There are more bacterial cells in the body than human cells. That’s right, you’re more bacteria than human. Now we’ve got that out of the way, let me tell you a little more:
Your body is full of bacteria, trillions upon trillions of them. Viruses and fungi, too. This isn’t a bad thing. They help to make up the landscape of your body and together are collectively known as the microbiome. Yes, some bacteria can cause disease. However, other species of bacteria are vital for heart and immune health, regulating weight and much more inside the body (Sender, Fuchs and Milo, 2016).
These microorganisms which make up the microbiome are mainly found inside the intestine, and most of these are found in a pocket within the large intestine called the ‘cecum’. These are called the gut microbiome, and can contain up to 1,000 different species of bacteria. Collectively, the microorganisms which make up the gut microbiome can weigh up to 2kg. This is around the same weight as the human brain! The gut is sometimes called the body’s ‘second brain’, but this isn’t just to do with weight. (Integrative HMP (iHMP) Research Network Consortium, 2014).
Together, these bacteria function as an extra organ and perform many different roles in the body, and it would be very difficult to survive without it.
What does the gut microbiome do?
Throughout our development as children, we are exposed to many different forms of bacteria, which helps to diversify the gut microbiome. The more diverse the gut microbiome becomes, the better it appears to be for your health (Koenig et al., 2011).
As the gut microbiome diversifies, it comes to have many important functions, with certain bacteria being responsible for different functions within the gut. Some bacteria, for example, help the body to digest fibre which in turn may help to prevent weight gain, and the onset of diabetes (Ríos-Covián et al., 2016).
There are also studies which suggest that your gut microbiome has a direct impact on your immune function, central nervous system, and brain health. This suggests that the healthier your gut, the healthier your body (Cryan and Dinan, 2012).
Here are some more of the benefits of a healthy gut…
How your gut health affects your weight: Having too much unhealthy bacteria in your gut can make you unwell as it imbalances the microbiome. An imbalance of the bacteria in your gut is called gut dysbiosis, and is a leading contributor of weight gain (Patterson et al., 2016).
The gut microbiome directly affects gut health: This may sound somewhat obvious, but bear with me. Dysbiosis can also worsen the symptoms of certain chronic gut conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), and leaky gut syndrome. The gas and chemicals given off by certain microbes can cause intestinal pain and bloating, which can be avoided by rectifying the imbalance in the gut. Some bacteria can even help to reduce the symptoms, by preventing disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the wall of the intestines in the first place! (Pozuelo et al., 2015).
The gut microbiome may have a positive impact on heart health: Studies have shown that the gut microbiome plays a role in promoting healthy HDL cholesterol, and regulating the levels of triglycerides in our blood. However, certain unhealthy bacteria may produce chemicals which can actively harm our heart health. One chemical in particular, trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) can increase the risk factors of heart disease and stroke. Nutrients found in red meat and other animal-based sources can be converted into TMAO, further increasing the risk factors associated with heart conditions, and blocked arteries in particular (Aron-Wisnewsky and Clément, 2015).
The gut microbiome plays a role in diabetes management: Keeping the microbiome balanced and healthy may help to prevent the onset of diabetes. Studies have shown that there is a significant reduction in microbiome diversity during the onset of Type 1 diabetes, alongside an increase in certain species of unhealthy bacteria. It is also thought that the gut microbiome plays a significant role in blood sugar management, so keeping a healthy gut may help to reduce the chances of developing both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes (Kostic et al., 2015).
The gut microbiome may impact brain health: Certain kinds of bacteria help to produce neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers of your body. The majority of the body’s serotonin (an antidepressant neurotransmitter) is made in the gut! Even more than that, the gut and the brain are physically connected by our nerves which suggests that the gut microbiome may be able to help aspects of our brain health by sending certain signals through these nerves. It has been seen that people with differing mental health conditions have varied levels of certain species of bacteria in their microbiome, which further suggests a correlation between the health of the gut and our overall mental health (O’Mahony et al., 2015).
What can I do to help my gut microbiome remain healthy?
Fortunately, there are a number of things individuals can do to help their gut microbiome remain balanced. These include:
- Eating a wide range of foods: People with more varied diets are more likely to ingest different types of healthy bacteria, which can increase the diversity of your gut microbiome, promoting good gut health. In particular, beans and fruits are often chock full of dietary fibre which can also help to promote a healthy gut.
- Look for fermented foods: Love kimchi and sauerkraut? Great! So does your gut. Fermented foods contain healthy bacteria which help to reduce the amount of bacteria which can cause disease in the gut.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners: Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can have a negative impact on gut health by encouraging the growth of unhealthy bacteria (Palmnäs et al., 2014)
- Relax! Stress increases the permeability of the intestine, can lead to leaky gut syndrome and can increase the amount of unhealthy bacteria. So if there was ever a sign to take a break, then this might be it!
- Ditch the meat: A plant-based diet can help to reduce exposure to unhealthy bacteria, like E.coli, as well as keeping LDL cholesterol lower (Zimmer et al., 2011)
- Make sure your protein powders are gut friendly: Here at Vivo Life, we are believers in holistic wellness, so our protein powders are designed to be kind to the gut and easy to digest as well as promoting muscle synthesis and enhancing post-workout recovery. The yellow pea protein in our PERFORM protein powder is gently fermented to ensure optimal digestion and, as we’ve just seen, fermentation can help to increase the amount of healthy bacteria in the gut!
Here’s to a healthy gut!
The Integrative Human Microbiome Project: Dynamic Analysis of Microbiome-Host Omics Profiles during Periods of Human Health and Disease. (2014). Cell Host & Microbe, 16(3), pp.276–289. doi:10.1016/j.chom.2014.08.014.
Koenig, J.E., Spor, A., Scalfone, N., Fricker, A.D., Stombaugh, J., Knight, R., Angenent, L.T. and Ley, R.E. (2011). Succession of microbial consortia in the developing infant gut microbiome. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, [online] 108 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), pp.4578–85. doi:10.1073/pnas.1000081107.
Ríos-Covián, D., Ruas-Madiedo, P., Margolles, A., Gueimonde, M., de los Reyes-Gavilán, C.G. and Salazar, N. (2016). Intestinal Short Chain Fatty Acids and their Link with Diet and Human Health. Frontiers in Microbiology, 7. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2016.00185.
Patterson, E., Ryan, P.M., Cryan, J.F., Dinan, T.G., Ross, R.P., Fitzgerald, G.F. and Stanton, C. (2016). Gut microbiota, obesity and diabetes. Postgraduate Medical Journal, [online] 92(1087), pp.286–300. doi:10.1136/postgradmedj-2015-133285.
Aron-Wisnewsky, J. and Clément, K. (2015). The gut microbiome, diet, and links to cardiometabolic and chronic disorders. Nature Reviews Nephrology, [online] 12(3), pp.169–181. doi:10.1038/nrneph.2015.191.
Kostic, A.D., Gevers, D., Siljander, H., Vatanen, T., Hyötyläinen, T., Hämäläinen, A.-M., Peet, A., Tillmann, V., Pöhö, P., Mattila, I., Lähdesmäki, H., Franzosa, E.A., Vaarala, O., de Goffau, M., Harmsen, H., Ilonen, J., Virtanen, S.M., Clish, C.B., Orešič, M. and Huttenhower, C. (2015). The dynamics of the human infant gut microbiome in development and in progression toward type 1 diabetes. Cell host & microbe, [online] 17(2), pp.260–73. doi:10.1016/j.chom.2015.01.001.
O’Mahony, S.M., Clarke, G., Borre, Y.E., Dinan, T.G. and Cryan, J.F. (2015). Serotonin, tryptophan metabolism and the brain-gut-microbiome axis. Behavioural Brain Research, 277, pp.32–48. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2014.07.027.
Palmnäs, M.S.A., Cowan, T.E., Bomhof, M.R., Su, J., Reimer, R.A., Vogel, H.J., Hittel, D.S. and Shearer, J. (2014). Low-Dose Aspartame Consumption Differentially Affects Gut Microbiota-Host Metabolic Interactions in the Diet-Induced Obese Rat. PLoS ONE, 9(10), p.e109841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0109841.
Zimmer, J., Lange, B., Frick, J-S., Sauer, H., Zimmermann, K., Schwiertz, A., Rusch, K., Klosterhalfen, S. and Enck, P. (2011). A vegan or vegetarian diet substantially alters the human colonic faecal microbiota. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66(1), pp.53–60. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2011.141.