What is the gut microbiome (and why should you care about it)?
- Gut health depends on the balance of the good and bad bacteria living in it.
- Those bacteria are called gut microbiomes and the composition you have is unique to you.
- An imbalance of bacteria, called dysbiosis, could be linked to short and long term health issues.
- Making certain changes to your life could help improve that balance and may help you feel healthier overall.
So, you’re probably aware of why gut health is important. And there’s been discussions on what some of the best foods for gut health are to help keep the bacteria, known as gut microbiome, happy inside your insides.
But what exactly are bacteria microbiome? Let’s look at what they are, how they relate to gut health and how you could possibly increase the good bacteria in your gut naturally.
Gut health or gut microbiome?
Registered Nutritionist Sarah Gray explains that the terms ‘gut health’ and ‘gut microbiome’ are linked.
“Gut health generally refers to the health of the gastrointestinal tract. Gut microbiome describes the trillions of microorganisms (mainly bacteria) that live in the gastrointestinal tract,” says Sarah.
The main role of the gut microbiome is to help your body process food that isn't digested in your stomach, and absorb nutrients. They can also be known as ‘gut flora’.
So, if you want a healthy gut, one thing to look at is what could be affecting your gut microbiome. And then work out what steps you could take that may be able to help, such as finding out what foods promote healthy gut bacteria.
“The amazing thing about the gut flora, is that everyone’s microbiome is unique, just like your fingerprint. No two people have the exact same makeup of bacteria in their gut,” says Sarah.
Why should I care what those microbiomes are doing?
If the good and the bad are balanced, your gut health will be happy. If that balance changes, it's called dysbiosis which may be linked to a range of health issues.
A simple symptom of dysbiosis could be an upset stomach or bowel issues. This may potentially fix itself when whatever has upset your stomach has passed, such as antibiotics, too much alcohol or mild anxiety.
There is also research happening in genetic dysbiosis, which means you could be more vulnerable to certain health conditions within your family.
Keeping the bad bacteria in check and making sure the good bacteria are thriving is one way to try to support your gut health. And in turn, it could possibly help your overall health.
“Gut health may potentially play a role in other things such as whether you’ve got clear skin or acne breakouts,” says Sarah, “Imbalances in the gut aren't just signs of gut issues, it could be bigger than the gut itself.”
Get that flora flourishing
If you think you might have some gut health issues, there may be things you can do to help restore the healthy gut flora or bacteria.
- Check out these suggestions for the top vegetables for happy insides. You may find vegetables to be useful sources of prebiotics and dietary fibre.
- Read about fermented foods for gut health and what probiotics they may contain.
- If you’re on a course of antibiotics, discuss with your pharmacist about taking a course of probiotics. Antibiotics are good for helping with infections, but they don't discriminate between good and bad bacteria so your microbiomes may need some help to regain their strength.
- Consider if there are potential sources of stress in your life that may be interfering with your gut. Something like meditation may be able to help, so check out these basic meditation tips.
- Make sure you stay hydrated. Not only is it good for your skin but it should keep your internals smooth so ‘things’ don’t get stuck on their way out! Think about starting a new habit to consume more H2O.
Follow your gut to improved health
Gut health looks different for everyone because everyone’s insides are different. When you know what your normal is, understanding your bowel movement meanings may give you an insight into your gut microbiome health.
Consider how you could possibly increase your good gut bacteria naturally and which steps may lead towards a healthier you. If your gut is telling you something isn't quite right, listen to it and consult a health professional.
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Sarah Gray is both a Registered Pharmacist and Registered Nutritionist with a particular interest in health education and helping people to take small steps to big change in their health journey. Sarah is the Head of Health and Nutrition on the healthylife Advisory Board.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board August 2021.