What is your gut microbiome and how does it impact your health?
Let me first ask you if you have any chronic gut issues? Or general poor health? Is it hard for you to lose weight? Do you have joint pain? How about brain fog? Fibromyalgia? Anxiety? Depression?
All of these health issues are related to your gut health.
I want to share what I have discovered about the gut microbiome and give you tips that you can use to immediately improve your health.
Hello and welcome to Fearlessly Holistic. My name is Irma and I want to share my journey to improved health by eating whole foods, moving my body and eliminating stress as much as possible.
It is my hope to inspire you to make daily changes. Why? Because eating fresh, seasonal food and getting some sunshine is the best way to increase longevity. But you do not want just a long life. You want a quality long life.
My blog posts are my opinion and the results of things that I have tried that either worked for me or didn’t. My opinions are for informational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. Medical advice should always be obtained from a qualified medical professional for any health conditions or symptoms associated with them.
What Is The Human Microbiome?
All human beings have bacteria in and on their body. Research shows that the human body is composed of more bacteria than cells. A normal healthy human body has microorganisms inhabiting every inhabitable space on the body.
It is in our gut, the gastrointestinal tract, that we can find the largest collection of microorganisms.
These microorganisms are a community and make up our gut microbiota.
Combine the microbiota, the products it makes, and the entire environment it lives within and we have a microbiome.
The human microbiome (all of our microbes’ genes) can be considered a counterpart to the human genome (all of our genes).
Every human being has a gut microbiota and the composition for each person is unique.
Regardless of the composition, the microbiota has the same physiological functions with a direct impact on the health of the human body. Some of the functions are:
- Enables the body to digest certain foods that the stomach and small intestine haven’t been able to digest.
- Helps with the production of vitamins B and K.
- Is key in helping the body combat other microorganisms that would others harm the gastrointestinal tract.
- Plays an important role in the immune system, primarily by performing as a barrier.
- A healthy and balanced gut microbiota is key to ensuring proper digestive functioning.
These are vital and important functions of the human body and the immune system.
Researchers suggest that up to 90 percent of all diseases can be traced in some way back to the gut and health of the microbiome.
Poor gut health can contribute to many diseases and disorders like leaky gut syndrome, autoimmune disease, arthritis, dementia, heart disease, and cancer.
Many people are surprised that health, fertility, and longevity all rely on the balance of organisms and bacteria living within the gut.
Every human being shapes their own microbiome, which in turn adapts to changes in their environment.
For example, the foods that are eaten, sleeping patterns, the amount of bacteria the person is exposed to every day, all help to establish the state of the gut microbiota.
Add in the level of stress the person lives with and no wonder we have health issues.
This means that you can affect your microbiome through diet, physical exercise, sleep, and stress management.
Depending on the symptoms you are experiencing, your microbiome could need a minor adjustment or a major adjustment.
Sometimes, just knowing that you really are in control of your gut health is enough to start you on the path to improving your gut health.
The Gut Microbiome: The Body’s Second Brain
Most people think of bacteria within the body as a cause of getting sick or developing certain diseases. The reality is that at all times there are billions of beneficial bacteria within all of us.
Bacteria make up our gut microbiome, an internal ecosystem that benefits our gut health and immune system.
Each of us has a unique gut microbiome.
We define microbiome as a “community of microbes.” The majority of the bacterial species that make up our microbiome live in our digestive system.
“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.”
The scientific community recognizes the important role that bacteria have in supporting a strong immune system.
This includes the “father of medicine”, Hippocrates, who famously said “All disease begins in the gut“.
While this may not be 100% accurate on the part of Hippocrates, he was not far off.
Bacteria are vital for boosting immunity, keeping our digestive systems running smoothly, our hormone levels balanced and our brains working properly.
What Is The “Second Brain”.
If you have ever “gone with your gut” to make a decision you’re likely getting signals from an unexpected source: your second brain. Same goes when you feel “butterflies in your stomach” when you are nervous.
Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is having a major impact on the field of medicine. Medical researcher’s are working to understand the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way you think.
Scientists call this “second brain” the enteric nervous system (ENS).
It is two layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your entire gastrointestinal tract – from the esophagus to the rectum. Read this for more detailed information on the ENS.
The ENS has a direct effect on our emotional and mental well-being.
It was once thought that our emotions such as anxiety and depression were the contributing factors to various gut problems.
But it turns out that the reverse is more accurate. Researchers are finding evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system is sending signals to the central nervous system (CNS).
Those signals are what is triggering mood changes and swinging emotional levels.
Why is this important?
When we know the cause of a problem we can then work to fix or heal or cure the cause.
Understanding that our gut health is vital to our brain health means that we can be a part of the solution to our emotional and mental challenges.
This doesn’t mean that eating certain foods will prevent us from being angry.
What it does mean is that if our mood swings are wide or we actually experience depression, we can be a part of the solution.
Just by changing our eating habits and reducing the stress in our lives, we can take care of our gut. Our gut will in turn will take care of our mental and emotional health.
How Gut Bacteria Can Impact Your Health
When the stomach and small intestine are unable to digest certain foods we eat, gut microbes jump in to offer a help. This ensures that we get the nutrients we need.
Gut bacteria are also known to aid the production of certain vitamins like B and K and play a major role in immune function.
Research suggests that the gut bacteria in healthy people are different from those with certain diseases.
Every human being has a gut microbiota (community of bacteria) that is unique.
People who are sick may have too little or too much of a certain type of gut bacteria, or they may lack a variety of bacteria.
Scientists have begun to draw links between the following illnesses and the bacteria in your gut:
Obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease:
Your gut bacteria affects your body’s metabolism. The bacteria determine how many calories you get from food and what kinds of nutrients you receive.
Too much gut bacteria can make you turn fiber into fatty acids. This can cause fat deposits in your liver, leading to something called metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis:
It’s believed that people with these conditions have lower levels of certain anti-inflammatory gut bacteria.
The exact causal link is unclear, but researchers think that some bacteria may make your body attack your intestines and set the stage for these diseases.
Read this article from National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Gut bacteria produce an array of neurochemicals. The brain uses these for the regulation of physiological and mental processes, including memory, learning, and mood.
95% of the body’s supply of serotonin is produced by gut bacteria. Which means that gut bacteria have been associated with a number of mental health problems that include anxiety disorders and depression.
A healthy diet can encourage the presence of good gut bacteria.
Probiotic-rich foods include live-cultured yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, miso soup, apple cider vinegar, and dark chocolate.
Consuming fermented foods – such as miso and sauerkraut – increases the level of fermenting bacteria in the gut. Be sure to look for natural products, as most store versions are processed enough to kill the beneficial bacteria.
In addition, fruits and vegetables contain fibers and sugars that can boost the health of gut bacteria.
And, eating probiotic-rich foods and taking a daily probiotic supplement also help to put good bacteria into our bodies.
The Connection Between Your Microbiome And Your Diet
You are what you eat? It is better stated that your gut health is dependent on what you eat.
And your gut health has a direct impact on your physical and mental health.
People who are sick may have too little, too much, or they may lack a variety of bacteria.
This means you can affect the balance of your gut bacteria and it can be done through diet.
Knowing that diet is important is one thing, but consciously eating foods that support good gut health is even more important.
Chances are good that you know that refined sugar is bad for your health, in a number of ways.
Well, it’s also bad for your gut health.
Related Post: Breaking Bad Habits in Four Steps
There are good and bad types of gut bacteria that need your attention.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, and they feed on prebiotics.
Prebiotics are plant-based fibers from whole foods like fresh vegetables and fruits.
Bad gut bacteria love to eat sugar.
When you eat refined sugar, these bad gut bacteria thrive and grow out of control, outworking the good bacteria.
Then they cuddle up together and multiply, creating weak spots in your gut. This can become intestinal permeability, a.k.a leaky gut syndrome.
The results are diseases and disorders like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
Then there is gluten.
Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt and barley, with wheat being the most common grain consumed.
Researchers say the presence of certain gut bacteria may contribute to the development of celiac disease. Celiac disease is an immune disease in which a person is intolerant to gluten.
Fermented foods can help provide balance to your gut bacteria.
Foods like pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, apple cider vinegar, and dark chocolate feed the good gut bacteria.
As well, there are also beneficial foods that contain resistant starch, which feeds beneficial bacteria. It is resistant to digestion, passing through your digestive tract undigested, but feeding your probiotic bacteria.
Resistant starches are different from the starch in pasta or potatoes. Foods containing resistant starch include green bananas and raw potatoes. Read more from Bulletproof.com.
Fix Your Out Of Balance Microbiome Today
Your gut microbiome is a community of bacteria consisting of good bacteria (probiotics), bad bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms.
When the gut microbiome is in balance it means that the ratio of good bacteria to bad will be higher.
This works to keep your digestive system intact and working properly.
70% of the immune system is in your microbiome and is the line of defense against pathogens.
The bacteria in the gut even produce vitamins like vitamin K which is important for blood clotting and vitamin B which is used for energy.
How do you know if your gut microbiome is healthy or out of balance?
The easiest way to tell is by these five very obvious symptoms.
- Gas or bloating
- Indigestion or heartburn after meals
- Irregular bowel movements (diarrhea, constipation, or both)
- Food allergies or sensitivities
- Frequent colds
I would add that weight loss is harder when your microbiome is out of whack.
This is because the body is working hard to maintain as much health as it can; weight loss is not it’s top priority.
If you take anti-inflammatory drugs, it will take longer to heal. Read this article from PaleoLeap on what Tylenol and Advil do to your gut microbiome.
The good news is that you can fix your microbiome through diet, reducing stress, and sleeping better.
For stress reduction and sleeping better, look to regular exercise and movement of the body.
Consider adding yoga meditation to your morning routine before you begin exercising.
Add a walk outdoors to your afternoon routine following a good, healthy lunch.
Related Post: 10 Holistic Weight Loss Alternatives (with tips on meditation and yoga)
As for your diet, you can begin by removing processed foods and adding healthy foods as well. Also include fermented foods to restore balance to your gut microbiome.
Fermented foods are easy to make at home. You are essentially making “pickles” but without vinegar.
At its basic, you cut up vegetables and mix with salt. The salt draws the water from the veg and creates a “brine”.
You would put this mixture into a crock or mason jar with a weight on top. You want your veg submerged under the brine, so it is not exposed to air. This creates the conditions for lacto-fermentation to occur i.e. pickling.
The taste is superior to any store bought pickled food. Here is a blog post from Preserve And Pickle to give you some fermenting ideas.
People have been eating fermented foods for thousands of years for their health benefits.
Folks used to have a “cold room” where they kept crocks of fermented veggies. Making fermented foods was part of life because doctors were few and far between. Ideally, you make fermented foods when those veggies are at their seasonal peak.
You needed these fermented foods to keep your body healthy and ready to fight infection.
Here are some foods you begin adding to your diet, now, to get your gut microbiome back in balance:
- Sauerkraut (homemade or natural. Processed sauerkraut has had its beneficial bacteria destroyed in processing)
You’ll see that all of these are full of either probiotics (yogurt) or feed the probiotics in your gut (the rest).
When purchasing probiotics, be sure that you are getting “active cells” (same for yogurt). This ensures that you are adding good bacteria to your body. Not all yogurt is the same, so you have to read labels to find “the good stuff”.
If you are new to probiotic supplements, be sure to start slowly.
Taking more than the recommended amount can result in some unpleasant side effects, such as extra trips to the bathroom, headaches, or allergy symptoms.
Probiotics work best when you start slowly and increase your dosage over time. Remember that adding good bacteria means that they will be fighting bad bacteria.
However, once the bad bacteria are dead, they are dead.
You will only have to maintain your supply of good bacteria, which you can do by supplementing with fermented foods.
You may feel the symptoms of the bad bacteria and yeasts dying off, especially if you have an over-growth of it. Read more on how die-off can effect you at Healthline.
Try combining fermented foods and probiotic supplements in your diet as you move forward.
You can easily make your own homemade sauerkraut in less than 30 minutes (it still has to sit and ferment a few days). Homemade sauerkraut is infinitely better tasting than store bought. I thought sauerkraut was gross until I made my own.
Experiment with fermenting any vegetables that you like, such as carrots, green beans, cauliflower, or even fruit.
Here is my favorite recipe for homemade sauerkraut.
Another beneficial food to eat when healing your gut is bone broth.
Related Post: Nourish Your Body with Bone Broth
Make these small changes to your daily routine and your diet and you will soon relieve and then eliminate the symptoms of having your gut bacteria being out of balance.
Continue to eat, rest, exercise with the new diet and routine and you won’t need to experience an out of balance gut microbiome again.
In my next post I will share about foods that improve gut health, so watch for that.
Holistic approaches never just address symptoms of specific health problems, but instead aim to return or keep the patient in a state of balanced health between mind, body, and spirit. Holism targets overall wellness, and when we are well, we only get better with age.
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Until next time, here’s to our health!