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What is your microbiome?

Your gut microbiome is made up of trillions of micro-organisms such as bacteria that live within your gastrointestinal tract (GIT).1 We all have a unique microbiome like that of our own fingerprint. Your microbiome, however, is not fixed; but rather is constantly changing depending on dietary, medical and environmental factors.2

These micro-organisms have many important roles in the body. They assist in the digestion and absorption of food, support the immune system and create essential vitamins like vitamin K for blood clotting.1,3 Research continues to discover the multiple ways that our gut microbiome works synergistically to support our wellbeing.

What is your “wellbeing”?

The month of June is Wellness Month, but how do you define your wellbeing? Researchers Simons and Baldwin 4 proposed that wellbeing is “a state of positive feelings and meeting your full potential in the world.” Your health is one component of wellbeing, with the World Health Organisation explaining that health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease.5 With the gut microbiome able to influence your physical and mental health – it’s no wonder that your gut health can shape your wellbeing from the inside out.6,7

How can the gut microbiome prevent or cause disease?

Depending on the environment of the GIT, different types of micro-organisms can flourish with certain microbes exerting positive health benefits while overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria (known as gut dysbiosis) is linked to the development of chronic disease, including obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and bipolar.6

The secret to how our gut microbiome prevents disease lies within the type of by-products they are creating from the digestion of indigestible food particles in the gut.8 A good diversity of gut-friendly microbes will produce by-products called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).8 These SCFAs maintain a healthy GIT environment, lower inflammation and prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria.8

Your microbiome’s impact on your physical & mental health

The relationship between your gut microbiome and your physical health is becoming increasingly evident in scientific research. For example, the composition of gut bacteria influences how efficiently nutrients are extracted from food, affecting energy expenditure and storage.6,8 Through a complex relationship involving the gastrointestinal, nervous and endocrine systems, gut dysbiosis has been linked to obesity, diabetes, cancer, IBS and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).6,8

Your microbiome can affect your mental health because your gut and brain have a bidirectional relationship called the gut-brain axis.7 It is your gut microbes that produce more than 90% of your “feel-good” hormone, serotonin.7 Serotonin plays an important role in mood regulation and emotional wellbeing.7 Gut dysbiosis can lower the production of serotonin which is linked to depression and anxiety.7

What can you do to flourish your gut microbiome?

Nurturing a diverse gut microbiome will help optimise your overall health and well-being. Below are key dietary & lifestyle changes you can make to promote a healthy gut microbiome:

Be a Fibre Fan

Choose fibre-rich wholegrains like cereals, oats, wholewheat crackers, brown rice, barley, lentils, beans, quinoa, or corn.9 Fiber is food for the SCFA-producing gut bacteria.8 Meeting 25g of fibre each day promotes better growth of these beneficial gut bacteria.9 To reach 25g of dietary fibre you would need to eat 1 cup of bran flakes for breakfast (10g fibre), 1 cup cooked quinoa (4.8g fibre) in a salad for lunch, snack on 3 high fibre crackerbreads (4.5g fibre) and enjoy ½ cup corn kernels (6g fibre) with dinner (total = 25.3g fibre).10

Keep Colour in Mind

Enjoy a rainbow of colour from fruit & veg to get unique polyphenols that boosts the composition and function of your gut microbiota.9,11

Pick Probiotic Foods

Eat foods rich in probiotics, which are live beneficial bacteria that support gut health.12 Probiotics can help maintain a healthy colonised gut.12 Yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and kombucha are sources of probiotics.11

Stress Management

Chronic stress can disrupt the gut-brain axis.13 Practicing stress-reduction techniques like relaxation therapy and deep breathing exercises can promote a balanced gut microbiome.13

Regular Exercise

Physical activity can favourably change your microbial diversity.14 Engaging in regular exercise promotes gut motility, enhances immune function, and lowers inflammation, thus helping to foster a healthy gut environment.14

By implementing these strategies, you can create a happy relationship with your gut microbiome that will help shape you overall wellbeing from the inside out.

References:

  1. Shahid A, Fatima M, Khan MSI, Ali U, Fareed SZ, Qureshi MA. From Microbes to Immunity: A Comprehensive Review of Microbiome Modulation. Journal of Health and Rehabilitation Research. 2023;3(2):801-807.
  2. Gordo I. Evolutionary change in the human gut microbiome: From a static to a dynamic view. PLoS biology. 2019;17(2):e3000126.
  3. Kang M-J, Baek K-R, Lee Y-R, Kim G-H, Seo S-O. Production of vitamin K by wild-type and engineered microorganisms. Microorganisms. 2022;10(3):554.
  4. Simons G, Baldwin DS. A critical review of the definition of ‘wellbeing’for doctors and their patients in a post Covid-19 era. International Journal of Social Psychiatry. 2021;67(8):984-991.
  5. World Health Organisation. Constitution of the World Health Organisation. Accessed 2 May, 2024. https://www.who.int/about/accountability/governance/constitution
  6. Goulet O. Potential role of the intestinal microbiota in programming health and disease. Nutrition reviews. 2015;73(suppl_1):32-40.
  7. Liu T, Feenstra KA, Heringa J, Huang Z. Influence of gut microbiota on mental health via neurotransmitters: a review. Journal of Artificial Intelligence for Medical Sciences. 2020;1(1-2):1-14.
  8. De Vos WM, Tilg H, Van Hul M, Cani PD. Gut microbiome and health: mechanistic insights. Gut. 2022;71(5):1020-1032.
  9. Koç F, Mills S, Strain C, Ross R, Stanton C. The public health rationale for increasing dietary fibre: Health benefits with a focus on gut microbiota. Nutrition Bulletin. 2020;45(3):294-308.
  10. USDA. USDA Food data central database. Accessed 2 May, 2024. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/2343940/nutrients
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168917/nutrients
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/2343639/nutrients
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170288/nutrients
  11. Aziz T, Hussain N, Hameed Z, Lin L. Elucidating the role of diet in maintaining gut health to reduce the risk of obesity, cardiovascular and other age-related inflammatory diseases: recent challenges and future recommendations. Gut Microbes. 2024;16(1):2297864.
  12. Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, et al. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nature reviews Gastroenterology & hepatology. 2014;
  13. Konturek PC, Brzozowski T, Konturek SJ. Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011;62(6):591-9.
  14. Mailing LJ, Allen JM, Buford TW, Fields CJ, Woods JA. Exercise and the gut microbiome: a review of the evidence, potential mechanisms, and implications for human health. Exercise and sport sciences reviews. 2019;47(2):75-85.