More and more is been learnt about microbes, or the microbiome and its affect on human health, but what is the microbiome and how can it help?
What role does the microbiome have in the body?
The microbiome refers to the bacteria that live in synergy with us in our digestive system. We have 50-60 trillion cells in the body, we have 10 times that of bacteria. In fact, if we were to count up all the cells in the body we are only 43% human!!!
The bacteria in our gut provide 80% of our immune system. They create the bulk of our seratonin, our happy hormone, hence the link with depression. They also create our B vitamins, Vitamin K and ferment fibre to produce short chained fatty acids.
There is a direct link with the digestive system and our brains, via the vagus nerve. In fact when the embryo is developing in utero, the same cells that create the brain divide and separate to create the digestive system. Hence there is a direct link between the two, this is called the gut-brain axis. It is now being referred to as “our second brain”, hence there is some truth in the saying a “gut feeling”.
The bacteria in our body provide a unique and important role in our health. We are often lead to believe that all bacteria are bad and that we should sanitise everything but this is not the case. There are good and bad bacteria. When we have a health range of beneficial bacteria then we are in good health. When the gut bacteria is disrupted and has the wrong proportions, then illness appears. There are many illness now put down to an imbalance in the gut such as :-
SIBO small intestine overgrowth
Allergies and intolerances.
Skin problems .
How do they microbes affect obesity levels?
There is a direct link with the digestive system and our brains, via the vagus nerve. The gut bacteria are very clever and can send messages to the brain, via the vagus nerve, to produce cravings, causing us to eat the very foods they need to survive.
There is a large body of evidence demonstrating that high levels of Firmicutes can lead to increases in obesity. They help breakdown fats to be used for energy. However, the processed western diet contains high levels of fat and sugar, which helps feed this bacteria and so are thought to be linked to obesity but this is till under debate.
It is interesting to note, that obese people do have a different proportion of the healthy bacteria.
Which bacteria are good and which are bad?
Ideally we operate optimally if we have a good diversity of such as Lactobacillus and Bifido bacteria, bacteroidetes and firmicutes. Interestingly, we also have strains of E. coli and the yeast Candida inside us and when held in check, do not cause us any problems.
How can we cultivate the good bacteria?
Just as we need good bacteria, know as probiotics, we also need to feed them and give them an environment to survive. This food is called prebiotics. The diversity of the bacteria depends largely on what we eat. Foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and Kefir will provide the probiotics. When we eat foods high in resistant starch, such as onions, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, bananas, cooked rice etc this the prebiotic fibre to feed the good bacteria in our digestive system. The findings, published October 9th in the Journal of Functional Foods, suggest that prebiotic fiber may help prevent intestinal fat absorption and could be an effective weight loss tool.
Bacteria can mutate far quicker than our normal cells, which can sometimes be an advantage. Our human cells can take generations to mutate. The bacteria can change rapidly depending on the food they are given. therefore we want to promote the good ones.
What affects the gut microbiome?
Unfortunately the overuse of antibiotics destroys the gut bacteria of animals and causes them to put on weight. If you eat the meat then you too are eating those same antibiotics. When we take antibiotics, it destroys our gut bacteria which is why taking a probiotic at the same time helps to reduce this.
Also be aware that artificial sweeteners like aspartame destroy the good bacteria in your gut.
If you would like to know more about gut health, or have a health issue concerning it, then please feel free to contact me.