Understanding the Microbiome and Its Impact on Overall Wellness

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Each person has a unique network of microorganisms that is determined by their DNA. Most of these bacteria are friendly and have a symbiotic relationship with the body, but some can be pathogenic (causing disease).

A healthy gut requires eating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while avoiding processed foods, artificial sweeteners and excess salt. It also involves drinking plenty of water and exercising regularly.

What is the Microbiome?

The gut microbiome refers to the collection of bacteria and other microscopic organisms that live in our intestines. These microbes are responsible for many of our body’s processes, including digestion, hormone regulation and immune system function. They also influence our mood and emotions.

In simple terms, a microbiome is a community of commensal, symbiotic or pathogenic microorganisms that live together in a defined habitat with unique physio-chemical properties. Microbiomes have a huge impact on the health of our bodies and our lives.

Healio: Can exercise help maintain a healthy microbiome?

Studies have shown that people with lower levels of good bacteria in their intestines have more symptoms related to stress, depression and anxiety than those with higher amounts. Researchers believe that this may be because certain species of bacteria produce chemicals that send messages to the brain through millions of nerves in our gastrointestinal tract. Exercise and a nutritious diet can improve the overall balance of our gut microbiome.

What is the Microbiome’s Impact on Overall Wellness?

Your gut microbiome influences pretty much everything that goes on in your body. It impacts your digestion, immune system, mood, sleep cycle, and more. Nourishing this ecosystem helps your overall wellness and can even prevent many health conditions.

Each person has a unique set of microorganisms that make up their gut microbiome. These microorganisms are determined by the genes inherited from their mother and then further modified through diet and other environmental factors. The balance of friendly microorganisms and pathogenic ones is critical for normal functioning.

The composition of the microbiome can be influenced by eating healthy foods and avoiding unhealthy foods. The types of bacteria in the digestive tract are influenced by diet, especially when it comes to proteins, fats, digestible and non-digestible carbohydrates, probiotics, polyphenols, and phytochemicals. Studies demonstrating the impact of specific dietary components on gut microbiota composition have included randomized controlled trials, cross-sectional studies, and case-control studies. Various diets such as vegan, vegetarian, and omnivorous diets have been shown to significantly alter the gut microbiota.

What is the Microbiome’s Impact on Mental Health?

Your gut microbes play a major role in mental health. They allow nutrients to enter the body and keep opportunistic pathogens out. They also produce neurotransmitters that impact your mood and stress response.

Mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are associated with less diverse gut microbiota and lower levels of bacteria that promote anti-inflammation, according to a 2020 study published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews. Other factors that can lead to imbalances in the gut microbiota include exposure to antibiotics, medications and comorbid conditions.

Researchers have discovered that gut bacteria send signals to the brain through a special cell type known as the vagus nerve. These cells sit in the lining of the gut and form a synapselike connection with nerves that run throughout the body. Scientists believe that microbial molecules secreted by the gut bacteria travel through these nerves to reach the brain, where they affect cognitive function and mood. The good news is that you can balance your gut microbes by eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep and exercising regularly.

What is the Microbiome’s Impact on Physical Health?

In a healthy gut, bacteria help digest food, metabolize nutrients and reduce inflammation. They also produce vitamins, antioxidants and neurotransmitters. But if the balance is upset, the microbes can become pathogenic, which leads to illness.

Eating a diet rich in both prebiotic and probiotic foods helps boost the number of good bacteria, which can reduce inflammation and stimulate the gut’s natural immune system. This means eating more fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso and kombucha.

Regular exercise also can improve gut health. In one study, researchers found that participants who regularly engaged in three 30-60 minute sessions of aerobic exercise, such as running on the treadmill or cycling, had healthier gut bacteria.

Other ways to support a healthy gut include maintaining a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before bed, and practicing good sleep hygiene. Getting enough sleep allows your body to regulate hormones, including those involved in gut-brain communication.

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