The gut biome (or the microbiome) is what refers to the bacteria and other flora living in your intestines. This internal ecosystem affects your ability to absorb and digest the nutrients you consume, meaning it is incredibly important for your overall health. If the microbiome gets thrown out of whack, so can your health.
Microbiologists are still discovering the scale of the impact that the microbiome has on your overall health, with new oddities of the complex ecosystem being uncovered all the time.
What makes up the microbiome?
It’s a huge reservoir including bacteria, fungi and viruses, which all need to co-exist in perfect harmony. Collectively, the microbiome weighs up to 2kg and will contain on average 100 trillion of bacteria, who are all busy at work breaking down your food and strengthening your immune system. In fact, 70% of the immune system is based in the gut – so if your gut is out of balance then your immune system won’t function to the best of its ability (no matter how well you support it.)
What else does it affect?
Studies from the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition suggest that your gut microbiota may influence your mood and behaviour. The pioneering study identified specific ways in which the gut microbiota may interact with regions of your brain.
It may also affect how likely you are to develop conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing a traumatic event. When researchers analysed the gut microbiomes of individuals with PTSD, they found they had significantly lower levels of three particular gut bacteria compared to those who did not.
There’s still an awful lot more to be done in terms of research and scientists have only just scratched the surface on the mysteries of the microbiome.
What can harm the microbiome?
The most important thing for your microbiome is diversity and balance.
The overuse of antibiotics, diets high in processed foods, and foods containing histamines are the villains of your microbiome. These will negatively affect your gut flora, damaging your overall health. However, all three can easily be addressed and fixed.
Whenever we take a course of antibiotics, some of the good bacteria in your gut will be sacrificed alongside the bad bacteria. This puts your microbiome out of balance, affecting your immune system – which is why you’re more likely to get sick after taking antibiotics. The solution? After taking antibiotics, you should always take some probiotics to add back in some good bacteria.
The histamine content of foods increases over time as a result of microbial fermentation, so to maintain the balance in your gut flora you need to avoid foods high in histamines. These include fermented foods like soy sauce, pickles, miso and cured meats, smoked foods, cultured dairy, and certain vegetables such as aubergine, tomatoes and legumes.
Your diet is the number one thing you can use to influence your microbiome, so it’s important to keep it balanced and varied.
What should I be eating?
The Mediterranean diet is the perfect example for gut health as it is high in fruit and vegetables, therefore rich in vitamins, minerals and plant-based nutrients. These are all needed for our gut ecosystem. Beyond this, there are certain foods that will feed the growth of your gut flora which are the prebiotics.
Prebiotics are food that isn’t digestible but nourish and stimulate the growth of good bacteria. Prebiotics occur naturally in our diet and prebiotic fibres can be found in plenty of food sources. These include black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger, oregano, rosemary and turmeric. All of which can be shown to increase our microbial diversity.
Another food source that’s good for our gut health are flavonoids which are found in grapes, apples, cocoa, blueberries, cranberries, blackcurrants, hazelnuts, pecans and pistachios nuts. All loved by our gut bugs!
A good way to ensure you are getting the diverse range of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients is to eat the rainbow on your plate.
Each colour is linked to different minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients, so a colourful diet automatically means a varied one. The wider the diversity of fruit and veg eaten, the wider the diversity of the flora you’ll have in your gut.