What the hell is a ‘microbiome’ and why is it affecting my gut?

It might sound gross, but your body is filled with bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Since we wash our hands and take medicine to get rid of the icky stuff, it almost seems counterintuitive, as they already live inside us.

But why do we even have them? Well, collectively these freeloaders in our body are known as the ‘microbiome,’ and are extremely important for the gut, heart, and immune system. So, while it seems they’re earning their keep, it’s unnerving to think of them making a home in there.

Are they necessary? What do they do? In this article, you’ll learn their true purpose and never question the microbiome again.

The fact of the microbiome

We’ve established that the body is packed with bacteria, or ‘microbes’ if you’re feeling friendly, and it might sound weird, but you’re more bacteria than human.

It’s estimated that, in comparison to 30 trillion human cells, we’re incubating up to 40 trillion bacterial cells, meaning the humans are seriously outnumbered. Many exist in your intestines, and most of which are found in cecum, a pocket located in your large intestine.

If we were to take them all out, they could weigh up to 2kg, which is the weight of your brain. It’s a full-scale operation in there, with up to 1,000 species of bacteria in the gut microbiome and each playing a different role in the body. Effectively, they make up an extra organ in your body and play a pivotal role in your health.

So, back to the gut. The microbiome helps with digestion, fighting harmful bacteria, and controlling the immune system.

You might not realise it, but only a small portion of nutrients are absorbed through the wall of your stomach. Most of the work occurs in your small intestines, where bacteria produce enzymes to break down food’s indigestible carbohydrates. By the time it leaves, you’ve absorbed up to 90% of all nutrients.

But what happens if our microbiome is knocked off kilter, and how are we affected if we’re not getting everything we need?

It’s all about balance

When you have a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, it’s called equilibrium. But when that balance is off, and you have too much bad bacteria floating around, the risk of certain conditions, such as Chron’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome [IBS], and ulcerative colitis, increases dramatically.

Not only that, but scientists believe that some kinds of gut bacteria could be the link between cholesterol and heart disease. When you eat foods like eggs or red meat, the bacteria makes a chemical in your liver called trimethylamine-N-oxide [TMAO], which may help cholesterol build up in your blood vessels. Too much TMAO can lead to chronic kidney disease and, in turn, heart disease.

In terms of your brain, while it sends messages throughout your body, researchers believe your gut may talk back. Research has shown that the gut microbiome could affect emotions and how your brain processes information from your senses. Changes in balance could also play a role in anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.

We mentioned that the microbiome is an organ just like your heart and lungs, both of which we’re told to take extra care of in order to enjoy a happy and healthy life. With the myriad of the ways something as small as bacteria can affect your wellbeing, it’s clear that the microbiome deserves the tender loving care you give to the rest of your body.

This leaves us with an important question: when the balance is off, can it be fixed?

Getting back on track

So, your gut microbiome is a bit off balance, what can you do?

First up, probiotics. These are live microorganisms that may have health benefits when consumed. At this point you might be thinking, ‘I’ve got enough living things inside me as it is, why should I add anymore?’ The thing is, probiotics are good bacteria, like the ones already found in your gut. If the bad bacteria are staging a coup, probiotics help keep everything in balance.

You could also get more sleep. That’s right, a good night’s sleep can help promote a healthy gut. Sleep deprivation can lead to a decrease in beneficial bacteria, and in turn, a lack of can result in a bad night’s sleep. What a vicious cycle.

The most important way to keep your gut in check is with a healthy diet. A poor diet can impact your microbiome the most, as it runs directly through the source of all those good bacteria. Where possible, reduce the volume of processed food you eat – including all of those high-sugar and high-fat treats. Instead, aim for a balanced diet with plant-based foods, lean proteins, and plenty of fibre.

Finally, and it might seem impossible, but try and avoid stress. Live the ‘soft life’ and help your gut. Small changes, such as going for a walk, doing some yoga, or even having a laugh with friends can reduce those pesky stress hormones, allowing the gut to produce more serotonin and dopamine.

Conclusion

The old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But when it comes to your gut, it’s important to keep on top of problems before they occur. Doing so will result in a happy life with less chance of stomach pains and, worst case scenario, debilitating illnesses.

The long and short of it is, respect your gut and it’ll respect you back, supporting your immune system, fighting off diseases, and giving you all the nutrition you need so that your body is a temple.

Emma Thackray is the co-founder of Hip Pop.

About Lisa Baker, Editor, Wellbeing News 4246 Articles
Editor Lisa Baker is passionate about the benefits of a holistic approach to healing. Lisa is a qualified Vibrational Therapist and has qualifications in Auricular Therapy, Massage, Kinesiology, Crystal Healing, Seichem and is a Reiki Master.