The gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem of bacteria found in the stomach, home to the immune system, and what’s now turning out to be the most important organ in the body. There are about 100 trillion bacteria inside your body right now. These microbes can make a huge difference to your weight, physical well-being and even your mental health.
Whilst you may picture bacteria causing sickness, these ones are actually beneficial.
So, it begs the question, just how seriously should we take the bugs that reside in our guts and can we ‘steer’ these organisms to ensure we live with good health overall?
Let’s break it down
The microorganisms that live in the digestive system – the intestine to be exact – play a key role in digesting and absorbing the nutrients from the food that we eat. But these bugs go further than the gut when it comes to important processes.
The gut bacteria:
Aids in the extraction of energy (calories) and nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, amino acids, fatty acids and antioxidants
Helps produce hormones
Manages appetite and body weight
Digests fibre and starches
Prevents colds and viruses
Helps repair damaged tissues
What can our gut tell us about our health?
Research has found that gut microbiomes have tremendous potential to impact both health and disease. This is because they contribute to metabolic functions, protect against pathogens and influence the immune system. These processes affect our overall physiological functions.
The bacterial microbes found in the gut communicate directly with the neurons in our brains, which is known as the gut-brain connection. They can influence health conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), depression, anxiety and autoimmune disorders.
Dysbiosis – when the gut bacteria becomes imbalanced
Dysbiosis is when the gut microbiome has become disrupted. When this occurs, it can lead to infections and other health issues.
The symptoms of dysbiosis do not necessarily appear in the gut itself and can surface as depression, anxiety, skin issues, allergies and autoimmunity.
Some risk factors for an imbalance of microorganisms in your gut:
Overuse of antibiotics – whilst the medication kills off bacteria causing infection, they also destroy your good bacteria, giving bad bacteria the chance to take over again.
Unhealthy diet – processed foods and a lack of nutrients.
High-stress levels – from work to family life.
The gut microbiome is key in our digestion, metabolism, immune system and even our mental health and eating a diet rich in fibre and pre and probiotic foods can promote healthy bacteria.