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Health & Wellness

All About Gut Microbes

Did you know that there are more than 100 trillion microorganisms living inside your digestive tract? These bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other organisms have an important role to play in supporting overall health. 1

In some ways, the microbes in the gut actually take over some of the functions of the body, and because of that, they can have a significant impact on overall well-being, including contributing to the presence or absence of disease and even influencing conditions like obesity. 2

How the Gut Microbiome Is Formed


There is, to some extent, a hereditary component to the gut microbiome. 3 However, as people get older, it is more likely that other factors, including diet and drugs, will have a more significant impact on the bacteria thrive in the gut. 4

For instance, If you eat a lot of sugary foods, you might support the growth of microbes that thrive on sugar. If you eat healthily, then other gut microbes will thrive. If you take a course of aggressive antibiotics, this could kill off certain microbes—good and bad. It can take some time to recover from health issues caused by a lack of good gut flora.

 gut microbiome Why Do Gut Microbes Matter?


One of the key roles that the gut microbes carry out is helping to digest certain foods. For example, they ferment non-digestible fiber. 5 In addition, the chemical processes performed by the gut microbes produce substances such as trimethylamine, which is converted into N-oxide in the body and can help to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. It is also thought that “good” gut bacteria can help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. 6

In just the four year period between 2013 and 2017, there were 12,900 papers published on gut microbiota. Those papers suggest that there could be some promising uses for gut microbiota treatments, helping with liver disease, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and more. 7

Manipulating Your Gut Microbes  width=


The challenge that the medical community faces is that manipulating gut bacteria is a complex task. There is some evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose might impact the diversity of the gut microbiota. 8 There is also some evidence to show similar effects from emulsifiers and other food additives. 9

So, if it's accepted that eating processed foods is generally bad for gut health, what can people do to improve the gut microbiota? Well, there are some people who are pushing the idea of eating a gluten-free or a low FODMAP diet, but the evidence to support these diets in those who are generally healthy is limited. While people who suffer from celiac or gluten sensitivity may indeed need to follow such a diet, healthy people who stop eating gluten may see a reduction in beneficial gut bacteria. 10

People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are often advised to go on a low FODMAP diet, and this can help to alleviate their symptoms. Low FODMAP diets have been found to make significant changes to the gut microbiota, including reducing the proportion of Bifidobacterium in the gut. However, there is still an absence of evidence as to how significant these changes are to overall wellbeing or whether they are beneficial to people who are not suffering from IBS. 11

 gut microbiome Are Probiotics the Future?


At the moment, there is not a lot of research to back up the use of probiotics. It is hard to be sure how strong any given dose will be, and probiotics that are taken orally are harder to manage because it is hard to predict how many of the microbes in yogurt, milk, or other food will actually survive the first part of the digestive process and make it to the intestines.

Some probably do survive, but the amount is unpredictable. In addition, scientists do not fully understand which gut microbes play which role and how the balance matters. For gut microbe-based treatments to be truly effective, they would need to have personalized gut flora management plans, and science is not quite there yet. It will likely reach this stage when gut flora can be analyzed and managed properly.

Rather than consuming probiotics, it could be that the best way to support beneficial gut bacteria is through consuming sufficient dietary fiber and also drinking enough water to support the digestion of that fiber.

In some circles, non-digestible carbohydrates are referred to as being “prebiotics,” and while the medical community has not officially agreed upon a definition of a “prebiotic,” this is an interesting way of thinking of fiber.

The body does not that undigestible fiber, but the gut microbes that live in the bodies can access the nutrients in it. 12 Many western diets are woefully deficient in fiber, and this could be one of the reasons why so many people struggle with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and similar conditions.

Conclusion


Every person's gut microbiota is different, and it could be that the next great advance in helping people manage cravings, maintain a healthy weight, and manage digestive disorders would be to come up with personalized diets to support healthy gut microbiota.

Even something as simple as eating a different type of bread could help regulate the glycemic response, altering a person's energy levels and cravings throughout the day. 13

If you are struggling with cravings or a desire to snack, feeling bloated, or generally suffering from low energy and aches and pains, it could be that your gut flora is to blame. The good news is that you can change those gut flora, but it will take time.

Focus on eating more fiber and fruits and vegetables, and cutting down on processed foods. Stick with those changes for at least a month, and you should find that your tastes change as the bacteria in your gut changes. It's a slow process, but it can happen, and you will notice the difference.

PhotoCredits: DGLImages/shutterstock.com, NathanDevery/shutterstock.com, Metamorworks/shutterstock.com, KaterynaKon/shutterstock.com

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