How to Improve the Gut Microbiome

The gut microbiome has become an exciting topic in health in recent years. Research has uncovered significant links between the microbes in your gut with your overall health. Microbes are involved in digestion, but also in our immune function, mental health, and might be involved in the development of chronic diseases. Understanding the gut microbiome can help us better understand our health and live a healthier life. 

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How to Improve the Gut Microbiome
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What is the Microbiome?

Though the terms ‘microbiome’ and ‘microbiota’ are often used interchangeably, they refer to different things. The word ‘microbiota’ refers to all of the microorganisms – like bacteria, viruses, and fungi – that live in and on our bodies. The word ‘microbiome’ refers to their genomes. We have organisms all over our body, including our oral microbiome, skin microbiome, lung microbiome, and, of course, gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is the largest and is involved in numerous critical functions, from helping digest the food we eat to synthesizing essential vitamins. To dive deeper into the science of the microbiome, check out our article on the Amazing Microbiome.

What We Know About Gut Bacteria

Recent advancements in science have shed light on how our gut bacteria affect everything from our metabolism to our immune system and even our mood. For instance, certain gut bacteria like Faecalibacterium are known to produce short-chain fatty acids like butyrate as a product of fermentation, which not only provide energy to gut cells but also have anti-inflammatory effects. Gut microbiota are also involved in metabolizing bile acids and amino acids, potentially impacting cholesterol levels and gut barrier integrity. Others are involved in producing serotonin, influencing mental health. While researchers have established these impactful functions and links, there is not yet an agreed upon or ‘ideal’ universal gut microbiome. 

How Microbiota Benefit the Body

The microbiota within our gut performs several essential functions that contribute directly to our health. They aid in the breakdown of complex carbohydrates, synthesize vitamins like B and K, and play a crucial role in training and supporting our immune system. Beyond digestion and immunity, gut bacteria have a profound influence on our mental health through the gut-brain axis, affecting everything from mood to cognitive functions. The symbiotic relationship we share with our gut microbiota is foundational to our overall well-being, illustrating the complex interplay between our bodies and the microorganisms we host.

Why Does the Gut Microbiome Vary in Individuals?

The composition of the gut microbiome is as unique as a fingerprint, varying significantly from one individual to another. This is influenced by many combined factors, which all come together to shape your unique microbiome. Other lifestyle factors that affect your microbiome include:

Why Gut Health is the Key to Better Health?

The health of our gut microbiome is intricately linked to various aspects of our physical and mental well-being. We’ve written about it’s link to exercise, weight management, aging, mental illnesses, and more. By investigating and understanding these connections, we can better understand why nurturing our gut health has benefits beyond our gut, and can help to support better health overall.

Signs of an Unhealthy Gut

An unhealthy gut can be the root of numerous health issues and identifying the signs of gut imbalance is the first step toward restoration. This can include more obvious signs, like gastrointestinal symptoms, inflammation, or signs that are less apparently related to gut health, like mental health challenges. If you want our list of major signs to look out for, read our full article on 10 Signs of An Unhealthy Gut.

How Does the Gut Microbiome Respond to Fasting?

Fasting and other forms of dietary restriction can have an impact on the gut microbiome. There are many forms of fasting, but the most well-known is probably ‘intermittent fasting.’ This refers to the fact that there are periods of fasting and periods of eating - though there is not ‘one’ method of intermittent fasting. Some people fast for longer periods of time than others, and some are more or less restrictive during their eating periods. Research on this is mixed. Some studies reveal that periods of fasting have been shown to alter the composition of the gut bacteria, and hypothesize that this can improve metabolic health. But not all studies agree that we can definitively say this yet. Research has not standardized definitions of different fasting protocols, which makes it challenging to make conclusions based on studies testing different protocols. There is also a lack of research on microbiome changes once you re-introduce food. Further, some intermittent fasting protocols may not be safe for everyone, and the microbiome research on fasting still has many outstanding questions. 

How Eating Mindfully Can Help Manage Stress

The brain and gut are constantly communicating with one another through a pathway called the gut-brain axis. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released when we experience acute stress. Chronic activation of this response can have detrimental effects on the delicate communication between the brain and gut, potentially leading to low-grade inflammation and increased intestinal permeability. For reasons like these, managing stress can play a critical role in maintaining gut and overall health. Since the relationship is bi-directional, maintaining gut health can also help balance your brain. Consumption of a balanced and nutritious diet that supplies your body with proper energy and resources is critical in supporting these stress reducing processes. 

The Role of Probiotics and Prebiotics

A probiotic organism is a microbe that is meant to have some sort of health benefit when consumed. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt or kimchi or sold as supplements. While probiotics are steadily growing in popularity, research backing their effectiveness is not fully established. Visit another one of our blog posts to learn more about if probiotics really work, since the science is confusing to dig through. Importantly, Jona does not sell probiotics – we aim to present the best scientific insights so you can make informed choices about your health. If you are going to take a probiotic, we made a Probiotics Shopping Guide so you can choose a safe and appropriate probiotic. 

Prebiotics are compounds present in food or supplements that support the growth of particular organisms. Our microbiome eats what we eat, so it is essential to feed it healthy foods that support the growth of bacteria that perform beneficial functions. Certain carbohydrates like soluble fibers and resistant starch can support the growth of fermenting bacteria that produce beneficial short chain fatty acids. These compounds have many health benefits, such as managing inflammation and provide energy to our gut cells. Through mechanisms like these, the foods we eat can control the proper functioning of the gut.

Ways to Reset the Gut Microbiome

Revitalizing your gut microbiome is a journey worth starting – but there isn’t a short-term, definitive way to ‘reset’ the gut microbiome. There are, however, many ways to support your gut health if you want to give your gut some extra attention. We’ll list a few, but for a more in-depth discussion on this, check out 10 Ways to Improve Your Gut Health. Further, if you want more targeted advice specific to the microbes residing in your gut, consider analyzing your personal microbiome

  • Adopt a whole-foods diet: increasing your intake of whole foods can help support a healthy gut microbiome with proper nutrients in addition to supporting your overall health. Adopting a whole foods diet entails limiting intake of processed foods as well as integrating more fruits and vegetables into your diet. 
  • Exercise regularly: Some research indicates that low intensity regular exercise can support growth of beneficial bacteria and increase microbiome diversity. 
  • Prioritize quality sleep: Some studies have shown correlation between quality and length of sleep and gut microbiota. It is essential for your health to ensure you are getting the proper amount of rest.

Concluding Thoughts

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the microbiome is intricately linked to the functioning of our bodies. New research revealing connections between gut microbiota and various processes throughout our bodies is constantly emerging. So too is research strengthening our understanding of how vital our diets are in maintaining proper microbiome and overall health. Although we presented some general information above, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to ensuring our health. Therefore understanding your personal gut microbiome profile is essential to identifying how you personally can take action towards a happy and healthy future.

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