Although we often associate organisms like bacteria, viruses and fungi as negative to our health, this is far from universal. There are countless living substances in our bodies that are not harmful, but helpful in keeping our organs and immune system working properly. These substances are collectively known as microbiome.
Our gut is one of the primary beneficiaries of microbiome as it is home to thousands of species of bacteria, each serving a different purpose while working to keep us healthy.
Bacteria helps with metabolism. The microbiome is responsible for breaking down and absorbing vitamins and minerals, synthesizing amino acids and creating bile – all essential to keeping our digestive system fully functional. Without them, our bodies would struggle to extract nutrients from food.
Gut microbiome and heart health. Not all microbes are healthy, and too many unhealthy microbes can cause serious health problems. Studies have shown that the balance of our microbiome is directly correlated to weight gain (as it can interfere with digestion) and even heart disease. While healthy organism such as Lactobacilli play an important role in promoting good cholesterol and triglycerides, harmful microbes can encourage the development of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) which can lead to blocked arteries.
Bacteria strengthens the immune system. Many gut microbiome attach themselves to the lining of our intestines preventing more harmful bacteria and pathogens from colonizing there. They act as little warriors protecting our healthy resources and enhancing immunity.
The need for bacterial diversity. If you think of your body as an ecosystem and the bacteria and other microorganisms as plants and animals, you will understand the need for biodiversity. This is what keeps our body healthy and balanced. A lack of balance from poor nutrition or antibiotics (which kill all the organism) can lead to disease. Those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, Crohn’s disease and diabetes tend to have low bacterial diversity in their guts.
What causes an unhealthy microbiome? Have you ever heard that most diseases start in your mouth? Poor dental hygiene can wreak havoc on our microbiome as can lifestyle factors like stress, alcohol, too many antibiotics, lack of sleep, processed and junk foods; all can cause imbalances of microorganisms in the GI tract.
How can we repair our microbiome? Consuming probiotic foods that contain beneficial live microbiota (such as fermented foods) can strengthen your intestinal tract and restore a healthy balance. Yogurt with live active cultures, pickled vegetables, tempeh, kombucha tea, kimchi, miso, kefir and sauerkraut are great sources. Studies have shown that supplementing with major and trace minerals can also significantly increase the concentration of healthy colonic microbiota.
Sources: 1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566439/; 2) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-microbiome-and-health; 3) https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2179; 4) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28223733.