There are trillions of microscopic organisms in all parts of the body, but their greatest impact may be in the gut. Here’s a closer look at how gut microbiome impacts our well-being.
What are Microbiomes?
Humans are first exposed to microbiomes at birth, but ingest microscopic organisms through the food they eat and everything they come in contact with on a daily basis. There are believed to be 100 trillion bacteria in your gut.
Gut microbiomes are vital. They help break down nutrients, eliminate toxins and replenish the lining of the gut. They also serve as a line of defense against invading bacteria.
How Microbiomes in the Gut Impact Behavior
The gut-brain axis is the link between the central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS), meaning the health of the gut is tied to the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain.
The ENS is the ‘brain in the gut’ and is composed of 100 million nerve cells. It controls actions like digestion and swallowing. While it can’t think in the traditional sense, it does communicate with the CNS and the brain.
There’s growing evidence that specific microbial genes may be responsible for depression and anxiety and that certain genes can regulate the activity of neurotransmitters.
Dysbiosis: a disruption of the gut microbiome, has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis as well as mood disorders.
To better understand what microbiomes are, it’s important to dispel popular misconceptions:
Myth: Probiotic drinks can improve gut health and mood. Truth: Studies show probiotic drinks have no real impact on health; the bacteria in these products would likely not survive in the gut and if they did, would be in such small numbers they would not make a difference.
Myth: Certain gut bacteria is necessary to be healthy. Truth: Many microbes perform the same function! So if a body is lacking in one bacteria, there’s a built-in redundancy to fill the need.
Myth: The best way to have a healthy gut is to buy specialty foods. Truth: A diet with a diverse mix of fruits, vegetables and legumes is the best way to promote gut health.
How Certain Foods Impact Gut Health
There are many foods that promote healthy gut flora. Here’s a closer look:
Bananas: Bananas are a good source of fiber, which help support vital gut bacteria.
Salmon: Wild salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a vital anti-inflammatory nutrient.
Leafy green vegetables: Kale, spinach, lettuce — rich in fiber and a specific type of sugar that sparks the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
There are also certain foods to avoid. These are some of the worst foods for gut flora.
Red meat: Tasty? Yes. Among the foods that promote healthy gut flora? No. It helps the growth of gut bacteria that clogs arteries.
Fried foods: Heated oil used to cook fried food has been shown to cause damage to healthy gut bacteria.
Artificial sweeteners: These materials pass through the body without being digested but they still come into contact with microbiomes — and can negatively impact their composition.
Learning More About Microbiomes
There’s still much to uncover about how microbiomes operate and how they impact gut health. The University of West Florida’s online medical laboratory technician to medical laboratory scientist (MLT to MLS) bachelor’s program equips students with the skills to uncover the secrets housed within the human microbiome.