What Is the Gut Microbiome and Why Is It So Important for Your Overall Health?
It seems that everybody these days is talking about probiotics, gut health, and the gut microbiome.
From Greek yoghurt to kombucha, you’ve probably tried some probiotic foods that claim to have significant gut health impacts. But what exactly is the gut microbiome, and why is it so important for our health?
The gut microbiome is the composition of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in our gut that helps us with digestive and physiological functions. Beyond just aiding digestion, our gut microbiome can help us improve immunity, control our weight, and prevent illnesses like cancer, depression, and more.
The topic of how the gut microbiome impacts overall health is far too wide to be covered in a single article, but if you’re still new to the gut health scene, then this is the place to start. This list is nowhere near exhaustive, but keep reading to learn about some of the biggest ways our gut microbiome impacts our overall health!
What Is the Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in your gut.
These microorganisms help you carry out essential bodily functions, such as breaking down food and producing short-chain fatty acids that are vital for overall health.
It’s hard to overstate how much bacteria actually live in our gut, as there are over 50 trillion individual bacteria in our guts alone. This equates to more than one bacteria for each human cell. So, if you think about it that way, we are all more bacteria than we are humans!
There is so much bacteria in our gut, actually, that all of them combined end up weighing around 2 kg, which is about four and a half pounds. We’ve got anywhere from 200 to well over a thousand unique species of bacteria. Your gut microbiome can be (and should be!) an incredibly diverse ecosystem, with different patrons who perform different duties.
How Does It Impact Your Overall Health?
If reading about just how much bacteria is in our guts grossed you out, all that hesitation will likely go away once you learn what they can do for your health.
The gut microbiome impacts the body’s overall health by regulating digestive functions, controlling the immune system, maintaining healthy brain functions, and producing short-chain fatty acids. A healthy gut can have a positive impact on almost every aspect of your overall health.
Perhaps surprisingly, one of the most essential functions of the gut microbiome is to digest plant fibre. You’ve probably heard a million times that eating more plants is good for your health, but did you know that humans can’t digest plant cell walls on their own? This is why a healthy microbiome is crucial for our health–without our bacteria, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy plants!
7 Ways Your Gut Microbiome Impacts Your Health
If you’re looking for more details on how your gut microbiome impacts your overall health, check out these seven science-backed ways your gut microbiome can influence your health.
1. The Gut Microbiome Helps Our Immune System
One of the first things you will notice when you start taking care of your immune system is that you won’t get sick as often. Things like the flu and the common cold become a thing of the past when you have a well-optimized gut microbiome that supports your immune response.
In fact, most of your immune system lives in your gut. That’s because many of the antibodies your immune system uses to fight off disease are excreted by bacteria that live in our small intestine. These little microorganisms take the food that we ingest and turn it into disease-fighting antibodies.
Plenty of studies show that a balanced microbiota supports immunity. This will help you naturally eliminate pathogens without triggering self-tolerance that could lead to autoimmune disease. So, if you’re someone who gets sick all the time, your gut may actually help prevent your next illness!
2. Your Gut Microbiome Affects Your Weight
Many people turn to their guts to get rid of… well, their “guts.” One of the biggest reasons gut health is becoming so popular is its benefits for weight loss and obesity prevention. There are numerous ways your gut can influence your weight:
- Improves digestion. Your gut microbiome helps you digest and absorb the food you eat. This can help regulate your weight by increasing your metabolism and helping you feel full faster and stay satisfied longer. Improved digestion can also help reduce bloating, which can also affect the way you look.
- Reduce inflammation. Cellular inflammation is one of the biggest contributors to weight gain and can lead to problems like chronic fatigue, GI issues, aches, and even depression. A healthy gut will help reverse cellular inflammation and balance your weight.
- Control satiety signals. Your gut microbiome produces Leptin and Ghrelin, which are hormones that let your brain know that you are full. Having a healthy microbiome will help you feel satisfied sooner, which will help you reduce your food intake without going hungry.
Plus, many of the tactics to improve your gut health also happen to promote weight loss, such as increased intake of plant-based foods, regular exercise, and consumption of fermented foods. If you’d like to learn more about how your gut can impact your weight, check out our blog on the subject.
3. The Gut Microbiome Can Cause Mental Health Problems
The gut-brain axis is one of the most exciting discoveries in recent decades when it comes to gut health. Although the connection between the gut and the brain has been documented for decades, what’s new is that there is now evidence of bidirectional communication between the two.
Let’s back up. The brain is in charge of the Central Nervous System (CNS), which, as we know, is in charge of most motor functions and physiological functions in our body. It’s what is usually associated with human thought and most of the conscious decisions that we make throughout the day.
The Enteric Nervous System (ENS), on the other hand, is in charge of motor functions such as blood flow, the immune system, and–notably–the digestive system. The ENS is quasi-autonomous from the CNS, meaning that it can carry out many actions and processes on its own without CNS interference.
It used to be thought that the CNS was in direct control over the ENS, and basically instructed it on what to do, as a diligent employee. However, the latest research is showing that the connection between the CNS and ENS is much more complex, as they work more like co-workers rather than direct reports.
The vagus nerve serves as a direct line of communication between the CNS and ENS. Interestingly, the ENS is able to send signals to the CNS through the vagus nerve as well. This means that the ENS does also have something to say to the CNS and thus can exert direct control over cognitive functions that we used to only associate with the CNS.
For example, the ENS is in charge of releasing neurotransmitters that can affect how we feel. Serotonin–which is commonly referred to as the “happy hormone”–is produced almost exclusively in our gut. Over 90% of it, in fact, comes from our intestines.
Since a gut microbiome in dysbiosis can negatively affect our ENS functions, an unhealthy gut could cause severe mental health problems like anxiety and depression. What was once thought of as a simple co-occurrence can now be better understood as a causal relationship. So, if you struggle with mental health problems, improving your gut health may alleviate some of your symptoms.
4. Gut Problems Can Cause Digestive Issues
You probably saw this coming, but gut health has a clear and definitive impact on gastrointestinal issues. A gut in dysbiosis can cause harsh GI and autoimmune diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
This happens mostly because gut dysbiosis promotes inflammation and the growth of harmful bacteria, which leads to diseases like IBS and SIBO. On the flip side, this also means that working to improve your gut health can also lead to symptom alleviation of GI diseases like these.
5. A Healthy Gut Can Promote a Healthy Heart
Gut health is so important across the board that it even helps promote heart health. Not only can a balanced gut flora reduce inflammation–which is important for preventing cardiovascular diseases–but it can also have a more direct impact on how our heart operates.
A study on 1,500 people found evidence that gut flora promoted HDL cholesterol and triglyceride release in healthy adults. Although cholesterol may sound like a bad thing, HDL cholesterol actually traps “bad” cholesterol and takes it to the liver–which ultimately expels it from the body. Triglycerides, on the other hand, are used for energy management in between meals.
Additionally, a gut flora in dysbiosis could result in “bad” bacteria that release trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which may block arteries and potentially lead to heart attacks. Maintaining a balanced gut is an effective way to prevent artery buildup and thus heart attacks.
6. Your Gut Microbiome Could Even Prevent Cancer
If you thought it couldn’t get any better, just wait until you learn about the link between gut health and cancer. As one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with around 10 million deaths each year, learning how to treat and prevent cancer would have a monumental effect on humankind.
Although the link between the gut microbiome and stomach cancer has been known since 1984, new research is finding evidence that a balanced microbiome can be effective at preventing and treating other types of cancer, such as breast cancer.
As you now know, the microbiome is full of microorganisms that help us digest and break down molecules that our bodies wouldn’t be able to on their own. The estrobolome is a group of bacteria in our gut that breaks down and expels estrogen out of our body. Coincidentally, estrogen is responsible for almost 80% of all breast cancer cases.
A healthy microbiome results in a healthy estrobolome, which will help in secreting unnecessary estrogen from the body and thus preventing breast cancer in most patients. This same type of logic applies to other types of cancers too, including cervical and stomach cancer. Think of the microbiome as one of the biggest eliminators of excess waste in our body, which is one of the biggest triggers of cancer.
7. Your Gut Microbiome Can Control Blood Sugar
Finally, your gut microbiome could also help you keep your blood sugar under control and prevent diabetes. A new study found that the gut microbiome has a direct impact on the liver as opposed to simply impacting energy expenditure. This shows that a healthy microbiome will result in a healthier liver, which will be more effective at regulating blood sugar levels.
Other studies have also found that balancing your gut microbiome can be an effective treatment in patients with type 2 diabetes. Again, most of the evidence as to why a healthy gut is able to treat this disease is due to cellular inflammation reduction.
A study from the Finnish Diabetes Prevention found that people with a high-fibre diet were more likely to have a higher proportion of indolepropionic acid in the blood, which is a chemical that has been shown to decrease inflammation. And guess where this chemical comes from? The lovely bacteria in our blood. These bacteria can turn the amino acid tryptophan into indolepropionic acid and give us the anti-inflammatory boost that our liver needs.
What Makes a Healthy Gut Microbiome?
Now that you’re aware of all the major health benefits associated with a healthy microbiome, you’re probably wondering what exactly is a healthy gut.
A healthy gut microbiome is a balanced gut microbiome, where the number of good bacteria is increased both through growing the net number of individual microbes and also through bigger microbial diversity. You should strive to maximize both the total number and the species of bacteria in your gut.
How Can I Improve My Gut Microbiome?
Fortunately, improving your gut health is a straightforward process that involves lifestyle and diet modifications. Here are some of the best things you can do to improve gut health:
- Eat more plants. Fibre is essential for a healthy gut microbiome, as prebiotic foods help your gut microbiota stay well-fed and healthy.
- Diversify your food. Food diversity is the number one indicator of a healthy gut. The wider variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds, and whole grains that you can consume, the wider variety of bacteria species you’ll be able to host!
- Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha help introduce new bacteria strains to your gut. This can help you diversify your gut flora and attain a more balanced microbiome.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking. Both alcohol and cigarettes severely disrupt the gut microbiome, so do the best you can to avoid both of these as much as possible.
- Use all-natural cleaning products. Although this may sound unhygienic, a little dirt and bacteria are actually really good for your gut. Cleaning products with harsh chemicals will wash away all the bacteria that our bodies need to come in contact with for a thriving gut flora.
- Get more sleep. If you enjoy your beauty sleep, this one’s for you. Healthy sleep habits have been shown to improve gut microbiome diversity. Interestingly, this works the other way around too–improving gut health will also improve your sleep!
- Relax. Physical stress can negatively impact your gut health, so do your best to manage stress in your daily life. Yoga, meditation, and breathwork are great places to start!
Take Control of Your Gut Health Today
If you’ve read through this entire article, you’re probably convinced of the deeply transformative power of your gut microbiome. Taking charge of your gut health is one of the best things that you can do for your overall health and wellness, so why not take a big step today?
You can download the OSbiome app today for an all-in-one solution to your gut health needs. Keep track of your bowel movements, manage your meals, and get personalized recommendations for improved health based on your habits.
And if you want to take things one step further, you can order our proprietary gut health test so you can supercharge your gut health journey right from home. We’ll provide you with 15 detailed reports and a personalized roadmap to gut health success. Order yours today and rediscover your body and way to health!