Your Microbiome Is Key to Gut Health
What are we referring to when we talk about a healthy gut or digestive system? It’s a combination of several factors such as:
- An ability to digest foods and absorb nutrients
- An effective and healthy immune system
- An absence of illnesses in the gut
- A thriving, balanced composition of microorganisms
At the core of our gut health is gut flora or microbiome. This community of microorganisms that include bacteria, viruses, yeasts and fungi, lives in our digestive tract, influencing how well our body’s biological systems function and our ability to stay well.
There are trillions of microorganisms living in our body. The bulk of them comprise the microbiome that forms our gastrointestinal tract. These microorganisms are typically classified as either healthy or unhealthy.
These microorganisms have names like Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, Fusobacteria and Verrucomicrobia. A handful of factors, such as age, medication usage, frequency of antibiotics, influence the composition and location of these microorganisms in your gut.
The large intestine, for example, has the greatest population of microbiota due to its length and relatively slow transition time. The small intestine also has fewer microorganisms because it has a heavier concentration of bile and a higher pH level, which affects growth. Of course, the stomach has its own collection of microorganisms that helps with digestion.
Some of the microorganisms that live in our stomach and intestinal tracts can wreak havoc if they grow unchecked. H. pylori, for example, is a bacterium that often lives in our stomach. When it thrives, it can colonize in the stomach’s lining and inflame it, ultimately leading to ulcers.
The key to a healthy gut is to maintain a balance in our microbiome. When the makeup of our gut biome is rich in healthy microorganisms, it helps reduce disease risk. But when it’s out of balance and features more harmful microorganisms like H. pylori, the chances for health issues goes beyond ongoing stomach discomfort — our risk for a variety of different diseases, including inflammatory, endocrine autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases, is higher.
As you can imagine, with trillions of complex microorganisms to consider, scientists studying the gut biome are only beginning to assess the extent of how important it is to have a healthy gut.
The good news is that making positive lifestyle changes, including getting good sleep, reducing stress, quitting unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and eating biome-friendly foods can get you on the path to good gut health.