No two people have the exact same fingerprint. This is one of the many things that makes us unique. Another lesser known difference is our gut microbiome (the organisms that reside within our digestive tracts). The gut microbiome is made up of individual microorganisms like bacterium, protozoa, fungi, and viruses (i.e., microbes) living inside our digestive tracts.
Microbes are not as intimidating as they might sound. In fact, they are everywhere, from the air we breathe to everything we touch. We are actually made more of microorganisms than we are of human cells. Our bodies are host to trillions of microbes, and there are hundreds of different types of microbes in our guts.
Research is helping us better understand the importance of these microbes. In fact, the microbes can have a bigger impact on who you are and your overall health than you might believe. At first, it may seem a little unsettling that we have all these tiny little critters living in our bodies, but it’s actually a good thing.
Where Did the Microorganisms Come From?
How did all these microorganisms get where they are? Surprisingly, the microorganisms in our bodies aren’t anything new. You were actually born with bacteria already colonizing your gut.1 If they’re just “there,” you may wonder why you should care or why you should pay attention to your gut microbiome.
It turns out our gut microbiome is constantly changing as a result of our lifestyles and environments. And, your gut is responsible for more than just digestion. It is a “hub” for many functions of the body. So, if you haven’t been giving your gut all the attention it needs, it may be time to restore your gut health.
Maintaining good gut health can have a positive impact on your digestion, immune system, weight management, as well as your brain and mental health.
3 Huge Impacts of a Healthy Gut Microbiome
1. Improved Digestion
Let’s start with the most obvious benefit of a healthy gut—good digestion.
Maintaining proper digestion is important to all of us as it’s how our bodies gain nutrients from what we eat and drink. The digestive system is responsible for breaking down nutrients, so they can be absorbed and further used for energy, as well as to maintain and repair the other functions in our bodies. 2
Our gut bacteria help with the digestive process by producing enzymes that break down the foods we consume. This then allows the nutrients from the food to pass through the gut wall into the bloodstream. 3Without these helpful bacteria, we would have a harder time breaking down the foods we eat and absorbing the essential nutrients our bodies need.
Having a healthy community of gut bacteria further promotes regularity as people who suffer from constipation have different microbiomes than those who do not. 4,5 Similarly, having a healthy gut microbiome can lower the pH in the colon, which further supports regularity. 6
Speaking of regularity, our gut microbiome may also decrease our risk for inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as other conditions. Research suggests people who suffer from these conditions may have decreased amounts of anti-inflammatory bacteria in their guts. 7,8
2. Boosted Metabolism
Your gut microbiota may also help control blood sugar, which could affect your risk for diabetes. Researchers have found infants who are predisposed to type 1 diabetes have a less diverse microbiome and typically have more undesirable bacterial microbes living in their guts before developing the disease. 9 In addition, studies have shown that post-meal blood glucose varies among people even after eating identical meals. 10 This data suggests our unique gut microbiota may influence the way we metabolize our food.
Our gut microbiomes also play a role in our ability to manage our weight. 11 Studies have investigated the gut microbiome of lean subjects versus those of obese subjects and have found significant differences. Those with “obese” microbiomes displayed higher increases in body fat than those with “lean” microbiota. In addition, in mice studies, when obese microbes were transferred to lean mice, researchers observed an increase in weight gain. 11,12
That doesn’t mean you’re stuck with “obese” microbiome if that’s what you have now. Rather, whether you have a lean or obese microbiome can be influenced by the foods you eat. Consuming a high-fat, refined food diet, such as what is commonly seen in western diets, can create a buildup of bad bacteria in the gut—leading to the “obese microbiome.” 11
Fortunately, you can easily turn your microbiome around by turning to healthier food choices (e.g., fermented foods and fresh, high-fiber vegetables) and incorporating exercise into your daily routine. These simple lifestyle changes can help you develop a more diverse gut microbiome which has been linked to improved health.
3. Improved Mental Health
An important part of health we must not forget is our mental health. The good news is having a healthy gut may also help improve our mental health and brain function. When you get stressed out and anxious, so does your body.
A healthy gut microbiome can act like a microscopic army to help your body fight against the harmful effects of stress. Your gut microbiome can communicate with your brain through metabolic messengers. 13 These messengers (i.e., neurotransmitters, short chain fatty acids, etc.) have the power to tell your brain how it should respond to stress by interacting with the central nervous system and influencing the signals sent to your brain from your gut and from your gut to your brain (i.e., bidirectional communication). 13
The bacteria in the gut can also influence how our brains function. Research shows the microbes in the gut contribute to cognitive processes such as memory and learning. The bacterial microbes in the gut play a critical part in developing our working memory as seen in various animal studies. 14 Additionally, the decline in cognitive function as we age may be associated with a decrease in microbial diversity in the gut. 14
The Importance of a Healthy Gut Microbiome: A Recap
The gut microbiome is an ever-growing topic of interest as we continue to learn about the all the praiseworthy benefits that come along with optimal gut health. Nevertheless, if you are unsure if your gut is considered “healthy,” don’t fret. You can make little changes in your diet or lifestyle to begin building a healthier, happier gut.
A few easy ways you can start improving your microbiome diversity are by incorporating probiotic foods such as yogurt, cheese, or kombucha into your diet, beginning an exercise regimen, or by taking a daily probiotic such as BioTrust’s PRO-X10™ advanced probiotic supplement. Start with whichever way you choose to better take control of your gut health.