What is the human gut microbiome and why is it important to keep your gut healthy?
An increasing amount of scientific research continues to link the gut microbiome to the body’s immune system and overall health. We examine why this is so important.
What is the human gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome refers to the totality of microorganisms in the gut, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, and all their genetic material present in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). Essentially, the gut microbiome can be defined as all-encompassing gut health when referring to it in discussion.
A growing body of scientific research has explored the GI tract in relation to disease prevention/causation and overall health. Now frequently referred to as the body’s ‘second brain’, scientific consensus seems to be drawing to the conclusion that the overwhelming majority of diseases start with signalling from the gut microbiome.
What is the role of the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome plays an integral part in innumerable functions in the human body. When it’s compromised, the immune system is often the first to crumble leading to a cascade of negative after-effects shortly after. As the overwhelming majority of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria resides in the gut, it’s essential that humans strive to maintain a delicate balance/ration of microflora in this area of the body.
The gut microbiome plays an essential role in the following bodily functions:
- Nutrient & mineral absorption
- Neuroendocrine response
- Hormone production
- Immune system function
What positive & negative factors influence the function of the gut microbiome?
There are several positive and negative factors and lifestyle choices that can influence our gut microbiome, some manifesting themselves more seriously than others, but ultimately, all playing a key role in maintaining equilibrium.
Stress: The central nervous system (CNS) includes various forms of stress that ultimately impact the way our gut functions, including psychological stress, exercise-induced stress and metabolic stress.
Diet: perhaps the most obvious of all factors, eating foods with excessive preservatives and artificial ingredients can adversely impact gut health. Conversely, foods rich in probiotics (such as Kombucha) are known to have a restorative effect on our guts.
Geography: Where you’re born and the environment you grow up in has a fascinating correlation to your gut microbiome. There are some cultural factors at play here, including diet and lifestyle choices, also interlinked to geographical influence.
Instant feeding method: Breastfeeding has been shown to have a positive influence on a growing human’s short-term and long-term gut microbiome. There is also evidence to suggest this continues to play a role in a person’s overall health well into later life.
Pharmaceuticals: Many modern medicines have been shown to have an adverse impact on the gut microbiome. Since these are often synthetic, man-made creations, this is unsurprising that they should unsettle the delicate microflora environment residing in your gut.
How to maintain a healthy gut microbiome?
Given the importance of the gut microbiome in maintaining the body’s overall health and defence systems, it becomes crucial to examine ways to promote a positive environment of microflora in the gut.
While there are several theories on how best to achieve this, the current scientific consensus amalgamates several factors and considers them paramount to restorative health and maintenance of the gut.
Probiotic-rich foods: foods with positive bacteria from probiotics have been shown to have a modulating effect on the GI tract. This includes kombucha, natural yoghurt, and other sources of fermented foods that work to restore the balance of positive bacterial influences in the gut.
Lowering exposure to toxins: chemicals such as bleach, flammable sprays and pollution in the environment all negatively impact gut health. Lowering your exposure to these stressors can help preserve the gut microbiome’s health.
Reducing dependency on pharmaceuticals: statins and other blood-control measures may be prescribed for people with various ailments, but better lifestyle choices in the long-term are likely to result in a more positive net effect on overall health and wellbeing.
The gut microbiome plays an integral role in the body’s overall health and defence mechanisms when things go wrong. Nourishing it each day is paramount to both short & long-term health, and a conscious effort should be able to achieve this by introducing positive influences and mitigating negative ones.