There are more bacterial cells in your body than human cells. There are roughly 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body and only 30 trillion human cells.
These bacteria, or microbes, are particularly important when considering their role in the intestines. Most of the microbes in the intestines are found in a “pocket” of the large intestine called the cecum, and they are referred to as the gut microbiome. There are up to 1,000 species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome, all of which play a different role in the body.
Below are the different aspects of the body the gut microbiome can affect and the ways in which you can protect and improve your gut microbiome.
A recent study of 1,500 people found that the gut microbiome played an important role in promoting “good” HDL cholesterol, which helps remove other and potentially harmful forms of cholesterol from your arteries and bloodstream. The study also found a reduction in blood triglycerides, which are types of blood fat that can contribute to heart disease when their levels are too high. Additionally, Lactobacilli, a gut microbiome bacterium, can help reduce “bad” cholesterol when taken as a probiotic, lowering your risk for heart disease.
However, bacteria in the gut can also negatively affect heart health. This is because unhealthy species in the gut microbiome may lead to heart disease by producing trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which is a chemical that contributes to blocked arteries. Bacteria within the microbiome have also been found to convert nutrients found from red meat and other animal-based food sources to TMAO, potentially increasing risk factors for heart disease.
The gut microbiome can improve brain health in a number of ways. Certain species of bacteria help produce neurotransmitters, such as serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone). In fact, 95% of serotonin is made in the gut. Therefore, the gut microbiome does not just aid in the process of producing necessary chemicals in the brain, it also helps improve your mood and mental wellness.
Furthermore, the gut is physically connected to the brain through millions of nerves, meaning the gut microbiome has the ability to affect the brain by helping control the messages that are sent to the brain through these nerves. Studies have even shown that people with various psychological disorders have different species of bacteria in their guts, compared to the control group.
The gut makes up approximately 75% of the immune system. A crucial aspect of the gut’s role in immunity is due to the presence of beneficial bacteria, or microflora, which colonize in the mucosal lining of the intestines. The microflora in the gut form a barrier that protects against invaders by competing with harmful bacteria and viruses. These microflorae communicate with the immune system, prompting it to attack bad bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites, and to prevent more bacteria from taking up residence. When these microflorae are not thriving within the gut, immunity is greatly compromised.
Research suggests that gut dysbiosis, or when there is an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes in the gut, can contribute to weight gain. Well-known studies have shown that if the gut bacteria from obese people are put into mice, the mice gain weight. Additionally, the gut microbiome influences the chemicals the body produces to make you feel full. Therefore, because the gut microbiome is involved with the signaling regarding hunger, it may also be connected to weight gain.
The gut microbiome plays a role in intestinal health and is likely a factor in intestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Many of the symptoms people with IBS experience such as bloating, cramps, and abdominal pain can be caused by gut dysbiosis. This is because the microbes produce a lot of gas and other chemicals, which contribute to bloating and other symptoms.
However, certain healthy bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli can improve gut health as they help seal the gaps between intestinal cells. This helps prevent leaky gut syndrome as well as prevent disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the intestinal wall.
Improving Your Gut Microbiome
- Eat a diverse range of foods: This can lead to a diverse microbiome, which is an indicator of good gut health. Legumes, beans, and fruit contain lots of fiber and can promote the growth of healthy bacteria.
- Eat fermented foods: Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir all contain healthy bacteria and can reduce the amount of disease-causing species in the gut.
- Take a probiotic supplement: Probiotics are live bacteria that can help restore the gut to a healthy state after dysbiosis. HoltraCeuticals’ UltraBiotic 100 has been formulated to replenish the “good” bacteria in the stomach that allows the body to rid itself of pathogens, such as Candida (yeast), and supports optimal gastrointestinal health.
- Eat prebiotic foods: Prebiotics stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria. Prebiotic-rich foods include artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats, and apples.
- Limit intake of artificial sweeteners: There has been evidence suggesting that artificial sweeteners like aspartame increase blood sugar by stimulating the growth of unhealthy bacteria in the gut microbiome.
- Eat whole grains: Whole grains contain lots of fiber and beneficial carbohydrates like beta-glucan, which the gut microbiome uses to help the body regulate weight, cancer risk, diabetes, and other disorders.
- Eat foods rich in polyphenols: Polyphenols are plant compounds broken down by the microbiome to stimulate healthy bacterial growth. They can be found in red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, and olive oil.
The gut microbiome is a complex aspect of the human body as it is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes. These bacteria impact many aspects of bodily function and health, making it crucial to support the growth of healthy microbes in your gut and eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fermented foods.