A topic that I discuss with my every single client I coach, is our gut microbiome. It's the center of our health. The way we eat, the way we sleep, we exercise, manage our stress levels, take care of our environment- they all impact our microbiome diversity and whether we have a good balance of different microorganism in the gut.
In the below article, I cover what is microbiome, what does it do and why we won't live without them and they can't live without us. Also what affects the health of microbiome and how can you take care of it so that it can take care of you.
Your gut can hold the key to everything from tackling weight issues, overcoming anxiety and depression, lowering your risk for chronic illnesses, boosting your immunity and the list goes on.
What is gut microbiome?
Our gut microbiome is the most important scientific discovery for human healthcare in recent decades. There is still a lot we are learning about it, but below are just a few things we know:
our gut microbiome weighs around 2kg and is bigger than an average human brain.
it's a community of trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses, archaea.
it contains approximately 35,000 different strains of bacteria, majority in our large intestine, but bacteria can also be found in our small intestine, stomach and oesophagus.
it contains at least 150 times more genes than the human genome.
we are filled with microbes, that form their own microbiomes in our gut, our skin, in our mouth, lungs, eyes, reproductive system and even in our brain. These different microbiomes have evolved with us since the beginning of our human history. Our gut microbiome is the largest and most important one when it comes to our overall health
gut microbiome is extremely complex and varies from person to person a lot
more than 70% of our immune system resides in our gut
What does gut microbiome do?
Gut is a vital organ, where food gets digested, metabolised and absorbed to be delivered into our cells and provide the body with energy. Gut is also essential for the removal of waste from the body. The total surface of our gut is around the size of a half a badminton court - this is why diet what we eat has such a profound impact on our health. The integrity of our gut lining can become compromised (leaky) if it's constantly being bombarded with chemicals from food and environment or we are chronically stressed. This causes chronic low-level inflammation that can lead to various diseases.
Gut microbes do things that the gut can't do, which is liberating and synthesising nutrients from foods, especially plant foods. In order for the microbes to do the proper job for us, they need anything from 25-35g of fibre a day. But our modern diet that is often low in fibre, highly processed, high-sugar- does not really support that. Our bodies are not used to breaking down all the chemicals, artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, thickeners that we get through the processed foods we eat.
Our gut microbiome modifies our:
depression and anxiety levels
happiness (90% of the serotonin, a feel good hormone, is produced in the gut as well as 50% of the dopamine is produced by neurons and cells in your gut)
food digestion effectiveness
What affects gut microbiome?
Having a diverse population of gut microbes is associated with better health. As we have urbanised more over the years, changed our diets from whole foods to processed foods, as we have used more and more chemicals to kill microbes in our environments, as we are getting more and more exposure to antibiotics, our microbial diversity has declined.
Below are some of the main things that affect our gut microbiome.
How were you delivered as a baby?
Babies who are born via C-section are exposed to different strains of bacteria as compared to babies born vaginally. When born vaginally, babies inhale the mother's vaginal microbes while moving through the birth canal, therefore inoculating baby's gut with microbiome from mother. Babies born through C-section don't get that unless they are swabbed with maternal vaginal microbes after they are born.
How was your diet in your infancy and childhood?
If you were breastfed, you were exposed to more beneficial bacteria from your mother's milk. Of course the quality of your mother's milk was influenced by her diet, BMI, antibiotic use, mother's health in general. If you were formula-fed, your did not get that additional exposure to microbes.
How has your diet been during your adulthood?
What you eat, has a profound impact on the different types of bacteria that live in your gut. If you consume processed foods, eat fries, burgers, chips, sugar containing foods- then you feed the bacteria that wants that type of food and those bacteria communicate with your brain to crave those specific foods. You also increase pathogens overgrowth and starve out probiotic bacteria, which thrive on prebiotic fibre. If you consume whole foods, diet rich in plant-foods, you support the beneficial microorganisms in the gut, making you to want to eat specifically those foods. Pesticides that are used to spray grains, vegetables, fruits can also kill beneficial bacteria in the gut- therefore purchasing organic produce where possible is crucial for health.
How many courses of antibiotics and other medications you've been on during your life?
Antibiotics kill bacteria (it literally means 'anti-life)- it is essential if you are sick with a bad bacterial infection and you need help ridding yourself of the harmful bacteria. The challenge is that by killing the bad bacteria, antibiotics also destroy the good bacteria, creating a dysbiosis in the gut. Even just one course of commonly prescribed antibiotic can wipe out microbial diversity for one month. And some strains of good bacteria we had working for us, we are never able to get back through diet or supplementation. But also medications like antidepressants, proton pump inhibitors, beta-blockers can cause dysbiosis in the gut.
How are your stress and anxiety levels?
Stress, whether brief or long term can alter the gut microbiota because of the gut-brain axis, where your gut and brain are in constant communication with one another. Emotional stress causes dysbiosis in the gut and dysbiosis increases emotional stress.
How active you are?
Sedentary lifestyle with no or very low levels of physical activity lead to increase number of pathogenic gut bacteria and lower diversity in the gut microbiome, which increases your risk for infections and chronic illnesses.
What is your exposure to environmental toxins?
The household products you use to clean your home, the cosmetics you use on your skin, your exposure to heavy metals- all this affects the gut microbiome.
How is your sleep?
If you are sleep deprived or experience low quality sleep, this can cause dysbiosis, leading to weaker immune system as well as affecting your brain health.
How old you are?
It takes around 3 years for toddlers to colonise their gut microbiome similarly to that of an adult's. Also, as we get over 70 plus years, our microbial diversity decreases.
What are your genetics?
Though genetics play a small role, compared to our environment, diet, lifestyle we are practicing, some aspects of the microbiome may be inherited.
How does poor gut health affect your health?
Poor gut health is associated with:
depression and anxiety
brain disorders (dementia, Alzheimer's)
learning disabilities (ADHD, autism)
asthma, skin allergies, sensitivities
autoimmune diseases (Hashimoto's, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis etc)
How can you support your gut microbiome?
When your gut microbiome has a healthy balance, good bacteria (probiotics) outnumber the bad bacteria (pathogens) and contribute to your overall wellness.
Detoxify your gut
The best starting point to improve your gut health is to detoxify your gut, by removing inflammatory foods from your diet, such as refined carbohydrates and processed grains, added sugar, processed foods, refined vegetable oils, conventional dairy. The guidelines here can vary depending on the person and also their food sensitivities. Also some cell-supporting agents can help as well, like citrus pectin. Chlorophyll, chlorella, activated charcoal are are natural ways to help body to rid itself from toxins.
Eat a healthy diet
Practice healthy eating, which is diverse, with plenty of fibrous food (vegetables, salads, berries, fruits), probiotic and prebiotic rich foods to feed and grow the good bacteria in the gut, bone broth or meat stock to sooth and heal the gut lining as well as good quality protein and fat. Use plenty of fresh herbs and spices, such as cilantro, basil, rosemary, oregano, turmeric, ginger, thyme.
To determine the microbial diversity, good and bad bacteria balance in your gut, you can do a gut microbiome test. Companies like Elsavie in Estonia, Viome in the US, offer the services and products around gut microbiome, where once you place an order on their website, they send you a test kit to take the stool test at home and send it back to them. You will then receive the results of the test, with a breakdown of different bacteria in your gut, the good and bad bacteria as well as dietary recommendations (what to eat and what not to eat) to improve your gut microbiome.
Elsavie has also dietary fibre supplements in a powdered form you can order to help increase your daily fibre intake as well as probiotic supplements.
Viome provides tests apart from gut microbiome also to test your cellular and oral health, where in addition to personalised nutrition advice they also formulate precision supplements and probiotic/prebiotic supplements based on your microbiome health and where it needs support.
If you practice regular moderate physical activity you support the growth and diversity of probiotic bacteria in your gut.
Relax and focus on improving your sleep
Adding good quality supplements, like Omega-3, CoQ 10, selenium, vitamin C, D, E can also help keep free radical damage from disturbing microbiome in the gut.
When your gut is functioning well, you have a better running digestive system, you have more balanced hormones, you have a better immune system and a fired-up brain function. If you are looking for support to improve your gut health don't hesitate to reach out to me for guidance and coaching at firstname.lastname@example.org.