What is the Gut Microbiome?


“Gut health” is one of the biggest buzzwords in the wellness community. A quick visit to any holistic living blog or health influencer’s Instagram page will likely turn up several posts about this trendy topic. But what exactly does microbiome mean?

Tens of trillions of microbes, or bacteria, have been residing in our digestive system since the beginning of time. Most of these organisms live in the large intestine, with only about 10,000 populating the small bowel. Approximately one-third of the gut microbiome is the same across all humans, with the remaining portion being unique to each individual.


ROLE OF YOUR GUT MICROBIOME


So what are these microbes for? Well, basically everything. It’s a well-known fact that our gut bacteria aid in digestion. Each time we eat, they help us extract and assimilate essential nutrients from our food, turning the remnants into waste. What many people aren’t aware of, however, is just how many other hats these microscopic beings wear when it comes to shaping our overall health. Here are several of their many functions:


IMMUNITY:


Science estimates that about 70% of our immune system originates in the gut. Microbes communicate with immune cells and control how the body responds to infection.


BRAIN HEALTH:


Emerging research suggests the central nervous system, which is in charge of brain function, and gut microbiome are closely related.


BLOOD SUGAR CONTROL:


A study revealed that less diverse gut microbiota are associated with type one diabetes in infants. It also discovered that certain gram-negative bacteria became more prevalent just before diagnoses. Additionally, postprandial blood sugar varies widely across the population, even when we consume the same food. And this could be due in part to differences in gut bacteria.


What is the Gut Microbiome?


“Gut health” is one of the biggest buzzwords in the wellness community. A quick visit to any holistic living blog or health influencer’s Instagram page will likely turn up several posts about this trendy topic. But what exactly does microbiome mean?


Tens of trillions of microbes, or bacteria, have been residing in our digestive system since the beginning of time. Most of these organisms live in the large intestine, with only about 10,000 populating the small bowel. Approximately one-third of the gut microbiome is the same across all humans, with the remaining portion being unique to each individual.


ROLE OF YOUR GUT MICROBIOME


So what are these microbes for? Well, basically everything. It’s a well-known fact that our gut bacteria aid in digestion. Each time we eat, they help us extract and assimilate essential nutrients from our food, turning the remnants into waste. What many people aren’t aware of, however, is just how many other hats these microscopic beings wear when it comes to shaping our overall health. Here are several of their many functions:


IMMUNITY:


Science estimates that about 70% of our immune system originates in the gut. Microbes communicate with immune cells and control how the body responds to infection.


BRAIN HEALTH:


Emerging research suggests the central nervous system, which is in charge of brain function, and gut microbiome are closely related.


BLOOD SUGAR CONTROL:


A study revealed that less diverse gut microbiota are associated with type one diabetes in infants. It also discovered that certain gram-negative bacteria became more prevalent just before diagnoses. Additionally, postprandial blood sugar varies widely across the population, even when we consume the same food. And this could be due in part to differences in gut bacteria.


MENTAL HEALTH:


Most of our neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, are located in the digestive tract rather than the brain. The two organs talk to one another via the gut-brain axis, which means our mental and gastrointestinal wellbeing have a very close relationship. Not only does the food we eat have a profound effect on our mental state, but psychological stress also negatively influences digestion.


CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH:


The gut microbiome plays an integral role in promoting optimal levels of HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Certain strains of bacteria convert nutrients found in red meat to TMAO, a chemical that contributes to blocked arteries, which can lead to myocardial infarction or stroke. Conversely, other species such as Lactobacilli may lower LDL cholesterol when taken in probiotic form.


WEIGHT CONTROL:


Many studies have shown an association between gut dysbiosis, or an unfavorable balance of good and bad microbes, and obesity. In rodent experiments, those implanted with an obesogenic microbiome gained more weight than those receiving bacteria from a lean person. This was true even when they ate the same diet.


This by no means an exhaustive list. Hopefully, it illustrates just how important the gut microbiome is for all facets of health. Now that we’ve established that let’s move on to some of the worst things a person can do for their gut health.


WORST THINGS YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR GUT HEALTH


EAT A DIET LOW IN DIVERSITY.


A diverse microbiome is healthier than one with fewer strains of bacteria because different microbes have their unique defense mechanisms against harmful influences such as antibiotics.


DRINK ALCOHOL EXCESSIVELY.


Chronic overconsumption of alcohol is associated with gut dysbiosis. Beverages such as gin decrease the number of beneficial bacteria. However, moderate red wine consumption improves overall digestive health; this is likely due to the polyphenols present.


TAKE ANTIBIOTICS.


While antibiotics are crucial for such illnesses as strep throat and urinary tract infections, they can have long-lasting repercussions in the body. These powerful drugs eradicate both good and bad microbes. But levels of beneficial bacteria can also remain suppressed for years. Besides, antibiotic use can temporarily increase the population of harmful bacteria such as Clostridium.


LEAD A SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE.


Regular physical activity has many health benefits, one being a definite alteration of the gut microbiome. Athletes’ microbiomes contain more organisms that produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid essential for overall health. Active people also have higher levels of Akkermansia, a microbe that plays a crucial role in metabolism and obesity prevention.


GET INADEQUATE SLEEP.


Much like the rest of our body, the gut also follows a circadian rhythm. Altering that biological clock via sleep deprivation can increase numbers of bacteria associated with weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and fat metabolism.