Education - The Microbiome

There are in excess of 500-600 species of bacteria with over 160 different species inside us. With more than 100 trillion bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract, these non human cells vastly outnumber the total human cells in the body . They have a greater metabolic capacity than the liver and can weigh as much as 2 1/2 kg so could be considered an organ in their own right!

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Bacteria are present everywhere in the GI tract with numbers increasing as we move from the stomach through to the large intestine and fecal matter. In addition to immune function which has been  discussed in a previous newsletter what other roles do these organisms have?

  • The gut microbiome contributes to metabolism of food by providing enzymes which we cannot produce. They help breakdown carbohydrates, proteins, plant polyphenols, bile acids and make vitamins.

  • It contributes to gut health (of course!). The microbiome play a role in intestinal diseases like IBS, ulcerative colitis and Crohns disease. Microbes produce gas and chemicals which can cause intestinal discomfort. Other strains of bacteria can improve gut health.

  • Any imbalance in the microflora can contribute to weight gain. An abundance of certain species can alter glutamate levels and amino acids levels contributing to the increase risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

  • The gut microbiota can induce synthesis of antimicrobial proteins and support the reduction of nasty pathogens and microbes which are not good for our health.​

  • Evidence now suggest that gut microbiota has an important impact on the gut-brain axis. Microbiota can produce molecules that act as neurotransmitters such as GABA, serotonin and histamine. This contributes to our mood, memory and learning processes. Depression, anxiety and stress can all be improved via improving our gut bacteria.

Lots of factors affect normal gut microbiota. Age, diet, antibiotics and stress to name a few. In current times the big problems are the overuse of antibiotics and diets high in sugars and processed foods.

Antibiotics are designed to kill off bacteria but they also effect the whole of the gut bacteria. There is strong evidence now that antibiotics alter the levels of good bacteria allowing bad bacteria to increase resulting in dysbiosis or the development of other infections. 

Diets that are low in fruits, vegetables and fiber reduce the diversity of the gut microbiota and result in an imbalance in species which can contribute to all round health problems!

The study of our microbiome in science is just at the beginning. Everyday we are learning more and more about how the gut microbiome contributes to our general state of health and how every single disease can be linked to the gut microbiome.

It stands to reason that this is an important area of our health we need to look after. Diet is the main way to maintain healthy microbiota. Reducing sugars, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, smoking and stress. Increasing whole grains (if not intolerant), fruit, fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, pickles) and vegetables all support a variety of microbes. Supplementing with strain specific probiotics can also reduce gastrointestinal symptoms and reduce dysbiosis.

So........everytime you eat think "is this supporting a healthy gut microbiome?" and always remember the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time if you eat well and look after yourself then it is ok to have occasional treats and not so healthy foods as your body has the ability to handle that. It is when the 80/20 is in reverse that problems occur!