The Microbiome and its Importance for Digestion

The Microbiome and its Importance for Digestion

Wellness

The microbiome is a collection of trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in your body – a large of which live in your gut. Of all the microbes living in your gut, the ones we know the most about are ones called bacteria. In fact, for all the talk about human cells – you are composed of more bacterial cells in your body than human cells at about a 4:3 ratio. So you are more bacteria than human! Most of them are extremely important for your health, while the presence of others may cause disease.

How Does The Gut Microbiome Affect Your Body?

Humans have evolved alongside microbes for millions of years.

During this time, microbes have become quite essential in the human body, and without them, it would be quite hard to survive.

As you grow from child to adult, your gut microbiome begins to diversify and starts to contain many different types of microbial species. Higher microbiome diversity is considered good for your health.

As you can imagine, the food you eat affects the diversity of your gut bacteria.

The Microbiome Health May Affect Your Weight:

Besides the sheer volume of microbes in your gut, what’s equally important is the balance of the different bacteria, viruses, and fungi. An imbalance of certain types of healthy or unhealthy microbiomes can have a significant impact on many health functions, including weight management.

Notably, several well-known studies have shown that the gut microbiome differed completely between identical twins, where one twin was obese, and the other was metabolically healthy. This demonstrated that differences in the microbiome were not just genetic but a yet-to-be-established. These studies show that microbiome dysbiosis may play a role in weight gain.

A Healthier Gut Microbiome Can Reduce Stomach Bloating and Intestinal Discomfort:

The microbiome may also play a significant role in intestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) ), which cause a variety of symptoms. These symptoms occur because the microbes produce a lot of gas and other chemicals, which manifest in the human body as bloating, which contributes to the symptoms such as bloating, cramps, and abdominal pain.

But while a negative balance of unhealthy bacteria in the microbiome may hurt gut health, certain healthy bacteria can also improve it. For example, certain Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, which are popular in probiotics and naturally found in yogurt, have been shown to prevent leaky gut syndrome by helping to seal gaps between the intestinal cells.

Improved Digestion via The Gut Microbiome May Benefit Heart Health:

Interestingly, the gut microbiome may even affect heart health, which a recent study suggests that a healthier microbiome plays an important role in supporting good HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Certain unhealthy species in the gut microbiome may also contribute to heart disease by producing trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) – a chemical that contributes to blocked arteries, which then leads to heart attacks or stroke.

It May Help Control Glucose:

The gut microbiome also may help control blood sugar, which affects the risk of developing diabetic conditions or other symptoms related to glucose variability or glucose spikes such as skin breakouts, moodiness, bad sleep, and low energy. However, optimizing for this is not as easy as following the same advice that works for others as one study found that even when people ate the same foods, their blood sugar could vary greatly.

The Gut Microbiome Is The Second Brain:

The gut produces certain chemicals called neurotransmitters that have a significant impact on the brain. One example – serotonin – is an antidepressant neurotransmitter that’s mostly made in the gut.

The gut is connected to the brain through millions of nerves. Not surprisingly, several studies have shown that the gut microbiomes of people with various psychological disorders have different species and diversity of bacteria in their guts when compared to ‘healthy’ people. This suggests that the gut microbiome may affect brain health.

How Can You Improve Your Gut Microbiome?

The first thing you should do is test your gut microbiome to establish its diversity and which bacteria populations are most abundant in your gut. You can get this tested and analyzed with a specialist company such as Basis or by going to a specialized lab.

Once you know your gut microbiome diversity, there are many ways to improve it, including:

  • Eat a diverse range of foods: In particular, legumes, beans, and fruit contain lots of fiber and can promote the growth of healthy Bifidobacteria 
  • Eat fermented foods: Foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir all contain healthy bacteria, mainly Lactobacilli, and can reduce the amount of disease-causing species in the gut .
  • Limit your intake of artificial sweeteners: Some evidence has shown that artificial sweeteners like aspartame increase blood sugar by stimulating the growth of unhealthy bacteria like Enterobacteriaceae in the gut microbiome.
  • Eat prebiotic foods: Prebiotics are a type of fiber that stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria. Prebiotic-rich foods include artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats, and apples. 
  • Eat whole grains: Whole grains contain lots of fiber and beneficial carbs like beta-glucan, which are digested by gut bacteria to benefit weight, cancer risk, diabetes, and other disorders. 
  • Try reducing your meat consumption: Vegetarian diets may help reduce levels of disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli, as well as inflammation and cholesterol.
  • Eat foods rich in polyphenols: Polyphenols are plant compounds found in red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, olive oil, and whole grains. They are broken down by the microbiome to stimulate healthy bacterial growth. 
  • Take a probiotic supplement: Probiotics are live bacteria that can help restore the gut to a healthy state and can help with weight loss. Studies suggest that the effects of probiotics on weight loss are probably quite small, with people losing less than 2.2 pounds. Other studies have also shown that probiotics can improve symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders.
  • Don’t take antibiotics unless necessary: Antibiotics kill many bad and good bacteria in the gut microbiome, possibly contributing to weight gain and antibiotic resistance. Thus, only take antibiotics when medically necessary.
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