What is your Microbiome?
While you may not have heard the term microbiome before, if you’ve had any stomach issues in the past, you know that there are things you can do to promote the production of your “good” gut bacteria. The supplement industry has definitely capitalized on this fact and given you a multitude of options to help aid your body produce more of this much needed bacteria. These aids range everywhere from fiber supplements to probiotics, but in most cases a proper diet composed highly of plants rich in micronutrients and complemented with plenty of exercise, can be enough to keep a healthy balance of microorganisms in your body. The microbiome is basically the ecosystem of microorganisms that mainly resides in your gut, or more specifically your large and small intestines. Many tummy troubles stem from microbiome issues or imbalances, and having a diverse network of helpful microorganisms can improve immune system function, our mental health and help with obesity. It can be a bit unsettling thinking about having living entities inside our bodies that dictate how we feel, emotionally, and physically. But it is a part of being human and understanding our bodies, and how to properly take care of them is a key to not just living a long life but a relatively healthy one too. Because let’s face it, we all know people that live long these days due to the marvels of modern medicine, but the quality can be quite questionable.
What Is The Microbiome?
The microbiome is often considered a supporting organ because of all the key roles it plays in ensuring the body runs smoothly on a daily basis. Picture it as diverse and dense as a rainforest, but on a microscopic level, with trillions of microorganisms also known as microbiota or microbes inside of our bodies. These microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses that, in a healthy person, coexist peacefully primarily in the small and large intestines, but can be found in smaller numbers all throughout our bodies. Each person has a unique network of microorganisms originally determined by their DNA and transmitted by their mother during birth and breastfeeding. As we age, our microbiome adapts to the environmental factors we are exposed to as well as the diet we choose. While most of the microbes in our bodies are symbiotic and benefit the person, some can be pathogenic and promote disease. Usually the pathogenic microbes are smaller in number and can reside alongside the good symbiotic ones without any problems, but certain circumstances can disturb the balance and cause dysbiosis, leaving the body more susceptible to disease. Infectious diseases, certain diets or the long-term use of antibiotics and some medications can lower the amount of helpful microorganisms. Considering the mucus membranes of the gut are a major site for immune system activity and produce antimicrobial proteins, ensuring the microorganism soldiers are on your side to defend it is very important. They also breakdown any toxic foods that have entered your system and can even synthesize amino acids and vitamins like B vitamins and vitamin K!
Sign 1: Sleep Issues
Did you know that the chemical serotonin and how much you produce has a huge impact on both your mood and sleep patterns? It’s actually widely known and referred to as “the happy chemical” because of how strongly it impacts the wellbeing and attitudes in people. Now you may be thinking to yourself “wow this came right out of the blue, I thought we were learning about gut microbiome, not serotonin”. Well, the truth is they’re strongly linked together, because serotonin is produced in the gut! So that means that having issues occur in your gut directly messes with your natural levels of serotonin. A very unfortunate side effect you may deal with includes issues such as loss of/or irregular sleep that then lead to low levels of energy. But it doesn’t end there, remember it is called the “happy chemical” so if it’s messed with you could end up depressed, or with anxiety and mood issues! Your gut microbiome is no joke, if you’re serious about health, watching what and how much you eat should be a top priority! I know that we don’t always feel the best, and we have better days than others, sometimes life comes at you hard and it’s tough not to get in your emotions. However if you look around and see nothing wrong in your life, nothing that you can put your finger on at least, but can’t shake this nagging sense of depression, looking into your gut health wouldn’t be the worst idea you’ve had.
Sign 2: Upset Stomach
Tummy troubles due to microbiome issues range from gas to bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, and even irritable bowel syndrome. This may seem like a no brainer to some, like of course something could be wrong with my stomach, if it is upset. It doesn’t take the smartest person, or group of people in the room to come up with that answer, but it has to be said. Especially because some of the issues that fall into an upset stomach, a large portion of the population wouldn’t actually categorize as an upset stomach, it could just fall under the category of things that come with life. Take, for instance, bloating. Some people think that being bloated after every single meal is normal, for those of you that are reading this blog I’m here to let you know that this doesn’t have to, and actually shouldn’t, happen to you on a daily basis. Daily bloating after a meal is usually a good sign of a food intolerance, and the amount of gas being created inside your intestines isn’t healthy. There are tests you can take like blood work, urine, and stool samples that can be sent to a laboratory and interpreted by a nutrition expert to determine what may be causing your discomfort and bloating. These tests can be a bit out of our budgets, in which case a form of elimination diet could help you find what’s causing your issues. Pay attention to your specific “trigger foods”, the ones that bring on those unpleasant and even painful symptoms, and eliminate them one at a time for about a week to pinpoint which one you should eliminate from your diet or cut back on.
Sign 3: Food Intolerances
If your microbiome isn’t in tip top shape, you may have difficulty digesting certain foods and have some adverse reactions because of it. As mentioned before, each person’s microbiome is uniquely created based on genetics and lifestyle, so a diet that works for one person may not have the same effect on another. For instance, many people who make the switch to a healthier, high fiber diet report having some mild discomfort in the beginning, such as gas and bloating, but it only lasts about a week. This is because the species of microorganisms in the microbiome will change to those better equipped for a high fiber diet, which consequently are more helpful to us. Adequate fiber intake has been linked to the prevention of many diseases, like cancers and cardiovascular diseases, and the microbiome plays a large role in this. Complex carbohydrates like fiber travel to the large intestine, and the fermentation of indigestible fibers, also known as prebiotics, create short chain fatty acids, which is an important nutrient that helps with muscle function and prevent chronic diseases. The diet we choose can also change the ph of our microbiome, and a lower pH, kept by a high fiber diet, inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. Pay attention to the effect foods have on your body and talk to your physician or nutritionist to help keep you on the right track for your individual needs. We at Bare Health can hook you up with a certified food intolerance test to help you see what your specific microbiome needs.
Sign 4: Unintended Weight Loss/Gain
Another sign of microbiome issues is an unintended weight loss or weight gain. Unintended meaning that no changes to diet and exercise have been made, yet your weight is fluctuating a significant amount. One of the reasons for weight gain involves the fact that, if your diet is typically high in processed foods and sugar, this can reduce the number of helpful bacteria in your microbiome, and encourage harmful ones, which will in turn crave even more sugar. Not to mention, the lack of nutrients in this diet will also lead to feeling hungry more often because your body will want you to eat until all of your nutrient needs are met. Needless to say this type of diet can cause weight gain. An unbalanced gut microbiome will affect your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, regulate blood sugar, and store fat. The latter can lead to weight loss, and it’s specifically caused by the overgrowth of the bacteria in the small intestine, also known as SIBO. As previously mentioned, the large intestine is where indigestible fiber ferments and creates vital nutrients to health, By contrast, the small intestine is responsible for digesting sugars and lactose, so a diet high in these will create a surplus of not so helpful microorganisms. This can lead to stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, gas, and bloating. Luckily if you are starting to deal with symptoms like this, simply reducing the amount of processed foods in your diet and consuming more fiber rich foods as well as staying properly hydrated can change your microbiome for the better.
Sign 5: Autoimmune Conditions
Research has shown that a person’s microbiome influences how susceptible they are to infectious and chronic diseases, as well as how they’ll respond to drug treatments and medications. Genetic studies measuring the abundance of species in the microbiome have linked specific combinations of microorganism species to certain health conditions. For instance, autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and fibromyalgia are all associated with a dysfunction of the microbiome. In fact, it turns out that these autoimmune diseases are passed down in families not through DNA as previously thought, but through the inheritance of the microbiome. Type 1 diabetes tends to correlate with a less diverse gut microbiome, and animal studies have even found that bacteria play a role in the development of diabetes. Disease causing microorganisms will accumulate over time, changing the genetic and metabolic processes in the body so that the immune system will react abnormally to typical substances, and thus your body will attack itself. An unhealthy gut microbiome can cause systemic inflammation, leading to many issues and diseases of the intestinal tract to include ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and even obesity. It had been previously believed that a person’s microbiome would remain reasonably stable and unchanged from childhood, but new research has shown that diet plays a major role in affecting the species and functionality of the microbiome. That’s not to necessarily say that diet alone can cure or prevent your autoimmune disease, but the food you eat can positively or negatively affect your microbiome so choose wisely.
Since it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that scientists discovered the human microbiome, there is still so much to learn about its role in regards to our health. What we do know is that each individual has their own unique microbiome, passed down genetically at birth and shaped by our diets and lifestyle choices. While we can’t completely control how our microbiome starts out, there’s plenty we can do to keep a healthy and diverse balance of microorganisms to ensure our bodies are running smoothly. With all the things our microbiome can do to benefit us, to include aiding in the absorption and creation of nutrients, stimulating the immune system, and breaking down toxins, it is in our best interest to help our little buddies and feed them appropriately. Maintaining a low intake of processed foods that include sugar, flour, and oil while consuming plenty of indigestible carbohydrates and fibers that serve as prebiotics to feed our beneficial microorganisms. These foods are generally fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains so be sure to take in a lot of those. Staying properly hydrated also helps maintain a healthy balance of the microbiome, and exercise has been recently discovered to aid in microbial diversity, enhance short chain fatty acid synthesis, and carbohydrate metabolism. So much depends on a healthy microbiome, from disease prevention, to our moods, to weight control and so on. Luckily there are many steps we can take in our daily lives to keep it working in our favor, without the need to purchase expensive supplements.