The Microbiome - our supporting organ...
Updated: Apr 20
The microbiome of a healthy individual consists of trillions of microorganisms of thousands of different species. They include bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. The largest numbers of them are found in the small and large intestines. Each of us have an entirely unique network of microbes. A baby is first exposed to these microorganisms during delivery in the birth canal and then through the mother’s breast milk. Therefore, an infants microbes are determined by those found in the mother. A child’s microbiome changes based on their environment and diet. Most of the microbiota are symbiotic meaning both our body and the microbiota benefit.
Our gut microbes are essential to our health. They stimulate our immune system, break down toxic food compounds and make certain vitamins and amino acids, including the B vitamins and vitamin K. As an example, the key enzymes needed to form vitamin B12 are only found in bacteria, not in plants and animals. Our gut microbes breakdown and ferment the fibers that we can’t digest which causes the production of short chain fatty acids. These short chain fatty acids play a role in muscle function and possibly the prevention of chronic diseases, including certain cancers and bowel disorders.
Since our gut microbes are so important to our health how can we make sure we have enough and that we have the right types? We want to make sure we are eating prebiotic foods (foods that feed our beneficial gut microbes). Here are some of the foods that contain the highest amounts of prebiotics: garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, bananas, and seaweed. In general, fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains like wheat, oats, and barley are all good sources of prebiotic fibers. If you do not currently eat a lot of these types of foods start introducing more of them slowly since they can increase gas and bloating if introduced suddenly in large amounts. You also want to introduce probiotic foods that contain the live microbiota especially if you have been on a course of antibiotics or have been sick. These probiotic foods include fermented foods like kefir, yogurt (plain no added sugar) with live active cultures, pickled vegetables, tempeh, kombucha tea, kimchi, miso and sauerkraut.
The microbiome is living and dynamic changing daily, weekly and monthly depending on diet, medication, exercise and environmental exposures. Scientists are still in the early stages of understanding the microbiome’s broad role in health.
Our microbiome plays an important role in weight loss.
Have you ever started a diet with a friend, and while they are dropping pounds left and right, you struggle to nudge the scale at all? It could be because of the differences in your microbiomes.
Let’s take a look at the popular diets of today. Most all of the diets call for the reduction in—or even exclusion of—a macronutrient: carbohydrates, proteins or fats. While cutting out a macronutrient will lead to fast weight loss, 99% of the people regain all of their weight within a year. Why? It’s not only not sustainable, but it’s also due to how it affects your microbiome.
Low carb diets, like the Paleo diet, have been linked to less total bacteria and fewer of the bacteria found in the guts of healthy people. This microbial imbalance has been linked to many diseases, from autoimmunity, to metabolic and GI-tract disorders, to anxiety and depression.
Low fiber diets are particularly detrimental. These diets tend to be high in simple carbs which are absorbed to early by the small intestines and go straight to the bloodstream. These diets rob the large intestine bacteria of their meal, a likely cause of the dysbiosis.
The ketogenic diet is a low carb, high fat diet. Research on the ketogenic diet shows that it alters the gut microbiomes of mice by increasing the mucus-degrading bacterium Akkermansia muciniphila—a bug linked to both health and disease, meaning scientists don’t really know yet what this diet could do.
Diets high in fiber shift nutrient uptake to the colon, which can drive lower fat in the body and boost your metabolism. Most experts agree that plant derived proteins have a better effect than animal-derived ones on gut health. There is still much more to learn about the microbiome but this much is clear: eating a complex diet including all macronutrients seems to be the long-lasting weight-loss pill—for now and for later.
Below are some current research topics being studied:
How the microbiome and their metabolites (substances produced by metabolism) influence human health and disease.
What factors influence the framework and balance of one’s microbiome.
The development of probiotics as a functional food and addressing regulatory issues.
Sources: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/