What is the gut microbiome?
Our bodies are full of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi. Together they are known as the gut microbiome or gut flora. While some bacteria are associated with causing illness, others are actually extremely important for your immune system, weight, digestion and many other aspects of health. I’d like to explain our gut microbiome and how it’s an integral part of our health and wellness.
The gut microbiome affects the body from birth and throughout life by aiding in the digestion of food, modulating the immune system, central nervous system and other bodily processes. An imbalance of unhealthy and healthy microbes in the intestines can contribute to weight gain, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and other illnesses.
When we are born, we are exposed to microbes during birth and some research even suggests that infants may come in contact with microbes while in utero also. As an infant grows, the microbiome begins to diversify, meaning there are many different microbial species. The more diversified, the better. The food we eat impacts this diversity. Foods such as beans, legumes and fruit contain fiber and promote the growth of healthy bacteria. Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir all contain healthy bacteria as well, which reduce the amount of disease causing microbes in the gut.
Every now and then this intricate balance of good and bad bacteria gets out of whack. This is called dysbiosis and can have many causes. Dysbiosis is often the result of dietary changes in which you are consuming more sugar, food additives, or an overall poor diet. It also can result from stress, prolonged antibiotic usage, and even after bacterial or viral gastroenteritis/stomach virus.
Recently when discussing the dreaded, awful stomach virus and the days long wrath it leaves with a friend (not just 24 hours and you’re good again), I was echoing my children’s allergists advice. After the acute illness phase has passed, go slow with regular food, particularly dairy, wheat, fried or spicy foods, and caffeine. You also must put back the good bacteria that were lost due to repeated episodes of vomiting and diarrhea. The same applies to dysbiosis after antibiotic use. Eating a wide variety of high fiber and fermented foods as well as taking a probiotic supplement can help to restore this balance and allow your intestines to heal. I personally like the Culturelle brand of probiotics and have used this brand with all of my children. Garden of Life also makes a good multistrain probiotic supplement. Both of these can be found on Amazon or Target.
Other ways, in addition to the above, that improve gut microbiome include; limiting your intake of artificial sweeteners and refined sugars, eating prebiotic foods (artichokes, bananas, asparagus and apples) that feed the good bacteria, eating whole grains and only taking antibiotics when necessary. Research suggests breastfeeding infants for at least the first six months of life helps with the development of the gut microbiome as well.
I hope this information is helpful and serves as a reminder that gut health impacts our overall health. The study of gut microbiome is still emerging, with more research needed. If you have specific concerns related to your gut microbiota, it’s best to ask your family physician or a nutritionist for a plan specific to your needs.
Maria H. Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a registered nurse with 14 years critical care experience and is the proud mom of three young children.