There’s a good chance you’ve at least heard the term “gut health” by now. While it may seem like a new fad or health trend to talk about, there is a good reason why many practitioners and health professionals are focusing their attention on this area of health. In this post, we will discuss why your gut health is so important. In future articles, we will go into more detail about specific imbalances and issues that can affect your gut microbiome. But this post will cover the basics of the microbiome and why you should focus on keeping your gut microbiome healthy.
What is the Gut Microbiome?
The microbiota, also referred to as flora, are the microscopic organisms (microorganisms) that inhabit a particular environment (the microbiome). One way to think about the gut microbiome is thinking about the microcosm and macrocosm of the universe. We exist in a vast universe, and within that universe is our solar system, and within our solar system exists our planet. On our planet, many different types of living organisms exist. Now think of your body being like planet earth. The way earth is inhabited by a bunch of different species of organisms, our bodies are home to a variety of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. In a perfectly working system, everything is maintained in balance and each microorganism has a role to play in maintaining the ecosystem to keep it functioning optimally. There is even a microbiome in our mouth and on our skin! You can think of different organs as being like their own countries where the inhabitants have different cultures and values, but even though they inhabit the same country, people produce their own unique contributions to the world.
There was a period of time when we thought that bacteria just made us sick, but now we understand that the human body is composed of many different types of bacteria whose functions are to keep us healthy. How these bacteria in our gut function have a direct impact on many different systems of our bodies, including our immune system, our hormones, how we digest and assimilate nutrients, and even our mental health.
What Can Harm the Gut Microbiome?
Many things can have a negative effect on your gut microbiome. Amongst these include:
- Heavy alcohol use
- Cigarette smoking
- Fast food
- A diet high in sugar
- A diet high in processed food
- Artificial Sweeteners (such as aspartame and sucralose)
- Frequent or long term use of antibiotics
- Exposure to a lot of pesticides and herbicides
- Too much stress
While antibiotics do have a role in medicine and have no doubt saved countless lives due to killing life threatening bacterial infections, the overuse of them or taking them long term should be avoided when possible. This is because antibiotics don’t distinguish between good gut bacteria and harmful pathogens. Taking antibiotic medications can kill off colonies of our good microbiota that we need to stay healthy. The prolonged use of antibiotics has been shown to have the potential of causing antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.
How To Keep Your Gut Microbiome Healthy
There are some steps you can take to help keep your gut microbiome healthy. Things you can focus on include:
- Eating a healthy, balance diet (focused around eating good quality meat, fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes)
- Putting an extra focus on eating fiber rich foods, as these contain prebiotics which help feed our gut bacteria
- Eating fermented foods that contain probiotic organisms
- Taking a probiotic supplement (such as our G-Plans probiotic supplement)
- Quitting or limiting cigarette and alcohol use
- Reducing stress when possible
While we have many exposures to things that can disrupt our gut flora on a daily basis, being aware of these things and making mindful decisions can help us keep our guts healthy! Even if you just focus on a few healthier changes, it can make a big difference on the health of your gut microbiome.