It might come as a bit of a surprise to know that we host trillions of micro-organisms in our bodies. It may come as an even bigger surprise to know that these bacteria, fungi, viruses, archaea, protists, and microbes support the balance of our bodily functions and are essential for growth and development.
What Is the Microbiome?
The collection of microbes that live in and on our bodies is known as microbiota and forms the microbiome, each as unique as our own fingerprint. A healthy and strong microbiome is the foundation of our immune system. Our microbiome impacts aging, digestion, the immune system, mood, and cognitive function.
The role of the microbiome is so essential to the body’s operations that it basically acts as an organ. When we’re first born, our mothers transfer their microbiome to us through childbirth. The microbiome then trains the immune system how to respond to different organisms. By doing so, the immune system then gets rid of the harmful organisms while letting the helpful organisms contribute to our overall health.
The Microbiome in Our Stomach
We have microbes all over our body, especially in our stomachs. We as humans do not have the ability to make enzymes required to help break down complex nutrients but our gut flora does, and it’s absolutely essential for proper digestion.
The bacteria in the gut produce enzymes that digest molecules like polysaccharides, which are healthy and complex sugars found in plant-based foods. These bacteria also provide essential vitamins like vitamin B, vitamin K, and short-chain fatty acids. The microbiome also influences our metabolic rate.
Some recent studies have even suggested that the microbiome even supports our mental health. There is a correlation between our stomach and our brain called the gut-brain axis. The microbiome interacts with the central nervous system to regulate brain chemistry responsible for mediating our stress response, anxiety, and memory.
How Can We Support Our Microbiome?
We rely on our microbiome for many bodily functions, including digestion and immune system function; the stronger it is, the healthier we tend to be. The microbes that live in our body are determined by what we are exposed to. Geography, stress, level of health, diet, gender, age, and everything you touch all affect the composition of your microbiome.
With that being said, in order to maintain a healthy microbiome, we must eat a diverse diet rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber. Including peas, lentils, garlic, bananas, oats, barley, onions, tomatoes, squash, and mangoes in your diet provides a variety of excellent plant carbohydrates.
These foods, in return, will provide all the raw material for bacterial fermentation. As an added bonus, when you eat more fiber, the gut bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids, which feed the cells lining your gut.
Probiotic, prebiotics, and omega-3s are essential for gut health as well. Studies have found that, besides possibly increasing microbial diversity, omega-3s also help increase the production of short-chain fatty acids. In addition, studies indicate that omega-3s help to maintain the shape of the intestinal wall and interact with host immune cells.
Maintaining a strong and healthy microbiome is important for your overall health. Make sure you maintain a diet high in healthy carbs, fiber, and omega-3s to promote optimal health.
How can you change your microbiome?
Schmidt, C. (2015, March 01). Mental Health May Depend on Creatures in the Gut. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-health-may-depend-on-creatures-in-the-gut/