Since I've been speaking more about the gut microbiome and how we can help look after this area of health, I thought it would be useful to write a little 'overview' post talking you through what the gut microbiome actually is, and what some of it's functions are.
Now when someone mentions the word microbiome, they may not always be meaning in relation to the gut. There are many microbiomes within the human body - but for today I am focusing in on the one in our digestive system.
DEFINING THE MICROBIOME & ITS FUNCTIONS:
The word 'microbiome' refers to the collection of bacteria and their genetic material, in this case - the ones that live within your digestive tract. These bacteria are integral to our digestion, nutrition status, and are responsible for breaking down and generating substrates that we are not able to do without them. When our bacteria breaks down these fibres, they generate short chain fatty acids, which serve as an energy source for the cells within our intestines, helping to keep the gut lining strong and healthy. These short chain fatty acids may also be useful for the prevention of diseases such as Crohn's, inflammatory bowel, ulcers and even colon cancer, according to some research. Aside from their functions within the digestive system, the microbes are also involved in many other important processes. For example, your immune regulations, brain health and mood, metabolism, skin health, and more. The way we form our gut microbiome is influenced by many factors, some that are in our control and some not so much; but something to note is that each of us has a unique bacterial composition - like a fingerprint.
Some research tells us that development of the microbiome may begin while we are still in the womb, thus genetics and the health of your parents can be influencing factors. As we are born, factors such as birth rout (ie. caesarean, or vaginally), being breast fed or bottle fed, will influence the types and diversity of your gut bacteria. When growing up, the place you live (ie. on a farm or in a city), medications, illness and your lifestyle practices and diet will further influence this environment.
While there is still much to learn and research about the gut microbiome, most research points to the fact that a diverse range of bacterial species is beneficial to our health. You also want to ensure that your gut wall or lining is intact so that none of these microbes can pass through into the blood stream, and so that no toxins being removed can find their way into your gut. There is research on specific strains of bacteria, and their benefits - however since all of our microbiomes are unique and individual to us, the health of this is not so much determined by what strains of bacteria you have, but more so by the state of your digestive system and overall body. For example if you experience constant bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhoea, immune dysfunction, skin issues etc. you may have an unhealthy microbiome. In the case that this is you, its important to seek out a healthcare practitioner that can give you specific advice, prescriptions and tests. Generally speaking, having a healthy and diverse diet, with lots of fresh vegetables, fruits as well as adequate exercise and sleep will help to keep your microbiome in a state of health.
You may have heard the term 'gut dysbiosis' before; SIBO or small intestinal overgrowth, candida or yeast infections and leaky gut (plus other issues ) are often the end result of a gut in dysbiosis. Essentially your bacteria 'range' has been compromised. In a lot of cases there is an imbalance and more of what is referred to as 'bad' bacteria has found its way into your gut. This is often caused due to long term poor diet (high in sugar, processed foods etc) stress, illnesses, medications like antibiotics without the replacement of good bacteria, and general bad lifestyle habits. Sometimes, in cases like SIBO there is not necessarily 'bad' bacteria, simply too much for your system to handle. In any case, you will likely be experiencing symptoms similar to those mentioned above, and the best thing you can do is see your healthcare practitioner.
Again as mentioned before, the things we can do to keep our gut microbiome healthy is to eat well, exercise, have adequate sleep and try to avoid antibiotic use if you can. There are specific foods that help to 'feed' you microbiome, and nutrients that are essential for keeping your lining intact. You can read more about these in this blog post here.
In trying to keep my blog posts short I'm going to leave this here. There are of course many detailed aspects of the microbiome, its very specific functions for our health and the prevention of disease, so please know this is not by any means all there is to know! It is my hopes that this post serves as a basic understanding of this topic, for those that maybe haven't heard of the microbiome or its functions.
Hope you are all staying well, and keeping warm.