The complex colony of organisms that live in the gut is called our gut microbiome. You may have heard that term banded about a lot in recent years and that is because those in the wellness world are seeing more and more evidence supporting poor gut health as a cause of disease and chronic health issues.
In fact the body's gut microbiome can affect virtually every aspect of health. When the body does not have the right balance of bacteria, certain organisms can grow out of control leads to many possible problems. A common example of this is when a person takes a course of antibiotics, as a result they may experience changes in their gut bacteria that makes them more vulnerable to yeast infections.
To date, research suggests that gut health may play a role in mental health, including depression and anxiety, inflammation, IBS, obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, liver health and inflammatory bowel disease.
Immune system is heavily reliant on the health of the digestive system
One of the biggest areas of interest when it comes to our microbiome is its relationship with our immune system. You might be surprised to know that 80% of our immune system relies on the functionality of our microbiome and because of this scientific researchers are able to work out that autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes and arthritis can be traced back to an unbalanced and unhealthy gut.
A study conducted in 2010 looked at the difference between the gut bacteria of children living in a rural area of Burkino Faso in Africa and that of children living in Italy. The Italian children ate more meat while the African children ate more fiber and protein from plant sources; the study found that the children of Burkina Faso had more good bacteria in their guts associated with lower inflammation. The children living in Italy had more bacteria associated with inflammation and disease.
Research has also linked red meat to a compound called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). TMAO is higher in those that eat red meat because it is released by the gut bacteria specific to that diet. High TMAO is correlated with a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
The gut is known as your second brain
The gut is also known as your second brain and is responsible for 95% of the body's serotonin levels. Research has revealed that there is actually a system of neurons embedded in the walls of the gut which goes some way to explaining how gastrointestinal distress affects mental health and creates mood swings.
Microbes help the body absorb antioxidants
Studies have shown that bacteria live in the gut and feed off undigested food, this results in the production of vitamin K for the body to use, as well as B vitamins that help generate and maintain energy. Microbes also help with the absorption of nutrients such as antioxidants which, as is well known, helps the body to fight free-radicals and inflammation.
Weight gain has been linked to an unbalanced gut
Some studies have shown that the harmony of our gut bacteria can greatly affect weight gain as well as our ability to lose weight with microbes seemingly having control over appetite regulation, with our diets being crucial in determining the type of bacteria present in the gut a viscous cycle can ensue.
What to eat
Plenty of nutritious foods helps to promote gut health. Food groups that are especially helpful include prebiotics, which help feed good bacteria, and probiotics, which can add beneficial bacteria to the gut. Prebiotic foods include oats, wheat, garlic, onions, leeks and asparagus. Probiotic foods include live yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, miso and sauerkraut.
An anti-inflammatory diet is extremely important, this means eliminating refined oils, refined carbs, sugars and trans fats and increasing intake of antioxidant foods like cruciferous vegetables (think broccoli) and heatlhy fats (think Salmon).
When paired with a healthy diet that reduces inflammation and the amounts of bad bacteria in your gut, probiotic supplements can replace the bad with the good. Talk to your doctor before starting any major new diet and supplement plan, and make sure to get a good quality probiotic.
Other top tips for a happy microbiome include reducing stress and exercising more. Yes, you've heard it many times before but it'll never stop being good advice for your health and well being!
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.