The health of our gut has become increasingly important with increasing research showing links between the gut, immune system, hormonal health, mental health, endocrine system, autoimmunity, skin conditions and even cancer.
The human gut is more complex than previously thought.
Our gut microbiome refers to the microorganisms living in your intestines. We have around 300 to 500 different species of bacteria in their digestive tract, approximately 100 trillion bacteria…give or take! While some of these microorganisms are harmful to our health, many are extremely beneficial to our health and wellbeing and necessary for important functions within the human body.
Many studies have shown the importance of certain bacteria strains. Having a wide variety of these good bacteria in your gut can enhance your immune system function, improve symptoms of depression, help combat obesity, and provide numerous other benefits (1)
Not only that but many factors can have an impact on our gut and bacteria including high stress levels, too little sleep, processed foods and high-sugar foods, and taking antibiotics can all damage our gut microbiome.
So what does the gut microbiome actually do?
The gut microbiome begins to affect your body the moment you are born.
The first exposure occurs when you pass through your mother’s birth canal. Although new studies have shown that babies may come in contact with some microbes while inside the womb too.
As we get older our microbiome starts to diversify with different strains of microbial species. If has been shown that higher microbiome diversity is actually better for your health.
Even the food we eat affects the diversity of your gut bacteria.
Certain bacteria strains feed and digest dietary fibre that we consume. When they digest these fibre foods they produce short chain fatty acids which are vital for gut health, immune health, colon health and diabetes prevention. Fibre found in vegetables, fruit, whole grains are important in providing prebiotics and fibre to help keep a diverse gut microbiome.
Did you know that up to 70% of our immune system is produced in our gut! Seriously!!
The gut microbiome helps control how your immune system works. By communicating with immune cells, the gut microbiome can help control how your body responds to infection, as well as inflammation which is a key player in many diseases.
As well as the good bacteria in our gut, we do have gut bacteria that is less beneficial and can actually cause harm.
If we have an imbalance in our gut bacteria this is called dysbiosis, causing symptoms such as weight gain, flatulance, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, upset stomach, poor immunity, hormonal imbalances, mood imbalances, anxiety, depression, fatigue, difficulty concentrating.
Our microbiome can also affect gut health and may play a role in intestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Studies have shown that dysbiosis can contribute to conditions such as IBS.
Certain bacteria strains such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, which are normally found in probiotics and yoghurt, can actually help to seal gaps between intestinal cells and prevent what is known as leaky gut which contributes to many health conditions.
When the tight junctions of our intestinal walls within our intestinal tract become loose the gut becomes more permeable, which can allow bacteria and toxins to pass from the gut into the bloodstream. This is known as “leaky gut.”
When the gut is leaky, bacteria and toxins are able to enter the bloodstream, it can cause inflammation and possibly trigger a reaction from the immune system.
Supposed symptoms of leaky gut syndrome include bloating, food sensitivities, fatigue, digestive issues and skin problems, and autoimmunity.
Our gut microbiome may contribute to a health heart.
A recent study found that our gut microbiome played an important role in promoting the good HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Whereas some bad species in the gut microbiome may also contribute to heart disease by producing trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO).
TMAO is a chemical that contributes to blocked arteries, which may lead to heart attacks or stroke.
What about brain health?!
Did you know that certain species of bacteria can help produce chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters.
Serotonin is an antidepressant neurotransmitter that’s mostly made in the gut, almost 90% of the serotonin is produced in the gut.
Our gut is also connected to our brain by millions of nerves, so the gut microbiome may also affect brain health by helping control the messages that are sent to the brain through these nerves.
So what can we do to help support gut health, promote the good bacteria and improve gut diversity.
Eat a rainbow of vegetables and fruit
By eating a variety of vegetables and fruit providing essential fibre can lead to a diverse microbiome, which is an indicator of good gut health. The fibre can promote the growth of healthy Bifidobacteria.
Include fibre rich foods such as legumes, pulses and beans which provide that all important fibre for the good bacteria to feed on to make essential short chain fatty acids that promote the health of the gut.
Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and kefir all contain healthy bacteria, mainly Lactobacilli, and can reduce the amount of disease-causing species in the gut.
Consume Prebiotic foods
Prebiotics are a type of fibre that stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria. Foods rich in prebiotics include artichokes, bananas, asparagus, onion, garlic, oats and apples.
Eat foods rich in polyphenols
Polyphenols are plant compounds found in red wine, green tea, berries, dark chocolate, olive oil and whole grains. They are broken down by the microbiome to stimulate healthy bacterial growth.
Include whole grains in your diet.
Whole grains contain lots of fibre that our gut bacteria thrive on as well as beneficial fibre such as beta-glucan, which are digested by gut bacteria, they can benefit weight, reduce cancer risk, diabetes and other disorders.
Avoid processed sugary foods which can help to increase the bad bacteria. You see the bad bacteria love sugar, and thrive on this so the more we consume the more we feed this bad bacteria resulting in imbalances and dysbiosis.
Avoid the use of antibiotics, you see antibiotics actually kills many bad and good bacteria in the gut microbiome, resulting in dysbiosis and possibly contributing to weight gain and antibiotic resistance. It is advisable to only take antibiotics when medically necessary.
Avoid artificial sweeteners
There is much evidence to show that artificial sweeteners like aspartame actually increases blood sugar by stimulating the growth of unhealthy bacteria like Enterobacteriaceae in the gut microbiome.
So there are many ways in which we can help support gut health which ultimately can help to support and improve our overall health.