What is a healthy gut microbiome and how do I get one?
Firstly, you may be asking what is a microbiome? Let us start by removing the jargon.
Simply put, our gut microbiome refers to all the bacteria and microorganisms that exist within our small and large intestines. We have microbiomes (collections of bacteria) in other parts of our bodies, but for this article, we are focusing solely on our gut.
We are actually 90% bacteria
Although this may not be the most appetising fact, we have a mini-ecosystem of 100 trillion active bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, and protozoans in our digestive tract. These bacteria strains can be put into three groups;
1. good, or beneficial, bacteria
2. potentially bad bacteria, if given the opportunity
3. pathogenic/bad bacteria
A normal gut will have all three types of bacteria present, but a healthier gut will have a better balance of good bacteria over bad.
What is 'beneficial bacteria'?
The broad name for beneficial bacteria is the term 'probiotics'. Probiotics refer to many different types of strains. The most popular of these strains are;
- lactobacillus acidophilus
- acidophilus bifidus
- streptococcus faecium
What role does good bacteria play in the gut?
- helps with digestion
- keeps away bad bacteria
- synthesise some vitamins (K+B)
- generate short-chain fatty acids
- reduce inflammation
- improve our immune system
- improve our mental health
Having plenty of good bacteria helps maintain a healthy gut and generally improves our mental and physical well-being. The good bacteria are responsible for carrying out many metabolic processes in the human body, including the breakdown of non-digestible dietary materials to generate short-chain fatty acids and the synthesis of some vitamins, such as K and B. New research is also linking the role that good bacteria play in reducing inflammation and improving our immune response. Our gut microbiome (the collection of bacteria in our digestive tracts) is individual to us, and not even identical twins have the same balance of bacteria, making it as unique as our fingerprints. 95% of our bacteria are found in our large intestine, and the remaining 5% are found in our small intestine.
What may have caused an imbalance in our gut bacteria?
An imbalance in our gut microbiome is also referred to as 'dysbiosis', and many factors can alter the balance of good vs bad bacteria in our guts. Modern lifestyles play a role in reducing the balance, including; stress, smoking, antibiotic use, processed diets and viruses.
Gut dysbiosis and its impact on our health is an ongoing area of research. There has been lots of recent evidence showing that a better balance of good over bad bacteria has positive effects on our health, mood, and digestive health. New research is now underway to look at its effect on other body systems, as diverse as mental health, skin, and even weight management.
How to get a healthy microbiome
Your microbiome is unique to you, and a new lifestyle or diet should be personalised to you and your needs. If you are concerned, speak to a medical professional, who may refer you for further nutritional support, or contact a nutrition professional.
Eight ways to have a healthy gut
In general, it is advised to support your microbiome by;
- getting better relaxation - increase your sleep and reduce stress levels
- stopping smoking
- eating a diverse selection of fibre, vegetables, and fruits
- eating more fermented foods
- consuming pre and probiotics
- moderately exercising often
- consuming enough water
- avoiding antibiotics