What is the Human Gut Microbiome?
In recent years, scientists, doctors and nutritionists have increasingly studied the gut microbiome, or the trillions of cells and microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses and more) living within your stomach and intestines. These microorganisms include more than 1,000 distinct species, each independently working to help your body function on a day-to-day basis.
Everything we do — the air we breathe, the food and drinks we consume, the antibiotics and supplements we take — affects our microbiome in a unique way. Even the way we were born (cesarean versus birth canal) had an impact on our microbiome, since bacteria absorbed into your body during birth helps to shape your body’s early microbial composition. It’s up to us to create the healthiest microbiome for ourselves.
What is Gut Flora?
Gut flora are the bacteria and other organisms located in your intestines that help digest food. Your digestive system includes both good and bad bacteria. If one of the two becomes unbalanced, bacteria could run wild and cause discomfort.
Balancing Your Gut Microbiome
Think of your gut microbiome like a tiny ecosystem with hunters and prey. Predators cannot be overpopulated because they will kill all the prey. But underpopulation of predators risks letting prey animals overpopulate and destroy natural agriculture. Keeping the two balanced — the predators and prey, the bad and good gut bacteria — is vital. An unbalance of this kind is called dysbiosis, and affects three in five Americans. Dysbiosis can be caused by poor diet, excess sugar, antibiotics, alcohol consumption, lack of sleep and stress.
Some of the symptoms of dysbiosis include:
- Frequent bloating, burping and gas after meals
- Digestive issues
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Mental fog
- Immune challenges
- Weight gain
- Skin and nail concerns
- Poor mood
- And more!
Your body was made to recuperate after slight shifts and naturally works to remove toxins that create unbalance. However, the more toxins in your system, the greater the dysbiosis, and the more difficult it becomes for your body to properly remove them. Using herbal cleanses can help facilitate your body’s natural cleansing abilities, especially after periods of high toxin intake to help support the health of your gut microbiome.
Why is a Healthy Gut Microbiome Important?
While human beings are ultimately made of the same genetic genes — 99.9 percent identical according to the National Library of Medicine — the genes within our microbiomes are drastically different from person to person. In fact, only about 12 percent of our microbiome is determined by genetics while 57 percent is affected by our individual diets. The more we know about our microbiome and gut flora, the more effectively we can keep it healthy through diet, proper exercise and more.
Gut flora can play a major role in our overall health and wellbeing and even has the potential to help cure diseases. Recent research into gut microbiomes is playing a major role in the growth of personalized medicine, or medicine that combines technology with a patient’s individual health information to create unique solutions for each patient. To simplify, if ten people experience terrible headaches, personalized medicine could offer ten different treatment plans based on each patient’s food intake/diet, how well they hydrate, sleep schedule, exercise habits, genes, microbiome makeup, personal preferences and overall health. While personalization has always been an element of medical practice, microbiomes have shed new light on how and why digestive problems arise, and how unique each patient’s body truly is. Many medical tests are being investigated with gut flora, such as surgical operations in which ‘bad’ gut flora is replaced with healthy gut flora.
Benefits of a Healthy Gut Microbiome
Healthy Immune System: Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine explain that “a huge portion of your immune system is actually in your gastrointestinal tract.” In fact, some parts of your gut actually produce the antibodies known for fighting off infection. This means that a healthy gut microbiome can translate to a stronger, healthier immune system.
Reduced Stomach Discomfort: In many cases, stomach discomfort is caused by your microbiome working to digest foods it’s not equipped to digest. For example, people with a lactose intolerant can experience stomach aches if they consume lactose, since they lack certain bacteria that assist in its digestion. In addition to consuming spoiled foods, for many people, alcohol, fatty foods and even coffee may be to blame.
Reduce Feelings of Stress: Your gut is closely intertwined with the neurological systems regulating your response to stress through what doctors call the gut-brain axis. As a result, cases of dysbiosis send signals to your brain relaying the unbalance as stress or discomfort. In addition, an unhealthy microbiome “may affect the function of both the nervous and immune systems, thereby reducing your ability to cope with psychological and physical stress."
Sharper Mind: In the same way that the gut-brain axis allows your microbiome to instigate a stress response, your gut can cause brain fog - a colloquial term for fatigue, cognitive impairment or a lost sense of coherence, often appearing as a result of tummy troubles. Removing the toxins causing trouble from your gut can help you think more clearly.
More Restful Sleep: There is considerable evidence showing that the gut microbiome affects your digestive, metabolic and immune functions, and regulates sleep and mental states through the gut-brain axis. In short, your body functions on something called a “circadian rhythm” which helps your brain know when you need to sleep. Your microbiome also experiences these rhythms from day to night, pointing toward a close connection between insomnia and an unbalanced gut.
Weight Management: The recent evolution of personalized medicine centered on the gut microbiome shows that each person, due to differences in bacteria and composition of the gut, will react to diets and exercise differently. Choosing the wrong diet could cause dysbiosis, preventing you from managing your weight as intended.
Nourished Looking Skin - Like the gut-brain axis, the medical field has coined the connection between the human microbiome and the skin as the skin-gut axis. Just as a tree gathers nutrients from its roots to keep leaves vibrant and healthy, your skin gathers nutrients from the gut. Keeping your gut healthy and balanced can show in your outward appearance.
- Gracefully Age: All of these benefits, from skin health to better sleep and less stress, point toward a more graceful form of aging both inside your body and out. The microbiome is in flux at two distinct stages in life — birth and old age — and as a result, the immune system, skin health and much more are impacted. Keeping your gut as healthy as possible for as long as possible can help you stay on top of your phycological and physical health.
Importance of Detoxification
Having a solid understanding of your gut microbiome can be the key to achieving a healthier you. Understanding what your gut microbiome is and why it’s important to balance your gut flora, makes it easier and more attractive to maintain a healthy gut microbiome. So, how do you keep your gut microbiome healthy?
Taking care of your microbiome is just as much “nurture” as it is “nature.” Like fingerprints, everyone’s microbiome is unique, but there are a few generalities about what’s healthy and what’s not. Supporting a diverse array of organisms in your gut microbiome will help to create long-lasting gut health — and contribute to your overall wellbeing.