Your Gut Microbiome: What Is It and Why Should You Care?
When it comes to staying healthy, there’s a lot more to do than drink water and go for a walk every day. While most of us wish it was that easy, our health is complex and requires upkeep.
One of the best ways to get and stay healthy is to take care of our gut.
You may not know that the gut microbiome dramatically affects your every day and long term health. But taking care of your gut health means taking care of your overall health, and here’s why.
A Quick Overview
What is your gut microbiome, and how does it affect your health? More importantly, why haven’t you ever heard of it before?
Microbiomes are the collection of genomes of microorganisms found in an environment – which, in this case, is your gut. These microorganisms consist of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
The gut microbiome resides primarily in your gastrointestinal tract, but also exists in other areas of your body, like your mouth, genitals, and nasal passage.
When a child is still in the womb, they are confined to an almost sterile environment. The microbiome begins to form when it encounters bacteria, which doesn’t happen until birth.
A baby first encounters bacteria when they pass through the birth canal during delivery. Babies can be further exposed to this bacteria through breast-feeding.
Both good and bad bacteria exist in our microbiomes. To keep our gut health balanced, we want to maximize the good bacteria in our bodies. Breast milk, for example, provides good bacteria and can help boost a baby’s immune system.
The gut microbiota contains more bacteria and species than any other area of the human body. Considering its enormity, we should know more about how it affects us. But this may be the first time some of you have ever heard of it.
That’s because, for a while, we didn’t realize how important it was. Researchers have only recently begun to unveil the various effects our microbiomes have on our health. And the answer is that it can help (or hurt) a lot of different areas of our body.
Our gut microbiome can affect our heart and brain health, as well as our risk of Type 1 Diabetes. It can even help with weight loss.
The diversity of the bacteria in our gut can also explain why some of us are more likely to have allergies or food sensitivity.
Perhaps the most obvious of all, it affects gut health and can play a role in inflammatory bowel diseases and irritable bowel syndrome.
So why does it affect so many things?
Around 80% of the immune system is located in our gut. So when our microbiomes are unbalanced, so too are our immune systems. This is why your microbiome is capable of affecting everything from your heart health to your risk of diabetes.
Typically, our microbiomes stabilize around three years old. But if it stabilized that long ago, how can we improve it?
Well, our microbiomes may be stable, but they still change all the time.
Everyone’s microbiome is unique as a result of our diets, the air we breathe, and the environments we live in. By changing any of these factors, we can change our microbiome.
Perhaps the most effective way to improve your microbiome is to change your diet.
How Food Affects Your Microbiome
Your diet is one of the contributing factors to good gut health. It’s also probably the simplest factor to adjust because you can start improving your diet today.
But just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy.
The first thing we should do is cut out processed foods and sugars. These foods are bad for us because they get absorbed without the help of gut microbes and lead to inflammation.
When your digestive tract is inflamed, you begin to absorb particles that don’t belong in the body. This leads to a condition called leaky gut. Leaky gut causes its own issues, such as food allergies, mood swings, low energy, poor digestion, and malnutrition.
So while this food tastes good, it’s not good for us.
Additionally, if you limit your intake of artificial sweeteners, you can reduce the growth of unhealthy bacteria in your microbiome.
Incorporate Probiotics and Prebiotics into Your Diet.
Probiotics are good bacteria found in foods and supplements that can boost your gut health. Prebiotics are types of carbohydrates (typically fiber) that feed the probiotics in your system.
Increasing our intake of probiotics and prebiotics helps to facilitate a healthy gut.
Try to get the bulk of your carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits. Focus on leafy greens, but other options such as peas, carrots, and asparagus can be just as beneficial.
When it comes to fruit, eat the ones low in sugar. That includes strawberries, oranges, and peaches, just to name a few.
You can also get prebiotics from legumes, berries, oats, and onions.
Probiotics are found in yogurt, sauerkraut, and unpasteurized pickles, as well as other fermented foods.
Other Ways to Improve Your Microbiome
While improving your diet is the quickest way to affect your gut health, your daily behaviors can also play a role in improving your microbiome.
Get active every day. By exercising, you encourage biodiversity in your microbiota, which boosts your gut.
Improve your sleep quality. Getting eight hours of shuteye a night doesn’t just help your energy levels. Sleep keeps your body healthy.
You sleep more when you’re sick because your immune system is working overtime. But sleep matters just as much when you’re healthy. Regular and quality sleep means that your body will be able to function at a high level every day.
Try to start meal-prepping every week. When you meal prep, you decrease your chances of ingesting processed food and sugars, because you won’t have to buy lunch. It also helps you save money.
Incorporate meditation into your daily life. Meditation soothes your nervous system, reduces stress, and improves your immune function. Because all of these things impact your gut, meditation is one of the best ways to provide balance to your life.
Work on being present when you eat. Turn off the TV, put your phone away, and eat lunch by yourself every now and then. Take your time when you eat. Focus on what you’re eating and chew slowly. All of this improves your digestion and makes your gut very happy.
These are just some ways to improve your gut health and increase the overall quality of your life.
Have more questions or want help getting started? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Threlkel today!