Winner of the Nobel prize in medicine in 1908 and founder of the field of immunology, Elie Metchnikoff, PhD said “death begins in the colon”. Similarly, health begins in the colon.
Did you know that your gut is home to 100 trillion living microorganisms? These microorganisms, weighing about 3 pounds, share the food you eat and get a place to stay within your body. In return, some of these organisms aid in digestion, synthesize vitamins, bind up “parking spaces” along the intestinal wall to prevent infections, fight harmful microorganisms and even boost immunity.
But how important is a healthy microbiome?
The Importance of a Healthy Microbiome, Our 100 Trillion Friends Who Co-Habit Our Body
The microbiome is a collection of microorganisms, mainly bacteria that form a unique ecosystem that has major effects on the wellbeing of the individual. Some are harmful and can cause diseases, and others are beneficial to the extent that they fight off infections, help in digestion of food and assimilation of nutrients. In order for you to maximize the benefits over dangers, you need to have proper microorganism balance in your gut. But this can be harder said than done in today’s world where diet and lifestyle are too harsh for the growth of good bacteria.
And yet, proper balance of the various microorganisms is critical for good health.
The microbiome is not limited to the gut. Studies have found that an individual’s combination of bacteria also exists on the outside of the body, and even on surfaces the individual touches. The individual microbiome also constitutes the personal genetic footprint which includes the individual unique DNA.
Effects of the microbiome on health
Because the microbiome is composed of both good (beneficial) and bad (harmful) bacteria, its effects can be either good or bad. When you have an abundance of good bacteria in the microbiome, you will enjoy overall good health. However, if your microbiome has an abundance of bad bacteria, the result is generally poor health and poor immunity. It is therefore, obvious that you need a microbiome that is properly balanced and with a healthy amount of good bacteria. To achieve this, you need to incorporate some good practices as part of your lifestyle including the following:
- Avoid use of antibiotics whenever possible
- Eat prebiotic foods which are rich in fiber such as green vegetables, fruits, spices, whole grains and legumes
- Eat probiotic foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kombucha and fermented vegetables
- Avoid refined carbohydrates, refined oils, trans-fats and sugar
Importance of a healthy microbiome
While the microorganisms living in our bodies do so for their own survival, their existence offers many healthy benefits to the host.
The microbiome acts like an additional organ with different functions in the body. Research indicates that in the gut, the microbiome plays a part in almost 90 percent of diseases that affect us. According to some studies, the microbiome has a role in diseases and conditions like leaky gut syndrome, arthritis, heart disease, dementia, cancer, infertility and aging.
It follows that whenever our microbiome balance favors the wrong types of microorganism, the chances of developing disease increase and when the balance favors beneficial bacteria, our bodies are better able to prevent disease.
Your microbiome is important in the following functions:
It supports digestion
While the human body produces enzymes to digest various types of food, different bacteria within the gut produce many more enzymes. This means that while the enzymes produced by the body have capacity to digest a few types of food, microbiome enzymes can have a wider range of action. The result is that the bacteria make our bodies better equipped to access more nutrients from the food we eat.
One quoted case concerns the staple diet for some people in New Guinea: sweet potato. Studies indicate that although these people’s diet is 90 percent sweet potato, the microorganisms in their gut synthesizes protein from it.
The microbiome lowers inflammation
Some gut bacteria helps to lower inflammation that may be caused by allergens and sensitivities to some foods and environmental components. This helps to reduce the effects of food and seasonal allergies and associated infections. When you have adequate friendly bacteria, your body is better equipped to resist inflammatory conditions and infections, including leaky gut syndrome, colds, coughs and sore throat.
Microbiome Can Help Boost immunity
A healthy gut with a higher ratio of friendly bacteria to harmful bacteria helps to support the immune system. This leads to better overall health and specifically protects against autoimmune conditions like arthritis, Hashimoto’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease. In case of a higher ratio of harmful bacteria to friendly bacteria, autoimmune diseases are more likely to set in.
Promotes a healthy mind
Studies indicate that there are multiple nervous connections between the gut and the brain with signals being relayed back and forth. These signals are dependent on the composition of the gut microbiome and affect the mind in both short- and long term. In case of poor gut microbiome balance, the signals from the gut may cause inflammation in parts of the brain and the nervous system. Such inflammation can lead to mental issues like poor memory, cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Protects against cancers
Studies indicate that free radicals may have a role in the occurrence of cancer. Gut microorganisms are also believed to influence human genes and cause inflammation and cancers. It has also been shown that a healthy gut with adequate friendly bacteria helps to remove free radicals from within the gut and therefore stop these free radicals from accessing the rest of the body. When this happens, the body gets significant protection against various cancers including those of the colon, stomach, brain, prostate, pancreas and breast. Microbes in the gut generate by-products such as butyrate, which is a powerful anti-cancer agent protecting colon cells.
Microbiome affects mood
The gut feeling may only get casual mention. However, there are real connections going on between your gut and your brain that can affect your mood. In fact even the food you eat can have can affect how you feel. But how does this happen?
According to this study, what you eat or drink affects your gut microbiome. It also affects activities of the neurotransmitters that are involved in the communication between the brain and the rest of the body systems. This affects how you feel. Research indicates that diet, lifestyle and environmental changes since the 20th century have led to increased depression and other emotional and mental health issues. This has been brought about by increased use of agricultural chemicals, depletion of nutrients due to over-farming and the resultant oxidative stress. These have affected levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine which are responsible for mood changes.
The importance of a healthy microbiome cannot be overemphasized. It has so many effects on our health that research shows up to 90 percent of diseases can be attributed to poor microbiome balance. It therefore makes sense to work at maintaining a high ratio of good to bad bacteria.