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What is the microbiome and why is it important?

In honor of world microbiology day, we want to discuss what the microbiome is, and why it is important. As Integrative Gut Health Dietitians, knowing what the microbiome is, and how it works, is a critical part of understanding and treating various conditions that my patients have.


Patients with significant gastrointestinal (GI) distress may experience abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. A strong understanding of the microbiome is important for successfully treating these patients and helping to alleviate their symptoms.


Keep reading to learn what the microbiome is, what role it plays in our body, what happens if we have too much bad bacteria, and how we can improve our gut health with pre and probiotics.



What does our microbiome do?


Before we get into what our microbiome does, let's review some important terms.



Microbiome: A community or ecosystem of microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and viruses, that live in a particular environment (Typically our gut, but can be found almost everywhere).


Microbiota: Refers to the different microbe populations in your large intestine.


Microbe: Also known as microorganisms, these are the tiny bacteria, fungi, and viruses that exist in the environment.



Microbes exist in our bodies, along with everywhere outside of our bodies. Bacteria can exist in food, air, and water, and are transferred to our gut in a variety of ways. These bacteria can be good or bad, and play a vital role in the health of the human body. Microbes are responsible for digestion, immunity, and serotonin production among other things.



Why does my body have too much of the bad bacteria?


The health of our gut, and ultimately the whole body, is highly dependent on the type and amount of bacteria in our GI tract. The microbiome of the human body is very sensitive and can shift from primarily good to bad bacteria in a very short time period. The microbiome of our large intestine can change for a variety of reasons. These reasons can include:

  • Diet

  • Antibiotic & medication use

  • Alcohol use

  • Bacterial illnesses like food poisoning

  • Chronic illness

  • Natural or C- Section Birth

  • Formula feeding at birth

When we do things that damage our gut, it can lead to an onset of uncomfortable symptoms including bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and fatigue, among others. This is our body's way of telling us that something is not right.



Conditions linked to too much of the bad bacteria?


According to Recent Research: Disturbances in our healthy gut bacteria are potentially related to various conditions including,

  • Leaky gut

  • Asthma

  • Allergies

  • Eczema

  • Cancer

  • Celiac Disease

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Malnutrition

  • Autoimmune Conditions

  • Depression

Unfortunately, the research has a long way to go, and traditional doctors aren't always looking at the microbiome as the root cause for some of these common conditions. This is where a dietitian specialized in gut health can help to guide patients through a treatment plan that supports their microbiome and help return their gut to a healthy state.



What can I do to repair my gut?


Now that you know what the microbiome is, and how important it is to our overall health, you may be wondering how you can support or heal yours. This is a very common issue.


The first recommendation for healing your microbiome is to work with a licensed professional. This could be a dietitian, a naturopathic doctor, gastroenterologist, or sometimes a primary care physician. Note: It’s important to make sure that the licensed professional is familiar with gut health and has a good track record of healing these kinds of gut health issues.


If working with a licensed professional is not feasible for you at this time, there are a few things that you can do to help support a healthy gut. These include,

  • Eating a high-fiber diet

  • Consuming less animal products and more plant products

  • Taking a probiotic

  • Eating prebiotic rich food like kimchi, sauerkraut, and sprouts

  • Avoiding ultra-processed foods and highly saturated foods

  • Reducing alcohol use

This may not seem like a lot, but it can make a huge difference in the health of our microbiome. Fiber, probiotics, and prebiotics help support the good bacteria that are already there while adding more bacterial diversity into your gut.


Do you notice a difference in the way your body feels when you eat certain foods? This could be a sign that your gut bacteria are not healthy. Try experimenting with different plant foods and limit the potentially harmful foods listed above, and see how that changes your GI health!



Final Thoughts


As Integrative Gut Health Dietitians, we love helping others learn how to listen to their bodies, and eat foods that not only taste great, but make them feel great. If you are new to the gut health journey or have a long history of GI issues, all of this information may feel a little overwhelming and that is absolutely normal.


The important thing to remember is that our good gut bacteria play a critical role in supporting a healthy life! Following a diet that supports your good gut bacteria and allows them to flourish will help you feel better.


Are you interested in learning more about gut health and healing with every meal? Reach out! We would love to help!




We hope you continue to ‘Heal with Each Meal’!TM

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References:

  1. Carabotti, M., Scirocco, A., Maselli, M. A., & Severi, C. (2015). The gut-brain axis: Interactions between enteric microbiota, Central and Enteric Nervous Systems. Annals of gastroenterology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/

  2. Durack, J., & Lynch, S. V. (2019, January 7). The gut microbiome: Relationships with disease and opportunities for therapy. The Journal of experimental medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6314516/

  3. Edermaniger, L. (2020, January 14). Microbiome vs microbiota: What’s the difference for your gut bacteria? Atlas Biomed blog | Take control of your health with no-nonsense news on lifestyle, gut microbes and genetics. https://atlasbiomed.com/blog/whats-the-difference-between-microbiome-and-microbiota/

  4. Laitinen, K., & Mokkala, K. (2019, April 13). Overall dietary quality relates to gut microbiota diversity and abundance. International journal of molecular sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6515207/

  5. Microbiome. Genome.gov. (n.d.). https://www.genome.gov/genetics-glossary/Microbiome

  6. Wang, P.-X., Deng, X.-R., Zhang, C.-H., & Yuan, H.-J. (2020, April 5). Gut Microbiota and metabolic syndrome. Chinese medical journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7147654/



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