• LaurenWallace

The Human Microbiome: How It Works + a Diet for Gut Health



By Jillian Levy, CHHC

January 7, 2016

Original article and page source found here.

Most people think of bacteria within the body as a cause of getting sick or developing certain diseases, but did you know that at all times there are actually billions of beneficial bacteria present within all of us? In fact, bacteria make up our microbiome, an integral internal ecosystem that benefits our gut health and the immune system.

Recently, the scientific community has really come to embrace the important role that bacteria have in fostering a strong immune system and keeping us healthy. Not only are all bacteria not detrimental to our health, but some are actually crucial for boosting immunity, keeping our digestive systems running smoothly, our hormone levels balanced and our brains working properly.

So what is the microbiome, why is it so important and how can we protect it? Let’s find out.

What Is the Human Microbiome?

Each of us has an internal complex ecosystem of bacteria located within our bodies that we call the microbiome. The microbiome is defined as as “community of microbes.” The vast majority of the bacterial species that make up our microbiome live in our digestive systems.

According to the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at the University of Colorado, “the human microbiota consists of the 10–100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells harbored by each person, primarily bacteria in the gut. The human ‘microbiome’ consists of the genes these cells harbor.” (1)

Our individual microbiomes are sometimes called our “genetic footprints” since they help determine our unique DNA, hereditary factors, predisposition to diseases, body type or body “set point weight,” and much more. The bacteria that make up our microbiomes can be found everywhere, even outside our own bodies, on nearly every surface we touch and every part of the environment we come into contact with. (2)

The microbiome can be confusing because it’s different than other organs in that it’s not just located in one location and is not very large in size, plus it has very far-reaching roles that are tied to so many different bodily functions. Even the word “microbiome” tells you a lot about how it works and the importance of its roles, since “micro” means small and “biome” means a habitat of living things.

It’s been said by some researchers that up to 90 percent of all diseases can be traced in some way back to the gut and health of the microbiome. Believe it or not, your microbiome is home to trillions of microbes, diverse organisms that help govern nearly every function of the human body in some way. The importance of our gut microbiome cannot be overstated: Poor gut health can contribute to leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune diseases and disorders like arthritis, dementia, heart disease, and cancer, while our health, fertility and longevity are also highly reliant on the balance of critters living within our guts.

Throughout our lives, we help shape our own microbiomes — plus they adapt to changes in our environment. For example, the foods you eat, how you sleep, the amount of bacteria you’re exposed to on a daily basis and the level of stress you live with all help establish the state of your microbiota.

Related: What Is the Oral Microbiome? How to Balance It to Improve Overall Health

Microbiome Diet

Your diet plays a big part in establishing gut health and supporting your microbiome’s good bacteria. Research over the past several decades has revealed evidence that there’s an inextricable link between a person’s microbiota, digestion, body weight and metabolism. In an analysis of humans and 59 additional mammalian species, microbiome environments were shown to differ dramatically depending on the specie’s diet.

The flip side is also true: Your gut health can impact how your body extracts nutrients from your diet and stores fat. Gut microbiota seem to play an important role in obesity, and changes in bacterial strains in the gut have been shown to lead to significant changes in health and body weight after only a few days. For example, when lean germ-free mice receive a transplant of gut microbiota from conventional/fat mice, they acquire more body fat quickly without even increasing food intake, because their gut bugs influence hormone production (like insulin), nutrient extraction and fat (adipose tissue) storage. (3)

Now that you can see why it’s critical to lower inflammation and support gut health, lets’s take a look at how you can go about this.

Foods that promote inflammation include:

  • Refined vegetable oils (like canola, corn and soybean oils, which are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids)

  • Pasteurized dairy products (common allergens)

  • Refined carbohydrates and processed grain products

  • Conventional meat, poultry and eggs (high in omega-6s due to feeding the animals corn and cheap ingredients that negatively affect their microbiomes)

  • Added sugars (found in the majority of packaged snacks, breads, condiments, canned items, cereals, etc.)

  • Trans fats/hydrogenated fats (used in packaged/processed products and often to fry foods)

On the other hand, many natural foods can lower inflammation and help increase good bacteria in the gut. High-antioxidant foods help reduce gut damage caused by oxidative stress and turn down an overactive immune system while safeguarding healthy cells. Anti-inflammatory foods that should be the base of your diet include:

  • Fresh vegetables (all kinds): loaded with phytonutrients that are shown to lower cholesterol, triglycerides and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Aim for variety and a minimum of four to five servings per day. Some of the best include beets; carrots; cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale); dark, leafy greens (collard greens, kale, spinach); onions; peas; salad greens; sea vegetables; and squashes.

  • Whole pieces of fruit (not juice): Fruit contains various antioxidants like resveratrol and flavonoids, which are tied to cancer prevention and brain health. Three to four servings per day is a good amount for most people, especially apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, nectarines, oranges, pears, pink grapefruit, plums, pomegranates, red grapefruit or strawberries.

  • Herbs, spices and teas: turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano, thyme, etc., plus green tea and organic coffee in moderation.

  • Probiotics: Probiotic foods contain “good bacteria” that populate your gut and fight off bad bacterial strains. Try to include probiotic foods like yogurt, kombucha, kvass, kefir or cultured veggies in your diet daily.

  • Wild-caught fish, cage-free eggs and grass-fed/pasture-raised meat: higher in omega-3 fatty acids than farm-raised foods and great sources of protein, healthy fats, and essential nutrients like zinc, selenium and B vitamins.

  • Healthy fats: grass-fed butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, nuts/seeds.

  • Ancient grains and legumes/beans: best when sprouted and 100 percent unrefined/whole. Two to three servings per day or less is best, especially Ansazi beans, adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils, black rice, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa.

  • Red wine and dark chocolate/cocoa in moderation: several times per week or a small amount daily.