Unless you have been living on a deserted island for the past couple of years, you have probably heard about the importance of gut health, or the gut microbiome, or maybe probiotics and prebiotics.
The importance of gut health has been hitting the mainstream media as of late. The other day, I even saw “Heal Your Gut, Lose the Weight” titled upon a popular women’s magazine! I didn’t read the article, but the title does have some truth to it. Healing your gut can help with weight loss, but can help eliminate the plethora of other chronic health conditions as well. In fact, improving our gut health is the first place any person should start when trying to improve their overall health, or conquer a chronic health issue.
SO, WHAT IS A MICROBIOME?
A microbiome is a colony or community of microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses, living together in a certain environment.
And, the human body is full of microbes!
We actually have different “communities of microbes”, or microbiomes all over our bodies. The most well known is the gut microbiome, but we also have a skin microbiome (1), an oral microbiome (2), a nasal microbiome (3), and ladies have a vaginal microbiome (4). Don’t think of our different microbiomes as different entities. They all affect each other, and luckily improving the health of one can have a big impact on the others.
Fascinatingly, each individual’s personal microbiome is as unique as their fingerprint (5).
A microbiome is not unique to humans. Every living thing has a microbiome, including your cat (6), dog (7), bird (8), that moose you saw on the side of the road yesterday (9), even insects have a microbiome (10)! Bugs have bugs!!
Your garden even (hopefully) has a microbiome as well! Unless you use products that should be illegal to grow food with, such as glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup), your garden will have its own healthy thriving microbiome!
TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE HUMAN GUT MICROBIOME
The gut microbiome resides primarily in the large intestine, also called the colon. The large intestine houses a whopping 1,000,000,000 bacteria per ml of fluid, while the small intestine is comparatively sterile with only 10,000 bacteria per ml of fluid (11).
The human gut microbiome consists of three types of microbes:
1. Beneficial or Symbiotic Microbes – These “bugs” are what constitute a healthy microbiome. The bugs that belong to this group promote health (see below).
2. Commensal Microbes – These microbes are neutral. They are neither good nor bad on their own. Although, they do take up precious real estate in your colon. An overgrowth of commensal microbes can become problematic if they are not balanced by symbiotic microbes.
3. Dysbiotic or Pathogenic Microbes – These are the good-for-nothing microbes. An overgrowth of dysbiotic microbes will most likely cause problems and may need treatment.
We can think of the gut microbiome as a living entity which resides within our digestive tract. Depending on which types of bacteria compose our microbiome, this entity can either work for us, supporting every aspect of our wellbeing; or against us, causing a downward spiral in our mental, physical and emotional health. When our microbiome becomes disrupted, more bad bacteria live in our intestine than good bacteria. When bad bacteria are allowed to run the show, our health suffers. These bad bacteria derail our health in two ways; they release a toxin called lipopolysaccharide, and cause our intestinal walls to become excessively permeable, aka “leaky gut”. When lipopolysaccharides enter our bloodstream through the “holes” in our gut, chronic inflammation is what results (1). It is well known that chronic inflammation is the root of most chronic health issues we face today (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
WHAT DO THE BENEFICIAL BUGS DO FOR ME?
I am glad you asked! A thriving community of symbiotic microbes provides many health benefits, such as;
- Synthesize vitamins such as Vitamin K, and the B Vitamins – Folate, Biotin and B12 (12).
- Ferment undigestible carbohydrates, such as soluble and insoluble fiber. The fermentation of these fibers produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), such as butyrate. These SCFAs provide energy to the cells of our colon and help control proliferation and differentiation of cells in the colon, which may help prevent colon cancer. Butyrate is also a powerful anti-inflammatory substance (12).
- Break down dietary carcinogens (12).
- Protect us from colonization of pathogenic bacteria, and prevent attachment and entry of pathogenic bacteria into the cells of the colon (12).
- Strengthen our immunity by interacting with, and affecting the composition of the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) (12).
- Play a key role in the metabolism of female sex hormones and breast cancer prevention. (13, 14)
- Break down chemicals such as medications, hormones, and toxins that come from the liver. This encourages their excretion rather than reabsorption (15).
I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Have you heard about the importance of a healthy gut microbiome?
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