to fight off bacterial infections. Not only is overuse of antibiotics leading to antibiotic resistance, but antibiotics destroy both good and bad bacteria in your gut and it can takes weeks or months for them to recover. Even paracetamol and antacid can interfere with your gut biome.
- Can you be too clean? – Well in today’s world of COVID-19 sales of hand sanitizer and household cleaners have gone through the roof. But those disinfectant cleaning products can affect your gut bacteria just like antibiotics. In fact, one study found that people who lived in homes where disinfectant cleaning products were used at least weekly were twice as likely to have higher levels of the gut microbes associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes.
So, making lifestyle and dietary changes will help those good micro-organisms in your gut increase in number and become more diverse which, in turn will improve your overall well-being and immune function.
You are what you eat, so make it count
Until next time darlings.