An expert on how your gut health impacts the rest of your body
By Jaime Rose Chambers, Accredited Practicing Dietitian (B. Nutrition & Dietetics)
What is the microbiome?
The microbiome is the collection of all the microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses – that live all over and all through the human body. These microbes are not harmful but are considered beneficial colonisers.
It’s believed there are around 100 trillion microorganisms in the human gastrointestinal tract. The microbiome is now thought of essentially as an organ because its influence and effect on the body is so extensive.
So, how does the microbiome affect your gut?
Microbiome diversity is another term that is commonly associated with the gut and is a measure of how many different species of microbes there are in the gut, and how evenly distributed they are.
Just like us, different bacteria in the gut like different types of food and the way they get their food is by what we eat in our diet. If you have the tendency to eat the same thing every day, despite how healthy it is, this may be limiting to the diversity of bacteria within your gut.
And why is diversity in gut bacteria important?
Low diversity (or microbial imbalance) is known as dysbiosis and has been associated with a number of health issues such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and allergic disorders¹.
On the other hand, the more variety in our diet (through more variety of probiotics and plant foods), the more strains of happily fed bacteria in our gut, and the wider range of health benefits we as their host will receive.
Benefits of a healthy gut
As well as helping us to digest our food and produce essential nutrients like vitamin B12 and vitamin K, a healthy gut helps to regulate our immune, metabolic and nervous systems.
Starches and fibre in our diet also pass through to the small bowel where the microbes help to break it down. This process produces short-chain fatty acids which are the main energy source of gut cells and have been shown to destroy colon cancer cells and assist with cholesterol metabolism and appetite regulation² ³.
Although a component we inherit from our parents, a greater influence on our microbiota is our environment, such as our diet, exposure to drugs and medications and our body composition. So we really have a certain degree of control over the health of our gut.
How can you keep your gut in good shape?
There are a number of ways to improve and maintain a healthy gut – the most common is to eat a wide variety of plant foods, including wholegrains, nuts, seeds, pulses, fruit and vegetables.
The second is to eat probiotic-rich foods like Vaalia Probiotic Kefir Yoghurt, probiotic yoghurt, kefir and some kombucha as well as fermented foods like sauerkraut.
Research has also shown there are other factors that can improve gut health that are less commonly known, such as being social and maintaining healthy relationships, having a pet, quitting smoking and moving more, specifically with moderate to high exercise.
¹ A. K. DeGruttola, D. Low, A. Mizoguchi and E. Mizogucki, “Current understanding of dysbiosis in disease in human and animal models,” Inflammatory Bowel Disease, 2016.
² W. Campos-Perez and E. Martinez-Lopez, “Effects of short chain fatty acids on metabolic and inflammatory processes in human health,” Biochem Biophys Acta Mol Cell Biol Lipids, 2021.
³ J. He, P. Zhang, L. Shen, L. Niu, T. Tan, L. Chen, Y. Zhao, L. Bai, X. Hao, X. Li, S. Zhang and L. Zhu, “Short-Chain Fatty Acids and Their Association with Signalling Pathways in Inflammation, Glucose and Lipid Metabolism,” Int Journal of Molecular Science, 2020.