It’s a new year, and of all the things on that you want to get right this year, this should perhaps be number one – get your gut healthy!
Are you struggling to lose weight, feeling tired despite sleeping and eating nutritiously, or struggling with any digestive issues like bloating, constipation or cramps? Your gut microbiome could be to blame.
Over the past few years the integral role that the gut microbiome plays in overall health and the functioning of the immune system has been shown over and over again. While it is becoming common knowledge to some, it remains a bit of a mystery to others. This post is a straightforward introduction to the gut microbiome, before we dive into some more exciting areas of microbiome health in future posts.
What is the gut microbiome (previously known as gut flora)?
The human body is made up of trillions of bacteria, known as the microbiome. Most of these are found in our gut (digestive tract), and these ones make up your gut microbiome. Each individual has a unique microbiome, and this diverse group of microbes impacts just about every function of the human body, including host metabolism, physiology, nutrition and immune function.
What shapes your microbiome?
Humans are born with a sterile gut, and microbes begin to colonize it immediately after birth. Many factors play a role, including genetics, diet, sleep patterns, stress levels and the external bacteria you are exposed to.
Why is a healthy gut microbiome important?
The microbial population in the gut has can have both beneficial and harmful consequences for human health. There are a growing number of conclusive studies showing the link between gut health and body weight, inflammation, the immune system and metabolism. Bacteria are responsible for digesting much of the food you consume, determining efficiency of nutrient extraction, and fat storage as well. As a result, gut microbiota have a significant impact on weight management and obesity. In addition to this, the gut is connected to the brain via the vagus nerve, and research suggests that intestinal flora can directly affect the brain via this nerve. It is therefore possible that gut health can be linked to brain functioning and several mental health disorders, but the exact mechanisms of this remains unclear.
So, how can you improve your gut microbiome?
- Focus on your diet! This is probably the quickest way to experience positive changes in your gut microbiome, and arguably the most important too. Your diet should be:
- High in fiber (this is what your healthy gut bacteria feed on).
- Diverse and varied diet to increase your exposure to different microbes and maintain flexibility in the microbiome.
- Very low in inflammatory foods. These include foods that are highly processed or high in sugar.
- Have probiotics and prebiotics daily. These two are so important that they’re getting an entire post dedicated to them next week.
- Avoid antibiotics where possible.
- Increase exposure to microbes by getting outside, doing some gardening, playing with animals etc. In todays society we place so much emphasis on sterile environments that we actually prevent contact with even the good bacteria.
- Reduce stress. Your gut is known as your ‘second brain’ for a reason, and your digestive system cannot function properly when the body is in a stressed state as your blood gets diverted away from your digestive system. It is for this reason that you should never eat on the run or in a rush. Eat slowly and mindfully in a low stress environment. It might seem obvious as stress is stated as a contributing factor to so many health problems, but it is especially important when it comes to your gut because chronic stress disrupts the natural balance of the microbiota.
- Avoid PPI’s (proton pump inhibitor medication) because they alter the composition of the gut microbiome cause an increase in intestinal permeability.
- Minimise alcohol intake. If you are going to be drinking, take zinc carnicine as it helps offsets alcohol induced damage in the GI tract.
So there is some basic information on the gut microbiome and some simple tips to get you started on improving yours. I genuinely think it is one of the most important things to get right on the journey towards good health, and its integral role in bodily functioning cannot be overstated. I will leave the links to some interesting studies and articles below if you want to read further, and will most certainly be writing more on this in the near future!