The human body is symbiotic – this means all its processes require each other to work in tandem to maintain overall health. Basically, when one area suffers, the rest follow suit. For example, if a person doesn’t have a healthy immune system, they are more prone to disease and illness. Being more susceptible to disease and infection leads to sickness that can, in turn, cause further problems to other organs and bodily systems.
The same can be said for the gut microbiome. While you may have heard this term, you may not be familiar with the complexities that go into keeping it healthy and maintaining overall balance so that the gut continues to play its crucial role within your body. Since the gut microbiome influences many other aspects of health, it’s a vital piece of the wellness puzzle – but what is the human gut microbiome, exactly? And how do you keep your gut microbiome healthy? Read on to learn more.
What is the human gut microbiome?
Your microbiome exists within your digestive tract. It is a collection of trillions of microorganisms, each with individual jobs that are required to maintain an overall balance. Within those microorganisms are bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. While these species are often spoken about in a negative context, they are actually a necessary piece of the puzzle within the gut microbiome.
The microbiome contains both good gut bacteria and harmful gut bacteria. The trick to keeping the microbiome healthy is to balance the level of good and bad microorganisms. To put it into perspective: think of the microbiome as a large and successful business. There are numerous employees at the company, each with their own role to ensure things run smoothly. If one department were to suddenly stop doing their jobs, the rest of the company would suffer. The same can be said for your gut microorganisms.
What does a healthy gut microbiome do for the body?
The microbiome is often referred to as a “supporting organ,” even though, technically speaking, it is not. Why? Because it essentially acts as an organ in terms of its importance and what it does for the human body.
The microorganisms within the gut must be balanced to ensure overall health. The areas they are most attuned to are:
- The immune system
- Synthetization and breakdown of nutrients
- Proper muscle function and mass
- Prevention of chronic disease
- Protection against outside pathogens
When good and bad gut bacteria are in harmony within the gut, all of these elements can function to protect your health.
Why is it essential to have a healthy gut microbiome?
As mentioned above, the microbiome is essential for many different bodily functions. To ensure that all those critical aspects of overall health are being met, a person must ensure that their gut bacteria is balanced and up for the task.
A balanced microbiome is also vital for preventing disease, specifically autoimmune disease. Many immune-related disorders, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, have been associated with imbalanced gut bacteria. So not only is the colony of microorganisms there to keep specific processes in check, it’s also there to prevent disease (including various chronic illnesses).
How do you maintain a gut microbiome?
There are several different ways to maintain the health of your gut bacteria. One of the first and most important is ensuring that good and bad bacteria live harmoniously within your digestive tract. That means keeping things balanced to the best of your ability. One way to do that – especially if you have recently undergone a situation that may have stripped the body of good bacteria, such as taking antibiotics for an infection – is by taking probiotics.
Microbiome probiotics can reintroduce healthy species of microorganisms back into the body when there are too many unhealthy gut organisms. Many strains are available, but Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the two most important in many probiotics. These types of “good” bacteria can help restore a healthy gut balance after a period of dysbiosis.
How to improve gut health naturally
Suppose you want to avoid taking any medication or supplements to restore balance to your gut colony. In that case, you’ll need to focus on other vital aspects of digestive health, such as your diet. Eating a diet rich in whole foods can help keep your microbiome where it needs to be to work optimally.
Consuming foods that contain essential levels of either probiotics or prebiotics, which are fibers that help healthy bacteria to multiply in the gut, is a great way to promote overall gut health naturally. Some foods to choose from include:
- Green bananas
- Cooked and cooled rice and potatoes
- Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh, and miso
Introducing these foods into your diet lets you reap the benefits of the pre- and probiotics your gut needs.
Other ways to naturally improve your gut health include:
- Limiting sugar intake: Sugars act as food for harmful bacteria, allowing them to grow out of control.
- Using collagen: Collagen helps to protect the lining of the gut, which improves the home of your gut bacteria for more optimal levels and balance.
- Only taking antibiotics when necessary: It can be tempting to seek out antibiotics whenever you’re unwell, but if your body can fight off an illness without them, it’s better to avoid them where possible. Antibiotics strip the gut of both good and bad bacteria on their quest to fight the pathogen that’s making you ill.
- Eat foods rich in polyphenols: Polyphenols are plant-based micronutrients that act as antioxidants within the body. Because of their ability to decrease inflammation, they can improve good bacteria growth while hindering harmful bacteria growth.
The human body can be fickle, and caring for your microbiome isn’t always easy. That said, it’s crucial for your overall health, and you can help to gibe your gut what it needs by making a few simple diet and lifestyle changes.
Featured image by Portuguese Gravity on Unsplash