Articles on: Science & Research

Your Gut Microbiome - A shift in composition

The Gut Microbiome

The human gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, collectively known as the gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome plays a crucial role in our overall health and well-being, as this complex ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes interacts with our body in various ways, influencing digestion, metabolism, immunity and even mental health.
Each person's gut microbiome is totally unique. The composition of gut bacteria varies widely from one individual to the next.

By understanding the impact the gut microbiome has on different parts and processes in the body, we can begin to appreciate why maintaining a healthy balance of gut microbiota is so important to our overall health. However, as we can't physically see or interact directly with our gut microbiome, it may seem like quite the challenge to get "in control" of things. Many of us probably forget it's even there, until something goes wrong.

When mechanisms in the gut become disrupted as a result of an altered microbial composition, dysbiosis can occur which in turn may lead to the development of chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and more.

The better we understand the various factors that may affect the composition and balance of the gut microbiome, the better placed we will be to protect it through simple day to day choices.

So, what can cause our gut microbiome composition to shift?

Several factors can contribute to a shift or significant change in gut microbiome composition:

1. Diet

Needless to say, the first thing we need to consider is our day to day diet. The foods we eat have a real impact on our gut microbiota. A diet full of fiber from vegetables, fruits and whole grains tends to promote a diverse and healthy microbiome. While on the other hand, eating too many processed foods, sugars and fats may disrupt and even promote harmful bacteria growth while reducing beneficial ones.

It’s important to focus on finding a good balance in your diet, and not to overlook the benefit of plants while trying to offset symptoms. While many nutritious fruits, vegetables and legumes may contain FODMAPs that we associate with symptoms, we can still try to identify the ones that suit us best and include small amounts of these in our day to day meals. Through the Discovery plan and subsequent monitoring of our fermentation levels and symptoms, we can discover which foods work well for our digestive system and in what quantities. Moderation and balance is a better approach than complete exclusion of plants to deter symptoms.

2. Antibiotics and medications

While antibiotic medications are essential for treating bacterial infections and some GI conditions, including SIBO, it's important to be mindful that such medications also disrupt the balance of the gut microbiota, in some cases by indiscriminately killing both harmful and beneficial bacteria. Proton pump inhibitors and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also have an impact on the gut microbiome.

It's important to seek professional medical advice from a trusted healthcare practitioner if you have digestive issues, as any serious medical condition should always be medically diagnosed before pursuing treatment options. If you have concerns about the medications you are taking and the impact they may have on your digestive system, ask your doctor for advice.

3. Stress and lifestyle

Chronic stress can affect gut health by altering the production of digestive enzymes and disrupting the communication between the brain and gut, leading to changes in microbiome composition. Similarly, lifestyle factors like physical activity or lack of activity, sleep patterns, and alcohol consumption can all have an impact on the gut microbiota.

If you have concerns about stress and your busy lifestyle, try to ensure that you are getting enough exercise each week or consider practicing meditation which research shows could have a positive impact on our gut microbiome and overall health.

4. Probiotics and prebiotics

The intentional consumption of probiotics (beneficial bacteria) and prebiotics (fiber that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria) can positively influence the composition and diversity of the gut microbiome.

Updated on: 22/04/2024

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