World Microbiome Day 2021 aims to raise the profile of all things microbial. This year’s theme is sustainability because healthy microbes are essential to the long-term health not only of the planet but everyone living on it.
This article will delve into the complex relationship between the unique microbes influencing your health and the food you eat.
Microbes, including bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa are so tiny they can only be seen through a microscope. They live all over your body, including in your digestive system, on your skin, and in your mouth. These organisms exist together in complex communities called microbiomes. Wherever they live, they influence the health of their environment.
The extensive microbiome in your gut, made up of trillions of microbes, is found mainly in your large intestine. Your gut microbiome not only influences your digestive health but also your hormone balance, mental health and mood, heart and artery health, your weight and even how your body responds to the food you eat. All this is made possible by the chemicals released by microbes, acting as messenger substances in the body.
Many of the bacteria found in your microbiome are beneficial to your health, but some are pathogenic, in other words, capable of causing disease. Scientists are exploring how these organisms coexist alongside one another, with their hosts and their environment. The activity of the microbiome community can’t always be predicted from knowledge of individual bacteria, so research is examining them both individually and as communities.
One recent study looked at how certain bacteria are linked to inflammation, blood sugar control and weight management. Researchers examined what happened in the body after different types of foods were eaten. The scientists discovered 15 different types of beneficial and non-beneficial microbes influencing processes occurring in the body after eating. Some of these microbes were so new to science they haven’t yet been named.
Metabolic responses to the same foods were found to vary widely from person to person, but by examining the participants’ microbiomes, it became clear it was their microbes influencing these reactions.
Dietary inflammation refers to a chain of unhealthy metabolic events triggered after food is eaten. Normally, following a meal, your blood sugar increases, insulin is released and blood fats rise. These changes are short-term, and part of a healthy response to eating. However, if blood sugar and blood fats rise excessively or constantly peak and trough over a long period, processes such as oxidative stress and changes in blood fats can be triggered. These can then lead to long-term inflammation and eventually to chronic diseases like heart disease, atherosclerosis and Type 2 diabetes, as well as weight gain and increased hunger.
Beneficial strains of bacteria have a protective effect, guarding against these negative responses. If you have these types of bacteria in your gut you’ll be less likely to experience blood sugar peaks and troughs, disordered cholesterol levels and you’ll tend not to gain weight.
Scientists found the types of microbes in the microbiome influenced health more strongly than genetics. Identical twins share only around one-third of the same gut microbes with their twins, and they too vary widely in their response to different foods.
As well as your gut bacteria influencing how you react to food, the foods you eat determine the types of bacteria flourishing in your gut. Because of this, your microbiome is extremely personal to you, with the species of bacteria in your gut different to mine. You have your own collection of each bacterial strain, making you microbially unique.
Because of the strong links between diet and the types of microbes in your gut, when you eat you’re not simply nourishing your own body, you’re also feeding the microbes inside you. All health-promoting bacteria flourish on a diverse diet of plant-based foods high in natural fibre, the parts of plants humans can’t digest. But processed foods, including processed plant-based foods, are no use to healthy bacteria and in fact are preferred by the unhealthy types.
Within the category of healthy bacteria, different bacteria prefer a slightly different diet. This emphasises there’s no ‘one size fits all’ diet because due to their microbes, each person responds to food in different ways.
It’s no wonder functional medicine practitioners emphasise the crucial importance of a healthy microbiome, as well as recognising everyone is unique. From a sample of your stool, tests can easily reveal which types of bacteria are resident in your gut, and how any imbalances may be affecting your health.
Dietary and supplement strategies along with lifestyle modifications personal to your body can then be implemented to support a healthy microbiome, and by doing so reset your body’s metabolic command centre.
Did you know the bacteria living in your gut, collectively called your microbiome, don’t only influence how well you digest and absorb nutrients, but affect
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