What is this microbiome we hear about everywhere these days? It is a huge area of research and as a gut health nutritionist, it is right up my street. I am especially interested into its link with mental health through the gut-brain axis (another blog needed on that subject!), which can assist with all sorts of issues such as headaches, migraines, poor mood, focus and memory, anxiety and even depression.
I recently supported a client with migraines and we managed to substantially reduce the severity & frequency of her migraines by, among other things, supporting her gut microbiome.
We have a number of different microbiomes such as an oral microbiome or a vaginal one but this blog discusses our gut microbiome.
Inside our gut can be found 100 trillion microbes (bacteria, fungi, archae & viruses), and this is called our microbiome. Our microbial genes outnumber our human genes by 100 to 1 so we are in fact more microbial than human! Most of these microbes “live” in our large intestine (caecum) & are made of hundreds of species – all unique to each of us and each having a different impact on our body.
The wellbeing of this complex community directly impacts our health, therefore taking care of our gut microbiome is an essential step in preventing or supporting many chronic diseases such as IBS, IBD, allergic diseases (asthma, eczema, allergies), auto-immune conditions, diabetes, or cognitive dysfunction.
It is now known that some of these microbes are associated with disease whilst others support our health.
What are the benefits of a healthy microbiome?
- Healthy immunity (60% of our immune system resides in our gut!)
- Healthy digestive function
- Healthy metabolic processes: blood sugar balance, blood pressure, energy and weight management
- Heart health
- Healthy stress response
- Healthy skin
- Vitamins’ synthesis
- Healthy joint & bone function
- Healthy brain function, through the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), all essential for brain function
- Reduced risks of diseases
An unhealthy gut microbiome is a microbiome where there is an imbalance between the “good” microbes and the “bad” ones. This is commonly called dysbiosis and is characterised by low abundance & diversity of healthy microbes. The type and diversity of microbes we harbour determine our physical as well as mental health via the gut-brain axis (see some of my other blogs for more information on this fascinating topic).
What are the factors causing damage to the microbiome & leading to dysbiosis?
Our gut bacteria are influenced by what we eat, our environment and our lifestyles. A balanced and healthy microbiota protects our gut integrity. Lack of gut integrity leads to inflammation causing many diseases.
Our microbiome is shaped right from the start of our life (and even before through the gut of our mother):
- Our infant microbiome is affected by gestational age (full term vs premature), type of delivery (vaginal birth vs caesarean section), type of feed (breast milk vs formula), our mother’s nutritional status (overweight or undernourished) and the use of antibiotics
- Overt hygiene
- Poor nutrition
- Poor digestion
In addition, it can be affected by:
- Inflammatory diet: gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol and processed foods can all cause inflammation of the gut
- Repeated use of antibiotics (which as well as killing the “bad” bacteria, indiscriminately also kills the “good” ones) and long-term use of medications such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Stress can also damage our gut lining by increasing levels of cortisol
- Food intolerances/allergies
- Radiation and chemotherapy
How can we support our gut microbiome & reverse dysbiosis?
First, we need to address all the factors leading to dysbiosis listed in the previous section
- Anti-inflammatory diet, full of diverse and colourful fruits & vegs, rich in healthy fibre, polyphenols, protein and fats
- Eliminate or avoid repeated use of antibiotics and medications
- Identify food allergies or intolerances
- Eliminate infections & reduce exposure to radiation
- Reduce stress
- Quit smoking
- Eat food rich in prebiotics: garlic, artichoke, asparagus, legumes…
- Include fermented food in your diet (probiotics); yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi…
- Eliminate sugary, refined and ultra-processed food
- Reduce alcohol consumption and increate water intake
- Increase exercise
- Ensure adequate sleep
There are ways to find out more about the state of our microbiome through private lab testing. These are a wonderful way to “get to know” how our microbiome is doing and take the appropriate actions if necessary. I recently did a new one for myself: it is not because I am a nutritionist that all will be perfect, that is for sure! As we have seen in this blog, there are so many things influencing our microbiome! I am especially interested to see if it will throw some light on the back pain I am suffering with at the moment: who knows, maybe the answer is in my gut? It is worth exploring anyway so I cannot wait for the results…
So the top message from this blog is that to take care of our gut is fundamental if we want to stay healthy and prevent possible diseases. By affecting all our different systems, the gut pretty much influences everything linked to our health.
If you feel you have symptoms that could be related to your gut and that you could benefit from some guidance and support to manage your microbiome, feel free to get in touch with me here or call me on 07788 444 199. There are many things that can easily and naturally be done to help you.