Why is the Gut Microbiome so pivotal for your health?

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Most people do not necessarily think of micro-organisms as having such a crucial role in our survival- the word ‘bacteria’ or ‘virus’ brings to mind a set of negative connotations, including disease, sickness and ill health. However, were you aware that there are currently 40 trillion bacterial cells residing in your body at any given moment in time? In fact, that’s more than the number of normal body cells you have1.

Nowadays, we are constantly hearing words such as ‘probiotics’ in society, but what are they? Well, these are live bacteria that you are ingesting. Yes, live bacteria. They can be found in foods such as yoghurt or yeast and are described as being ‘good bacteria’. All in all, these supplements claim to help your gut microbiome.

Your gut microbiome is composed of trillions of micro-organisms that live in the tract of your intestine. These bacteria, viruses and fungi keep you healthy through a variety of controlled factors. For example, not only are they responsible for digesting food and absorbing nutrients, but also play a role in regulating and controlling your mood, metabolism, and the immune system2. Until recently, it was widely thought that bacteria make up the majority of this diverse population. However, recent studies have demonstrated there are over 140,000 types of viral species scattered throughout your gut, half of which were unseen until this moment3.

Various research demonstrates that your gut starts populating with microorganisms as early as in the womb. However, numerous factors make your ‘bacterial fingerprint’ different from others- from your genetics to what foods you eat and where you live. This means that every person has different amounts and types of bacteria and microbes, making it extremely difficult to research what each of these microbes does.

This diversity in your gut also makes it extremely sensitive to changes in your body. The delicate balance of your microorganisms can be upset by stress, illness or a poor quality diet.

The effect of lockdown on society’s health has been devastating, both physically and mentally. Takeaway places have seen rises in orders, and the inability to leave the house has meant a lack of motivation to exercise and stay healthy. All of this, of course, has a massive effect on your gut microbiome.

There has been numerous research indicating the harm that fast food can do to your gut, including how the excess salt, sugar and fat, combined with a lack of fibre, can cause dysbiosis- an imbalance in your gut. One such study4 proved that participants who had only fast food for more than ten days completely wiped out over a third of all their good gut bacteria, which results in issues like obesity that can increase your susceptibility to diabetes or heart diseases. Furthermore, research suggests that emulsifiers and sweeteners can weaken your ‘gut wall’2. This can lead to bacteria and small food particles making it into the bloodstream, where they are met with the full force of the immune attack, due to the fact they are recognised as being ‘foreign’.

Moreover, various studies go even further than this to demonstrate a relationship between a healthy, diverse gut microbiome and heart health. A study in 1500 people successfully found a correlation between a diverse gut microbiome and a healthy heart1. In fact, certain species of bad gut microorganisms can release chemicals, namely trimethylamine N-oxide. This chemical blocks arteries, leading to a stroke or heart disease, which can be catastrophic for your physical health. To further this, numerous studies have suggested a link between the gut microbiome and various factors ranging from brain health to blood sugar levels1. The truth is, we do not fully know the reasons behind the importance of the Gut Microbiome, however, we should recognise how great an impact it has on our health if the balance of natural microorganisms is upset.

The presence of gut bacteria is crucial for the normal functionality of the body, and so it should be of paramount importance that we exercise and have a healthy diet to prevent dysbiosis of the gut microbiome. A healthy diet should be composed of a variety of fruit, vegetables and whole grains, which can promote the growth of healthy microbes in your gut.


References

  1. Healthline. 2021. Why the Gut Microbiome Is Crucial for Your Health. [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-microbiome-and-health#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2
  2. Food and Mood Centre. 2016. What is the Gut Microbiome? [online] Available at: https://foodandmoodcentre.com.au/2016/07/what-is-the-gut-microbiome/
  3. Science Daily. 2021. Scientists identify more than 140,000 virus species in the human gut [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210218142739.htm
  4. Health E-news. 2015. Fast food is killing your gut bacteria [online] Available at: https://www.ahchealthenews.com/2015/05/28/fast-food-is-killing-your-gut-bacteria/#:~:text=Processed%20food%20can%20wreak%20havoc,by%20other%20types%20of%20bacteria.

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