Bacteria get a bad rap. Yes, they are the culprit for certain infections and we are always preaching to wash your hands and even use anti-bacterial products to keep surfaces sanitary. However, when it comes to your gut, ideally you want a balance of healthy bacteria to help with digestion and overall wellbeing.
Your gut microbiome can be comprised of more than 1,000 species of bacteria and is unique to you – no one else has the same microbiome and it is also constantly evolving. It is said that the gut is your body’s second brain, therefore, keeping your gut microbiome in a healthy state can improve digestion and overall wellbeing.
An unhealthy gut can cause gastrointestinal conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome. An unhealthy gut can affect your immune system making you more susceptible to getting sick. Some bacteria can also play a part in the link between cholesterol and heart disease. More and more research has looked at ways that the gut can affect the brain, including how gut “imbalance” can affect mood and may contribute to depression and anxiety.
“We’re learning all the time about how the microbes that live in our gut play an important role in our life, whether it’s helping us to digest our food, training our immune system, transforming the nutrients and medicines we eat, or keeping out other harmful microbes like C. diff.” – David Gootenberg, MD, PhD.
Factors Influencing Your Gut Microbiome
Your unique gut microbiome has many influences.
- The method of delivery at birth. When babies are born vaginally, they are exposed to their mother’s bacteria which influences an infant’s gut bacteria and stimulates white blood cells. Babies born via c-section do not have that exposure.
- How you were fed as a baby. Babies who were breastfed were exposed to probiotic bacteria that affects their gut.
“The gut microbiome is an exciting new frontier for understanding health and disease. A lot of our understanding of the gut microbiome is from research done in adults, but more and more we are learning that early life microbiome in children is very important for long term health.” – Taylor Soderborg, MD, PhD.
How to Improve Your Gut Microbiome
As cliché as it sounds, you are what you eat and a healthy diet can improve your gut. Foods that are high in protein and rich in vitamins, and also not processed, fatty or fried, are all beneficial for a healthy gut.
In some cases, providers will recommend a probiotic, which stimulates the growth of healthy microorganisms, to improve gut health. Naturally fermented foods are also a good source of probiotics as is yogurt.
In addition, sometimes your doctor may recommend the use of antibiotics but other times they may say that they are not necessary. Antibiotics only work against some types of infections caused by bacteria.
“Antibiotics are wonderful medications that can stop infections from getting worse. However, it is so important to discuss use of these medications with your doctor in order to know if they are necessary and for how long. Your doctors think very carefully about when to prescribe antibiotics in order to keep your gut microbiome healthy.” Taylor Soderborg, MD, PhD.
There is even some evidence that mindfulness practices like meditation may be related to your gut microbiome and help to keep you healthy! Scientist aren’t yet sure of how your gut bacteria and mindfulness are connected but early research shows that they may influence each other.
“The research on the gut microbiome and mindfulness is fascinating but not well understood at this time. Scientists aren’t sure if your mood influences your gut microbiome or if it’s the other way around (or both!). However, there does appear to be a connection between the two that science will one day understand better. Meditation has been proven to have lots of benefits for your health and maybe your gut microbiome may be one more!” – Taylor Soderborg, MD, PhD.
In summary, to keep your gut microbiome happy, eat a well-balanced meal with lots of fruits and veggies, using stress-reducing mindfulness practices in your daily life, breast feed your children if possible, and take your medications as prescribed by your health care provider. The study of the gut microbiome is a fast growing area so keep an eye for news articles on this topic and share what you find with your health care provider. The trillions of bacteria in your gut will thank you!
If you have questions about how you can improve your gut microbiome and digestion, please schedule an appointment with your provider.