The human gastrointestinal (GI) tract contains an abundant and diverse microbial community of more than 100 trillion microorganisms – called the gut microbiome.
Each individual has a unique gut microbiota profile that resides in the gut and contributes to many basic healthy functions, including:
✔️ Digestion & nutrient metabolism
✔️ Maintenance of the integrity of the gut barrier
✔️ Healthy Immunity
✔️ Protection against pathogens
The human gut microbiome starts to develop at infancy, and can be influenced by factors like the type of delivery and methods of milk feeding. Some research suggests it might even start while still in the womb!
Throughout life, our microbiota are influenced by the following factors:
✔️ Antibiotic use
✔️ Body mass index (BMI)
✔️ Exercise frequency
✔️ Dietary habits
The richer and more diverse the microbiota, the better they will withstand external threats. Although, because each microbiome is as unique as each individual, there has been no established “optimal” gut microbiota composition.
This week we will discuss further how the gut microbiome affects our health and what happens when this balance is not maintained. We will also give you some ideas as to how you can tailor your diet, one of the largest factors in managing the composition of you gut microbiome, in order to establish the microbial diversity needed for best health!
How the gut microbiome affects your overall health
There are a number of different ways that the gut microbiome can affect key bodily functions and influence your health.
1️⃣ Gut Health
This is perhaps the first thing we think of since we consider that these bacteria live in the gut and that is where digestion takes place, but the effects of the microbiome on gut health go beyond digestion and assimilation of nutrients.
The bloating, cramps and abdominal pain that people with IBS experience may be due to gut dysbiosis (an imbalance between the good & bad bacteria in the gut). Microbes produce a lot of gas and other chemicals, which contribute to bloating and inflammation.
Meanwhile, healthy bacteria can improve gut health. Bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, for example, can help seal the gaps between intestinal cells and prevent leaky gut syndrome.
2️⃣ Weight Management
Dysbiosis may contribute to weight gain. It appears that certain bacteria promote healthy metabolism, help manage blood sugar and improve satiety, while others do the exact opposite.
3️⃣ Heart Health
A recent study found that a healthy gut microbiome played and important role in promoting “good” HDL cholesterol. Meanwhile, certain unhealthy species in the gut microbiome may contribute to heart disease by producing trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a chemical that contributes to atherosclerosis.
4️⃣ Brain Health
Certain species of bacteria can help produce chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. For example, serotonin is an antidepressant neurotransmitter that is mostly made in the gut!
Read on to learn what you can do with your diet in order to promote balance and microbial diversity for overall health!
Diet & The Gut Microbiome
Want to be an “influencer”? Well here’s your chance! There are many simple ways you can influence your own gut microbiome to promote longterm health and wellness. By tailoring your diet you can support microbial diversity and support optimal health!
1️⃣ Eat a diverse range of healthy foods:
The more diversity in your diet, the more likely you are to maintain a diverse microbiome. In particular, large varieties of fruits and vegetables contain lots of fibre which can promote the growth of healthy Bifidobacteria.
2️⃣ Incorporate fermented foods:
Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, pickled vegetables and kefir all contain healthy bacteria, mainly Lactobacilli, and can help to reduce the amount of disease-causing species in the gut.
3️⃣ Include prebioitic foods:
Prebiotics are a type of fibre that stimulates the growth of health bacteria. Some prebiotic-rich foods include psyllium husk, artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats, and apples.
4️⃣ Eat foods rich in polyphenols:
Polyphenols are plant compounds found in red wine (in moderation), green tea, dark chocolate, olive oil and some whole grains. They are broken down by the microbiome to stimulate healthy bacterial growth.
5️⃣ Avoid simple sugars AND artificial sweeteners:
Sugar directly feeds gram-negative bacteria, supporting overgrowths and increasing your risk of dysbiosis. Additionally, some evidence has shown that artificial sweeteners like aspartame stimulate the growth of unhealthy bacteria like Enterobacteriaceae in the gut microbiome.