There’s a whole world of different microbes such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their associated genes happily living on and inside your body. This large group of microbes is known collectively as the microbiome. These microbes don’t just hitch a free ride. They contribute to your overall health and wellness in many ways. They protect each of us against harmful pathogens, help our immune systems to develop, and help us digest food and convert it to energy.
What is the Gut Microbiome?
Most of the microbes in our gut are found inside your large intestine. This collection of microorganisms can weigh between two to six pounds, roughly the same as the human brain, and make up your gut microbiome. Due to its size, weight, and effect on the body, the gut microbiome often acts as an extra organ in your body.
Your microbiome develops during the early years of your life. However, it often adapts over time in response to factors such as your diet, stress, and the medications you take. It also can change due to environmental exposures. These microbes develop to perform crucial roles in our bodies, and, over time, they become critical to our survival. Changes to our individual microbiomes often determine how susceptible each of us will be to specific illnesses like obesity, allergies, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.
The Roles of The Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome plays a major role in many of the body’s systems and processes:
- Metabolism: Microbes in our gut are an integral part of our ability to digest food. They can help to extract nutrients from substances that would typically be indigestible. The microbes also free short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) from many indigestible dietary fibers. These SCFAs are critical for controlling immune responses in each of our gut.
- Immune System: There is evidence to suggest that our gut microbiome may influence the development and functions of our immune systems. One study suggests that the microbes in our gut play an important role in developing immune responses to various diseases.
- Gut Health: An imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes in your intestines, known as gut dysbiosis, might be one of the causes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other inflammatory bowel diseases. Gut dysbiosis may trigger the cramps, bloating, and abdominal pain associated with IBS. Rebalancing your microbiome with healthy bacteria found in probiotics and certain yogurts may help to reduce your IBS symptoms.
- Weight Control: Gut dysbiosis may also cause weight gain. In one study, gut bacteria from obese adults were put into laboratory mice. The result was that the mice gained weight, indicating that gut bacteria might affect weight regulation.
- Diabetes: There is also evidence of a close relationship between our gut microbiome and diabetes. Research shows that the microbes have an endless capacity to affect how diabetes will develop and affect us. It is also understood that gut dysbiosis is a major factor in the rapid progression of type 2 diabetes.
- Heart Health: Studies have also shown that there may be a correlation between cardiovascular disease and our microbiome. Regulating the levels of certain microbes connected to risk factors for heart disease, and increasing the levels of others, may help treat cardiovascular disease.
How to Improve Your Gut Microbiome
Suppose you want to maintain a healthy gut microbiome. In that case, try to eat a varied diet containing high-fiber fruit, beans, yogurts, and whole grains. Probiotic supplements can also help balance your microbiome, as can prebiotic foods such as apples, bananas, and oats. You should also limit your sugar intake and eliminate artificial sweeteners.
Making sure that you have a healthy and balanced gut microbiome helps you maintain your overall health.
- NIH: Microbiome
- NIH Human Microbiome Project defines normal bacterial makeup of the body
- The gut microbiome in health and in disease
- Regulation of the Immune System by the Resident Intestinal Bacteria
- Reduction of butyrate- and methane-producing microorganisms in patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Meta-analysis of probiotics for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome
- Gut Microbiota from Twins Discordant for Obesity Modulate Metabolism in Mice
- Gut microbiota and diabetes: From correlation to causality and mechanism
- Gut microbiome and type 2 diabetes: where we are and where to go?
- Intestinal Microbial Metabolism of Phosphatidylcholine and Cardiovascular Risk