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The gut microbiome: How does it affect our health?

Published in Gastroenterology, For the Health of It Author: Kathleen Mahon, RN, MN, CNP, APHN

We have up to 2 kg. (4.4 lbs.) of microbes in our gut. In fact, we carry around 10 times more microbial cells than human cells. What’s more, two-thirds of the gut microbiome is unique to each individual and it is constantly evolving based in part on decisions we make every day.

How does your gut microbiome influence your health?

Most of us are aware that the bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract plays a role in digestion and the production of certain vitamins like B and K. The microbiome also is a major player in immune function. But did you know that 95 percent of serotonin is produced by gut bacteria? The gut-brain connection is a real thing — and it’s a two-way street.

Research investigating the link between the gut microbiome and specific health conditions is a burgeoning field of study that is in its infancy. Several studies have explored the association between the microbiome and weight gain with some suggesting the makeup of our gut bacteria may influence an individual’s propensity for weight gain.

Another hot area of research is the role of the microbiome in not only the development of cancer but also how we recover from it.

Additionally, researchers have linked gut bacteria to mental health. In 2014, a study published in Psychpharmacology found that prebiotics (which feed the good bacteria in the gut) may be effective for reducing stress and anxiety.

The lists goes on.

So, what can you do to make your own microbiome healthier? Make wise lifestyle choices. It’s the best way to improve your microbiome. Yup, back to the basics.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Consider adding fermented foods like sauerkraut and miso — they can increase the level of fermenting bacteria in the gut (that’s a good thing). If you’re not familiar with miso, it’s paste made from fermented soybeans and barley or rice malt, which is used in Japanese cooking.
  2. Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables as they contain fibers and sugars that can boost the health of gut bacteria.
  3. Explore some stress management strategies such as yoga, meditation or qigong.
  4. Exercise.
  5. Stop taking unnecessary antibiotics for ailments like colds — they destroy your microbiome and recovery can take months.

Like it or not, we are intimately connected to the microbial world. There is no question that our microbes impact our health in many ways.