“Newsflash: you’re only half-human! Turns out your body has roughly the same amount of bacteria as human cells. So half of you is bacteria.
Don’t freak out! They come in peace. In fact, they’re responsible for helping to keep you alive. Virtually every organ and system in your body is able to function properly because of bacteria that call your gut home.
The flipside? If that bacteria is out of whack, you can become quite unhealthy.
That’s a pretty massive impact. Knowing this, it seems we’d all want to understand how to keep our bacterial balance at an optimal level, right?
That’s what we’ve set out to do. What follows is a comprehensive guide to the gut, the microbiome, the effects of having a gut that’s healthy versus unhealthy, and the simplest ways to fix your gut health.
Spoiler: the best thing you can do is lay off the pills and feed your microbiome with polyphenol-rich foods.”
Gut health refers to the balance of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. Looking after the health of the gut and maintaining the right balance of these microorganisms is vital for physical and mental health, immunity, and more.
These bacteria, yeasts, and viruses — of which there are trillions — are also called the “gut microbiome” or “gut flora.”
Many microbes are beneficial for human health, and some are even essential. Others can be harmful, especially when they multiply.
In this article, we list 10 scientifically supported ways to improve the gut microbiome and enhance overall health.
The term “gut microbiome” refers specifically to the microorganisms living in your intestines. A person has about 300 to 500 different species of bacteria in their digestive tract. While some microorganisms are harmful to our health, many are incredibly beneficial and even necessary to a healthy body.
According to Dr. E. M. Quigley in his studyTrusted Source on gut bacteria in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, having a wide variety of these good bacteria in your gut can enhance your immune system function, improve symptoms of depression, help combat obesity, and provide numerous other benefits.
Many facets of modern life such as high stress levels, too little sleep, eating processed and high-sugar foods, and taking antibiotics can all damage our gut microbiome. This in turn may affect other aspects of our health, such as the brain, heart, immune system, skin, weight, hormone levels, ability to absorb nutrients, and even the development of cancer.
If you were to view your microbiome as a garden, fibre would be your fertiliser. Spector reckons that most people need to double their intake. Foods containing the best fibre types for your microbes – AKA prebiotic foods – include artichokes, jerusalem artichokes, leeks, celery, chicory, onions and garlic. Variety is the top priority. “So, it’s not just focusing on one or two of these examples,” warns Spector. “Our latest research is showing that it’s not necessarily someone who calls themselves vegetarian who has the most healthy gut – it’s the person who eats more diversity of plants in a week. Having the same salad every day isn’t going to be as healthy as eating a rich diversity of food with occasional meat.” This could just as easily be a way of describing the Mediterranean diet, with its kaleidoscope of fruit, veg, nuts, grains and legumes.
Our gut houses the bulk of our bugs and can carry more than 1,000 different species. The hot spot is the large intestine, which is the most highly colonized by bacteria. ‘Bacteria help us digest foods we otherwise couldn’t, such as complex carbohydrates,’ says McCoy. ‘They increase our metabolic capacity, produce vitamins we can’t make ourselves and break down food so our bodies get needed nutrients.’
A healthy gut can determine which nutrients are absorbed and which toxins are blocked. ‘The state of our gut microbiota has drastically changed as we’ve transformed our diets, specifically due to a loss of fibre intake,’ says McCoy. ‘The consumption of more processed foods has negatively influenced the makeup of our microbiota.’
The key to a well-functioning microbiome is a diversity of good bacteria. The latest research shows how our microbiome can affect our immunity, weight and mood, and reveals how you can nurture and strengthen your gut to improve your health.