Home » What is the Gut Microbiome, and Why is it So Important?

What is the Gut Microbiome, and Why is it So Important?

Submitted by Jessica Fischer

Edited by Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

The microbiome has become a hot topic in the health and nutrition world. Our gut microbiome holds the largest number of microbes in the body. Microbes, or microbial cells, are the cells that break down undigested food in the large intestine, prime our immune system, secrete neurotransmitters that allow nerve cells to communicate with each other, and more.1,2

There is increasing evidence that links the health of our gut microbiome to multiple chronic diseases. In the case of heart disease, people who eat red meat often have bacteria in their gut that convert substances in meat to what eventually becomes Trimethylamine N-Oxide, a compound that speeds up artery clogging. This may explain why people who eat red meat have an increased risk for heart disease.3 Other studies have researched the link between mental health and the gut microbiome. One study found that people with depression had much fewer and less diverse microbes than those without depression. In a study with rats, those that received transplants of microbes from people with depression were more likely to show signs of anxiety than rats that did not.4,5 Though there is still more research to be done, there is a clear connection between the health of our gut microbiome and our own health.

You might be thinking, how do I keep my gut microbiome healthy? Probiotics are the good microbes that inhabit our gut. Having probiotic rich foods or taking a supplement of probiotics may add to the good microbes inhabiting your gut. Probiotic-rich foods include kombucha, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and many others.6 Here is a link if you want more information about sources of probiotic rich foods. The supplemental form of probiotics are difficult to keep alive, as they are live microbes, and require a specific environment to thrive.

Eating probiotic-rich foods is also recommended to increase the population of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics are different types of dietary fiber that these probiotics like to eat. Consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will provide prebiotics to the probiotics that reside in your gut, in turn, create a healthier and happier gut microbiome.

References

  1. The Human Microbiome, Diet, and Health. 2013. doi:10.17226/13522.
  2. Renz H. Faculty of 1000 evaluation for Structure, function and diversity of the healthy human microbiome. Nature. 2012. doi:10.3410/f.717952553.793489697.
  3. Tang WHW, Hazen SL. The Gut Microbiome and Its Role in Cardiovascular Diseases. Circulation. 2017;135(11):1008-1010. doi:10.1161/circulationaha.116.024251.
  4. Schardt D. Can a healthy microbiome prevent depression or cancer? Nutrition Action. https://www.nutritionaction.com/daily/what-to-eat/can-healthy-microbiome-prevent-depression-cancer/. Accessed February 19, 2018.
  5. Malan-Muller S, Valles-Colomer M, Raes J, Lowry CA, Seedat S, Hemmings SM. The Gut Microbiome and Mental Health: Implications for Anxiety- and Trauma-Related Disorders. OMICS: A Journal of Integrative Biology. 2018;22(2):90-107. doi:10.1089/omi.2017.0077.
  6. Schardt D. The best food to feed your microbiome as you get older. Nutrition Action. https://www.nutritionaction.com/daily/what-to-eat/the-best-food-to-feed-your-microbiome-as-you-get-older/. Accessed February 19, 2018.

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