Gut health. Sounds weird doesn't it? Most people think of bacteria within the body as a cause of getting sick or developing certain diseases, but did you know that at all times there are actually billions of beneficial bacteria present within all of us? In fact, bacteria make up our microbiome, an integral internal ecosystem that benefits our gut health and the immune system.
Establishing a desirable environment for your gut bacteria can be as simple as changing your diet, and/or integrating probiotic supplements into your daily nutrition regiment. Probiotic and prebiotic foods and supplements are simple and effective nutritional tools that enhance the growth of “good
bacteria” in your body.
What Makes Up The Gut? The Microbiome
Each of us have an amazing ecosystem of bacteria within our bodies that is called the Microbiome. It houses a large variety "healthy bacteria" in our digestive track that is necessary for our survival.
According to the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at the University of Colorado, “the human microbiota consists of the 10–100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells harbored by each person, primarily bacteria in the gut. The human ‘microbiome’ consists of the genes these cells harbor.”(1)
These “good bacteria” are living on your skin and inside your body, which help keep us healthy and functioning properly. Most of these bacteria are located inside your digestive system where they play a vital role in the digestive process. For example, without healthy gut bacteria “you could not obtain vitamin K from your food.”(2)
It’s been said by some researchers that up to 90 percent of all diseases can be traced in some way back to the gut and health of the microbiome. A healthy microbiome is essential to governing most functions in your body. It is a delicate balance to say the least. However, the importance of our gut microbiome cannot be overstated. Poor gut health can contribute to myriad of health issues like leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune diseases and disorders like arthritis, dementia, heart disease, and cancer, while our health, fertility and longevity are also highly reliant on the balance of critters living within our guts.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found "that "good" bacteria in the gut keep the immune system primed to more effectively fight infection from invading pathogenic bacteria. Altering the intricate dynamic between resident and foreign bacteria -- via antibiotics, for example -- compromises an animal's immune response, specifically, the function of white blood cells called neutrophils."(3)
Not only is your microbiome a great defense when it comes immune function, but it can also aid us in our metabolism. "Are you saying that my microbiome can help me lose weight? Yes I am!" The health of your gut flora can also impact your metabolism, ability to lose weight, energy production, and even the expression of your genes.(4)
When It Comes To Health Your Microbiome Rules?
Your diet plays a big part in establishing gut health and supporting your microbiome’s good bacteria. Research over the past several decades has revealed evidence that there’s an inseparable link between a person’s microbiome, digestion, body weight and metabolism. Researchers took a look at 59 mammalian species and found the microbiomes differed dramatically based on that species diet.
Similar to the Human Genome Project which began in 1990 to map out every gene in the human genome, there are scientists currently mapping the various bacteria living inside the human body. Launched in 2008, this scientific undertaking is called the Human Microbiome Project.
As surprising as it may seem, according to a 2011 study in the journal Nature, the human body contains only three primary “communities” of gut bacteria. The three “enterotype defining genera” include:
Your gut health determines how well you can digest and absorb the foods therefore the nutrients that you eat. We carry approximately 2kg of microbes in our gut. There are tens of trillions of micro-organisms that live there and of those tens of trillions, research has shown that there are approximately 1000 different species of bacteria consisting of over 3 million genes (5).
The type of gut microbiota seem to also play a role in how your body extracts nutrients, stores fat, and creates inflammation. For example, researchers took adult, germ-free mice with healthy body weights and normal microbiota, and injected them with the microbiota of conventional, fat mice, had a 60% increase in body fat content and insulin resistance within 14 days (6).
Improving Your Gut Health
So now that you know the importance of your microbiome, it's time to create one. And like any building structure, whether it be a skyscraper or a house, it starts with a solid foundation.
Working to create a healthy gut flora is paramount to achieving and maintaining optimal health. One of the easiest things to do is to simply make small changes in your diet or supplementing with a probiotic. This will help to establish a desirable environment for your gut flora to survive and thrive.
Before we get into the "What To Eat" category it's also extremely important to know "What NOT To Eat" or better yet "What To Stay Away From" so you can have the greatest success at building a healthy microbiome.
What To Avoid
The following list identifies what foods and items to avoid as to not destroy our microbiome.
Out With The Bad...
The best way to create a healthy gut is to nourish it. Feed it! But not just any ole food. A gut-healthy diet is one rich in whole, unprocessed, unsweetened foods, along with traditionally fermented or cultured foods. But before these powerful foods can work their magic in your body, you have to eliminate the "undesirables" that get in their way.
A good place to start is reducing, dare I say, eliminating grains and sugars, and avoiding genetically engineered ingredients, processed foods, and pasteurized foods. Pasteurized foods can harm your good bacteria, and sugar promotes the growth of pathogenic yeast and other fungi (not to mention fueling cancer cells). Grains containing gluten are particularly damaging to your microflora and overall health. (7)
In With The Good!
On the other hand, there are many natural foods that can help us to create a desirable microbiome. Consuming fermented foods is one the of the best strategies to optimize your gut health. By doing so, you create a gut health that is a protector. Helping you to fight off bad invaders, lowering your inflammatory response, prevention of disease, and plays a critical role in body weight composition. Many of the foods listed below are High-antioxidant foods that can help reduce gut damage caused by oxidative stress and turn down an overactive immune system while safeguarding healthy cells.
A Quick Word About Probiotics and Probiotic Supplements
Much like if you have an apartment building full of "undesirables" (bad bacteria), you can't just take a probiotic and expect it to go in and clean house. Probiotics don't come in in the middle of the night at 2am and kick out the bad tenants in your gut and throw them out into the street. It doesn't work like that.
You first have to get rid of the bad tenants...the "undesirables". Otherwise, you're wasting your time, and your supplement.
The Microbiome Key Takeaways
Microbiota (gut bacteria) are the trillions of bacterial organisms that live inside our bodies. The whole community of these bacteria is call the microbiome.
Poor gut health is tied to nearly every disease in some way. This is due to our immune system is tied to our gut health and this is also where inflammation begins.
Our gut, mostly the small intestine, is the central location of the microbiome, where the majority of bacteria live.
Improving your diet, by eating plenty of anti-inflammatory foods and fermented foods, lowering stress, and exercising daily, will increase your success at growing a healthy microbiome and therefor a healthier you.