Benefits of a Healthy Gut Microbiome
What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome is a community of micro-organisms existing within your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The gut microbiome is incredibly diverse – with roughly 100 trillion organisms living within your gut. These organisms include mostly bacteria but also involve viruses, fungi, and protozoa. This array of tiny organisms play a large role in your overall health and wellbeing1.
What are the advantages of having a healthy gut microbiome?
There is an intimate link between the gut microbiome and the development of obesity. In fact, studies show that overweight and obese individuals tend to have an imbalance in their microbiome. This imbalance is characterized by lower diversity, meaning there is a limited number of bacterial species present in the gut. In terms of microbiome diversity, it is always beneficial to have high diversity, meaning there is a wide array of bacterial species.
The link between obesity and microbial diversity is supported by mice models. However, long-term weight gain in humans is associated with low diversity of the microbiome. This is likely because the imbalance causes inflammation, immune dysfunction, and other adverse effects that contribute to weight gain1.
Low bacterial diversity is associated with more than just weight gain and obesity. It is also implicated in several other diseases, including type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, eczema, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, psoriasis, and arthritis1. The mechanisms underlying this association are not always clear, however, there is a link. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis, for example, demonstrate lowered microbial diversity compared to healthy patients. In these patients, reduced microbiome diversity has been linked to disease duration and levels of autoantibodies2.
The microbiota has been shown to activate the immune system, keeping your body healthy and able to fight off illness. The microbiome works by producing vitamins and amino acids that are essential to your health, such as vitamin K and the B vitamins. Additionally, it also helps to break down harmful substances, such as when you ingest contaminated food or beverages3.
The gut microbiome is also important to your digestion, particularly when it comes to complex carbs. Complex carbohydrates such as fiber and starch are more difficult to digest than other types of carbs. The microbiome contains digestive enzymes that help to break down these substances. In doing so, it produces short chain fatty acids (SCFA). These provide nutritional value to the body while also helping with muscle function and prevention of certain conditions like cancer. SCFA may also be helpful in treating GI-related conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis3.
Surprisingly, what happens in the gut is closely linked to what happens in the brain. In fact, individuals with psychiatric disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, and autism, have pronounced differences in their gut microbiome compared with healthy individuals. Research has shown that promoting beneficial gut bacteria via the use of prebiotics, probiotics, and diet changes can be advantageous for mental health. Doing such can lower feelings of anxiety and improve mood in both healthy individuals and those with mental illness4.
The gut microbiome contains trillions of micro-organisms that are small yet mighty, playing several roles in maintaining your overall health and wellness. When supporting gut microbiome and gut health you are likely to experience an array of benefits.