I feel OK but not as good as I used to!
Boredom may well have played havoc with your diet over the past year or so and now you may be feeling happy that we are getting through this crisis but not so happy that you have put on weight or are feeling a bit lethargic or depressed or just ‘under par’.
It could be worth thinking a bit more about what you have actually been eating recently and that it might have gradually been affecting your body’s wellbeing.
Our bodies contain a huge collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi – things we often regard as ‘unhealthy’, but which is actually vital to our health – and one which we probably have never thought about and the balance between these microbes is vitally important for our wellbeing.
It is called the gut microbiome?
Why does it matter?!
The microbiome is the collection of these bacteria, viruses and fungi – also called microbes and they exist mainly in your intestines and on your skin. Although bacteria are associated with disease, in reality, a lot are actually extremely important for your immune system, heart, weight and many other aspects of your health.
Most of the microbes in your intestines are found in a “pocket” of your large intestine called the caecum, and they are referred to as the gut microbiome.
From when you are born, your gut microbiome begins to diversify, meaning it starts to contain many different types of microbial species. Higher microbiome diversity is considered good for your health.
Can you affect the diversity of the bacteria in your gut?
Yes! The food you eat affects the diversity of your gut bacteria. There also has to be a good balance between the good and bad bacteria in your gut. This is where what you eat place such an important part.
Why is that so important?
- Digesting breast milk: Some of the bacteria that first begin to grow inside babies’ intestines digest the healthy sugars in breast milk that are required for growth.
- Digesting fibre: Certain bacteria digest fibre. Fibre may help prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart disease.
- Immune system: The gut microbiome also controls how your immune system works. By communicating with immune cells, the gut microbiome can control how your body responds to virus attack.
- Helping control brain health: New research suggests that the gut microbiome may also affect the central nervous system, which controls brain function.
Balancing diversity to control weight gain
An imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes is sometimes called gut dysbiosis, and it may contribute to weight gain.
Several well-known studies have shown that the gut microbiome differed completely between identical twins, one of whom was obese and one of whom was healthy. This demonstrated that differences in the microbiome were not controlled by your genes but by what you eat.
Interestingly, in one study, when the microbiome from the obese twin was transferred to mice, they gained more weight those that had received the microbiome of the lean twin, despite both groups eating the same diet.
Gut dysbiosis may lead to weight gain, but you CAN restore gut health and help reduce weight.
Balancing diversity to help IBS
The microbiome can also affect gut health and may play a role in intestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease.
The bloating, cramps and abdominal pain that people with IBS experience may be due to gut dysbiosis. This is because the microbes produce a lot of gas and other chemicals, which contribute to the symptoms of intestinal discomfort.
However, certain healthy bacteria in the microbiome can also improve gut health.
Certain Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, which are found in probiotics and yogurt, can help seal gaps between intestinal cells and prevent disease causing bacteria from sticking to the intestinal wall. In fact, taking certain probiotics that contain Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli can reduce symptoms of IBS.
Balancing diversity to help heart health
A recent study in 1,500 people found that the gut microbiome played an important role in promoting “good” HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Certain unhealthy species in the gut microbiome may also contribute to heart disease by producing trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO).
TMAO is a chemical that contributes to blocked arteries, which may lead to heart attacks or stroke.
Other bacteria within the gut microbiome, particularly Lactobacilli, may also help reduce cholesterol.
Balancing diversity to avoid developing Diabetes
The gut microbiome also may help control blood sugar, which could affect the risk of type 1 and 2 diabetes.
One recent study examined 33 infants who had a genetically high risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
It found that the diversity of the microbiome dropped suddenly before the onset of type 1 diabetes. It also found that levels of a number of unhealthy bacterial species increased just before the onset of type 1 diabetes.
Another study found that even when people ate the exact same foods, their blood sugar could vary greatly. This may be due to the types of bacteria in their guts.
Balancing diversity to help brain health
Some species of bacteria can help produce chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. For example, serotonin is an antidepressant neurotransmitter that’s mostly made in the gut so taking probiotics may help symptoms of depression.
Also don’t forget that the gut is physically connected to the brain through millions of nerves.
Therefore, the gut microbiome may also affect brain health by helping control the messages that are sent to the brain through these nerves.
A number of studies have shown that people with various psychological disorders have different species of bacteria in their guts, compared to healthy people. This suggests that the gut microbiome may affect brain health.
However, it’s unclear if this is simply due to different dietary and lifestyle habits.
How can you create the ideal diversity?
- Bear the following in mind
- Eat a diverse range of foods – in particular, legumes, beans and fruit.
- Eat fermented foods – such as yogurt.
- Limit your intake of artificial sweeteners
- Eat prebiotic foods – include artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats and apples.
- Breastfeed for at least six months – Breastfeeding is very important for the development of the gut microbiome.
- Eat whole grains
- Try a plant-based diet
- Eat foods rich in polyphenols – Polyphenols are plant compounds found in red wine, green tea, dark chocolate, olive oil and whole grains.
- Take a probiotic supplement.
- Take antibiotics only when necessary.
- Remember that these foods below are particularly good for your insides – maybe give them a try and see how you feel – remember too that it does take a while to make a difference!
Yoghurt Kefir Miso Sauerkraut Kimchi
Almonds Olive oil Kombucha Peas Sourdough Bread
Brussels sprouts Bananas Roquefort cheese Garlic Ginger