You’re never alone—because there are trillions of microorganisms moving around in your body, performing different functions that keep your body working the way it should. This is especially true of your gut, home to nearly five pounds’ worth of microbes! They’re grouped together in what’s called the “gut microbiome.” Although they may be teeny, they have a huge impact on your overall health, not just in your gut. Read on to learn more about your gut microbiome, what it does, and how to keep it healthy.
What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome is the large community of microorganisms that hang out in a part of our intestine called the cecum. There are tons upon tons of types of microscopic critters in our gut, but bacteria tend to get the most shine. That’s partly because we’re actually made up of more bacterial cells than human cells! We’ve got 40 trillion of the former and 30 trillion of the latter swimming around in our bodies.
Disruptions in our gut bacteria can possibly lead to conditions such as IBS, heart disease, high risk of diabetes, mental health issues, autoimmune disorders, and more.
Those 40 trillion critters can be categorized into 1,000 types, containing over three million genes. About two-thirds of the bacteria in our gut microbiomes are unique to each of us—studies have shown that our genetic makeup helps determine what bacteria populate our intestine.
Why is the gut microbiome important?
From the moment we’re born, our gut microbiome starts working to help our digestive system function properly. Some of the first bacteria that live in our bodies break down components from breast milk that are important for our growth. Other bacteria turn fiber into short-chain fatty acids that contribute to our gut health. Plus, when the stomach and small intestine have a hard time digesting certain foods, our gut microbiome swoops in to save the day.
But the gut microbiome’s effects can be felt outside of the digestive system, too. It chats with immune cells to control how we respond to infection, and may influence how we react to certain drugs. According to some experts, the gut microbiome could play a role in the development in several diseases, including autoimmune disorders and autism. Our gut microbiome may also work alongside the central nervous system to regulate brain function, and could play a role in our susceptibility to gaining weight.
Due to the gut microbiome’s involvement in so many of our body functions, disruptions in our gut bacteria can possibly lead to conditions such as IBS, heart disease, high risk of diabetes, mental health issues, autoimmune disorders, and more.
What are the symptoms of an unhealthy gut microbiome?
Here’s are the signs and symptoms that could point to an unhealthy gut microbiome:
- Stomach issues, like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, or excessive gas
- Sugar cravings
- Fatigue or trouble sleeping
- Skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, or psoriasis
- Unexpected changes in weight
- Mood issues
- Food intolerances
How can I keep my gut microbiome healthy?
Keeping your gut microbiome is as easy as making some lifestyle and dietary changes. Here’s a breakdown of how:
Regulating your stress levels can benefit various parts of your body, including your gut bacteria. Take time to meditate or do yoga, give yourself breaks from school and work, or whatever else necessary to calm your mind. (Be sure to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep, too!)
We could go on and on about the benefits of staying hydrated, but for now we’ll say this: Drinking enough water can have a positive impact on the balance of good bacteria versus bad bacteria in your gut. So drink up!
Diets high in fiber have been linked to healthy levels of good gut bacteria.
Take probiotic or prebiotic supplements.
Probiotic and prebiotic supplements benefit your gut bacteria in different ways. Probiotics are composed of live bacteria (the good kind) that can populate your gut. Prebiotic supplements, on the other hand, are like food for your gut.
Eat more fiber.
Diets high in fiber have been linked to healthy levels of good gut bacteria. The FDA recommends 25 grams of dietary fiber for women and 38 for men, which you can get by eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
You can also take a supplement. Bellway fiber supplements contain 18 percent of the fiber you need in a day, plus they have the added benefit of being prebiotic, so they feed the good bacteria in your gut. As with any supplement, confirm with your doctor that it’s right for you before adding it to your daily diet.