The human gut microbiome. You may be thinking to yourself, “I’ve heard of this, but I’m not sure what it is or why its important to me?” Simply stated, your gut microbiome is the environment in your gastrointestinal system (from your mouth to the lower end of your large intestine) which is home to many types of microscopic living organisms.
The human gut contains more than 1,000 species of bacteria and is comprised of a mixture of healthy and unhealthy strains. The balance between healthy and unhealthy strains can shift depending upon the specific types of environmental and dietary agents you are exposed to.
While your gut microbiome composition is influenced by both environmental and dietary factors, a significant portion of your gut microbiome composition was established at birth and in early childhood development. Recent research has shown that natural child delivery and breastfeeding both favorably impact the gut microbiome composition of the child and that these early interactions between mother and child lower the child’s risk of developing metabolic disease and obesity later in life.
The human gut directly influences our immune system. Unhealthy bacteria can have a direct impact on our bodies ability to respond to viruses, bacteria, fungi and other environmental threats such as allergens. The gut is also: (a) the largest endocrine organ (glands that secrete hormones or other chemical messengers), (b) produces a significant percentage of your body’s neurotransmitters and (c) is an important location where many nutrients and medications are initially processed when entering the body.
Research has shown that changes in dietary patterns (good or bad) can alter the composition of the gut microbiome in just ONE day! The Western diet is generally characterized by excessive intake of animal protein (particularly from red meat that is high in saturated fat) and empty calories from nutrient deficient processed foods that contain high levels of unhealthy fats and refined sugar. You may be aware that the Western diet is directly linked to the risk of obesity, but did you know that a significant portion of your risk for weight gain and detrimental metabolic changes are owed to how your gut bacteria respond to the foods that make up the Western diet? By contrast, a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, prebiotic fiber and whole grains has been shown to increase the availability of healthy strains of gut bacteria. Adhering to a plant based diet has also been shown to increase levels of beneficial molecules in the gut, which in turn is associated with improved inflammatory response and decreased blood sugar levels two hours after eating.
The mucus that is naturally produced in your gut helps protect your gut lining from disease causing microorganisms and the foods you consume play a role in maintaining this protective layer. Many foods that comprise a traditional Western diet contain additives, such as emulsifiers and non-caloric artificial sweeteners. Emulsifiers are man made chemicals that are often found in foods such as ice cream and salad dressings. Non-caloric artificial sweeteners include products like sucralose and saccharin and are used as sugar substitutes. The additive effects of consuming these and many other, similarly acting chemicals in food can compromise your gut mucus lining and can have a negative impact on the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in your gut, which in turn can have an adverse effect on your health.
Your microbiome and gut health should be one of the first things you address on your wellness journey, as the health of your gut directly impacts the health of your body. To learn more about the gut microbiome and the steps you can take to ensure that your microbiome is being properly nourished click the ICNS logo below.