The Gut Microbiome: the Forgotten Organ?
What is the gut microbiome?
Did you know that our Gut Microbiome functions just like a separate organ? This collection of micro-organisms consists of bacteria, parasites and fungi. It weighs up to 2kg, contains 150 times the number of bacterial genes compared to human genes and carries out many different functions for our body! There’s approximately 1000 bacterial species living inside of us. In the last decade or so there’s been an explosion of research into the gut microbiome and its importance in human health.
What does the gut microbiome do for us?
- Provides 70% of our immune system
- Defends us from infections and disease-causing bacteria
- Helps us digest food
- Allows us to tolerate food (rather than react to it)
- Helps us absorb nutrients through the gut lining
- Produces nutrients for us (vitamin K, folate and B12)
- Produces brain chemicals such as serotonin (the happy “hormone”)
- Helps regulate our appetite and our weight
- Helps us detoxify and remove toxins
- Helps us form normal stools and have regular bowel movements
- Impacts on inflammation throughout the whole body
The gut microbiome is central to our health. So much so, it can be considered a vital organ. There so much that we can do to encourage a healthy gut microbiome via our diet and lifestyle. But first lets look at what can damage our gut ,microbiome and impair our health.
What can go wrong with our gut microbiome?
An unhealthy microbiome (known as gut dysbiosis) is where we have more “bad” bacteria or other micro-organisms compared to “good” bacteria. This bad bacteria can cause digestive problems such as:
- Poor digestion
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Bloating and excess gas
- Damage to the stomach lining
- Food intolerances
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Interfere with vitamin/mineral absorption
It can also cause issues outside of the digestive system such as:
- lowered immunity
- an over-active immune system
- exacerbate or trigger autoimmune conditions
- low moods and anxiety
- brain fog
- poor liver detoxification
- inflammation throughout the whole body (manifesting as skin conditions, joint pain, liver inflammation and weight gain).
Bad bacteria can damage our intestinal lining and trigger an inflammatory immune response which can spread from the gut to elsewhere in the body, wreaking all sorts of havoc.
Conditions we now know are linked to the gut microbiome
- Diabetes (type 1 and 2)
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- Atherosclerosis & cardiovascular heart disease
- Depression and anxiety
- Fibromyalgia/chronic pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Autoimmune thyroiditis
What causes bad bacteria in our gut?
Our diet has a major impact on our gut microbiome. An inflammatory diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol and saturated/trans fats, artificial sweeteners and additives can encourage bad bacteria and reduce the beneficial bacteria in our gut. An anti-inflammatory diet consisting of whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, good quality protein, healthy fats and prebiotic foods can support the growth of beneficial bacteria. Long story short – our diet shapes our gut microbiome. However, it’s not just our diet that affects our gut microbiome. All of these other factors affect it too (which can impact the balance of good/bad bacteria):
- Medications – such as antibiotics, painkillers, PPI’s, hormonal birth control
- Food poisoning
- Food intolerances
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Toxins (pesticides, chloride, additives, plastics)
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Sleep deprivation
What can we do to have a healthy gut microbiome?
A good foundation for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome:
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet – download my free cheat sheet here
- Eat a diverse range of fruits and vegetables every day
- Avoid unnecessary medications like antibiotics, painkillers and PPI’s which kill off good bacteria and promote the growth of bad bacteria
- Reduce stress. We know that stress increases the growth of bad bacteria and reduces good bacteria.
- Eat organic foods because pesticides kill off the good bugs too (and always wash your fruit and veg!)
- Prioritise good quality sleep
- Exercise moderately
It’s a bit more complicated than that if you have a bacterial or yeast overgrowth, virus or parasite in your gut as this would require a more personalised targetted approach. It can really help to work with a gut health specialist to address the root cause of the imbalance or infection. Do get in touch if you feel this applies to you.
The gut microbiome plays a vital role in our health just like many organs in the body. I dare say it won’t be long before we start seeing microbiome specialist just like any other heath specialist. A healthy gut microbiome is crucial, not only for healthy digestion, but our overall health. It is especially important for lowering inflammation throughout the body. We now know that inflammation is a key factor in all chronic diseases. Post below if you have any questions or comments.