What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem of bacteria and other microbes residing within you that has an incredible influence on your overall health and vitality. Your gut microbiome is shaped throughout life, beginning at birth, and adapts to changes in your environment such as diet, sleep patterns, stress levels, social networks, where you live, your age and more.
In simple terms, there are both friendly and potentially unfriendly microbes that make up your gut microbiome. The friendly bacteria do more than just hang out and take up space - they have many important functions! They offer protection from infection, aid in digestion and absorption, influence immunity, inflammation, metabolism, mood and more!
Did you know that approximately 90% of serotonin – the “happy hormone” – is produced in your gut? Low levels of serotonin can lead to low mood and constipation due to its additional role of helping food move through your digestive tract.
What is gut dysbiosis?
When you don’t have enough friendly bacteria, it can create an environment where the potentially unfriendly or pathogenic bacteria and yeast can overgrow and lead to health problems. The scientific term for this is dysbiosis, which refers to an imbalance between the friendly and unfriendly bacteria in your gut. Many factors can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut, including infection, stress, surgery, antibiotic use, poor diet, overtraining and more. Bloating, flatulence, IBS, fatigue and poor concentration have all been linked to dysbiosis.
Leaky gut and the gut microbiome
Imbalances in the microbiome can have far reaching effects that go well beyond gut symptoms. For example, a compromised intestinal barrier, often referred to as “leaky gut”, allows proteins and other molecules that would normally remain in the digestive tract to pass through the gut wall into the blood stream, resulting in immune-mediated reactions and systemic inflammation. Leaky gut has been associated with autoimmune conditions and disorders like asthma, eczema, heart disease and even cancer.
Microbiome diversity: the key to health and resilience
Research suggests that microbiome diversity is a good indicator of a healthy microbiome. Diversity is defined as the number of unique bacterial strains that are dominant within a specific environment.
Recent research has found that healthy individuals tend to have greater microbiome diversity when compared to individuals with conditions such as Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Psoriasis. Fortunately, there are some key diet and lifestyle strategies that can help to improve gut health and microbiome diversity.
Eating for your microbiome
Diet plays a big part in establishing and maintaining a healthy and diverse microbiome. A diet filled with a variety of colourful plant-based foods is anti-inflammatory and feeds the good bacteria in your gut. On the other hand, a diet filled will refined and processed foods and sugar will feed the unfriendly bacteria and yeast, leading to a greater likelihood of dysbiosis and leaky gut.
One of my favourite ways to help my clients improve gut health is to encourage them to eat 30+ colourful plant foods per week! This ensures plenty of fibre and antioxidants to keep the gut healthy and crowd out the potentially harmful bacteria.
Here are my top diet and lifestyle tips to support a healthy microbiome:
1. Be sure to enjoy your meals in a relaxed state (rest and digest). Taking a few deep breaths before meals can improve digestion and absorption.
2. Chew your food thoroughly to activate the digestive process and take unnecessary stress off the digestive system.
3. Consume a wide variety of fibre-rich plant foods, including legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs, whole grains, fruits, and especially vegetables.
4. Limit or avoid processed foods, and foods high in added sugar and artificial sweeteners.
5. Consume prebiotic foods, which are the primary fuel source for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Some examples include carrots, oats, green bananas, boiled and cooled new potatoes, asparagus, radish, flaxseeds, honey and dark chocolate.
6. Consume probiotic foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, live yoghurt, kefir and kombucha.
7. Stay hydrated but limit fluid intake during meals as it dilutes the digestive juices necessary to properly digest and absorb your food.
8. Limit or avoid any foods to which you are sensitive, intolerant, or allergic. Some common examples are corn, dairy, eggs, fish and shellfish, peanuts, soy, tree nuts, and wheat (gluten).
Probiotic supplements are also a useful tool in supporting gut health! I love Gut Biome Zooki to keep my digestion running smoothly and my immune system strong. My clients love it too!