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What is the microbiome and why should you care about it?
09 Nov 2017

What is the microbiome and why should you care about it?

 

09 Nov 2017

Have you noticed how lately everyone is talking about gut bacteria? I often have clients in my clinic ask me why their gut bacteria are relevant for their health and if they should take a probiotic. This is always a question I am excited to answer. And since sharing is caring I have put together a simple and brief summary of this topic.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is the gut bacteria (formally known the gut microbiome)?

The microbiome is a combination of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on your skin, mouth and gastrointestinal tract. There are over 1,000+ different species of bacteria, which are generally classified into good (health promoting) or bad (harmful). The majority of your bacteria live in your colon and if you were to scoop this out it can weigh between 1-1.5kg, which is approximately the same size as our liver. Many scientists actually consider the gut microbiome as an additional human organ… so there’s some food for thought!

Did you know that we have 10 times more bacteria than human cells and over 1,000+ different species?

What does your microbiome do?

They are implicated in every aspect of your health, but I will only mention a few main functions for now:

  • Good digestion
  • Absorption of nutrients
  • Manufacture nutrients like B vitamins involved in energy production and vitamin K important for bone health
  • Produce short chain fatty acids which can help lower inflammation
  • Weight management. Did you know studies found that thin rats that had fecal matter transplants from an obese rat become obese consuming the same amount of calories as they did before the procedure? Yes, energy salvaging bacteria exist, which can make you gain weight regardless of calorie intake.
  • Mental health as they help produce serotonin and GABA which are neurotransmitters important for mood and depression
  • Modulate immunity – Did you know that 80% of your immune system is found in your gut?

I am sure it comes as no surprise that maintaining the balance between good and bad bacteria and therefore a healthy gut is essential for health and wellbeing. However often times this delicate balance can be thrown out by poor foods choices, stress, alcohol, lack of sleep and certain medications. The imbalance between good and bad bacteria if often referred to as ‘dysbiosis’ and some of the most common symptoms associated with this include:

  • IBS related symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, cramping, excess gas, diarrhea or constipation
  • Mood changes, depression and anxiety, foggy mind and problems concentrating
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and rashes
  • Lowered immunity
  • Weight gain and so on.

What are some dysibiosis triggers?

By now you are probably asking yourself “well what causes this imbalance and what can I do to prevent it”? Some of the main factors implicated are:

  1. Antibiotics – studies have shown that certain antibiotics can alter the microbiome balance for up to 4 yrs. For example, antibiotic resistance micro organisms were found for up to 4 yrs post treatment with triple antibiotic therapy.
  2. Chemotherapy and certain pain and reflux medications
  3. Stress – Did you know that 50% of medically diagnosed IBS follows a stress episode?
  4. High protein diets – particular diets high in animal protein and red meat
  5. High fat diets
  6. Diets high in refined carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, soft drinks and excess sugar
  7. Lack of dietary variety and cutting food groups out
  8. Alcohol and smoking.

Rebalancing your gut bacteria can be achieved however this can be a lengthy process and often fraught with trial and error. To give you an example we share 99% genetical similarity, however comparing the microbiome between two people there is only a 5-10% similarity, which makes it more complicated and time involved. But fear not, as there are many tools that dietitians specialising in this field can use to rebalance an unhappy gut.

Some of these methods include using foods and prebiotic fibers, probiotics, colonic and fermented foods, gut support supplements, stress management, exercise and quality sleep.

In answering the question “should you take a probiotic?” the answer is “it depends”. There are many companies that sell probiotics, however not all are created equal and they should be purchased with care and under supervision from a dietitian. Different probiotic bacterial strains can work on specific complaints and symptoms. Just because you purchased a probiotic doesn’t mean it will resolve all your gut complaints. In my practice before prescribing a probiotic I review gut symptoms against bacterial strain research and select the probiotic that will help address those specific issues. Keep in mind that probiotics are a short term fix and to maintain your health long term you should ensure your diet and lifestyle change to support this.

To help identify what you should do to help restore your gut health, please book an appointment by visiting www.nutritionplus.com.au.

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