The Gut Guide: Microbiome
Have you ever heard of a wonderful part of your body called the microbiome? According to Harvard Health, our bodies consist of trillions of microorganisms of thousands of different species. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is home to various microorganisms, whose collective genome is termed the gut microbiome. (1) A healthy gut flora supports our immune system, makes vitamins, and other nutrients. It is known to be connected to your overall well-being, weight, energy, mood, stress, and increasingly—many chronic diseases. Read below to find out more about the role the microbiome plays in your health.
What is the Microbiome?
Each person has a unique set of microorganisms determined by their DNA (2).
The microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes - bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses - that live on and inside the human body (3).
The bacteria in the microbiome help digest our food, regulate our immune system, protect against other bacteria that cause disease, and produce vitamins including Vitamin B12, thiamine and riboflavin, and Vitamin K, which is needed for blood coagulation.
Why is it important?
The microbiome is essential for human development, immunity, and nutrition. The bacteria living in and on us are not invaders but beneficial colonizers. Our first expose to microorganisms comes as early as delivery in the birth canal and through breast milk. (2)
Autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and fibromyalgia are associated with dysfunction in the microbiome. Disease-causing microbes accumulate over time, changing gene activity and metabolic processes and resulting in an abnormal immune response against substances and tissues normally present in the body.
In recent years, it has become evident that the gut and brain communicate through a two-way direct pathway known as the "gut-brain axis" (4).
The gut-brain axis plays a key role in maintaining brain health. The central nervous system (CNS), the enteric nervous system (ENS), the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system, and neuroendocrine and neuroimmune pathways are all involved in communication with the gut microbes.
Scientific evidence suggests that gut microbiota affects some aspects of brain function and behavior, including emotional behavior (5).
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease in humans are 2 conditions that exemplify the consequences of faulty gut-brain communication. Symptoms of these diseases typically developing after disruption of the microbiome or the use of antibiotics. Gastrointestinal dysfunction, such as bowel diseases, is frequently accompanied by psychiatric conditions. (6)
What is pre & pro-biotic?
Prebiotics are the fiber food source for the friendly bacteria in your intestinal tract to feed on. Our digestive system can’t break down prebiotics, so they survive through the digestive tract. The bacteria break down the prebiotics into nutrition that helps them grow and thrive. Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that have health benefits for humans. These live microorganisms are isolated from humans and then cultured in a lab to be used as a supplement. When we ingest them (whether in food or supplement form), they survive in the gut and provide benefits to us like the good bacteria that we naturally have.
The Role Diet Plays on Microbiota
Diet has a huge influence on the gut microbiome. Short-term consumption of diets composed entirely of animal or plant products rapidly changes structures within the microbiome as there are overwhelming differences in plant vs. animal product's gene expression. (4) A high-fiber diet, in particular, affects the type and amount of microbiota in the intestines. Dietary fiber can only be broken down and fermented by enzymes from microbiota living in the colon. (1)
Where to find prebiotics and probiotics:
- Prebiotic & probiotic supplements
- Probiotic foods:
- Yogurt that contains added Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains.
- Kombucha, a fermented tea
- Tempeh, fermented soybeans
- Sauerkraut, fermented cabbage
- Prebiotic foods: Be aware that a high intake of prebiotic foods, especially if introduced suddenly, can increase gas production and bloat.
- Fiber-rich foods: Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Potatoes: Ideally, a boiled and cooled potato
- Bananas: Green, less-ripe bananas are rich in resistant starch
- Jerusalem artichokes: A root vegetable rich in the prebiotic inulin
Tips on Maintaining Proper Gut Health:
- Eat fewer sugars and sweeteners: Studies show that human use of artificial sweeteners can negatively impact blood glucose levels due to their effects on gut flora.
- Reduce stress: In humans, a variety of stressors can negatively affect gut health, including psychological stress, environmental stress; such as extreme heat, cold, or noise, sleep deprivation, disruption of the circadian rhythm.
- Avoid taking antibiotics unnecessarily: Antibiotics are also damaging to the gut microbiota and immunity, with some research reporting that even 6 months after their use, the gut still lacks several species of beneficial bacteria. (7)