Trust your gut… Gut instinct… Go with your gut. We’ve all heard these familiar phrases. Usually, they refer to some type of instinctive knowledge you may have about a situation or decision you have to make. But, what if your gut really did have a mind of its own? The funny thing is, research shows that your gut DOES have its own mind!
It has trillions of tiny little minds! Specifically, trillions of tiny microorganisms and their genetic material live inside the intestinal tract of the human body. This is called your gut microbiome. Those microorganisms may be small, but they have a big impact on your overall health.
What Is Your Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome refers to the microorganisms (the good and bad bugs) that live in your digestive system. This micro-ecology in your stomach includes bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi, and viruses. Each one has a different relationship with your body. They help digest food and absorb and synthesize nutrients. They even influence your metabolism, immune system, hormones, and brain!
There are nearly 1,000 species of bacteria in your gut and the more the merrier. These little guys are critical to your health and wellbeing. Let’s explore how your gut microbiome affects your overall health.
Did you know you also have an oral microbiome? Check out my previous blog, What You Need To Know About Your Oral Microbiome.
Gut Microbiome And Your Digestive System
The microbes in your gut are extremely important for various bodily systems. One of the most obvious being your digestive system. You may have heard your grandma say, “You are what you eat.” In this case, she’s not wrong. The microorganisms in your gut regulate how you store nutrients, lose or gain weight, process sugar, and control appetite. A diverse set of microbes with lots of beneficial bacteria will keep your intestinal tissue healthy.
On the other hand, your gut becomes unhealthy when non-beneficial bacteria and pathogenic organisms make their home in it. Evidence of this is seen in cases of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Common symptoms of IBS include intestinal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. These symptoms are caused by an imbalance of bacteria in your gut or an overgrowth of parasites or fungi.
We can also see your gut’s microbiome affects your digestive system in regards to fiber. Fiber is often recommended to help keep your bathroom trips regular and, let’s just say, “unstoppered.” Certain bacteria digest fiber, which then creates short-chain fatty acids that are important for gut health. Studies have found a direct relationship between what is consumed, changes in the microbiome, and the effects of the microbiome on weight, metabolism, and health.
Gut Microbiome And Your Immune System
The second most influential way your gut microbiome affects your overall health is through your immune system. It may seem counter-intuitive, but bacteria in your gut are key players in helping your immune system fight unwanted intruders. The role of your immune system is to defend against pathogens that may cause you harm, not including the millions of microorganisms that make up the gut microbiome. Actually, the digestive tract is where the majority of your immune system is housed!
How does your gut microbiome support your immune system?
It starts at birth. As soon as you are born you are no longer supported by your mother’s body. Your body begins to rely on its own bacteria in the gut. They send chemical signals to a layer of cells lining the gut, called epithelial cells. These signals help the immune system recognize harmful versus helpful bacteria. The result is the lifelong programming of immune defense and antibody production.
Gut Microbiome And Your Brain
The stomach communicates with the brain through the central nervous system (CNS). This is known as the gut-brain connection. You may not believe it, but our guts can tell us quite a bit more than that we’re just hungry. This communication between the brain and gut is called the gut-brain axis; it’s facilitated by the vagus nerve. In fact, the gut has about 500 million neurons connected to the brain through your CNS.
Bacteria in your gut microbiome can directly influence the neurons firing between your stomach and your brain. One of the most important neurotransmitters related to the gut is serotonin, the happy hormone. Between 75% and 90% of your body’s total serotonin is produced in the stomach! When bacteria in the gut are unbalanced, serotonin production can decrease. More and more research is finding that the gut microbiome may have a real impact on how we experience our day to day lives.
Disrupters to Gut Microbiome
As mentioned above, you first began to develop your gut microbiome at birth. It’s a lifelong process and there are many factors that can influence your gut micro-ecology. Many of the factors that disrupt the little helpers in your stomach are external. For example, food allergies and sensitivities can cause an imbalance in your gut microbiome. On the other hand, research has shown that infants with low bacterial diversity have an increased risk of developing food sensitivities, and similarly with toddlers. Does one cause the other or vice versa? Either way, the research can confirm that there is a link between gut microbiome and food allergies and sensitivities.
Other external factors can disrupt gut microbiome such as:
- Use of antibiotics
- Use of steroids
- Exposure to toxins, such as heavy metals
- Exposure to environmental molds (Read my blog on Mold Exposure)
- Lack of a diverse diet
- Some artificial sweeteners
How Do You Maintain A Healthy Gut?
Having a diverse gut microbiome is important to overall health, so how do you maintain a healthy gut? There are several things you can do, but first and foremost, be aware of what you are putting in your stomach. A healthy diet is key to a healthy gut.
To get a diverse gut microbiome, eat a diverse set of food. Start with lots of vegetables and fruit, beans and legumes are also beneficial. Look for clean, hormone-free meats and fish. Avoid foods you are allergic to or have a sensitivity with, they may be causing extra inflammation in the intestinal wall and lead to bacterial imbalance.
You can also make sure to consume a regular source of probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria found in food and supplements. Prebiotics are compounds in food that induce the growth of good bacteria in your gut. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, yogurt, olives, and pickles. Supplements are another good way to get both probiotics and prebiotics.
Fix Your Gut With Professional Help
Whatever you do, make sure you’re taking care of those small microorganisms in your gut, because the gut microbiome affects your overall health! If you are worried your gut health is below par, get in contact with Dr. Lisa Ballehr. She is a functional medicine doctor in Mesa, AZ. Through functional testing and lab analysis, she can help you get your health back on track and give you the tools you need to support a healthy gut microbiome. Take her FREE online health assessment now to get started.