What is the Microbiome and How Can You Improve Your Gut Health?

November 4, 2019
Health & Fitness

If you’ve been paying attention to health news at all over the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard a little something about the importance of gut health. Diet and weight loss books have popped up all over the place, professing to have found the new magic diet to solve all of your problems. And while some of the claims are a bit sensationalist, there is real,hard science to back up the notion of the importance of maintaining good gut health. And a lot of this relates to the good bacteria that lives in the gut and has pretty wide-ranging effects on overall health. We’re going to give you a run-down of what exactly the microbiome is and how to eat to keep it happy.

Want to see a doctor? Don't know what type of doctor to see for microbiome issues? Click here for a list of local gastroenterologists.

What is the Microbiome?

The microbiome is a complex network of different microorganisms,made of thousands of different species of bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses that live primarily in the small and large intestine. While this might sound like a bad thing, for most healthy people, all of these different microbes coexist peacefully and actually help to boost your immunity. The notion of the microbiome doesn’t only exist within the human body, but also in the earth’s atmosphere, soil, and oceans. The main thing that they all have in common is that they are incredibly diverse and varied. From person to person, place to place, they will vary in immense ways. The variety stems from many factors such as DNA, genetic disposition, environment, and diet. What microorganisms you are initially exposed to is almost entirely dependent on your mother–through DNA, being birthed through the birth canal, and breastfeeding. It is one reason that gut health is often talked about in relation to the rise of cesarean sections and the use of formula over breastfeeding; all of these choices will affect the diversity of the microbiome from day one. Then as we grow older, and are exposed to different foods and environments, the microbiome can change for better and for worse.

Why is the Microbiome So Important?

The microbiota that live in all of us are responsible for a whole host of useful bodily functions. They help us to absorb tons of different vitamins that are key for bodily health, can work on breaking down toxic food compounds, and most importantly, help to stimulate the immune system.

There has been significant research surrounding the microbiome in recent years as scientists begin to understand more and more how much it affects overall health. Even citing some connections between gut health and mental health. While researching is still evolving and emerging daily, it is becoming more and more clear that maintaining a healthy gut is highly important to our overall health.

 

So How Do We Keep Our Guts Healthy?

While there are certain aspects that you obviously don’t have control over, such as your DNA, you can work on rebuilding and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome by changing the way you eat. We want to give you some of the top tools to keep your gut healthy and happy.

 

Ingest more Probiotics and Fermented Food

You’ve probably heard a bit about the probiotic craze that’s everywhere, and that is firmly rooted in maintaining gut health. This is because probiotic supplements and fermented foods are rich in the types of bacteria that our gut needs. Supplements especially can contain a massive variety of different bacteria that is hard to get from any other way. This is also a response to many aspects of modern society that kill a lot of the bacteria in the gut and need to be replenished. This can happen from taking antibiotics and undergoing other medical procedures that, such as chemo, that wipe out a lot of the naturally forming microbiome. You can also help to offset these effects by ingesting fermented foods such as:

·     kefir

·     kombucha

·     kimchi

·     miso

·     sauerkraut

·     tempeh

·     pickles

·     fermented vegetables

 

Don’t Forget About Prebiotics


Maybe less well known are the foods rich in prebiotics. Prebiotics are equally important, however, because they help to create a happy environment for the bacteria in the gut. They come in the form of complex carbohydrates that are super high in fiber (think fruits and veggies) and are difficult for the body to digest. Because of this, they act as food for the probiotic bacteria, allowing them to flourish in the gut. Some good examples of prebiotic foods are:

 

·     asparagus

·     chicory

·     garlic

·     onions

·     Jerusalem artichokes

·     whole grains

·     bananas

 

Avoid Sugar and Sweeteners

Sugar and sweeteners have been shown to have a negative effecton the gut microbiome. It increases blood sugar very quickly, impairing insulin responses, which can lead to variety of negative side effects such as diabetes.Generally, sugars and sweeteners are simple to digest, but provide no nutritional benefits, so the microbiome doesn’t interact with them in a productive way. Of course, it is all about balance. You don’t have to cut out all sugar and sweeteners but having a diet that is high in such things can have some negative consequences. Part of the challenge we face in the modern world is that many foods have hidden sugar, making it much harder to avoid or minimize our consumption. The best method for avoiding everything is consuming more whole foods instead of processed products.

Eat Foods Rich in Polyphenols

Another key thing to look for are foods rich in something called polyphenols, which are essentially plant compounds that are difficult for the human body to digest. The benefit of this, again, is that they aren’t easily absorbed and thus make their way down to the colon, where the gut bacteria and feast on them and break them down for the body. These compounds have been linked to a whole host of health benefits such as reducing blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and oxidative stress, all of which have wide range health effects. Some foods to look for with these handy compounds are:

 

·     Cocoa and dark chocolate

·     Red Wine

·     Grape skins

·     Green tea

·     Almonds

·     Onions

·     Blueberries

·     Broccoli

The mircrobiome is arguably one of the most important systems in the human body. Because of it's role in digesting food and fighting off disease, it helps keep us healthy on many different levels. If your gut health is out of whack it could affect everything from your digestive tract, to your skin clarity, to your mental health. While the study of this ever important system is still underway, it is clear that it is not something to be ignored. We hope that we've given you some tools to both understand it better and manage the health of your gut.

Katherine Packer

Katherine is a freelance writer specializing in content marketing, blog posts, social media, and copywriting. Since graduating from Sarah Lawrence with a BA in creative writing and theater, she has expanded her writing skills from ultra-specific academic papers and thinly veiled fiction based on her life to more business-oriented copy. She is currently based in Brooklyn.  


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