Updated: Jun 12
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, an estimated 3 million U.S. adults reported being diagnosed with either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. This number was 2 million in 1999. As these types of statistics tend to be trending in the wrong direction, and gaining speed, it makes you wonder—where will we be in another decade.
The good news is that while the study of microbiome is still in its infancy, we already have enough of an understanding to make drastic positive changes. And the best part? These changes are relatively easy to implement.
Getting to Know Your Gut Microbiome
You’re probably aware that good health begins at the cellular level, and cells are something we have in great abundance, as in millions. Yet, our bodies contain 1.3 bacteria to every cell. More importantly, of the 40 million bacteria in the human body, 39 million of those live in your digestive system. Some are good. Some are bad. The balance of these good guys and bad guys is what determines whether your microbiome is keeping you healthy or making you sick.
During the first year of your life, your microbiome was affected by your genetics, whether you were breast or bottle-fed, as well as your immediate environment. Later in life, your microbiome is mostly affected by food choices. This means changing your diet is the simplest, most-effective way to improve the delicate balance of bacteria in your gut.
Studies on mice, as well as humans, have supported this. When eating habits change, the diversity of your gut microbiome also changes. For good, and bad.
How Your Microbiome Affects Your Immune System
The role of your immune system in disease prevention is absolute and all-encompassing. A healthy immune system that repels foreign invaders is an immune system that’s functioning properly, and in turn, keeping you at your healthiest.
However, when these foreign invaders, aka “bad” bacteria, overrun your immune system the result is often systemic or chronic inflammation.
Acute inflammation occurs as a result of sickness or injury; it’s meant to be short-term as it helps fight or repair whatever ails you. But systemic inflammation is entirely different and very dangerous. This type of inflammation lingers even when there is no real threat. It is the leading cause of numerous diseases, such as neurological disorders, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and type 2 diabetes.
The Solution: More Beneficial Bacteria
The obvious first step is to supply your body and gut with more beneficial bacteria, as in probiotics.
Probiotics are essential for increasing the good bacteria in your body. The more probiotic strains you consume, the more diverse and healthy your microbiome becomes.
While probiotics increase the good bacteria, prebiotics support its growth. Fiber is one of the best ways to improve your gut microbiome because it helps feed good bacteria. But all fibers are not created equal.
Fibers like flax seed, blue agave, Jerusalem artichoke, carrots, tomatoes, and bananas are known as prebiotic fibers that truly supercharge that growth.
Remember how your microbiome affects your mental and emotional health? Well, there’s a new class of good bacteria called psychobiotics that are especially powerful when it comes to improving brain function. The term psychobiotic was coined in 2013 by Dr. Ted Dinan. Dinan discovered that several strains of probiotics specifically contribute to different areas of brain function by creating brain chemicals.
Gut Health Nutrients
Vitamin D affects your health in numerous ways. Unfortunately, most of us have levels of vitamin D that are much lower than they should be. Vitamin D helps fight infections and repair DNA, while deficiencies have been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune diseases.
Recent research has shown that vitamin D receptors in the ileum of the small intestines and vitamin D deficiency are linked to microbial imbalance in the gut. The forgotten nutrient—sleep—also has an interesting relationship with your gut’s microbiome.
A poor microbiome affects your circadian rhythm. And studies have indicated that disruptions to your circadian rhythm, in turn, negatively impact gut microbiome. It’s like a merry-go-round, with each revolution contributing to poorer and poorer health.
Hormones that regulate sleep, such as melatonin, are also negatively impacted by a microbiome out of balance. Even a disordered breathing condition like sleep apnea can have a negative affect on the health of your microbiome.
Improve your sleep, and you’ll improve your gut microbiome. Improve your gut microbiome, and you’ll sleep better. Another causal relationship worth remembering.
All Disease Begins in the Gut
That’s according to Hippocrates, who seemed to know a thing or two about health.
When your gut microbiome is out of whack, common issues you might experience include leaky gut, constipation, chronic diarrhea, intestinal gas, bad breath, plus the creation of conditions where numerous diseases can flourish.
When your gut microbiome is abundant with good, diverse strains of bacteria, you can expect improved wellness, fitness, sleep, cognitive and emotional health, and even weight loss. And the easiest place to begin is by improving your diet.
Changing your diet requires a bit of self-control, but it’s still something that you can change immediately and easily. And given what you now know about these causal relationships that can spiral out of control when your gut microbiome is out of balance, isn’t NOW a great time to begin?
About the author
Nick Mistretta is a freelance copywriter, content marketer, and author of the ebook, 25 Superfoods For Super Health. He helps small businesses turn strangers into friends, friends into customers, and customers into loyal customers.
Prebiotics support healthy nutrient absorption & help microbiome flourish in the gut
Probiotics strengthen the immune system and help to restore & balance gut flora
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Key fruits and vegetables provide nutrients vital to help lower the risk of disease and maintain a healthy body