Recently, gut microbiome health has been a subject with increasing popularity in many health publications. What, if any, is the truth behind this? First, it is important that we define what the gut microbiome really is. Essentially the gut microbiota, or gut flora, are the 100 trillion bacteria, microorganisms, viruses, and fungi that live in the intestines. Research has found that the gut microbiome plays a role in nutrition, metabolism, immune function, and physiology. If there is an imbalance of microbes in the gut, it could lead to gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. There is ongoing research asking whether nonpathogenic strains can be used for recovering immune responses to pathogenic causing diseases.Bacteria reside throughout the entire human body, but the vast majority can be found in the gut.
The gut microbiota is split up into four groups
How the Gut microbes Impact Overall Health
The balance of these microbes in the gut can be affected by diet, stress, environment, birthing, and stages of the lifecycle. The imbalance of microbes is referred to as Dysbiosis and causes a lower number/variety of commensal bacteria, which are the microbes in the flora of the mouth. Studies have found a relationship between gut dysbiosis and chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and cancer. The gut microbiome also plays an integral role in protecting your body against harmful bacteria by competing for nutrients and producing antimicrobial substances. These substances are made with the commensal bacteria and products of bacterial metabolism, thus providing host protection against invading pathogens.
The gut is referred to as the “second brain” due to its many critical functions in the body. It is responsible for the immune system, digestive system, absorbing minerals and vitamins, the capacity to remove toxins from your body, and even the well-being of your mental health. Many are surprised to find out gut health can affect mood and mental health overall. This is why it is important to maintain a healthy microbiome. The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is what lines the gastrointestinal tracts, and this is important because the ENS is not only responsible for the immune system, but also for communicating with the brain about your gut. When there is dysbiosis in your gut microbiome, it damages the mucosal layer in your gut. As a result, this leaves you susceptible to the food you consume entering your bloodstream, thus triggering your immune system, and causing food sensitivity, inflammation, and other symptoms. The ENS also sends messages to your Central Nervous System (CNS), which can affect mood, memory and cognitive function. Lastly, most of the body’s serotonin is cultivated by certain bacteria in the gut’s microbiome, which can also affect your mood.
One of the most popular “health trends” has been gut health, and it’s for good reason as more and more information shows gut health is related to overall health. Diet is a lifestyle change you can make to promote a healthy gut. The type of food or diet you follow can alter the bacterial composition in your gut. It has been found that higher consumption of simple sugars/carbohydrates and fats is likely to cause changes in the gut bacteria that contribute to chronic inflammatory diseases. Another aspect of diet that can affect the gut microbiota is dietary fiber. Fiber is easily fermented by the bacteria in your GI tract and is believed to sustain a variety of microbes. People who consume a high fiber diet are thought to produce more short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) which provide nutrients to intestinal cells, and in turn, promotes regulatory T-cells that prevent immoderate inflammation. Some examples of foods that are high in fiber and nutrients that you can incorporate into your diet include
chia seeds, and
Food additives are another aspect of your diet that can have detrimental effects on the balance of the gut microbiota. Processed foods add compounds made of synthetic molecules to enhance color, texture, and flavor, or to help it preserve for longer periods of time. Artificial sweeteners have been found to cause an abnormality in blood sugar stability, otherwise known as dysglycemia, and can cause changes to certain microbes in the GI tract. Emulsifiers are another additive that can cause dysbiosis, and they are a compound similar to the detergent that helps stabilize mixtures. This additive is typically found in liquids as it prevents distinct parts from separating and creates the desirable texture. Emulsifiers cause an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine thus promoting metabolic syndrome and the increasing likelihood of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS). Some foods that contain emulsifiers are ice cream, salad dressings, low-fat spreads, and margarine. Additionally, you can positively affect your gut microbiota through increased consumption of fermented foods. Fermented foods are foods that have been through the fermentation process, which is the process of transforming carbs into alcohol or organic acids by using yeast or bacteria. Not only does this process help to preserve the food, but it also creates strains of probiotics, enzymes, B-vitamins, and Omega-3 fatty acids that promote a healthy microbiome. Due to the high demand for fermented foods, there are many tasty options on the market you can choose from like the plethora of different kombuchas, kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut. So, overall to promote a healthier and balanced gut you should opt to increase your fiber and fermented food intake and reduce food additives as much as possible.
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Taking probiotics to nurture your gut is something that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Some of the claims that many health advocates make about probiotics include digestive balance, help one to lose weight, and boost the immune system, however the Food and Drug Administration, often referred to as the FDA, loosely regulates the companies creating these probiotic supplements so they can imply all the claims mentioned previously without any consequences. The supplement business has found ways around FDA regulations by having claims on their labels that suggest they will treat a condition without actually saying that. For example, they are able to say that their supplement promotes healthy sugar levels as opposed to saying that it will treat diabetes. The wording can be tricky for consumers as they tend to be very persuasive, which is why it is important to be aware of this. A common misconception surrounding probiotics supplements is that they colonize in your gut and become part of your microbiome, however, there is not enough research to prove that this claim is true. Most research indicates that probiotics just pass by your gut, which may or may not have some benefits for your microbiome. Many doctors do prescribe probiotics as different strains have been found to help with different things, such as Clostridium difficile, which is an infection that causes inflammation of the colon and diarrhea. If you believe that taking a probiotic supplement would be beneficial to your overall health. It is important that you consult your primary care physician first so that they can recommend the probiotic strain that would be most favorable for you.
The gut has an effect on many aspects of your health, so it is crucial to have knowledge on its many functions and actions you can take to promote a healthy variety of microbiota in your gastrointestinal tract.
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