So, you may have heard this before, but what exactly are we talking about when we hear people mention “the microbiome?” The microbiome, which is also referred to commonly just as the “gut,” consists of trillions of microorganisms that live throughout our small and large intestines. In fact, there are more of these microorganisms than there are of our own cells, so technically speaking, we are more bacteria than humans! These microorganisms, or microbes, consist of different bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. Now normally, all these different populations of microbes, or bugs, live peacefully inside of the microbiome. (Insert clip of something harmonious, like the scene from bug’s life where they’re all lined up making contributions to the harvest)
Everyone walking the planet has a microbiome that is unique to them. A lot of it is determined at birth, and then a good portion of it is altered and changed depending on a person's diet and lifestyle. We all have good bugs, and we all have bad bugs that are either symbiotic or pathogenic. Usually, the good bugs and the bad bugs coexist without issues in a delicate balance. However, when that balance is destroyed, either due to illness, poor diet, or overuse of antibiotics, stress, poor sleep, the gut is now in dysbiosis, and we are more susceptible to disease. So, let’s get into the top 5 reasons that the microbiome aka the gut is so important to our health!
1. Helps control our immune system. Without these microbes that we start getting the moment we are born; adaptive immunity would not exist. When we’re born and we pass through the birthing canal, we’re immediately exposed to beneficial bacteria that help develop our immune system. We continue to receive beneficial bacteria when we’re fed breastmilk. That’s why the health and diet of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers is so important because that determines the set point of that child’s gut health and immune system.
Now obviously a lot is determined as well by the environment as we grow up, but this all sets the foundation. That’s why it’s important to be exposed to a number of different microbes at a young age, that way we can develop a quicker and more effective response to disease-causing organisms. So, in summary, a large part of our immune system lives in our gut and that’s why we need to treat it properly.
2. Helps control brain health. Researchers have demonstrated links between the gut microbiome and psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety. This is because gut bacteria produce large amounts of neurotransmitters like serotonin and interact in the neural pathways that are involved in anxiety and depression and help form the gut-brain axis.
In fact, studies show that when you replace the gut bacteria of anxious mice with the gut bacteria of brave and fearless mice, the anxious mice become more brave and fearless and the brave and fearless mice become more anxious. In addition, another study showed that probiotic supplementation reduces measures of anxiety and depression in humans as well.
3. Helps prevent weight gain. Research has shown that certain bad bacteria in our microbiome influence what foods we crave and also influence how full we feel after we eat. It does this by altering the hormones that control these feelings. When we’re in dysbiosis, meaning when we have bad gut bacteria, our hormones are thrown off and we have intense cravings and don’t feel full. This is why after binge drinking and destroying our gut, we seem to crave greasy high-calorie foods and seemingly can’t get full. The bacterium in our gut also helps to break down complex molecules in meats and vegetables, so if we’re not breaking down foods and digesting properly, that will lead to weight gain as well.
4. Helps to regulate inflammation - More importantly, the gut alters inflammatory factors, and if you’ve been listening to me, you know how important reducing inflammation is to weight loss and overall health. So elevated levels of interleukin, tumor necrosis factor and c reactive protein are all biomarkers of inflammation and are associated with obesity. Studies show that taking probiotics and improving gut health decrease those inflammatory markers and lower inflammation, therefore resulting in weight loss and better health. This is why I always say you can’t lose weight until you remove the inflammation and there’s way more to diet than just calories in calories out.
5. Affects our susceptibility to autoimmune disease. Many experts consider poor gut health a necessary pre-condition for all auto-immune diseases. An inflamed gut that isn’t processing nutrients the way it should allow outside proteins and other food particles into the body and the immune system mount an immune response to deal with these what are now perceived as invaders, and this response gets way overblown to the point where the body starts attacking its own tissues, hence the term, autoimmune.
So, what can we do to protect our gut health? Well, we need to protect the health of our gut by eating the proper foods. Some great prebiotic foods for gut health include asparagus, garlic, onions, artichokes, berries, choosing quality red wine when drinking alcohol, incorporating bone broth into our diets (Maybe have images of these foods on the screen as I list them). We should also eat fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi. We should avoid things like refined carbohydrates, gluten, and the overuse of antibiotics. In addition, a good quality probiotic is something I highly recommend everyone to be on.
Once again, I cannot stress the importance of respecting your microbiome. We are only beginning to find all the ways in which the gut affects our health. So far, we know that there is already huge correlation with the following conditions and diseases: constipation, diarrhea, upset stomach, bloating, obesity, being overweight, depression, anxiety, eczema, psoriasis, and several auto-immune disorders.
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