By Winder Ton, RD MSc
Maybe you’ve heard about the “beneficial” and “non-beneficial” living bacteria in the gut — but do you know why they are important?
What is the Gut Microbiota?
Let’s begin with 101 terms here. Gut microbiome refers to the bacteria, archaea, viruses and eukaryotic microbes residing in gastrointestinal tract – the gut. Adults have more than 1,000 species of bacteria in their gut, roughly. The number of living microbial cells can reach more than 100 trillion, outnumbering human cells.
Our mutualistic relationship with these living bugs starts at birth, when the gastrointestinal tract is rapidly colonised by the bacteria. The lifestyle, diet and the immune system can shape the profile of living bacteria in the body. Therefore, if you want to feel good and healthy, it is important to nurture the living bacteria in the gut.
What are the roles the gut bugs play in human health?
Mood & Neuroprotection: There is a close connection between the gut and brain called “gut x brain axis” with more the hundred million nerve cells. Recent research suggest that gut microbiota influences the nervous system, behaviour and brain functioning. Furthermore, gut microbiota could be related to neuronal diseases such as Autism, Alzheimer and Schizophrenia.
Metabolism: The microbiome produces vitamins, synthesizes amino acids, and can carry out the biotransformation of bile. These bugs are also responsible for ferment and digest nondigestible carbohydrates and fibres, as result they produce short-chain fatty acids. The short chain fatty acids, are amazing source of energy for our cells and are involved in glucose and cholesterol modulation.
Immune Function: The gut microbiome trains your immune system by communicating with immune cells about how to respond to infection. Moreover, the immune system controls the composition of the gut microbiota, and at the same time, resident microbes provide signals that foster normal immune system development and regulate ensuing immune responses. Disruption of these dynamic interactions may have far-reaching effects on host health.
Thus, all these facts above influence you daily life and wellbeing. Meaning that if you have happy living bug in your gut you are healthy.
Why You Need to Nurture Your Gut
Abnormalities in the living gut microbiome have been associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), colon cancer, colitis, obesity and others.
When the gut bacteria are deprived of the fermentable fibres that they feed on, they switch their food source to the mucus lining of your gut. The mucus lining keeps the gut wall intact and protected from infection. In other words, when the mucus lining gets thinner, the risk of diseases is increased, including obesity, depression and Type 2 diabetes.
5 Ways to Make your Gut Bugs Happy
Diet is the greatest key to keep you living bug happy and healthy!
- Prioritize plant-based & whole foods — these fibre-rich foods are important to feed the beneficial gut bacteria and keep your digestion normalized.
- Limit the use of antibiotics — these can kill off the infection, but they also kill the “good” bacteria.
- Explore prebiotic foods — they’re rich in fibres that the bacteria in your gut feeds on. Examples include garlic, onion, mushrooms, oats, asparagus and artichoke.
- Probiotics — they’re living bacteria that can be taken to improve gut health. Thus, gut bacteria are happy and you are healthy!
- Dig in fermented foods – these foods contain natural healthy bacteria. Examples include kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, etc.
Round JL, Palm NW. Causal effects of the microbiota on immune-mediated diseases. Sci Immunol. 2018 Feb 9;3(20).
Rodiño-Janeiro BK et al. A Review of Microbiota and Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Future in Therapies. Adv Ther. 2018 Mar 1. doi: 10.1007/s12325-018-0673-5.